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Books Archive

Wednesday

17

April 2024

0

COMMENTS

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in a straightforward exploration of a woman’s life under patriarchy. In this case, the patriarchy women experience in Korea.

In a nutshell:
Kim Jiyoung’s story, from birth through motherhood, and all the times her being a girl / woman has been held against her.

Worth quoting:
“It felt more like harassment or violence than pranks, and there was nothing she could do about it.”

“It wasn’t that she didn’t have time – she didn’t have room in her head for other thoughts.”

“The world had changed a great deal, but the little rules, contracts and customs had not, which meant the world hadn’t actually changed at all.”

Why I chose it:
I’d heard about the 4B movement recently, and this book (and the film it was eventually made into) is referenced as influencing it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4B_movement

Review:
On the surface this is a simple book. It’s a totally straightforward telling of one woman’s story, from birth through primary school, university, work and marriage.

From being a disappointment to her parents purely because she was a girl, to working to put her younger brother through university before she was able to go, to trying to find a job, to getting married and having a child. And all the ways that society puts the boys and men in her life first, both figuratively and, in the case of the order of who gets served lunch in primary school, literally.

But this is also a clever book – it takes a story that could be the story of so many women and makes it personal. It doesn’t have flowery writing, or long scenes of dialog. But it has emotion – and a lot of it. I had so many feelings while reading it. I often wrote in the margins such deep words as ‘gross’ and ‘what the fuck.’

Author Cho delivers an unexpected (to me, as I wasn’t familiar with the book or film at all) gut punch in the last few pages that still has me thinking a day after finishing the book. It’s an interesting framing that drives home all the pages that came before it.

What’s next for this book:
Recommending it to others.

Thursday

11

April 2024

0

COMMENTS

The Price of Life by Jenny Klee

Written by , Posted in Reviews

4 Stars

Best for:
Those interested in exploring not just the philosophical questions about ‘value,’ ‘worth,’ and ‘price,’ but those contemplating how to – and if we should – put a price on a life.

In a nutshell:
Journalist Kleeman investigates the different prices we put on lives, from hiring a hit man to covering medications to paying ransom to bomber jets.

Worth quoting:
“It is possible to not be a slave but still be exploited: this £23 pedicure has taken seventy-five minutes. Does £23 adequately cover her time, and the manager’s time, plus the materials, the London rent, the energy bills?”

“This is the problem with removing emotion and duty from giving: it can be hijacked by amoral sociopaths who believe the ends justify the means.”

Why I chose it:
Was just browsing at a bookstore and it jumped out at me. A friend and I had just been talking about discussions we’d had during university about the ‘value’ of life and different ways costs are assigned, so it seemed like a good fit.

Review:
This topic has fascinated me since I started studying philosophy years ago (oooof, that was well over a decade ago now. Yikes). And this is an excellent overview of some of the more interesting and challenging ideas related to how we value human life, and the price we put on it.

Some of the chapters are interesting from a sort of ‘oh that’s wild’ perspective – finding out how much people pay to have someone they know murdered, or how the price for a hostage is worked out. But other chapters I found to be interesting and thought provoking for different reasons. The chapter on the F-35 bomber, and the absurd costs associated with war, was especially relevant considering those bombers are currently destroying homes and killing civilians in Gaza.

There were two different chapters that looked specifically at health care issues. One covered a concept I studied a bit previously – QALYs also know as quality-adjusted life years, which the UK uses to determine whether to cover the cost of certain medical treatments. There are limited resources, and other than a lottery, how can one figure out how to distribute those resources without something that can be applied to every equitably? Of course, the question is … is it equitable?

The other focused on the cost of the COVID lockdowns, and whether the lives saved at the time were worth the costs to lives in other ways (e.g. poverty, domestic violence) when the economy was shut. I found that chapter challenging in some ways, because I do still think that the lockdowns made sense. But this was the only chapter where I felt that the author left something out of the equation – the cost not just of dying of COVID, but of long COVID. She only explored the death rates, and didn’t discuss the mass disabling event that COVID is, and how many people will not be able to live the lives they would have otherwise if they hadn’t been infected It’s not the same as a death, but it’s not nothing.

And then there are the chapters that look at things like slavery and exploitation – and the willingness so many of us have to overlook why the things we like to use might be cheaper than the true cost, and what that means for the people providing those goods and services. Plus the chapter that looks at charity, and the cold calculations some use to determine whether it makes sense to fund certain charitable endeavors.

If the topic sounds interesting to you, I think you’ll enjoy this book. And even if these aren’t things you’ve ever thought of, I think you might still enjoy this book.

What’s next for this book:
Going on the shelf and recommending to others.

Saturday

30

March 2024

0

COMMENTS

Run by Rachel Laidler and Elspeth Beidas

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Five Stars

Best for:
People who like to travel to their run, or who are looking for some inspiration.

In a nutshell:
One hundred runs and trails of varying lengths, spread across every continent (yes, even that one).

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
It was a birthday gift.

Review:
I’ve been running for about 15 years now. In those years I’ve run 15 half marathons, and some of the best have been ones I’ve traveled for. There was one in the Black Country near Birmingham, England. That one was run along the canals, and you were released in sets of 2-4 people every few minutes. There was basically no one else around, and the water stations were kind people who live on canal boats and set up little tables along the trail.

Another one was the Paris half marathon. I was in grad school and a friend and I went together. It was HUGE – like 30,000 runners. And it was super cool to run through the streets of Paris, all shut down. That was also the race where they had chips you had to return, and the place where they had folks cutting them off was WAY too close to the finish line, so after about 2 hours there was a huge back-up of people trying to cross. Whoops.

Basically, traveling to run is a cool way to see another city or country. Ideally I time it correctly and arrive a couple of days before the run, enjoy a little job the day before, run the race, then have some time after to really enjoy and explore the place.

The book is gorgeous on its own, full of color photos of the race locations. It is laid out in six sections (one for each continental area, with the Antarctica race included with South America). Each race section includes a sparkline of the elevation, the distance, elevation, and terrain. There’s a narrative about the race, and details of how and when to sign up.

Many of the races in the book are longer than I’m happy running – I may be done with half marathons, and I’m definitely not about to train for a marathon or an ultra marathon (meanwhile my running coach is currently training for like a 90km race in the alps and I’m just like … sure). But there are some races that have a 10k associated with them, so I’m looking at those. It’s fun to make plans, even if I don’t make it to a lot of them. Always fun to set some goals.

What’s next for this book:
Keeping it and using it to plan some trips!

Monday

25

March 2024

0

COMMENTS

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C Gibson, Psy D

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Four Stars

Best for:
I mean, as it says on the tin, right? Also maybe if you’re considering becoming a parent? Might be good to consider checking it out.

In a nutshell:
Author Gibson explores the different types of emotionally immature parents, the impact that can have on their children as children and as adults, and offers ways of continuing on in relationship with such parents without further harming oneself.

Worth quoting:
“Emotionally immature parents can do a good job of taking care of their children’s physical and material needs. In a world of food, shelter, and education, these parents may be able to provide everything that’s needed. In terms of things that are physical, tangible, or activity related, many of these parents make sure their children get every advantage they can afford. But when it comes to emotional matters, they can be oblivious to their children’s needs.”

“Emotionally immature people, on the other hand, often take pride in their lack of [emotional work]. They rationalize their impulsive and insensitive responses with excuses like ‘I’m just saying what I think’ or ‘I can’t change who I am.’”

Why I chose it:
Well, I am an adult child. Am I an adult child of one or more emotionally immature parents? My therapist would probably say yes…

Review:
I can’t really review this in as much detail as I would like without revealing more about myself than I feel comfortable doing. But what I will say is that after spending some time in therapy last year, the concept of emotionally immature parents came onto my radar. I’m not going to specify which parents this might apply to; I will, however, share that I found this book to be full of highly relevant information that helped me to both better understand myself and help me sort out new approaches to interacting with the parents in the future.

The book is laid out quite well, with clearly defined and contained chapters. Gibson starts by exploring the impact of emotional immature parents on their adult children’s lives, then jumps into helping the reader sort out what an emotionally immature parent it. There’s a checklist / quiz here that I found helpful and eye-opening.

Gibson theorizes that there are four types of emotionally immature parents, and explores how they differ. There are three chapters in the middle that I found a bit less helpful than the others, partially because I think I already explored the ideas there in other ways, but these sections are probably quite helpful to most folks: they’re about different ways us as adult children react to being raised by emotionally immature parents. The final chapters are full of tips and tools for managing the relationship with an emotionally immature parent, which is really what I was in it for, and what I am looking forward to trying out in the future.

I think a lot of folks in my generation (Xennial) and younger are taking the time to explore and improve their emotional lives, and part of that work involves looking at their relationships, including with their parents. While this book might not be what my peers would reach for initially (it’s not marketed in a clever pop non-fiction way), I do think it’s worth checking out.

What’s next for this book:
On my shelf and to be referred to regularly I’d imagine.

Monday

11

March 2024

0

COMMENTS

Keanu Reeves is not in Love with You by Becky Holmes

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

4 Stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in the world of romance fraud, as well as anyone who likes a lot of humour in their non-fiction books. Oooh, also anyone who gets some satisfaction out of people who dick around with said fraudsters.

In a nutshell:
Author Holmes gets a lot of clearly fake requests on social media, and so decides to play along, wasting the time of fraudsters while also investigating what makes them tick – and how anyone can be victimized by them.

Worth quoting:
“It always annoys me when people just write off the victims of romance fraud as being stupid. I’ve interviewed between thirty and forty victims, and not a single one was stupid…”

“…what I also find interesting is the difference in language used when talking about male and female victims of scamming … the blame shifts and seems to land squarely on the woman, whether she is the scammed or the scammer.”

“We need to stop referring to people as ‘falling for’ a scam. We don’t say someone ‘fell for a burglary’ or ‘fell for an assault.’ Romance fraud is not something that people ‘fall for’; it is something that happens to them.”

Why I chose it:
I mean it’s a great title. I too was once messaged by Keanu Reeves on Instagram. Sadly, nothing came of it.

Review:
What an interesting and – despite the serious subject matter – funny book.

Author Holmes decides to join various social media platforms, and, like many women, is immediately bombarded with messages from men of … dubious origin. But instead of blocking and ignoring, she decides to engage with them, wasting their time (and hopefully tying up at least some of the time they could be using to scam others) in all manner of ridiculous texts and photo exchanges.

The book definitely includes discussion about people pretending to be celebrities as the title suggests, but thats just the focus of one chapter. It’s a much broader look at online romance fraud, and Holmes does a great job making the subject accessible and really digging deep into how it can happen, but sharing stories of people who have been scammed. She also explores some of the biggest groups of scammers – spending a lot of time on Yahoo Boys, which was a group I’d never heard of, and which I was concerned might be a bit sensationalized as they are located in Nigeria (and lots of people have some racist assumptions about Nigerians and scams), but they are indeed a real thing.

Much of the book includes excerpts of Holmes’s interactions with scammers, which are both hilarious to read and also deeply disturbing, as one can see how these scammers really try to ingratiate themselves into the lives of the people who they fleece. It’s distressing and it really sucks for those who are victimized by them.

One area Holmes really focuses on – and which I call out in the quote I share above – is how judgmental people are when it comes to romance fraud. Frankly I hate that for people – much like I hate pranks. I realize they come from very different places, but in the end the joke (or crime) is ‘ha ha, you believe in people, you idiot.’ Of course it is easy to see red flags in hindsight, or when one is in a totally calm, stable, non-traumatic point in their life. But people aren’t always in the perfect place – sometimes people are sad, or lonely, or have just come out of an abusive relationships. And it sucks that people are not only harmed by the people stealing their money and tricking them into thinking they are in love, but also by their friends, family, and society with their judgment.

She also spends time looking at how little support there is for the victims of this fraud. There is ‘Action Fraud,’ which is where the police refer people in the UK (where the author lives), but they sound both under-resourced and ineffective. Police don’t investigate, banks don’t really care, and family members judge. It stinks.

Overall, I think this is a good book for anyone (including those who thing they are ‘too smart’ to ‘fall for’ any such scams), both because it is well written but also because I learned quite a few things and it helped me remind myself about the need for empathy for people whose main ‘fault’ is trusting others.

What’s next for this book:
Keep, maybe pick up a copy for friends who might find this interesting.

Saturday

2

March 2024

0

COMMENTS

Outside by Ragnar Jónasson

Written by , Posted in Reviews

4 Stars

Best for:
Those looking for a claustrophobic mystery told from many perspectives.

In a nutshell:
College friends Helena, Gunnlauger, Ármann, and Daníel are getting together for a weekend of shooting birds and catching up. But it is winter in Iceland, so really anything can happen.

Worth quoting:
N/A (Jónasson is an excellent author but I don’t often find myself underlining phrases in his books.)

Why I chose it:
I’ve read nearly all of his other books and loved them. I had no idea this one existed!

Review:
I do enjoy a mystery told from multiple perspectives, and I especially enjoy it when none of the characters seem fully innocent.

That is the case with this book. There is Daníel, the struggling actor who has chosen to live in England instead of Iceland, and hasn’t been home in a couple of years. There is Helena, the only woman in the group, who is grieving the death of her partner five years ago. There is Ármann, who runs a successful tourism company. And there is Gunnlauger, who is really only there because he’s a childhood friend of Daníel, and he’s a bit of creep.

The weekend starts out fine, with the group drinking at their comfortable hunting lodge. But the following day, while the four of them are out on a bird hunt, an unexpected storm hits, causing them to try to seek shelter in a respite hut. They find the hut, and are faced with an utter shock.

From there, there are some choices made, and some secrets come to light. It had unexpected twists (as his novels often do) and literally made it challenging for me to put down. I started it before bed on Friday night, then picked it up after I did some chores on Saturday morning, reading straight through to the end (including while eating lunch). I love that feeling, of wanting to get through the page I’m reading so I can see what’s happening on the next one, and once again, Jónasson has done that for me.

What’s next for this book:
Donate – hopefully the next reader will enjoy it as much as I did.

Saturday

2

March 2024

0

COMMENTS

Mustn’t Grumble by Graham Lawton

Written by , Posted in Reviews

4 Stars

Best for:
Anyone who enjoys learning about little science facts and who enjoys a bit of humor with their writing.

In a nutshell:
Author Lawton examines the minor ailments that afflict all of us at one point or another, looking at their causes and treatments.

Worth quoting:
“Back in the day, before we caught up with our European neighbours and realised taht food was something to be enjoyed rather than endured, the only place in Britain where olive oil could be purchased was a pharmacy.” (this comes from the section on earwax)

Why I chose it:
I enjoy little pop science books.

Review:
The whole point of this book is that it explores MINOR ailments, so he doesn’t get into the big things like cancer or chronic illness unless as mentioned in passing (e.g. cancer briefly comes up when he’s talking about sunburn). The

This book took me much longer to get through than it should have, and that’s up to me and my attention space, not the writing. Lawton is a talented writer, able to make things like varicose veins and sneezing fits entertaining.

The book is divided into sections that look at pain; skin issues; ear, nose and throat issues; digestive concerns; illnesses; and what he calls self-inflicted wounds (this is where things like hangovers and razor burn are discussed).

I found the book to be genuinely interesting. I learned a few things, and just appreciated Lawton’s style of writing. I also appreciate the amount of research that went into this; overall he covers over 80 different types of ailments and injuries, which meant he had to know learn about over 80 different types of ailments and injuries.

I’d recommend this to anyone who finds such a topic interesting but who isn’t looking to dive super-deep into any one area.

CN: Suicide
An absolutely wild thing I thought I’d mention is that the front of the edition I purchased included a note about the author’s wife, who ended up with a very major illness called musculoskeletal nociplastic pain syndrome, which basically means her brain’s pain receptors got all fucked up, she was in horrible pain with no cause or treatment, and chose to end her own life. Like I said, wild, and I figured perhaps it would be worth mentioning as a warning to anyone who might pick up this book. The book was originally written before this happened, so his wife’s minor ailments are referenced a few times.

What’s next for this book:
I’ll keep it – might refer back to it on occasion when I’ve got a minor health issue that is bothering me.

Thursday

29

February 2024

0

COMMENTS

The Snakehead by Patrick Radden Keefe

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Three Stars

Best for:
People interested in the concepts of immigration and human trafficking.

In a nutshell:
Keef explores the life of Sister Ping, a woman who helped smuggle thousands of people to the US from China, and along the way looks at the history of immigration laws and the lengths people will go to when they want to build a different life.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
I’ve read all of Keefe’s other books, and really enjoyed most of them.

Review:
I am someone who has managed to immigrate to a new country. I was born and raised in the US, but thanks to a skilled worker visa my partner was able to secure, I have managed to get the equivalent of a green card in the UK, bought a home and am waiting on a citizenship decision. My ability to do this required me to be married to someone with a ‘scarce’ skill set, and to have the funds to support such a move.

But so many people do not have that option but want it, and because of the absolutely mammoth hurdles people have to overcome to be able to immigrate to a new country, many seek alternative options. Enter the Snakehead, a.k.a. Sister Ping, a woman who took serious advantage of the desperation of those who wanted to leave China and move to the US.

The book starts with the horrors of a ship having washed ashore, with undocumented individuals thrashing about in the waves outside Queens, New York, emaciated and not able to speak English. It then drops back to explore the history of immigration laws in the US, interwoven with this story of a woman and those who worked for her, taking money from people in exchange for bringing them to the US.

I found the book itself a real challenge to get into for some reason, unlike Keefe’s books on the IRA and on the Sackler family. I think it is his first investigative book, so perhaps his craft has developed over time. But I also find the underlying topic so interesting, heartbreaking, and frankly infuriating. I find immigration laws overall to be a bit absurd in their complexity – I think it’s kind of silly to have borders as they are now. I of course understand the desire to self-govern and set ones own norms and rules within one’s own community (city/state/nation), but considering it’s basically just a roll of the dice in terms of where you are born, I don’t understand how anyone can rationalize making it so hard for people to move about.

What’s next for this book:
I’m still waiting for him to announce his next book, and I’ll definitely pick that one up whenever it comes out.

Tuesday

6

February 2024

0

COMMENTS

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

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3 Stars

Best for:
I’m not totally sure if I’m honest. It’s similar to her other books, but also not.

In a nutshell:
Jess is visiting her half brother Ben in Paris, but when she arrives, he’s nowhere to be found, and his cat has some blood on it.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
Thought I’d round out the Lucy Foley catalog.

Review:
Hmmm. I nearly gave up on this book because it wasn’t holding my attention, but there is a twist that comes about 1/3 of the way through that brought me back in.

Like her other books, this one is told from the point of view of a few different characters, nearly all of whom live in the same apartment building in Paris, plus Jess, who is visiting her brother Ben. There is Sophie, who lives in the penthouse with her husband Jack, and who is quite the snob. There is Mimi, who is very young and a bit shy, and lives with a flatmate. Then there is Nick, who knew Ben from their university days, and got Ben the apartment. Finally the concierge, an older woman who lives on the ground flour and takes care of the building.

Jess sort of flees London, and tells Ben she’s going to crash with him for a bit. His last message to her before she arrives is a voice note giving her instructions for how to find the flat. But when she arrives a few hours later, there is no trace of him, but his keys and wallet are still in the flat.

The book jumps back and forth in time, following different perspectives wit the goal of figuring out what the hell happened to Ben. I’ll admit that the resolution was somewhat surprising and fairly satisfying, but overall the book just wasn’t that interesting to me.

What’s next for this book:
I will probably eventually listen to Foley’s books if another one is released, as it’s decent to listen to while on a run.

Monday

22

January 2024

0

COMMENTS

Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People who don’t need to like … any of the characters in the book?

In a nutshell:
Roach is a true-crime-loving bookseller. Laura is also a bookseller, new to the same shop. She writes poetry somewhat related to true crime.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
Strong ratings online in this genre.

Review:
This book is entertaining, but I found the character development lacking. Not that the characters weren’t developed, it’s just the direction they went in. Let me explain.

This book is told from both Roach and Laura’s perspectives. We start off from Roach’s perspective, and she’s waiting in line for entry to a live taping of a true crime podcast. Two women hosting, so something modeled after My Favorite Murder or perhaps Wine and Crime. Roach is sort of a walking caricature. She uses this absurd phrase – ‘normies’ – to refer to people who are different from her. Do people really speak like that? Are they so insecure in their own originality that they have to label people who are different from them? Seems bizarre. (Especially after I looked up the etymology and apparently it used to be what disabled people used to refer to people without disabilities, which actually makes sense to me.) She is described a few times as not having washed hair, of smelling unclean, of putting on dirty clothes. I understand there probably are people out there like this, but it all feels a bit like an exercise in a creative writing class to create the most stereotypical ‘alternative’ person out there.

Then there is Laura. Laura is basically the polar opposite of Roach. She is a poet, a writer, wears matching tights and berets, carries a tote bag with a literary quote on it. I’m not sure if we were meant to prefer Laura to Roach, but also I found her to be written as deeply unappealing. We later learn about some trauma she has experienced in her life, and some current challenges she is facing, but she is so judgmental, so fake, and so sad.

Roach tries desperately to be friends with Laura after she learns that Laura writes ‘found poetry’ based on true crime books. But Laura hates true crime, while Roach loves it. Things move from there as Roach tries harder and harder to get Laura’s attention, and Laura tries harder to stay away.

I did appreciate the discussion of true crime and the current obsession with it. How, especially with more modern crimes, podcasters and their fans often seem to forget about the very real victims involved. Same with some true crime books. In the past I listened to a couple true crime podcasts, but not anymore, and I appreciated the discussion about it from Laura’s perspective, though I felt that Roach’s was intentionally absurd so as to make any defense of true crime writing and discussion seem negative by default.

As I said, I found the book to be an easy and engaging read, but it wasn’t one of my favorites.

Minor spoiler here for those who have read the book:
I was wondering, did anyone else find Laura’s reaction to the Roach poem a bit hypocritical? Just as Laura takes (uncredited) lines from true crime books and puts them together and claims them as her own found poetry, Roach took Laura’s poem and added to it to make it her own work. Obviously for very different reasons, but it felt a bit rich for Laura to claim her work is fair use but Roach’s was plagiarism.

What’s next for this book:
Nothing for me – I think I’m good.