ASK Musings

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Monthly Archive: March 2013



March 2013



The Long Goodbye

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I have to say I feel so weird reviewing such an honest and open book. I feel like if I criticize anything, or don’t have the reactions most people have, that I’m judging the author’s feelings instead of her writing or storytelling. But I’m just going to try to set that aside.

I can’t tell if I didn’t like this book because I listened to the audio version or because it just wasn’t a great book. Possibly it was a combination of both, but I’m feeling a little generous and so will blame most of it on the audio version.

As previously mentioned, I have a job some find odd. Because of that work I have spent some time trying to better understand grief. When I’m writing plans for how to best help people experience an unexpected loss, I want to know as much as I can to avoid increasing their pain. I’ve repeatedly heard and seen that there is no ‘right’ way to grieve, and that while nothing that is said is going to make the person feel as they did before their loss, there are certainly things people can say that actively do not help.  When I heard about this book, I thought it would be interesting to get an individual’s perspective on their own grief, especially an individual who is an eloquent writer.

O’Rourke’s mother died after a battle with cancer, and clearly it has affected the author greatly. None of my friends have lost a parent while I’ve known them (a few have lost parents prior to me meeting them), so I’ve not witnessed the grief of a loss of a parent at such a young age first hand (the author was younger than I am now when her mother died, and her mother was in her mid-50s when she died).

O’Rourke did a lot of interesting research to support the book. It is part personal memoir, and part exploration of other explorations of grief, if that makes sense.  She details her experience with her mother’s illness, the changes in her mother’s life, and in her own life, while dealing with the reality of a terminal illness. It was refreshing to hear a perspective that involved not just the direct experience with the dying by the attempts to manage one’s personal life. The author experiences different intimate relationships during her mother’s illness and immediately following it, and she describes them in a way that helps provide some insight into her daily life that isn’t just how she is relating to her father and siblings.

One part that I did really find to be well-done was her tackling of the ‘stages of grief’ idea that is so prevalent in our society. It seems most people don’t know (I only learned this last year) that the stages of grief are actually meant to address the stages people who are dying go through. Not those dealing with the loss of another person, but those dealing with their impending death.

I really do think that I would have found the book more moving and interesting if I had read it and not listened to it. While it was appropriate, the author’s complete monotone voice throughout six hours of reading made it hard to delineate between the happy, the sad, the informative and the funny. She sounded like a bored senior in high school reading a book report. If I had been reading I could have applied the same imagination I apply to other books when I read them, I and I think that would have been preferable.

Thus far I’ve listened to three other books, and all were (mostly) light, comedic books. This one required a bit more brain power and thoughtful processing of the words, and I wasn’t as able to do that when I was on a run or walking home from work. I’ve learned my lesson and will be sticking to the light stuff for my audio books.



March 2013



Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

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This book is great, y’all.


Sorry. I’ve been known to say ‘y’all’ on occasion (who knows why – I grew up on the west coast), and after listening to Ms. Lawson read her hilarious, sweet and bizarre memoir, I’ve incorporated it into my vocabulary once again. I can’t help it.

You might be familiar with Jenny Lawson but not know it. She is better known as The Bloggess, and she is a brilliant writer. She’s open, a fantastic storyteller, and able to make me laugh out loud, tear up, cringe, and feel nostalgic for my own (pretty different from her) childhood. Often in the same chapter.

Lawson grew up poor in West Texas. Like, bread sack shoes poor. Her father was a taxidermist and would do things like stick his hand up a dead squirrel and treat it like a puppet, or bring baby bobcats into the home to hang out. While the subtitle of the book says the memoir is “mostly” true, the reality is that most any chapter struck me as both completely ridiculous and totally plausible. Do I believe that she once had her arm up a cow’s vagina during animal husbandry class? Yes. Do I believe that they had raccoons as pets for a while? Yes.

The stories follow Lawson from childhood through adulthood, into married life. She is a mother, although only a couple of her stories deal directly with her in that role, and one of them is a doozy. In that chapter she talks in great detail about her miscarriages and attempts at having a child. I cannot imagine how devastating that was, but Lawson has such a tremendous way with words that I felt like I was hearing a friend describe it. It had me tearing up and wanting to give her and her husband a big hug.

One thing I really appreciated about this book is that there is a sensitivity that runs throughout it. The stories are mostly hilarious and guffaw-inducing, but there’s a rawness and reality behind them. It is vulnerability and self-reflection and strength all wrapped up together.

A couple of things to keep in mind before you run out to buy the paperback version (on the NY Times bestseller list now! First: There is a ton of cursing in this book. I don’t subscribe to the idea that cursing is offensive or lazy writing. I think the concept of someone saying ‘heck’ when their personality and feelings want them to say ‘fuck’ is ridiculous, unless you’re in church or possibly at work. If the author is thinking ‘fuck’, she should write it down. Clearly, Lawson is often thinking ‘fuck.’ And it works. It makes sense, it isn’t shocking, and it’s a hell of a lot less jarring than someone reacting to something utterly absurd with ‘dagnabbit’ instead of ‘holy shit.’

Second: PLEASE buy the audio version of this book. Lawson has a fantastic voice and amazing comic timing. Her delivery of the stories makes them all the funnier. The audio book also has the bonus chapter that is found in the paperback version, plus a good 10 minutes at the very end which is just her in the sound booth, offering up some fantastic ideas. And saying ‘vagina’ a lot.

This book is staying on my phone for multiple re-listenings, and it is going to get five stars, because it is awesome.



March 2013



Gone Girl

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Okay, everyone’s read this right? No? Briefest of synopses: woman goes missing, leaving behind cleaned-up blood and a possibly-staged crime scene, and husband is the suspect. The first chunk of the book is told alternatingly from his perspective and then from her diary entries. The rest … I’ll leave for you to discover.

So here’s my take. It’s really good. I read it in about three days, and screwed up my sleep by staying up about two hours later than I should have because I go so into it. I was really able to picture this couple, both in happier times and during the years leading up to the woman’s disappearance. The author did a really great job in creating different voices, making the characters stand out. It wasn’t quite like two different authors wrote it, but it was enough to make me believe these two different people and their perspectives.

Complaints? Hmmm. There are some super unsatisfying moments where I wish things went a different direction, but I think that’s good for a book. If I go along assuming X will happen because that’s what I want to happen, that doesn’t make for a very interesting read. Pleasant and mindless, sure, but not interesting. And I like interesting.

I borrowed this from the library and might re-read it again in a year. I have a feeling that, like The Sixth Sense, it will be kind of fun to go back and reread parts knowing how it ends.




March 2013



The Bedwetter

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This is the second audiobook I’ve ‘read’ for the Cannonball Read. Sticking with my idea of listening to female comic memoirs read by the authors, I picked The Bedwetter. I chose it with a bit of trepidation, as while I’ve found myself laughing at some of Sarah Silverman’s work, I recalled that she’s said some things that left a bad taste in my mouth. In general I think people are pretty torn on Sarah Silverman. They either find her funny or find her annoying / inappropriate. After listening to this memoir I’m definitely more of a fan of her work.


The book has a very sincere tone to it without being annoying. She sounds like herself, but not like a character version of herself, if that makes sense. Whether it was an act or not, I imagined that this is what she’d sound like talking to her friends. She shares some stories that would clearly be mortifying for a child or teenager, making her quite relatable, and sheds some light onto both the world of making a sitcom-style show and working at Saturday Night Live as a writer.

I think my favorite parts were where she discussed jokes she’s told that were not well received. Probably the best-known instance of this was when she was on Conan O’Brien and made a joke that used a racial slur for Asian people. Many people I know would probably stop listening there, but I was in the middle of a run and so didn’t really have a choice. And by that point I’d also felt like I’d invested enough in the book to want to hear her discussion of it. You know what? It was a very interesting, well-thought out discussion. Yes, she is a comic who make jokes about poo, but she’s also a thoughtful person interested in social commentary.

The audio book is about six hours in length, so just long enough for me to listen to it over about a week’s worth of runs. I’m glad I purchased it instead of borrowing it from the library because it’s the kind of book I could see myself listening to again in the future.



March 2013



Dead Men Do Tell Tales

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I earn my living, in part, by planning for what to do when a whole lot of people die all at once. Yes, that is actually a real job, and hopefully one that exists in your city or state. There are a lot of people around the country who do what I do, and earlier this year I attended a conference of such folks. I chose to read this book during that conference; it seemed fitting.

Dead men

Dead Men Do Tell Tales is a fascinating, detailed book by Dr. William Maples, an amazingly accomplished forensic anthropologist. You may be familiar with that field if you watch “Bones,” although as is usually the case, what you see on screen doesn’t closely match reality. A forensic anthropologist is trained in examining human remains to learn more about the decedent. They can tell if bones belonged to a woman or man, approximate age, and explain wounds. It’s very detail-oriented work, at times taking months or years when the identity is unknown (not the 45 minutes plus commercials Emily Deschanel might suggest).

In his book from the 90s, Dr. Maples takes the reader through many different cases he’s participated in over the years. Some involve people you’ve never heard of, and some are so famous it would be understandable if you didn’t quite believe what you were reading. Dr. Maples was, no joke, part of the small team that confirmed the identity of the bones of the murdered last Tsars of Russia. He put to rest the idea that President Taylor was killed by arsenic poisoning. He also helped convict murderers whose crimes were devastating but whose names you and I might not recognize.

As evidenced by my line of work, I find this to be an extremely interesting topic. I’ve read Mary Roach’s Stiff, as well as a couple of other books about the lives of medical examiners. If nothing else is on TV, I’ll likely leave it tuned to Dr. G. Medical Examiner or some other disease-related show on TLC or Discovery. I say all of that in service of the recognition that this type of writing is just not for everyone.

It is EXTREMELY graphic. Not to shock, but to explain. How else can he express to you how he was able to identify a murder weapon than to explain how he matched it to the wounds to the victim’s bones? Without the detail, it would be a very short book, with each chapter consisting of “so I did my work and concluded X.” His way of writing is so much better – it makes sense, and gives the reader a real insight into how forensic anthropology works.

If you enjoy history, or true crime stories, or science, and are not easily sickened by detailed descriptions of human remains, I think you’ll really enjoy this book. The only reason I gave it four stars is because at times the non-forensic writing (the set-up to the crime, or background) is a bit too flowery for my tastes. I appreciate creative turns of phrase, and I don’t doubt that the authors really do write this way, but at times it felt a little like one of them just got a new thesaurus. Additionally, while it suits the structure of the book, each chapter feels like its own independent essay; he re-explains some things as though the reader hadn’t just learned about them 50 pages prior.

But those are minimal complaints. It’s a great book.



March 2013



No Kids For Me – Why Is That Seen As A Bad Thing?

Written by , Posted in Childfree, Feminism

This post has been writing itself in my mind for over a year, when I had my first real encounter with someone who refused to accept that I did not plan to have children. During a discussion about his two-year-old daughter, the son-in-law of a family friend asked when I was going to have kids. My response of ‘oh, I’m not having children’ was met with a guffaw. He condescendingly insisted that I was wrong and would change my mind. It was a frustrating encounter, but not unusual. It seems childfree people are often told that we either don’t know what we want or we are selfish for wanting what we do.

Oh, I know what I want, and that is a life without my own children. I do not want to raise them. It’s not something that interests me, it’s not something I’ve ever desired, and it is not part of what I want for my life. Please note: this doesn’t mean I don’t like any children – I volunteer as a leader for a Campfire group of 10 four-year-olds. I happily hold my friends’ children, play with them, get them slightly age-inappropriate gifts. It just means I do not want to raise one of my own.

I get that someone who has always wanted to have kids might be taken aback when they encounter someone with an equally strong but opposing viewpoint, and that they might gasp “why” initially, but perhaps after the first “because I don’t want kids” they can let it go. I mean, think of how weird it would be to really start questioning a pregnant woman about why she wants to have children, telling her that she will change her mind and that she’s really missing out on a fantastic life. Seems pretty inappropriate, right? Yeah. Same for refusing to accept someone’s statement that they don’t want kids.

Also, I get really tired of the people who sort of nod, giving us the idea that they either get what we’re saying (or have the manners to let it go), then smile and say “yeah, I get it. It’s fun to be a little selfish.” Say what? The decision to have children is just as self-centered as the decision to not have children. What comes AFTER that may vary in selfishness, but think about it. I think most parents expect that they will find some joy in parenting. My understanding is that it is (or can be) very rewarding but also very difficult. That it’s something that gives parents satisfaction. It’s something they are doing out of a desire, to accommodate their vision of the future. To help them have the life they want.

Sounds remarkably similar to the reasons why people choose not to have children. So why is one choice seen as selfish?

Part of the problem seems to me that the reasons people (who have children) suggest people like me aren’t having children are inevitably quite trivial, but if you ask most of us, the reasons aren’t trivial at all. I’m not childfree so I can sleep in. I’m not childfree because I can’t handle the responsibility. I’m not childfree so I can have lots of money to spend on fancy clothes.

But even if I were – why should anyone else care? Why should anyone feel so invested that they want to change my mind? Or want to suggest that I just don’t know myself as well as someone who does want children? It seems so … unnecessary.

If you still can’t really wrap your head around why someone would not want children, or thinks it’s a ‘bad’ decision, try this analogy:

I don’t want to be a doctor. That doesn’t mean I think doctors are bad, or that pursuing a medical career isn’t a great thing. I also recognize that we need doctors in the world, and are lucky that there are many, many people willing to take that on. No one yells at me for not wanting to be a doctor, or condescends that I will change my mind; they accept that being a doctor is not for me and that I know myself best. They don’t call me selfish for not wanting to go to medical school; they accept that I’ve weighed my options and becoming a doctor doesn’t come up high on the list. And doctors don’t come up to me and say “Oh, you should be a doctor. I know you say you aren’t going to be one, but you’ll change your mind. It’s awesome, and the best possible route for everyone.”

And to address that other looming question: what if everyone thought like I do? Well, what if everyone wanted to be a lawyer? What if no one wanted to be a sewage system operator? There are lots of different roles people can fill in the world, and most people fill many, many roles. But we don’t expect everyone to fill all the same ones; in fact, that would be a recipe for failure. Why must the exception to that be reproducing?