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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
Published by Time on August 23rd 2016
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

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.


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
Published by HarperOne on February 21st 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 176
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

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.


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
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
23 Feb, 2017

Celebrity Memoir Edition

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
22 Feb, 2017

Being Mortal

/ posted in: ReadingWork Being Mortal Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
Published by Metropolitan Books on October 7th 2014
Genres: Medical, Nonfiction
Pages: 282
Format: Audiobook, Paperback
Source: Library, Owned
Goodreads

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

I find the discussion of end of life matters fascinating.  I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been asked if I’m not scared about what will happen when I’m old since I’ve chosen not to have children.  That never seemed like a good enough reason to have kids since there is no guarantee that your children will outlive you or be physically/mentally able to take care of you in your old age.

Regardless of your number of offspring, I think everyone is nervous about what will happen with age.  No one wants to lose their independence.  That is the point of this book.  The author looks at several programs that aim to let people continue to live a good life as they age and then have a good death.

I was encouraged by reading about all kinds of different ways that people are rethinking elder care.  I have a dream of a community of cottages for old introverts where you check in once a day so everyone knows that you are still alive and there is a movie playing every night in case you want a group activity where you don’t have to talk to anyone.  No one has quite made that yet but there were some that I wouldn’t mind.

One of the major concerns in allowing a more independent old age is safety.  If you want people to be totally safe, then you can’t let them walk around and make (possibly poor) decisions for themselves.  Children of elderly people tend to value their safety over their happiness.  This leads them to make decisions about care that take away options from the parent.

Has anyone made progress with good deaths?  I still think that the way humans approach death is pretty horrific.  I’m coming to this discussion from my perspective as a veterinarian.  We’re all about palliative care until there is a poor quality of life and then euthanasia so there is no suffering.  The author discusses increasing access to hospice care earlier in the patient’s care to decrease extreme medical interventions that are required of hospitals but don’t ultimately aid the patient.  That’s good but then every story of a “good” death he cites ends with several days of the patient being on all kinds of pain medication so they drift in and out of consciousness.  They may not be in pain but what is the point?  They are past communication.  The families are holding vigils waiting for them to let go.  It seems to me that an overdose at this point is so much kinder.

I hear this all the time during euthanasias.  People start to talk about their relatives’ deaths and how they wish they could have helped them in this way so they didn’t have those last few days.  I understand slippery slope arguments but it just seems like common sense to me.

The author also discussed different personality types of doctors and how they help and hurt decision making.  There are authoritarians who tell the patient what to do without much discussion.  There are doctors who give the patient all their options and let them decide what to do.  I’m the latter one.  We were trained to do this in school.  It can confuse clients because they get overwhelmed.  They then counter with, “What would you do?”  We aren’t supposed to answer that question.  It isn’t a fair one anyway. We aren’t in the same situation.  I could do things at home that you might not be able to.  I might tolerate inconveniences more or less than you do.  The author talks about how he learned to give more opinions about how different choices might affect their lives.  I’ve started to do this too some.  I think it has helped some people.

He also recommends having end of life discussions with your family members before decisions need to be made.  Then if you are in an emergency situation where you can’t talk to them about it, you know what to do.

What would be your ideal way to live out your last few years?

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • POC authors
21 Feb, 2017

Every Patient Tells a Story

/ posted in: Reading Every Patient Tells a Story Every Patient Tells a Story by Lisa Sanders
Published by Broadway Books on 2010-09
Genres: Medical, Diagnosis
Pages: 276
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Goodreads

Never in human history have doctors had the knowledge, the tools, and the skills that they have today to diagnose illness and disease. And yet mistakes are made, diagnoses missed, symptoms or tests misunderstood. In this high-tech world of modern medicine, Sanders shows us that knowledge, while essential, is not sufficient to unravel the complexities of illness. She presents an unflinching look inside the detective story that marks nearly every illness–the diagnosis–revealing the combination of uncertainty and intrigue that doctors face when confronting patients who are sick or dying. Through dramatic stories of patients with baffling symptoms, Sanders portrays the absolute necessity and surprising difficulties of getting the patient’s story, the challenges of the physical exam, the pitfalls of doctor-to-doctor communication, the vagaries of tests, and the near calamity of diagnostic errors.


It always amazes me whenever I have an encounter with human medicine that they rarely do a physical exam outside of an ER.  I’ve been to primary care appointments that consist of talking about symptoms and then ordering tests.  This book discusses the decline in the role of hands on contact with patients and what doctors are missing because of it.

As a veterinarian, physical exam is sometimes all we have.  I’d love to run all the tests that human doctors do in order to get the information that they have but that isn’t always financially feasible.  On the other hand I get phone calls from people who have an over-inflated confidence in my clairvoyance.  “Doctor, my dog isn’t eating.  What’s wrong with him?”

The answer in my head every time – “How the $%#@ should I know?  Put him on the phone and let me ask him.”

What I actually say – “That can be a sign of a lot of different illnesses.  I really need to see him to start to figure out what is wrong.”

There is also a lot of information here about taking a good history.  This can be hard because people are ashamed to tell the truth or they misinterpret things and present them as facts that aren’t actually true.  I had a person in last week who seemed very confident in his knowledge about his dog until you actually listened to what he was saying.  Every sentence was complete and utter medical nonsense but it was presented with such conviction that I found myself thinking momentarily that maybe I was wrong and you can see bacteria with the naked eye.  The opposite of this is the person (very common) who waits to tell you the key piece of information that will unlock the puzzle until you have put your stethoscope in your ears.  I have all my assistants trained to tell me everything anyone says while I’m listening to a heart as soon as I take the stethoscope out.  It is always important.

In addition to the author’s discussions about not interrupting patients while getting a history, I will add my favorite history taking advice.  Ask the children.  They see things and they love to have information that adults don’t.  They aren’t shy about sharing it either.

Me, looking at a vomiting dog:  “Did he eat anything unusual that you know of?”

Mom:  “No, he doesn’t do that.”

Kid:  “He ate my Barbie’s arm off yesterday and Daddy’s has been feeding him Slim Jims every day.  We aren’t supposed to tell.”

I don’t know how many domestic disputes have been started by kids coming clean in the vet’s office.

If you aren’t a medical person, this book is still interesting because it contains a lot of medical mysteries.  The author was a consultant for the T.V. show House and writes a column about medical mysteries so she has lots of stories to tell.  I was particularly proud that I knew the answer to the first one in the book.  It had been drilled into me in vet school.  I’ve never seen it in real life but I always think of it.  I’m glad I finally found a use for that piece of knowledge.

 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
16 Feb, 2017

Lights Out

/ posted in: Reading Lights Out Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath by Ted Koppel
Published by Crown on October 27th 2015
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 279
Format: Paperback
Source: From author/publisher
Goodreads

Imagine a blackout lasting not days, but weeks or months. Tens of millions of people over several states are affected. For those without access to a generator, there is no running water, no sewage, no refrigeration or light. Food and medical supplies are dwindling. Devices we rely on have gone dark. Banks no longer function, looting is widespread, and law and order are being tested as never before.
It isn’t just a scenario. A well-designed attack on just one of the nation’s three electric power grids could cripple much of our infrastructure—and in the age of cyberwarfare, a laptop has become the only necessary weapon. Several nations hostile to the United States could launch such an assault at any time. In fact, as a former chief scientist of the NSA reveals, China and Russia have already penetrated the grid. And a cybersecurity advisor to President Obama believes that independent actors—from “hacktivists” to terrorists—have the capability as well. “It’s not a question of if,” says Centcom Commander General Lloyd Austin, “it’s a question of when.”

I was excited to order Lights Out, a book about the possible aftermath of a catastrophic attack on the U.S. power grid, but once it arrived I was reluctant to read it.  Why?  Possibly for the same reasons as many officials have for not addressing this threat.  I want to pretend it can’t happen.
I was pretty sure that if I read this book that I would turn into some type of disaster prepper.  I already asked for a generator for Christmas (I didn’t get it).  The idea of having electricity fail permanently seems like a horror movie for me.  It would be a horror movie for everyone.
The book outlines ways that the grid is vulnerable and ways that it has already been attacked.  It also has interviews with several people and groups who are preparing for disasters in varying ways.  No one seems to be totally prepared though and the book ends with the acknowledgement that we will never be ready.
I will be rereading the preparation chapters again with some notes about things I can start to do to prepare myself for even minor emergencies like power loss due to blizzards.  My goal of off the grid living is far away but this book made me even more serious about wanting to live that way.

I used to live in rural areas where losing power for up to a few days wasn’t an abnormal occurrence.  Now I live in the city where it very rarely happens.  It happened this week.  It was almost bedtime anyway so I just went to bed but as I was lying there I had a few minutes of panic.  What if this was it?  What if this was the time it was never going to come back on?  Would I look back on my thoughts while laying in bed like a movie voiceover – “These were the last few hours of living in the world they knew….”  Should I get up and check the internet on my phone to see if there was a catastrophe?  Should I save the power on my phone instead?  I knew reading this book would mess with my head.  (It came back on in less than 2 hours.)

I need a generator and solar panels.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
08 Feb, 2017

On The Noodle Road

/ posted in: Reading On The Noodle Road On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta by Jen Lin-Liu
Published by Riverhead Books on July 25th 2013
Genres: Cooking, Nonfiction
Pages: 388
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: China, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kzyrgystan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy

Feasting her way through an Italian honeymoon, Jen Lin-Liu was struck by culinary echoes of the delicacies she ate and cooked back in China, where she’d lived for more than a decade. Who really invented the noodle? she wondered, like many before her. But also: How had food and culture moved along the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking Asia to Europe—and what could still be felt of those long-ago migrations?
The journey takes Lin-Liu into the private kitchens where the headscarves come off and women not only knead and simmer but also confess and confide. The thin rounds of dough stuffed with meat that are dumplings in Beijing evolve into manti in Turkey—their tiny size the measure of a bride’s worth—and end as tortellini in Italy. And as she stirs and samples, listening to the women talk about their lives and longings, Lin-Liu gains a new appreciation of her own marriage, learning to savor the sweetness of love freely chosen.


A travel book about noodles?  I had to read this book as soon as I heard of it.  Add in the fact that in 2017 I’m trying to read more Asian authors and books set in Central Asia and this book was perfect for me.  It took me forever to read it though.  I think I found this book so soothing that I would fall asleep after a few pages.  It wasn’t boring.  It just relaxed me.

The author is a Chinese-American journalist who lives in Beijing with her white American husband.  She owns a cooking school.  While most people in the west think of rice when they think of staple dishes of China, noodles are more common in the cuisine of northern China.  She decides to follow the path of the Silk Road to see how noodles spread between China and Italy.  Who invented them?

First of all, the old story about Marco Polo discovering noodles in Asia and bringing them to Italy is not true.  The true history of noodles turns out to be very difficult to figure out.  The author travels from China through central Asia and into Iran and Turkey interviewing chefs and home cooks.  She is taught to cook dishes that amaze her and dishes that she learns to dread like plov, a central Asian rice dish that she was fed at every meal.  I thought plov sounded really good if you left out all the dead animal parts that she kept being served.  For a book that was supposed to be about noodles, it was very heavy on the meat.  She had sheep killed in her honor and a lot of time was spent sourcing and waxing poetic over pork in Muslim countries.

There is also a lot of discussion about relationships and the role of women in society.  At the time she started this trip, the author was recently married and was considering whether or not to have children.  She is very conflicted about what her role should be in her marriage.  Both she and her husband travel for work.  Can they keep doing that?  Should they stay in China?  Does being married automatically mean giving up her independence?  She spends part of the trip traveling alone and part of it with her husband.  She talks to women as they cook about what their relationships are like. She realizes that her love of homemade noodles means that someone has to spend all that time making them. Younger women with jobs outside the house tend not to learn those skills.

I-was-beginning-to

This book does have many recipes if you would like to try making different types of noodles and dishes featuring noodles. It even has recipes for plov. It won’t give you the answer though to where the noodle originated. That answer is lost in time.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Asia
  • Foodies Read 2017
  • 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.
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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

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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.

16 Dec, 2016

Marching Powder

/ posted in: Reading Marching Powder Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America's Strangest Jail by Rusty Young, Thomas McFadden
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on May 1st 2004
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Bolivia

“Rusty Young was backpacking in South America when he heard about Thomas McFadden, a convicted English drug trafficker who ran tours inside Bolivia’s notorious San Pedro prison. Intrigued, the young Australian journalist went to La Paz and joined one of Thomas’s illegal tours. They formed an instant friendship and then became partners in an attempt to record Thomas’s experiences in the jail. Rusty bribed the guards to allow him to stay and for the next three months he lived inside the prison, sharing a cell with Thomas and recording one of the strangest and most compelling prison stories of all time.”


Thomas McFadden was a cocaine smuggler.   When he was double crossed by the Bolivian officials that he had bribed for safe passage, he ended up in San Pedro.  San Pedro was an unusual prison.  You needed to pay an entrance fee to be allowed inside.  Thomas had had all his money taken by the police so he was already in trouble.  He also needed to prove that a black native English speaker was British and not an American spy.

Once inside no services were provided.  You weren’t assigned a cell or given meals.  Cells needed to be purchased. Meals were bought in restaurants run out of cells or prisoners cooked in their own kitchens.  Ingredients were bought from women who ran stores out of their husbands’ cells.

Women and children lived in the prison with their husbands and fathers.  They were free to leave every day to go to work or school.

There were five neighborhoods in the prison.  The most exclusive had an entrance outside the main prison gates.  That was were the politicians and drug lords lived.  Thomas couldn’t afford that.  By getting money wired from friends he was able to eventually buy a cell in one of the two nicer neighborhoods inside.  These had gates that closed at 9 PM to keep the bad people out.  When you buy a cell, there was a real estate transfer that was recorded in the neighborhood logs.  You got a deed.  It could be mortgaged if needed.  Some people were speculators who bought several cells.  They rented them out or used extra cells to run businesses.  Thomas’ business was giving tours.  He was the best tour guide and word of mouth in the back packing community made him famous.

Cocaine production was a major industry in the prison.  The best cocaine in Bolivia was made there.  That was what a lot of the tourists came for.  Some stayed for months.

I had never imagined that a prison would be run like this.  Thomas was here for several years in the 1990s.  His story of learning to adapt and thrive in this environment is intriguing.  His attempts to move through the Bolivian legal system are frustrating.  This is a story that you haven’t read before.

14 Dec, 2016

Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair

/ posted in: Reading Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair Nujeen: One Girl's Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair by Nujeen Mustafa, Christina Lamb
Published by Harper Wave on October 11th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 304
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Syria

“Prize-winning journalist and the co-author of smash New York Times bestseller I Am Malala, Christina Lamb, now tells the inspiring true story of another remarkable young hero: Nujeen Mustafa, a teenager born with cerebral palsy, whose harrowing journey from war-ravaged Syria to Germany in a wheelchair is a breathtaking tale of fortitude, grit, and hope that lends a face to the greatest humanitarian issue of our time, the Syrian refugee crisis.
For millions around the globe, sixteen-year-old Nujeen Mustafa embodies the best of the human spirit. Confined to a wheelchair because of her cerebral palsy and denied formal schooling in Syria because of her illness, Nujeen taught herself English by watching American soap operas. When her small town became the epicenter of the brutal fight between ISIS militants and US-backed Kurdish troops in 2014, she and her family were forced to flee.”


I finished this audiobook a few days ago just as the news was coming out about the Syrian government retaking Aleppo.  If you don’t have a good understanding of the causes of the conflict in Syria or the history of the Kurds, read this book.

Nujeen’s family was well off.  Her siblings are all older than she is.  One is a director living in Germany.  The rest were university students or graduates.  She was unable to go to school because of her cerebral palsy.  They lived in a fifth floor apartment with no elevator so she almost never left the house.  She learned by watching TV.  She is very smart.  She taught herself English by watching Days of Our Lives.

When the rebellion against Assad started, life didn’t change too much for her family.  They didn’t think it would because they lived in such a safe city – Aleppo.  Her sister joined in the protests at her university until the regime’s response became too violent.  Eventually they moved to their other house in Manbij.

They got used to the hardships.  When her brother visited from Germany, he was horrified at their living conditions and what they were now accepting as normal.  They started to make plans to leave.

Her insistence that live didn’t change that much for them and that no one thought that anything bad could happen in a city as safe as Aleppo was upsetting.  I kept thinking that someday we’ll be telling this story about the U.S.  I had to sit this audiobook aside for a bit because it was making me really depressed.  I listened to it on the way to work one morning and was on the verge of tears all day.  I finished it by listening to it in large sections on the way to and from large family gatherings so I didn’t have time to dwell as soon as I finished listening.

“We will just be numbers while the tyrant is engraved in history.”  Nujeen wondering why history only remembers the names of the dictators and not their victims.

 

The family first left for Turkey and then the children headed on to Europe.  I would love to hear this story from her sister Nasreen’s perspective.  Nujeen was a teenager who had never left the house.  Nasreen was in charge of her.  It sounds like she drove poor Nasreen to distraction with her excitement about being out in the world.  Nasreen was trying to get them through hostile countries and Nujeen was bubbling over with how exciting it all was.  She did realize that there were times that Nasreen just wanted her to shut up.

They went through Turkey and then took an inflatable boat illegally to Greece.  Whether or not to take her wheelchair on the boat was a major point of contention.  They made the trip on the same day as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi drowned trying the trip from farther down the coast.  From there they moved country to country to Germany to meet their brother just as the countries in Europe were starting to close their borders to refugees.

Nujeen talks about how her status as an English speaking refugee in a wheelchair led to a lot of interviews.  One of them made its way into this John Oliver piece.

I enjoyed Nujeen’s story because she is a very smart and very sassy teenager.  That comes through in the writing.  She’s funny.  I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to put a human face on the humanitarian crisis.

29 Nov, 2016

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank

/ posted in: Reading The Piano Shop on the Left Bank The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier by Thad Carhart
Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks on March 12th 2002
Genres: History, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 268
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: France

“Walking his two young children to school every morning, Thad Carhart passes an unassuming little storefront in his Paris neighborhood. Intrigued by its simple sign — Desforges Pianos — he enters, only to have his way barred by the shop’s imperious owner. Unable to stifle his curiosity, he finally lands the proper introduction, and a world previously hidden is brought into view. Luc, the atelier’s master, proves an indispensable guide to the history and art of the piano. Intertwined with the story of a musical friendship are reflections on how pianos work, their glorious history, and stories of the people who care for them, from amateur pianists to the craftsmen who make the mechanism sing.”


This book starts out with a mystery.  How does a small shop that repairs pianos survive in a neighborhood that isn’t around any other music stores?  The author is an American living in France, is fluent in French, and played the piano as a child.  He uses the excuse of asking if they know of any place to find a used piano to get into the store.  He is turned away for weeks with the excuse that they will let him know if they hear of any used pianos. Finally, a new worker, Luc, lets him know that he needs an introduction from a current customer to be allowed in the store.  Once he gains that password he is let into the back of the store where they keep an ever rotating collection of used pianos.  Luc takes on the task of finding the perfect used piano for the author’s family.

In between the story of learning how to be accepted in a very French establishment, the author tells the history of the piano.  We hear about trying to pick up the piano again as an adult.  He introduces us to people trying to make the most perfect piano possible.  He compares learning the piano as a child in France with the lessons that he continued to take when his family moved back to America.  He also discovers all the musicians that inhabit the world around him.

This is a quiet book that had a fascinating amount of history in it.  I learned more about how pianos work here than in years of music lessons.

 

25 Nov, 2016

The Wonder Trail

/ posted in: Reading The Wonder Trail The Wonder Trail: True Stories from Los Angeles to the End of the World by Steve Hely
Published by DUTTON on June 14th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Travel
Pages: 336
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“Steve Hely, writer for The Office and American Dad!, and recipient of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, presents a travel book about his journey through Central and South America. Part travel book, part pop history, part comic memoir, Hely’s writing will make readers want to reach for their backpack and hiking boots.The Wonder Trail is the story of Steve’s trip from Los Angeles to the bottom of South America, presented in 102 short chapters.  The trip was ambitious – Steve traveled through Mexico City, ancient Mayan ruins, the jungles and coffee plantations and remote beaches of Central America, across the Panama Canal, by sea to Colombia, to the wild Easter celebration of Popayán, to the Amazon rainforest, the Inca sites of Cuzco and Machu Picchu, to the Galápagos Islands, the Atacama Desert of Chile, and down to the jagged and wind-worn land of Patagonia at the very end of the Western Hemisphere.
Steve’s plan was to discover the weird, wonderful, and absurd in Central and South America, to seek and find the incredible, delightful people and experiences that came his way. And the book that resulted is just as fun. A blend of travel writing, history, and comic memoir, The Wonder Trail will inspire, inform, and delight.”


I loved this book.  I listened to the audio and the author’s enthusiasm for his trip was infectious.  He was so excited that he got to spend time fishing in the Panama Canal, for example.  He set off on this trip with no set plan other than a few dates where he would be meeting up with friends at a specific spot.  I’m never brave (or crazy) enough to travel like that.   He’s the kind of traveler who always finds interesting people to talk to in bars.  They tell the best stories.

The other thing I loved about this book is that it led me to other books.  The author read a lot of books set in and about South America.  He listed many of them.  Since I was listening to the audio it was hard to remember a lot of them but I did mutter some names over and over until I got to a place where I could write them down.  In fact, I’ve already read one of his recommendations and it was as exciting as he promised it would be.

If you are looking to read more books set in South America, this is a great place to start.

18 Nov, 2016

Brave New Weed

/ posted in: Reading Brave New Weed Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis by Joe Dolce
Published by Harper Wave on October 4th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“The former editor-in-chief of Details and Star adventures into the fascinating “brave new world” of cannabis, tracing its history and possible future as he investigates the social, medical, legal, and cultural ramifications of this surprisingly versatile plant.
Pot. Weed. Grass. Mary Jane. We all think we know what cannabis is and what we use it for. But do we? Our collective understanding of this surprising plant has been muddled by politics and morality; what we think we know isn’t the real story.
A war on cannabis has been waged in the United States since the early years of the twentieth century, yet in the past decade, society has undergone a massive shift in perspective that has allowed us to reconsider our beliefs. In Brave New Weed, Joe Dolce travels the globe to “tear down the cannabis closet” and de-mystify this new frontier, seeking answers to the questions we didn’t know we should ask.
Dolce heads to a host of places, including Amsterdam, Israel, California, and Colorado, where he skillfully unfolds the odd, shocking, and wildly funny history of this complex plant. From the outlandish stories of murder trials where defendants claimed “insanity due to marijuana consumption” to the groundbreaking success stories about the plant’s impressive medicinal benefits, Dolce paints a fresh and much-needed portrait of cannabis, our changing attitudes toward it, and the brave new direction science and cultural acceptance are leading us.
Enlightening, entertaining, and thought-provoking, Brave New Weed is a compelling read that will surprise and educate proponents on both sides of the cannabis debate.”


I knew nothing about marijuana.  I’ve never smoked or eaten an edible.  I wouldn’t have the first clue how to get any marijuana if I was interested.  However, I am interested in the medical aspects of marijuana use.  This is what I found most fascinating about this story.

The author had smoked in college but hadn’t used any in years.  He wanted to investigate the claims on both the pro-legalization side and the prohibition side.  He worked in medical dispensaries in states where it is legal.  Different strains of marijuana have been bred to work better for different diseases.  Some get rid of nausea.  Other work better for pain.  Others help calm anxiety.  Some don’t produce a much of a high but help physical illnesses.  A well trained dispensary staff can help patients determine what strains are best for them based on the chemical profiles of the particular plant and determine the best delivery mechanism for each patient – smoke, vaporize, eat, oils?

How did a plant that appears to have many benefits get to be so reviled?  It doesn’t have a history of recorded deaths, like alcohol and tobacco.  However it is a schedule I drug which means that it is considered to have no medicinal value.  That puts it in the same class as heroin.

He covers the history of marijuana and the racial inequality that led to it being so problematic in the United States.  He investigated what happened when other countries decriminalized possession.  He talked to scientists to learn about the latest research in medical marijuana.

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I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of the drug wars in the United States and the potential benefits of legalization.

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16 Nov, 2016

Brazillionaires

/ posted in: Reading Brazillionaires Brazillionaires: Chasing Dreams of Wealth in an American Country by Alex Cuadros
Published by Spiegel & Grau on July 12th 2016
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Pages: 352
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Brazil

“When Bloomberg News invited the young American journalist Alex Cuadros to report on Brazil’s emerging class of billionaires at the height of the historic Brazilian boom, he was poised to cover two of the biggest business stories of our time: how the giants of the developing world were triumphantly taking their place at the center of global capitalism, and how wealth inequality was changing societies everywhere.  Eike Batista, a flamboyant and charismatic evangelist for the country’s new gospel of wealth, epitomized much of this rarefied sphere: In 2012, Batista ranked as the eighth-richest person in the world, was famous for his marriage to a beauty queen, and was a fixture in the Brazilian press. His constantly repeated ambition was to become the world’s richest man and to bring Brazil along with him to the top.  But by 2015, Batista was bankrupt, his son Thor had been indicted for manslaughter, and Brazil its president facing impeachment, its provinces combating an epidemic, and its business and political class torn apart by scandal had become a cautionary tale of a country run aground by its elites, a tale with ominous echoes around the world.”


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This is a book that I would not have picked up if I wasn’t consciously trying to read more books set in South America. I’m glad I read it.

Alex Cuadros was selected for an unusual job.  He was to monitor the billionaires of Brazil.  He needed to maintain an up to date list of the net worth of the richest people in Brazil.  In trying to find out who these people were, he started to look at the world around him.  Who owns the company that makes your soap or the roads you drive on? There may be a hidden billionaire behind it.  Some billionaires weren’t so hard to find.  Eike Batista was one of these.  He flaunted his wealth.  He bragged on Twitter whenever he moved up in the rankings of richest people.  Then suddenly he lost it all.

The rise and fall of Eike Batista is told along with the stories of other Brazilian billionaires.  Some are in construction or broadcasting.  There is even a billionaire pastor.  Cuadros brings up the question — Is is possible to amass this amount of money in an ethical way in a country with such rampant poverty?  Is corruption endemic in a country founded on a system where slaves do all the work and higher classes live off of others?

I didn’t know anything about Brazilian history or politics.  This was a great introduction in an engaging story.  I enjoyed listening to the author narrate the book so I could hear the proper pronunciations of places and names in Portuguese.

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I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to combine the voyeurism of watching how the super rich live with an education in the culture and politics of Brazil.

24 Oct, 2016

Paris in Love

/ posted in: Reading Paris in Love Paris in Love by Eloisa James
Published by Random House on April 3rd 2012
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 272
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: France

“In 2009, New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James took a leap that many people dream about: she sold her house, took a sabbatical from her job as a Shakespeare professor, and moved her family to Paris.  With no classes to teach, no committee meetings to attend, no lawn to mow or cars to park, Eloisa revels in the ordinary pleasures of life—discovering corner museums that tourists overlook, chronicling Frenchwomen’s sartorial triumphs, walking from one end of Paris to another. She copes with her Italian husband’s notions of quality time; her two hilarious children, ages eleven and fifteen, as they navigate schools—not to mention puberty—in a foreign language; and her mother-in-law Marina’s raised eyebrow in the kitchen (even as Marina overfeeds Milo, the family dog). “


I picked up this ebook on a day it was free and then it sat on my iPad until I read a post on Felicia’s blog with recommendations for romance books.  Eloisa James was recommended.  When I went looking for her books I realized that I already owned one.

This is her memoir about her family’s year in Paris.  It was developed from her Facebook posts so it contains mainly short snippets of information about her days interspersed with longer essays.

She is an American who is married to an Italian man.  They live in New Jersey and have 2 kids.  They move to Paris and enroll the kids in an Italian language school because they are fluent.  Her son is taking classes like architectural drawing that he isn’t interested in so he doesn’t do the work.  Her daughter is now a child who is well acquainted with principals’ offices on two continents.  Eloisa walks around the city sampling the food and getting mad that her husband is losing weight as fast as she is gaining it.

“I asked if Alessandro would pick up some of the spectacular chocolate mousse made by a patisserie on the nearby rue Richer.  His response:  “I thought you were on a diet.”  These seven words rank among the more imprudent things he has said to me in the long years of our marriage.”


The Saga of Milo

Background – They had a Chihuahua named Milo.  He used to fly back and forth from the U.S. to Italy with them when they visited her husband’s family.  But Milo got fat.  He got stranded in Italy because he was too heavy to fly back to the U.S. in the cabin.  So Milo has been staying with Italian Grandma until he loses weight.  Yeah, it’s not happening.  Occasionally she reports in on Milo’s vet visits with Grandma.

“Apparently the vet has suggested vegetables, so for dinner Milo is having lightly steamed broccoli tossed in just a touch of butter, and some diet dog food steeped in homemade chicken broth.”

I have these clients.

“Milo has been back to the vet for a follow-up visit. To Marina’s dismay, her Florentine vet labeled Milo obese, even after she protested that ‘he never eats.’ Apparently the vet’s gaze rest thoughtfully on Milo’s seal-like physique, and then he said, ‘He may be telling you that, but we can all see he’s fibbing.'”

I have never been that brave.

“Marina said today the first thing she plans to do back in Florence is find a new vet.  That nasty vet who told her Milo is obese, she said, is too young and doesn’t understand Milo’s emotional problems.”

I read a lot of the Milo sections to my coworkers.  They thought they were hysterical.  Yes, this is our life.

18 Oct, 2016

The Girls of Atomic City

/ posted in: Reading The Girls of Atomic City The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
Published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster on March 5th 2013
Genres: 20th Century, History, Nonfiction
Pages: 373
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Tennessee

“The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.
The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!
But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.”


Oak Ridge was a temporary city in the middle of nowhere, hidden by topography, and never meant to see the light of day.  It had one purpose — to enrich uranium to feed the development of the nuclear bomb.  A lot of people were required to build and then run the huge plants.  How do you get a lot of people to agree to do a job that they aren’t allowed to know about or talk about?  Pay high wages and tell them it is for the war effort.

People left other jobs without knowing where they would be going or for how long.  Many were told to go to a train station and they would be met.  They had no idea where they were heading.

I can’t believe that people agreed to do this.  I’m too nosy.  If you gave me a job and told me to spend eight to twelve hours a day manipulating dials so that the readout always read the correct number, I couldn’t do it.  I certainly couldn’t do it for years without needing to know what I was doing.  I would have been fired and escorted out of there so fast.  How was the secret kept for so long?

Coming out of the Depression though, any job was a good job.  These jobs were hiring women and African Americans at wages they wouldn’t see elsewhere.  Of course, there was discrimination and segregation.  Housing for African Americans was poor and they were not allowed to live together if they were married.  When someone started wondering, “What happens if we inject this uranium into a person?” you know they picked a black man who just happened to have a broken leg to experiment on.  He did manage to escape eventually but not before they had done a lot of damage to him.

This book tells the stories of women in several different jobs – secretarial staff, Calutron operators, cleaning staff, and scientists.  They made a life in a town that wasn’t supposed to last long.  The audiobook was compelling listening.  The story sounds like a novel.

I went to vet school in Knoxville, which is 20 miles away from Oak Ridge.  I had friends who were from there and friends whose families had been forcibly removed from the area in order to build Oak Ridge.  It was interesting to hear what went on behind the scenes.

I would be interested in pairing this with this book:

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear WarNagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard

“On August 9, 1945, three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, a small port city on Japan’s southernmost island. An estimated 74,000 people died within the first five months, and another 75,000 were injured.

Published on the seventieth anniversary of the bombing, Nagasaki takes readers from the morning of the bombing to the city today, telling the first-hand experiences of five survivors, all of whom were teenagers at the time of the devastation.”

The Girls of Atomic City does discuss the reactions of the citizens of Oak Ridge when they found out what they had been doing.  It discusses the guilt that some people still have for their part in making the bomb.


You know what I kept thinking about while listening to this?  This scene from Clerks.

Randal: There was something else going on in Jedi. I ever noticed it till today. They build another Death Star, right?

Dante: Yeah.

Randal: Now, the first one was completed and fully operational before the Rebel’s destroyed it.

Dante: Luke blew it up. Give credit where credit is due.

Randal: And the second one was still being built when the blew it up.

Dante: Compliments to Lando Calrissian.

Randal: Something just never sat right with me that second time around. I could never put my finger on it, but something just wasn’t right.

Dante: And you figured it out?

Randal: The first Death Star was manned by the Imperial Army. The only people on board were stormtroppers, dignitaries, Imperials.

Dante: Basically.

Randal: So, when the blew it up, no problem. Evil’s punished.

Dante: And the second time around?

Randal: The second time around, it wasn’t even done being built yet. It was still under construction.

Dante: So?

Randal: So, construction job of that magnitude would require a helluva lot more manpower than the Imperial army had to offer. I’ll bet there were independent contractors working on that thing: plumbers, aluminum siders, roofers.

Dante: Not just Imperials, is what you’re getting at?

Randal: Exactly. In order to get it built quickly and quietly they’d hire anybody who could do the job. Do you think the average storm trooper knows how to install a toilet main? All they know is killing and white uniforms.

Dante: All right, so they bring in independent contractors. Why are you so upset with its destruction?

Randal: All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed! Casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. All right, look, you’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia – this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that. You have no personal politics. You’re just trying to scrape out a living.

____________

This book is basically the point of view of the people building the second Death Star.

 

 

17 Oct, 2016

The Sweet Life in Paris

/ posted in: Reading The Sweet Life in Paris The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City by David Lebovitz
Published by Broadway Books on May 5th 2009
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 282
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: France

“Like so many others, David Lebovitz dreamed about living in Paris ever since he first visited the city in the 1980s. Finally, after a nearly two-decade career as a pastry chef and cookbook author, he moved to Paris to start a new life. Having crammed all his worldly belongings into three suitcases, he arrived, hopes high, at his new apartment in the lively Bastille neighborhood.
But he soon discovered it’s a different world en France.
From learning the ironclad rules of social conduct to the mysteries of men’s footwear, from shopkeepers who work so hard not to sell you anything to the etiquette of working the right way around the cheese plate, here is David’s story of how he came to fall in love with—and even understand—this glorious, yet sometimes maddening, city.”


This is the book the husband would have written if he lived in France.  He is the person who said halfway through our trip to France that it would be a wonderful country if there were no people in it.  His favorite French vacation story is the time we watched an older French woman beat a disabled British tourist with an umbrella because he didn’t give his seat up to her. He learned that parapluie is umbrella from that incident.

We once had a black, female, French neighbor to whom the husband had to explain several times that while the people in our small town might in fact be both racist and sexist, what was getting her in trouble was being French.  No, it wasn’t ok to park in the fire lane and then cut in line at WalMart because she was parked in the fire lane, for example.

David Lebovitz had this same frustration with French people when he moved to Paris.  Why are they always cutting in line?  Why won’t they help you in a store?  Why does it take so long to accomplish everyday tasks?

This book is hysterically funny.  He is a cookbook author whose new French apartment had a tiny kitchen and suspect plumbing.

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Eventually he learned to adapt and thrive in his new city. He learned to cut in line with the best of them. He started dressing up to take out the garbage. That’s when he knew he was home.


 

There are lots of recipes in this book.  I even made one.  I know!  I’m shocked too.  I almost never make recipes in books.  I made the fig and olive tapenade though and it was scrumptious.  I even took a picture of it as proof but it looks like a glob of clumpy black stuff on some bread.  Yummy food photography is not a skill I have.

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