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07 Mar, 2018

Hippie Food

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Hippie Food Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat by Jonathan Kauffman
on January 23rd 2018
Pages: 352
Length: 9:13
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by William Morrow
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

An enlightening narrative history—an entertaining fusion of Tom Wolfe and Michael Pollan—that traces the colorful origins of once unconventional foods and the diverse fringe movements, charismatic gurus, and counterculture elements that brought them to the mainstream and created a distinctly American cuisine.
Food writer Jonathan Kauffman journeys back more than half a century—to the 1960s and 1970s—to tell the story of how a coterie of unusual men and women embraced an alternative lifestyle that would ultimately change how modern Americans eat. Impeccably researched, Hippie Food chronicles how the longhairs, revolutionaries, and back-to-the-landers rejected the square establishment of President Richard Nixon’s America and turned to a more idealistic and wholesome communal way of life and food.
From the mystical rock-and-roll cult known as the Source Family and its legendary vegetarian restaurant in Hollywood to the Diggers’ brown bread in the Summer of Love to the rise of the co-op and the origins of the organic food craze, Kauffman reveals how today’s quotidian whole-foods staples—including sprouts, tofu, yogurt, brown rice, and whole-grain bread—were introduced and eventually became part of our diets. From coast to coast, through Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Vermont, Kauffman tracks hippie food’s journey from niche oddity to a cuisine that hit every corner of this country.
A slick mix of gonzo playfulness, evocative detail, skillful pacing, and elegant writing, Hippie Food is a lively, engaging, and informative read that deepens our understanding of our culture and our lives today.

Goodreads

Obviously I had to listen to this book.  They should have just titled it “A Book for Heather.”

This is a history of the health food and vegetarian food movements in the U.S.  It starts with briefly talking about health food people like the Kelloggs and Dr. Graham at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century.  It then segues into the macrobiotic movement which came to the U.S. from Japan.  The bulk of the book focuses on the post-WW II push back to the marketing of processed convenience food.

What I really learned from this book:

White Folks Can’t Cook

 

The hippie/back-to-the-land movement was overwhelmingly white.  That’s briefly addressed but not explored deeply.  A lot of these people seemed to come from a background where they didn’t learn to cook without convenience foods.  So when they tried to cook whole food ingredients, they pretty much failed.  Spices?  What are they?

That’s how vegetarian food got a reputation for being bland and boring.  It only started to get good when they started stealing ideas from other cultures.  Japanese influences came in through macrobiotics.  This gets linked to politics because of the 1965 immigration reform that allowed more immigrants from non-European countries. Those people opened restaurants and suddenly people realized that you don’t need to eat food with the texture and taste of tree bark.  If the movement was inclusive from the start, hippie food might not have had such a bad reputation.

I loved hearing about how all sorts of foods that we consider staples now came to the United States.  Again this is presented from a white, middle class perspective.  It talks about starting tofu production in the States but I’m sure there were people in Asian communities who were doing this before white people adopted it and started mass production.  The same can go for different spices and/or vegetables that I’m sure were in use in black or Latinx communities.  That’s my major criticism of this book.

I would get excited whenever some of my favorites where mentioned.  Diet for a Small Planet!  (Yes, her made up theory of the necessity of “complete proteins” has been repeatedly debunked.  Can we let that die now? Please? Asking for all vegetarians who get asked about it ALL THE TIME.)  The Moosewood Cookbooks!  Those were some of the first I read.

Read this one if you love food history as it relates to personal ethics and politics.

 

 

 

14 Feb, 2018

A Mother’s Reckoning

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Mother’s Reckoning A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
on February 15, 2016
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: Audiobook, eBook
Setting: Colorado

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.   For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?   These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.

Goodreads

As soon as I heard about this book I knew that it was a book I needed to read.  I turn into a tower of rage whenever I hear “Where were their parents?” in response to a teenager committing a crime.  I feel this because I know that someday this accusation is going to leveled at me concerning my stepdaughter.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t read this book to get into the mind of a mass murderer.  I wanted tips about what to do after a child commits a crime.  Knowing that I wanted this felt awkward so while reading this book I broached the subject with my husband.

Me:  “So…… I’m reading Sue Klebold’s book about the aftermath of Columbine.  I sort of wanted to know what you do after a crime.”

Him:  “Yeah.  (long pause)   So what did you find out?”

Me:  “Lawyer up and grab the pets and go into hiding with relatives who don’t share your unusual last name.”

Him:  Looks concerned at me while we contemplate our very unusual last name.  We’re screwed.

The Klebolds had a very different experience than parents of mentally ill children do.  She addresses this at one point.

“I have heard many terrible stories of good people struggling to parent seriously ill, violent kids. I have nothing but compassion for them, and feel we must rehabilitate a health care system that too often leaves them out in the cold. If you want to feel sick to your stomach, listen to a mom tell you about the day her volatile ten-year-old narrowly missed stabbing her with the kitchen shears, and how it felt to call the police on him because she was worried the lock on his younger sister’s bedroom door wouldn’t hold against his rage. Too often, parents of seriously disturbed kids are forced to get the criminal justice system involved—even though it is drastically ill-equipped to manage brain illness—simply because there is nowhere else to turn.”

 

One thing I was surprisingly shocked to read was how many lawsuits were filed against the families of the shooters.  It wasn’t like they helped their kids stockpile weapons and then drove them to the school.  How were they at fault?  I think it is a sad commentary on our society feeling like someone has to take the blame for anything that happens and if the people responsible are dead, then the victim’s families just wanted someone else to blame.  There are excerpts of letters written to her by parents of the victims years later blaming her for not talking publicly so people could see if she was showing enough remorse.  They talk about wanting to know if she has learned anything.  This hounding from the victims’ families is part of the reason she wrote this book.  The proceeds are all being donated to mental health research.

I found Sue Klebold’s descriptions of herself and her parenting to be an example of the type of parent that drives me to exasperation.  It is the overinvolved yet absolutely clueless type.  These are the perky women who tell you that they have a great family and will fight to the death to uphold their belief that their precious little munchkin would never do anything wrong while you know that their child is the local drug dealer.  I’ve known a few of these types of mothers. They are exhausting.  I switched halfway through the book from audio to ebook because listening to her talk about the time before the shooting was irritating.  I understand it though.  The parents’ letters ask if she ever hugged her child or had a sit down meal with him.  People want to think that if they do everything “right” then their child will never commit a crime.  She admits that she thought like this too until her son went on a rampage.

Few of these parents ever have their illusions shattered as horrifically as this author did.  But she admits that she was able to shield herself from hearing anything about the crime for months so she was able to persist in her denial that her child did anything wrong.  She convinced herself that he was drugged or kidnapped or really a victim or was being threatened with danger to his family.  She was willing to believe anything except that he was a killer.  She persisted in this belief until the police laid out their whole case for them about 4 months after the murders.  Here is a horrible example of how she tried to justify her thinking.

This wasn’t the drug-riddled inner city, or some supposedly godless corridor like New York or Los Angeles.

 

Her solutions are jarring.  They are based in the idea that parents should know everything about their children.  She is obviously an extrovert who says that she loves to talk about issues.  If only you could force your children to tell you everything, you could prevent problems.  I can feel my poor little introvert soul shrinking when she talks about this. 

I’ve even imagined barricading myself in his room, refusing to leave until he tells me what he’s thinking.

 

She advocates searching rooms to find hidden journals or papers.  She says this knowing that her son hid weapons and bombs from her while she was actively searching his room.  They hid things so well that the police didn’t even find some of the hiding spots until they watched videos Dylan and Eric had left behind explaining how they had hid everything.  If a kid doesn’t want you to know something, you aren’t going to know it.

She brushes over the practical aftermath of the shootings for her family in one paragraph.  Basically, they were sued over and over and over and lost their house and went bankrupt for a crime they didn’t commit.  They also eventually divorced after 43 years of marriage because she is active in suicide prevention and he wanted to leave all of this in the past. 

I think she dismisses the bullying that Dylan and Eric had at school too much.  She doesn’t talk about it much at all.  Other sources have talked about how toxic Columbine High School was.  I did appreciate this statement in the book.

Larkin also points to proselytizing and intimidation by evangelical Christian students, a self-appointed moral elite who perceived the kids who dressed differently as evil and targeted them.

 

So much was made after Columbine in evangelical circles about the targeting of Christian kids.  It was used as proof that the shooters were evil.  Maybe the Christian community also needed to look at the behavior of their kids.

That’s ultimately the point of this story.  Everyone wants to demonize the parents of murderous kids because if you find the thing they did wrong, then it won’t happen to your family.  No one wants to admit that that isn’t the case.  Until society admits that it could happen to anyone, real help won’t happen.

 

 

 

09 Feb, 2018

Ninety Percent of Everything

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Ninety Percent of Everything Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate by Rose George
on August 13th 2013
Pages: 304
Length: 9:33
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Henry Holt
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned

On ship-tracking websites, the waters are black with dots. Each dot is a ship; each ship is laden with boxes; each box is laden with goods. In postindustrial economies, we no longer produce but buy. We buy, so we must ship. Without shipping there would be no clothes, food, paper, or fuel. Without all those dots, the world would not work.
Freight shipping has been no less revolutionary than the printing press or the Internet, yet it is all but invisible. Away from public scrutiny, shipping revels in suspect practices, dubious operators, and a shady system of "flags of convenience." Infesting our waters, poisoning our air, and a prime culprit of acoustic pollution, shipping is environmentally indefensible. And then there are the pirates.
Rose George, acclaimed chronicler of what we would rather ignore, sails from Rotterdam to Suez to Singapore on ships the length of football fields and the height of Niagara Falls; she patrols the Indian Ocean with an anti-piracy task force; she joins seafaring chaplains, and investigates the harm that ships inflict on endangered whales.

Goodreads

I’ve been intrigued by shipping ever since I heard a statistic in Moby Duck that said that 2 ships are lost weekly.  I never knew whether I should believe that or not.  That seemed like a lot of ships to lose without it being something everyone knows.  This book didn’t tell me if that was true but it did say that over 2000 people a year die at sea.  

This book follows a container ship journey from England to Singapore with side trips to investigate issues like piracy.  You learn about shipwrecks and human smuggling.  My favorite fact was that a container of broccoli will set off the radiation detectors at the shipyards.  (I knew broccoli was bad for you.)

I was surprised by how horrible life as a sailor is.  I knew it wasn’t a cushy job but the companies seem to go out of their way to make it worse.  The amount allotted per day for meals keeps dropping.  There is no internet even on ships built in the last few years.  Fast turnaround at docks means that shore leave is pretty much a thing of the past.  Some sailors she talks to haven’t been off the ship in 6 months.  If your ship gets captured by pirates, you are pretty much on your own for a while.  There is a set time that negotiations generally take.  If your company tries to speed it up so it doesn’t take months, the pirates get suspicious and keep you longer.  

I was interested to hear how the dockside churches are stepping up for sailors.  Because they can’t leave the ships, chaplins come onto the boats to help them get things they need.  They also try to help fix some of the horrible conditions by finding the right authorities for sailors to report complaints to.  

Read this one to find out everything about an industry that is so pervasive but no one knows about.

I loved the narrator of this audiobook.  She doesn’t sound like a typical nonfiction book narrator.  She’s very posh and British.  I looked up what else she has narrated because I was going to listen to them all.  It turns out that she is mostly a narrator of Regency Romances.  She sounds like she should be reading those.  I want her to read more nonfiction because that’s mainly what I listen to on audio.  Pearl Hewitt for narrator of every book!

19 Dec, 2017

The Newcomers

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Newcomers The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom by Helen Thorpe
on November 14th 2017
Narrator: Kate Handford
Length: 15:09
Genres: Nonfiction, Social Science
Published by Dreamscape Media
Format: Audiobook

Offering a nuanced and transformative take on immigration, multiculturalism, and America's role on the global stage, The Newcomers follows and reflects on the lives of twenty-two immigrant teenagers throughout the course of their 2015-2016 school year at Denver's South High School. Unfamiliar with American culture or the English language, the students range from the age of fourteen to nineteen and come from nations struggling with drought, famine, or war. Many come directly from refugee camps, and some arrive alone, having left or lost every other member of their family. Their stories are poignant and remarkable, and at the center of their combined story is Mr. Williams: the dedicated and endlessly resourceful teacher of their English Language Acquisition class-a class which was created specifically for them and which will provide them with the foundation they need to face the enormous challenges of adapting to life in America.

Goodreads

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to move to the U.S. from a non-English speaking country and have to learn to survive here.  This is a book that answers those questions.  I think this should be required reading for anyone who wants to talk intelligently about the immigration debate in the U.S.  

The author spends 18 months with a group of teenagers who are in a Newcomers class in a Denver high school.  All of them are recent immigrants and have tested at the bottom level of English language proficiency.  They represent most of the major conflict zones on the planet – The Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, Burma, Central America, Eritrea.  The school year starts with learning how to introduce yourself in English.  Most of the kids are stumped.

One of the things I found interesting in this book was the transparency of the author’s process.  She is writing about minors who have all experienced a great deal of upheaval and trauma in their lives.  She explains how she approaches the kids with a translator in their home language to ask if she can include their stories in the book.  There are kids who say no at this point and she respects that.  If they agreed, she sent home a letter written in their language to their parents that requested permission to interview the children and requested to interview them.  If permission is given, then home visits are started with an interpreter.  In spite of all these precautions, there are still communication errors and just the plain inability of an American to truly understand the lives that refugees have led.  She discusses her thought process about what questions to ask about their backgrounds.  When does reporting the story just become an excuse to pry into things for the sake of the sensational details?  She talks about when she chose to walk away from lines of questioning that are relevant to the story but would lead to retraumatizing the people being interviewed.

For the families that agreed to participate, it opens a window in to the lives in war zones.  Hearing what they had to endure before fleeing their homes was heartbreaking.  There are Iraqis who worked with the U.S. Army and then were left behind.  A Central American female police officer was targeted for murder after arresting gang members and when they couldn’t get to her they starting threatening her children.  A family with 10 children had to walk out of the DRC to avoid repeated violence.  Some of the kids were born in refugee camps.  Most are already multi-lingual.

Life in the U.S. isn’t easy.  Resettlement agencies help but families are required to be self-supporting within 4 months of arrival.  That’s hard when you don’t speak the language and can’t get a good job.  I’m surprised how many families did it.  Other families’ stories show how one small setback can upset their whole resettlement journey. 

The importance of this story is underscored by the fact that it takes place from September 2015 to December 2016.  Reading about the rise of Donald Trump as it relates to these families was stressful all over again.  Incidents of racism rise on public transport as the election takes place.  Court cases to receive asylum for Central American children are suddenly in doubt.  Family members scheduled to arrive from Somalia are suddenly turned back at the airport.  

The author does go to the DRC to see where the family that she knew from Denver came from.  She traces their route to refugee camp and meets friends and family members who have been left behind.

This is an ultimately hopeful book as you see how far the kids come in 18 months.  Some go from silent observers on day 1 to being a part of the student government a year later.  Others are still struggling with English but are able to have full conversations.  No one who reads about these families would think they are lazy and trying to work the system.  This is a book I’d love to force all Trump fans to listen to in order to see if these people’s realities align with their idea of what immigrants are.  

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in Africa
  • Books Set in North America
14 Nov, 2017

Beyond the Messy Truth

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Beyond the Messy Truth Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together by Van Jones
on October 10th 2017
Length: 7:16
Genres: Nonfiction, Political Science
Published by Books on Tape
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster

Van Jones burst into the American consciousness during the 2016 presidential campaign with an unscripted, truth-telling style and an already established history of bridge-building across party lines. His election night commentary became a viral sensation. A longtime progressive activist with deep roots in the conservative South, Jones has made it his mission to challenge voters and viewers to stand in one another's shoes and disagree constructively.
Now, in Beyond the Messy Truth, Jones offers a blueprint for transforming our collective anxiety into meaningful change. Tough on Donald Trump but showing respect and empathy for his supporters, Jones takes aim at the failures of both parties before and after Trump's victory. He urges both sides to abandon the politics of accusation and focus on real solutions. Calling us to a deeper patriotism, he shows us how to get down to the vital business of solving, together, some of our toughest problems.
"The entire national conversation today can be reduced to a simple statement--'I'm right, and you're wrong, '" Jones has said. But the truth is messier; both sides have flaws. Both parties have strayed from their highest principles and let down their core constituencies. Rejecting today's political tribalism, Jones issues a stirring call for a new "bipartisanship from below." Recognizing that tough challenges require the best wisdom from both liberals and conservatives, he points us toward practical answers to problems that affect us all regardless of region or ideology: rural and inner-city poverty, unemployment, addiction, unfair incarceration, and the devastating effects of the pollution-based economy on both coal country and our urban centers.
In explaining how he arrived at his views, Jones shares behind-the-scenes memories from his decades spent marching and protesting on behalf of working people, inspiring stories of ordinary citizens who became champions of their communities, and little-known examples of cooperation that have risen from the fog of partisan conflict. In his quest for positive solutions, Van Jones encourages us to set fire to our old ways of thinking about politics and come together where the pain is greatest.

Goodreads

I could identify with Van Jones.  He is a liberal who grew up in a conservative area.  He can understand where people on both sides of the political divide are coming from.  He tries to offer insights to both sides in this book.

He points out that many people in this situation end up moving away from rural conservative areas which makes the isolation from people with differing viewpoints get worse and worse.  He talks about the problems of trying to go home and convert your friends and relatives to your point of view.

He also gives real life examples of how he has worked with bipartisan groups on issues like green energy and prison reform.  He specifically talks about working with Newt Gingrich.  He was a fan of how he built a huge conservative movement (but not of his politics).  He had read all of his books when he found himself working with him on CNN.  They have some interesting joint projects. 

I thought that the chapter on Prince was amazing.  Prince attempted to donate to one of his projects anonymously.  He refused the money because he didn’t take donations that he couldn’t trace.  Eventually Prince introduced himself and they started working together.  He uses examples from Prince’s philanthropy to show how people can be creative and make a difference in the world.  As he says, Prince’s thinking wasn’t “red or blue.  He was Purple.” 

It is rare to have a book that discusses all these serious issues be ultimately hopeful but this one manages. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • POC authors
02 Nov, 2017

Gamergate and Rock Stars

/ posted in: Reading Gamergate and Rock Stars Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate by Zoe Quinn
on September 5th 2017
Pages: 256
Length: 7:09
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by PublicAffairs
Format: Audiobook, eBook
Source: Playster

You've heard the stories about the dark side of the internet-hackers, anonymous hoards attacking an unlucky target, and revenge porn-but they remain just that: stories. Surely these things would never happen to you.
Zoe Quinn used to feel the same way. Zoe is a video game developer whose ex-boyfriend published a crazed blog post cobbled together from private information, half-truths, and outright fictions, along with a rallying cry to the online hordes to go after her. The hordes answered in the form of a so-called movement known as #gamergate--they hacked her accounts, stole nude photos of her, harassed her family, friends and colleagues, and threatened to rape and murder her. But instead of shrinking into silence as the online mobs wanted her to, she has raised her voice and speaks out against this vicious online culture and for making the internet a safer place for everyone.

Goodreads

If you’ve been on Twitter any time at all you’re familiar with Gamergate.  (Side note – Can we please stop naming everything -gate?  It is so annoying.)

This is Zoe Quinn’s story from the day that she found out that her ex boyfriend had written a manifesto against her and the death threats started.  They escalated and quickly included threatening items like pictures taken outside her apartment.  Out of her frustration at not being better able to protect herself, she founded Crash Override to help others who have found themselves in similar situations.

This book is part memoir and part primer on how to better protect yourself online.  It would benefit people who worry about online security and those who think that women are overreacting to online threats.  It is a reminder of the lengths that people will go to to hurt strangers online.  She also talks to former trolls to see what the mindset is behind that behavior.


Gamergate and Rock Stars From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars by Virginia Hanlon Grohl
on April 25, 2017

While the Grohl family had always been musical—the family sang together on long car trips, harmonizing to Motown and David Bowie—Virginia never expected her son to become a musician, let alone a rock star. But when she saw him perform in front of thousands of screaming fans for the first time, she knew that rock stardom was meant to be for her son. And as Virginia watched her son's star rise, she often wondered about the other mothers who raised sons and daughters who became rock stars. Were they as surprised as she was about their children's fame? Did they worry about their children's livelihood and wellbeing in an industry fraught with drugs and other dangers? Did they encourage their children's passions despite the odds against success, or attempt to dissuade them from their grandiose dreams? Do they remind their kids to pack a warm coat when they go on tour?

Goodreads

Have you ever had your mother reminisce about spending time with your friends’/teammates’ moms while waiting for you to get done doing sports or plays or whatever you were into?  Imagine instead of talking about what she did on the sidelines of your soccer game, she was talking about what she got up to with Kurt Cobain’s mom on the Nevermind tour.  That’s the spirit of this book.

She interviews moms of musicians from all genres and at all stages of their careers.  Some are still performing.  Some have retired or moved into other aspects of the business.  Others are moms of musicians who didn’t survive their fame.  She asks what they remember, how they nurtured their kids, and what they wished they had done differently.

The book is fun because she still is enthusiastic about her son’s career and always talks about it like a proud mom.  She talks about the kids getting back together when Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  She always refers to her son as “David.”  She still gets starstruck like when she got to meet Paul McCartney and her friends couldn’t get her to shut up about it. 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
28 Oct, 2017

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Dear Martin by Nic Stone Dear Martin by Nic Stone
on October 17th 2017
Pages: 224
Narrator: Dion Graham
Length: 4:32
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Listening Library
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster
Setting: Georgia

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.
Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Goodreads

I managed to avoid finding out exactly what this book was about before listening to it.  I didn’t even read the full blurb.  (I deleted the part I didn’t read in the synopsis above.)  Not knowing what was going to happen let the emotional impact of the book hit me full force. 

This is an amazing and necessary book.  If any of you are thinking, “I read The Hate U Give, I don’t need to read this one,” get that out of your brain.  While the subject matter is similar, these books are very, very different.  Dear Martin depicts an attempt by an African-American teenager to move past an emotionally traumatizing incident with a police officer.  He finds that that is harder than he expects though as his eyes are opened to what is going on around him. 

I appreciated the way he struggles with different approaches to living in a racist society through his interactions with several adult African-American men in his life.  Each discusses his struggles and his way of surviving, allowing Justyce to try to choose the best options for him. 

The narration in this book was very well done by Dion Graham.  It is a short audiobook at just four and a half hours.  This is one that I will relisten to with my husband in the future. 

I don’t want to say much more about the book.  If you don’t already know the whole plot, I’d recommend just starting this story without finding out much more.  This is a hard-hitting book that will move you.  It is a must read for everyone.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
24 Oct, 2017

Little Soldiers

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Little Soldiers Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve by Lenora Chu
on September 19th 2017
Pages: 368
Length: 11:30
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Harper
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Setting: China

When American mom Lenora Chu moved to China with her little boy, she faced a tough decision. China produced some of the world’s top academic achievers, and just down the street from her home in Shanghai was THE school, as far as elite Chinese were concerned. Should Lenora entrust her rambunctious young son to the system?
So began Rainey’s immersion in one of the most radical school systems on the planet. Almost immediately, the three-year-old began to develop surprising powers of concentration, became proficient in early math, and learned to obey his teachers’ every command. Yet Lenora also noticed disturbing new behaviors: Where he used to scribble and explore, Rainey grew obsessed with staying inside the lines. He became fearful of authority figures, and also developed a habit of obeisance outside of school. “If you want me to do it, I’ll do it,” he told a stranger who’d asked whether he liked to sing.
What was happening behind closed classroom doors? Driven by parental anxiety, Lenora embarked on a journalistic mission to discover: What price do the Chinese pay to produce their “smart” kids? How hard should the rest of us work to stay ahead of the global curve? And, ultimately, is China’s school system one the West should emulate?
She pulls the curtain back on a military-like education system, in which even the youngest kids submit to high-stakes tests, and parents are crippled by the pressure to compete (and sometimes to pay bribes). Yet, as mother-and-son reach new milestones, Lenora uncovers surprising nuggets of wisdom, such as the upside of student shame, how competition can motivate achievement, and why a cultural belief in hard work over innate talent gives the Chinese an advantage.
Lively and intimate, beautifully written and reported, Little Soldiers challenges our assumptions and asks us to reconsider the true value and purpose of education.

Goodreads

The author is the first generation American daughter of Chinese immigrants.  She had a hard time reconciling her parents’ attitude toward education with her American school experiences.  Now she and her American husband moved to Shanghai just in time for their oldest child to join the Chinese school system at age 3.  Should he go to the state school or should they send him to an international school?

The book follows the first few years of Rainey’s Chinese education.  It both affirms and challenges what the author thought she knew about Chinese education.  From the first days when the children are continually threatened by the teachers with arrest or not being allowed to see their parents again if they don’t sit still to the teenage years and the national obsession with the college entrance test, she examines the effect of authoritarian teaching.  The results surprised her.

I come from a family of teachers.  What I learned from this book is that being a teacher in China is way better than being a teacher in the U.S.

  • Teachers are to be highly respected.  The proper response to a request by a teacher to a parent is, “Yes, teacher.  You work so hard, teacher.”
  • Bribery and gift gifting to teachers are both expected and illegal.  These aren’t little gifts either.  Vacations, gift cards with a month’s salary on it, and luxury goods are considered appropriate.

She talks about the other downsides of Chinese teaching, besides the threats.

  • Force feeding children
  • Public shaming
  • No help for special needs kids
  • Crushing amounts of homework and additional classes with tutors that start as young as age 3
  • Indoctrination in Chinese nationalism and communism
  • Rote rule following and stifling of creatively

On the plus side, there is:

  • Well behaved children who respect their elders
  • Fluency in written and spoken Mandarin and English before high school age
  • Advanced math skills

She talks to migrant parents who have left children at home in the rural areas of China in order to be able to afford their education.  She talks to teenagers who are preparing for the college entrance exams and have differing takes on how to get ahead. 

Ultimately she decides to leave Rainey in Chinese school up until 6th grade if he is still doing well.  He will learn Mandarin almost fully by then and be strong in math.  He will escape the pressures of the high school and college entrance exams that can crush students.  They will continue to preach thinking for himself at home.

I did enjoy this look at education across China.  I’d recommend it for anyone interested in educational theory.  The narration was very well done in both Chinese and English. 

 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
03 Oct, 2017

The Blood of Patriots

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Blood of Patriots The Blood of Patriots: How I Took Down an Anti-Government Militia with Beer, Bounty Hunting, and Badassery by Bill Fulton, Jeanne Devon
on September 19th 2017
Pages: 300
Narrator: Bill Fulton
Length: 9:20
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by BenBella Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Alaska

For Bill Fulton, being a soldier was his identity. He was called to protect and serve. So when the Army wanted to send him to Alaska, he went—they had never steered him wrong, after all.
After an involuntary medical discharge, Fulton was adrift until he started a military surplus store in Anchorage, where he also took on fugitive recovery missions. He was back on his feet, working with other badasses and misfits he considered brothers. He took pride in his business, with a wife and daughters at home. His life was happy and full.
But when a customer revealed he planned to attack a military recruiting station, Fulton had to make a choice: turn a blind eye and hope for the best or risk his safety, his reputation, and his business by establishing contact with his customers’ arch nemesis: the FBI.
He chose the latter, and his life changed forever.

Goodreads

The beginning of this book sounded familiar to me – like really, really familiar.  Like the author, all my husband ever wanted to do was be a soldier until he was physically unable to do it any more.  He was also in Alaska for a while.  Their stories were so similar that I made him start listening to the audiobook too.  He totally identified. 

After the Army is where their paths diverged.  The author opened a bouncing service that grew into a military surplus store and then a bounty hunting group while giving jobs to veterans who were having a hard time readjusting to civilian life.  All of it came crashing down after he decided to help the FBI expose a militia in Fairbanks that had a plan to kill judges and their families.  No good deed goes unpunished.

This book alternates between being really funny and being extremely horrifying. 

It helps you get into the mindset of people who are convinced that the government is coming after them.  There are people who think that hit squads have been sent after them so they have booby trapped their houses.  None of them tend to be important enough for anyone to take notice of until they lay out their plans to “defend themselves” in paramilitary style.  Even worse are those who are going to strike first before the government comes for them.

One of the most frustrating parts for me to read was when the author was being vilified by the left-leaning journalists he admired because of a run-in with an unidentified journalist while he was working security.  Later when it became known that he was an FBI informant the media got his story all wrong again.  He couldn’t defend himself either time.  It has to be frustrating to be being talked about on TV when people have the basic facts and motivations for your actions wrong and make no attempt to talk to you and find out the facts.  Hopefully, this book helps set the record straight.

Things I had confirmed while reading this book:

  • Living in Alaska isn’t for me
  • There are some really paranoid people out there and they have guns
  • Veterans need a welcoming, nonjudgmental space like his store became
  • Make sure you have your facts right before condemning people

This is a book that I would recommend for everyone.  The topics discussed are important and aren’t covered enough. 

Bill Fulton narrates his own story.  He does a good job for an author-narrator. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
29 Sep, 2017

Victoria and Abdul

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Victoria and Abdul Victoria And Abdul: The True Story Of The Queens' Closest Confidant by Shrabani Basu
on April 1st 2010
Pages: 223
Narrator: Elizabeth Jasicki
Length: 11:09
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Published by History Press (SC)
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster
Setting: England

The tall, handsome Abdul Karim was just twenty-four years old when he arrived in England from Agra to wait at tables during Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. An assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail, he suddenly found himself a personal attendant to the Empress of India herself. Within a year, he was established as a powerful figure at court, becoming the queen's teacher, or Munshi, and instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs. Devastated by the death of John Brown, her Scottish gillie, the queen had at last found his replacement. But her intense and controversial relationship with the Munshi led to a near-revolt in the royal household. Victoria & Abdul examines how a young Indian Muslim came to play a central role at the heart of the Empire, and his influence over the queen at a time when independence movements in the sub-continent were growing in force. Yet, at its heart, it is a tender love story between an ordinary Indian and his elderly queen, a relationship that survived the best attempts to destroy it.

Goodreads

The central mystery in this story is Who Was Abdul Karim?  Was he a selfless aide and friend to Queen Victoria or was he an enterprising, self-promoting, dangerous con man like the people around her believed?  I think the answer is somewhere in the middle.

There is no question that he was a devoted servant of the Queen.  He gave her Urdu lessons every day for years.  He helped her answer her correspondence.  He did influence her to be very concerned about Muslims in India.  He also liked the trappings that came along with high status in the Royal Household.  He insisted on not being treated as just one of the nameless servants.  He would storm out of public events if he felt he was being slighted.  He would get newspapers to write articles about him.  He did suggest to the Queen that she give him and his family more and more honors.

This book did a wonderful job of getting into the mind of Queen Victoria through her writings.  You understand where she was coming from.  She loved Karim and his family.  She was hurt by her family’s and staff’s hatred of him.

I don’t think the book did as good of a job figuring out what was going on in Karim’s mind.  There are letters from him but he still felt like an enigma at the end of the book.  He was in a hard position.  There were several Indian servants but he was the only one in the closest inner circle to the Queen.  The Royal Family and the household were both incredibly racist and classist.  They hated him not only for being Indian but for not being an upper-class Indian.  How dare he assume he was their equal?

Put in that situation I can’t fault him for looking out for himself and his family.  The Queen was elderly and he knew that he would be dealt with harshly after her death.  He had to provide for his family while he could.  Did he push too hard?  Maybe.  It doesn’t excuse how he was treated though.

This is an infuriating read.  The racism is so overt.  Many letters from high British officials are included that just drip with disdain.

My only complaint about this book is that it is perhaps too detailed.  There are so many letters cited that they started to all run together.  But, I’d rather get too much information than not enough.

The narrator did a great job with all the voices required in this book – male, female, English, Indian, and Scottish.

There is a movie version of this book out now.  I’m interested to see what angle they take on this story.  Is it going to be a feel-good “Queen Victoria had a friend!” or is going to dive into the hatred from the people around her?  I’ll do a compare and contrast post after I get to see the movie.

 

About Shrabani Basu

Shrabani Basu graduated in History from St Stephen’s College, Delhi and completed her Masters from Delhi University. In 1983, she began her career as a trainee journalist in the bustling offices of The Times of India in Bombay.

Since 1987, Basu has been the London correspondent of Ananda Bazar Patrika group –writing for “Sunday, Ananda Bazar Patrika, “and “The Telegraph.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
  • POC authors
06 Sep, 2017

Give a Girl a Knife

/ posted in: Reading Give a Girl a Knife Give a Girl a Knife by Amy Thielen
on May 16th 2017
Pages: 320
Length: 10:09
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Clarkson Potter Publishers
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster
Setting: Minnesota/New York

A beautifully written food memoir chronicling one cook's journey from her rural Midwestern hometown to the intoxicating world of New York City fine dining and back again in search of her culinary roots.
Before Amy Thielen frantically plated rings of truffled potatoes in some of New York City s finest kitchens for chefs David Bouley, Daniel Boulud, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten she grew up in a northern Minnesota town home to the nation s largest French fry factory, the headwaters of the fast food nation, with a mother whose generous cooking pulsed with joy, family drama, and an overabundance of butter.
Inspired by her grandmother s tales of cooking on the family farm, Thielen moves with her artist husband to the rustic, off-the-grid cabin he built in the woods. There, standing at the stove three times a day, she finds the seed of a growing food obsession that leads to the sensory madhouse of New York s top haute cuisine brigades. When she goes home, she comes face to face with her past, and a curious truth: that beneath every foie gras sauce lies a rural foundation of potatoes and onions, and that taste memory is the most important ingredient of all.

Goodreads

I spent a good portion of this memoir wondering why I listen to books like this.  It is no secret that I like foodie books but why do I listen to books where the lovingly drawn out descriptions of the food make me think, “Oh my god, that sounds disgusting!”

I’m not sure I found an answer to that.  I guess that will be the lot of wanna-be vegans who listen to chef memoirs.  You’ve been warned if descriptions of organ meats and loving talk of bloody juices and fond rememberances of torturing live lobsters bother you.

Amy Thielen was an English major before becoming a chef and it shows in this memoir.  The writing is of a more literary quality than a lot of memoirs.

This book starts with the story of how she and her husband started to live a seasonal existence.  In the summer they were in their off-the-grid cabin in Minnesota with a huge garden and in the winter they lived in New York.  This part of the book ends with their decision to move back to Minnesota full time.

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The next part of the book goes back in time for a series of essays about events that take place before the first section. You never find out what happened after the move back from New York.  I had never heard of the author prior to reading this book so I wasn’t sure what happened besides writing this book.  I guess you are either expected to know that or expected to Google.

I was most fascinated by the story of her husband who actually managed to make a good living as a working artist in New York.  I thought that was a fairy tale.  The story of making a home in the woods was amazing to me.

The author narrates the audiobook which is normally a horrible decision but she did a very good job.  She infuses her story with a lot of emotion as she reads.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
  • Foodies Read 2017
17 Aug, 2017

Ocean Adventures – Junk Raft and The Soul of an Octopus

/ posted in: Reading Ocean Adventures – Junk Raft and The Soul of an Octopus The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
on May 12th 2015
Pages: 261
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Atria Books
Format: Audiobook, Hardcover
Source: Library, Playster
Setting: Massachusetts

Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?
The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds.

Goodreads

I love octopuses.  I think they are fascinating.  I’ve never had the chance to meet one though like this author did.  She got to know three octopuses over the course of a few years.  It was amazing to hear about the ways their physiology lets them interact with the world. They can taste with their skin, camouflage even though they are color blind, and work through complex puzzles.

She also lets you get to know the people working behind the scenes in the aquarium who love these animals.

This book is wonderful for anyone who is interested in finding out more about these animals.  I am looking forward to reading more from this author.


Ocean Adventures – Junk Raft and The Soul of an Octopus Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollution by Marcus Eriksen
on July 4th 2017
Pages: 216
Length: 8:05
Published by Beacon Press
Setting: Pacific Ocean

News media brought the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch"--the famous swirling gyre of plastic pollution in the ocean--into the public consciousness. But when Marcus Eriksen cofounded the 5 Gyres Institute with his wife, Anna Cummins, and set out to study the world's oceans with hundreds of volunteers, they discovered a "plastic smog" of microscopic debris that permeates our oceans globally, defying simple clean-up efforts. What's more, these microplastics and their toxic chemistry have seeped into the food chain, threatening marine life and humans alike.
Far from being a gloomy treatise on an environmental catastrophe, though, Junk Raft tells the exciting story of Eriksen and his team's fight to solve the problem of plastic pollution. A scientist, activist, and inveterate adventurer, Eriksen is drawn to the sea by a desire to right an environmental injustice. Against long odds and common sense, he and his co-navigator, Joel Paschal, construct a "junk raft" made of plastic trash and set themselves adrift from Los Angeles to Hawaii, with no motor or support vessel, confronting perilous cyclones, food shortages, and a fast decaying raft.

Goodreads


Plastic pollution in the ocean is a huge problem but it doesn’t manifest in exactly the ways that it has been portrayed in the press.  Most of the ocean is polluted with microparticles of plastic that make any clean up operation almost impossible.  The author’s goal is to require companies to take on more of the burden for reusing or recycling plastics they produce.  Now they are freed from responsibility by requiring consumers to recycle if they don’t want the plastic going into a landfill.

This book used the framework of the several month journey on Junk to tell the story of the Earth’s plastic pollution problem.  It is full of ideas for making the problem better but there needs to be buy in from a lot of people to make it happen.

The stories in the book are scary.  So much damage is being done through human carelessness.  Getting the word out about what needs to be done is important.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
13 Jul, 2017

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Al Franken:  Giant of the Senate Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
on May 30th 2017
Length: 12:05
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Hachette Audio
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

This is a book about an unlikely campaign that had an even more improbable ending: the closest outcome in history and an unprecedented eight-month recount saga, which is pretty funny in retrospect. It's a book about what happens when the nation's foremost progressive satirist gets a chance to serve in the United States Senate and, defying the low expectations of the pundit class, actually turns out to be good at it.It's a book about our deeply polarized, frequently depressing, occasionally inspiring political culture, written from inside the belly of the beast.

Goodreads

This book answers the question that so many people had – How did this man:

turn into this man?

Al Franken was best known as a writer for Saturday Night Live when he announced his candidacy for Senate in his home state of Minnesota.  His candidacy was treated as a joke but he was very serious.  He had written several books on political topics and had been hosting a three hour daily political radio show that taught him a lot about issues.  He had campaigned for Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone prior to Wellstone’s death in a plane crash.  When the Republican senator who took over Wellstone’s senate seat said that he was a 99% improvement over Democrat Wellstone, Franken decided that someone had to defeat that guy.  He just didn’t realize yet that it was going to be him.

This memoir was very well done.  It talked just a bit about his childhood and then moved quickly into his life as a satirical writer.  This is important because as he says he spent 35 years learning to be funny professionally and the next decade learning not to be.  He calls the Republican plan for dealing with him “The Dehumorizer”.  Just assume that everything he ever wrote was absolute truth and not a joke – up to and including shooting elderly people over a river in a rocket.  Turn that into “Franken hates the elderly” and you get the idea.  It wasn’t like he hadn’t given them huge amounts of easy material to work with.  He did write a story for Playboy called “Pornorama” after all.

Once he got into the Senate by winning the closest election in Senate history, he started working to prove that he was there work and not be a clown.  What do Senators do every day?  He discusses in detail how bills are made into laws; what compromises to do you have to make to get things done?  He talks about working with people you totally disagree with in order to get laws passed.  He tells what it is like to grill people you like personally but don’t want to get a cabinet position (Jeff Sessions).  And there is a whole chapter on why everyone hates Ted Cruz.  He also discusses what needs to be done now in the age of Trump.

Franken lets out a little of the vitriol that he needs to keep inside during his day job.  There is more humor than he is allowed to show at work.  Apparently he is only allowed by his staff to speak freely in car between events.  I’d love to hear what actually happens in the car. 

Franken reads the audiobook himself so you can feel the ideas that he is passionate about and feel his anguish at having funny lines in his head that he isn’t allowed to say. 

I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to know what it is really like to be a Senator.  Now I’m watching the news and seeing the people who he spoke about in the book in a new light.

Rating Report
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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
07 Jul, 2017

Sweet Spot – Getting Serious about Ice Cream

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Sweet Spot – Getting Serious about Ice Cream Sweet Spot: An Ice Cream Binge Across America by Amy Ettinger
on July 11th 2017
Pages: 320
Narrator: Kathleen Mcinerney
Length: 8:27
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Dutton Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster

A journalist channels her ice-cream obsession, scouring the United States for the best artisanal brands and delving into the surprising history of ice cream and frozen treats in America.

Goodreads

Amy Ettinger is obsessed with ice cream.  She says that she routinely eats ice cream 1 – 2 times a day.  She’s the perfect person to go on an exploration of the state of ice cream in the United States.

In her journey she rides along on an ice cream truck route in New York.  I had no idea that being an ice cream truck driver was such a dangerous job.  The woman she was riding with freely admits to getting into fist fights with other drivers that she sees driving in the same neighborhoods as she does.

She visits frozen custard makers in Wisconsin to find out why true frozen custard is regional speciality.  She investigates the rise of new soda shops and discusses the sometimes poisonous history of soda shops.  She finds out what is behind the newest experiments with ice cream flavors – celery or foie gras or mealworms anyone?  She also tries a revival of Dolley Madison’s recipe for oyster ice cream.

She wonders how frozen yogurt stores fit into the ice cream world and investigates the largest chains.  She goes to Penn State’s ice cream course to find out how to make ice cream.  (I will say that Penn State makes some amazing ice cream.  It made all my trips there bearable back when I could eat it.)

iced-coffee-2305211_640

She seems shocked to find out that because of federal regulations most ice cream shops don’t make their own base for the ice cream.  They just add the flavors.  She gets very judgy about it.  Likewise she is horrified that ice cream sandwich makers outsource making the sandwiches.  I found it hard to believe that anyone was actually this naive about how foods are made in the U.S.

If you like books that give you a culinary tour, this is a good book for you.

I just have a few complaints.

  • She points out that people in the midwest are fat and wonders if we have different standards of beauty than in California.  It is a totally passive-aggressive insult to an entire region.
  • I cringed anytime she referred to sandwiches as “sammies”.  Can that please not be a thing anymore?
  • She is absolutely dismissive of the idea of non-dairy ice cream.  As a non-dairy eater, I assure her that just like dairy ice cream, some are horrible and some are amazing.  I offer Ben and Jerry’s PB & Cookies as proof of awesomeness.

Kathleen Mcinerney does a wonderfully upbeat and perky narration that fits the subject matter perfectly.

 

About Amy Ettinger

Amy Ettinger is an essayist, journalist, and editor. She has written for the New York Times, New York magazine, The Washington Post, Salon, and the Huffington Post. She lives in Santa Cruz, California, with her husband and daughter.

Rating Report
Story
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Overall:

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
29 Jun, 2017

Believe Me – The Wildest Audiobook Ever

/ posted in: Reading Believe Me – The Wildest Audiobook Ever Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard
on June 13th 2017
Pages: 15
Length: 14:30
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Penguin Audio
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned

Critically acclaimed, award-winning British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard details his childhood, his first performances on the streets of London, his ascent to worldwide success on stage and screen, and his comedy shows which have won over audiences around the world.
Over the course of a thirty-year career, Eddie Izzard has proved himself to be a creative chameleon, inhabiting the stage and film and television screen with an unbelievable fervor. Born in Yemen and raised in Northern Ireland, Wales, and England, he lost his mother at the age of six—a devastating event that affected the rest of his life. In his teens, he dropped out of university and took to the streets of London as part of a comedy double act. When his partner went on vacation, Izzard kept busy by inventing a one-man escape act, and thus a solo career was ignited. As a stand-up comedian, Izzard has captivated audiences with his surreal, stream-of-consciousness comedy— lines such as “Cake or Death?” “Death Star Canteen,” and “Do You Have a Flag?” have the status of great rock lyrics. As a self-proclaimed “action transvestite,” Izzard broke a mold performing in makeup and heels, and has become as famous for his “total clothing” rights as he has for his art. In Believe Me, he recounts the dizzying rise he made from the streets of London to West End theaters, to Wembley Arena, Madison Square Garden, and the Hollywood Bowl.

Goodreads

I’m a huge Eddie Izzard fan.  That’s a requirement for listening to this audiobook.  If you think he is slightly funny or if you aren’t really sure if you know who he is, read the book but don’t listen to the audio yet.  I’ve never experienced an audiobook quite like this.  I think it is an audiobook that only could have been made by Eddie Izzard.

He is reading his book but he keeps getting distracted.  The tape just keeps rolling as he goes off on tangents – things that he remembers about what he was talking about in the book but didn’t write down; new things that have happened since he wrote the book; or just things that have popped into his head that are more interesting right now than the printed words of the book.  These include asking questions of the audio engineers and getting out his cell phone to Google the answer to questions he has. When he realizes how far afield he’s gone, he signals that he’s heading back to the text by saying, “End…Of…Footnote.”  I’m going to use that phrase from now on to close any rambling monologue I have.

Even as a fan I was bored by the beginning of the book.  His mother died when he was six and he was sent off to boarding school.  This is important but all the details of his childhood were not necessary.  I wanted to hear about how he got started performing and his later life.  Once he got to these sections, I was much more interested.

One thing I was curious about when picking up his book was hearing how he discusses his gender identity.  He’s famous for his “Executive Transvestite” routine.  I always think of this when people on Twitter get angry about the use of the term transvestite.  Eddie came out publicly in 1985.  He still uses the terms transvestite and transgender interchangeably when referring to himself.  I think of him as a person out living his life openly in public while others are fighting over terminology that he doesn’t care about.  I think if he was coming out now he would most likely be identified by others as genderfluid based on his descriptions of his life.

He’s an amazing person who has performed standup all over the world in several different languages, has raised millions for charity by running insane amounts of marathons back to back, and has had many serious dramatic roles in TV shows and movies.  He still thinks that he is a boring person who has made a choice to try to make himself more interesting by getting out and doing things.  You could do worse.

 

Rating Report
Story
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Overall:

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in Europe
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
06 Jun, 2017

Allegedly – An Emotional Rollercoaster

/ posted in: Reading Allegedly – An Emotional Rollercoaster Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
on January 24th 2017
Pages: 387
Genres: Fiction
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Format: Audiobook, Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.
Allegedly.
She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.
Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.
There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

Goodreads

This book…wow.  Go get it and read it.  Seriously. 

I started out listening to this on audio.  The narration by Bahni Turpin was incredible.  She really brought the characters to life.  I’m glad I had those voices in my head to help keep the characters straight.  She made the adults in books seem even more vile than they were on the page.  But about 1/3 of the way through I had to go to the library and get a hard copy.  It was just too stressful to listen to the audiobook.  There was such a sense of foreboding that I needed to know what happened at the end in order to be able to concentrate on what was going on in the middle.

I’m not even ashamed of grabbing the book and reading the last few chapters to settle my poor nerves. 

Then I went back and read the rest of the book straight through from where I left off on the audio.

Mary’s life is absolutely tragic.  She has been in jail since she was nine years old.  Not juvenile detention.  She was in adult prison.  She couldn’t be with the general population so she was kept mostly in solitary confinement for years.  Now she is on parole in a group home full of viscous teenage girls who hate her for the notoriety of her alleged crime. 

No one is on Mary’s side in life.  The story is told in part through transcripts from interviews and passages from books written about what a monster she is.  There is always the racial subtext of a black girl killing a white baby.  She’s had death threats from people who seem to think that the correct penalty for killing a child is killing yet another child.   

Her mother is horrible.  Oooh, I hated that woman.  She needs to be the center of attention at all times.  It isn’t surprising that Mary feels that it was her role in life to do whatever would be necessary to take care of her mother.  It would have been nice if her mother felt the same way about her.

All the adults in her life judge her as a murderer and they seem to think it is worse than any other murder because she killed a baby.  She is physically, mentally, and sexually abused in jail and/or the group home.  No one cares except for her boyfriend, Ted. 

Through all this you see her trying to better herself, especially now that she is pregnant.  You root for her all through the book.  She needs to learn to stand up for herself.  That’s hard when you have never had any control of anything in your life. 

This book will leave you emotionally wrung out over the way Mary was treated.  I’m a huge fan of books that have just one more twist than you were expecting right at the end.  I’ve seen a lot of reviews that absolutely hate that but it is one part of this book that made me think this is a masterpiece.  I just had to sit a while and let everything sink in. 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
25 May, 2017

One Hundred Names

/ posted in: Reading One Hundred Names One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern
on May 6, 2014
Length: 10:56
Genres: Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

Scandal has derailed Journalist Kitty Logan's career, a setback that is soon compounded by an even more devastating loss. Constance, the woman who taught Kitty everything she knew, is dying. At her mentor's bedside, Kitty asks her—what is the one story she always wanted to write?
The answer lies in a single sheet of paper buried in Constance's office—a list of 100 names—with no notes or explanation. But before Kitty can talk to her friend, it is too late.
Determined to unlock the mystery and rebuild her own shaky confidence, Kitty throws herself into the investigation, using her skills and savvy to track down each of the names on the list and uncover their connection. Meeting these ordinary people and learning their stories, Kitty begins to piece together an unexpected portrait of Constance's life. . . and starts to understand her own.

Goodreads

I was intrigued by the premise of a mysterious list of names that the protagonist has to find a connection between.  I do love a mystery.  Actually, that is a lie.  I hate a mystery.  I need to know the answer.  That’s what kept me going through this story.  I had to know the connection between the names.

Kitty Logan, a young journalist, is a horrible human.  She’s the worst kind of horrible person.  She thinks that there is nothing wrong with her at all.  Other people call her out sometimes on her callousness but she gets mad at them for being mean to her.

Kitty falsely accused a man of fathering a child with a teenage student.  He lost a lot of his friends and his marriage.  She is being sued for libel.  Don’t you know how hard this is in her life?  Her overwhelming urge is to get him to forgive her.  She centers herself in everything.

She is so clueless that she applies for a job teaching college level journalism soon after her libel trial.  She’s hurt when they tell her that they are adding her case to the curriculum but don’t want to hire her.

Kitty doesn’t like sick people.  She has avoided going to see her friend who is dying of cancer.  Later she can’t even bring herself to look at a woman with cancer who is getting her hair done for her wedding.

It would be one thing if she was a bad character who Learns a Life Lesson but that is not what is going here.  There is a character with a birthmark across her face who hides in her house cutting out pictures of models and putting them on her wall.  That isn’t Kitty’s POV. That’s the author’s description of the character.  There are racist/fetishizing comments made to a Chinese woman by a white man.  Other Chinese people only speak in stereotypically broken English. There is a young man who repeatedly publicly proposes to a friend of his in order to scam venues into giving them free drinks even though she is embarrassed and repeatedly asks him to stop.  There is also a casual anti-trans comment.  None of this is challenged.  I mentally subtitled this book White Folk Behaving Badly.

It is too bad.  The overall message of the book is a good one. I guessed the answer to the mystery but it still was a satisfying conclusion.  I just wish there hadn’t been so much tone deaf behavior written for the characters before you get to the pay off.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
11 May, 2017

The Foundling

/ posted in: Reading The Foundling The Foundling: The True Story of a Kidnapping, a Family Secret, and My Search for the Real Me by Paul Fronczak, Alex Tresniowski
on April 4th 2017
Pages: 368
Length: 11:24
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Howard Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned

The Foundling tells the incredible and inspiring true story of Paul Fronczak, a man who recently discovered via a DNA test that he was not who he thought he was—and set out to solve two fifty-year-old mysteries at once. Along the way he upturned the genealogy industry, unearthed his family’s deepest secrets, and broke open the second longest cold-case in US history, all in a desperate bid to find out who he really is.

Goodreads

In 1964, when Paul Fronczak was 1 day old, he was kidnapped from the maternity ward of a hospital in Chicago.  Fourteen months later a child was found abandoned in New Jersey.  Very limited scientific tests were available at the time to determine paternity.  All the FBI could say was that they could not rule out the possibility that the child found in New Jersey was Paul Fronczak.  So they gave this child to the Fronczak family and considered both cases closed.

When he was 10 years old Paul found a box of newspaper clippings about his kidnapping case.  He had never heard about it before.  His parents refused to discuss it with him – ever.  He grew up feeling like he didn’t really fit into his family.  He wasn’t anything like them.

Then in his forties he decided it was time to investigate.  He took a DNA test and convinced his parents to submit samples too.  They later withdrew their consent but he sent their samples in anyway.  This proved that he was not their biological child.  Now he set out to answer two questions.

  1. Who was he?

  2. What happened to the real baby Paul Fronczak?

 

This book is a masterclass in the abilities and limitations of DNA analysis.  It investigates the possibilities opened up by databases on the major genealogical websites to answer long standing family mysteries.  (This happened in my husband’s family.)

What was fascinating to me was the reactions of the people around Paul during his search.  They did not want him to find out the answers to his questions.  I don’t understand that at all.  His parents and brother cut all ties with him.  If your child was kidnapped, wouldn’t you want to know what happened to him?  Wouldn’t you want to know the truth about the child you raised?  I don’t see why it would make any difference in your relationship to each other.

His wife wanted him to stop searching.  I understand that it was taking up a lot of his time but how could you expect someone not to want to follow the clues he was getting?  Maybe I just hate an unsolved mystery so much that I wouldn’t have been able to let it go.  I can’t understand people who are insisting that you walk away from it.

Reading about his birth family may be hard for some people.  A family situation that ends with dumping a toddler outside a department store is not going to be healthy and functional.  There is a lot of abuse described.

He met so many fascinating people along the way.  There were volunteer researchers who worked on his case.  He met distant relatives identified through DNA who dug into their own family histories to try to find a link to him.  He met other abandoned children who hoped that they would turn out to be the missing Fronczak child.

The book is not able to give definitive answers to all the questions that it raises but he does have a pretty good idea of what happened in his life and the life of his parents’ biological child at the end.  I would recommend this book to anyone who loves genealogy and the science of genetic genealogy to see how it works in real life.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
19 Apr, 2017

Revolution for Dummies

/ posted in: Reading Revolution for Dummies Revolution for Dummies: Laughing through the Arab Spring by Bassem Youssef
on March 21st 2017
Pages: 304
Length: 7:12
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Dey Street Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Setting: Egypt

"The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World"—the creator of The Program, the most popular television show in Egypt’s history—chronicles his transformation from heart surgeon to political satirist, and offers crucial insight into the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution, and the turmoil roiling the modern Middle East, all of which inspired the documentary about his life, Tickling Giants.
Bassem Youssef’s incendiary satirical news program, Al-Bernameg (The Program), chronicled the events of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and the rise of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi. Youssef not only captured his nation’s dissent but stamped it with his own brand of humorous political criticism, in which the Egyptian government became the prime laughing stock.

Goodreads

Bassem Youssef was an Egyptian cardiac surgeon trying to find a way to move out of Egypt in 2011.  He was not politically active until the Arab Spring protests.  A friend wanted to have a YouTube series discussing politics and he convinced Bassem to star in it mostly because he wouldn’t have to pay him.  Suddenly, the series that they filmed in Bassem’s bathroom was an internet hit.   Over the next few years they moved to TV and then to larger networks.  The show was a hit.  However, making fun of politicians in Egypt isn’t the safest life choice.

In a few years he rose from obscurity to being the most famous entertainer in Egypt to being forced to flee the country.

I loved this audiobook.  I had never heard of Bassem Youssef before although he had been on The Daily Show and other U.S. TV shows. He says that he isn’t able to explain Egyptian or Islamic politics well but then explains them in an easy to understand manner.  Now I understand who most of the players are and a little bit about what their goals are.  His goal was to make fun of them all.

This is a scary book to read because you see so many parallels between Egypt and the path that the United States is on now.  In fact, he came to the U.S. just in time to document the rise of Trump.  Like Trevor Noah, he points out that Trump follows the same line of thinking as the African dictators.  He talks about how people can convince themselves that everything is fine when everything is falling apart around them.

He shows how media can be manipulated to show whatever ‘truth’ the government wants you to believe.

Speaking satirical truth to power cost him his relationship with his family and his ability to go back to his country.  His wife stayed with him but he isn’t really sure why.  After all, she married a surgeon who a few months later decided that he was going to be a comedian in the country where it is illegal to make fun of the president and it went downhill from there.

There is a new documentary on the festival circuit called Tickling Giants about his life.  I want to see it to be able to see many of the sketches that he describes in the audio book.

He is a huge fan of Jon Stewart.  They ended up meeting and collaborating.  (Or as it was charged in Egypt, he was recruited by Jon Stewart to work for the CIA.)  Here’s Jon Stewart’s take on things the first time Bassem got in trouble.

If you want to understand more about the Arab Spring and the aftermath, this is a great book. If you want to know what resistance can look like, listen to this book.  He narrates it himself and does a great job telling his story.

About Bassem Youssef

Bassem Raafat Muhammad Youssef is an Egyptian comedian, writer, producer, physician, media critic, and television host. He hosted Al-Bernameg, a satirical news program, from 2011 to 2014.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in the Middle East
  • POC authors
23 Feb, 2017

Celebrity Memoir Edition

/ posted in: Reading Celebrity Memoir Edition Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
on November 15th 2016
Pages: 271
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Touchstone
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”
At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.
With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Goodreads

 


I’m not a big fan of celebrity memoirs.  I’m also not a big fan of memoirs written by people in their 20s.  So why would I listen to this audiobook?

I took a chance on it because I figured that Anna Kendrick’s public persona is funny so maybe the book would be too.  I was right.

This isn’t a straight biography.  Her life isn’t told in strict chronological order.  This is more a series of stories that illustrates different points in her life.  I hadn’t realized that she was in a Broadway musical as a kid.  She talks about her life in California before she could get a job.  You find out what changes when you get famous and what doesn’t.  You find out how Twilight films pay for your life while you are doing press for the film that got you an Oscar nomination but didn’t pay much.

I recommend this one on audio to hear her read it.  This book also has the best book group discussion questions ever.

If you want a fun, short book about the ups and downs of show business with a large dose of anxiety thrown in, this is the book for you.


Celebrity Memoir Edition Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham
on November 29th 2016
Pages: 224
Published by Ballantine Books

In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.
In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway.

Goodreads

Despite my protestations that I don’t like celebrity memoirs, I listened to another one.

I never realized that they talked fast on Gilmore Girls until I read a review of the series. I figured that’s just how people talked. (Likewise, I found out that they speak in Chinese on Firefly long after I watched the whole series.  I’m slow on the uptake.)

But when I started this audiobook on my standard 1.5 times the speed setting on my iPod, it was quick.  I learned to listen fast enough for it though after a minute or so.  If you thought the show was quick, you may want to slow this audiobook down.

Like Anna Kendrick, I didn’t know anything about Lauren Graham outside her roles.  This is also not a straight chronological memoir but a series of thoughts on different points in her life.  She talks about being on shows with younger cast members led her to feeling old and giving advice that isn’t always appreciated.  For example, are you sure that’s a body part you want to pierce and/or post a picture of on the internet?

She talks about moving into writing from acting.  This part can sound a little too much like an advertisement to buy her novel.

I wish for the audiobook they had described the photos that she is referring to in the book instead of just saying, “See photo 16 for how I looked that day.”  Not helpful.

Overall, this was a fast (4 hour) listen and fun if you are a fan.  If you haven’t watched Gilmore Girls, skip it because you’ll get confused.  There is a lot of talking about a scene here or there and if you haven’t got a basic familiarity with the show, it would be boring.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
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