ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Uncategorized Archive

Sunday

15

May 2022

0

COMMENTS

No Place to Go by Lezlie Lowe

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Four Stars

Best for:
People with an interest in public infrastructure, but also people interested in how our public choices impact who can enjoy being out in public.

In a nutshell:
Author Lowe explores the problems with the (lack of) public toilets across many countries.

Worth quoting:
“I grew up being socialized to expect a line for the bathroom. I spent decades so desensitized to the indignity that I never questioned it.”

Quoting someone interviewed for the book: “Public bathrooms are part of that infrastructure, the same way roads and other things are. And if you can’t even get that right, how can we go further?”

Why I chose it:
I always have to pee.

Review:
No, seriously, I always have to pee. It’s not a medical issue – I just am often in search of a toilet. When the first round of lockdown restrictions were lifted in England, I was so excited to go for walks further than a few blocks near my house, but we were definitely limited in maybe 30 minutes out, because within an hour (maybe 90 minutes), I would need a toilet, and London doesn’t have loads of public toilets. When I fly, I get an aisle seat. And before I leave the house to do ANYTHING, I always use the loo.

For Lowe, the recognition that public toilets are often a bit of a shit show came when she had young children and had to navigate staircases down into dirty, often locked public bathrooms in parks. And for many people with no mobility or other challenges that can make using the toilet more than a simple affair, having children is when they start to realize that there are not a lot of places where literally anyone can go to relieve themselves. In those moment of realization, she decided to explore public provision of toilets.

But she doesn’t just think about how people with children are impacted. She takes on how this affects people experiencing homelessness – loads of NIMBY types get super angry about people peeing and taking a shit in the street, but if there aren’t any toilets, where on earth do you expect them to go? Lowe also explores accessibility, and how the needs for some folks are going to be different than the needs of others. She looks at how the compromises city planners make when putting in the rare public toilet make those toilets even worse (think about the pretty gross stainless steel, seat-less wonders found in many parks). And thankfully she also looks at how the strict division of gender in toileting harms trans people – along with people who care for others of another gender who need to use the toilet.

On thing that she mentioned that really stuck out to me was how awful it as that so many people who are working don’t have access to toilets during their shifts. Yes, we’ve heard of the Amazon delivery drivers peeing into bottles because they don’t have time to stop. But even if they had the time – where are they going to pee? Where are taxi drivers and other ‘gig’ economy workers who don’t have offices going to relieve themselves? They’re also peeing into bottles. And as Lowe says: “Just imagine any of these solutions applying to the average office worker: ‘Sorry, Mildred, you can’t leave your cubicle today. Just toss your urine out the window. Hope you aren’t on your period. Ta ta.’”

It is absurd that society seems to just be … okay with our governments not providing space for everyone to do one of the most basic of human functions. Not everyone can afford to buy a muffin every time they need to take a shit. Not everyone feels comfortable sneaking into a pub on a Saturday evening when the patrons have been drinking all day. We expect our governments to provide services that allow us to live in the world – things like roads that take us into the city center. We should also expect them to provide the services that allow us to actually make use of the city center once we get there.

Lowe approaches this topic from so many different directions that it could have been a mess, but instead, it is well-written, well-edited, and fun to read.

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

Saturday

19

February 2022

0

COMMENTS

Overtime by Will Stronge & Kyle Lewis

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Four Stars

Best for:
Workers.

In a nutshell:
Stronge and Lewis make a simple, elegant, and frankly pretty difficult to refute case for shortening the work week to four days or fewer.

Worth quoting:
[B]eing able to relax, spend time with loved ones, pursue self-directed activity and have freedom from a boss are all essential parts of what it means to be human. Time is life after all.”

Why I chose it:
Verso books had a sale 😀

Review:
When I really think about it, is is pretty absurd that as a society we’ve just sort of … accepted that we work five days (on average) and then get two days ‘off.’ Like, why on earth should someone else get to dictate what I do for more than 2/3 of my life? That’s so bizarre. And this is way better than before, where people maybe got Sundays off? Maybe? I know there are many people who work shifts and multiple jobs where they either don’t get two days off in a row, or those two days change regularly depending on schedules, but for many people, they work at least 40 hours spread across five days out of seven.

Seriously. That’s ridiculous.

Authors Stronge and Lewis lay out their argument in such a straightforward way. They provide a brief background of labor struggles for better working conditions, and capitalism’s obsession with productivity and growth. They also point out that any version of the world that comes after capitalism can’t just focus on who owns the means of production, but on the quality — and quantity — of the time workers are on the job. They then spend one chapter each on three main arguments: that shorter working hours are good for people to flourish; that shorter working hours honor the time of those who perform unpaid labor (usually women); and that shorter working week is better for the environment.

On the first point, it seems pretty obvious. The authors discuss how many people talk about art and other similar ‘leisure’ pursuits as frivolous and the domain of the wealthy, but they point out that this is because the rich are the ones who can afford to do that. Think about how much art — poetry, music, books, plays, everything — we’ve missed out on because someone who might have created wonderful art instead had to spend so much of their time ‘earning a living.’

(Also, yikes. That phrase is disturbing. No one should have to ‘earn’ a living. We all deserve to live.)

On the second point, the authors discuss how a shorter working week would allow for greater division of unpaid work in homes with men and women in them. So much of office working life is based on an old assumption that the workers would be men who would have women at home doing all things domestic. Many women have always worked, and yet whether working or not, women in a home with men and women still end up doing more of the care-taking labor. With a shorter work week, in a two-person home, they would have six free days each week instead of four. And those working more labor-intensive jobs already would also have more time to relax and recover.

Finally, the third point looks at how fewer working days can have a positive impact on the environment. In obvious ways like cutting commuting, but also in ways like reduced purchase of things like grab and go sandwiches at work or ready meals each evening because we’re all so overworked. I liked this argument as well because they focus a bit on different green new deals that have been put forward, and how if they don’t include a reduction in working weeks they aren’t doing all they can for the environment.

In the UK, there is a movement to try out four-day work weeks. My own partner has one, but he took a 20% pay cut for it; the broader movement suggests instead that we should be working fewer hours but for the same pay.

I don’t know if this is possible to achieve. But I think it is something that should be much higher up on the list of things workers are fighting for than it currently is.

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

Sunday

3

October 2021

0

COMMENTS

Lonely Planet Pocket Glasgow

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Four Stars

Best for:
Those traveling who like to see a bit more detail in the top sights and other features of a travel guide.

In a nutshell:
Each neighborhood overview includes a walking tour, a map with sights, and detailed information on sight, eating, drinking, shopping, and entertainment.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
I was looking for a larger guide for Glasgow, so I bought two, and this one ended up being better for what I’m looking for.

Review:
Glasgow was the first stop on my partner’s and my honeymoon nearly a decade ago. However, we each remember about three things about it, because we were EXHAUSTED. We took a red-eye from Seattle to Philadelphia, visited some friend there and took a couple hour nap, then another red-eye from Philadelphia to Glasgow. We then couldn’t get into our hotel until until 2, so we walked along the river to try to stay awake. Once we got into our hotel, we slept until dinner, got some food … somewhere… and then came back to sleep. The next day we rented a car and drove to the Isle of Skye. So that’s a long way of saying I’ve been to Glasgow, but I haven’t exactly been there. Hence the guidebooks.

This book is much more up my alley than the other one I could get. I love how it’s broken down not just into neighborhood (clearly marked in the first map in the guide), but has the different sights and recommendations delineated within each area. I also am excited to try out the different walking tours in each neighborhood – I appreciate doing an initial wander through a place before stopping at different sites. This one will definitely be going with me to Glasgow and be in my bag whenever we leave our room.

Recommend to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep for our trip and after.

Saturday

7

August 2021

0

COMMENTS

Assembly by Natasha Brown

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Five Stars

Best for:
Anyone who loves compact storytelling that manages to tell a deep and engaging tale.

In a nutshell:
The Narrator, a successful Black British woman who isn’t named, takes us through the day or two before and morning of a visit to her posh white boyfriend’s family home for a party. But that isn’t so much the point; the focus is how Narrator navigates the daily, hourly injustices she faces in this world.

Worth quoting:
“Assimilate, assimilate … Dissolve yourself into the melting pot.”

“His acceptance of me encourages theirs. His presence vouches for mine, assures them that I’m the right sort of diversity.”

Why I chose it:
Last year (pre-pandemic) I received a ‘Book Spa’ gift certificate and was just able to redeem it. It involved a discussion with a bookseller, who then pulled like TWENTY books for me to choose from, discussing why he thought I would like them. I ended up buying 15 of them. This is one of them.

Review:
I could write pages about this book. A university could use this book as the basis for a course on literature, on England, on colonialism. It’s just SO GOOD.

The Narrator is a Black woman living in London, dating a white man. Narrator is, as we learn, extremely successful in her career in finance; her boyfriend comes from money and, as far as I can tell, ‘works’ at building his legacy. He is entitled and unappealing, and I want to know exactly why Narrator chose to be with him. It’s clear why he chose to be with her. Probably not consciously, but it is there.

Narrator is dealing with success in work but with another challenge in her personal life, and that challenge seems to have crystallized her view of her life. As someone in finance she likely was already able to view things ‘logically,’ as it were, but she now seems freer to evaluate everything from a point of brutal honesty. Her white boyfriend, white ‘best friend,’ white colleagues. The parents of the white boyfriend, who clearly view the relationship as ‘just a phase.’ She herself views it that way as well.

Not a lot happens over the 100+ pages from a plot perspective, and yet I was nearly breathless as I turned each page, wanting to learn more of what author Brown felt important to share. How was Narrator feeling? What was she experiencing? How would she make decisions about her future?

The book is disappointing only in that I could have read so much more about Narrator. Brown’s ability to pack so much into so few pages is unreal, and I’ll probably read this again before the year is out.

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

Thursday

24

June 2021

0

COMMENTS

Broken (In the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson

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Four Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday

8

April 2021

0

COMMENTS

Sisters

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I think I realized I had a pretty cool sister when she gave me what is probably the best birthday gift ever:

A 2-liter bottle of Crystal Pepsi and a Steve Urkel puzzle.

I think I was turning 14, and I recall her handing me these gifts early in the morning. I believe she wrapped them together in the dust rag my mother kept on the vacuum.

Soda AND a puzzle? What did I do to deserve this?

***

About 80% of people in the US have a sibling, and those relationships can vary dramatically. Some siblings are so close in age that they grew up fighting constantly over everything, including friends. Some are so far apart in age that they are basically strangers to each other. Some have nothing in common, so while they are civil, they don’t, like, chat on the phone every week or two. I am four years younger than my sister, which means that I was just young enough to be annoying, but not so young that she had to, like, help raise me. I had my own friends, but I’m certain that if she had a friend over and I didn’t, I was probably bugging them.

It’s National Sibling Day on April 10th, and while having such a great sibling is something I’m sure I’ve repeatedly taken for granted, I know that having a sister — and having this sister, specifically — has improved my life in ways I’m continuing to discover.

My sister and I mostly got along when growing up, though there is evidence of the occasional fight. The biggest reminder is the broken bathroom doorknob at the vacation condo my parents own. We grew up super lucky, spending basically the whole of August at the lake, with friends visiting. We’d go to the beach or the pool most days, then spend what seemed like hours at the local video store picking out a movie to watch with the sitter who would come while my parents went out (that’s right, kiddos, we are old enough to remember VHS). My sister’s room had a door that led directly to our shared bathroom; I needed to enter from the hallway. One particularly nasty fight, I kept pushing to get in, she kept pushing me out, and boom. Doorknob broken. Whoops.

But those types of incidents were definitely not the norm, and that four year age difference proved to be kind of perfect, as we were never sharing friends or competing for the same … anything, really. My parents did everything to make sure we both felt treated equally. We both did sports, we both participated in the arts, and we even had the exact same value for our gifts at Christmas (my mom was adamant on that one – she didn’t want us to perceive any favoritism).

One area that could have been fraught is the fact that she is very tall and very thin; I am very tall and at times have been very much … less thin. That could have been a serious challenge growing up – I’ve heard of larger siblings being tormented by their thinner siblings. My sister has never said such a thing to me. She’s never looked at me eating dessert, or having other sweets and said ‘hey, maybe put that down.’ She’s listened when I’ve complained about gaining weight, but she’s never made me feel like I am more or less worthy of anything based on the number on the scale.

Her leaving for college just as I started high school was a bummer in some ways, but perfect in others, as during my brattiest years, I was essentially an only child, and didn’t take it out on her. As I got older, I could go visit her at her university – I remember one weekend where we went to see L.A. Story and halfway through she asked if there was more than one white guy in the movie. There were three, actually, but in fairness, they were pretty much visually interchangeable. Ugh, that was a boring movie.

When I got to university, she was living in LA, and then took a year-long trip to Australia. That was the hardest, because international texting wasn’t a thing then (shoot, I don’t even know if domestic texting was a thing). We had email, but it’s not like she kept a laptop with her, or had free wifi or a smart phone. I’d hope to get a call from her on a prepaid calling card on occasion, but it sucked, her being so far away without an easy way to communicate.

Since then, however, and until the pandemic, that was about the longest we went without seeing each other. I visited her when she was living in Los Angeles, and then made multiple trips when she was in Texas and then Florida. I’d often try to visit over my birthday, as it was usually close to a three-day weekend. One visit we had what I still consider to be the best restaurant dinner I’ve ever had (the perfect pork chop with this ridiculous potato dish), followed by a Jason Mraz concert. My sister is thoughtful like that — years earlier, when my family visited her in D.C., she figured out it coincided with No Doubt performing not that far out of town, so she got us tickets. There was a lightning storm, they had us all crowd in the actual seating area under cover (we had lawn tickets), and then we just … never left the fancy area. Best concert.

She’s visited me in every apartment I’ve ever lived in (except two – one because we only lived there for five months and one because PANDEMIC), and I’ve visited her. We got cupcakes together at Magnolia bakery when she visited me in NYC. We rode the Staten Island Ferry and went to the strangest museum with a lot of stuffed birds.

I’ve stayed with her a few times in Boston, and she’s always made it such a great time – last time we went to tea at the public library, and it was just delightful.

We’ve also traveled together as adults, once to Berlin, and another time to Iceland with our partners. Both times were fun in different ways. For Berlin I think I did most of the planning, and also ended up with a wicked cold for most of the trip (but I powered through!).

She did basically 100% of the Iceland planning, and it was so much fun. I knew next to nothing, so it was nice to just sort of sit back and have someone else in charge, especially someone who would know what I would and would not be interested in doing.

Traveling together is fun, but we can also just sit and hang out and talk. We once spent like two hours watching YouTube videos of 80s and 90s TV theme songs, dying with laughter while my partner looked on, eventually retreating to another room because while our laughter is infectious to each other, it’s not necessarily contagious to others. I’m sure that’s annoying, as is our ability to beat literally anyone at Taboo.

 

As we get older, and our parents get older, our relationship has shifted a bit, because we have to think and talk more about unpleasant things. We’re lucky in that our parents are both still healthy (and fully vaccinated now, woo hoo!), but they live in the house we grew up in, and are getting older, so we know that things won’t stay the same forever. And while our parents are seriously really good parents, we all have things that bother us, right? I have a very understanding partner, but he didn’t grow up in my house, so he can’t fully know exactly what I mean when I speak about my folks. But my sister gets it completely.

Texting and WhatsApp calls have made living overseas a lot easier, in part because I can still dash a quick text off to my sister regardless of the time of day, and know I’ll hear back from her when she has free time. It’s also allowed me to do things like give her a video tour of our new apartment, and properly sing happy birthday.

Those of you who don’t have siblings have I’m sure had wonderful life experiences that I’ll never have — having the full attention of one’s parents, not having any internalized competition with another kid in your house, not having hand-me-downs — and many probably love being an only child. I think that’s great! But I’ve only ever known a life with a sibling, and I feel so lucky.

So this National Siblings Day, if you have as great a sibling as I do, be sure to let them know.

Monday

17

August 2020

0

COMMENTS

Sew Step by Step by Alison Smith MBE

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Two Stars

Best for:
People who already know how to use a sewing machine (despite the title)

In a nutshell:
Author Smith shares some great detailed information regarding making garments and other items, assuming you know how to use a sewing machine.

Worth quoting:
N.A

Why I chose it:
I’m trying to teach myself machine sewing and this book claimed to be a how-to for using a sewing machine.

Review:
If this book only claimed to help with patterns, fabrics, seams, etc, it would be a 5 star review. The photos and diagrams are great, the detail seems to be about right. It’s well-organized and easy to navigate.

But.

This book claims to teach sewing machine use. The sub-title literally is “how to use your sewing machine…” The back description says “Discover how to …use a sewing machine.” It does not do any of that. There is one (1) photo of a sewing machine that is basically the same as the diagram in the instruction booklet that came with my machine, where they point out the parts. But there is zero discussion of what the different parts do! What’s the point? What the fuck is a bobbin? There seem to be two places that thread goes through – why? Seriously, how does the sewing machine work?

In a book that is more than 200 pages long, I am baffled that the author didn’t include an additional three or four pages providing even a high level overview of machine sewing. It’s odd – the book both assumes no knowledge of machine sewing (given all the detail provided in all the other sections – different seams, hems, buttonholes, etc.) and yet provides no knowledge of how to use a sewing machine.

Just … what? Why? I’d argue this is a failure of editing as much as the author – someone at some point should have said “hey, if you’re going to market this as a book to teach people how to use a sewing machine, you should include some information on how to use a sewing machine.”

I cannot recommend this book for people who are new to machine sewing, but I definitely recommend it to people who are looking for a good reference book after having a couple years of experience with their sewing machine.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it for once I actually know how to sew – the other parts seem very helpful!