ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Books Archive

Sunday

1

August 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Home Edit Life by Clea Shearer & Joanna Teplin

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People who like to organize all the things. People who like to look at gorgeous pictures of organized things.

In a nutshell:
Clea and Joanna of The Home Edit fame expand beyond their first book to offer tips for organizing other areas of life (there’s a section on pets!).

Worth quoting:
“For those who claim their family/roommate/partner will never get on board with an organized house, we present you with the silverware drawer. Every single person above the age of three agrees to respect an organized silverware drawer.”

Why I chose it:
I accidentally bought this when I meant to buy their first book. Happy accident indeed!

Review:
There isn’t a lot to say about this book. It’s very pretty, and some of the tips are great. But one thing I have learned from putting into action suggestions from the first book is that it can be pretty expensive. Their own branded containers cost way more than I would have expected (though very pretty!), so while the suggestions of loads of individual containers for things might make sense from an organizational perspective, it might be a bit much from a wallet perspective.

One area that people might find especially useful is the work area. As a lot of office workers are now finding themselves permanently working from home (at least some of the time), they might decide or just finally be able to afford to properly organize their home office, whatever space it is. This book has some suggestions on how to do that.

Overall, this is a mixture of how-to and coffee table book, and that’s fun.

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

Monday

12

July 2021

0

COMMENTS

Bloc Life by Peter Molloy

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars 

Best for:
Those who like to read very short insights into a lot of different lives.

In a nutshell:
Journalist Molloy gathers together stories of people who lived in former East Germany, former Czechoslovakia, and Romania under Communist rule.

Worth quoting:
“I was a communist, and still am today, and I’m of the opinion that communism is a good thing when it’s done right.”

“I was opposed to East Germany because it was a dictatorship.”

“A couple who remained childless beyond the age of 25 saw their tax bills increase and had their sex life scrutinized by government inspectors.”

Why I chose it:
I don’t actually know much about the lives of people who lived in countries under previous attempts at communist government.

Review:
So, capitalism is a giant failure. I think that’s pretty apparently given *gestures to everything*. The past few years in the US, socialism has become appealing to some people. And there are aspects of socialism in most capitalistic democracies, like fire departments or schools. And then there’s communism. All I knew about communism before the past couple of years was what I gleaned from pop culture and the very old textbooks that sort of taught me history. Basically, McCarthy hearings, blacklisting, and adding ‘Under God’ to the US pledge of allegiance.

I visited Berlin about a decade after reunification, took the tours, saw the remaining bits of the wall, Checkpoint Charlie. And museums do a great job with some aspects of history, but I find hearing directly from people to be a great way to really learn about how life was. It’s one thing to read about, say travel restrictions; it’s another to hear someone explain what they had to go through to visit someone in West Berlin.

In this book, Molloy gathers stories from people who lived under European communist regimes. He looks at workers, youth, leisure, religion, policing, health, sex, dissent and other topics, focusing on one person’s story for a few pages at a time. Many are heartbreaking, some are inspiring. One thing that became quickly apparent was that these countries were run by dictators who claimed to be communists. In fact, some of the policies in place sounded like ones that Republicans in the US would support if they didn’t know who proposed them – like making abortions illegal.

These stories are important, and I’m so glad I read this book, but I’m only giving it three stars because I think it lacks both sufficient context and sufficient editing. I appreciate the groupings, but not much connects the people who share their stories. It could have used more than an intro chapter and then another couple of introductory paragraphs in each chapter. And I appreciate gathering voices from a variety of regimes, but think it would have been stronger to focus on what was happening within each of the three countries and then comparing across. I don’t know – this just felt a bit like a hodge podge.

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

Sunday

4

July 2021

0

COMMENTS

Abandoned London by Katie Wignall

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone looking for an interesting if somewhat bleak coffee table photography book.

In a nutshell:
Author Wignall captures some of the haunting images of buildings abandoned throughout this giant city.

Worth quoting:
“The land was bought by Lendlease property developers in 2010 and the estate was demolished between 2011 and 2014. There were 284 ‘affordable homes’ (priced between £350,000 and £1.1. million) made available, but for many of the existing tenants these were too expensive.”

Why I chose it:
I love London, I love photography books, and I find abandoned buildings and areas in the middle of large living cities fascinating.

Review:
Over a decade ago my sister and I visited the Tacheles in Berlin, which was a partially demolished and abandoned department store taken over by artists. It was amazing to see a building that had been left to rot re-purposed in such a way. That wasn’t the first time I was intrigued by what happens to spaces when they are left behind, but it definitely stands out.

This book is part coffee table book, part guide to things to see in London, and part history of the evolution of London. Abandoned docksides, factories, infrastructure, along with homes, shops, and even sports stadiums, each with its own story to tell. Perhaps the buildings outlasted their useful life and needed to be replaced for safety reasons. Or perhaps technology changed, meaning the shockingly gorgeous, gigantic pump rooms of the earliest sewage treatment facilities are obsolete but no one can bring themselves (or afford to) tear them down. Or, in the case of some of the tube stations, maybe a better or more accessible station was built just a few steps away.

Not every photo is of an epic or haunted building – many are just shots of simple shops and homes. Some are even no longer abandoned, bought up and renovated after a few years of neglect. Which makes sense — this is central London, and property is expensive. But it got me really thinking about the stories behind the buildings that remain abandoned, the ones that don’t also have a Grade II listing associated with them. The ones that people would consider eyesores, or a sign of a neighborhood in decline. What happened there? Did a giant superstore (or online services) undercut them? Did they sell a product that was no longer in demand? Did someone lose their life savings when it didn’t work out? Did the landlord raise the rent and drive the shopkeeper out, only to find no one else could afford that rent either?

And when it comes to the abandoned homes, I think about the above quote – some of the abandoned spaces have been rebuilt with housing. But not affordable housing, not when £350,000 is the low end. What happens when you take away crumbling infrastructure and replace it not with a similar but safer, nicer version, but instead some idea of luxury that the people you’ve displaced can’t afford? Why isn’t it replaced with actually affordable public housing? It’s infuriating.

The photos in here are great – some are quite artful, and some are ones that any of us could have taken. But each of them has a story behind it, and thinking about those stories made the experience of reading the book even richer.

I ordered this book as soon as I heard about it, and so had to wait a couple of months for its release. Worth it.

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

Sunday

6

June 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Lies You Told by Harriet Tyce

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone who likes a little private school intrigue, and who also has the stomach for some seriously cruel

In a nutshell:
A mother returns to where she was raised, with her daughter in tow. Things have changed … or have they?

Why I chose it:
Part of a paperback sale, and it looked pretty intriguing.

Review:
Sadie has fled the US – and her husband – with her 11-year-old daughter Robin. Due to some cruel pre-death machinations by her mother, Sadie is able to live in her deceased mother’s home, and must send Robin to the same private London all-girls school that Sadie attended, or else lose the home. Sadie doesn’t care much, as she just needs to get away from her husband (why, we don’t find out right away).

Sadie finds work as a barrister thanks to help from her best friend, but find the mothers at the private school to be extremely snarky and rude. Their daughters are also icing out Robin. This goes on for the first quarter of the book or so, and it’s distressing to the point that I almost stopped reading. I don’t mind some cruelty in a book so long as the instigators get their comeuppance.

I’m glad I stuck with it though. Eventually something happens that brings Sadie and Robin into the Mean Girl mothers’ good graces. Sadie continues work on a case defending someone who may have been falsely accused.

This book is just under 400 pages and I finished it in one day. It’s a quick read, and interesting. There are twists, things you can see coming and things you can’t. And it has a very interesting and satisfying ending.

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

Saturday

5

June 2021

0

COMMENTS

What White People Can Do Next by Emma Dabiri

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Best for:
White people looking for perspectives on the best ways we can effectively dismantle white supremacy and the institutions connected to it.

In a nutshell:
Author Dabiri shares her thoughts on where some of the current anti-racism focus is misdirected, and offers alternatives.

Worth quoting:
“What we do require here is an understanding, not so much of an intersectionality of identities, but an intersectionality of issues.”

“My fear is that much of the anti-racist literature is an iteration of the same process of maintaining and reaffirming whiteness.”

“What would be truly radical would be to sound the death knell for the fiction that white people constitute a race and that this race is imbued with any ‘natural’ abilities unavailable to others.”

“Language is of course not irrelevant, but the capital B – while coming from a place that understandably is attempting to confer more status on to the world ‘black’ — seeks to reinforce a way of seeing the world that we should be disrupting and unraveling.”

Why I chose it:
It sounded interesting.

Review:
The back cover pretty much tells prospective readers what they can expect:
“Stop the denial. Stop the false equivalencies. Interrogate whiteness. Interrogate capitalism. Denounce the white saviour. Abandon guilt.”

Dabiri is not so much interested in how white people can be ‘allies’ as we’ve come to know the term. She wants us to work to build coalitions. Think about Fred Hampton, and how he got different groups to all align in the Rainbow Coalition – Black Panther Party, Young Patriots Organization, and Young Lords. Groups that today we might look at and think all have different interests, but the reality the systems of capitalism and white supremacy is fucking all of us over. We all have an interest in dismantling those systems. And it’s not about white people feeling ‘sorry’ for people not racialised as white, or guilt over it.

I also appreciated Dabiri’s discussion about race and the challenges with leaning into the separate ideas of race when it is a fully social construct; specifically how a lot of the anti-racism work that is out there today is focusing on emphasizing difference without (white) people really fully understanding what it means to be racialized as white. I especially felt this after having just read Angela Saini’s Superior.

This is one of those books that needs to be read multiple times. There’s so much here, even though the book itself is a relatively short 150 pages. But Dabiri doesn’t need more space – she makes her arguments strongly within the brief but full chapters.

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

Saturday

5

June 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Wreckage of My Presence by Casey Wilson

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy essays and memoirs from celebrities.

In a nutshell:
Actress and performed Casey Wilson shares stories from her life – mostly adulthood, though some from her childhood.

Worth quoting:
That title and the origin behind it – I like it a lot.

Why I chose it:
Famous woman memoirs, read by the author, is my jam.

Review:
I generally have enjoyed Wilson’s work when I come across it. I don’t recall much of her from Saturday Night Live, but I did love Happy Endings. She seems like a nice person, and she definitely tells a good story.

She also, by her own admission, seems like she’s kind of a lot to deal with, if her chapter on her interactions with her husband are anything remotely similar to how they interact in real life. But at the same time, like, so what? Her family and friends love her, and she seems like she’s figured out where she belongs in the world. If she is ‘a lot’ by my definition, who the heck cares?

I can’t relate much to her in most ways – she’s got children, and she experienced the unexpected death of her mother at a pretty young age. The latter especially appears to factor heavily in her life, and many of the stories she tells involve her working through that.

I can relate to her need for sugar, however. So I’m sitting with that for awhile.

This was enjoyable to listen to on my morning runs, and I’d recommend it for anyone who generally enjoys this genre.

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

Tuesday

25

May 2021

0

COMMENTS

We Had A Little Real Estate Problem by Kliph Nesteroff

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those with an interest in the history of comedy; those interested in the ways that US and Canadian popular culture have excluded groups, specifically Native Americans / Indigenous people.

In a nutshell:
Author Nesteroff provides a comprehensive history of Native American comedy interspersed with vignettes about modern-day Native American comedians.

Why I chose it:
A cannonballer reviewed it and it sounded so interesting.

Review:
I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. I think it might be one of the few cases where reading it as an audio book might have harmed it – for example, I didn’t realize until maybe 1/4 of the way through that the chapters were set up as sort of an alternating straight time line of the history of comedy and chapters about modern comedians. It felt super disjointed and a bit hard to follow until that clicked.

That said, the information in this book is interesting and pretty much all of it was new to me. The racism and lack of opportunities is not surprising, but I’ve been completely ignorant of the plight of Native American comedians – I’m not really ‘in’ to stand-up comedy, though I am a fan a few comedians (Hannah Gadsby springs to mind). I’m not totally unaware of the challenges that people who are not white men (or white women, to a lesser extent) face when seeking out their careers in places like Saturday Night Live, but I appreciate how the Native American experience is unique in this area.

I do wish this were written by a Native American writer or comedian, as I think they would be able to provide even more cultural context, though Nesteroff clearly has done loads of research.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
If it weren’t an audio book I’d donate it.

Sunday

16

May 2021

0

COMMENTS

Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those interested in the history of science used in support of and to further racism.

In a nutshell:
For centuries, racism has received some support from those who seek to use science to suggest there are biological differences (and inferiorities) among race. This book explores many of the ways they are wrong, and many of the ways they continue their racist work.

Worth quoting:
(I tried to narrow this down, but there’s so much good in here)

“Because of the narrow way Europeans had set their parameters of what constituted a human being, placing themselves as the paradigm, people of other cultures were almost guaranteed not to fit.”

“The idea of race didn’t make people treat other people as subhuman. They were already treated as subhuman before race was invoked. But once it was invoked, the subjugation took on a new force.”

“Scientific racism has come out of the shadows, at least partly because wider society has made room for it.”

“The true human story, then, appears to be not of pure races rooted in one place for tens of thousands of years, but of constant mixing, with migration both one way and another.”

“The desperate hunt for ‘black genes’ reveals just how deeply even well-meaning medical researchers believe that racial differences in health must be genetic, even when a goldmine of alternative explanations exists.”

“Enjoy your culture or religion, have pride in where you live or where your ancestors came from if you like, but don’t imagine that these things give you any biological claim.”

Why I chose it:
The author gave a remote talk at my workplace (I work at a University).

Review:
This book is dense yet extremely readable. Author Saini organizes it chronologically, so the reader gets a real sense of how ‘race science’ has evolved over time. She focuses on how it has changed to provide the racists with different avenues for trying to prove their belief that there is a biological difference among races, and further, that those differences mean that some people (usually whites) are superior.

Saini covers so much ground that I’d be doing a bit of an injustice to try to summarize it all here. But her basic premise, which she backs up repeatedly with not just source material but with interviews with some of the offenders, is that racists have made use of science for decades to try to support their ideas of racial superiority, when in fact there is basically no evidence for the concept of race to be found in biology.

I found the history extremely interesting, but I was especially taken with the discussion of the focus specifically on genes, and how genetics has played into and furthered some racist ideas about biology. And the chapter called ‘Black Pills,’ about how medicine has suggested a biological difference in disease treatment and process that could be much better described looking at sociological factors, was fascinating and frustrating.

Saini doesn’t just present the facts though, she also explores what all of this means for us as society, when some people are so desperate to feel superior that they seek to misuse science. I think we are getting closer as a society to understanding that science is yet another area that is not free from bias; this book makes it extraordinarily clear.

Keep it / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it

Monday

10

May 2021

0

COMMENTS

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Fans of Liane Moriarty’s writing.

In a nutshell:
CN for book and review: Disordered Eating

The Casey family – three brothers and their wives and kids – are at a dinner party when it seems as though a few secrets are about to be spilled. We immediately go back six months in time to see what has led to this.

Worth quoting:
“As a skinny, knock-kneed eight-year-old, she knew that too much bread and butter would make her fat – and far was the worst thing any girl could be.”

Why I chose it:
Paperback sale. Also I mostly enjoyed the last book of hers I read.

Review:
Three brothers – Johnny, Liam, and Ed – are married to three women – Jessie, Nell, and Cara. The book focuses mostly on the women, though the men have their own point of view chapters at times. Johnny is Jessie’s second husband, after her first husband (and Johnny’s best friend) leaves her widowed at 34. Nell is Liam’s second wife, and she is significantly – like, 15-ish years – younger than him. Cara and Ed are each others’ first partners.

It becomes clear quickly that everyone has issues. Jessie is an only child who craved a big family, and shows her love by spending loads of money on fancy trips for the extended family (and might be overextended in her finances). Johnny works for and with Jessie, and is father to three with Jessie, and stepfather to two (who aren’t really big fans of his). Liam is a former famous runner, dealing with his career ending, while Nell is a socially conscious set designer who married Laim just six months after meeting. Ed is a botanist, and Cara works in reception at an extremely high end hotel, and she’s also dealing with (and hiding) bulimia.

There’s a lot going on here.

It took a couple of chapters for me to get people straight and sort out their relationships (though there is conveniently a family tree at the front of the book), but once that was sorted, the book was pretty hard to put down. It’s over 600 pages long, but I finished it in four days because I just wanted to keep reading. And there are some genuine surprises that appear along the way — some that the reader could easily predict, and a couple that come out of nowhere but totally make sense. It was a fun read with some deeper exploration of themes (especially the bulimia storyline)

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

Tuesday

4

May 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House by Audre Lorde

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
People interested in some seriously good essays from a poet and activist.

In a nutshell:
This mini book contains five of Lorde’s essays / speeches on revolution and liberation.

Worth quoting:
“To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society.”

“Only within a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social power open to women.”

“Can anyone here still afford to believe that the pursuit of liberation can be the sole and particular province of any one particular race, or sex, or age, or religion, or sexuality, or class?

Why I chose it:
This was included in one of my subscription boxes.

Review:
I had heard Lorde’s phrase that is the title of this collection, but I had no idea of the context of it – she had been invited to speak at conference on feminism, was told many different concepts and facets of womanhood and feminist would be represented, and instead was faced with a big group of white feminists instead. She was no pleased, and made it known. That talk unfortunately could have taken place a week ago – I think we see it with white liberals a lot. We see it in all industries when they hold conferences – tech only invites men (usually white), except to the one panel on women in tech, where they invite a woman, but she’s also usually white. The problem here, as Lorde elucidates, is that, for example, the patriarchy is part of the problem, and we can’t frame the solution to the problems of patriarchy using the same systems and criteria that the patriarchy set up. We need to acknowledge and inhabit our differences.

There are five other essays in here as well, and the one that I found affected me the most was Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism. Lorde looks at why anger is necessary, and why guilt is often ‘just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication.’ It made me think of the utter uselessness and dangerousness of white liberals who are so focused on their own white guilt that they can’t move forward in their own anti-racism work. Lorde makes the argument that anger is necessary and good and productive, and translates into action. In a world where the concept of the ‘Angry Black Woman’ is used as a way to discount the opinions shared by Black women whether angry or not, I found this to be an extremely important discussion.

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