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Reviews Archive

Sunday

23

January 2022

0

COMMENTS

Becoming Abolitionists by Derecka Purnell

Written by , Posted in Abolition, Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those interested in one person’s journey to an abolitionist perspective. Those who are already or thinking of becoming abolitionists but looking for some answers to the tougher questions.

In a nutshell:
Organizer and lawyer Purnell shares her journey towards an abolitionist viewpoint.

Worth quoting:
“If we truly want to save lives in the US and beyond, we have to join in the traditions of activists who fight to end policing, wars and military operations across the globe.”

“It makes me wish that people were more curious than critical because it’s so much easier to learn that way.”

“Make policing obsolete by reducing the police, reducing the reasons why people need police, reducing the reasons why people think they need police, and building a society where we have just relationships to each other, to our labor, to our communities, and to our planet.”

“Policing was, and is, deeply connected to the control of land, labor, and people who threatened white supremacy.”

Why I chose it:
I follow Purnell on twitter, and this book seemed like one I would really enjoy.

Review:
Have you ever seen a movie, known it was good, heard people and critics raving about, but after watching it, just felt kind of meh about it? That’s how I feel about this book. I think it’s important, I think it’s well-written, I think the information is very helpful for any abolitionists. Yet it took me quite a long time to get through. But I think this is a case of ‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ because I do think this is likely a very good book.

Also, it was literally hard to read because the font choice was inexplicably bad. ‘Bulmer MT’ is the font, apparently. And it is SO TINY. I read a ton but this felt at times like I was attempting to read the ingredients on the side of a small jar of pasta sauce – I had to reread paragraphs because I literally couldn’t parse the words, which definitely slowed me down.

Alright, with all of those caveats, what about the actual content of this book? It’s good. Really good. There’s a lot of information, coupled with Purnell’s direct experiences, to make a strong case of police and prison abolition. I know that many people were exposed to the idea of defunding the police in summer 2020, but there are many activists and thinkers who have been promoting the idea of complete police and prison abolition for decades before, so there is a lot to learn. If you have questions, someone has thought about what the answers might be, and Purnell shares some of them here, along with her own thinking on matters.

If you’re at all interested in abolition and the history of policing and prisons, or if you’re interested in ways we can improve society, I think this is a good book to check out.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it – there is a lot of good information here

Saturday

22

January 2022

0

COMMENTS

Fair Play by Tove Jansson

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those looking for a mix between short stories and a novel.

In a nutshell:
Jonna and Mari are artists and friends who are in their 70s and live at opposite ends of an apartment building on an island.

Worth quoting:
“She’s not shy; she just won’t bother trying to be pleasant. She thinks it’s artistic to be gloomy.”

Why I chose it:
My partner gave this to me as a gift, I think because it’s a novel about friendship, not romantic love, and I wish there were more of those.

Review:
One of my favorite TV shows is Grace & Frankie. It’s not a perfect piece of art, but I love that women in their 70s are shown as complex people with their own wants and needs, not people who are shut off in a corner, watching everyone else live their lives. I don’t think we get enough of that in popular media – the exploration of friendship outside of, say, YA shows and books. Nearly everything revolves around romantic love, and while that can be interesting to me, I think the love of a friend is so interesting as well.

This book is a series of short chapters with no obvious through line. Yes, they probably should be read in order (I imagine the author had it in mind), but one chapter doesn’t necessarily follow from the next. Each has a title (similar to a short essay) as opposed to a number.

Jonna and Mari are both artists – Mari, I believe, writes and illustrates stories; Jonna works in other aspects of visual art (film, paint, etc.). They seem to be very important to each other’s creative processes, stopping in during the workday while also picking up on where the other is in their journey on a particular piece of art. They also have visitors, take trips, get stuck in storms. They clearly care deeply about each other, in a way that is so familiar that they know what to do next without discussion. It’s sweet and interesting.

They also aren’t perfect. Jonna can be a bit short, and Mari a bit passive-aggressive. Jonna strikes me as a bit more selfish, but not to a problematic degree. They are both independent and supportive of each other, and it’s lovely to read.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it – I can see myself reading it again, especially as I get older.

Saturday

15

January 2022

0

COMMENTS

The Care Manifesto by The Care Collective

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those interested in a new way to think about society and community.

In a nutshell:
The Care Collective makes the case for a re-framing of our priorities, putting care at the top, and organizing society around that.

Worth quoting:
“The inherently careless practice of ‘growing the economy’ has taken priority over ensuring the well-being of citizens.”

“One of the great ironies surrounding care is that it is actually the rich who are most dependent on those they pay to service them in innumerable personal ways.”

“We must begin by recognising the myriad ways that our survival and our thriving are everywhere and always contingent on others.”

Why I chose it:
Verso books had a big sale. I might have bought a lot…

Review:
During the first UK lock down I joined a mutual aid WhatsApp group. I think the local council supported it with funds, but volunteers managed requests and then posted to the group to see who could fulfill them. Most required use of a car, which I didn’t have, but I was occasionally able to help out by printing a grocery gift certificate and home and then walking it over to a neighbor. When we were able to get a grocery delivery slot, we checked with our neighbor to see if they needed us to get them anything; we both shared extra food from produce boxes or extra things we had baked (our neighbor was a pastry chef, so I think we got the better end of that deal). I have friends with young kids who created ‘pods’ so they could spread the child caring responsibilities while also giving their children a way to socialize when they weren’t in-person in school.

I think for me and many others not raised in a culture of care and community, the pandemic has opened our eyes to what we can all do when we support each other, and how much better life is when we support and care for each other. This manifesto explores how much all of our lives could be improved by putting care at the center of our economy, government, and communities. It starts by making the case that we need to expand the idea of who is a carer in our life from immediate family to our friends and neighbors. Yes, some types of care (such as personal hygiene support) may require a close or intimate relationship, but many others just require being willing and supportive of our friends and neighbors.

In looking at the caring community, the authors argue for four main features. One is mutual support – so the types of things I mentioned at the start of this review. The second is public space – taking back green and other types of spaces that have been privatized and given to companies or private property owners. The third is shared resources – they discuss not just book libraries but other types of sharing systems like tool libraries or appliance shares (do you need a leaf blower every day, or can you perhaps borrow one a couple times a year?). And finally the last is local democracy – supporting the community at a local level based on what is needed.

I enjoyed reading this book as it got me thinking further about what our society really could be, and how deeply disappointing the concept of neoliberalism is, and how ridiculous capitalism is. We can do so much better.

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

Tuesday

4

January 2022

0

COMMENTS

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars (2.5 if I did half stars)

Best for:
Fans of Sally Rooney’s books.

In a nutshell:
Eileen and Simon have known each other since they were little. Alice and Eileen have been friends since university. Eileen and Felix have just met. Events transpire.

Worth quoting:
“I think I have by now forgotten how to conduct social intercourse. I dread to imagine what kind of faces I was making, in my efforts to seem like the kind of person who regularly interacts with others.”

Why I chose it:
This was in a book subscription I got, and it’s the only hardback fiction on my to-be-read bookshelf, so thought I’d finally read it.

Review:
Sigh. I think this is a book I’m ‘supposed’ to like? Or maybe I’m too old for it? The main characters are all in their 30s, and I’m in my 40s, so perhaps this is just not for me? But I’ve read other fiction where the leads are all much younger than me and enjoyed those, so maybe it’s just this author’s style that doesn’t sit well with me. I enjoyed her first book “Conversations with Friends”, though “Normal People” was fine, and enjoyed this the least.

It isn’t that the story isn’t believable, or that there is anything inherently wrong with it. It just isn’t very good. Or should I say, it isn’t constructed in a way that I found interesting. I finished it mostly because it was a pretty easy read (though my kingdom for a paragraph break or a set of quotation marks) and I’d already started it. I briefly saw one review that it was an attempt at a modern take on 18th century novels of letters, which, absolutely fine, but the emails that take up half the book are borderline absurd. Maybe that’s the point! But I can’t imagine anyone really writing to their friends in such a way. I mean, perhaps people do, but I think people text their thoughts? I don’t know, perhaps this was Rooney’s way of trying to knock texting, or make a social commentary on how we choose to interact with those who don’t live near us. If so, cool. But it still didn’t work for me.

As for the characters, I guess I cared about them? Again, I don’t know. I suppose I should have seen Eileen’s personality early on, but the Eileen in the second half of the book could have been a complete different character from the Eileen in the first. Also I suppose the focus was on the women, but giving a little bit of background to the men frustrated me because either we’re going to get to know them or we aren’t. Going halfway there didn’t work for me.

I’d imagine being a lauded author with one’s second book even better received than the first can create a lot of pressure for the third, and I hope that this is the book Rooney wanted to write regardless of how it might be received. I think a lot of people are going to enjoy it. Just not me.

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

Sunday

2

January 2022

0

COMMENTS

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy interesting, somewhat mystical novels that aren’t extremely fantastical.

In a nutshell:
Noemí Taboada has been asked by her father to visit her cousin Catalina, who is newly married and living in a giant home in the Mexican countryside. She’s sent a worrying letter, so Noemí is off to investigate and see if Catalina needs help.

Worth quoting:
“A woman who is not liked is a bitch, and a bitch can hardly do anything; all avenues are closed to her.”

Why I chose it:
This was a Christmas gift from my bestie in Seattle. She knows me well.

Review:
I’ve seen so many reviews of this book pop up, but I’ve not read any of them, and I’m glad, because I remained completely unspoiled. To avoid spoilers for anyone reading this review, I’ll just offer some thoughts on the experience of reading the book.

First of all, the book is a pretty literal metaphor for the dangers of colonialism, and author Moreno-Garcia does a great job of weaving all the problems of it through the book. From how it impacts the town and those who encounter this family, to the family itself. It is a rot.

The writing itself is so beautiful and vivid. I read the first chapter in a room where my partner was watching TV, and I had to finish it in a separate part of our apartment because the language and story demanded my full attention. I read the first 25% of the book over a couple of days, but read the final two thirds in basically one sitting, and I highly recommend that approach. Some aspects are deeply disturbing, and some parts are extremely frustrating, but I think the book benefits from taking it all in at once as much as possible.

The characters in the book were all interesting, especially Noemí. She seems to take herself none too seriously, and is okay with others mostly not taking her that seriously either, but as the novel progresses she sees the responsibilities she has to her cousin and herself, and takes those duties to heart. She has an end goal, and is willing to do what it takes to get there. She needs help and is open to it, though, and I appreciate that.

I don’t think I’ve really read a book like this before, but I’d be happy reading more.

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

Sunday

2

January 2022

0

COMMENTS

Feminist City by Leslie Kern

Written by , Posted in Feminism, Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
Urban planners, geographers, feminists. Women who live or desire to live in a city.

In a nutshell:
Feminist Geographer Kern shares her thoughts on on how we can improve urban spaces to the meet the needs of people who aren’t just white men.

Worth quoting:
“The provisions made for ‘bubble dining domes’ while homeless people’s tents were violently dismantled illustrates the stark divide over who we believe should have access to public space.”

“It’s clear that the time has come to decentre the heterosexual, nuclear family in everything from housing design to transportation strategies, neighbourhood planning to urban zoning.”

“Makings cities seem safe for women also tends to make them less safe for other marginalized groups.”

Why I chose it:
My partner and I exchange books for Christmas; this was one of his gifts to me. He knows me well.

Review:
I grew up in the suburbs but pretty immediately made a beeline for cities once I graduated high school. I went to college in Seattle, lived in Los Angeles for a year, move to NYC for graduation school and stayed for seven years, jumped to London, moved BACK to Seattle for another eight years, and am now living in London. While I occasionally dream of living in a tiny village in Scotland, the reality is I think I’ll always need to be living in a city.

But, as author Kern points out, cities aren’t exactly made for me. Now, as a middle-class, assumed-straight, white, thin-ish, able-bodied woman, it’s made more for me that many other women, but still. Cities are built around the needs of white men, and that can make life for the woman have just as much right and claim to experiencing a free and fulfilled life in those blocks frustrating, challenging, and even dangerous.

Kern breaks her book up into six areas to explore: city of men, city of moms, city of friends, city of one, city of protest, and city of fear. The first section serves as the introduction, setting out the main premise that cities have been designed by and for (white) men. From there she discusses each area in turn, focusing on the ways cities either are not welcoming to the subjects (e.g. to moms) or, in the case of the chapter on fear, focusing on how the set-up of cities can contribute to women being unsafe, and the actions women are forced to take to counteract and prevent harm.

As I read books, I write in them (it’s why I tend to not make use of libraries – writing in books is critical to my understanding and absorbing their contents). I was flipping through to write this review, and noticed that I had starred and underlined more in the city of moms chapter, which is odd as I am not a mom. But I have a lot of friends who are moms, and I can see how so much of our cities are not set up in ways to support someone who is caring for (and often carrying) a tiny human.

I appreciate that Kern attempts to take an intersectional view of things. For example, in her chapter on city of fear, she focuses heavily on the reality that many things that some women have been pushing for to make themselves feel safer put other, more marginalized people at risk. An example of this is seeking increased police presence, or the speed with which some women are willing to call the police on people of color – white women might end up feeling safer (though probably aren’t actually any safer), but women who are not white, as well as men of color, are put at an even higher risk. In the city of protest chapter, she also acknowledges how some of her early protest experiences may have been lacking in their understanding of how her demands might negatively impact her trans sister and street-based sex workers.

What a gem of a book. It’s fairly short at under 200 pages, but still manages to pack a ton of insight, research, and examination into those pages without feeling overly academic.

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

Saturday

1

January 2022

1

COMMENTS

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those who like a little philosophy and exploration of life with their novels.

In a nutshell:
Nora Seed has decided to stop living. She finds herself in some sort of limbo, a library filled with alternate versions of her life not lived.

Worth quoting:
“This was it. No one needed her. She was superfluous to the universe.”

“Sometimes regrets aren’t based on fact at all. Sometimes regrets are just … a load of bullshit.”

Why I chose it:
On my first flights since the pandemic started, I wanted to something comforting and interesting to read, and so picked this up at the airport. I ended up being so nervous I just watched movies the whole time, but thought this year I should be sure to read more fiction, so finally cracked it open.

Review:
What an utterly lovely book. I have seen author Haig’s books in shops before, but didn’t realize he wrote fiction as well as non-fiction.

I thought this book would be more like The End of Days, which was one of my favorites from last year, but it wasn’t. I mean, there are some shared elements, but it’s a wholly different experience.

We learn very early on that Nora’s life is not going well. Her mum and dad are both dead, her brother seems to not speak to her, she called of a wedding two days before it was meant to happen, she’s working in a job she isn’t particularly good at, and her cat has just died. It’s too much, and she decides she is done. But in the immediate moments after she takes action, she finds herself in a giant library, filled with endless books. And a librarian who teaches her that each book is an alternate life.

So, what happens when you get to glimpse into different versions of your life? What if you’d stuck with piano and became a major star? What if you’d pursued that arts degree instead of the ‘more sensible’ law degree your parents pushed you towards? What if you’d stayed with that perfectly fine girlfriend?

There is so much to absorb in this book, but the overarching theme I’ve taken away from it is that regret isn’t — or doesn’t have to be — something that hangs over us. Sure, there might be some very specific moments of regret in anyone’s life that perhaps might have turned the tides (we all make mistakes), but who is to say that the route you might have gone down would have been any better than the one you chose instead? Moreover, what should we be focusing on in our time here? Is it regret? Is it a search for meaning? Or, at the risk of sounding like a cursive woodcutting purchased on Etsy, should we just focusing on living and loving?

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

Saturday

1

January 2022

0

COMMENTS

The Law in 60 Seconds by Christian Weaver

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone living in England.

In a nutshell:
Barrister Weaver provides the basics of one’s rights in England.

Worth quoting:
“If you buy something on your credit card costing more than £100 and up to £30,000, then the credit card provider is equally as liable as the supplier (seller) if something goes wrong.”

Why I chose it:
Especially in 2020 where there were worldwide protests, my partner and I (who live here on visas) weren’t entire clear what the rules were. We realized we didn’t know what most of the laws here were; this book seemed perfect to help us out.

Review:
What a gem of a book! Author Weaver started doing YouTube videos called ‘The Law in 60 Seconds’ to help him study for his law exams. Those have morphed into this book that is slightly larger than pocket-sized, though definitely could fit into a purse or backpack.

The book starts with a review of human rights, then covers a dozen areas of the law: renting, relationships, shopping, transport, healthcare, money, employment, alcohol and other drugs, the digital world, activism, on the street, and the justice system. It offers tips on what your rights are and what to do when you’re stopped by the police, or if your landlord isn’t making necessary repairs. It goes into detail about employment law, which is extremely helpful. It obviously doesn’t cover every possible scenario, but it touches on all the major ones.

I wish that more of us were encourage to know and understand our rights, In the US, I’ve wished there was a mandatory senior year course that was actual home and life economics. Not just learning to cook and sew (though that’s awesome), but learning about checking accounts, and leases, and such. I’d love to see serious exploration and discussion of rights and responsibilities covered in there as well. Not in at the high level of a traditional civics course, but a really practical level. Like, can you imagine if everyone in the US understood you don’t actually have to talk to the police, and you have a right to an attorney, and also that it’s probably a good idea to have one if you talk to the police? (Also, I learned through this book that in the UK, not talking initially and then talking later can definitely be held against you. Yikes.)

This was published this year, but unfortunately the Tory parliament here is hard at work to repeal the human rights act and implement a horrific limit on protest rights. So I’m thinking an updated version will be needed soon.

Also, can you imagine wanting to repeal HUMAN RIGHTS? Ugh, so vile.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
I’m definitely going to keep this one. And might also pick up copies for friends.

Saturday

18

December 2021

0

COMMENTS

My Year In Books 2021

Written by , Posted in Reviews

I’ve ended my reading year for 2021. And what a year it was!

I love to read. For the last nine years I’ve participated in Cannonball Read, and read at least a book a week each of those years (one year I read 104 books – that’s never happening again). I also love to spend time in independent bookshops, finding treasures I might never have noticed by browsing online. The first big outing my partner and I went on when we felt safe enough to be out in the world during the pandemic was to a bookstore. When I got a promotion last month, my partner gave me a card and treated me to a visit to a bookstore for MORE BOOKS.

I love that some books must be read in one sitting, while others are so heavy they need to be spread out, perhaps with chapters broken up by reading some lighter fare. In my attempts to avoid Amazon for books where possible I ended up ordering a very expensive copy of Lindy West’s ‘Shit, Actually’ from a retailer in the US because it wasn’t available in the UK. Totally worth it. Sometimes I want to read Icelandic mysteries; other times I’m interested in abolitionist writing that tackles some of the most complex issues in society. And sometimes I just want to look at a lot of pictures of abandoned buildings.

I love books.

So, let’s see what I read in 2021:

I read 53 books across 15 genres, with Sociology, Memoir, and Literary fiction in my top three.

68% of the authors I read (where race is known) are white, 15% are Black, and 10% are Asian or Middle Eastern. I read books with authors from 11 countries across all six continents (sorry Antarctica). As usual, I read about twice as much non-fiction as fiction.

I didn’t read any 1-star books, though there were a couple 2-star books. Most were 4-star, and nearly 20% were five star books. My favorites for 2021 are:

Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo

Say Nothing and Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon

The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy

I also got to visit more bookstores this year during that beautiful time in the summer when we were vaccinated and cases were mostly down. Those stores were:

Mr. B.’s Emporium in Bath (where I had an amazing Book Spa experience)

Calton Books in Glasgow

Connolly Books in Dublin

Housmans Bookshop in London

I’ve got a lot of book in my to be read pile, and a lot of time to sit around as I try to keep Omicron away. Happy reading to all!

Saturday

18

December 2021

0

COMMENTS

Going Dark by Julia Ebner

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Anyone who wants to learn a little bit more about modern-day terrorism and extremism.

In a nutshell:
Author Ebner adopts different identities to explore – online and in person – different extremist groups, from neo-Nazis to ‘trad wives.’

Worth quoting:
“Almost everything is gamified today, and that includes terrorism.”

Why I chose it:
It just sounded interesting.

Review:
This book is interesting and deeply disturbing, but it also feels more like it should have been a multi-part investigative magazine series in something like The Atlantic. Ebner does attempt to create a lifecycle across the stories, starting with recruitment, then socialisation, communication, networking, mobilisation, and attack. And I appreciate that she explored many different extremist groups, but I think it would have been a stronger book if there had been aspects of different groups explored in each of the areas. Instead, she does a deeper dive into different groups (two per section, with their own standalone chapters), which doesn’t help much with seeing how the connections work across the same group.

The book ends with some predictions (some of which have more or less already come true) and some suggestions on how to counteract these extremist groups. But given that this book was published just last year, it feels almost sweetly naive in some ways. Not that Ebner herself is naive, but things have gone so bad so quickly – the 6 January insurrection in the US, the vile racist and xenophobic anti-immigrant laws passing in the UK – many of her suggestions seem like too little too late.

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