Amoxil online here. Free delivery. Best price.
02 May, 2017

Colour Bar

/ posted in: Reading Colour Bar Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation by Susan Williams
on 2007
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads

London, 1947. He was the heir to an African kingdom. She was a white English insurance clerk. When they met and fell in love, it would change the world.
This is the inspiring true story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, whose marriage sent shockwaves through the establishment, defied an empire - and, finally, triumphed over the prejudices of their age.


I had never heard of Seretse and Ruth Khama until I saw an advertisement for the movie adaptation of Colour Bar.  It was only playing for one night here and I wasn’t able to go.  The story sounded interesting so as soon as I realized that it was based on a book, I got it from interlibrary loan.

Seretse Khama became the kgosi (chief) of his tribe at the age of four.  His uncle was installed as his regent.  They lived in Bechuanaland which is present day Botswana.  At the time this was under the control of England.  His uncle made sure that he was well educated by sending him to schools in South Africa and then sending him for a law degree in England.  There he fell in love with Ruth Williams, a white woman.

When he announced their intention to marry in 1949, opposition came from all sides.  They married anyway.  Eventually, he was able to convince his tribe that this marriage was acceptable.  He was not able to convince white people though.

The main objection came from South Africa.  They were in the process of codifying apartheid law.  They did not want the leader of a country on their border to be in an interracial marriage.  Since this was an hereditary position, the next leader would be mixed race.  If Bechuanaland was successful, it would make of mockery of the South African laws.  South Africa was an important part of the British Empire.  They fought to make sure that Seretse Khama was unable to lead his people.

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.35.30 AM

What followed was years of exile from Africa and abuse at the hands of British officials. This book is exhaustively researched. It quotes from many, many letters and official documents to let the English racism speak for itself. It is brutal. There is also a lot of discussion about what type of woman Ruth must be to be willing to marry a black man.

This book was fascinating but it is a slow read. It is very dense with details of meetings. It focuses on the political aspects of the story, not the human ones. You don’t get much of a sense of Seretse and Ruth’s personalities except for in a few of their reactions to what is being said. It doesn’t delve much into what is going on in their minds or the true stresses on their relationship while all this is going on.

I wasn’t surprised by the racism that they encountered but there times when I had to take a minute to digest the absolute depth of the hatred and ignorance in the writings and public statements of British officials. They were so willing to appease the hatred of whites living in southern Africa that they would go to ridiculous lengths. There was always a problem of getting the Khamas to and from Bechuanaland from England. They had to land in Rhodesia which was strictly segregated. You’d think they were negotiating a nuclear treaty the way they had to deal to allow planes to land with them onboard or to let Ruth and the children stay in a hotel overnight. (They basically had to promise that the children would not be seen so they didn’t offend delicate white sensibilities.)

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Africa
11 Apr, 2017

Epic Measures

/ posted in: Reading Epic Measures Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients. by Jeremy N. Smith
Published by Harper Wave on April 7th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads

Moneyball meets medicine in this remarkable chronicle of one of the greatest scientific quests of our time—the groundbreaking program to answer the most essential question for humanity: how do we live and die?—and the visionary mastermind behind it.
Medical doctor and economist Christopher Murray began the Global Burden of Disease studies to gain a truer understanding of how we live and how we die. While it is one of the largest scientific projects ever attempted—as breathtaking as the first moon landing or the Human Genome Project—the questions it answers are meaningful for every one of us: What are the world’s health problems? Who do they hurt? How much? Where? Why?
Murray argues that the ideal existence isn’t simply the longest but the one lived well and with the least illness. Until we can accurately measure how people live and die, we cannot understand what makes us sick or do much to improve it. Challenging the accepted wisdom of the WHO and the UN, the charismatic and controversial health maverick has made enemies—and some influential friends, including Bill Gates who gave Murray a $100 million grant.
In Epic Measures, journalist Jeremy N. Smith offers an intimate look at Murray and his groundbreaking work. From ranking countries’ healthcare systems (the U.S. is 37th) to unearthing the shocking reality that world governments are funding developing countries at only 30% of the potential maximum efficiency when it comes to health, Epic Measures introduces a visionary leader whose unwavering determination to improve global health standards has already changed the way the world addresses issues of health and wellness, sets policy, and distributes funding.


Christopher Murray is originally from New Zealand but he grew up around the world.  His parents ran a clinic in west Africa for a year.  The clinic was so understaffed when they got there that Chris and his older siblings had to do a lot of the care.  During their time there the family noticed that malnourished people who were fed got sick from malaria.  They found out that the virus requires iron to thrive.  When people are starving they don’t have the iron stores for their bodies to support the virus.  When they are refed, they are again good hosts for the disease.  The family published their findings in Lancet.  This led to Chris’ lifelong interest in scientific research – especially research into whether or not conventional wisdom is correct.

At the World Health Organization, he found that a lot of the health data used to make policy decisions was based on numbers that were made up.  He worked with another researcher to develop a formula that figured out the true cost of disease in each country.  He also took into consideration not just the deaths from that disease but the damage done from a disease causing less than optimal health in the population.  I also appreciated his focus on adult health statistics and not just childhood disease.

Using this data lets countries and NGOs decide where the most effective places to put their money are.  Does it help more people to treat malaria or diarrhea?  If you can only vaccinate for one is it better to give polio vaccine or measles?  Measles kills more people but if you survive it you are fine.  Polio doesn’t kill as many people but survivors have more disability.  These are the kinds of questions that they try to answer.

I found the subject matter interesting but the book got bogged down in a lot of interdepartmental politics in the middle.  It picks up again at the end with ideas for living a better life based on the findings of the Global Burden of Disease study.  If you are interested in the real life applications of science and mathematics, this is a great book for you.

Tuesday, March 28th: Lit and Life
Thursday, March 30th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, April 4th: Sapphire Ng
Wednesday, April 5th: Readaholic Zone
Thursday, April 6th: Man of La Book
Monday, April 10th: Doing Dewey
Tuesday, April 11th: Based on a True Story
Wednesday, April 12th: Kissin Blue Karen
Friday, April 14th: Read Till Dawn
Friday, April 14th: Jathan & Heather

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
24 Feb, 2017

The Magnolia Story

/ posted in: Reading The Magnolia Story The Magnolia Story Published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing on October 18th 2016
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Texas

Are you ready to see your fixer upper?
These famous words are now synonymous with the dynamic husband-and-wife team Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s Fixer Upper.

The Magnolia Story is the first book from Chip and Joanna, offering their fans a detailed look at their life together. From the very first renovation project they ever tackled together, to the project that nearly cost them everything; from the childhood memories that shaped them, to the twists and turns that led them to the life they share on the farm today.

 


Chip and Joanna Gaines first met when he stopped by her father’s tire store.  Then he was 45 minutes late for their first date with no explanation.  He didn’t have a plan for what to do either.  This should have made her lose interest in him but he talked to her about his plans for buying and renovating small houses.  She was intrigued.

I’ve always been interested in that too.  In fact we are working on that ourselves now too.  But there is one huge difference.  As Chip got more and more houses and started eyeing bigger projects, he started taking on large amounts of debt.  As an advocate of trying to be debt-free, that made me cringe.  It seemed like he had either no idea of the financial risks that he was taking or he just didn’t care.  He talks at one point about Joanna thinking they were broke when they had $1000.  He didn’t think they were broke until there was no money left at all.  Seriously, this would stressful to read if you didn’t know the ending.  I feel like the message here could be interpreted as, “Go wild.  Go crazy in debt.  It’ll be ok.  Someone will come along and fix it for you like magic.”

Don’t do that.

Sure, they bumped along for a while in small houses that they would fix up and then rent out.  They did a lot of work to build up their various businesses.  But a lot of the original capital came from family money and they got bailed out by rich friends after they messed up their credit.  So while I think that this is supposed to read like a rags to riches tale of entrepreneurship, there is always the reminder that there were fairly well off parents in the background who weren’t going to let them crash and burn completely.

I did enjoy the story of their multi-day audition for HGTV that was horrible until they got into a fight over Chip buying a houseboat that didn’t float.

This was a quick read that gives you a glimpse of the back story of a popular TV show.  It fleshes out the people involved a little more.  I think that Chip comes across as more self-centered and irresponsible than he does on TV.  He makes a lot of reckless decisions without consulting his wife that he then expects her to deal with.  She goes along eventually and makes it sound like it is all fine with her but there is a bit of a brittle edge to her story telling sometimes.  I just want to ask her, “Girl, you have an emergency fund in your name only for you and all those babies, right?  Because this man is going to do something catastrophic sometime.”

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
06 Feb, 2017

Beneath The Surface

/ posted in: Enviromentalist Wacko PostsReading Beneath The Surface Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove, Howard Chua-Eoan
Published by St. Martin's Press on March 24th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Science
Pages: 264
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: United States

Over the course of two decades, John Hargrove worked with 20 different whales on two continents and at two of SeaWorld's U.S. facilities. For Hargrove, becoming an orca trainer fulfilled a childhood dream. However, as his experience with the whales deepened, Hargrove came to doubt that their needs could ever be met in captivity. When two fellow trainers were killed by orcas in marine parks, Hargrove decided that SeaWorld's wildly popular programs were both detrimental to the whales and ultimately unsafe for trainers.
After leaving SeaWorld, Hargrove became one of the stars of the controversial documentary Blackfish. The outcry over the treatment of SeaWorld's orca has now expanded beyond the outlines sketched by the award-winning documentary, with Hargrove contributing his expertise to an advocacy movement that is convincing both federal and state governments to act.

As I listened to this book written by a former orca trainer at Sea World, the analogy that kept coming to mind was alien abduction.  Humans have taken orcas out of their natural environment by force.  They are made to live in cells with others of their species with whom they do not share a language.  Several died before the exact requirements for keeping them were figured out.  Humans control when they eat, when they play, and when they are bred.  Humans separate them from their offspring even though we know orcas have complex matriarchal families.

This is a fitting analogy because eventually the author discusses it too.  Seen in this light, it is impossible to justify the practice of using whales and dolphins for entertainment.

The author started as a true believer in Sea World.  From the age of 6 he dedicated his life to becoming an orca trainer.  He loved the whales.  He believed that some of the whales cared for him too.  But he came to realize that no matter how close the relationship between whale and trainer was, at the end of the day he was still their prison guard.  It is only natural that an intelligent creature kept under these conditions will try to fight back.

The book opens with the detailed account of his attack by a whale.  He is clear that the whale chose to let him live.  His break with Sea World came after the 2009 and 2010 deaths of trainers.  In each instance Sea World’s public statements blamed the trainers for making mistakes.  After studying the incidents it was clear to him that they did not and that Sea World was lying to hide the fact that this aggression was a result of psychological stress to the whales.

He discusses many types of aggression and health problems that result from captivity.  One telling story concerns the baby whales.  They swim nonstop for several months after birth.  This is because in the wild orcas never stop moving.  They have to learn to stop and float still in the tiny Sea World pools.

Since the animals are not able to released, he discusses options for how to care for the current whales in a more humane way.

Even if you’ve seen Blackfish, I’d recommend this book to get a better idea about the lives of the whales from someone who has lived on both sides of the issue.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
02 Feb, 2017

Black Titan – The Story of A.G. Gaston

/ posted in: Reading Black Titan – The Story of A.G. Gaston Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins, Elizabeth Gardner Hines
on December 2003
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction
Pages: 330
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Alabama

The grandson of slaves, born into poverty in 1892 in the Deep South, A. G. Gaston died more than a century later with a fortune worth well over $130 million and a business empire spanning communications, real estate, and insurance. Gaston was, by any measure, a heroic figure whose wealth and influence bore comparison to J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Here, for the first time, is the story of the life of this extraordinary pioneer, told by his niece and grandniece, the award-winning television journalist Carol Jenkins and her daughter Elizabeth Gardner Hines.


I had never heard of A.G. Gaston before this book showed up on Book Bub last year.  I’m glad I found out about him.  He had a remarkable life.

A.G. Gaston’s grandparents were slaves.  His grandfather worked with horses and his grandmother was an accomplished cook.  These were considered “privileged” positions.  When slavery ended they stayed on working for the family that previously owned them.  His grandmother taught his mother to cook and she also earned a living working for wealthy white families as a live-in cook and as a sought after caterer.  This put A.G. in contact with wealth at a young age.

When he was young there were two broad schools of thought about black advancement.  Booker T. Washington believed that black people should stay where they were and work hard to advance economically before looking for social equality.  W.E.B. DuBois believed in fighting for social equality and letting the “talented tenth” of black elites raise up the rest of the community.  A.G. Gaston spent his life firmly in Booker T. Washington’s camp.

After serving in WWI, he returned to Alabama and couldn’t find a good job.  He had to take work in the mines.  He saw widows begging for money to pay for their miner husbands’ funerals.  He started a burial insurance business.  From there he bought funeral homes.  Eventually he started a bank for black people and a business training school.

He was in his seventies and wealthy when the civil rights movement game to Birmingham.  He owned the only black hotel so Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference set up shop there.  I got the impression that he thought they were young radical whippersnappers.  He argued for moderation.  He wanted to negotiate instead of marching.  But, he was the person that repeatedly bailed them out of jail – whether they wanted bailed out or not.  He also argued vehemently against involving children in the marches and then secured the bond for the release of all the children jailed.  People spoke of him as being too deferential to the white businessmen, especially if they didn’t know that he was bankrolling a lot of the protests.

His hotel was bombed.   His house was bombed.  (He said he couldn’t be sure if it was white or black people who wanted to bomb his house.)  Bombs were set at other of his properties but were found before they went off.  He let the marchers on the way to Selma camp on one of farms one night.  He was even kidnapped.

After the protests moved away from Birmingham, he stayed and continued to serve the community.  He was a philanthropist.  Eventually he sold his business empire to his employees for a tenth of its worth to maintain local black control.

A.G. Gaston died at the age of 103.  His story is amazing.  He should definitely be better known.
Image-1.jpg

Image-2.jpg

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • POC authors
23 Dec, 2016

Hidden Figures

/ posted in: Reading Hidden Figures Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on December 6th 2016
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction
Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads

“Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.
Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
Drawing on the oral histories of scores of these “computers,” personal recollections, interviews with NASA executives and engineers, archival documents, correspondence, and reporting from the era, Hidden Figures recalls America’s greatest adventure and NASA’s groundbreaking successes through the experiences of five spunky, courageous, intelligent, determined, and patriotic women: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine.
Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of scientific achievement and technological innovation with the intimate stories of five women whose work forever changed the world—and whose lives show how out of one of America’s most painful histories came one of its proudest moments.”


In the 1940s airplanes were being studied in Virginia. Wind tunnels were built to evaluate minute changes in plane design in an effort to help win WWII. Large amounts of data were being collected. In order to process the numbers female mathematicians called computers where hired do crunch the numbers. Because Virginia was a segregated state, the women were kept in two areas. The East Computers were white and the West Computers were black.

A job as a computer was a step up for women with advanced degrees whose only hope for a job before this was teaching. This book covers the years from World War II to the beginning of the space age when Langley’s operations moved to Houston.

The author’s father had worked at Langley. The author grew up knowing several of the women but did not realize what they had done for space research. Most of the women were uncredited although several managed to get papers published over the years.

Eventually, women were absorbed into the labs that they had been supporting and the East and West Computer sections shut down. As machines became able to calculate faster than they could, they had to adapt to survive. Some moved more into research. Others became computer programmers to teach the machines the jobs that they previously did.

Among the women’s contributions were:

  • Calculating the time and location for a rocket to take off in order to have the capsule splash down near the Navy ships waiting to rescue the astronaut.
  • Calculating all the variables involved in getting the lunar landing module off the moon and able to meet up with the orbiting ship for the return to Earth.
  • Imagining the need for and then designing response scenarios for a systems malfunction like what happened on Apollo 13.

The scientific achievements of the black women profiled in this book were set against the backdrop of segregation and discrimination that they faced when they weren’t at work.  A good companion book to this would be Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County about the shut down of all schools by a county that did not want to integrate them. Many of these very educated women were from this area and/or had families affected by the shut down of the schools.

I enjoyed this book.  I’m looking forward to seeing the movie also even though it appears that it will be focusing mostly on the John Glenn orbital flight.  Read the book to find out the whole story.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins
| Amazon
| Barnes & Noble

tlc_logo

 

About Margot Lee Shetterly

margot-lee-shetterly-ap-photo-by-aran-shetterly Margot Lee Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where she knew many of the
women in Hidden Figures. She is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and the
recipient of a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grant for her research on
women in computing. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Find out more about Margot at her website and connect with her on Twitter.

08 Jul, 2016

Black Man in a White Coat

/ posted in: Reading Black Man in a White Coat Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy
Published by Picador on September 8th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Medical, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 294
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Set in North Carolina

When Damon Tweedy begins medical school,he envisions a bright future where his segregated, working-class background will become largely irrelevant. Instead, he finds that he has joined a new world where race is front and center.

Black Man in a White Coat examines the complex ways in which both black doctors and patients must navigate the difficult and often contradictory terrain of race and medicine. As Tweedy transforms from student to practicing physician, he discovers how often race influences his encounters with patients. Through their stories, he illustrates the complex social, cultural, and economic factors at the root of many health problems in the black community.


Damon Tweedy was offered a full scholarship to medical school at Duke University in North Carolina in the 1990s.  That was a deal too good to pass up even though it was well known that Duke had a history of being extremely racist.  Early in his time at Duke a professor mistakes him for a maintenance man and when he says that he isn’t there to fix the lights the professor can’t figure out any other reason why he should be in the classroom.  This spurs him to work even harder to prove that he belongs there.

He is frustrated because over and over in lectures he hears that diseases are more common in blacks than whites.  He worries that frustrating interactions with black patients will turn his white coworkers against black people.

He tells stories about what it is like to be both a black doctor and a black patient.

He talks about volunteer work at a clinic for the uninsured and whether or not the Affordable Care Act could help these people.  He had always assumed that people were uninsured because they didn’t work before helping at this clinic.  That’s a pet peeve of mine.  I’ve had this argument with my middle to upper middle class family members who were against universal healthcare and who have always had jobs that offered insurance.  I’m a veterinarian.  Until July 1 of this year when my practice was bought by a large corporation, I’ve never had a job that offered health insurance.  At least I could afford to buy it when I wasn’t married.  Most of my coworkers who make just above minimum wage didn’t have any health insurance.  Most of them still aren’t opting to get the available insurance now because it is very expensive with huge deductables.  /rant

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

He talks about how he was treated as a black man in sweats and a tshirt with a knee injury and how his treatment changed when he revealed that he was a doctor.

Should doctors be discussing sterilization with a drug addicted woman who just miscarried?

How do you deal with patients who don’t want to have a doctor of a different race than them?

How does poverty and cultural attitudes tie into poor health in the black community?


3flower

Save

16 May, 2016

Code Name Papa

/ posted in: Reading Code Name Papa Code Name: Papa: My Extraordinary Life While Hiding in Plain Sight by John Murray
on September 30th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 326
Format: Paperback
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Who'd have thought a bright, but fairly ordinary young man from middle class America who got just above average grades, dated the same girl throughout high school and went to church most Sundays, would grow up to eventually head a very secretive band of brave individuals--both men and women--who regularly put their lives on the line because they wanted to protect the rest of you. Yet that's what we did, often sacrificing our personal lives (four marriages for me, all in the book) and our health (countless broken bones, major surgeries, even death) to do it.
Meanwhile you're just going to have to call me "Papa" like everyone else around the globe has through most of those wildly unpredictable and dangerous years.


 

John Murray joined the Marines during the Vietnam War after working as a police officer in Florida.  He becomes friends with two men named Jake and Bill.  Over time he finds that Jake’s father is a powerful man who has the power to make things happen for him, including getting him out of the Army.

Eventually, Jake’s father offers them all a job.  He heads a team of people who are the American branch of an international organization who kill people that governments can’t touch for various reasons.  They will be given cover careers but will be out of contact with their families for much of the time and they can tell no one what they actually do.

Not a lot is explained about how it all works.  Jobs are assigned but by whom?  How is this funded?  He says over and over that it isn’t illegal but defined how?  I kept waiting for the plot twist.  You know the one.  In the thriller the main character is working for a shadowy organization and eventually realizes that he is on the side of evil.  Spoiler alert – it doesn’t happen here.

Some of the locations discussed in Code Name Papa

The stories of the jobs are told in a very matter of fact style.  There is not much emotion expressed about the many people who died in these jobs except for when it was decided to kill innocent people to eliminate witnesses.  The descriptions are brutal but clinical instead of sensationalized.  It is a lot like listening to war veterans discuss battles.

When Jake’s father becomes ill, John takes over the running of the team.  He decides how to recruit and train new members.  He decides how to get jobs accomplished.  He makes decisions like requiring all female team members to have a hysterectomy because periods are inconvenient but the men don’t need to be castrated (because I guess testosterone never leads to anything bad happening?).

I read the book in one day because I found it intriguing but the more you think about it the more disturbing it becomes.  I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone who is bothered by reading about violence.  The husband read this book also.  Like me he was quickly absorbed into the story and read it over the course of a few days.

 

I received a copy of this book from the author for possible review.

three-half-stars
04 May, 2016

The Year of Running Dangerously

/ posted in: Reading The Year of Running Dangerously My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman
on October 6th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Running & Jogging
Pages: 280
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Washington D.C. four-stars

As a journalist whose career spans three decades, CNN correspondent Tom Foreman has reported from the heart of war zones, riots, and natural disasters. He has interviewed serial killers and been in the line of fire. But the most terrifying moment of his life didn't occur on the job--it occurred at home, when his 18-year old daughter asked, "How would you feel about running a marathon with me?" 
At the time, Foreman was approaching 51 years old, and his last marathon was almost 30 years behind him. The race was just sixteen weeks away, but Foreman reluctantly agreed. Training with his daughter, who had just started college, would be a great bonding experience, albeit a long and painful one. 
My Year of Running Dangerously is Foreman's journey through four half-marathons, three marathons, and one 55-mile race. What started as an innocent request from his daughter quickly turned into a rekindled passion for long-distance running--for the training, the camaraderie, the defeats, and the victories. Told with honesty and humor, Foreman's account captures the universal fears of aging and failure alongside the hard-won moments of triumph, tenacity, and going further than you ever thought possible.


Tom Foreman had been a good cross country runner in high school.  He’d been good enough that he could win without training or taking it seriously.  Over the years he had done some running but not seriously.  So when his daughter wanted him to train with her to run a marathon, it was a big commitment for him.

Once that first marathon was done he kept running.  Soon he found himself investigating the world of ultrarunning or running distances longer than 26 miles.  He starts to train for a 50 mile trail race – spending hours a day running in spite of his busy schedule.

I hate running but I love reading books about running. It is weird.

I really don’t like reading books that focus on father-daughter relationships so I hesitated about picking this one up but my interest in the ultrarunning world won out. Besides, this is one of those books about a person doing something new for a year and I just can’t resist those.

I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed that he had a history of being a runner before this started. It wasn’t like running a marathon was a completely foreign idea to him.

This is a good introduction to the weird world of people who run long distance and what it takes to be a part of it.

four-stars
26 Apr, 2016

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sophia?

/ posted in: Reading How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sophia? Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand
on January 13th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Great Britain, History, Nonfiction
Pages: 416
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in England and India four-stars

In 1876 Sophia Duleep Singh was born into Indian royalty. Her father, Maharajah Duleep Singh, was heir to the Kingdom of the Sikhs, one of the greatest empires of the Indian subcontinent, a realm that stretched from the lush Kashmir Valley to the craggy foothills of the Khyber Pass and included the mighty cities of Lahore and Peshawar. It was a territory irresistible to the British, who plundered everything, including the fabled Koh-I-Noor diamond.
Exiled to England, the dispossessed Maharajah transformed his estate at Elveden in Suffolk into a Moghul palace, its grounds stocked with leopards, monkeys and exotic birds. Sophia, god-daughter of Queen Victoria, was raised a genteel aristocratic Englishwoman: presented at court, afforded grace and favor lodgings at Hampton Court Palace and photographed wearing the latest fashions for the society pages. But when, in secret defiance of the British government, she travelled to India, she returned a revolutionary.
Sophia transcended her heritage to devote herself to battling injustice and inequality, a far cry from the life to which she was born. Her causes were the struggle for Indian Independence, the fate of the lascars, the welfare of Indian soldiers in the First World War – and, above all, the fight for female suffrage.


Ranjit Singh was the last ruling emperor of the Punjab.

Mahraja-Ranjeet-Singh

After his death, the British used the confusion surrounding his heirs’ succession to move into the area. Most of the adult heirs died suspiciously. When it was over, the ruler of this prosperous area was an 1o year old boy, Duleep. His mother was very politically astute so the British had her exiled from the country and then forced the child-king to sign over his lands and the symbol of his rule, the Kor-i-Noor diamond.

Maharaja Duleep Singh, c 1860s

Duleep Singh was then raised by British people until Queen Victoria decided that he was really cute and wanted him to go to England. She lavished attention on him and considered herself to be his best friend. He was not reunited with his mother until he was an adult.

Eventually Duleep married a woman from Egypt and had six children. The children were known as Princes and Princesses. Princess Sophia was his youngest surviving child from this marriage. Arrangements were made with the India office to provide for the family because they did not want them going back to India and stirring up trouble.


Sophia grew up in luxury until her father’s debts became too much.  He then tried to return to India with the family but was taken off the ship at the Suez Canal.  The family was sent back to England but Duleep Singh did not go with them.  Instead he publicly disowned them and started another family while trying to get back to India.  He never did.

Sophia and her sisters were able to get to India as adults. The experience of meeting people fighting for Indian independence awoke the political consciousness of Sophia. She returned to England and threw herself into the fight of Women’s Suffrage in the 1910s.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh selling Sufragette subscriptions in 1913

I love this picture. Sophia lived across the street from the gates of Hampton Court Palace in a grace-and-favor house. That meant that she was allowed to live there as a favor from the monarch. She protested in front of the tourists coming to Hampton Court and sold suffragette newspapers to them. Despite being involved in many of the major protests of the era and even attacking politicians, she was never sent to prison like her fellow suffragettes.  She even refused to pay any taxes in an attempt to get arrested.  The spectacle of putting a Princess in prison was too much for law enforcement.

World War I curtailed the suffragette movement.  She became a nurse for Indian soldiers brought back to England for rest.


While I was reading this book, the Indian solicitor-general came out and said that India should not try to get the Kor-i-Noor diamond back and said it was “neither stolen nor forcibly taken”. It was a present.  Yeah, because a 10 year old with no friendly adult counsel can make those kinds of gifts.
AlexandraKohinoor

The Kor-i-noor is the diamond in the center of the front cross on this crown.  This is what reading nonfiction gets you.  It gets you yelling at the news in an very angry, yet informed, way.


The part of the book I found the most touching was a memory of the daughter of the elderly Princess’ housekeeper.

“We’d be walking, and she’d be telling me about the world and elections and how important they were.  And then she would kneel down in front of me, looking me right in the eye and say ‘I want a solemn promise from you’ even though I don’t think I knew what a solemn promise was at that stage.  She would say ‘You are never, ever not to vote.  You must promise me.  When you are allowed to vote you are never, ever to fail to do so.  You don’t realise how far we’ve come.  Promise me.’ For the next three years, Sophia made Drovna promise again and again.”

Drovna has kept her promise to the woman who fought hard to win the right for English women to vote.

four-stars
04 Apr, 2016

SeaSoned

/ posted in: Reading SeaSoned SEAsoned by Victoria Allman
on 2010-12
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 200
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in the Bahamas and Italy and Greece three-half-stars

Victoria's Recipe for Marriage: Take two adventurous newlyweds and place them on a floundering yacht where the wife is the chef, and her boss, the captain, is also her husband. Add two inexperienced crew members, an anorexic diva and her bully of a husband, a CEO who thinks he's in charge, a drunken first mate, and a randy wife looking for diversion. Stir with a violent storm and a rapidly flooding engine room. Apply pressure and watch the situation simmer to a boil. Sprinkled with over 30-mouthwatering recipes and spiced with tales of adventure, SEAsoned is the hilarious look at a yacht chef's first year working for her husband while they cruise from the Bahamas to Italy, France, Greece and Spain, trying to stay afloat.


 

Victoria Allman and her husband have just gotten their big break.  He is going to be the captain of a yacht after years of working on crews.  To do this though they have to lower their standards.  They aren’t going to be on a big boat.  They are taking on a measly 100 foot yacht that isn’t in the best of shape.

I was very surprised when I heard her refer to a 100 foot yacht as a small boat.  I’ve seen those things in marinas and they are huge.  That’s your first clue that the lives of the rich people who rent these yachts are a bit different.

Victoria and her husband run the yacht with two crew members.  She is the chef.  She has to decide what to stock in the very small galley and what she might be able to find to cook with in ports that they call at.  If the passengers change their destination at the last minute or if they invite their friends from another yacht over, she might have to scramble.  She makes elaborate meal plans that can be crushed with a breezy “Here’s what I want for lunch…”

They start out doing charters in the Bahamas until the yacht is damaged enough that it has to go in for lengthy repairs.  They then pick up another job on a 200 foot yacht in the Mediterranean.  This makes Victoria happy because of the bigger galley but adds more crew member problems.

This is a behind the scenes look at a life of luxury that most people would never experience.  See what it takes to cater to another person’s every whim while living in cramped quarters with your spouse.

There are a lot of recipes in here too.  Most are meat based but there is one for a Santorini Eggplant Salad that sounds interesting.

I enjoyed the story telling in this book and wished it were a bit longer to immerse myself in this world for a while more.

three-half-stars
30 Mar, 2016

Banished – A Westboro Memoir

/ posted in: Reading Banished – A Westboro Memoir Banished by Lauren Drain
on March 5th 2013
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Religious, Religion, Cults
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Kansas three-stars

You've likely heard of the Westboro Baptist Church. Perhaps you've seen their pickets on the news protesting at events such as the funerals of soldiers, the 9-year old victim of the recent Tucson shooting, and Elizabeth Edwards, all in front of their grieving families. The WBC is fervently anti-gay, anti-Semitic, and anti- practically everything and everyone. And they aren't going anywhere: in March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the WBC's right to picket funerals.
Since no organized religion will claim affiliation with the WBC, it's perhaps more accurate to think of them as a cult. Lauren Drain was thrust into that cult at the age of 15, and then spat back out again seven years later. BANISHED is the first look inside the organization, as well as a fascinating story of adaptation and perseverance.


Lauren Drain’s atheist father set out to make a documentary about the Westboro Baptist Church and its habit of picketing any event that will give them attention.  Over the course of the next few years he was drawn into the group.  He was influenced by their beliefs and started to pay a lot of attention to policing young teenage Lauren’s life.  He became convinced that she was a slut and a whore.  He pulled her out of school and cut off all contact with people outside of her penpals from the Westboro church.

Eventually he moved the family from Florida to Kansas to live on the same block as the church members in an attempt to control his wayward daughter.  The fact that Lauren was a well behaved teenage girl with no sexual experience did not change his conviction that she was on the road to hell. They were the only family not related to the pastor Fred Phelps in the church.

Lauren was glad to move.  By this point in her life the teenage members of Westboro were the only friends she was allowed to have.  She enthusiastically joined into pickets.  Pickets are a way of life.  Westboro members picket something every day.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrate at the Virginia Holocaust Museum on March 2, 2010. by JCWilmore

The Phelps cousins and Lauren would picket outside their school at lunchtime. They picketed their own graduations. They traveled around the country to picket funerals. The whole time paranoia ran rampant in the church. Any hint of wrongdoing or wrong thinking was discussed in group emails. Humiliation was common.

Lauren was taught that what they were doing was right. The fact that people got upset was proof that the church was right and people felt guilty about having their sins pointed out to them. The church prides itself on being very smart. Most of the Phelps family consists of lawyers. All of the younger generation are required to be at the top of their classes in school. They are trained to react to people who question them with intellectual rigor. It seems like the best thing to do at a Westboro protest would be to totally ignore it. They would consider that a failure.

Eventually Lauren’s online friendship with a male church supporter is used as proof of her sexual immorality even though they have never met. She is banished from her church and family. Over the last few years she has learned to live on her own. She realizes that the church is destructive. She isn’t a gay rights supporter by any means but so far she has progressed to live and let live.

It was so sad to read about how she was scapegoated in her family because of her sexuality. She was constantly told that she was a slut and a whore.

It is the typical fear that if you don’t control women from a young age that you will lose all power over them. Then you can make them complicit in their own humiliation.

There are a lot of documentaries on Westboro because they feel that helping with documentaries helps spread their message. This one claims to have footage of the Drains.

three-stars
16 Mar, 2016

No Excuses – a Football Story

/ posted in: Reading No Excuses – a Football Story No Excuses on June 2nd 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 272
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in California three-stars

Trailblazing Seattle Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman Jr.—the first deaf athlete to play offense in the NFL—tells his inspirational journey of persevering through every obstacle, remaining dedicated to the hard work and a no-excuses attitude that ultimately earned him a Super Bowl victory.


Derrick Coleman was diagnosed as being legally deaf at the age of three.  In this book he tells his story growing up in and around Los Angeles.  He moved often with his mother when meant trying to make friends at new schools all the time.  He used sports to channel his energy and frustration.

He became a standout high school football player and then went to UCLA to play.  He was considered to have a good chance in the draft but wasn’t drafted after his senior year.  He went on to try out for several teams as a free agent before finding a more permanent job with the Seattle Seahawks.

This was an interesting story but it seemed to drag during his younger years.  He was only 23 at the time of the writing so there wasn’t a lot of life to cover.  It didn’t get really interesting until he was in high school and older.  It also seems to minimize his deafness more than you would think.  I feel like he is so used to it that it doesn’t seem like an issue to him so he doesn’t understand why people are so interested.  He mostly just says that it isn’t an issue and then moves on to talk about something else.

His insights into what it takes to get into the NFL and compete at that level are interesting.  That is the main focus of the book.  It covers the lifestyle of a player that isn’t a superstar.

I had never heard of him until I saw this audiobook on the library website.  I don’t have television so I hadn’t seen a commercial that he did for Duracell about being a deaf football player.  He did it for fun, a little money, and a year’s supply of hearing aid batteries.  He was most excited about the batteries because he needs to change them every few days.

three-stars
11 Feb, 2016

The Road to McCarthy

/ posted in: Reading The Road to McCarthy The Road to McCarthy by Pete McCarthy
Published by HarperCollins on February 1st 2005
Genres: Travel, Essays & Travelogues, Biography & Autobiography, General
Pages: 384
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Pete McCarthy established one cardinal rule of travel in his bestselling debut, McCarthy's Bar: "Never pass a bar with your name on it." In this equally wry and insightful follow-up, his characteristic good humor, curiosity, and thirst for adventure take him on a fantastic jaunt around the world in search of his Irish roots -- from Morocco, where he tracks down the unlikely chief of the McCarthy clan, to New York, and finally to remote Mc-Carthy, Alaska. The Road to McCarthy is a quixotic and anything-but- typical Irish odyssey that confirms Pete McCarthy's status as one of our funniest and most incisive writers.


It all starts when the author hears that there is still a king of the McCarthy clan.  Not everyone agrees that this is a legitimate title but he wants to meet him.  The king is hard to find – enemies probably – and lives in Morocco.  From there, Pete McCarthy is off to follow the Irish diaspora.  He is half-Irish and half-English and grew up in England.  His English accent is sometimes a problem in discussions in the most Irish of strongholds.

After Tangiers he travels to New York and attempts to crash the St. Patrick’s Day parade.  Then it is off to Monserrat, a small island in the Caribbean that was populated by a large amount of Irish people before an erupting volcano decimated the population.  He follows the travels of Irish republicans who were exiled to Tasmania.  A few escaped and one became the governor of Montana so it is off to Butte.  Finally he goes into the wilderness to McCarthy Alaska to see a town named after the family.

The tone of the book reminds me a lot of Bill Bryson.  It is chatty with a lot of history thrown in but in bite sized pieces with the absurd facts pointed out.

In New York:

“Fitness is an overrated virtue in a law enforcement officer.  In their way these guys are much more menacing. They’re putting out a subliminal message: ‘Don’t run away.  We can’t chase you, so we’ll have to shoot.'”

On the joys of traveling:

“This is what tourists do all over the world.  You see a sign for something you’ve never heard of and probably wouldn’t cross the road to see at home, and, bang, you’re there.  And then people tell you about other things you ought to go and see.  Once you’re in a small obscure are that the rest of the world knows nothing about someone will say, ‘Our big attraction is Satan’s Drain.  You really should go.’  So you do.  And you develop an interest in geological features and sea levels and all sorts of other stuff you’ve never cared about before…”

On finally reaching the end of the road in McCarthy Alaska:

“There are few more comforting experiences for the traveler than to journey great distances through unfamiliar and threatening landscapes, anticipating an austere and possibly squalid destination, only to discover that catering and interior design are not in the hands of heterosexuals.”

This is a great introduction to Irish history and the influence that the Irish people have had around the world.

three-half-stars
18 Jan, 2016

My Accidental Jihad

/ posted in: Reading My Accidental Jihad My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer
on June 25th 2014
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 361
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in North Carolina and Libya three-stars

Fifteen years ago, Krista Bremer would not have been able to imagine her life today: married to a Libyan-born Muslim, raising two children with Arabic names in the American South. Nor could she have imagined the prejudice she would encounter or the profound ways her marriage would change her perception of the world.But on a running trail in North Carolina, she met Ismail.


This book defines jihad as:

An individual’s striving for spiritual and intellectual growth

 

This is the story of the author’s personal growth during the last 15 years.  I’ve seen many reviews that complain that the story is all about her.  That’s sort of the point.  How has she adapted to a life that she never meant to have?

She was in journalism school when she met Ismail.  An unintentional pregnancy early in their relationship accelerated their plans.

Ismail was entirely different than Krista.  He was fifteen years older than her, an immigrant from a poor background in Libya, and a Muslim.  She was a California girl from a middle class background with vaguely Buddhist tendencies.    He gets crankier than she thinks he should during Ramadan and she can’t understand why he doesn’t understand Christmas.  She is horrified that Ismail insists on haggling in the mall, especially when it was for her wedding ring**.  Like all relationships, they need to find a way to blend together their differences to make their own unique life.

When their daughter is young and she is three months pregnant with their second child, they travel to Libya to meet his family.  She has visions of adventure but is faced instead of the realities of life for a poor family under Gaddafi.  She doesn’t speak Arabic so can’t understand the women who she with all day long.  She hates the oppressiveness that the political situation has over the whole country and it makes her bitter about being there.  She needs to work hard to find any beauty in the situation.

Back in North Carolina, the openness she thinks she has is challenged when her now preteen daughter decides to wear a hijab.  How should she react when a new neighbor says that they love the neighborhood because of the diversity?  All the neighbors are white so she doesn’t know what they mean until she realizes that they are referring to her family.

The writing in this book is lyric and vivid.  She is very open about her own faults in the way that she approaches her relationship.  This is a story that I think could be written about any marriage.  Some of the complaints and insights seem familiar even if you come from the same culture.

 

**I feel her pain.  The husband likes to negotiate.  It is so embarrassing.  I also was given an engagement ring with the following declaration of love – “I got you this.  I got a really good deal on it.”  This Christmas I got earrings with the price sticker peeled off but the 50% off sticker left on so I’d be proud.  My husband and Ismail together would be a force to be reckoned with.

three-stars
15 Jan, 2016

Ada’s Algorithm

/ posted in: Reading Ada’s Algorithm Ada's Algorithm by James Essinger
on September 28th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Pages: 272
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in England three-stars

Over 150 years after her death, a widely-used scientific computer program was named "Ada," after Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate daughter of the eighteenth century's version of a rock star, Lord Byron. Why?
Because, after computer pioneers such as Alan Turing began to rediscover her, it slowly became apparent that she had been a key but overlooked figure in the invention of the computer.


Ada Lovelace’s life sounds like it was made just for the tabloids.

Her father was the poet Lord Byron.  He was famous in England for his legendary affairs as well as for his poetry.  He decided to marry when he was in need of a major influx of cash to keep up his lavish lifestyle.  He married a heiress and soon fathered his only legitimate child, Ada.  His wife soon found out that he was still carrying on affairs, including one with his half-sister.  (Apparently, it didn’t count as real incest because they didn’t share the same mother.) She took Ada and left when the baby was one month old.  Lord Byron left England soon after, never to return.

Ada’s mother was determined not to let her child fall victim to the overactive imagination that she thought plagued the Byron line.  She had her schooled in mathematics.

Two events focused the direction of Ada’s life.  First, she learned about the Jacquard Loom.  This was an automated loom that used punch cards to tell the loom what threads to raise and lower.  Very complex patterns could be made this way.

This is considered the first computer program.

Secondly, she met Charles Babbage.  He was working on machines that could do complex mathematical problems.  She was fascinated by his work and started to help him figure it out.  She was also able to imagine the implications of the machine.  Her vision eclipsed anything Babbage had considered.  She published a translation of an article on Babbage and added extensive notes that explained what a future with computing machines could look like.

The combination of the “overly imaginative” Byron line and her mathematical education created a visionary.

However, as a woman, she knew she wouldn’t be taken seriously.  At first she didn’t even want to put her name on the article that became known as her Notes.  Babbage persuaded her to at least put her initials.  Over the years, her contributions to his work were downplayed.  Letters written late in her life when she was heavily drugged against the pain of terminal uterine cancer were used to claim that she was a madwoman.  However, letters to and from Babbage show that she was highly involved and that he valued her work.

Alan Turing referred to her work in the 1940s and 1950s when he was laying out the foundations for modern computing.  He called it the Lovelace objection.  She wrote that machines can only do what they are programmed to do.  He said that she meant that computers can’t take us by surprise.

Babbage ended up rejecting a proposal from Lovelace where she offered to essentially be his spokesman for his analytical engine.  She knew that he didn’t have the people skills to get it the exposure that she could.  She was right.  He never got it made.  Some historians now think that if he had listened to her about its potential that England could have had a technological revolution in the mid-1800s. This model was made later.

My favorite quote from this book sums up Babbage.  In college he and a group of friends “… founded a club which they called The Extractors, designed to help its members should any of them be the subject of a petition to get them sent to a lunatic asylum.”  Planning ahead is important.  It doesn’t seem that they never needed to invoke it.

This book is an excellent look at the life of an extraordinary woman.  She died at the age of 36.  Imagine what she could have accomplished had she lived longer.

The featured image at the top of the post is Ada’s Algorithm that she developed when working with Babbage.  My only issue with this book is that I found myself skipping over long passages quoted from her writing on mathematical theory.  My brain doesn’t like that kind of thing.

three-stars
14 Jan, 2016

You Can’t Make This Up – a sports memoir

/ posted in: Reading You Can’t Make This Up – a sports memoir You Can't Make This Up: Miracles, Memories, and the Perfect Marriage of Sports and Television by Al Michaels, L. Jon Wertheim
on November 18th 2014
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Pages: 304
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Goodreads

One of America’s most respected sportscasters—and the play-by-play voice of NBC’s Sunday Night Football—gives us a behind-the-curtain look at some of the most thrilling games and fascinating figures in modern sports.
No sportscaster has covered more major sporting events than Al Michaels. During the course of his forty-plus-year career, he has logged more hours on live primetime network television than anyone in history, having covered all four major sports championships—the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA finals, and the Stanley Cup final—as well as the Olympic Games, the Triple Crown, and many more. He has witnessed firsthand some of the most memorable events in sports, and in this highly personal and entertaining account, he brings them all vividly to life.


While most kids dreamt about playing in the World Series, young Al Michaels wanted to announce it. He followed his dream to being the voice of a minor league baseball team in Hawaii in the 60s. Then the major league came calling but required him to move his family from Hawaii to Ohio – oh, the horror!

He moved up from there to a place announcing all types of sports including football, horse racing, and motorcycle racing on ice.

He covered hockey at the Olympics including the dramatic ‘Miracle on Ice’ game between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.

I thought his most interesting stories were the ones that didn’t directly involve sports.

  • He had just opened the broadcast of the World Series when the Northridge earthquake hit. The game was cancelled and he broadcast from the street until the next morning for ABC’s live coverage.
  • One of his best broadcasting partners, tennis partner, and neighbor was O.J. Simpson. He had been to the house many times and was even able to secretly tell ABC not to broadcast the news that O.J. was trapped in his house because he knew that there were other ways out.

This was a great overview of the world of U.S. sports in the last 40 years from Wide World of Sports to Sunday Night Football.

12 Nov, 2015

Why It’s What I Do Disappointed Me

/ posted in: Reading Why It’s What I Do Disappointed Me It's What I Do by Lynsey Addario
on February 5th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Pages: 368
Goodreads
Set in the Middle East and Africa two-half-stars

War photographer Lynsey Addario's memoir It's What I Do is the story of how the relentless pursuit of truth, in virtually every major theater of war in the twenty-first century, has shaped her life. What she does, with clarity, beauty, and candor, is to document, often in their most extreme moments, the complex lives of others. It's her work, but it's much more than that: it's her singular calling.
Lynsey Addario was just finding her way as a young photographer when September 11 changed the world. One of the few photojournalists with experience in Afghanistan, she gets the call to return and cover the American invasion. She makes a decision she would often find herself making--not to stay home, not to lead a quiet or predictable life, but to set out across the world, face the chaos of crisis, and make a name for herself.
Addario finds a way to travel with a purpose. She photographs the Afghan people before and after the Taliban reign, the civilian casualties and misunderstood insurgents of the Iraq War, as well as the burned villages and countless dead in Darfur. She exposes a culture of violence against women in the Congo and tells the riveting story of her headline-making kidnapping by pro-Qaddafi forces in the Libyan civil war.
Addario takes bravery for granted but she is not fearless. She uses her fear and it creates empathy; it is that feeling, that empathy, that is essential to her work. We see this clearly on display as she interviews rape victims in the Congo, or photographs a fallen soldier with whom she had been embedded in Iraq, or documents the tragic lives of starving Somali children. Lynsey takes us there and we begin to understand how getting to the hard truth trumps fear.
As a woman photojournalist determined to be taken as seriously as her male peers, Addario fights her way into a boys' club of a profession. Rather than choose between her personal life and her career, Addario learns to strike a necessary balance. In the man who will become her husband, she finds at last a real love to complement her work, not take away from it, and as a new mother, she gains an all the more intensely personal understanding of the fragility of life.
Watching uprisings unfold and people fight to the death for their freedom, Addario understands she is documenting not only news but also the fate of society. It's What I Do is more than just a snapshot of life on the front lines; it is witness to the human cost of war.


I wasn’t sure why this book wasn’t sitting well with me as I read it until I came across this quote close to the end:

“Journalism is a selfish profession.”

That’s the issue I had with this book.  Throughout most of it I felt like the author had little to no empathy for the people whose lives she was invading.  She was there to document their suffering and to get the best picture.  She talks a lot about how stressful her job was and I’m sure it was but she also talks about how she made sure that she would leave combat zones and go on vacation regularly for her mental health.  That’s a luxury that the people she was covering never had.  That disconnect is never discussed.

There is a time when she is embedded with another reporter in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army.  They are both hiding the fact that the other reporter is pregnant, with no regard for how this increases the danger for the people who are in charge of them.

“For the first few weeks Elizabeth didn’t seem hindered by pregnancy, aside from the fact that she had to stop to pee several times during the course of each patrol.  After years of trying to get soldiers to overlook our gender on embeds, I cringed each time we had to ask the platoon leader, Lieutenent Matt Piosa, to hold up an entire string of troops in unfriendly villages while Elizabeth scampered off into an abandoned house or behind a tree to empty her bladder.” Emphasis mine

Then she has a fit because her troops aren’t willing to escort her across a hostile valley during an engagement so she can photograph dead villagers.

“Afghans dying was an enormous part of that reality, and I was just failing to witness it.”

Eventually a favorite soldier of hers is killed during this embed and she decides that she’s had enough.

“Kearney?  Is there any way to get me out of here?”  I cringed as I asked him to also deal with me: a freaked-out girl who was pleading to be extracted from the middle of a hostile ridgeline, where every Black Hawk flight in risked getting shot down by an insurgent on the mountain.”

I bet all those soldiers would have loved to get out too.  I bet the helicopter pilots had nothing better to do than to risk their lives to go get a freaked out journalist.

After years of work in conflict zones, she starts to develop some empathy but only after she has a bad experience with Israeli border guards taunting her over her fears about going through a body scanner when pregnant.

“I was confused, appalled, and angry until I suddenly had a moment of clarity:  If the Israeli soldiers were doing this to me, a New York Times journalist accredited by the Israeli government itself, who had called the press officer in advance to graciously ask to be manually searched, how on earth did they treat a poor, Palestinian pregnant woman?  Or a nonpregnant Palestinian woman?  Or a Palestinian man?  The thought terrified me.”

Talk about needing to be aware of your own privilege.  If they harass ME, maybe they are even meaner to someone else?  What a novel idea.  That’s the kind of insular thinking I’d expect from someone who has never traveled before, not a journalist with decades of experience in many countries.

I did appreciate the fact that she talked about the fact that she thought her career would be over if she had children.  She didn’t want to get pregnant.  She talks about her husband pressuring her.  She was very unhappy when she gave in and got pregnant.  Eventually she liked the kid after he was born but I’m glad she voiced the sort-of taboo thinking that not everyone is a gleeful pregnant person.

two-half-stars
04 Nov, 2015

A Donkey’s Tale: Saving Simon

/ posted in: Reading A Donkey’s Tale:  Saving Simon Saving Simon by Jon Katz
on October 7th 2014
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 224
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
four-stars

In this heartfelt, thoughtful, and inspiring memoir, New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz tells the story of his beloved rescue donkey, Simon, and the wondrous ways that animals make us wiser and kinder people.   In the spring of 2011, Jon Katz received a phone call that would challenge every idea he ever had about mercy and compassion. An animal control officer had found a neglected donkey on a farm in upstate New York, and she hoped that Jon and his wife, Maria, would be willing to adopt him. Jon wasn’t planning to add another animal to his home on Bedlam Farm, certainly not a very sick donkey. But the moment he saw the wrenching sight of Simon, he felt a powerful connection.


 

I love donkeys.  I knew that reading a book about a neglected donkey would be tough.  The opening chapters tell the story of Simon being left for dead in a pen without after food or water except for what is smuggled to him by his owner’s son.  Eventually the son calls the authorities and Simon is taken away.

He ends up on the author’s farm.  He is nursed back to health over time. The author has learned slowly to love donkeys and understand their ways.

“They are agreeable creatures, but they do not like being told what to do, and if you show that you really want them to do something that doesn’t involve food, you may be standing out in the sun for a long time.”

The author uses the story of his recovery to contemplate the meaning of compassion.

“But it seemed to me, I thought, standing out in my pasture, that the love of animals has made many people less compassionate to humans.  The very idea of animal rights in our time is equated with hostility, rage, and self-righteousness.”

He is telling Simon’s story on his blog and his readers are outraged when he reaches out to the man who neglected Simon.  He doesn’t go to him in judgement but to hear his side of the story.

“And why, I kept asking, are people who love animals so angry at people?”

This is an interesting topic for me.  I’m definitely on the “love animals, don’t care about people” side of the divide but I’m not nearly as hostile as some people I see especially in the rescue community.

“The farmer was animal, a monster; he should be jailed, punished, tortured, even killed.  No one offered a single line of compassion or understanding or concern for him, or for his son, who had bravely helped Simon when he was starving.

The hatred and fury were shocking to me, disturbing; this idea of rescue was not compassionate for me.”

This reminded me of the outrage I saw on Twitter from civil rights activists around the time of the shooting of Cecil the Lion.  They didn’t understand why the world was upset over the shooting of one lion in Africa when people in Africa were dying all the time and when African-Americans were being shot by police.  I didn’t have a good answer for that.  I still don’t.


 

Spoilers

After reading this book I saw the author bio below.  See the issue?  No Simon.  I went to the author’s website to follow up.  It turns out that Simon died unexpectedly shortly after the publication of this book.  That was a downer but he had a few good years where he was loved and well cared for.  He turned into a bully towards the end of the book and I don’t know how I feel about the story of pony he terrorized.  It was disturbing all around.

four-stars

About Jon Katz

Jon Katz is an author, photographer, and children’s book writer. He lives on Bedlam Farm with his wife, the artist Maria Wulf, his four dogs, Rose, Izzy, Lenore and Frieda, two donkeys, Lulu and Fanny, and two barn cats.

16 Oct, 2015

Life From Scratch

/ posted in: Reading Life From Scratch Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin
on March 3rd 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
four-stars

Witty, warm, and poignant, food blogger Sasha Martin's memoir about cooking her way to happiness and self-acceptance is a culinary journey like no other.

Over the course of 195 weeks, food writer and blogger Sasha Martin set out to cook--and eat--a meal from every country in the world. As cooking unlocked the memories of her rough-and-tumble childhood and the loss and heartbreak that came with it, Martin became more determined than ever to find peace and elevate her life through the prism of food and world cultures. From the tiny, makeshift kitchen of her eccentric, creative mother, to a string of foster homes, to the house from which she launched her own cooking adventure, Martin's heartfelt, brutally honest memoir reveals the power of cooking to bond, to empower, and to heal--and celebrates the simple truth that happiness is created from within.


 

Sasha Martin’s life hasn’t been easy.  She grew up with her brother and mother in poverty in Boston.  Her mother had given custody of three older children to her ex-husband and would not tell her two youngest children who their father was.  Her mother was warm and creative and loved to cook meals with her kids, which instilled a love of cooking in Sasha.

After a few rounds of going into foster care and back out into their mother’s care, Sasha and her brother went to live with a family friend in entirely different circumstances.  Suddenly, she is traveling the world and living in Europe during high school.  That life ended when she went to college and had to find a way to make it on her own.

Years later, after marrying and having a child, she decides to start a blog and cook one meal a week from a different country of the world.  She starts with Afghanistan in week one and goes alphabetically through all 195 countries.


Although this is marketed as a food blogger memoir, most of the book is about her childhood and life before the blog.  The story is harrowing and sad and would be unbelievable if written in a fictional book.  Her mother is a larger than life character who is in turns inspiring and exasperating.

When the book turns to blogging there are interesting discussions about what went on behind the scenes and her decision making processes about what should go on the blog.  Should she admit that she poisoned herself with one meal?  How do you deal with furious commenters who are mad that her Indian meal was simple foods for a child’s birthday party?

There are several recipes in the book.  Some of them are incredibly intense and some are simple.  I’m not sure that I’m going to try any of them because a lot are meat based but there are some that could be adapted.  There is a chocolate rice pudding that sounds good.

This book would be good for people who like memoirs like Julie and Julia.

four-stars
UA-56222504-1