ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

CBR16 Archive

Monday

15

July 2024

0

COMMENTS

T-Shirt Swim Club by Ian Karmel and Alisa Karmel

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Fans of Ian Karmel’s work, people interested in hearing from siblings who have been fat most of their lives, people interested in learning more about how anti-fat bias impacts the lives of fat people.

In a nutshell:
In this clever set-up, comedian, comedy writer and podcast host Ian Karmel shares what is essentially a memoir, told through the eyes of his life as a fat child, fat teen, and fat adult. His sister Alisa Karmel, who has a doctorate and is a nutritionist, appends each chapter with her own thoughts (and lots of statistics and studies), addressing some of the issues Ian raised in that chapter.

Worth quoting:
I laughed out loud a lot during Ian’s section, and found Alisa’s section interesting, but it was an audio book and I was mostly doing chores and such while listening so didn’t end up taking any down.

Why I chose it:
I listen to All Fantasy Everything, a podcast where Ian and two of his friends / fellow comedians (plus guests) fantasy draft items from pop culture. Nearly every episode is a banger, even though they draft things as wildly different as after school snacks and Disney movie songs. When I heard he had a book out, I knew I wanted to check it out.

Review:
I’ve read a few books about fatness – Aubrey Gordon’s two books. Roxane Gay’s works, Sophie Hagen’s happy fat – but all have been written by people who at the time identified as women. This is the first one that has at least part of it focused on the perspective of a fat man, and it’s interesting to hear the issues he has had, and how they are a bit different from what I have heard fat women discuss.

He’s a comedy writer, and he’s funny. His jokes flow with the storytelling, and he paints a picture of a childhood that was both full of love and joy but also full of pain from being a fat kid. And he doesn’t suggest that life would be perfect if he hadn’t been a fat kid, but he talks about the ways society has harmed him and people like him because of how it chooses to treat fat people.

He definitely talks about health impacts for him, and for some people, but he doesn’t, at least not that I caught, suggest that one must be thin to be healthy, or that one must be unhealthy if they are fat.

A lot of his story stuck with me, but the part that I recall the most is when he talks about being a high school football player and how adults finally accepted his fat because it helped him cause pain to others. Just — ooof. That level of insight.

Alisa’s section is full of so much empathy and also practical advice. She’s willing to disagree with her brother on some areas, but she mostly is focused on talking about health and creating children and young people who understand their bodies and feel comfortable talking about them. If I were a parent I would definitely be bookmarking and consulting this section repeatedly.

I’m not sure if this would have worked better if each chapter had Ian’s bit then Alisa’s (as opposed to all of Ian’s and then all of Alisa’s), but this is probably just as good as that would have been. Really that’s my only gripe.

What’s next for this book:
Keep (it’s an audio book)

Saturday

13

July 2024

0

COMMENTS

Fragments of Glasgow by Rosalie Menon

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
Those interested in Victorian architecture. Those who live in or want to learn more about Glasgow.

In a nutshell:
Author Menon explores the various 19th century architecture in Glasgow, splitting thorough text with gorgeous photos.

Worth quoting:
“… repurposing these historic buildings is an inherently sustainable option.”

Why I chose it:
We purchased moved to Glasgow last year and live in a tenement flat. I’ve become fascinated with the architecture in this city.

Review:
I love Victorian architecture. I love stone buildings that aren’t more than five or six stories tall at most, with detailed stonework and ironwork. I get that its often not possible to build in the same way now, especially if stone quarries or spent, but man, I love the way it looks. I find mid-20th-century and Brutalist architecture to both be deeply depressing to look at, so its fun to live in a city that has so much of the building style I like.

This book looks at a variety of types of building in Glasgow and divides it into industry, retail, office, finance, places of worship, parks and public, housing, civic building, education, cultural, social spaces, and transport. It starts with a discussion of architecture, materials, construction, and reuse, so there is a base set before Menon jumps into looking at the details and history of loads of individual locations. There are over 125 full color photos in the book, along with an index of addresses so one could go to the places to view them.

It was fun to look over as I recognized quite a few of the highlighted buildings, but others were ones I’d not seen before and will make an effort to go check out.

What’s next for this book:
Keep and flip through regularly.

Saturday

13

July 2024

0

COMMENTS

The Little Book of Profanities by Malcolm Croft

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Your foul-mouthed friends.

In a nutshell:
This gift book looks at the usage and origination of common – and uncommon – swears.

Worth quoting:
“If you swear all the time it loses all impact and if you repeat the same curse ad nauseam swearing loses its joy.”

Why I chose it:
Our friends gave it to us as apart of a housewarming gift.

Review:
The idea of the book is pretty fun. It is broken into four chapters: classic profanity, contemporary swearing, crude swearing, and compulsive swearing. Within each chapter, Croft describes the definition(s) of the word, shares some examples and, in some cases, provides alternatives in other languages. That part is pretty fun.

For a novelty book it mostly gets the job done. My main issue is that it includes the r word and while it mentions that it is offensive, I think there’s a difference between profanity and slurs, and its weird to include a slur in this collection. There are a couple of other borderline swears that just seem out of place.

Also they say that ‘bloody’ is really offensive in the US. Is it? That’s not how I recall it…

What’s next for this book:
Probably can’t donate it, so might hang on to it.

Sunday

30

June 2024

0

COMMENTS

The List by Yomi Adeoke

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those interested in stories that explore questions of media ethics, morality, how to determine who to believe.

In a nutshell:
Ola (a journalist partly known for here work on #MeToo-esque stories) and Michael (a media presenter) are two people living in London. They are set to get married in a month, with friends and family coming into town. They are Instagram famous, and held up as an example of #BlackLove. Then The List is posted to Twitter, which accuses 40 men of various crimes, from harassment to rape. Michael is on the list.

Worth quoting:
“She refused for love to be something that she endured.”

Why I chose it:
I was at the airport and it looked interesting.

Review:
I usually don’t check reviews before writing my own, but when I looked on Goodreads I see that this book is quite divisive. Some folks love it, and many really, really hate it. And I get that. I am ambivalent, as I did enjoy reading it and think author Adegoke explored some interesting questions, but I think it could have been a stronger story with perhaps a slightly less twisty ending.

The concept of the book is solid in my opinion: what happens to the people accused by anonymous complaints, and what happens to their families? Obviously the focus should be on the victims of crime, but they aren’t the only people impacted. What happens to the people who love the people who may have abused others? And if someone is accused anonymously but publicly, what should happen? What makes sense?

Ola works for a website and is tasked by her boss with investigating the List, as the boss doesn’t know Michael is on the list, accused of harassment and abuse. Michael has started a new job that day, but soon ends up on leave.

The book gives us point of view chapters from both Ola and Michael. We quickly learn that Michael is not a good partner, but to what extent that aligns with the allegations against him remains a mystery for a good while. Ola is focused on trying to figure out if she should believe her fiancé, and if she chooses to, what that means for the career she’s built, calling out accused abusers and demanding their accusers be believed.

As the book goes on, we learn some more about others on the list, and it is clear that some of the allegations are definitely true, or at least based in some confirmed actions. And some may not be – and it has an impact on the accused. Now, does that mean there’s no value in bringing forward allegations? Of course not. Truth is important, and just because something maybe can’t be brought to a court doesn’t, to me, mean it shouldn’t be shared or believed. But there is an impact on so many people, and it’s not just about whose fault that is.

What’s next for this book:
Donate

Sunday

16

June 2024

0

COMMENTS

Tell Me Something About Buddhism by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone curious about Buddhism and looking for some thoughts from someone who came to the practice a bit later in life.

In a nutshell:
Manuel, a priest in the Zen tradition and a Black woman from the US raised in the Christian church, shares short but thoughtful responses to common questions about Buddhism.

Worth quoting:
Shared a quote from Eihei Dogen: “If you see death as something over there, then you are viewing your life from outside of it.”

Why I chose it:
I am in fact a curious beginner!

Review:
I learned about this book when it was mentioned in a daily newsletter I get related to Buddhism. It seems to be mostly out of print, so it took awhile for it to arrive, but I am happy to sought it out, because it is a lovely beginner book. It’s just over 100 pages long, and easy enough to read in little chunks if one doesn’t have the time to just sit and read it all at once.

The book covers basics of Buddhism that I’ve read about in other books, such as the Eightfold path. But it also talks about things people may have heard in passing about Buddhism that they aren’t sure about.

I think something that makes this book especially interesting is the perspective that Manuel brings, as a Black woman from the US. Many books that I’ve read are (understandably) written by great wise Buddhists from eastern nations such Thich Nhat Hanh, and I obviously their perspectives are important. But Manuel speaks specifically about coming to Buddhism from another spiritual practice (the Christian church), and about being a Black woman in spaces where she was often the only Black person there. She speaks specifically about a multicultural community of practice, and how to navigate the fact that just because you have a bunch of folks following the path of Buddha in one place doesn’t mean you want have conflict.

I think what stuck out to me the most is that if I am going to continue this exploration, I do need to find a community and a teacher, because Buddhism isn’t about reading things in books, it’s about experiencing things myself.

What’s next for this book:
Keep and refer back to.

Wednesday

12

June 2024

0

COMMENTS

Will I Ever Have Sex Again? by Sofie Hagen

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Anyone who is familiar with Hagen’s work; anyone who is themselves pondering the quality of their sex life.

In a nutshell:
Author Hagen explores their history of gender identity and sexuality against the backdrop of not having had sex in many years.

Worth quoting:
I listened to Hagen read the book and know that I found a few lines noteworthy but didn’t end up writing any down.

Why I chose it:
I enjoyed Hagen’s first book Happy Fat and wanted to support their next one.

Review:
What do you know about sex? Like, good sex? If you are a straight person, do you know anything beyond the sort of standard expectations we see in media? How do you view sex and sexuality? How do you view yourself in sexual situations? How do you relate to others sexually?

Hagen (who is non-binary and prefers they/them pronouns) talks through these topics in various ways in their book where they explore why they haven’t had sex in years. It’s not a book about chosen celibacy – they want to have sex. But as they explore their own gender identity and sexuality, they discover that maybe they have some things to work through themselves.

And they spend the book asking questions of experts and it is fascinating to read. They talk to a porn actor, a flirtologist, and put out a call for comment from people that resulted in 1800 responses. They learn to think about what they actually want in a sexual partner, and what those experiences should be like – the safety, the consideration.

The book also spends time looking into Hagen’s past relationships, including a couple that are not great emotionally, which people might find helpful as they think about what they want and need and expect in relationships.

This is an interesting read. I’m not quite sure what I expected but it probably wasn’t this. That isn’t to say it’s bad at all – just different.

What’s next for this book:
Might recommend it to other folks.

Sunday

2

June 2024

0

COMMENTS

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy contemplative stories.

In a nutshell:
The main character of this book is a novelist whose name we never learn. She lives alone in a world where anything can disappear. But not for everyone.

Worth quoting:
The writing is the book is lovely, but I didn’t find myself underlining anything specific.

Why I chose it:
This was a birthday gift from friends.

Review:
I’m feeling a bit melancholy after reading this book, but I’m not sad, and I’m not disappointed that I read it. I love that not every book is meant to leave the reader feeling happy.

In the world of this book, things disappear. And not in a ‘oh no, Bob lost his laptop’ kind of way. Categories of items just disappear. First they start to disappear from memory, and then everyone takes what they have left of the items and disposes of them, never to be seen again. So, for example, apples. One day, people have apples, and apple trees, applesauce. But then apples disappear, and so all remaining apples just rot away, and people forget the word and what it represented. If they come across, say, an image of an apple, it will look like nothing they’ve seen before; just an abstract object.

But not everyone forgets, and that’s where the Memory Police come in. Their job is to interrogate anyone who appears to not be able to forget things that have disappeared, and if they do retain memories, they themselves are removed from the town.

The main character is a novelist, and the novel she is writing is interspersed throughout the book. Her mother was someone who could remember, and was taken away years ago. She hid items that had disappeared all over the house, showing them to the novelist when she was a child, even though the novelist had no memory and no point of reference to it. Her editor is also someone who can remember, and she is determined to protect him from the memory police. I think only one person in the book has a name that is shared with the reader; everyone else is known by their job, or perhaps an initial, or their demographics – her best friend is the old man.

What stands out most for me is how people can come to adjust to things that from the outside are just unacceptable. How, as more and more things disappear, the people of the town don’t question things (likely for fear of a visit from the Memory Police), and instead figure out ways to adapt and continue living their lives. Some might call it resilience, but it also seems like in this town people are just living with the ongoing drone of trauma and trying to make the best of it. It seems clear that these disappearances are not happening outside of the island, but we don’t hear of many people making attempts to escape. They seem to have accepted their fate, for the most part, and are just interested in living the lives they can.

What’s next for this book:
Keep, recommend to others.

Sunday

19

May 2024

0

COMMENTS

High Conflict by Amanda Ripley

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Three Stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in narratives around people making connections across seemingly large divides.

In a nutshell:
Journalist Ripley explores the concept of ‘high conflict’ through the stories of a few different individuals and groups.

Worth quoting:
“The challenge of our time is to mobilize great masses of people to make change without dehumanizing one another.”

“Hatred assumes the enemy is immutable. If the enemy will always be evil, there is no reason to ever consider any creative solutions to the conflict.”

Why I chose it:
Way back in autumn of last year, when I bought this book, I was trying to figure out better ways to deal with interpersonal conflict.

Review:
It took me a long while to get into this book. I started it back in December 2023, but only over the last couple of weeks have I really gotten into it, probably reading about 2/3 of it in that time. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, but I had to meet it where it is, because I don’t think it’s quite what I was looking for. I thought it would be a bit more prescriptive about managing and working through conflict. And while there are tips, and a couple of appendices, it’s more like a series of long-form essays exploring different types of conflicts. And looking at it that way, it’s a decent book, though I do disagree with some point, or at least some of the characterizations the author makes.

Ripley talks about Gary, who lives in a tiny, well-off community in the San Francisco Bay Area, and how his attempts to make change in the volunteer board governing the town deepened conflict within. She interviews Curtis, a former gang member who has managed to leave that life. She talks to Sandra, a former member of FARC in Colombia who decided to reintegrate into society. And she looks at a synagogue in New York that participated in an exchange with corrections officer in Michigan in an attempt to learn more about each other.

The chapters that looked at Curtis’s life I found to be quite interesting, because they look at what it takes for someone to make individual changes, and the support that is needed. Both Curtis and Sandra were involved in serious conflicts – gang wars, and paramilitary battles. And both on some level had to make the individual choice to leave, but they were only able to stay out because of family, community, and financial (possibly governmental) support.

The section with Gary was mostly interesting because Gary found himself deeply mired in conflict but was himself a conflict mediator by trade. Irony! But also a good example of how one can be absolutely knowledgeable about how to help others, but not take their own advice, because they convince themselves that they are right.

I think the struggle I have with this book is that I still am not quite sure how to apply this when the stakes are super high AND many people are involved AND there are potentially ‘right’ answers. And it’s interesting to read this book that was published a few years ago, because the conflict in Israel and Palestine features. Obviously the past seven months have brought this into stark view for many more people that before, and it can be deeply challenging to have conversations about this when the stakes are so high. From my perspective, I just have such a hard time wrapping my head around anyone who doesn’t see what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people as deeply immoral. And there are people who feel even more strongly about that than I do, as evidenced by encampments at universities and direct action against weapons manufacturers. But where is the solution if people are not willing to have the conversations that Ripley recommends? Like, it seems odd for people to have to plead their humanity? And I am sure there are people who feel basically completely opposite to me who cannot wrap their head around my perspective. But neither of us are decisions makers – and they aren’t talking to each other.

I can see it working for lower stakes issues, like choosing a provider for a contractor, or even things that have a wider impact, like tax rates. But for the really ‘high conflict’ issues, if the decision makers, or the people who can make the changes, are not willing to have conversations with people who have different views, what options are left?

Basically, even though Ripley uses some very large geopolitical examples in the book, I see her arguments making much more sense and being more effecting at the micro level. And generally speaking, that probably will work for me in most instances. But at the macro level? How can it work if folks won’t try it?

What’s next for this book:
I’ll probably hold onto it as it has some appendices that might prove useful in the future.

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.