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CBR7 Archive

Sunday

6

September 2015

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COMMENTS

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

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Three stars

deraniyagala_speakers

This was a pick-up at my favorite independent bookstore last weekend. I found it engrossing in the beginning, although I struggled to finish it. Not because it was bad, or even too heavy. I think I was just easily distracted.

Wave is Dr. Sonali Deraniyagala’s story about her life after the 2004 tsunami that wracked Southeast Asia. She was visiting a resort town in her native Sri Lanka with her parents, husband, and two sons. She was the only one to survive the tsunami.

Each section of this book follows a timeline, from the moment just before the tsunami hit through 2012, when Dr. Deraniyagala is teaching in New York City. It is heartbreaking at times (obviously), but it doesn’t feel like any other book of loss I’ve read. I think part of that is due to the fact that the book continues over so many years; it isn’t just about her first year of trying to get through the pain; it is about how her life has changed and how it hasn’t. It’s about how she is honest with herself but not honest with strangers when it comes to that part of her life.

I am having trouble describing the feelings the book brought up in me. This wasn’t about a ‘triumphant journey of unimaginable tragedy,’ this was instead a look into the life of one individual dealing with loss on a very large scale. Yet it’s often confined to chapters of the author unwilling to leave her room, or the house she is in, or the city she is in.

There is no one moment where she rises up and ‘moves on,’ instead the book serves as a way for Dr. Deraniyagala to both share the story of her life since 2012, and also share who her sons and husband were. There are stories of Dr. Deraniyagala contemplating suicide in a very matter-of-fact manner, but there are also stories about how much her son Vik loved blue whales. It’s both a love letter to her family and a way to let the world know a little bit about what it is like for someone to work through loss on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis.

I think this is a book worth reading. I appreciate that it wasn’t as simplistic as some of the memoirs I’ve read; Dr. Deraniyagala shares the reality of loss in a way I haven’t read before. I don’t know if it would be helpful for someone who has lost a child or partner, but I can see it providing some confirmation that grief manifests in myriad ways, and that’s just how it is.

Sunday

6

September 2015

0

COMMENTS

Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller

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Four Stars

coming clean

CANNONBALL!

I am actually in the middle of two other books, both of which would have been a fine way to reach the milestone of my third cannonball read. But I picked this up at the library before a camping trip this weekend and didn’t want to put it down. So it seems to be a fitting choice for review #52.

Author Kimberly Rae Miller was raised by two loving parents, one of whom is a hoarder, and the other who has, at times, been a compulsive shopper. This memoir tells Ms. Miller’s story through vivid anecdotes that really bring the reader as much into her world as possible, without dwelling so much on the details that shows like ‘Hoarders’ love to emphasize (cat carcasses, anyone?). Yes, she is clear on what she means by hoarding, and yes, sometimes the descriptions are enough to make one maybe not want to eat during those paragraphs, but in reality Ms. Miller is telling a very thoughtful story about the complicated but devoted relationship she maintains with her parents.

Ms. Miller was a shy child who tried to keep the reality of her father’s hoarding from the rest of the world. She began acting as a way to take on another personality in the hopes of figuring out how she could navigate the world. She shares stories of the time child protective services came, not because of the hoarding, but because of a lie she told, and the terror her parents felt because they knew she’d be taken away if CPS saw their home. She talks about the multiple surgeries her mother had, and how after each one the family faced more challenges. She talks about her nightmares and her need for her own place that is clean and under her control.

I really enjoyed this book. I think Ms. Miller’s writing style was vivid enough to create a mental picture in the reader’s mind without resorting to the type of sensationalism that a lesser editor might demand. She was allowed to tell her story, which is largely shaped by her experience with her parents and the hoarding, yes, but that isn’t everything about her. Ultimately I found this book to be about family, and how people do the best they can with what they have. After reading this book I find myself feeling affection towards Ms. Miller’s parents, and admiration for Ms. Miller’s ability to share her story in such a gracious way.

Monday

10

August 2015

0

COMMENTS

Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Charles R. “Butch” Farabee, Jr.

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Four Stars

Climb the Walls

I’ve just finished a week-long family vacation spent about 10 minutes south of Yosemite National Park. The first day we went into the valley, my husband and I hiked about 7 miles, and stopped into a few of the little stores. Everywhere we went, this book was on the shelves. If you’re familiar with any of my favorite books, it shouldn’t surprise you that this book caught my eye.

Off the Wall is a well-written, fascinating, long (nearly 600 pages) book that covers all of the unnatural deaths that have taken place within the park since the white men dropped down into the Yosemite Valley. It’s a delicate balance of sharing stories and tryng not to make every person (other than those who died by suicide and homicide) sound, well, stupid. But it’s hard, because man, people do some really dumb things in national parks.

Fewer than 800 people have died traumatically within the whole of Yosemite since the 1850s. Many did things like stepped over the railing onto slippery rocks at the waterfall to get a better picture, or went hiking without good clothing, map, and compass, or overestimated their rock climbing ability. Some were victims of freak accidents, like the constuction truck with failed breaks that crashed into a car and buried the occupants with hot asphault. And others chose to make Yosemite their final resting place after they decided they didn’t want to be in the world anymore.

I started reading this on Tuesday evening, and just finished it on Saturday morning. So much of it is just intriguing, and it was difficult to put it down. I appreciate that the authors have real experience in this area and weren’t just doing a retrospective study – one of them served in Search and Rescue within the park and was involved in many of the attempted rescues outlined in the book. But they also did some fantastic research, getting details from local papers from the 1800s. I also appreciated that they treated the killing of the original inhabitants (the Native Americans) by white men as murder.

A couple of times the book felt a little condescending, and some language they chose to use (like referring to undocumented immigrants as ‘illegals’, or how they described suicidal people) is so outdated and insensitive that it took me out of the book on occasion. But overall, if you want to be both educated on the ways your fellow man and woman can screw up, as well as inspired by the ways park employees try to save these folks, this is a good book to check out.

Saturday

25

July 2015

0

COMMENTS

Small Move, Big Change by Caroline Arnold

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Three Stars

Continuing down my path of attempting to be more successful in my goals, I found this mostly well-done book a couple of weeks ago. The premise is fairly simple: large, sweeping changes don’t stick. Saying “I’m going to lose 20 pounds this year” on January 1 doesn’t work because it’s a pretty giant goal and it doesn’t address what is involved in actually losing those 20 pounds. What Ms. Arnold suggests is that instead you make microresolutions throughout the year, turning things into habits and slowly shifting yourself closer to reaching your goals.

I’ve had some success with large, sweeping changes (see: “The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up”) and I’ve had some failures (see: “It Starts With Food”). But in general I think that what Ms. Arnold is proposing makes a whole lot of sense. I’ve done it a few times without really realizing it. For example, every night before bed I get out my workout clothes for the next day. Every night. So every morning I can easily shift into my workout gear without banging open drawers. Yes, probably once every three or four weeks the alarm goes off and I look at my running shoes, reset my alarm and go back to sleep, but the vast majority of the time, I go work out. It’s now a habit, and it feels weird to not do it.

The book is split into two parts: the rules of the microresolutions, and examples of microresolutions by common topic areas. Microresolutions need to be specific and easy. So a microresolution is not ‘eat healthier,’ because huh? What does that mean? Are you really going to change everything overnight? No. A better example would be ‘I will eat salad at lunch every work day.’ It doesn’t mean you’ll ONLY eat salad at lunch, and by limiting it to work days, you leave yourself some wiggle room for weekends or vacation, but it’s easy, you know what you’re doing, and it has a cue (lunch, work day). It’s kind of a cool idea, although it requires some patience, for sure.

The second half of the book I didn’t find to be AS useful, because a few of the areas aren’t really big problem ones for me. However, the first chapter of the second section, on sleep, resonated so much that I shifted one of my first two microresolutions to focus on increasing my sleep. I’ve also made a note in the to-do app I use to check in on my resolutions, and choose new ones.

One note that I would warn on – the section on losing weight is full of a lot of bull shit. The author reiterates a lot of ‘common sense’ ideas about why people gain and lose weight that aren’t actually supported by evidence, and in many cases are actively refuted by science. Like the idea that it’s ‘simple math’ as to why people gain weight (ignoring that two people can eat literally exactly the same food and still have vastly different weight gains or losses). So that definitely gave me pause, because what else in the book isn’t fact-based? But I’m willing to ignore that junk chapter in favor of the fact that the first half offers up what could be some useful advice.

Sunday

12

July 2015

0

COMMENTS

Heat Wave by Eric Klinenberg

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Four Stars

When you think about disasters that caused a whole bunch of deaths in one swoop in the US in the last 25 or 30 years (outside of a war), you probably think about the September 11 attacks, which killed 2,977 in the US. If I were to ask you what the next biggest disaster in terms of deaths, you’d probably also get it right: Hurricane Katrina and its 1,833 deaths. But do you know what caused the third greatest number of deaths in the past 25 years?

Surprisingly (to me, at least) it was the 1995 Chicago heat wave, which took 733 lives over the course of about a week.

It’s been hotter than usually in the Pacific Northwest, where I live. We had multiple days in a row above 90, which may not sound bad to those of you used to sweltering summers, but in general folks out here don’t have air conditioning (and if you do have it but you don’t have the money for an electric bill of gargantuan proportions, you might just leave it off). My apartment in the evenings was often still in the mid-upper 80s, and we don’t even get any direct sunlight (thank goodness for north-facing windows). I also work in public health emergency preparedness, so I have an extra special interest in things that cause a whole lot of people to get sick and die at once.

Author Dr. Klinenberg is originally from Chicago, and earned his PhD in Sociology at UC Berkely in 2000. Heat Wave is his dissertation, exploring not just the health causes of those 700+ deaths, but the social causes. His thesis is that the hot days didn’t kill these people alone; the systems society has set up (or not set up) instead failed many of these people in a complicated way that would be dangerous to ignore if we seek to avoid it in the future.

Much of his work focuses on comparing two neighborhoods that are very similar in some of the basic demographics, and even have the same microclimate, but had VERY different death rates. In one neighborhood (95% black), 40 out of 100,000 residents died in the heat wave; in the neighborhood next door (86% Latino), only 4 out of 100,000 residents died. That is a huge difference, and one that we should try to explain.

Beyond this, he looks at the role of city government and how they responded (or failed to respond), from the front-line police officers who were tasked with community policing but didn’t check in on the community, through the fire chiefs who ignored warnings from their staff that they should have more ambulances available, to the health commissioner who didn’t really ‘get’ that something was amiss. Dr. Klinenberg also explores the role the media played in not treated the story with the gravity it deserved until late into the heat wave.

Even if you aren’t interested in public health preparedness, or aren’t into sociological profiles, I think you might find this book to be quite fascinating. I’m impressed with the readability of what is essentially someone’s dissertation, and I think I can learn a lot that will be helpful to me in professional life.

This book got me back on track for my cannonball read, too, so I’m quite grateful for that. I haven’t finished a book in nearly three weeks. Between going to Canada for five World Cup matches (including the final – woo!), my computer dying, and learning that my back-up system failed, plus the aforementioned ridiculous heat wave we had, I’ve mostly wanted to just sit on my ass and play games on my phone. But no more! I’m back to reading and it feels fantastic.

Monday

22

June 2015

0

COMMENTS

Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor

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Four Stars

So that was pretty good. A little more self help-y than I was expecting even with all that the title might imply.

Drs. Bacon and Aphramor are interested in making sure that we all are aware of the actual science around health as it relates to weight. Not the ridiculous idea that you can tell someone’s health by their weight, but the truth: that health is complex and certainly can’t be reduced to the number on the scale. Plenty of very thin people are extremely unhealthy, but most of society doesn’t care, because they look the way we expect (want?) people to look. And so we project that this visual must also be associated with what we deem to be good – e.g. health.

It’s sort of amazing what we expect from people, and this book is a great reminder of the absurdity involved. We have no comments or scolding of thin people who say ‘I can eat whatever I want and not get fat’ as they bite into a giant burger. Meanwhile, if a fat person eats literally exactly the same diet as the thin person, society judges them as unhealthy. It’s bullshit, and it’s super obnoxious. Personally, I think it relates heavily to the need of some people to feel like they are better than others, and this false idea of what equates with health is a great (and by great, I mean shitty) way to do it.

The book provides a whole lot of great evidence to debunk ideas that the diet industry is built on, such as the concept that calories in = calories out, and that everyone is going to process food the exact same way. Eat fewer calories, lose weight, and keep it off. But research shows that’s just not the case. One study that was especially vivid in showing this involved a bunch of sets of twins who all ate the exact same food. Within twins there was very little variation, but among sets of twins there were wildly different outcomes. So even though these same people were consuming the exact same number of calories and nutrition, some gained weight and some didn’t. And yet this seems SUPER difficult for society as a whole to grasp. People are different, and being fat doesn’t mean someone is unhealthy, or eating too much.

The book doesn’t, however, pretend that what one consumes doesn’t have any affect on one’s weight or health. Instead, the authors choose to focus on how food isn’t just the sum of its nutrients, and that being mindful about it is what will help us be healthiest. I especially appreciated this idea because it a) disparages the shit notion that any food is objectively ‘bad’ or ‘good’ based solely on its nutrition profile and b) recognizes that food actually serves a very valid cultural and social role. Eating a bunch of frozen Jenny Craig dinners might help you lose weight (for a few months before you can it back and then some), but it will also have you missing out on things like sharing some of a beloved family member’s dessert that was baked from a recipe passed down from generations. This idea that we should be automatons who just count calories and types of nutrients to get ‘healthy’ is silly, and it’s nice to see it called out as such.

I think this could be a great book for anyone to read, especially one who is tired of seeing the same shit on TV and online about how anyone can (and should) lose weight if they do x, without questioning WHY we expect these folks to lose weight. It’s not about their health (because we don’t care what thin people eat); it’s about having a group to judge and control. And about making money. And that needs to stop.

Sunday

7

June 2015

0

COMMENTS

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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Four Stars

dark-places

Damn. This was a well-written book that I enjoyed reading. I mean, it’s all kinds of messed up, but it’s interesting, and I don’t think the outcome is at all obvious. It all makes sense, when you think about it.

Libby Day is the sole surviving daughter of the Day family, three members of which were murdered in early January 1985. Her brother was convicted of the crime based partly on her testimony; she (a seven-year-old) testified that she saw him do it. As essentially an orphan (her dad faded in and out of her life) being raised by her aunt, she came into money at 18, thanks to people who had donated to a fund on her behalf when her story was in the news.

The catalyst for the story in this book is that Libby is out of money now, and has to figure out how to get some. She’s never really worked, and doesn’t want to. She comes across a letter from one of those true crime groups to see if she’d be willing to talk to them, with the understanding that they would pay her. Seeing a way to make some money, she agrees, and the story goes from there.

Like I said, this was a book that I enjoyed reading. It was a book that made me choose the elliptical over a run (because I can read on a machine), and the bus over a ride from a friend because that meant 30 uninterrupted minutes with the book. I also read and enjoyed Gone Girl, and I appreciate that Ms. Flynn creates characters that aren’t awesome, and that are sort of (really) flawed. It’s interesting.

Saturday

6

June 2015

0

COMMENTS

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty

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Four Stars

three wishes

This time, I actually sort of did see the twist coming. Well, one of them. And frankly, not as quickly as I probably should have. But still. I’m getting better.

I believe this was one of Ms. Moriarty’s first novels, although it doesn’t feel like it. It employs the same convention as many of her other ones – the point of view of three different characters. In this case, the characters are sisters. Triplets actually (a set of identical twins and one fraternal twin). They are interesting, leading fairly ordinary lives (although none of them have money troubles, which doesn’t actually seem that ordinary). But they have challenges, and their relationships with each other, their divorced parents, and their partners are all a bit complicated.

There isn’t a ton to say about this book, other than I enjoyed reading it, and it’s kind of perfect for right now, when I have a lot going on at work and home but still want to read something on the bus that isn’t going to overly tax my brain. However, one area that rubbed me the wrong way was that one of the characters drives drunk. She only does it once, and actually gets caught and there is a repercussion of sorts. But it was treated so … lightly? I mean, I think it was meant to show us how the character was feeling, that this person would do this, but still. This person could have killed someone, and it was just weird to have it be some sort of character-building moment as opposed to a really serious thing.

I’d recommend the book if you’re heading out on vacation and want something that isn’t entirely a pile of fluff but that is still very fun and easy to read.

Monday

1

June 2015

0

COMMENTS

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

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Four Stars

Yeah, this is another Liane Moriarty book review. Third in a row. And in a few days, you’ll probably have the fourth in a row. Because I am sucking these books down like they are water and I’m a hiker lost in the desert.

I didn’t enjoy it as much as Big Little Lies, but that’s okay. As with Big Little Lies, we follow three main characters who are clearly going to end up connected in some way. There is something hanging over everyone’s head. It’s sort of a mystery, but not necessary a mystery we (the readers) need to be concerned about solving, because much of what is interesting is how the characters react to the mystery, and how actions have unintended consequences. Do I care about the secret (or secrets)? Absolutely. But I care more about how the characters are handling it. I think Ms. Moriarty creates interesting characters, ones that I become invested in over the course of these novels.

Now that I’ve read three, however, I am a bit concerned. Is everyone in Australia straight? Because that seems … unlikely. Considering all of these books are set with a focus on parents of young children, you’d think there would be at least a couple of families with two mothers, or two fathers. And I’m not so sure about the ethnic diversity of her characters. I recall a few described as blond, or redheaded with light skin and freckles.

If these three books I’ve read are an indication, Ms. Moriarity has a bit of a formula. We get to know characters, and there is a THING hanging over them, and some might know, and some might not, but we the readers definitely don’t. Or at least, I don’t. For the most part. Perhaps it should be more obvious? I don’t know. All of the twists have pretty much caught me off guard. Maybe I’m just behind on my novel reading, and it will become more obvious later. Whatever, don’t care. I’m enjoying the hell out of these books, and this one was no different.

Monday

1

June 2015

0

COMMENTS

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Five Stars

lies

I downloaded this pretty much the moment I finished ‘What Alice Forgot.’ And thanks to Ms. Moriarty I didn’t get nearly as much sleep as I planned to on this trip home because I couldn’t put THIS book down, either.

The book is told from the perspectives of three different women, all parents of kindergartners at a school that has much economic diversity. At the end (and sometimes beginning) of each chapter, there are quotes from what turn out to be statements to the police, because someone gets murdered at trivia night. But, thanks to Ms. Moriarty’s clever story-telling, we don’t know WHO gets murdered until very near to the end of the book. And why they do, depending on who it is, could be one of many reasons.

I really, really enjoyed this style of storytelling. It was compelling as hell. The characters were interesting. The women weren’t all one-note, or all the same. The men were probably a bit less complex, but eh. I’ve read loads of stories over the years where the women (if they were even in the books much) were very generic and the men complex, so I’m fine with this.

I don’t know if I should have enjoyed this book as much as I did. In some respects it did seem to be making fun of some parents and their concerns, at least a little bit. But who knows, maybe that’s appropriate. I’m super excited to learn that it’s being made into a short-term series for HBO. I will watch the hell out of that.