ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Monthly Archive: August 2019

Friday

30

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
People who like Liane Moriarty books.

In a nutshell:
Nine people arrive at a health retreat looking for change. They find a little more than that.

Worth quoting:
“The first was a woman … wearing an oversized, brand-new-looking whit t-shirt that hung almost to her knees over black leggings, the standard outfit for an average-sized woman who starts a new exercise program and thinks her perfectly normal body should be hidden.”

Why I chose it:
I have been waiting for this to come out in paperback and huzzah! It was worth the wait, as I picked it up at lunch yesterday and haven’t put it down much since.

Review:
Liane Moriarty has a formula – there are multiple characters, and while some are leads, there isn’t usually just one perspective shared. Usually these books go back and forth in time, but not this time. This time we get a fairly straightforward narrative from the perspective of a dozen characters, though Frances, a 50-something author, is the one we keep going back to.

Frances’s latest book has been rejected by her publisher, and she was scammed by an online love. She needs some change and so seeks it from a ten-day retreat that ends up including some questionable methods that increase in absurdity.

As always with Liane’s books there are things that you think you’ve got figured out and then she hits you with a curve. Her writing is engaging and her character development is strong here. I especially appreciated the way we got the sense of how people come across as compared to how they are feeling inside. I genuinely look forward to her books, and this one was worth the wait.

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

Wednesday

28

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

Childfree by Choice by Dr. Amy Blackstone

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
I wish everyone would read this. Parents who don’t understand why people would choose to not be parents can learn a lot about society’s misconceptions, but us childfree folks really benefit from writing that treats us as well-adjusted adults, not selfish, juvenile misanthropes.

In a nutshell:
Sociologist Blackstone looks at what it means to choose a life without children of one’s own.

Worth quoting:
I underlined something on nearly every page, and starred something especially poignant probably every three or four pages. But here are some of my favorites.

Regarding trying to get sterilized: “To feel so unheard for so many years, to be treated like a child who doesn’t know her own mind, and to be doubted by the very people who should be your advocates is demoralizing and exhausting.”

On the fact that there isn’t any evidence for such a thing as a ‘maternal instinct’: “It is much more comfortable, and comforting to others, to joke about one’s individual lack of maternal instinct than it is to suggest that it doesn’t exist.”

Discussing the definition of family: “Google the phrase ‘start a family’ and you’ll quickly discover that for many people, even today, families don’t begin until children enter the picture. This is not lost on the childfree.”

“No, we don’t all hate kids but neither should we have to justify our choice not to have them with lengthy proclamations about how much we adore them.”

Why I chose it:
I am childfree (and only met my spouse because we both selected ‘Does not want kids’ in our OK Cupid profiles) and have spent a ton of time thinking through this topic. I’m even working on a book that explores how relationships between parents and non-parents change once kids enter the picture. When I saw this book in the shop I damn near bought all the copies. Thankfully it lived up to and exceeded by expectations.

Review:
I could write a review of this book that is nearly as long as the introduction to it. Let me just say, up front, that Blackstone is both a thorough researcher AND a great writer, which keeps what could have been a dry book entertaining and interesting.

Blackstone starts the book in a place one might not expect — by acknowledging that while parenthood (and especially motherhood) is revered in US culture, there are specific groups of people who have traditionally been discouraged from having children. Basically, white middle- and upper-class women are pushed to reproduce, while people of color are judged for having children (especially more than just one or two) and experienced a history of having their reproductive rights challenged through things like forced sterilization. It’s good to center this discussion there.

She looks at pronatalism’s impact on our views of women and how by promoting the essentialness of motherhood to being a women, society then leads us to internalize the idea that women who aren’t mothers aren’t real women. This then has an effect on nearly everything, from how people are wary of women who don’t have kids to the benefits that are available to parents (such as the flexibility to leave work early to pick up a sick kid) but not non-parents (such as the flexibility to leave work early to take an ill pet to the vet). It extends to how we define family (something that really pisses me off) as only existing when a child and a parent are involved — to many people, my husband and I aren’t a family and I guess never will be since kids are not in our future.

She also focuses a lot of time on why people might make the choice not to have children, and how society views us as selfish. She compares how parents come to their own decision to have children, and points out those reasons are often just as ‘selfish,’ and concludes that we should just take that word out of rotation in this area because it serves no purpose. And of course threaded throughout is evidence of how parents and society as a whole are generally wary of non-parents and a bit judgmental about us.

Really the only area she doesn’t spent a lot of time on is how people without children can lose their friends as they become parents and their time and priorities shift, though her partner address this anecdotally in the afterword, which is written by him.

I loved this book because it made me feel seen and understood. I don’t have a ‘reason’ for not wanting children other than that I don’t want to be a parent. Much like I don’t want to be a surgeon. There’s nothing wrong with being a surgeon, and I agree society needs some, but it’s obviously not right for everyone. I wish people who look at me like I’m deficient or broken would instead realize that just as they CHOSE parenthood, I’ve CHOSEN a life without my own kids. It’s a weird feeling to know that up to three quarters of my life won’t match most of what my friends experience; this book helped me feel less alone in that.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it but also buy copies for people.

Monday

26

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

Do I Make Myself Clear? by Harold Evans

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Writing classrooms.

In a nutshell:
Longtime writer and editor Harold Evans offers lessons to improve writing.

Worth quoting:
“We are more likely to understand the argument if we know where we are heading.”
“Anything that goes wrong will always be wordier than anything that goes right.”

Why I chose it:
I’m always looking to improve my writing.

Review:
In the first few pages of this book the author speaks well of both Churchill (racist) and Kissinger (war criminal), so I did have a little trouble moving past that. I was expecting something closer to Stephen King’s ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’; instead it is closer to a good text one might find in an introductory journalism or creative writing course at University. That is, it is well-written and helpful but dry (ironic, eh?) and repetitive.

Nearly every section comes down to editing; specifically to cutting words so one communicates in the simplest way. And that is solid advice! It’s just … there are only so many ways once can reiterate the same point.

Though, to his credit, Evans does find many ways to do just that. Most chapters include sample text that he then edits to be easier to read or straightforward. I could see those samples being helpful in a classroom: offer the originals to students and have them edit them down and compare to Evans’s edits. Some chapters also include lists of phrases that are redundant, or words that are misused, which makes the book worth keeping around. I’ll add it to my writing reference stack, and look at it occasionally.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it for the reference value.

Sunday

25

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

Emerald City by Brian Birnbaum

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Two Stars

Best for:
I cannot recommend this to anyone.

In a nutshell:
I couldn’t really tell you. I could reproduce the description from the back of the book, but I think that’s unfair to other authors whose books can be described by their readers without resorting to that. Though according to the reviews that have already seeded Good Reads it is ‘shocking.’

Worth quoting:
Here is an example of the writing that fills each page:
“He’d sooner have gotten mad at time’s perceived acceleration over life’s void of fulfillment. An illegal fraction represented best how fucked this so-called sentience was — and yet here she was, brooding over an extemporized jest.”

Why I chose it:
This was a free advance reader copy available through the Cannonball Read. I jumped at it because it’s set in Seattle (a place I called home for 10 years as an adult) and sounded intriguing.

Review:
This is either my first or second DNF (did not finish) review for Cannonball Read. I struggled with even doing this but I think if a book is offered free for review I at least owe it to the author to be as honest as I can be without being an asshole. I don’t think the review will be getting back to the author directly, and I can’t imagine he’d agree with or enjoy my criticism, but I’m offering it anyway, because that’s what we do here.

Are you familiar with @GuyInYourMFA? I believe that this book may have been written by the people those tweets satirize. Not because of the subject matter necessarily (there seems to be a female lead who isn’t described in an absurd way, and the plot isn’t just about a white man finding himself), but because of the writing style.

When I titled this review “The Writing Got In the Way,” it’s because it is genuinely difficult to read. And not in a the capital-G Great American Novel type of way that I admittedly don’t find appealing but understand serves a purpose; but because it seems like the author is trying so hard to sound complex and intelligent that it comes across as the opposite.

Do you remember the episode of Friends where Chandler and Monica ask Joey to write a letter of recommendation to the adoption agency? And Joey is worried it doesn’t sound smart enough so he goes through and replaces nearly every word with a related (though not necessarily matching in context) word? And it ends up being completely unintelligible? This book feels like 400 pages of that letter.

Multiple adjectives are included where one (or none) would suffice. Simple concepts (such as ‘a year’) become needlessly multi-syllabic (”two solstices.”) Now I will grant that there is a type of book where “two solstices” would sound poetic and lovely as a description of the movement of time; this book isn’t that one. Also, and I’m being pedantic here, but two solstices isn’t actually a year. At its shortest, it could be six months and a day. Only from the next sentence do we learn it’s meant to signify a year. So it’s oddly flowery AND inaccurate.

I went down a bit of a rabbit hole when this book didn’t show up on Amazon and learned that Emerald City is one of three books set to be released by a new publishing house this year. A publishing house co-founded and owned by the author who claims the book represents “hyper-intelligent energy” that readers are “starved for.” Hmmm. The book is meant to be released in three weeks but still has no presence on Amazon (the above link is to the out-of-print version) or Indie Bound, so I’m not sure it’s going to make it.

However, if there is a chance that the author will publish it later, my strongest advice would be to get a brand-new, completely outside editor to cut through the unnecessary metaphors and similes. Someone who can pare this book down to the core plot to allow the characters to exist. Someone who understands that ‘intelligent’ is not synonymous with ‘uses ten words when five would work.’

I don’t write fiction so I can’t imagine how hard it must be, but it seems that the author has made it even harder for himself by writing it in this way. I just couldn’t get past the first 50 pages, and so cannot recommend this to anyone.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
I offered to return it, but it shall instead be finding new purpose in the recycling bin outside my apartment.

Sunday

25

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – August 25, 2019

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

Sexism in Video Games

“What I was putting forth was not radical at all,” she says. “For some reason, people’s minds were blown by me saying, ‘Hey, let’s not treat women like shit.’ Maybe asking to have a female protagonist in the occasional video game is not worthy of bomb threats?” The Anita Sarkeesian story (by Colin Campbell for Polygon)

Racism in Policing

“The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the identification of nearly 330 active local officers’ public Facebook posts that were included in the database. Reggie Shuford of the ACLU of Pennsylvania said, “Hundreds of police officers in Philadelphia openly express hostility and antipathy toward the people they serve. And the report only exposes those officers who did not hide their views behind a privacy wall. How many more officers say the same thing under the cloak of stronger privacy settings?”” Spotlight: In A Study of Cops’ Facebook Accounts, 1 in 5 Has Posted Racist, Violent Content (by Vaidya Gullapalli for The Appeal)

Something Good

Thursday

22

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

Severance by Ling Ma

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy novels that move around in time. Those who liked Station Eleven.

In a nutshell:
The fever has taken over the world. Candace has survived it, and is now traveling with other survivors. Through chapters alternating in the past and present, we learn what Candace’s life (and the life of her immigrant parents) was like, and is like now.

Worth quoting:
“It made me wistful for the illusion of New York more than for its actuality, after having lived there for five years.”

Why I chose it:
I saw it in a few book stores and kept picking it up. Finally had to go for it.

Review:
This is a situation where I don’t want to give away too much, because I think the less you know, the more interesting the book is. I accidentally glanced at just a bit of one Cannonballer’s review in my feed and while they didn’t spoil anything, I think something they mentioned did take away from my reading of it because I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I suggest that, if you’re at all interested in reading this book, you just pick it up and read it.

The book looks at so many big ideas — capitalism, immigration, survivalism, urban living — but also smaller, relatable intimacies, such as competition at work, relationships (romantic, platonic, familial), daily life choices. Her boyfriend Jonathan starts out as a mildly interesting character, but I found Candace’s evolution of her view of him to be relatable and more interesting that Jonathan himself.

I like the style of going back and forth in time – I’m not sure this book would be as compelling were it told in a straightforward manner. But at the same time, author Ma is a talented writer, able to create a vivid picture without flowery or overly-descriptive language. I have a strong idea of what the manufacturing plant in China looks like, the hotel, Candace’s New York apartments, her office. I did live in New York for many years, so I think that may have increased my enjoyment of the book a bit, but if it were set in another major city I’m sure I would have devoured it all the same (in any case, I started this book on a Wednesday and finished it Thursday evening, and worked both of those days).

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Pass to a Friend. One has already called dibs, in fact.

Wednesday

21

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
People who enjoy quality fiction, ridiculously good writing, and are looking for something a little different in their protagonist.

In a nutshell:
Writer Arthur Less’s ex-boyfriend is getting married. Arthur Less is about to turn 50. Instead of wallowing, Arthur Less decides to accept all the literary invites he’s received and spend the summer traveling the world.

Worth quoting:
“You and me, we’ve met geniuses. And we know we’re not like them, don’t we? What is it like to go on, knowing you are not a genius, knowing you are a mediocrity? I think it’s the worst kind of hell.”

Why I chose it:
My sister was reading this over the holidays a couple of years ago. We saw it in a bookstore and she said she really enjoyed it so I picked it up.

Review:
What a fun and unexpected novel. I’ve lately been enjoying media about older adults (Grace and Frankie is a favorite) because I just don’t think — outside of endless procedurals on CBS — we have enough stories about people who aren’t in their 20s and 30s. Occasionally some 40s sneak in there, but movies like The Wife, or books like Less, are interesting explorations of parts of life we don’t often see.

Arthur Less is an author who has one ex who is a well known and highly regarded genius poet and another who is about to get married. He’s not sure what’s going on with his latest book, and he’s not sure what’s going on in the rest of his life. So when the invitation to his ex’s wedding he instead decides to go to an awards ceremony in Italy, to teach a course in Germany, to go to a writer’s retreat in India. And he learns things about himself along the way, but not the things you think.

Yes, I realize that might sound like a gay male version of Eat Pray Love but I PROMISE you it is not. It’s so much more.

But this isn’t just a well-crafted, well-plotted book. It’s a book that also has gorgeous writing that isn’t pretentious. It isn’t a challenge to read, but instead an utter pleasure. I mean, look at this sentence fragment: ‘an almond croissant is soon in his hands, covering him in buttered confetti.’ That is GORGEOUS. Gorgeous. And now I want an almond croissant.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it. Knowing how it ends, I want to read it again.

Sunday

18

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – August 18 2019

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

Call to Action

“The Trump-Pence Administration has truly outdone itself. Their latest proposal at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) seeks to strip away explicit healthcare protections on the basis of gender identity, effectively targeting transgender and gender non-conforming people’s access to critical care. Erasing these protections is not only discriminatory but against the public health and the mission of HHS.” Tell HHS you are NOT OK with Discrimination

Tr*mp Hatred of Immigrants

“The rule means many green card and visa applicants could be turned down if they have low incomes or little education, and have used benefits such as most forms of Medicaid, food stamps, and housing vouchers, because they’d be deemed more likely to need government assistance in the future.” Trump admin announces rule that could limit legal immigration over use of public benefits (by Priscilla Alvarez, Geneva Sands and Tami Luhby for CNN)

Labor

“Greenwell said Friday that she feels “heartbroken” about leaving and that, while she does not want to be seen as a victim, recent decisions by company brass left her with few options. Among the many grievances, Greenwell said, G/O leadership refused to guarantee editorial independence for Deadspin and asked for the site to “stick to sports”—a long-running source of frustration for a staff that also covers media, politics, and culture beyond sports.” Deadspin Editor Quits, Rails Against Bosses: ‘I’ve Been Repeatedly Lied To and Gaslit’ (by Maxwell Tani for the Daily Beast)

“That elicited a reply from Live Science staff writer Rafi Letzter, who offered to provide Barstool workers info on the unionization process and explain “how little power your boss has to stop you.” Live Science’s staff is represented by the Writers Guild of America East. On Tuesday, Portnoy said he would fire anyone who attempted to contact Letzter. In response to another commenter, who claimed to be a lawyer offering pro-bono assistance to Barstool employees wanting to unionize, Portnoy wrote, “Anybody who hires this lawyer will be fired immediately and I will personally sue you for damages and back wages.”” Barstool Sports Founder Threatens to Fire Employees Engaged in Unionizing, Which Is Against the Law (by Todd Spangler for Variety)

Misogyny at Work

“I wish I could tell you that it’s gotten better. It hasn’t. Gamergate gave birth to a new kind of celebrity troll, men who made money and built their careers by destroying women’s reputations. It poisoned our politics and our society. Attacks on journalists, disinformation campaigns, the online radicalization of young men — these are depressingly familiar symptoms of our current dysfunction.” I Wish I Could Tell You It’s Gotten Better. It Hasn’t. (by Brianna Wu for the New York Times)

“We entered this week’s mediation with representatives of USSF full of hope,” the players’ spokesperson, Molly Levinson, said in a statement. “Today we must conclude these meetings sorely disappointed in the federation’s determination to perpetuate fundamentally discriminatory workplace conditions and behavior. It is clear that USSF, including its board of directors and president Carlos Cordeiro, fully intend to continue to compensate women players less than men. They will not succeed. We want all of our fans, sponsors, peers around the world, and women everywhere to know we are undaunted and will eagerly look forward to a jury trial.” After Breakdown in Mediation Talks, USWNT Lawsuit Likely Heading to Federal Court (by Grant Wahl for Sports Illustrated)

Reproductive Health

“Tens of thousands of women with CVS/Caremark pharmacy coverage could lose much-needed service through Pill Club.” CVS, don’t take away access to birth control (The Pill Club)

 

Sunday

11

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – 11 August 2019

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

US Immigration Policy

“He was a member of the Chaldean Catholic minority, many of whose members fled Iraq following the second U.S. invasion. He did not speak Arabic and had never been to Iraq. But when he encountered legal issues in the United States, which his lawyer attributed to his his mental health issues including paranoid schizophrenia, he was deported to Iraq by the Trump Administration. Now Aldaoud is dead, according to a Facebook post by his lawyer, who said he likely died because he could not obtain insulin in Iraq to treat his diabetes.” ICE Deported a Man to a Place He’d Never Lived. Now He’s Dead (by Peter Wade for Rolling Stones)

“The ICE raids, carried out under the leadership of a Donald Trump-appointed US attorney, took place at seven food processing plants in six Mississippi cities. Photographs of crying children left distraught when their parents were taken into custody immediately went viral worldwide. Father Jeremy Tobin, a Catholic priest who works with the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (Mira), told the Guardian he had been flooded with worried calls and messages from immigrants, documented and undocumented alike.” Crying children and broken families: huge raids break immigrant communities (by Ashton Pittman for the Guardian)

Gun Violence

“One could have predicted that Bedoya was going to make some kind of on-field statement against the horrors that have become a part of daily life in this country. Before the game, Bedoya tweeted, “Seeing more thoughts and prayers bullshit. Words without actions are just worthless. America, it seems, is becoming a dystopian society. Do something!!! Enough!!!” After the contest, a 5-1 win for Philadelphia, Bedoya said to reporters, “I’m not going to sit idly and wait for things to happen 50 years from now—I want change now.” A Soccer Player’s On-Field Message to Congress: ‘Do Something Now. End Gun Violence. Let’s Go!’ (by Dave Zirin for The Nation)

White Supremacy and Nationalism

“We also have to begin to take seriously the role that cable is playing in spreading these keywords that are associated with these manifestos and so, one of the things that we’re noting in a pattern is that there’s a you know publication of the manifesto then there’s the attack and then there’s the cycle, the media cycle that the manifesto gets washed through. And what we’re noting is that there’s a lot more attention to these manifestos now than there ever was before.” How news organizations should cover white supremacist shootings, according to a media expert (PBS NewsHour)

“A Mineral County man has been charged with assault of a minor for slamming a child to the ground during the national anthem at the Mineral County fairgrounds. The 13-year-old boy was flown to Spokane after receiving temporal skull fractures in the incident that happened at the Mineral County Fairgorunds.” Montana man accused of assaulting child for not removing hat during national anthem (by Kent Luetzen for KBZK)

Brexit

“But here’s a simple, grim fact about Brexit that has been successfully obscured by Johnson’s repetitive focus on the Halloween deadline. Brexit will not be “done” by October 31, 2019. Or 2020. Or 2030. In truth, Brexit will never be “done”. This is one of the many awful ironies of Brexit. The people selling and voting for it shared some desire to reduce the role of “Europe” in our national life. In fact, leaving will only increase the time and energy we spend considering and constructing our relationships with the European Union.” Leaving on October 31 won’t be the end of this. Brexit will never be over (by James Kirkup for Evening Standard)

US Presidential Election

“So much of Warren’s approach to pedagogy can be understood via the assumpsit gambit: With it, she establishes direct communication and affirms that she’s not going to be doing all the talking or all the thinking; she’s going to be hearing from everyone in the room. By starting with a question that so many get wrong but wind up learning the answer to, she’s also telegraphing that not knowing is part of the process of learning.” Elizabeth Warren’s Classroom Strategy (by Rebecca Traister for The Cut)

“Indigenous people have been continually subject to cruelty and neglect at the hands of the federal government. We deserve a president who will strengthen tribal sovereignty, honor treaty commitments, ensure justice for Indigenous women, and advance tribal-federal partnerships for progress. As president, I will partner with Indigenous communities for a fairer and more prosperous future. My People First Indigenous Communities platform lays out a blueprint for ensuring all native people and communities can thrive in the years ahead.” People First Indigenous Communities Policy (by Julián Castro)

Something Good (Especially for those who have lived in NYC):

This is an impression of when you’re sitting on the subway and a tourist tries to read the subway map that’s right behind your head.

Long time fan, first time caller with the other side of this exchange.

Thursday

8

August 2019

0

COMMENTS

There Are No Grown-Ups by Pamela Druckerman

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People looking for a perfectly entertaining collection of essays about mid-life.

In a nutshell:
Author Druckerman shares what she has learned as she entered her 40s.

Worth quoting:
“As you keep looking at things, you see more and more in them.”

Why I chose it:
I finished my book and had a train ride back to the UK ahead of me. This was one of the English-language books available, and it was by an author I’d read before.

Review:
As I mentioned in a previous review, I’m turning 40 next year, so some of my book choices are focused on that reality. This book happened to fit into that trend, and it offered some interesting insights. Some of the chapters within the book are clearly repurposed versions of previous essay’s Druckerman has written, but she manages to make them mostly fit together.

On thing I appreciate about her writing is her honest self-assessment. Well, at least it seems honest (I don’t know her), as it isn’t always flattering, nor is it self-deprecating in a way that reeks of false humility. She wonders if she has any immutable characteristics; she struggles to make friends.

She isn’t totally relatable, and I don’t think I agree with all of her suggestions and advice, but some components – especially chapters 18 (’How to figure out what’s happening) and 21 (how to say no) – resonated with me. I’m definitely happy I picket it up.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it (I’ll be tossing it, but only because I got a lot of tomato juice on my copy)