ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Author Archive

Saturday

11

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

Brain Droppings by George Carlin

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Fans of Carlin’s clever and confrontational style of comedy.

In a nutshell: Comedian Carlin shares jokes, observations, and wordplay.

Worth quoting:
“You could hear a pin drop. Well, you can’t hear a pin drop. Not even a bowling pin. When a pin is dropping, it’s just floating through the air. There’s very little noise. You might be able to hear a pin land but certainly not drop.”

“I hear ya.” “Wonderful. And are you picking me up visually as well?”

Why I chose it: I’m trying to read before bed (instead of staring at my phone) but didn’t want anything too heavy. Thought I’d revisit what I used to describe as one of my favorite humor books.

Review:
Some of you may know Carlin as the first host of Saturday Night Live. Others may know him from his famous ‘Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV” sketch. My guess is most of you know him as Rufus, the amazing supporting character from the Bill and Ted films, who will be sorely missed when Bill and Ted Face the Music is released this summer. I think of him as the author of this book, because I’ve read it (part or in full) probably a dozen times.

This isn’t a comedic memoir, or even a collection of humorous stories or essays. There are some slightly longer bits (say, 2-3 pages), but mostly it is a paragraph joke, or a one-liner, or even a collection of two-word phrases that Carlin thinks is interesting. Some of it makes me laugh out loud; some of it makes me think. A lot of it revolves around wordplay and the discussion of what certain words and phrases actually mean, if one really thinks about it.

There are definitely parts of this book that make me cringe. Carlin has a strong aversion to the idea of ‘political correctness,’ and claims to not be on any ‘side’ politically. This is evident, for example, in his justification for use of the word r*tard. However, he has a strong sense of justice, and recognized how poorly people of color (though he would hate using that term) and women are treated in society. I think he’s who people like Ricky Gervais think they are (edgy, cool, astutely observant) but they couldn’t hold a candle to him. They’re not in the same world as him.

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

Saturday

11

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

The Year of Living Virtuously Weekends Off by Teresa Jordan

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: Those who enjoy very short essays about life in the mid-west US.

In a nutshell: Author Jordan uses a (very loose) framing of virtues and vices to tell stories about her life and the lives of others.

Worth quoting: “I respect people who keep their promises — when those promises are honorable.”

Why I chose it: I thought it was going to be more in line with, say, an A. J. Jacobs book. It was not.

Review:
I purchased this book long ago, and brought it with me when I moved to the UK. As part of my giant bookshelf purge, I decided I need to start reading the books on my shelves before buying more, and this one seemed like a good place to start. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite what I was hoping, and ultimately wasn’t for me, but might be perfect for others.

I thought (especially given the sub-title of ‘weekends off’) that this would be the author’s attempt to live her life according to certain virtues and vices and see what it meant to her day-to-day. Instead, Jordan researched ideas of virtues and vice (drawing heavily from Benjamin Franklin) and writes an essay about a past experience in her life that she thinks illustrates that concept. Sometimes the connection is strong and obvious, sometimes it is subtle, and sometimes it is a bit of a stretch. Much of it focuses on her life growing up on a ranch, which is a life I cannot relate to. So in that respect it was an interesting reading challenge for me.

As I flipped through the book after finishing reading it, I noticed that nearly everything I underlined was a quote from someone else that Jordan included. I think there is a skill there, in bringing in other thoughts and weaving them into one’s own work, but also if I’m reading someone’s thoughts I want to read their thoughts, if that makes any sense.

The writing is good, and the storytelling is at times interesting, but the conceit doesn’t fully hold for me.

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Donate it

Thursday

2

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism by Vladimir Lenin

Written by , Posted in Politics, Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People interested in a sense of what the Marxist philosophers were saying in the 1900s. Admittedly a niche market at this point (for now, anyway).

In a nutshell:
The title basically nails it – Lenin argues that Imperialism is Capitalism at its end.

Worth quoting:
“..for both uneven development and a semi-starvation level of existence of the masses are fundamental and inevitable conditions and constitute premises of this mode of production.”

Why I chose it:
It was assigned as part of the Marxist book club I’m in.

Review:
My how my life has changed. Never thought I’d be reading and reviewing Lenin, but here we are.

This fairly short book serves as a surprisingly relevant discussion of imperialism, and specifically how capitalism fuels the colonialist actions of nations. Lenin lays out the development of monopolies (along the way refuting the idea of truly free markets, as they eventually evolve into monopolies), the major role that banks play in consolidating wealth and capital, and how the need to further feed these monopolies needs nations and corporations to seek out further raw materials and financing.

In the book, the primary areas discussed are oil and coal, but substitute pretty much anything modern and its clear that monopolies have not gone anywhere, and imperialism is alive and well, though perhaps not in the exact same way. Amazon.com doesn’t invade countries and claim their land, but they do take over cities, making those cities dependent on them to survive (*cough* Seattle *cough*). Something like 40% of the box office in 2019 were came from Disney studios. Companies — and countries — continue to seek new customers and new materials for their products, further consolidating until all those ‘choices’ we think we have are just different ways of our money going to the same few individuals.

Some people may not find this disturbing. As long as they get their next season of Stranger Things, or their favorite shampoo arriving on their doorstep 24 hours after they order it, they don’t much care. And frankly, much of the time, when I’m not thinking about it, I don’t care either. But then I look at how Amazon treats their warehouse employees. In some places that might be the ‘best’ job available, but it’s still crap, and Amazon can get away with it because they’re the only game in town. Monopolies like this are harmful to nearly everyone in some way (except the people diving into their vault of cash, Scrooge McDuck-style).

There are a couple of areas that I picked up on that don’t seem to have held up (or at least, haven’t necessarily come to pass on the time line of 100+ years). At one point Lenin talks about how the Stock Markets have become less important and I get the impression that he thinks they will eventually fade away. However, in the US we can see that while Stock Markets are playing around with essentially fake value, how those markets move drives so much of the commentary about how ‘healthy’ the economy is. A company can lose millions of dollars in ‘value’ in the stock market in one day because of a news story, and that’s what’s reported. The overall value of the market is still shared at the end of newscasts. People care about it, even if it shouldn’t matter.

The other area (which may be the result of me not fully understanding the book) that I found didn’t quite hold up is the assumption that this imperialism is the last stage of capitalism, and that necessarily capitalism is decaying. To me this implies that soon after this writing (in the early 1900s), Lenin believed that capitalism would cease to be. Obviously that hasn’t held, but perhaps his other writings clarify this point or provide detail on what would need to happen to speed up this decay.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Toss it (I read a printout of a PDF, and as its in the public domain, anyone can read it online.)

Thursday

2

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

My Thoughts Exactly by Lily Allen

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People interested in learning a bit about what the music industry can be like for young women, and a lot about what it was like for Lily Allen.

In a nutshell:
Musician Lily Allen shares her life story, including all the messy bits.

Worth quoting:
“When women share their stories, loudly and clearly and honestly, things begin to change – for the better.”

Why I chose it:
I was looking for another audio book and this one was on sale. Plus, read by the author, so right up my alley.

Review:
I knew very little about Lily Allen when I purchased this audio book. I think the only songs of hers I know are Smile and Fuck You, both of which I enjoy. And when she talks about the well-placed anger over her ‘Hard Out Here’ video, I recalled having read something about it. Beyond that? Nothing.

Allen opens herself up to the reader, sharing stories from her childhood through until right now, with an updated chapter added to the audio book in 2019. She shares her challenges with drugs and drinking, with her family, with sex and relationships. She is also brutal in her honestly and clarity around the feelings that accompanied two very hard times in her life: the death of her son George just before his birth, and her experience with a stalker. She is honest about how she perceives her faults, but also doesn’t hide behind false humility when it comes to her talents in her music career.

Really I have just one area of disappointment with this book. Allen was raised by people in the entertainment industry, but spends some time in this book stating that she was able to get her successful music career on her own. After reading this memoir, I can see why it annoys her that people think that her connections are why she’s successful, because she did work quite hard (and she is talented). But there is a bit of self-awareness around there that is lacking. She didn’t pull herself up all on her own – she definitely had a hand, and even while she’s being rightfully pissed at the tabloids assigning 100% of her success to her privilege, she seems to not fully acknowledge the benefits she had. Now obviously I don’t know everything (a couple hundred pages, no matter how honest, don’t tell anyone’s full story), but in what appears to be an otherwise open and raw book, it was the one thing that seemed off to me.

That aside, as someone who knew very little about and wouldn’t consider herself a fan of the author, I still enjoyed hearing about her life and getting her perspective on things. I think others will enjoy it as well.

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

Wednesday

1

January 2020

0

COMMENTS

F**k No by Sarah Knight

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Fans of Knight’s previous work (like me); people who need some tips for how to set boundaries with others and themselves (also like me).

In a nutshell:
Knight offers suggestions and tips for how to say no in pretty much any given situation.

Worth quoting:
“Most people do not care nearly as much about how you live your life as you think they do.”
“It’s okay to protect our mental, emotional, and physical health by saying no to our bosses if we feel we need to and that it’s realistic to do so.”

Why I chose it:
I’ve read her other three books (though not the two related journals) in the No Fucks Given series and mostly enjoyed them.

Review:
My first book reviewed in 2019 was Knight’s ‘Calm the Fuck Down,’ and it genuinely helped me. I mean, I’m still full of anxiety, but I can manage it better. So when I heard this book was coming out at the end of 2019 I thought, why not make it my first review for 2020?

I tend to have trouble saying no to family requests (which luckily are quite few and far between, though that’s probably why I’m more disinclined to pass on things I don’t want to do) and, lately, with requests from my football coach. I have trouble balancing being there for the family (or team) and what I believe will be best for me. Where is the line between self-care and selfishness? Fuck if I know.

But that’s not so much what this book is about. It’s about primarily HOW to say no once one has decided that they cannot / should not / do not want to do something. And there are some great tips and amusing anecdotes. I enjoy Knight’s writing style, and found the book to be a pretty quick read despite being nearly 300 pages long.

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Keep it

Friday

27

December 2019

0

COMMENTS

Dear Girls by Ali Wong

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone who likes a good comedic memoir but also appreciates some sincerity.

In a nutshell:
Comedian Ali Wong shares stories from her life through the convention of letters to her two daughters. She also gives her husband the afterword to tell some of his perspective.

Worth quoting:
“You have suffered enough.” That became my mantra for motherhood from there on out. You have suffered enough. If you can make it easier, make it easier, and don’t feel guilty about it.”

Why I chose it:
Humorous memoirs are my favorite. Plus, I knew that over the holidays most of the podcasts I listen to on runs would be on break, so I needed something to listen to.

Review:
I’ve seen both of Ali Wong’s Netflix specials and watched Always Be My Maybe. The latter had me in near tears at times, the former two are funny for sure but a bit bluer than I like. It’s not that I think she shouldn’t be so vulgar or anything — it’s just not favorite type of humor. And while there is definitely a fair bit of that vulgarity in this book, I enjoyed it all quite a lot.

The convention Wong uses has each chapter take the form of a new letter to her daughters, who are still very young. Every once in awhile I’d get a feeling like when I’d think too hard about an episode of How I Met Your Mother: you really want to tell your kids THAT? Huh. Okay. But the convention relies on her daughters not reading the book until their 21, and frankly it’s kind of cool to think about kids who will know a lot about their mother’s life. How many of us have the kind of relationship with our parents where they tell stories of their wild times in college? If so, good for you, but that’s not really my experience of the world.

No single chapter / letter stands out to me as a must re-read; I think it was an even book with hilarious and sweet parts spread equally throughout. If funny memoirs are your thing, this is probably already on your radar; if not, I think you still might enjoy it. And definitely get the audio version – it’s great to hear Wong (and, at the end, her husband) read their own words.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it (but if it were in paperback and not audio form I’d definitely pass it to a friend)

Thursday

26

December 2019

0

COMMENTS

Zaitoun by Yasmin Khan

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
Those looking for a cookbook filled with gorgeous photos as well as stories from the people who prepare the recipes.

In a nutshell:
Travel and food writer Khan visits cities throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories, meeting with Palestinians to learn about their food, as well as their lives under occupation.

Worth quoting:
‘I stay hopeful because I believe apartheid will eventually be defeated.’
‘I understand that you want to share our culture, but you can’t discuss Palestinian food without talking about the Occupation.’

Why I chose it:
We spent Christmas at the home of a friend’s mother, who kindly gifted us this book, with the only knowledge that we were vegetarian and liked to cook. While the book itself does have some meat recipes, it is primarily full of delicious vegetarian fare.

Review:
This cookbook is unlike any I’ve ever read before. In addition to being filled with recipes that I cannot wait to try out, the author focuses on the lives of the people who create this delicious food. As evidenced by the quotes above, which come from people Khan met with in her travels across the OPT, it is great to share these recipes with the world, but the stories of the Palestinian people need to be shared. And that includes the stories of the challenges they face under occupation in keeping their way of life.

Khan visits Palestinians living in Haifa, Akka, Jerusalem, Nablus, Jenin, Gaza, Bethlehem, Nazareth and The Galilee, and shares recipes for mazzeh, salads, soups mains, and desserts. There are so many that I want to eat right now, from roast red peppers with olives and capers, to seared halloumi, to lentils with chard and tahini to pomegranate passion cake. I plan to get started on making them this weekend.

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

Thursday

26

December 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Little Dictionary of Fashion by Christian Dior

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Anyone who might enjoy a 1950s time capsule of fashion terms and ideals.

In a nutshell:
Christian Dior provides definitions and opinions on everything from collars to tweed in this 65-year-old gift book.

Worth quoting:
“However much you admire a certain frock or coat on somebody else before you wear a similar one yourself you must think to yourself ‘What will this do for me?’”

Why I chose it:
In April of this year I was fortunate enough to attend the Dior exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum in London. It was amazing. I wanted some memento and so purchased this little book, started it, and then promptly buried it in my nightstand pile, resurrected this week as I attempt to start 2020 with no half-read books.

Review:
I think my title for this review says it all: one can definitely tell it was written in the 1950s. Fur features prominently in here (fox, sable, mink – all are discussed, and the various virtues compared), the styles mentioned revolve heavily around skirts and skirt suits (I’m not sure trousers were mentioned at all), and every picture is of very tiny white woman. Additionally, Dior makes many mentions of what is appropriate for ‘plump’ women in terms of prints and color which, frankly, I have no interest in. Wear what you like!

That said, it was a bit of an interesting time capsule, to read Dior’s thoughts on different aspects of fashion. Unfortunately, many of the definitions are less, well, definitions, and more paragraphs about how said item fits into Dior’s view of fashion. Which is fine, but it’s hard for me to assess Dior’s thoughts on pique when I’m still not entirely sure what that is. Additionally, many sections (such as hemlines) would have benefited from drawings showing the various types and their names.

Still, it’s a fun little read, and I’ll put it on my bookshelf along with my other fashion and etiquette books.

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

Thursday

26

December 2019

0

COMMENTS

Home Sweet Maison by Danielle Postel-Vinay

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Anyone looking for some fresh ideas for their home.

In a nutshell:
Author Postel-Vinay has lived in France (and married into a French family), and offers up her thoughts on ways the French home is set up.

Worth quoting:
“Having food that is fresh is more important than food that is convenient, and the French cuisine reflects this.”

Why I chose it:
One of my dear friends has themed Christmases, and her gifts match the theme. This year? French Christmas.

Review:
I love home improvement books (as in, ones that talk about home decor, cooking, and cleaning, not, like, learning how to rewire the house). This is a perfectly fine one, although there isn’t a ton in here that I will be putting into action, mostly because a lot of it relates to the actual construction of the house, which I’m not able to alter.

For example, the first chapter talks about creating an actual entrance area to one’s home. In our apartment in London, the entrance is a a square with sides the width of a door frame, enclosed by wall on one site, the front door on another, the stairs on the third side, and the door to the kitchen on the forth. There’s no room to put a bench or shoe storage area. Another chapter talks about having the kitchen and dining areas separate. Granted, she offers suggests for how to create that separation in an open plan, but again, I’m not able to throw a wall up in the middle of my rented flat.

Some of the suggestions are great – like immediately cleaning up after using kitchen utensils (which should have a reasonable, dedicated location in the kitchen), or some ideas around improving our bathroom. But a lot of it isn’t necessarily my style, and that’s okay! I’m never going to fill my house with loads of fancy objects found for a bargain at a flea market, because I don’t really like that look. That’s what I love about books like this though – there’s something in there that other people will like, and I can mix what I want with things I’ve picked up from other books.

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

Monday

23

December 2019

0

COMMENTS

The Perils Of Perception by Bobby Duffy

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
People wondering how on earth everyone else can have such misconstrued ideas (hint: you do too!).

In a nutshell:
Author Duffy explores areas in which people tend to vastly over- or underestimate facts, and why that might be.

Worth quoting:
“Our misperceptions can provide clues to what we’re most worried about – and where we’re not as worries as we should be.”

Why I chose it:
I’ve known that I — and others — will often overestimate how bad things are, or underestimate how good things are, and that often in the face of facts that don’t match our beliefs, people will just … double down. I wanted to learn more about why that is.

Review:
There is a lot going on in this book, and I won’t be able to do it all justice, so I hope if the topic interests you you’ll consider checking it out. But here is my attempt!

Have you seen “Sleepless in Seattle”? I have. It’s one of my favorite films. There’s a scene near the beginning, where Meg Ryan’s character Annie is in the office talking with her colleagues about that statistic about how a woman over 40 is more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to get married. And Annie says that the statistic is not true, and Rosie O’Donnell’s character Becky responds with “That’s right, it’s not true. But it feels true.”

So much of what we get wrong about facts stem from this idea. If it feels like, say murders are on the rise (perhaps because you see murders reported on the news each night), or members of a certain religion are immigrating to your country in large numbers (because many politicians keep pointing out the locations of their houses of worship as a threat to their idea of the dominant culture), you might not believe it when people tell you that murders are down, or the population of that specific religion in your country is about five times less than your guess.

Duffy discusses this, as well as the idea that our errors in answering questions about verifiable facts often reflects our worries. We might overestimate how much of our nation’s budget goes to foreign aid (extremely small amount) by dozens of percentage point because we fear that not enough money is being spent at home. We might overestimate violent crime because we are worried about walking home in our own neighborhood at night. We are factually wrong, but our perceptions are based in our emotions, and those are hard things to adjust.

This book looks at other reasons why we are so wrong – including that we think other people are more like us than they actually are – but I found those two aspects the most compelling.

I was also intrigued by the fact that while there are definitely issues with the spread of bad information on social media, we aren’t necessarily more poorly informed than we were, say, 80 years ago. Our perceptions are generally pretty bad all the time – but perhaps now people are noticing it more.

The book ends with ten suggestions for how we can improve our own perceptions and understanding of the world. My favorite was ‘Accept the emotion, but challenge the thought.’ I might hear a statistic or fact that goes against my beliefs. And its okay to have a reaction to that. But then I need to start thinking through it critically and explore why I’m having the reaction I’m having, what it means if that fact is correct, and how my values and worldview are impacted by that, instead of just saying ‘that can’t be right, I don’t believe it.’

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