ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

CBR13 Archive

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

Monday

3

May 2021

0

COMMENTS

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those interested in learning more about an abolitionist approach to justice.

In a nutshell:
Author and organizer Mariame Kaba shares a collection of essays and interviews she has written over the years on the concept of police, prison, and surveillance abolition.

Worth quoting:
“History is instructive, not because it offers us a blueprint for how to act in the present, but because it can help us ask better questions for the future.”

“Prison is not feminist.”

“The problem with casting militarization as the problem is that the formulation suggests it is the excess against which we must rally.”

Why I chose it:
I’ve followed Kaba on Twitter (known as @PrisonCulture) for a few years, and was excited to read more of her writing in a longer form.

Review:
I grew up in a well-off, mostly white, suburban town. My only interaction with the criminal punishment system was the regular visit from D.A.R.E. officers during elementary school, and being pulled over a couple of times. In college, I once requested assistance from the police after a break-in of my boyfriend’s car where my bag was stolen; the officers I dealt with were sexist jerks. I studied society and justice as an undergraduate, took a course in policing, and even thought I would become an attorney one day.

I also recall the beating of Rodney King as my first awareness that maybe the police, and criminal punishment system (I haven’t referred to it as the criminal justice system once I read criminal punishment used as a term by someone I unfortunately can’t recall) possibly failing to hold police to account. And now I am someone who thinks the entire system needs to be torn down and rebuilt based on different values.

I didn’t get here overnight, I still at times have trouble articulating my thoughts on these issues, and I still have so much to learn, but books like this one help me solidify my values and my approach to things. I think a lot of white people who chose to become more involved in actions to protest and defund the police in the US after George Floyd’s murder are still not comfortable with the idea of removing the police from communities. Kaba I think hits the nail on the head in this book, where in one essay when asked about how can we imagine a world without police, she points out that this is actually the reality for so many white communities. The police don’t harass us in the ways they harass and terrorize people of color in communities where they are the majority. White people are mostly raised to think that we can call on the police when something really awful happens to us, and the police will help.

But at what cost?

Kaba spends a good amount of time in this collection talking about accountability vs punishment. A few of the essays are framed around Me Too and stories of sexual assault. She touches directly on how so many have clamored for people like R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein to be abandoned in prison for life. That this seems right and fair to us, especially to women who may have experienced such violations. But she points out that this isn’t consistent with the ideas of abolition. That we can’t just say its fine to abandon some people because we specifically feel like their crime is really bad. Because what comes from that? How does that heal the harm caused? How is prison any sort of accountability for harm caused? Is that justice, really?

Since starting to come to my view that reform is insufficient and ultimately could be harmful, and that abolition is the approach I support and the one that aligns most with my values, what I’ve struggled most with is that I want an alternative to be presented to me, fully formed. I want to be able to point to X idea and say that will definitely work, and that is exactly what we should replace our current criminal punishment system with. But Kaba’s writing has helped me to be more comfortable with the idea that it’s the community that needs to come together to decide how we want our values to come out when someone is harmed. The fact that the current system is vile is enough to make it right and good that we tear it down and try something else. The current system is ALREADY failing, so what abolitionists in communities across the US are trying out can only be better.

I am so new to this way of thinking (LOL at the people who claim we all get more conservative as we age), and I know others are too. I think this is an excellent book for anyone who is interested in police reform, defunding the police, prison abolition, to pick up. Everyone reading isn’t going to agree with everything Kaba shares, but the way she shares it, and her reasoning? It’s worth reading, taking in, and sitting with.

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

Sunday

25

April 2021

0

COMMENTS

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
Those interested in how corporations and the government have failed us. Those who enjoy a little bit of schadenfreude (though, in my opinion, not nearly enough).

In a nutshell:
The Sackler family, obsessed with their reputation and ‘good name,’ help 400,000 people to their deaths via the opioid epidemic.

Why I chose it:
I loved the author’s book ‘Say Nothing’ about The Troubles in Northern Ireland and searched for other work. Saw this was being released in April so ordered it right away.

Review:
What is a name, really? Is philanthropy truly a gift if it comes with so many strings, including the need to have one’s name splashed across all the things? How do we hold accountable the leaders of corporations that cause pain and suffering for millions?

Author Keefe explores all these themes in his excellent book that focuses on the Sackler family, the name behind the billion-dollar pain empire via one of the ventures they chose not to put their name on, Purdue Pharma. If you’re not familiar, Purdue Pharma patented OxiContin, the extraordinarily strong opioid pain reliever introduced in the 1990s.

The book opens with a deposition in the late 2010s, but immediately jumps back to the early 1900s so we can follow three generations of the Sackler family, starting with boys Arthur, Raymund, and Mortimer. Arthur took the lead as the first born to take a bunch of jobs, supporting his family. He and his brothers all went to medical school, and all married (some of them multiple times). Over time Arthur especially starts to build the empire with medical marketing, then the purchase of Purdue Frederick and Purdue Pharma.

Each successive generation seems to be obsessed with putting their names on EVERYTHING. It kind of reminds me of the Trump family – there’s just this deep, almost pathological, need to piss all over the place. I don’t understand obsessions with names and legacy. Maybe it’s because I’m not having kids? To my mind, one’s legacy should be doing good things because they should be done, not because one wants credit and a fancy plaque at the entrance to a museum gallery.

The Sacklers do not ever get what they deserve – though the very last chapter does have a slight sense of comeuppance. They are helped in many ways by the FDA — who should have shut down OxiContin’s claims from the start — but also by the Trump DOJ, who chose not the prosecute the individual family members in addition to the privately owned company. The family made billions off of the addiction of others, essentially creating not just the opioid epidemic but, when they changed the formulation, helping push those individuals on to heroin.

They are evil. And while they do get to sleep on their giant pillows of ill-gotten money, at least one thing is now true: they have completely ruined the name they hold so dear. Museums and universities they donated to have started to strip their name from it (the Louvre, most notably, as well as medical programs at NYU and Tufts), as they don’t want to be associated with such immoral, vile individuals. But it still won’t bring back the lives lost at their hands.

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

Friday

16

April 2021

0

COMMENTS

Knife Edge by Simon Mayo

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
People who like thrillers.

In a nutshell:
In one morning in London the entire seven member investigations team from a national news network is murdered, individually, at knife point. Who did it? And why?

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
Paperback sale.

Review:
Famie is a journalist at IPS in London, and she not too long ago had applied to be a member of the investigations team but lost out on the gig. Lucky for her, because that entire team is murdered on their commutes in to work one morning. Famie has connections to a few members as friends, but one is also a former boyfriend.

No one claims responsibility – so why were they killed? What were they working on? Two months before their murders, the entire team has stopped storing any work on their work computers.

To complicate things, someone is communicating with Famie. The reader learns who that person is, as we learn more about the motivations behind the murders. But we also learn that another attack is planned, so the book swirls around whether Famie and her colleagues can use their journalistic backgrounds to investigate the murders and potentially save more people from peril.

I read the first chapter before going to sleep on Tuesday and realized if I kept reading I’d never go to sleep. I only waiting two more days to finish it because I had plans on Wednesday. It’s that kind of entertaining that you don’t want to stop reading. This was a mostly thrilling read, with a mostly satisfying ending. It’s only not five stars because I’m still not entirely, 100% sure exactly what happened. But don’t let that put you off.

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

Tuesday

13

April 2021

0

COMMENTS

Dear Leader by Jang Jin-Sung

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those interested in learning more about the recent history of North Korea from an inside perspective, set against the suspense of someone seeking asylum.

In a nutshell:
Jang Jin-Sung rose high within the North Korean ruling class as a poet, but eventually fled the country.

Worth quoting:
A lot, but I listened while running so didn’t have a chance to take note.

Why I chose it:
I stumbled across Michael Palin’s show about his visit to North Korea (https://www.natgeotv.com/me/michael-palin-in-north-korea/videos/michael-palin-in-north-korea) and realized I know next to nothing about life in North Korea.

Review:
This is an interesting book.

The book opens with a description of Jang being summoned for an audience with Kim Jong-Il, and just that is enough to realize we are not operating in a realm of what we would consider normality. The phone call comes in the middle of the night with no information other than a place to meet by 1AM. Jang is then driven with others in circles before boarding a train at a private railway station, being instructed to sleep for the two hour ride, then boarding a boat to an island, where the meet with Kim’s … dog. And Kim as well.

From there, the description of North Korea grows. At times it matches the very little I know about North Korea – the hunger, the inability to choose one’s own career – but also it fascinates me. There was an entire department of people who were allowed to view South Korean popular culture (books, poems, newspapers) so they could take on the voice of a South Korean, write books and poems praising North Korea, then distributing it through illegal means within South Korea as a form of propaganda.

Jang is relatively lucky from a young age – he is accepted to a performing arts school for music, but eventually is tutored by a famous poet and wins an award from the leader that includes, essentially a favor. Jang asks that he be allowed to pursue a career in writing instead of the required musical performance / composing career that his education would insist. The leader decrees it, and so Jang becomes a writer. And a very successful one, considering that meeting with Kim Jong-Il described up top happened when he was in his late 20s.

Due to sharing some of the South Korea materials with a friend, and the friend then losing those materials, Jang and his friend decide to run. We know, given he is writing this book, that Jang is ultimately successful, but the how — and the uncertainty around his friend — remains. The experience Jang shares is utterly harrowing. In some ways, he is very lucky in the people he encounters, but others either ignore him outright or actively threaten him with a promise to report him to the authorities.

Interspersed within what could work solely as an escape book is a description of North Korea, including Kim Jong-Il’s taking power from his father, the extreme poverty and danger in the provinces; and the challenges of everyday life in North Korea. He shares one story of returning to visit his home after living in Pyongyang for many years and discovering it changed, including so many laws and rules that, if broken, result in a quick public ‘trial’ and immediate execution.

Obviously one cannot learn all about one country from just one memoir, but this one was engrossing, fascinating, and heartbreaking.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it (audiobook)