ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Sunday

1

August 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Home Edit Life by Clea Shearer & Joanna Teplin

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People who like to organize all the things. People who like to look at gorgeous pictures of organized things.

In a nutshell:
Clea and Joanna of The Home Edit fame expand beyond their first book to offer tips for organizing other areas of life (there’s a section on pets!).

Worth quoting:
“For those who claim their family/roommate/partner will never get on board with an organized house, we present you with the silverware drawer. Every single person above the age of three agrees to respect an organized silverware drawer.”

Why I chose it:
I accidentally bought this when I meant to buy their first book. Happy accident indeed!

Review:
There isn’t a lot to say about this book. It’s very pretty, and some of the tips are great. But one thing I have learned from putting into action suggestions from the first book is that it can be pretty expensive. Their own branded containers cost way more than I would have expected (though very pretty!), so while the suggestions of loads of individual containers for things might make sense from an organizational perspective, it might be a bit much from a wallet perspective.

One area that people might find especially useful is the work area. As a lot of office workers are now finding themselves permanently working from home (at least some of the time), they might decide or just finally be able to afford to properly organize their home office, whatever space it is. This book has some suggestions on how to do that.

Overall, this is a mixture of how-to and coffee table book, and that’s fun.

Recommend to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Recommend to a Friend

Sunday

25

July 2021

0

COMMENTS

Guide to Passing the Driving Test by Malcolm Green

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In, Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People without access to the Theory 4 in 1 Driving Test App

In a nutshell:
This book offers all 700+ practice questions, as well as a guide to help pass the theory and practical tests, and some new driver essentials.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
Trying to really make sure I pass the test.

Review:
I learned to drive over 25 years ago, in the US. On the right side of the road. In an automatic vehicle. When my partner and I moved to England 3.5 years ago, we didn’t think that in a couple of years there would be a pandemic, and renting a car might be the best way for us to safely go on little trips. So neither of us really bothered to seek out our UK license, which is unfortunate, as a US license is not valid for driving in the UK after a year.

There is a huge back-up with lessons and tests due to the pandemic, but I was able to book in for tomorrow (!) a couple of months back. In the UK, the first bit is a theory test, which include 50 questions (of which one needs to answer 43 correctly) as well as these bizarre ‘hazard perception’ videos. There are 14 of them, 13 of which have one major hazard and 1 has two, and the test involves clicking as early as the hazard appears (but not too early) to get between 1 and 5 points. Need to get a 44% to pass, which is actually fairly difficult initially. For me anyway, the practice videos I’ve often clicked too soon, leading to me getting zero points instead of five.

This book obviously can’t help with the videos, but for people who do prefer to learn from a book instead of an app, it is user friends, has pretty straightforward explanations of why certain answers are correct (which the app seems to be missing), and all sorts of little tips. There are things I didn’t expect to need to know for this test, like about car maintenance (refill your battery? What?). I’m also only taking the automatic practical test, so some questions also seem a bit weird to me as I don’t drive manual.

I guess the test will be if I actually pass tomorrow. If I do, it’ll probably be thanks to the app as opposed to the book, but the book wasn’t a waste of money or anything.

Recommend to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it
Toss it (if I pass!) – I’ve also circled the answers so it’s not exactly helpful anymore.

Monday

12

July 2021

0

COMMENTS

Bloc Life by Peter Molloy

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars 

Best for:
Those who like to read very short insights into a lot of different lives.

In a nutshell:
Journalist Molloy gathers together stories of people who lived in former East Germany, former Czechoslovakia, and Romania under Communist rule.

Worth quoting:
“I was a communist, and still am today, and I’m of the opinion that communism is a good thing when it’s done right.”

“I was opposed to East Germany because it was a dictatorship.”

“A couple who remained childless beyond the age of 25 saw their tax bills increase and had their sex life scrutinized by government inspectors.”

Why I chose it:
I don’t actually know much about the lives of people who lived in countries under previous attempts at communist government.

Review:
So, capitalism is a giant failure. I think that’s pretty apparently given *gestures to everything*. The past few years in the US, socialism has become appealing to some people. And there are aspects of socialism in most capitalistic democracies, like fire departments or schools. And then there’s communism. All I knew about communism before the past couple of years was what I gleaned from pop culture and the very old textbooks that sort of taught me history. Basically, McCarthy hearings, blacklisting, and adding ‘Under God’ to the US pledge of allegiance.

I visited Berlin about a decade after reunification, took the tours, saw the remaining bits of the wall, Checkpoint Charlie. And museums do a great job with some aspects of history, but I find hearing directly from people to be a great way to really learn about how life was. It’s one thing to read about, say travel restrictions; it’s another to hear someone explain what they had to go through to visit someone in West Berlin.

In this book, Molloy gathers stories from people who lived under European communist regimes. He looks at workers, youth, leisure, religion, policing, health, sex, dissent and other topics, focusing on one person’s story for a few pages at a time. Many are heartbreaking, some are inspiring. One thing that became quickly apparent was that these countries were run by dictators who claimed to be communists. In fact, some of the policies in place sounded like ones that Republicans in the US would support if they didn’t know who proposed them – like making abortions illegal.

These stories are important, and I’m so glad I read this book, but I’m only giving it three stars because I think it lacks both sufficient context and sufficient editing. I appreciate the groupings, but not much connects the people who share their stories. It could have used more than an intro chapter and then another couple of introductory paragraphs in each chapter. And I appreciate gathering voices from a variety of regimes, but think it would have been stronger to focus on what was happening within each of the three countries and then comparing across. I don’t know – this just felt a bit like a hodge podge.

Recommend to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Sunday

4

July 2021

0

COMMENTS

Abandoned London by Katie Wignall

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone looking for an interesting if somewhat bleak coffee table photography book.

In a nutshell:
Author Wignall captures some of the haunting images of buildings abandoned throughout this giant city.

Worth quoting:
“The land was bought by Lendlease property developers in 2010 and the estate was demolished between 2011 and 2014. There were 284 ‘affordable homes’ (priced between £350,000 and £1.1. million) made available, but for many of the existing tenants these were too expensive.”

Why I chose it:
I love London, I love photography books, and I find abandoned buildings and areas in the middle of large living cities fascinating.

Review:
Over a decade ago my sister and I visited the Tacheles in Berlin, which was a partially demolished and abandoned department store taken over by artists. It was amazing to see a building that had been left to rot re-purposed in such a way. That wasn’t the first time I was intrigued by what happens to spaces when they are left behind, but it definitely stands out.

This book is part coffee table book, part guide to things to see in London, and part history of the evolution of London. Abandoned docksides, factories, infrastructure, along with homes, shops, and even sports stadiums, each with its own story to tell. Perhaps the buildings outlasted their useful life and needed to be replaced for safety reasons. Or perhaps technology changed, meaning the shockingly gorgeous, gigantic pump rooms of the earliest sewage treatment facilities are obsolete but no one can bring themselves (or afford to) tear them down. Or, in the case of some of the tube stations, maybe a better or more accessible station was built just a few steps away.

Not every photo is of an epic or haunted building – many are just shots of simple shops and homes. Some are even no longer abandoned, bought up and renovated after a few years of neglect. Which makes sense — this is central London, and property is expensive. But it got me really thinking about the stories behind the buildings that remain abandoned, the ones that don’t also have a Grade II listing associated with them. The ones that people would consider eyesores, or a sign of a neighborhood in decline. What happened there? Did a giant superstore (or online services) undercut them? Did they sell a product that was no longer in demand? Did someone lose their life savings when it didn’t work out? Did the landlord raise the rent and drive the shopkeeper out, only to find no one else could afford that rent either?

And when it comes to the abandoned homes, I think about the above quote – some of the abandoned spaces have been rebuilt with housing. But not affordable housing, not when £350,000 is the low end. What happens when you take away crumbling infrastructure and replace it not with a similar but safer, nicer version, but instead some idea of luxury that the people you’ve displaced can’t afford? Why isn’t it replaced with actually affordable public housing? It’s infuriating.

The photos in here are great – some are quite artful, and some are ones that any of us could have taken. But each of them has a story behind it, and thinking about those stories made the experience of reading the book even richer.

I ordered this book as soon as I heard about it, and so had to wait a couple of months for its release. Worth it.

Keep it / Recommend to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it

Thursday

24

June 2021

0

COMMENTS

Broken (In the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Four Stars

Best for:
Fans of amazing, absurd stories. Fans of sincerity and genuine kindness.

In a nutshell:
The Bloggess returns with her third (I think) collection of essays, which run from tears streaming down your face funny to deeply moving.

Worth quoting:
So much, but audio book, so I didn’t get a chance to write them down. The very last line of the afterward of the audio version, however, was perfect.

Why I chose it:
I’ve read her previous books, and I love listening to her read her own work. She has a fantastic delivery style.

Review:
I utterly adore reading what author Lawson has to say. She has experienced life in such a different way than I have – and yet I always feel like I can relate to what she’s saying. I read her first book as an audio book, but her second as a standard book. For this one I’ve gone back to reading her via the audio book, because it’s just so damned delightful. Hearing someone with her talent read her own stories brings an additional level of humor, joy, and emotion.

In terms of funny stories, for some reason the chapter on the six times she lost her shoes while wearing them really stands out. It’s absurd and hilarious and something that doesn’t make sense when you hear the title, but by the end, it’s like ‘of course.’

The most memorable essay for me is the letter she wrote to her health insurance about their repeated denial of coverage for the medicines that are literally keeping her alive. It is heart-wrenching and infuriating and not at all unique, given the utterly broken for-profit health insurance system in the US. Hearing her read out all the hoops she is required to jump through, while ill, to get the treatment she needs covered by her insurance (and not always being successful at that). I feel like it should be read at every Congressional hearing where universal health care is debated.

This is an extremely wholesome book that also happens to use the word motherfucker repeatedly throughout. That’s how gifted a writer Lawson is.

Recommend to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Recommend to a Friend

Sunday

20

June 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Home Edit: Conquering the Clutter with Style by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
People who like to look at interior design porn. People who want to organize. People who have some measure of disposable income.

In a nutshell:
Joanna and Clea share their organizing philosophy, room by room, and share some gorgeous photos of different options. Also some famous people’s pantries.

Worth quoting:
“We know you’re fantasizing about all your dry goods in pretty jars — and they’ll get there! — but first, be realistic about your time, experience, and abilities.”

Why I chose it:
I binged The Home Edit on Netflix over the last couple of weeks and needed to get the book.

Review:
I am an extremely organized person. Seriously, probably one of the most organized people I know.

And yet …

Moving house in the middle of the pandemic meant that things just got shoved pretty much anywhere. And because my partner and I rent a place in London, it came partially furnished. On the plus side – we have loads of storage, which is rare in the UK. On the negative – there’s literally no rhyme or reason to how we unpacked. And one of the closets – affectionately dubbed ‘the murder closet,’ because, trust me it’s creepy as hell – has a lot of the landlords items we don’t need (this place used to be an AirBnB).

So, I’ve purchased and read the book, and am slowly making my way through my house. Yesterday, I worked on what has become my home office. I edited out a lot of things I didn’t know I had still kept (shoved into one of the fabric cubes I bought when we moved in, in an attempt to have some sense of order), figured out what (if any) organizers I needed (finally got a monitor stand!), and will finish up when that stand arrives this week.

Today I moved into our bedroom. I’ve not yet tackled the wardrobe, but I have taken a go at our nightstands and a couple of other areas in the room where things are stored (a function of using other peoples’ furniture). I also did tackle the murder closet, and while it’s not going to show up in Style magazine any time soon, I think I’ve worked out a system that will work for us.

Joanna and Clea are not Marie Kondo, but they’re not in opposition to her. They just go a bit further in directing the reader as to how, once they’ve pared their belongings down to things that we need or that spark joy (as Ms Kondo would say), we can keep them organized in both a visually pleasing and a useful way.

The authors are also funny. Their little quips here and there make reading a book on organizing entertaining. The only drawback is that their solutions require a lot of containers and dividers and while those items are not exorbitantly expensive, they can add up, and may not be accessible to everyone.

Look, there’s so much going on in the world right now. Is having an organized home the priority? Nope. But I think better, I manage life better, I just exist better when my shit is organized. And this book is helpful.

Recommend to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Recommend to a FriendThe Home Edit: Conquering the Clutter with Style

Sunday

6

June 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Lies You Told by Harriet Tyce

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone who likes a little private school intrigue, and who also has the stomach for some seriously cruel

In a nutshell:
A mother returns to where she was raised, with her daughter in tow. Things have changed … or have they?

Why I chose it:
Part of a paperback sale, and it looked pretty intriguing.

Review:
Sadie has fled the US – and her husband – with her 11-year-old daughter Robin. Due to some cruel pre-death machinations by her mother, Sadie is able to live in her deceased mother’s home, and must send Robin to the same private London all-girls school that Sadie attended, or else lose the home. Sadie doesn’t care much, as she just needs to get away from her husband (why, we don’t find out right away).

Sadie finds work as a barrister thanks to help from her best friend, but find the mothers at the private school to be extremely snarky and rude. Their daughters are also icing out Robin. This goes on for the first quarter of the book or so, and it’s distressing to the point that I almost stopped reading. I don’t mind some cruelty in a book so long as the instigators get their comeuppance.

I’m glad I stuck with it though. Eventually something happens that brings Sadie and Robin into the Mean Girl mothers’ good graces. Sadie continues work on a case defending someone who may have been falsely accused.

This book is just under 400 pages and I finished it in one day. It’s a quick read, and interesting. There are twists, things you can see coming and things you can’t. And it has a very interesting and satisfying ending.

Recommend to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Recommend to a Friend

Saturday

5

June 2021

0

COMMENTS

What White People Can Do Next by Emma Dabiri

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Best for:
White people looking for perspectives on the best ways we can effectively dismantle white supremacy and the institutions connected to it.

In a nutshell:
Author Dabiri shares her thoughts on where some of the current anti-racism focus is misdirected, and offers alternatives.

Worth quoting:
“What we do require here is an understanding, not so much of an intersectionality of identities, but an intersectionality of issues.”

“My fear is that much of the anti-racist literature is an iteration of the same process of maintaining and reaffirming whiteness.”

“What would be truly radical would be to sound the death knell for the fiction that white people constitute a race and that this race is imbued with any ‘natural’ abilities unavailable to others.”

“Language is of course not irrelevant, but the capital B – while coming from a place that understandably is attempting to confer more status on to the world ‘black’ — seeks to reinforce a way of seeing the world that we should be disrupting and unraveling.”

Why I chose it:
It sounded interesting.

Review:
The back cover pretty much tells prospective readers what they can expect:
“Stop the denial. Stop the false equivalencies. Interrogate whiteness. Interrogate capitalism. Denounce the white saviour. Abandon guilt.”

Dabiri is not so much interested in how white people can be ‘allies’ as we’ve come to know the term. She wants us to work to build coalitions. Think about Fred Hampton, and how he got different groups to all align in the Rainbow Coalition – Black Panther Party, Young Patriots Organization, and Young Lords. Groups that today we might look at and think all have different interests, but the reality the systems of capitalism and white supremacy is fucking all of us over. We all have an interest in dismantling those systems. And it’s not about white people feeling ‘sorry’ for people not racialised as white, or guilt over it.

I also appreciated Dabiri’s discussion about race and the challenges with leaning into the separate ideas of race when it is a fully social construct; specifically how a lot of the anti-racism work that is out there today is focusing on emphasizing difference without (white) people really fully understanding what it means to be racialized as white. I especially felt this after having just read Angela Saini’s Superior.

This is one of those books that needs to be read multiple times. There’s so much here, even though the book itself is a relatively short 150 pages. But Dabiri doesn’t need more space – she makes her arguments strongly within the brief but full chapters.

Recommend to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Recommend to a Friend

Saturday

5

June 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Wreckage of My Presence by Casey Wilson

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy essays and memoirs from celebrities.

In a nutshell:
Actress and performed Casey Wilson shares stories from her life – mostly adulthood, though some from her childhood.

Worth quoting:
That title and the origin behind it – I like it a lot.

Why I chose it:
Famous woman memoirs, read by the author, is my jam.

Review:
I generally have enjoyed Wilson’s work when I come across it. I don’t recall much of her from Saturday Night Live, but I did love Happy Endings. She seems like a nice person, and she definitely tells a good story.

She also, by her own admission, seems like she’s kind of a lot to deal with, if her chapter on her interactions with her husband are anything remotely similar to how they interact in real life. But at the same time, like, so what? Her family and friends love her, and she seems like she’s figured out where she belongs in the world. If she is ‘a lot’ by my definition, who the heck cares?

I can’t relate much to her in most ways – she’s got children, and she experienced the unexpected death of her mother at a pretty young age. The latter especially appears to factor heavily in her life, and many of the stories she tells involve her working through that.

I can relate to her need for sugar, however. So I’m sitting with that for awhile.

This was enjoyable to listen to on my morning runs, and I’d recommend it for anyone who generally enjoys this genre.

Recommend to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Tuesday

25

May 2021

0

COMMENTS

We Had A Little Real Estate Problem by Kliph Nesteroff

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those with an interest in the history of comedy; those interested in the ways that US and Canadian popular culture have excluded groups, specifically Native Americans / Indigenous people.

In a nutshell:
Author Nesteroff provides a comprehensive history of Native American comedy interspersed with vignettes about modern-day Native American comedians.

Why I chose it:
A cannonballer reviewed it and it sounded so interesting.

Review:
I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. I think it might be one of the few cases where reading it as an audio book might have harmed it – for example, I didn’t realize until maybe 1/4 of the way through that the chapters were set up as sort of an alternating straight time line of the history of comedy and chapters about modern comedians. It felt super disjointed and a bit hard to follow until that clicked.

That said, the information in this book is interesting and pretty much all of it was new to me. The racism and lack of opportunities is not surprising, but I’ve been completely ignorant of the plight of Native American comedians – I’m not really ‘in’ to stand-up comedy, though I am a fan a few comedians (Hannah Gadsby springs to mind). I’m not totally unaware of the challenges that people who are not white men (or white women, to a lesser extent) face when seeking out their careers in places like Saturday Night Live, but I appreciate how the Native American experience is unique in this area.

I do wish this were written by a Native American writer or comedian, as I think they would be able to provide even more cultural context, though Nesteroff clearly has done loads of research.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
If it weren’t an audio book I’d donate it.