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Books Archive

Thursday

25

February 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Secret Midwife

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in how maternity wards are run and what life for a midwife is like.

In a nutshell:
Secret Midwife ‘Pippa’ shares her time as a midwife, from starting training at age 17 through having to be signed off for stress as cuts to the NHS made staffing more and more scarce.

Worth quoting:
Audio book that I listened to while running, so I didn’t make note of any.

Why I chose it:
I find memoirs (and comedy books) to be best for running, as there isn’t a plot I need to keep track of. I also enjoy books about the medical profession and, despite not having or wanting children of my own, I find books and TV about childbirth and parenting to be kind of fascinating.

Review:
I previously read The Secret Barrister, which I found to be a great introduction to the legal system after I moved to the UK. The concept of these ‘Secret’ books is that by not sharing their names, the authors are able to provide further, more honest insight into their respective professions. One might wonder why a midwife might need to keep her identity hidden – the parents, sure, would need to be anonymized for their privacy, but the midwife?

And then you read the book, and realize it’s because if she were identifiable, she couldn’t speak honestly about the failures of management and the NHS Trust for which she works without fear of retaliation. The more I think about it, the more I get it – pretty much every worker in every field fears for retaliation when they point out the failings of their companies and managers. Why would midwifery be any different?

‘Pippa’ trains as a midwife starting at age 17, becoming fully qualified by age 20. She shares stories of successful births, unsuccessful births, stillbirths, miscarriages (including her own), and angry parents who blame midwives when things do go according to plan. She also shares her own depression and stressed caused by a complete lack of support from management. Midwives are working more with fewer resources – at one point ‘Pippa’ shares that there could be as many as 40 women on the ward with only 6 midwives available! That’s absurd.

The NHS has been receiving loads of praise lately because of their herculean efforts during the pandemic. And that praise is justly deserved – doctors and nurses have been working flat out to save as many lives as possible. But the NHS has been stripped of so much funding as of late, treated less like what it should be – a public institution providing excellent care for everyone – and more like a private business. And anyone who as lived anywhere with a primarily private healthcare system knows that is NOT the model to emulate.

The Secret Midwife is an excellent storyteller, and the person who read the audio book did a great job bringing those stories to life. I’m not sure if this needs to be a listen instead of a read, but I think either option will work.

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N/A (Audio book)

Saturday

20

February 2021

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COMMENTS

Skin by E. M. Reapy

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Women who have felt unseen – or too seen. Women trying to figure out what they want to do, and looking for ways to do it.

In a nutshell:
Natalie is a former teacher traveling, looking for what is next. She has disordered eating, binging when she is uncomfortable, sad, uncertain. She travels, lives with her family, travels some more, looking for what feels right.

Worth quoting:
“People always hoping that others will complete them, be their other half. It’s dangerous. We’re already whole. Don’t halve yourself for someone.”

“I’ve had my own body shit too. Some people carry their baggage on the inside.”

Why I chose it:
It was part of a subscription box.

Review:
When I read the description I was a bit concerned it might turn into an Eat Pray Love situation, but it doesn’t read that way. Natalie isn’t relying on ‘exotic’ locations to help her find herself; she doesn’t try on local cultures like a costume. She uses the time to try to work on herself.

The book starts in the middle – though not in a time-jumping sort of way. Natalie has already quit her job as a teacher, and is currently in Indonesia. She’s traveling alone, and is spending her evenings in her hotel room, binge eating. She meets folks on occasion, but doesn’t tend to have a lot of fun with them. She’s not a sad person, she’s just a person trying to grow and figure herself out.

I appreciate how the book unfolds – most chapters Natalie is in a new place. One chapter she’s in Australia with her Aunt; another she’s living in Dublin with friends. She spends time living with and taking care of her grandmother. She also starts working at a gym, and while I appreciate that the book doesn’t end (spoiler alert) with her suddenly becoming a star athlete, or married, she grows, learns more about herself. It’s a little two steps forward, one step back, like life often is.

Right from the start, I could relate to Natalie a bit. Me and food haven’t always had the best relationship, although I’ve not been where she is. I have travelled alone, however, and not being the most social, I’ve spent many evenings in a hotel room, alone, eating what I found at a local convenience store, watching local TV or reading a book. Most of my time alone has been spent in Ireland, so I didn’t have language barriers, but it was still hard at times. It was also wonderful – I loved the freedom of figuring out what and where I was going each day, not having to check with anyone on my plans. And I loved having the space to think, daydream, write, plan, without having chores or anything else to do. It was fun, a bit stressful, sometimes hard, sometimes sad, but I know helped me grow. That time was a real gift, and reading this book brought me back to those times, which was pretty great.

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Sunday

14

February 2021

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COMMENTS

Fast Girls by Elise Hooper

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in how women have had to fight against sexism, misogyny, and racism to do simple things like run really fast.

In a nutshell:
Three women’s stories are told starting in the late 1920s through to the 1936 Berlin Olympic.

Worth quoting:
“Getting a taste of what it felt like to be good at something and then having it taken away still left her feeling crushed when she allowed herself to think about it.”

“Rules could be broken. Judges could be wrong. People did not always do the fair thing. Final results were only as reliable as the system that produced them.”

“It is well documented that women cannot be subjected to the same mental and physical strains that men can withstand … It is important not to overburden this developing young feminine mind with the distractions of sport and competition.”

Why I chose it:
It was a birthday gift from my mother-in-law, who knows I have a strong interests in women in sports and women’s rights overall.

Review:
If you’re mostly interested in reading about the 1936 Berlin Olympics, this is not the book for you, despite the title and cover. It’s definitely in there at the end, but takes up maybe 15% of the whole book. But if you’re interested in reading fictionalized accounts of real women athletes, fighting for their rights to compete and perform and receive anything close to the same treatment as men athletes, this is a good book to pick up.

Author Hooper follows three athletes primarily – Betty, a white woman who wins gold at the inaugural women’s 100 track event at the 1928 Olympics; Helen, a young white outcast who discovers she is an excellent runner while dealing with understanding her sexuality, and Louise, a Black woman who has to deal with both the sexism and racism of the athletic world.

These women, along with nearly every other athlete mentioned, are historic figures, and the major life events they encounter (including a plane crash that Betty survives, and sexual abuse of Helen) are all real. As the author shares at the end, unfortunately Louise is the woman she was able to find the least about in her research, though all are discussed in an afterward that shares how their lives went after the Berlin Olympics.

The author intersperses point of view chapters with letters and newspaper articles and oh MY gosh do you want to get angry? That last quote from up above, about women not being able to handle mental / physical strains, and how they shouldn’t be distracted? Flames on the side of my face. I’ve been an athlete (mostly soccer) since I was about six, and while most of the time I’ve had support and the ability to play when and where I want, the reality is I’ve faced sexism individually (when I played on a co-ed team — not from my teammates, but from opposition) and collectively (I now play in women’s soccer leagues here in England and the refs are shit and both make way too many technical calls like foul throws and then offer no protection from dirty play).

I also appreciate how the author spends time specifically focusing on the ways that Louise, as one of the two Black women who is on the women’s team during the Los Angeles and Berlin Olympics, deals with overt and casual racism all the time, from not being selected for the relay in Los Angeles despite having faster times, to being forced to sleep in lesser accommodations on the way to the Olympics. Betty, Helen, and the other white women athletes are definitely facing a ton of misogyny and sexism, but for Louise and her teammate Tidye, they have racism added on top.

As I mentioned, the book is more about the lives of the women in the eight years leading to the Berlin Olympics, but they do definitely talk about the proposed boycott, and the treatment the Nazis showed to their own athletes and to athletes from other nations. I’d say it’s hard to imagine being willing to compete at those games, but like, people went to the 2014 Olympics in Socchi, where Russia has horrible laws against people who are not straight. As I get older and more informed, the way the Olympics are run makes me less and less interested in supporting them at all (I mean, did you see the comments by the now former head of the Toyko games just, like, this month?), but I do still want to support the individual athletes and teams who work so hard to complete these amazing feats of athleticism.

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Donate it

Saturday

6

February 2021

0

COMMENTS

Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
All the people, but I think white men really need to read and sit with this one.

In a nutshell:
Author Oluo explores the ways in which the elevation of the mediocrity of white men harms everyone (including white men).

Worth quoting:
“What I’m saying is that white male mediocrity is a baseline, the dominant narrative, and that everything in our society is centered around preserving white male power regardless of white male skill or talent.”

“How can white men be our born leaders and at the same time so fragile that they cannot handle social progress?”

“Perhaps one of the most brutal of white male privileges is the opportunity to live long enough to regret the carnage you have brought upon others.”

(That’s just a small sample of what I furiously underlined in the first 30 pages of the book. It’s SO GOOD.)

Why I chose it:
Ijemoa Oluo is an excellent writer. I loved her first book, and knew I needed to read this one. Due to living in the UK and different release dates (and our impatience and attempt to secure a copy from the US) we now have two copies – one for me and one for my partner.

Review:
Author Oluo is a brilliant writer. She takes on topics and explores them in ways that others may not have before. She makes connections and provides context, research, and new information to every topic she takes on. When I heard she had a new book coming out, and on such an evergreen and yet extremely relevant topic, I was excited, because I knew I’d learn something.

The book has seven chapters exploring connections between everything from the white invasion of what is now the western US to American football. I found myself wanting to share so much with my partner as I read.

For example, just in the first chapter Oluo connects Buffalo Bill to the Cliven Bundy incident in the Pacific Northwest. I was like 25 pages in and found myself saying out loud ‘oh my gosh, of course, but holy shit.’ Actually I think that could be my refrain throughout large chunks of this book – nothing is necessarily brand new, especially to people who have either taken an interest in social justice issues or have lived experiences in these areas, but the connections are on another level.

I think many of us realize how white male power constantly and consistently makes the world a worse place. The assumption that white male is ‘normal’ or ‘neutral,’ and everyone else is a deviation from that norm, a special interest, is literally killing people. White men are given repeated opportunities that women and people of color have to fight for and seldom get. And at the same time, when white men don’t reach the levels of power and supremacy they’ve been promised, they lose their shit, punishing the rest of us along the way.

I could go on, but anything I would say is said better by Oluo in this book. Just trust me and pick up a copy.

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Keep it

Saturday

23

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Break the Glass by Rachel Edwards

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
Anyone needing a reminder that it is okay to ask for help.

In a nutshell:
Author Edwards shares her experiences with mental health needs in straightforward but lovely writing.

Worth quoting:
“If you talk and share your thoughts and feelings, you are less, not more, likely to crumble.”

Why I chose it:
This was published specifically for this month’s “Books That Matter” subscription box.

Review:
This essay is so needed in this moment. Author Edwards starts sharing what she recalls as her first experience with mental health concerns – what she describes as her father’s nervous breakdown. She then shares that during her last year at university, she had a rough go for a bit, though she didn’t seek professional assistance from the university at the time, instead relying on close friends for support. The essay ends with a call to seek support when needed, and the benefits of allowing one’s self to be vulnerable and honest with close friends and family.

While I know it wasn’t the main purpose, given the author’s story I couldn’t help read this without thinking specifically about other university students this year. I work at one in London, and I know that students across the UK are having an especially a rough year. They haven’t had the in-person courses they and administrators thought might be possible earlier in the fall. Regional lock downs saw some students stuck inside tiny residence hall rooms for weeks at a time, with no real support system if they were new this fall. Everyone is having a hard time right now, and in unique ways. Parents are working and doing home school; essential workers are managing the stress of commutes and exposures; those who live alone are dealing with isolation.

I’m going to hold onto this essay, and re-read it. I don’t generally have problems opening up when I’m having a hard time, but who knows, that might change. But also, people around me may be having a hard time, and I want to make sure they know I am someone they can be open with, and who can offer them support.

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

Saturday

16

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

All This Life by Joshua Mohr

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People interested in exploring how technology affects relationships.

In a nutshell:
Four different stories involving eight different people intertwine against the backdrop of an event that makes national news.

Worth quoting:
“All that matters in content. New content. More content.”

Why I chose it:
Gift from a friend.

Review:
CN: Suicide; Non-consensual distribution of sexual images

A young teen boy films a marching band on the Golden Gate bridge, the members of which end up jumping to their deaths. He then posts the video to YouTube. An 18-year-old finds that her boyfriend has posted a video of them having sex to a porn site. A boy turns 18 but still can’t speak more than a few words, after an accident. A man learns of his sister’s death and feels responsible. A mother leaves her son after an accident, and tries to stay sober. A teen runs away.

This book explores relationships, and what happens when things go ‘viral,’ though it isn’t framed exactly as such. What happens to the person who has a sex tape posted against her wishes, without her knowledge, and everyone she knows sees it? What happens what a young teen films a mass suicide and then chooses to post it online, racking up views and comments? How does the decision to come up with pithy names for incidents and individuals impact the victims of the events?

I like how Mohr weaves these stories together, though there are a couple of parts that don’t entirely make sense. It’s not enough to spoil the book or anything, just a bit out of nowhere. I also perhaps am too far removed from being a teen (and I certainly wasn’t a teen with social media), but the inner monologues Mohr assigns to the 14-year-old who posts the suicide video online seems a bit what an adult imagines a kid would think, as opposed to what kids are actually thinking, if that makes sense. I mean, obviously a grown man isn’t going to know what’s in the head of a teen boy with the internet at hand, but still, the decisions here don’t exactly ring true to me.

Then again, a bunch of grown adult white supremacists were recently convinced by a failed real estate mogul / reality star and a dude who sells pillows to stage a coup, so perhaps I think too highly of what goes on in most people’s minds.

I don’t think I’d go as far as to recommend this book, but if one were to receive it as a gift, or come across it at a library, I think it’s a decent read.

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

Saturday

9

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Post-Growth Living by Kate Soper

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Philosophy students and lecturers

In a nutshell:
Soper’s project is exploring how people can rethink their idea of the good life to fit in with the reality of our current consumer culture’s negative impact on our own lives and the environment.

Worth quoting:
“However critical they may be of capitalism in other respects, socialists are still much too ready to subscribe to conventional views on the ‘good life’ and what constitutes a ‘high’ standard of living.”

Why I chose it:
A podcast I listen to described it in the liner notes. As someone who enjoys a good philosophy book, and someone who has some fairly conventional ideas of what the good life is (especially where travel is concerned), I was intrigued.

(I’m not huge on interviews, so I didn’t actually listen to the podcast interview with the author, which may have been a mistake.)

Review:
Did you ever see the movie “In Time”? I remember reading the premise for it and I was so excited. It’s a sci-fi thriller, and the main concept is that people are allocated a certain amount of time to live, and then they work to earn more. Time is currency, so you lose time off your life when you buy groceries or pay rent or whatever. It seemed like such an interesting concept, and one that could be done really well. But the movie itself was … not great. Lots of missed opportunities, unnecessary parts. Not horrible, and still making some interesting points, but overall a let down.

I kept thinking of that movie when I reading this book.

It took me about ten days to get through the first chapter. It is (at least, I hope) more of an academically-focused book, and while I’ve read a few in my time, this one was a challenge to get into. After that first chapter, the rest was definitely easier to read, but still unnecessarily complicated.

But what bothered me the most, and what I found to be a missed opportunity, is that I don’t think Soper ever actually defined her concept of Alternative Hedonism. What does it entail? What are the main components? What could fit into her definition? She spends the book talking about different areas of life that need a review – work, overall consumption, the idea of what prosperity is – with a lot of focus on the impact of all this living on the environment to the detriment of our futures. But there isn’t anywhere I could find that laid out how she defined what she was arguing for. I’d think that would belong in the Introduction, but if it was there, I didn’t see it. So it makes for a challenging read, trying to figure out what argument the author is trying to make.

There are definitely important and interesting points the author is aiming to make, I just don’t think they are successful if the audience is anyone who isn’t a Philosophy professor, or someone who is deeply steeped into this style of writing.

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Donate it

Saturday

2

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Amal unbound by Aisha Saeed

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Young readers (8 or 9 and up); adults who want to know what their nieces and nephews are reading.

In a nutshell:
Amal, a young girl living in Pakistan, talks back to the wrong man and is forced to go work in his home as a maid to his mother.

Worth quoting:
“Until now, I didn’t realize how memories clumped together. Remembering one unlocked another and then another until you were drowning in a tidal wave threatening to sweep you away.”

Why I chose it:
My niece gave it to me as part of her family’s Christmas gift (she and her mother each picked a book they’d read this year that they loved).

Review:
Obviously I’m not the target audience for this book, but I definitely found it engaging. Amal is such an interesting character, one who I think many girls could identify with even if they wouldn’t find themselves in her particular circumstances. She loves school and wants to learn. She’s a big sister, and helps with her family. She also craves independence.

I appreciate how some of this book focuses on Amal’s lack of control and agency in her situation, but then finds ways for her to take back that control and agency. It also shows adults as complex people – there is obviously a villain, but there are other adults who are trying to help, and adults who actually DO help. Author Saeed writes parents who desperately care for their children but aren’t able to do anything to change Amal’s circumstances in that moment, showing the reader that just because a parent isn’t able to fix something doesn’t mean they don’t care or that they aren’t trying.

Amal also shows a lot of courage in the face of really challenging situations, serving as an example to kids that even if it might be easier to remain quiet, it is important to speak up and possibly help others. And that we are often faced with choices we don’t like, and sometimes we just must pick the best one in that moment, and sometimes we have to find an option that wasn’t originally there.

When researching for this review, I learned that Saeed is one of the founders of We Need Diverse Books (https://diversebooks.org/), so that’s awesome too.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it – I want other young readers to have access to it.

Friday

1

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Baking Bible by Mary Berry

Written by , Posted in Baking, Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Fans of the original recipe Great British Bake-Off (I’m in the UK so I get to say that!); people looking for some fun recipes.

In a nutshell:
Original Great British Bake-Off Judge Mary Berry shares a bunch of recipes.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
Christmas gift!

Review:
I found the early seasons of GBBO, where Mel and Sue would interject historical interludes and interviews explaining the different items the contestants were baking, to be a huge help in understanding food culture in the UK when we moved here.

I appreciate the beginning of this book, where she has a lot of conversions (especially for temperature, because I still can’t convert C to Gas Mark to F) as well as some tips for additional baking supplies. I used to bake a lot but we gave away all of my baking stuff (except the measuring cups) when we moved, and I’m slowly re-building my tools.

The recipes aren’t too complex, and so many of them look utterly delicious. I went out and got some self-rising flour as many of her recipes include this (as opposed to plain flour). I was able to skip over all the ones with raisins / other dried fruit because nope. Instead, I went through and marked with a post-it every recipe I want to try, and there are SO MANY. Easily 70% of the content.

Today I made her banana loaf recipe, because I’ve got some very ripe bananas and I have a family recipe for banana bread that I’ve made every couple of months for the past year. It’s the one my mom made, so having something to compare the Mary Berry recipe to seemed appropriate. I’ve shared a photo – that dark color is from my horrible oven (I loath gas ovens – I miss my fan assisted one SO MUCH). The loaf itself took a bit longer to bake (again, my oven I’m sure) and is definitely much more moist than my mother’s recipe. My partner said it also tasted a bit more savory, but I think it has more sugar than my mom’s recipe. But it does have one fewer banana, so maybe that’s it. It was an easy recipe though and I could see myself making it again, especially if I only have two ripe bananas available.

The only reason this is a four-star read is because there isn’t a photo for every recipe. For me, that’s a requirement for a 5-star recipe book rating. I want to know exactly what the end result should be, and I need photos for that.

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

Tuesday

22

December 2020

0

COMMENTS

My Year In Books 2020

Written by , Posted in Reviews

I once again hit my reading goal in 2020 – 52 books, one for each week in the year. But even though I had a lot of free time this year, since I no longer had a commute every day, no longer could do most of what I enjoy doing (traveling, going on adventures), I still had a hard time concentrating on books. I would start one and then put it down. I found myself turning to fiction a bit more than usual, reading seven mysteries set in Iceland alone. I also continued reading a lot of books that I characterize as sociology — books on activism, racism, sexism. And made use of audio books much more than in any recent year, taking them in while on the runs that keep me active while we continue with the lock downs in the UK.

I continue to favor books written by women: 38 were written by women; 14 were written by men. Unfortunately, the diversity in race of the authors I read was abysmal: 42 written by white people, eight written by Black people, and two written by Asian people. Last year I also red 42 by white authors, but only two black authors, so I suppose that is a bit of an improvement.

I did travel the world a bit this year, reading books by authors from 10 countries: Australia, Canada, Iceland, India, Ireland, Russia, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, the UK and the US, with the US leading the way at 18 books, followed by the UK with 16 and Iceland with seven. Last year I read authors from 13 countries, but my highest count then was 21 from the US, so this year seems a bit better distributed.

I read 39 non-fiction books and 13 fiction books, seven of which were Icelandic mysteries. I divided books into 15 categories, with sociology and memoir tied for the most common at ten each. I managed to read three ‘travel’ books, which I think were all about various aspects of the the UK.

I only read one 2-star book this year, and was lucky enough to read 10 five-star books, with an average rating of 3.8. So many of these books were great, but I’d have to say that my favorites were:
Catch and Kill
Me and White Supremacy
Hood Feminism
The Guilty Feminist
Evicted

In terms of books that have stuck with me, I think that The Last, which I read before the pandemic and which is about an apocalyptic event that has stranded guests at a hotel, is right up there. If only I’d known what was in store in March when I finished it… The Guilty Feminist and Hood Feminism both had a huge impact on me, as did Me and White Supremacy.

As for the coming year, I have a lot of unread books on my shelves, so I’m going to dive into those, and then see where the year takes me.