07 Dec, 2018

Rising Out of Hatred

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Rising Out of Hatred Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow
on September 18, 2018
Pages: 304
Length: 9:02
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Doubleday
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library


From a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, the powerful story of how a prominent white supremacist changed his heart and mind

Derek Black grew up at the epicenter of white nationalism. His father founded Stormfront, the largest racist community on the Internet. His godfather, David Duke, was a KKK Grand Wizard. By the time Derek turned nineteen, he had become an elected politician with his own daily radio show – already regarded as the “the leading light” of the burgeoning white nationalist movement. “We can infiltrate,” Derek once told a crowd of white nationalists. “We can take the country back.” Then he went to college. Derek had been home-schooled by his parents, steeped in the culture of white supremacy, and he had rarely encountered diverse perspectives or direct outrage against his beliefs. At New College of Florida, he continued to broadcast his radio show in secret each morning, living a double life until a classmate uncovered his identity and sent an email to the entire school. “Derek Black…white supremacist, radio host…New College student???” The ensuing uproar overtook one of the most liberal colleges in the country. Some students protested Derek’s presence on campus, forcing him to reconcile for the first time with the ugliness his beliefs. Other students found the courage to reach out to him, including an Orthodox Jew who invited Derek to attend weekly Shabbat dinners. It was because of those dinners–and the wide-ranging relationships formed at that table–that Derek started to question the science, history and prejudices behind his worldview. As white nationalism infiltrated the political mainstream, Derek decided to confront the damage he had done. Rising Out of Hatred tells the story of how white-supremacist ideas migrated from the far-right fringe to the White House through the intensely personal saga of one man who eventually disavowed everything he was taught to believe, at tremendous personal cost. With great empathy and narrative verve, Eli Saslow asks what Derek’s story can tell us about America’s increasingly divided nature. This is a book to help us understand the American moment and to help us better understand one another.

Goodreads

It was interesting to listen to this book shortly after listening to Educated.  Both books describe children who were indoctrinated into an extreme worldview and the way that their exposure to the larger world in college helped them break free of it.  (Of course, I kept muttering “Well, that’s why you got to keep them locked up and not let them go to them heathen colleges” like a proper zealot the whole time I was listening.)

I found the responses of his classmates intriguing.  There were basically two responses – shun him with the goal of making it so uncomfortable for him at school that he would leave, or befriend him in hopes of talking to him about his views.  I’m not sure where I would have fallen if I was in that situation.  Both approaches worked on him in different ways.  He had never had a lot sustained pushback about his beliefs before.  Arguments were just intellectual exercises for him.  Now he was facing people he knew who were being affected by the policies that he had helped popularize.  The people who befriended him took the risk of being thought guilty by association.  They were able to work on him in different ways.  His non-white friends could publicly be seen with him without people thinking they were white nationalists.  They put faces to categories of “immigrant” and “Jew” in his rhetoric.  His white friend was able to talk to him about his beliefs more openly because he didn’t automatically feel judgement from her based on her race but she was in danger of being assimilated by him or being thought to be a sympathizer.  

I was uncomfortable with a lot of the decisions that his white girlfriend made.  It worked out in the end but:

via GIPHY

 

She was so naive and he had spent his life converting people to the white nationalist cause.  She went to a nationalist conference with him.  One picture of her there on the internet could have ruined her future.  I wanted to slap some sense into her. 

I thought the book dwelled a little too long on their developing relationship.  Yeah, yeah, I get it.  They are maybe-maybe not dating.  I don’t need a play by play of their personal lives.  I’m here for the bigger picture.

The book’s description of their reaction to the rise of Trump should put to rest any ideas that he isn’t playing directly to white nationalists.  They point out all their talking points that he adopted.  They discuss the proposals that they always wanted that he is trying to enact.  

27 Nov, 2018

Educated

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Educated Educated by Tara Westover
on February 20, 2018
Pages: 334
Length: 12:10
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Random House
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Setting: Idaho

An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag". In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes and the will to change it.

Goodreads

Somehow I completely missed the point of this book from the previews I read.  I thought this was going to be a book about a woman who received a college education after a lifetime of fake homeschool.  What this book is actually about is how a lifetime of psychological and physical abuse leaves scars that no amount of education can heal.

This book is brutal.  Tara is the youngest child of a Morman family whose father believes that they need to prepare constantly for the end times.  The children are kept out of school to keep them out of the hands of the Illuminati.  Half-hearted attempts were occasionally made to teach the children but by the time Tara came along, they weren’t even trying anymore.  She was indoctrinated in her father’s way of thinking which included regressive attitudes about women. 

Her relationship with an older brother, Shawn, was the worst of her problems.  At times he protected her from her father’s plans for her.  Other times he beat her.  In between he manipulated her into believing everything was her fault because she was a weak woman who needed to be disciplined to keep from becoming a whore. The violence and psychological torture escalated as she got older.  Any attempt to stand up for herself was brutally squashed.

Another brother convinced her that she could go to college and get out.  She did but hid everything from the outside world.  She had no idea how to function in society.  Her training in conspiracy theories led her to reject help from the state or the church because she believed any assistance was the way they got you to start participating in their evil. 

I was looking forward to reading about how she got out into the wider world.  This is actually where the story gets worse.  Her family’s attempts to reel her back in are monstrous.  Her mind was so broken by their brainwashing that she couldn’t see who to trust.  All she knew was that it was her duty to do what her family said.

As of the writing of the memoir, she is out and she is alive.  It could have gone the other way many times. 

While this book is extreme, I didn’t see it as far-fetched.  I’ve read several reviews that consider the story suspect.  While I don’t know anyone who has gone through this, I can see parts of people I know in many aspects of this story.  I see the affects of growing up with mentally ill, abusive parents who I would have written off years ago, in loved ones who are still trying to connect with these parents.  I’ve seen people struggle to rid themselves of the ideas that they were exposed to in childhood.  They know they aren’t true but still there is that small voice that asks, “But what if is it is true?” 

This isn’t a happy memoir of the power of education and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.  I think this is an important book but be prepared to be very disturbed by the level of abuse described and then almost immediately discounted as unimportant or worse, deserved.

“Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind. This was the price I was being asked to pay, I understood that now. What my father wanted to cast from me wasn’t a demon: it was me.”
13 Nov, 2018

The Good Neighbor

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Good Neighbor The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King
on September 4, 2018
Pages: 416
Length: 14:07
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Published by Harry N. Abrams
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Setting: United States

New York Times bestseller

Fred Rogers (1928–2003) was an enormously influential figure in the history of television and in the lives of tens of millions of children. As the creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he was a champion of compassion, equality, and kindness. Rogers was fiercely devoted to children and to taking their fears, concerns, and questions about the world seriously.  The Good Neighbor, the first full-length biography of Fred Rogers, tells the story of this utterly unique and enduring American icon. Drawing on original interviews, oral histories, and archival documents, Maxwell King traces Rogers’s personal, professional, and artistic life through decades of work, including a surprising decision to walk away from the show to make television for adults, only to return to the neighborhood with increasingly sophisticated episodes, written in collaboration with experts on childhood development. An engaging story, rich in detail, The Good Neighbor is the definitive portrait of a beloved figure, cherished by multiple generations.

Goodreads

This is the most perfect combination of narrator and subject.  What could possibly be more soothing than listening to LeVar Burton reading about Fred Rogers?  It was so perfect that I listened to this at 1x speed and did not speed it up even at points when the story started to drag. 

This is a very in depth look at the life of Fred Rogers.  I was fascinated by stories from his childhood.  I didn’t know that he was born into a very wealthy family.  He became a very accomplished pianist and composer before finding out about this new fangled thing called television and deciding almost on a whim to try it out.  (It didn’t hurt that he was the son of some of the major stockholders of RCA which owned NBC at the time.)  Later he split his time between working at a TV station and going to seminary to become a minister.  These are all detours he couldn’t have taken if he had to worry about how to put food on the table for his family.

His mother instilled a sense of purpose in him.  She was a philanthropist but not the kind that gets their name on flashy buildings.  She found people in need and did what she could to support them.  

One thing that was never addressed was Why Children?  Everyone agrees that he had a child-like sense of wonder and that he related to kids more than adults but no one asked why.  He had a very lonely childhood.  He was bullied.  I would think that would make him want to leave childhood far behind.  He just always seemed to know that his purpose was to work with kids.  I would have liked to see that addressed more. 

This book is so detailed that it gets repetitive at times.  That’s my only complaint.  His life was fascinating.  Anyone looking for a scandal in his life isn’t going to find it.  Everyone agrees that the man you saw on TV was the real person.  

 

08 Nov, 2018

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Always Look on the Bright Side of Life Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle
on October 2, 2018
Pages: 288
Length: 8:12
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Crown Archetype
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned

From the ingenious comic performer, founding member of Monty Python, and creator of Spamalot, comes an absurdly funny memoir of unparalleled wit and heartfelt candor We know him best for his unforgettable roles on Monty Python--from the Flying Circus to The Meaning of Life. Now, Eric Idle reflects on the meaning of his own life in this entertaining memoir that takes us on an unforgettable journey from his childhood in an austere boarding school through his successful career in comedy, television, theater, and film. Coming of age as a writer and comedian during the Sixties and Seventies, Eric stumbled into the crossroads of the cultural revolution and found himself rubbing shoulders with the likes of George Harrison, David Bowie, and Robin Williams, all of whom became dear lifelong friends. With anecdotes sprinkled throughout involving other close friends and luminaries such as Mike Nichols, Mick Jagger, Steve Martin, Paul Simon, Lorne Michaels, and many more, as well as the Pythons themselves, Eric captures a time of tremendous creative output with equal parts hilarity and heart. In Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, named for the song he wrote for Life of Brian (the film which he originally gave the irreverent title Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory) and that has since become the number one song played at funerals in the UK, he shares the highlights of his life and career with the kind of offbeat humor that has delighted audiences for five decades. The year 2019 marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Pythons, and Eric is marking the occasion with this hilarious memoir chock full of behind-the-scenes stories from a high-flying life featuring everyone from Princess Leia to Queen Elizabeth.

Goodreads

Eric Idle has always been my favorite member of Monty Python so I absolutely had to listen to this book.  I can’t imagine just reading this book.  Listening to him read this made the book.

This book was so much fun.  He is an unapologetic famous person.  He talks a lot about all of his famous friends.  He points out that he has non-famous friends but that no one in interested in reading about them.  He hung out with Beatles and Rolling Stones and all the other famous comedians in the 1970s so the stories are as wild as you’d expect.  One of my favorite stories was when Graham Chapman had a party at his house for his parents.  His parents were ready to go to bed at 10 PM but first they politely kicked the Rolling Stones out of the house.  I can see how some people would think of these stories as name dropping or bragging but he is full of so much love for his friends and joy for his life that I loved hearing about it.  What can you expect from a man who gave a toast at David Bowie’s wedding to Iman and once got mistaken for a Beatle while standing next to George Harrison (who was pushed aside unrecognized)? 

He weaves the story of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life through the book.  He wrote it to have a happy ending in his movie that actually ended with the main character being crucified.  Since then it has taken on a life of its own.  It started being sung during British military disasters and then at funerals.  He’s sung it for the Queen and during the Olympics.  He’s sung it in drag and in a tutu, as one does.

If you are a Monty Python fan who has watched the many documentaries about the history of the Pythons you’ll love this book.  You’ll have already gotten a good grasp of the official history from those shows.  This book will fill in what fun was happening behind the scenes and in the time since.

 

02 Oct, 2018

We Fed an Island

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading We Fed an Island We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time by José Andrés
on September 11th 2018
Pages: 288
Length: 10:35
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Anthony Bourdain/Ecco
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Setting: Puerto Rico

FOREWORD BY LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA AND LUIS A. MIRANDA, JR.

The true story of how a group of chefs fed hundreds of thousands of hungry Americans after Hurricane Maria and touched the hearts of many more

Chef José Andrés arrived in Puerto Rico four days after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island. The economy was destroyed and for most people there was no clean water, no food, no power, no gas, and no way to communicate with the outside world.

Andrés addressed the humanitarian crisis the only way he knew how: by feeding people, one hot meal at a time. From serving sancocho with his friend José Enrique at Enrique’s ravaged restaurant in San Juan to eventually cooking 100,000 meals a day at more than a dozen kitchens across the island, Andrés and his team fed hundreds of thousands of people, including with massive paellas made to serve thousands of people alone.. At the same time, they also confronted a crisis with deep roots, as well as the broken and wasteful system that helps keep some of the biggest charities and NGOs in business.

Based on Andrés’s insider’s take as well as on meetings, messages, and conversations he had while in Puerto Rico, We Fed an Island movingly describes how a network of community kitchens activated real change and tells an extraordinary story of hope in the face of disasters both natural and man-made, offering suggestions for how to address a crisis like this in the future. 

Beyond that, a portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to the Chef Relief Network of World Central Kitchen for efforts in Puerto Rico and beyond.

Goodreads

Chef Jose Andres has developed his theories on food relief first by working with a homeless shelter who used restaurant left overs to feed people and then expanding their process after the earthquake in Haiti.  The biggest test so far of his small non-profit came after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.

His ideas are simple:

  1. Find a working commercial kitchen and chefs.  He started in a friend’s restaurant in San Juan.
  2. Source the ingredients locally to avoid delays and to let businesses in the supply chain start to rebuild.  In Puerto Rico he used the normal suppliers that restaurants would use. 
  3. Make a few simple dishes that can be made in huge quantities.  They started with a stew, pans of chicken and rice, and thousands of ham and cheese sandwiches. 
  4. Use local food trucks to deliver food to the hardest hit areas.  Also partner with whatever group is going into areas and have them deliver food.  Among his best delivery teams in Puerto Rico was Homeland Security.
  5. Open other commercial kitchens in strategic areas around the disaster area and repeat.  Throughout his time in Puerto Rico they used a convention center, school kitchens, culinary school kitchens, and a church. 

One of his major complaints about the food situation in Puerto Rico was that the groups who normally handle this in disasters on the mainland decided that it was too hard to get food to the island so they didn’t.  The Red Cross for example, didn’t bring in the Southern Baptists and their mobile kitchens to cook like they normally do so they didn’t have any food to deliver.  (I had no idea the Southern Baptists have a whole relief cooking operation despite going to a Southern Baptist church for four years.  Never heard of it.)  Food and water distribution was not listed as a priority for most groups.

When food was getting distributed it was MREs.  These are prepared military food packets and they can get you through a few days but you don’t want them long term.  He was also angry that water was being given in bottles only.  He campaigned for tanker trucks of water to be taken to towns and let people fill their own containers instead of adding all the plastic waste to the environment.  That idea didn’t get taken up.

A lot of this book is about his fight with FEMA.  He wanted a government contract to pay for his supplies.  He had started ordering food and supplies on a handshake with the distributor with no idea how he was going to pay for it.  At their peak they were spending over $50,000 a day on food.  Government contracting is a slow business that is doubly hard in a disaster.  He talks about contracts that were given to people who never delivered food.  The husband was a government contract person (not with FEMA).  He listened to some of this part and talked about the other side.  After disasters, FEMA contractors are apparently reviewed and taken to task for working too quickly, for not getting bids even if there is only one supplier in the area, etc.  Careers get ruined because people were trying to do the right or fastest thing in an emergency and now there is a lot of trouble trying to get anyone to do those jobs and those who remain aren’t likely to take risks.  Things are just going to get worse. 

This is a good review of what happened in the disaster from the point of view of an outsider to the government.  His ideas are definitely worth listening to and I’m interested to see where his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, goes from here.

 

15 Aug, 2018

Have Dog, Will Travel

/ posted in: Reading Have Dog, Will Travel Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey with an Exceptional Labrador by Stephen Kuusisto
on March 13th 2018
Pages: 288
Length: 5:24
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Simon Schuster
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Setting: New York

In a lyrical love letter to guide dogs everywhere, a blind poet shares his delightful story of how a guide dog changed his life and helped him discover a newfound appreciation for travel and independence.

At the age of thirty-eight, Stephen Kuusisto—who has managed his whole life without one—gets his first guide dog, a beautiful yellow labrador named Corky. Theirs is a partnership of movement, mutual self-interest, and wanderlust. Walking with Corky in Manhattan for the first time, Steve discovers he’s “living the chaos of joy—you’re in love with your surroundings, loving a barefoot mind, wild to go anyplace.”

Have Dog, Will Travel is the inside story of how a person establishes trust with a dog, how a guide dog is trained. Corky absolutely transforms Steve’s life and his way of being in the world. Profound and deeply moving, theirs is a spiritual journey, during which Steve discovers that joy with a guide dog is both a method and a state of mind. Guaranteed to make you laugh—and cry—this beautiful reflection on the highs, lows, and everyday details that make up life with a guide dog provides a profound exploration of Stephen’s lifelong struggle with disability, identity, and the midlife events that lead to self-acceptance.

Goodreads

The thing that I found absolutely amazing about this memoir is that the author was raised to not let anyone know that he was blind.  How do you even do that?  There is a very scary story about the time he rented a motor scooter and drove around the mountains in Santorini following the red blob that was his friend.  

His mother was adamant that being blind meant that he was defective.  He should never let anyone know.  That meant memorizing the small towns he lived in.  Reading by holding the paper up to his left eye.  Living a life made difficult by a disability but almost impossible by a lie.  Seriously, his mother needed a good whooping. 

At 38 he was forced to make a change.  He got his first guide dog.  He was now open about his blindness.  It changed his entire life.

This book is a tribute to the freedom found in living your true life and the way that is enhanced by his guide dog.  The author is a poet and that is obvious in his lyrical writing style.  He is a very philosophical person who deeply considers things that others may gloss over.

I appreciated the fact that he discussed the professionalism of real service dogs.  He worries about the damage being done by people registering out of control pets as emotional support dogs just so they can take them anywhere.  (One of my major pet peeves!)  He explains that there still is resistance to and ignorance of guide dogs for the blind now.  I wouldn’t have thought it would be so common.  

I was a guide dog puppy raiser.  (My puppy passed his temperment and training tests but failed his physical.)  He talks a lot about the importance of puppy raisers and the trainers who work with the dogs.  You find out how the process works.  

For the dog lovers, this story starts in 1994.  That means that the dog does die before the book was written.  It is discussed but not dwelt on.  

This is a wonderful book for dog lovers everywhere.  All dogs can change your life but Corky the labrador revolutionized her person’s. 

27 Jul, 2018

West of the Revolution

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading West of the Revolution West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776 by Claudio Saunt
on July 6th 2015
Pages: 288
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Setting: United States

In this unique history of 1776, Claudio Saunt looks beyond the familiar story of the thirteen colonies to explore the many other revolutions roiling the turbulent American continent. In that fateful year, the Spanish landed in San Francisco, the Russians pushed into Alaska to hunt valuable sea otters, and the Sioux discovered the Black Hills. Hailed by critics for challenging our conventional view of the birth of America, West of the Revolution “[coaxes] our vision away from the Atlantic seaboard” and “exposes a continent seething with peoples and purposes beyond Minutemen and Redcoats” (Wall Street Journal).

Goodreads

American history gets all excited about 1776 without ever considering that for most of the continent the fight with the English wasn’t the main news.

Alaska

The Russians were running the fur trade.  I was interested in the description of the final destination for these furs in the trade capitals of central Mongolia.  They moved all the way from Alaska to present day northern California.  

California

The Spanish got all excited about the Russians being on the northern California coast.  They were convinced that there was a river running from the interior of the continent to the Pacific because based on European geography there should be.  If the Russians had the coast and could find where the river emptied then they could go upstream and control the interior.  The Spanish didn’t want that so they set out to explore everything and claim it for Spain.  

Badlands

I was super skeptical of the claim that the Lakota “discovered” the Badlands in 1776.  First of all, they have origin legends that involve the Badlands.  Second, how did no one trip across this large area previously?  Turns out there was skullduggery afoot.  The Lakota moved west and pushed the people living in the Badlands out in 1776.  They later claimed to have “discovered and settled” the area because “discovered and settled” was working well as an excuse for land grabs by white people.  Good try.  I respect the legal ploy but unfortunately white people are only too comfortable with double standards.

This section also covers other tribes in the middle of the continent.  It gives background on the Osage tribe and their dealings with multiple European powers.  That is great background to Killers of the Flower Moon.  

I had never heard of the extensive trade between natives of Florida and people in Cuba either.  


This book covers a lot in the short period of time.  Because of that it felt like it was hitting highlights of some areas of history that aren’t talked about much, but if you wanted to know a lot about something specific, you’d need to find another book.  It leaves a lot of loose ends where you don’t know what happened next.  

I listened to the audiobook of this and I wasn’t a fan.  The narrator was pretty monotone.  This is a book heavy with dates and names and I would mentally drift off as the narrator droned on.  

Use this book as an introduction to this time in history but don’t expect it to tell you the whole story.

07 Mar, 2018

Hippie Food

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

What I really learned from this book:

White Folks Can’t Cook

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

14 Feb, 2018

A Mother’s Reckoning

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

09 Feb, 2018

Ninety Percent of Everything

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 Dec, 2017

The Newcomers

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Beyond the Messy Truth

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • POC authors
02 Nov, 2017

Gamergate and Rock Stars

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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


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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Little Soldiers

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the plus side, there is:

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

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

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

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

 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

The Blood of Patriots

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

Things I had confirmed while reading this book:

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

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

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Victoria and Abdul

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About Elizabeth Jasicki

Elizabeth Jasicki is known for her work on Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry (2000), Merry Christmas (2013) and Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony (2009). She has been married to David Alvarez since June 16, 2012.

About Shrabani Basu

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

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Give a Girl a Knife

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Ocean Adventures – Junk Raft and The Soul of an Octopus

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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


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

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

Goodreads


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

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

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
13 Jul, 2017

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate

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

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

Goodreads

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

turn into this man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating Report
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Importance of Topic
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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
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