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18 Oct, 2017

Disrobed

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Disrobed Disrobed: How Clothing Predicts Economic Cycles, Saves Lives, and Determines the Future by Syl Tang
on October 16th 2017
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

We may not often think of our clothes as having a function beyond covering our naked bodies and keeping us a little safer from the elements. But to discount the enormous influence of clothing on anything from economic cycles to the future of water scarcity is to ignore the greater meaning of the garments we put on our backs. Disrobed vividly considers the role that clothing plays in everything from natural disasters to climate change to terrorism to geopolitics to agribusiness. Chapter by chapter, Tang takes the reader on an unusual journey, telling stories and asking questions that most consumers have never considered about their clothing. Why do banker's wives sell off their clothes and how does that presage a recession? How is clothing linked to ethanol and starvation on the African continent? Could RFID in clothing save the lives of millions of people in earthquakes around the world?
This book takes an everyday item and considers it in a way that readers may not have previously thought possible. It tackles topics relevant to today, everything from fakes in the museums to farm-to-table eating, and answers questions about how we can anticipate and change our world in areas as far-reaching as the environment, politics, and the clash of civilizations occurring between countries. Much like other pop economics books have done before, the stories are easily retold in water-cooler style, allowing them to be thoughtfully considered, argued, and discussed.

Goodreads

 


 
 This is a pop-economics book examining the impact of clothing on various aspects of life now and in the future.  The author is a futurist who uses clothing to help predict future trends.
 
How does that work?  For example, the rate of rich women reselling designer clothing goes up as they start to have financial concerns.  This shows up before some other indicators of impending recessions.  Likewise, the number of bankers wearing their “lucky clothing” increases with financial instability.
 
I thought this book was strongest in its first few chapters.  These discuss superstitious clothing trends, how museums fall for buying fakes, and predictors of recession.  In the later chapters on environmental impacts of clothing I felt that the ideas needed more development.  Yes, there are major problems with disposable clothing and its impact on water and agriculture.  But this book just seemed to rush to skim over the surface of many ideas instead of taking the time to develop a few ideas fully.  The ideas are intriguing but the discussion felt half-hearted and left me wanting more details and nuance.
 
This book would be best for people who have never considered these issues before.  It can serve as an introduction to the topics surrounding clothing and the economy and environment.  It may spur deeper research into the subject and a search for books that dive deeper into the cause and effect of the topics presented here.

About Syl Tang

Syl Tang is CEO and founder of the 19-year old HipGuide Inc. A futurist, her focus is how and why we consume, with an eye towards world events such as natural disasters, geo-political clashes, and pandemics. She has written hundreds of articles on the confluence of world events and soft goods for the Financial Times, predicting and documenting trends such as the Apple watch and other smart wearables, lab-made diamonds, the Department of Defense’s funding of Afghan jewelry companies, the effects of global warming on South Sea pearls, and the unsolved murder of tanzanite speculator Campbell Bridges.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
13 Oct, 2017

The Third Plate

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Third Plate The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber
on May 20th 2014
Pages: 496
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Penguin Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Barber explores the evolution of American food from the 'first plate,' or industrially-produced, meat-heavy dishes, to the 'second plate' of grass-fed meat and organic greens, and says that both of these approaches are ultimately neither sustainable nor healthy. Instead, Barber proposes Americans should move to the 'third plate,' a cuisine rooted in seasonal productivity, natural livestock rhythms, whole-grains, and small portions of free-range meat

Goodreads

This is the kind of book that I absolutely love.  It is a detailed look at ways of growing food with environmental sustainability in mind.  It gave me warm fuzzies every time I picked it up.

The author runs a restaurant on a farm in New York.  You would think that would be great for the environment but he starts to realize that they plant want he wants to use instead of him using what it is best for the farm to grow.  For example, there are cover crops that are ground to help fix nitrogen or add other nutrients to the soil that are just plowed under because they don’t have a commercial use.  Why shouldn’t he try to use those crops because it is part of what his farm needs to grow to survive instead of forcing the farm to grow the few things that he wants?

He visits a community of organic farmers in a small town in New York.  They are doing extensive work on their soils by using crop rotation.  They grew from one family doing this work who spread the word around the town.  I loved this part.  There is something about reading about building healthy soil that thrills me every time.  I accept that I might be weird.

Then he visits the area of Spain famous for jamon iberico.  This is a ham made from free-range pigs that ate a lot of acorns.  There is a farmer here who is trying to do the same thing with geese to make fois gras without force feeding his ducks.  Also in Spain he visits a fish farm next to a national park that is helping to rebuild an estuary to house their fish.  Birds use the area as a stop over in migration.  The fish farmers consider losing fish to avian predation a sign of a healthy farm ecosystem. 

These were stories were interesting to me but I kept thinking about how unnecessary they are.  If you really want to get into environmentally healthy eating, why eat meat at all?

At the end the book went back to plants and I was so happy.  It discusses heirloom vegetable raising versus breeding for better varieties.  So much of the plant breeding going on is for durability.  Flavor isn’t considered.  This section covers some people who are trying to fix that.

This book reminded me a lot of Omnivore’s Dilemma, especially the section on Joel Saladin.  If you loved that book, you’ll love this one. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
  • Books Set in North America
05 Oct, 2017

Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading by Anna Yates, Bernard Scudder, Laura Gallego García, Lindsey Davis, Vivian Shaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, Hachette UK, William Morrow
Format: Hardcover, Paperback
Source: Library

I’ve been reading.  I’ve been reading a lot.  But, I haven’t been writing reviews.  Honestly, I got a bit bored with them and I know they aren’t favorites.  It is especially hard when the book is entertaining but nothing mind-blowing.  How many ways can you can up with to say, “It was good.  I enjoyed it enough to read the whole thing. That is all.”

The thing is that I did enjoy these books.  Most of them I haven’t heard much about so they need to get some exposure.  I should stop slacking and write up some reviews.

So here are some books that I haven’t told you about from August.  Seriously, August, people.  Slacking.


Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
on July 25th 2017
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary
Published by Hachette UK

Meet Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead.
After inheriting a highly specialised, and highly peculiar, medical practice, Dr Helsing spends her days treating London's undead for a host of ills: vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta's dreamed of since childhood.
But when a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human undead and alike, Greta must use all her unusual skills to keep her supernatural clients - and the rest of London - safe.

Goodreads


This is a great idea.  A lot of the monsters from old horror stories are here.  Dr. Helsing is trying to keep a practice afloat while having to keep her patients a secret.

I had a hard time remembering at points that this is a contemporary story.  It kept feeling like it was a Victorian to me and then there would be modern technology.

It was well done.  There are sequels planned and I will definitely read them.


Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You The Third Nero (Flavia Albia #5) by Lindsey Davis
on July 11, 2017
Pages: 321
Series: Flavia Albia #5
Setting: Italy

In 90 A.D., following the Saturninus revolt in Germany, the Emperor Domitian has become more paranoid about traitors and dissenters around him. This leads to several senators and even provincial governors facing charges and being executed for supposed crimes of conspiracy and insulting the emperor. Wanting to root out all the supports of Saturninus from the Senate, one of Domitian’s men offers to hire Flavia Alba to do some intelligence work.
Flavia Alba, daughter and chip off the old block of Marcus Didius Falco, would rather avoid any and all court intrigue, thank you very much. But she’s in a bit of a bind. Her wedding is fast approaching, her fiancé is still recovering―slowly―from being hit by a lightning bolt, and she’s the sole support of their household. So with more than a few reservations, she agrees to “investigate.”

Goodreads


I’ve loved everything I’ve read by this author, which is over 20 books now.  This one seemed to have a lot of historical backstory that needed to be explained in order to understand the significance of The Third (Fake) Nero.  It wasn’t as well woven into the story as she usually does.  It felt like a bit of slog to get through all that in order to get to the story.

That said, I continue to love this series and its take on everyday life in Ancient Rome.


  Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You My Soul to Take (Þóra Guðmundsdóttir, #2) by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Bernard Scudder, Anna Yates
on April 28th 2009
Pages: 352
Published by William Morrow

“Top notch crime fiction.”
Boston Globe
 
American readers first met Icelandic lawyer and investigator Thóra Gudmundsdóttir in Last Rituals. In My Soul to Take, internationally acclaimed author Yrsa Sigurdardóttir plunges her intrepid heroine into even graver peril, in a riveting thriller set against the harsh landscape of Smila’s Sense of Snow territory. A darkly witty and continually surprising suspense tale that places Yrsa Sigurdardóttir firmly in the ranks of Sue Grafton, Tess Gerritsen, Faye Kellerman and other top mystery writers, My Soul to Take is ingenious Scandinavian noir on a par with the works of Henning Mankell and Arnaldur Indridason. Stieg Larsson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) fans should also take note.

Goodreads

The heroine of this book is a lawyer who did a land purchase deal for a client who wanted to build a spa.  Now he is claiming that the place is haunted and wants to sue the sellers.  The lawyer heads to the spa for a weekend to try to calm him down and gets mixed up in the mystery of what happened on the land years before.

This book was good.  It was the first Icelandic noir book I’ve read.  I read it for Women in Translation month.  I enjoyed the historical aspects of the story more than the present.  The lawyer was a bit too much of the pushy, “let’s hide things from the police” kind of mystery heroine for my liking.


Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You The Valley of the Wolves (Crónicas de la Torre, #1) by Laura Gallego García
on April 1st 2006
Pages: 336
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books
Setting: Spain

Dana attends a school of magic with only one other student. She has a great love only she can see. And only she can unravel these mysteries and become mistress of the Valley of the Wolves.
Ever since Dana was a little girl, Kai has been her best friend and constant companion--even though she's the only one who can see him. Then the mysterious Maestro comes to her farm and offers her the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to study sorcery in the Valley of the Wolves. And Dana knows she must go, for the Maestro can see Kai too....

Goodreads


This was another Women in Translation month read for me.  This book reads like a fairy tale.  There is a boy that only the girl can see.  Is he real or not? 

A magician comes and takes her away because he says that she will be a great magic user someday.  He trains her in his castle that is surrounded by vicious wolves who come out at night.  After years of training she realizes that she may not be able to leave if she doesn’t figure out the secrets of the castle and the valley.

This book is all about growing up and seeing your life and the people in it for what they really are.  It is a quick read with lots of fun fantasy and magical elements. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
05 Sep, 2017

Map, or Holy Cow I Like a Poetry Book!

/ posted in: Reading Map, or Holy Cow I Like a Poetry Book! Map: Collected and Last Poems by Wisława Szymborska, Clare Cavanagh, Stanisław Barańczak
on April 2015
Genres: Poetry
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library, Owned
Setting: Poland

A new collected volume from the Nobel Prize–winning poet that includes, for the first time in English, all of the poems from her last Polish collection
One of Europe’s greatest recent poets is also its wisest, wittiest, and most accessible. Nobel Prize–winner Wislawa Szymborska draws us in with her unexpected, unassuming humor. Her elegant, precise poems pose questions we never thought to ask. “If you want the world in a nutshell,” a Polish critic remarks, “try Szymborska.” But the world held in these lapidary poems is larger than the one we thought we knew.
Carefully edited by her longtime, award-winning translator, Clare Cavanagh, the poems in Map trace Szymborska’s work until her death in 2012. Of the approximately two hundred and fifty poems included here, nearly forty are newly translated; thirteen represent the entirety of the poet’s last Polish collection, Enough, never before published in English.Map is the first English publication of Szymborska’s work since the acclaimed Here, and it offers her devoted readers a welcome return to her “ironic elegance” (The New Yorker).

Goodreads

I am not a fan of poetry.  I think that is mostly because I am not a person who is in touch with my feelings or who wishes to have other people spilling their feelings all over me.  I read poetry and if I understand it at all I end up mostly thinking, “Ugh, no one cares about your feelings.”  I am Scrooge.

So why did I request this book of poetry?  It was Women in Translation month.  I heard about this collection somewhere on Twitter.  I’m always on the lookout for books from or about Poland that aren’t mired in World War II.  I’m 1/4 Polish and I want to learn more about it but it is hard to find anything that isn’t miserable.  Granted they’ve had more than their fair share of trouble but there has to be some literature that isn’t just depressing, doesn’t there?  Also, my library happened to have this book which I thought was a bit odd for some reason.

This collection starts in the 1940s and continues to the 2000s.  I’m not going to pretend that I understand every poem but I do get most of them.  A lot of them are about things that I haven’t seen written about in poetry before.  They span a range of emotion from happy to sad.

One of my favorites is about talking to an uppity French woman who is dismissive of Poland as just a place where it is cold.  The author spins a crazy fairy tale in her mind about freezing writers struggling against the elements while herding walruses but then realizes that she doesn’t have the French vocabulary to be insultingly sarcastic back to this woman so has to just say “Pas de tout (Not at all).”

This is a huge collection. I’ve renewed the book once but I’m not getting through it fast enough. To let you know how much I’m enjoying it I’ll say, I ordered a copy of myself. Yes, I bought a poetry book. I even thought about buying the hardcover because it seemed like it needed that kind of respect. Then my cheap side of my brain reasserted itself and I got the paperback.

I want the husband to read this too. He likes poetry. He’s into feelings. I’ll impress him by pretending to be classy and reading poetry.  We’ll sneak the walrus herders up on him. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
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
28 Jul, 2017

Good Friday on the Rez

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Good Friday on the Rez Good Friday on the Rez: A Pine Ridge Odyssey by David Hugh Bunnell
on April 25th 2017
Pages: 288
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by St. Martin's Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: South Dakota

Good Friday on the Rez introduces readers to places and people that author, writer, and entrepreneur David Bunnell encounters during his one day, 280-mile road trip from his boyhood Nebraska hometown to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to visit his longtime friend, Vernell White Thunder, a full-blooded Oglala Lakota, descendant of a long line of prominent chiefs and medicine men.
This captivating narrative is part memoir and part history. Bunnell shares treasured memories of his time living on and teaching at the reservation. Sometimes raw and sometimes uplifting, Bunnell looks back to expose the difficult life and experiences faced by the descendants of Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, and Sitting Bull while also illuminating their courageous resiliency.

Goodreads

The first thing that needs to be made clear is that this is not written by a Native American author.  I didn’t realize that until I started reading the book.

The author is a white man who has lived on or near the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation off and on through his life.  He is going to visit a man who he met when the author was teaching school on the reservation.  Vernell White Thunder was one of his students in the 1970s.

The road trip is used as a narrative device to comment on events from history and current events that affect life on the reservation.  As the author passes towns where events occurred, he discusses them.  This is a good introduction to the history of United States military treatment of the Native people.  He also touches on:

  • systemic and institutional racism faced by the tribe
  • poverty
  • the effects of alcoholism
  • the importance of Wounded Knee (both the massacre in the 1800s and the uprising in the 1970s)

As he gets closer to the reservation, he gives more information about Vernell.  He is looking for Perrier and Dinty Moore beef stew to take to Vernell.  He tells some jokes that Vernell tells that are very self-deprecating.  I have seen reviews that tear this book apart because of this.  In every case, the reviewer stopped reading the book at this point because they felt that the author was negatively portraying a native man.  I thought that was interesting.  I think it is more of a statement of the inherent expectations of the reviewer than the author.  They seem to assume that Vernell is going to be a poor man living on the reservation who needs beef stew as charity and that this author is exploiting him. 

When you meet Vernell, you find out that he is:

  • an entrepreneur
  • a mentor to local teens
  • the owner of a resort that gets guests from all over the world
  • a successful rancher raising buffalo and horses
  • a large landowner on several reservations
  • the son of a respected chief who was was taking over more of his father’s duties as his father’s health declined

Vernell White Thunder is so cool that he’s almost a rock star.

The author discusses the changes that he has seen in younger Native generations.  He hopes that today’s young people are the Seventh Generation since the military suppression of the tribes that were foretold as the generation who will live up the tribes again.  He is hopeful because of the resurgence of tribal language speakers and young people proud of their history.

The author died before publication of the book so it was bittersweet to read about the wonderful things that he wanted to live to see this generation accomplish.  Although it discusses a lot of dark history, at the end this is a hopeful book.  It is a testament to the people of Pine Ridge and one enduring friendship that started there.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
14 Jun, 2017

How Dare the Sun Rise

/ posted in: Reading How Dare the Sun Rise How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana, Abigail Pesta
on May 16th 2017
Pages: 304
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Young Adult
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, U.S.

This profoundly moving memoir is the remarkable and inspiring true story of Sandra Uwiringyimana, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who tells the tale of how she survived a massacre, immigrated to America, and overcame her trauma through art and activism.

Goodreads

Sandra and her family are part of the Banyamulenge tribe.  Originally the tribe lived in Rwanda but migrated to the Congo.  They are not considered citizens of any nation and they are persecuted in the Congo.

War was a constant backdrop in her life.  Her family often had to flee because of an outbreak of fighting wherever they were living.  It got worse when her oldest brother was kidnapped along with 200 other boys and taken to be used as a child solider.  Her father dedicated himself to rescuing her brother.

Sandra was 10 when fighting forced them to flee the Congo and cross the border into Burundi.

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 9.20.08 AM

They were in a refugee camp in Gatumba on August 13, 2004 when armed men singing Christian praise songs came into the camp and started killing people.  Tents were set on fire to force people into the open where they were shot.  Most of the people in her tent including her aunt and cousins were killed.  Her mother was holding her six year old sister when she was shot repeatedly at point blank range.  Sandra had a gun held to her head but her captor let her go.

In the morning she found out that her mother had survived because she was tossed into a pile of corpses and managed to crawl away before they were burned.  Her little sister was dead.  Her brother was severely injured.

The family eventually moved to Rwanda and then was resettled in the United States.  They thought their lives would be fine then.  They didn’t realize the problems of being a refugee in the United States.  They had lived a comfortable life in the Congo.  Now they were living in poverty.  People asked her what it was like to learn to wear shoes assuming she had never done that in Africa.  Although she was fluent in three languages, people ridiculed her poor English.  The family survived numerous setbacks in America.  Sandra emerged as a spokesman for her tribe.  She educated groups at the UN about the massacre and the hardships of being a refugee.

Then when she was in college, it all came crashing down on her.  The feelings she and her family had supressed for so long were too much.  She describes her problems with survivor’s guilt, depression, and PTSD.  How do you get help for this when you are ashamed to speak of it especially to your family?  Her mother had endured so much and seemed fine.  Sandra was ashamed for not being as strong as her mother.   Opening up a dialogue with her family about what happened was the hardest part of her mental health journey.

This book is written very simply.  It is very matter of fact without a lot of embellishment.  It is geared towards YA readers.

I hadn’t heard of the Banyamulenge or the Gatumba massacre.  The man who claimed responsibility for it has since run for President of Burundi.  No charges have ever been brought against anyone for the murder of 166 people.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Africa
  • POC authors
13 Jun, 2017

Book Versus Movie – How to Survive A Plague

/ posted in: Reading Book Versus Movie – How to Survive A Plague How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France
on November 29th 2016
Pages: 640
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Published by Knopf
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

A riveting, powerful telling of the story of the grassroots movement of activists, many of them in a life-or-death struggle, who seized upon scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Ignored by public officials, religious leaders, and the nation at large, and confronted with shame and hatred, this small group of men and women chose to fight for their right to live by educating themselves and demanding to become full partners in the race for effective treatments. Around the globe, 16 million people are alive today thanks to their efforts.
In dramatic fashion, we witness the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. We watch as these activists learn to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians, establishing their own newspapers, research journals, and laboratories, and as they go on to force reform in the nation s disease-fighting agencies.
With his unparalleled access to this community David France illuminates the lives of extraordinary characters, including the closeted Wall Street trader-turned-activist, the high school dropout who found purpose battling pharmaceutical giants in New York, the South African physician who helped establish the first officially recognized buyers club at the height of the epidemic, and the public relations executive fighting to save his own life for the sake of his young daughter.
Expansive yet richly detailed, this is an insider's account of a pivotal moment in the history of American civil rights. Powerful, heart-wrenching, and finally exhilarating, How to Survive a Plague is destined to become an essential part of the literature of AIDS.

Goodreads

Think back to a time not that long ago when:

  • The New York Times banned the use of the words gay and lesbian in the newspaper
  • Hospitals and funeral homes turned away people they suspected were infected with AIDS
  • Weekly meetings of gay activists included a list of names of people who had been at the last meeting and who had died since

This book tells the story of ACT UP.  This was a group founded to pressure scientists, politicians, and drug companies to increase the number of drugs being investigated for possible treatment for AIDS.

One of the main problems in the beginning, besides a lack of funding, was government scientists’ insistence on doing double-blind controlled studies.  They weren’t wrong from a science perspective.  These trials have patients in two groups.  One group gets the treatment and the other gets a placebo.  Neither the patient or the doctor knows who is in each group.  The problem was that people with AIDS were dying so quickly that being in a placebo group for a few months, especially if you were required to go off all other medication, was basically a death sentence.  There are stories of trials in this book where all the placebo group died in the course of the trial.

Without these studies to cover them from liability no one was willing to go on record and recommend using drugs off label.  Doctors in the field, especially if they didn’t handle many AIDS cases, then didn’t know that giving a common antibiotic decreased the chances of patients dying of opportunistic pneumonia, for example.  This was the leading cause of death in AIDS patients.  It was almost entirely preventable and no one would officially say so.  ACT UP worked to streamline and humanize the drug trials.

They were able to:

  • Stop people having to go off all other medications (like antibiotics to prevent pneumonia) to be in the trial
  • Allow drugs to be tested on women and people of color
  • Allow a parallel track where sick people who couldn’t wait for formal drug approval could try the drugs in the trial at their own risk and data could be collected about their experiences
  • Get drug companies to stop increasing prices of the drugs as demand went up. 

I don’t remember hearing anything good about ACT UP at the time.  I only knew of them from news coverage that was always negative because of their dramatic demonstrations.  The first time I ever heard of ACT UP in a positive light was when I started watching Gay USA on TV.  One of the hosts talked about being in ACT UP.  Her name is Ann Northrup and she is in the movie a lot more than in the book.  The associate producer of Gay USA is named Bill Bahlman.  I know that because he does the intro to the podcast that I listen to now.  What I didn’t know is what all he did during the early days of the AIDS epidemic to reach lawmakers.

This book is a long, slow read.  It is very densely packed with names and actions and committee meetings.  The author was a young, gay journalist reporting on AIDS in New York at the time.  It is very focused on New York.  Occasionally it talks about San Francisco but you could get the sense that except for occasional mentions of Africa, that AIDS was only a New York/California problem.  It is also focused primarily on white gay men.  This was one of the criticisms of the drug trials.  They wouldn’t enroll women, people of color, or drug users.  Although ACT UP seemed to give equal representation to women, those women aren’t discussed much in the book with a few exceptions.

When I was almost finished with the book I watched the documentary that the book came out of.  It is also called How To Survive a Plague and is available on Netflix.

 

How-to-Survive-a-Plague

I don’t think that I would have understood the documentary as much if I didn’t already know what they were talking about from the book. Especially at the beginning of the documentary, there wasn’t a lot of context given for the video being shown. I understood where they were and what they were protesting from reading the book. It was interesting for me to see what I had read about but I don’t think the documentary did a good job of really explaining all the issues that they were fighting for.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of medicine or the gay rights movement in the United States.  It is heartbreaking and inspirational.  This is civil action on so many levels.  It is interesting to look back now and see how far the United States has come in just the last 30 years – even when we feel like there is so much that needs to be better.

Other books that I like on this subject are And The Band Played On and My Own Country.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • 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
24 May, 2017

Noteworthy – Acapella with a Twist

/ posted in: Reading Noteworthy – Acapella with a Twist Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
on May 2nd 2017
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Amulet Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.
In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Goodreads

Reading this book was so stressful for me.  I’m not a fan of books that depend on misunderstanding or lies as a plot device.  I’m always wondering when the other shoe is going to drop.  That isn’t the fault of this book.  It is one of the few books that I felt did a good job with this type of story line.

There is a lot going on in this novel.  Jordan is a Chinese-American girl from a poor family in San Francisco.  Her father is disabled and her mother is having a hard time keeping a job while caring for him.  Jordan has a scholarship to this boarding school on the East coast but it doesn’t cover all her expenses.  This is a hardship for her family.  It also sets her apart from the other students who tend to be wealthy.

This story takes place at a high school.  I had a hard time remembering that since it is a boarding school.  It seems more like a college story until they discuss not being able to drive.

Jordan starts to live a double life – a girl during the day and Julian, the newest male member of the Sharps at night.  This leads to a lot of thoughts on gender and sexuality. She gets a lot of advice on how to pass for male from websites for transgender people.  She is uncomfortable with this.  Is she using other people’s real lives for her own selfish gain? Later, members of the Sharps decide that she must be a gay man.  She lets them think that instead of having them find out the truth.  Again she has to think about what it means to appropriating another group’s identity.

I wasn’t a fan of the romance aspect of this book.  It didn’t feel like it needed to be there.  It seemed like since she had spent a lot of time with a group of guys than obviously she had to fall for one of them.  I would have liked this more if it hadn’t happened.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?

/ posted in: Reading Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco, Lauren Oyler
on March 30, 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Washington, D.C.

Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, long before his run for president. From the then-senator's early days in Congress to his years in the Oval Office, she made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders.
But for every historic occasion-meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, bursting in on secret climate talks, or nailing a campaign speech in a hailstorm-there were dozens of less-than-perfect moments when it was up to Alyssa to save the day. Like the time she learned the hard way that there aren't nearly enough bathrooms at the Vatican.
Full of hilarious, never-before-told stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a "White House official" is supposed to look like. Here Alyssa shares the strategies that made her successful in politics and beyond, including the importance of confidence, the value of not being a jerk, and why ultimately everything comes down to hard work (and always carrying a spare tampon).

Goodreads

This isn’t a run of the mill political memoir.   This is the story of what can and will go wrong.  It is the story of friendships forged in stress and sleep deprivation.  It is finding out how to stand up for yourself and your ideas when you are young and female in a job that has always been dominated by older men.

I loved a story that she discussed early in the book.  She was in charge of scheduling Barack Obama’s time.  During the 2008 campaign there was bad weather forecasted.  She decided to have him go ahead with a live outdoor event in spite of the weather.  It ended up being worse than expected and he was getting hit in the face with sleet through the whole speech.

We watched (in horror) as the event drew to a close, and Obama reached his hand to Reggie.  As we were turning off the TV, my phone rang.

“Alyssa, it’s Obama.”

“Hi!” I said, with my head down on the desk, girding myself for the inevitable and deserved.  “The event looked AWESOME! You heard John McCain canceled all of his events, right?  He looked like a total old man!”

“Alyssa, where are you right now?”

I was not sure where he was going with this, but I knew it was somewhere bad.  “My desk,” I replied cautiously.

“Must be nice.”

Click

 

She doesn’t shy away from discussing the very personal aspects of the job.  One of her proudest moments was getting tampon dispensers in the bathrooms of the White House.  Most of the people working there had been men and post-menopausal women so it hadn’t been thought a priority.  She also discusses her IBS and the problems that causes in a job where there is a lot of stress and questionable food choices.

She talks about the questions she gets about not having children.  She was working all the time during her twenties and thirties.  She didn’t marry until she was 37.  People ask her now if she is sorry that she didn’t have children.  I love that she is unapologetic about not being sorry.  She proudly proclaims her status as child-free and having cats instead.

Her job encompassed everything from setting up the schedule for the President to coordinating federal emergency response to Hurricane Sandy and the Haitian earthquake.  Where do you go from there?  She talks about how hard it is to leave the White House and decide what to do with your life.

One of the hardest parts of reading this book was remembering what it was like once upon a time.  You know, back when the U.S. Presidency wasn’t a total embarrassment.  I liked hearing about the personal side of Obama.  He introduced her to Mindy Kaling at an event because he knew she had been reading her book.  He got Bruce Springsteen to call her from a campaign event because she had to stay at the White House after setting up the concert and she was a huge fan.  He called her a year after she quit working at the White House because he heard her cat died that day.  (Everyone knew her cat.  He was famous.  She had a conversation about his health problems with George W. Bush on the way to Nelson Mandela’s funeral.)

This is a short book and a quick read.  I read it in one sitting.  I’d recommend this book to everyone who wants to know what it is really like to work in the White House.

I just have two criticisms.  First, she uses a lot of nicknames for people.  It can be a bit hard to remember who these people actually are when she is using nicknames long after introducing them by their full names.  Second, I feel like she underplays her accomplishments a bit.  She talks about women being conditioned to not stand up and present their ideas and it seems like she is still doing that some here.  If a man wrote a book about doing this job, I feel like it would be a lot more about “Look at me!  I was awesome!”  I wouldn’t necessarily like that book as much as I liked this one but what she did was pretty amazing and sometimes that gets lost. 

 

 

About Alyssa Mastromonaco

Alyssa Mende Mastromonaco is the Chief Operating Officer of Vice Media. She is also a contributing editor at Marie Claire magazine. She previously served as White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations in the administration of President Barack Obama from 2011 to 2014.She was the youngest woman to hold that position. Mastromonaco had worked for Obama since 2005 when he was on the United States Senate as his Director of Scheduling.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
12 May, 2017

Outrun the Moon

/ posted in: Reading Outrun the Moon Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
on May 24th 2016
Pages: 391
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Setting: California

San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.
On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

Goodreads


I started reading this book without really knowing what it was about.  I may be one of the few people who enjoyed the story of Mercy’s time at school more than I liked the story after the earthquake.

This book is split into two sections by the earthquake.  Before, Mercy is dealing with discrimination because of her sex, race, and class.  She is a Chinese girl who has finished the limited amount of schooling available to her.  She wants to be able to go to high school.  She has a plan to win a scholarship to an elite private school.  But once there she is disappointed to find it more interested in turning out proper young ladies than in the ladies increasing their knowledge.  She is also put directly into a world of wealth that she has never known before. 

The author does a great job of working in history lessons about treatment of Chinese people in California at the time.  She discusses the exclusion laws that prevented people from coming from China.  She talks about discriminatory housing laws that kept the Chinese population penned into a small area of the city. 

I was really into this book when the earthquake occurs.  Most of the girls at the school are boarding there from out of town so when the school is destroyed they have nowhere to go.  They end up living in a tent city set up in a park.  From here the book is a story of looting and cooking huge meals to try to feed everyone living in the park.  There was limited disaster aid at the time.  What help was available was out fighting the fires caused by the earthquake so survivors were mostly on their own. 

The author notes that group cooking situations like the one in the book were set up in the aftermath of the earthquake.  I’m glad she added that because I wouldn’t have believed it otherwise.  It seemed a little too feel-good for everything that was going on before.  I understand that the point was the discrimination can’t survive if everyone needs to work together when they have lost everything.  But it seemed a little too easy in the book.  No one seemed to really be grappling with the issues of loss and grief.  Maybe they were supposed to be numb and just focusing on survival. 

I’d recommend this book for a great look into life in 1906 San Francisco. 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
26 Apr, 2017

The Third Son

/ posted in: Reading The Third Son The Third Son by Julie Wu
on April 30, 2013
Pages: 320
Genres: Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Taiwan

It's 1943. As air-raid sirens blare in Japanese-occupiedTaiwan, eight-year-old Saburo walks through the peach forests of Taoyuan. The least favored son of a Taiwanese politician, Saburo is in no hurry to get home to the taunting and abuse he suffers at the hands of his parents and older brother. In the forest he meets Yoshiko, whose descriptions of her loving family are to Saburo like a glimpse of paradise. Meeting her is a moment he will remember forever, and for years he will try to find her again. When he finally does, she is by the side of his oldest brother and greatest rival.Set in a tumultuous and violent period of Taiwanese history — as the Chinese Nationalist Army lays claim to the island and one autocracy replaces another—The Third Son tells the story of lives governed by the inheritance of family and the legacy of culture, and of a young man determined to free himself from both.

Goodreads

 


This synopsis sort of made me cringe. I’ve read the whole “my brother is marrying the girl I want” story so many times. I’m over it. This isn’t that though. There was a delightful change.


Saburo gets the girl. Actually, even better, the girl makes up her own mind and chooses him over his brother. Yes, a female main character with agency. I love her. She’s tough and independent minded. She’s chafing under the demands of her time and place. She’s determined to change her life and basically pushes him to get them where they need to be. That isn’t the whole point of the book either.  That happens partway through and the rest of the book is about their life.  

This is the second book I read because of Shenwei’s post about the 228 Massacre in Taiwan. This first one was The 228 Legacy. I enjoyed The Third Son a lot more.  I actually read it in one sitting.  

I’d recommend this one to any historical fiction fans especially if they are looking for settings you don’t often see.  I hadn’t read anything about Taiwan prior to these books.  This is set during a period of a lot of unrest in Taiwan and did a great job explaining the history.  

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
12 Apr, 2017

Borderline

/ posted in: Reading Borderline Borderline by Mishell Baker
on March 1st 2016
Series: The Arcadia Project #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Saga Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: California

A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she's sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.
For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she'll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble's disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.
No pressure.

Goodreads

Millie was a grad student in filmmaking at UCLA when a failed relationship led her to a suicide attempt.  She survived but lost her legs.  She has spent the last six months in an inpatient psychiatric facility learning to handle her borderline personality disorder.

“The symptoms of borderline personality disorder include: a recurring pattern of instability in relationships, efforts to avoid abandonment, identity disturbance, impulsivity, emotional instability, and chronic feelings of emptiness, among other symptoms.

The main feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image and emotions. People with borderline personality disorder are also usually very impulsive, oftentimes demonstrating self-injurious behaviors.”  – Steven Bressert Ph.D

 

That describes Millie.  She is working with a therapist but she doesn’t think that it is going well.  Then she is recruited for a job.

The Arcadia project manages human-fey interactions.  The branch in Los Angeles works with the fey in Hollywood.  The project is staffed by people who all have mental health issues.  During her probationary period she just needs to live in a group house and find one missing fey.  How hard can that be?


This is a fairly standard urban fantasy plot with a missing person that leads to a larger problem.  It is the characters in the Arcadia Project that make it stand out.  How many books have a disabled, mentally ill, bisexual main character who gets to be the hero?

Millie’s mental illness and her new life as a double amputee are huge factors in this book.  Her mobility challenges are taken into account whenever she needs to go out.  Even seemingly simple decisions like whether or not to take a shower have to be carefully considered.  If she gets her legs wet then she can’t use the prostheses for several hours.  If she needs to run she needs to get the hydraulics in her knee on the right setting and sometimes she messes that up.  Even small things like should she take her wheelchair up to her second floor room (no elevator) or leave it downstairs in the living room where it will be in everyone’s way are considered.  Trying to get to the house was hard by herself with a wheelchair, a cane, and all her bags.

Mental illness is a large part of this story.  Millie feels like she hasn’t made any progress in therapy.  Once she is out on her own though we see that she has learned how to help herself.  She uses several different techniques that she was taught to help her deal with rage and insecurity.  She isn’t perfect though.  She still lashes out at people.  She also clings to anyone who shows her kindness and feels incredibly insecure if she feels like they are pulling away.

Millie’s boss, Caryl, has been through extensive emotional trauma.  She is a wizard and she is coping by splitting her rational and emotional mind.  She keeps her emotional mind in an invisible dragon construct so she can be entirely rational while she is working.  This is working for her but Millie comes to see that it isn’t healthy in the long term.

The author has spoken about being mentally ill.  These are from her AMA on Reddit.

“I didn’t expect Borderline to get published. Honestly. It was the story I wrote because I needed to write a novel or I’d explode, and it was the only novel I could write at that point in my life. So I wrote it, and when it was finished I did what I did with the first four novels I’d written, and shopped it around. I was shocked when my first choice of agent offered to represent it. Slightly less shocked when he landed it with a big publisher (because that’s why he was my first choice agent). Extremely shocked when it got starred reviews, and the Nebula nomination just about broke my brain.

This is not false modesty. I actually spent a week in a psychiatric hospital for suicidal ideation in 2013, and a huge part of it was that I was 38 and had pretty much decided that I’d failed as a writer and was never going to make it, that I’d wasted my life. BORDERLINE was already out there. My agent was already reading it. That’s how little faith I had in it.”

“I was in a psych ward on October 1, 2013 because I thought my life was over.

I heard back from my agent with an offer of representation twenty-nine days later.

In a sense, the entire Arcadia Project series has become ABOUT this. About how we inevitably pick the stupidest, stupidest times to think our lives are “over.” What might we live on to do and accomplish if we give ourselves a second chance?”

 

I’ve already requested the sequel from the library.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes.

About Mishell Baker

When Mishell isn’t convention-hopping or going on wild research adventures, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two changelings.  When her offspring are older, she will probably remember what her hobbies are.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
05 Apr, 2017

People of the Songtrail

/ posted in: Reading People of the Songtrail People of the Songtrail by W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear
on May 26th 2015
Pages: 352
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Published by Tor Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

On the shores of what is now northeastern Canada, a small group of intrepid settlers have landed, seeking freedom to worship and prosper far from the religious strife and political upheaval that plague a war-ridden Europe . . .
500 years before Columbus set sail.
While it has long been known that Viking ships explored the American coast, recent archaeological evidence suggests a far more vast and permanent settlement. It is from this evidence that archaeologists and early American history experts Kathy and Michael Gear weave their extraordinary tale.

Goodreads

I never know quite how to characterize the Gear books.  Historical fiction with magic?  Magical realism?  Historical fantasy?

The authors are archeologists.  They start with the archeological details of pre-Columbian American sites and build adventure stories from there.  This book is set on the east coast of Canada during the time of the Vikings.  A group of boats has sailed together from Greenland but were separated in a storm.  They make landfall up and down the coast.  The different groups have different experiences of contact with the Native Americans.

There have been Viking raids previously.  The Native Americans are rightly hostile to any landing on the shore.  Children have previously been taken as slaves.  These slaves have taught a few Vikings the language so they have translators.  One group talks to the Native Americans.  Another sets off a massacre of a village.

Now one boat with a judge on board tries to convince the Native Americans to trust him to deliver justice to them for the crimes committed against them.  Yeah, I wouldn’t have believed him either.

This isn’t my favorite of their books.  There is so much going on that it is hard to focus on a main plot.  There are political dealings in Scandinavia and England.  There is a Danish witch and a Native American spirit worker getting together to fight the bad guys.  There is fighting among the Vikings.

I think I would have liked this one more with a little more historical detail and less magic.  Those aren’t words that I say very often.  I was interested in how these groups of people interacted.  With all the magic flying around I knew that it didn’t go like that in real life.  No one was resurrecting people by riding into the afterlife on eight legged horses.

Read this one if you are in the mood for a historical fantasy that compares and contrasts Native American and Scandinavian spirituality and mythology. Look elsewhere if you want to know what really happened.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
28 Mar, 2017

Life’s That Way

/ posted in: EntertainmentReading Life’s That Way Life's That Way: A Memoir by Jim Beaver
on April 16, 2009
Pages: 303
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: California

In August 2003, Jim Beaver, a character actor, and his wife Cecily learned what they thought was the worst news possible- their daughter Maddie was autistic. Then six weeks later the roof fell in-Cecily was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer.

Jim immediately began writing a nightly e-mail as a way to keep more than one hundred family and friends up to date about Cecily's condition. Soon four thousand people a day, from all around the world, were receiving them. Initially a cathartic exercise for Jim, the prose turned into an unforgettable journey for his readers.

Goodreads

I came to this book in a roundabout way.  In Lauren Graham’s memoir she talks about a friend of hers writing a book.  I looked that book up on goodreads.  I scrolled down to the comments to see if anyone else liked it.  One of the first comments mentioned that he was also friends with the author.  I looked over at the icon and saw Jim Beaver’s picture.

jimbeaver

My first thought was, “Bobby Fisher wrote a book?”  I know that he is not the character that he played on Supernatural but the idea was intriguing. I wanted to read it.

Towards the end of 2003, Beaver and his wife Cecily Adams’s 2 year old daughter Maddie had stopped talking and was having melt downs.  She was diagnosed as autistic.  They were also in the process of building their dream house.  They had moved out of their current house and into a rental until their house was finished.  His father was slowly slipping into advanced dementia.  Then Cecily was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

A few days after the diagnosis, he sat down and wrote a group email to family and friends explaining what was going on with Cecily.  He started writing nightly updates to the group.  People started forwarding his emails to other people who didn’t even know him.  I didn’t understand why until I read the book.

The book is a sampling of the emails.  They don’t cover every day of the time he wrote from the day of her diagnosis until 1 year later.  The emails themselves haven’t been edited though.  This is a day by day account of what it is like to watch your spouse die of cancer and what grieving looks like in real time.

That may sound incredibly depressing to read but it isn’t.  It is sad but not depressing.  He notes the many kindnesses that their friends showed them.  He especially talks about the people involved with That 70s Show, where Cecily was working as a casting director.  They came over and decorated the house for Christmas for them.  One woman who Cecily just knew hated her cleaned their house for them.  He talks about what was helpful and what wasn’t.  This is a great book for anyone who ever wanted to help someone but didn’t know what to do.

He’s an amazing writer.  He was incredibly open about what he was feeling each day.  He talks about his fears – of losing his wife, of having to go away to jobs to earn money while his wife was sick, of dealing with a child who was already in crisis.  He talks of the joys along the way.  He talks about grief hitting you unaware just when you thought you were starting to function again.  He remembers his life with his wife –both the good and the bad.

This is a hopeful book about what you can endure if you have to even if you don’t want to.  It helps to have a great support structure of friends and family around you like he did.  I kept thinking that he must be a great guy to have friends like these.

About Jim Beaver

im Beaver is an actor, playwright, and film historian. Best known as Ellsworth on HBO’s Emmy-award winning series Deadwood and as Bobby Singer on Supernatural, he has also starred in such series as Harper’s Island, John from Cincinnati, and Thunder Alley and appeared in nearly forty motion pictures. He lives with his daughter Madeline in Los Angeles.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
27 Mar, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

/ posted in: Reading Hillbilly Elegy Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
on June 28th 2016
Pages: 272
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Harper
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Ohio

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version.
At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country.

Goodreads

Wow.  I read this book in one sitting.  I spent the whole time nodding my head.  I got out of bed to start writing this to make of the thoughts flying around my brain.  Before reading the book I had heard that it was controversial.  After reading it I have no idea why.

This is the story of most of the people I know.

I’ve often summed up my husband and I like this:

  • My husband is what happens when you educate a hillbilly.
  • I’m what happens when two educated hillbillies breed.

In my life I’ve lived in Western Pennsylvania, East Tennessee, Central Ohio, and Northeast Ohio.  I don’t wander far from Appalachia.  Most white people I know have roots somewhere deeper in Appalachia.  I had never considered that the reason for this was a migration north of people from coal mining country to the industrial centers farther north in the 40s and 50s even though that fits part of my family history.

“It was not simply that the Appalachian migrants, as rural strangers ‘out of place’ in the city, were upsetting to Midwestern, urban whites.  Rather, these migrants disrupted a broad set of assumptions held by northern whites about how white people appeared, spoke, and behaved…the disturbing aspect of hillbillies was their racialness.  Ostensibly, there were of the same racial order (whites) as those who dominated economic, political, and social power in local and national arenas.  But hillbillies shared many regional characteristics with the southern blacks arriving in Detroit.”

 

One of the author’s central points is that one of the major problems facing people in these areas is a lack of imagination.  I may be an overly educated person but all my coworkers are not.  Most are high school graduates who never imagined going on to do any college or ever leaving their hometowns.  If no one you know ever leaves, how can someone even imagine that it is an option?  There needs to be people to model what healthy relationships look like or what steps you take to go to college in order for someone to aspire to that.  The author talks a lot about the very small worldview people have.  I keep threatening to buy a world map and teach geography lessons to my coworkers between appointments at work because not only can they not identify some cities as belonging in certain states, they can’t identify certain names as belonging to real states.  They’ve never been there so why would they care?  They just shrug.

“It’s not like parents and teachers never mention hard work.  Nor do they walk around loudly proclaiming that they expect their children to turn out poorly.  These attitudes lurk below the surface, less in what people say than in how they act.  One of our neighbors was a lifetime welfare recipient, but in between asking my grandmother to borrow her car or offering to trade food stamps for cash at a premium, she’d blather on about the importance of industriousness.  ‘So many people abuse the system, it’s impossible for the hardworking people to get the help they need,’ she’d say.  This was the construct she’d built in her head:  Most of the beneficiaries of the system were extravagant moochers, but she–despite never having worked a day in her life–was an obvious exception.”

 

Oh yes.  I love that one.  I know people who have used every government program out there who expound at length about immigrants coming here and getting benefits that “hard working” Americans don’t get.  I also found the discussion in the book about how people overestimate how many hours they work because they think they are more industrious than they are fascinating.  If they are working so hard (in their minds) and aren’t getting ahead, obviously someone is out to get them.  I think this is a big part of the reason why I hate the terms ‘working class’ and ‘working man’.  It is like the rest of us magically make a living by waving our hands and the money rains down from on high.

The author’s story is rough. His mother was a drug addict with a never ending stream of boyfriends.  He found stability in his Memaw.  That wasn’t a given because she was an incredibly unstable person who didn’t model healthy living to her daughter.  She got herself together in her later years and was able to help her grandson.

I understood his story completely.  Everything that happens to him has happened to someone I know.  It hasn’t all happened to the same person but there was nothing in his story that I haven’t heard at least once from someone in casual conversation.  I kept pointing out parallels to my husband’s life to him.  There is a passage at the end where he talks about his non-hillbilly wife being shocked that he had several bank accounts spread out in different banks.  He attributes that to a childhood habit of spreading out his money in several hiding places so no one in his house could steal it all at once.  I just handed the book over to the husband at that point.  One of the ‘in case of death’ paperwork things I keep meaning to do is to get him to write down all the banks he has accounts in.  I’m not talking multiple accounts in a few local banks.  I’m talking about small accounts in multiple states that he can’t bring himself to close.

Some of the major criticisms of this book is the idea that the author hates poor people.  They accuse him of saying that he worked hard and got out so everyone should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and do it too.  I feel like this a lot too.  I look at people and think, “You have all the opportunities in the world available to you.  You have people who are begging to help you and you just don’t care.”  Maybe that isn’t the case in other poor communities but it is true here.  Kids graduate having never given a thought to what they want to do with their lives.  It isn’t because no one ever asked.  It is just pessimism and lethargy.  I don’t know how else to explain it.  They are smart and capable of doing more than scraping to survive in dead end jobs but it never seems to occur to them that there is more possible in life.

You see this dynamic in the author’s life.  He acknowledges that he had good schools with caring teachers who couldn’t help him learn because he was too preoccupied with the chaos of his home life.  His high school was poorly rated but he considered that to be at least partially due to a lack of student caring.  He talks about good teachers there too.  He talks about the programs that are available to help kids go to school but the pessimism of people may make them assume that there is no help available so they don’t look for them.  The insularity of the group means that no one talks about family problems (until they are over) so people aren’t getting help.  People are suspicious of outsiders so they don’t believe anything an outsider tells them.  Change and hope need to come from inside the community.   

It seems like a lot of people wanted this book to explain Trump voters to them.  It has been touted as the book to read to understand “those people.”  They are criticizing it for not explaining them.  It doesn’t try to.  This is his story.  It doesn’t have a political bent to it.  It was written before the current election.  People need to stop projecting what they want this book to be and see it for what it is.

 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
22 Mar, 2017

Writings on the Wall

/ posted in: Reading Writings on the Wall Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Raymond Obstfeld
on August 23rd 2016
Pages: 256
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Time
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Since retiring from professional basketball as the NBA's all-time leading scorer, six-time MVP, and Hall of Fame inductee, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has become a lauded observer of culture and society, a New York Times bestselling author, and a regular contributor to The Washington Post, TIME magazine and TIME.com.
He now brings that keen insight to the fore in Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White, his most incisive and important work of non-fiction in years. He uses his unique blend of erudition, street smarts and authentic experience in essays on the country's seemingly irreconcilable partisan divide - both racial and political, parenthood, and his own experiences as an athlete, African-American, and a Muslim. The book is not just a collection of expositions; he also offers keen assessments of and solutions to problems such as racism in sports while speaking candidly about his experiences on the court and off.

Goodreads

This is the first book by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that I have read.  I didn’t even know that he was an author until last year at BEA when he was there.  I didn’t try to get a ticket to his signing but I was working my way through a crowd at one point and ended up standing right beside him.  The crowd was actually his line.  I now know that I’m the same height as Kareem when he is sitting in a chair.

“One thing all that history has taught me is the dangers of the uninformed, quickly formed and ill-informed opinion.  Passionate defense of bad logic is the main cause of most of the world’s misery.”

 

That is the main theme of this book.  Don’t be lazy.  Learn about issues.  Look at all the sides before coming to a conclusion.  Be willing to change your mind as you learn more.

Politics

“When I was a child, I remember adults complaining that voting often came down to selecting the lesser of two evils.  I still hear that today.  But while it feels cathartic to blame elected officials and demonize them for their many failings, the sad truth is that we voters are the real villains in this story.  Our profound laziness and unyielding arrogance as voters have allowed our system to become polluted by hucksters, egomaniacs, dimwits and mack-daddy pimps willing to rent out their stable of votes.”

I started out wanting to underline everything in this book.  Kareem has a strong point of view on many issues.  He explains them well, often using pop culture references to get his point across.  I think the broad scope of the book wore me down by the end.  It started to feel like, “And another thing I’m mad about is…”  I think this book would be better read by dipping in and out of chapters over a longer period of time instead of reading it straight through in order to get it back to the library.  That being said, I think this is a book that is very worth reading.  He ties in his own life experience as a person who has lived most of his life in the public eye, including during his conversion to Islam.  I will look into some of his other books also after reading this one.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
15 Mar, 2017

Why I Left, Why I Stayed

/ posted in: General Why I Left, Why I Stayed Why I Left, Why I Stayed: Conversations on Christianity Between an Evangelical Father and His Humanist Son by Tony Campolo, Bart Campolo
on February 21st 2017
Pages: 176
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by HarperOne
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Bestselling Christian author, activist, and scholar Tony Campolo and his son Bart, an avowed Humanist, debate their spiritual differences and explore similarities involving faith, belief, and hope that they share.
Over a Thanksgiving dinner, fifty-year-old Bart Campolo announced to his Evangelical pastor father, Tony Campolo, that after a lifetime immersed in the Christian faith, he no longer believed in God. The revelation shook the Campolo family dynamic and forced father and son to each reconsider his own personal journey of faith—dual spiritual investigations into theology, faith, and Humanism that eventually led Bart and Tony back to one another.

Goodreads

The last time I read a book by Tony Campolo I ended up in a police manhunt so I was a little concerned about picking up this one.  I had heard about Bart Campolo leaving Christianity and working as a Humanist chaplain.  It was big news in the Christian community.  Either it was seen as proof that you can escape your upbringing or it was seen as proof that the Campolos had always been too liberal anyway so obviously they are going to go astray.

This book comes from the discussions that they had after Bart came out as not believing in God.  The book is written in alternating chapters with each man expressing their point of view on a particular topic.

The first thing that surprised me was a preface chapter written by Peggy Campolo, Tony’s wife and Bart’s mom.  She talks about how she didn’t identify with Christianity during the early years of the Tony’s ministry while her kids were growing up.  She has since become a believer and seems to feel a lot of guilt.  She thinks that if she was a Christian while Bart was growing up then he wouldn’t have left as an adult.  This is typical of the baggage that gets put on parents if the children leave a religion.

I was frustrated while reading Tony’s chapters.  Because Bart has now lived on both sides of the debate, he is able to discuss options openly.  Tony freely states that he has never known a life where he wasn’t certain of the presence of God in his life.  It is obvious that he sees Bart as a wandering child who he hopes gets back to the right path.  In the meantime he not really listening to what he has to say.  He just seems to be patting him on the head as he speaks and then saying, “Oh, you don’t mean that.”

“For the Christian parents of positive secular humanists like Bart, however, I have some advice:  Take every opportunity to affirm and encourage your children whenever they say or do something that reflects your Kingdom values, and let them know that you see a direct connection between their behavior and the love of God, even if they don’t.  Doing so demonstrates that you notice and appreciate your kids’ goodness while maintaining your own understanding of its ultimate source, and also opens up opportunities for you to talk about what gets lost when God drops out of the picture.”

 

Obviously he is still hung up on the idea that you can’t be a good person if you don’t have a God dictating what is right and what is wrong.  Bart does a good job discussing why this isn’t true.  Too bad his father wasn’t listening.

Tony also talks a lot about guilt.  He doesn’t understand how people without God handle all their guilt.  He says he lies awake at night feeling guilty about all the harm he does until he is able to let God take the guilt away from him.  I don’t think most people have those kinds of guilty feelings.  Has he ever considered that maybe the guilt comes from following a religion that teaches that you are a horrible person?

The idea behind this book was to help families have conversations about some members leaving Christianity.  I don’t think this book fosters productive conversation because it felt to me like the humanist was explaining over and over and the Christian was just waiting for him to see things the “right” way again.  This might be better for people who need to talk to Christians.  Bart gives answers to a lot of the questions that he’s been asked.  It could help to have some well thought out answers on hand for the common questions.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
02 Mar, 2017

My Favorite Magical Land

/ posted in: Reading My Favorite Magical Land Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn
on November 1st 2016
Pages: 400
Series: Elemental Blessings #4
Genres: Fantasy
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Leah Frothen has returned home. But she can scarcely catch her breath before she is summoned by regent Darien Serlast, the man who made her a spy. Leah is reluctant to take on a new assignment, but Darien has dangled the perfect lure to draw her in…
Leah finds she enjoys the challenges of opening a shop catering to foreign visitors, especially since it affords her the opportunity to get to know Mally, the child she abandoned five years ago.
But when the regent asks her to spy on ambassadors from a visiting nation, Leah soon learns that everyone—her regent, her lover, and even her daughter—have secrets that could save the nation, but might very well break her heart.

Goodreads

Years ago Leah left Welce under mysterious circumstances.  She fled to a neighboring country where she was recruited to spy for Welce.  In this series we first meet her in book three.  Now, because of the events in that book she is going home, but she isn’t able to escape spying as easily as she thought.

Each of the countries in this world have specific religions and magical systems.  I love the Welce system.  It is based on elemental affiliation.  If I had to pick one magical land from any book I’ve ever read to live in, it would be Welce.  It is fairly calm and peaceful and I love the magical system.

The Karkans are on a diplomatic mission to try to find an ally in Welce.  They have a very strict system of morality.  They believe that they need to atone for any wrongdoing.  However, they believe that if they atone properly and even in advance, there are no consequences to any behavior.  This leads to huge acts of charity that they feel allows them to do anything evil they want.  The ruler of Welce thinks that they are up to no good when huge anonymous donations start to show up in temples.  Leah is in charge of finding out what they are doing to do.

If you are interested in the series don’t start with this book.  This is a series that you should read in order from the beginning in order to properly understand the world and all the people in it.

If you could pick any magical place to live, where would it be?

About Sharon Shinn

“I mostly write my fiction in the evenings and on weekends. It requires a pretty obsessive-compulsive personality to be as prolific as I’ve been in the past ten years and hold down a full-time job. But I do manage to tear myself away from the computer now and then to do something fun. I read as often as I can, across all genres, though I’m most often holding a book that’s fantasy or romance, with the occasional western thrown in.” from her website

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