Mercy for Animals
18 Apr, 2019

Mercy for Animals

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Mercy for Animals Mercy for Animals: One Man's Quest to Inspire Compassion and Improve the Lives of Farm Animals by Nathan Runkle, Gene Stone
on September 12, 2017
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Avery Publishing Group
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned

A compelling look at animal welfare and factory farming in the United States from Mercy For Animals, the leading international force in preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies.

Nathan Runkle would have been a fifth-generation farmer in his small midwestern town. Instead, he founded our nation's leading nonprofit organization for protecting factory farmed animals. In Mercy For Animals, Nathan brings us into the trenches of his organization's work; from MFA's early days in grassroots activism, to dangerous and dramatic experiences doing undercover investigations, to the organization's current large-scale efforts at making sweeping legislative change to protect factory farmed animals and encourage compassionate food choices.

But this isn't just Nathan's story. Mercy For Animals examines how our country moved from a network of small, local farms with more than 50 percent of Americans involved in agriculture to a massive coast-to-coast industrial complex controlled by a mere 1 percent of our population--and the consequences of this drastic change on animals as well as our global and local environments. We also learn how MFA strives to protect farmed animals in behind-the-scenes negotiations with companies like Nestle and other brand names--conglomerates whose policy changes can save countless lives and strengthen our planet. Alongside this unflinching snapshot of our current food system, readers are also offered hope and solutions--big and small--for ending mistreatment of factory farmed animals. From simple diet modifications to a clear explanation of how to contact corporations and legislators efficiently, Mercy For Animals proves that you don't have to be a hardcore vegan or an animal-rights activist to make a powerful difference in the lives of animals.

Goodreads

I’ve had this book on my Audible wishlist for a while but hadn’t gotten around to it.  I’m glad I finally started to listen to it.  I was surprised when it opened with a story of a stealth rescue of chickens from Buckeye Egg Farm in Croton Ohio.  At the time of the story I was living in the area and driving past there a lot.  The place was hugely hated because of its affects on the people living around it.  There would be hoards of flies every summer.  The smell was awful and all the groundwater was contaminated from the feces.  

Mercy for Animals was started by Nathan Runkle as a teenager and has grown into a huge voice in the animal welfare community.  They have sponsored a lot of undercover investigations into abuses at factory farms.  The undercover investigators are tough.  I couldn’t work in slaughterhouses or factory farms for months on end to document abuses.  Sadly, it is getting harder to do this kind of work because of agriculture protection laws that punish investigators more than the people perpetrating the abuse.  

This was a tough book to listen to because of the abuse that it details.  I took a few breaks from it to listen to other books for a day or two.  

The last section of the book discusses how technology might help solve the problems.  Companies that make plant-based meat substitutes like Beyond Beef are profiled in addition to companies making meat out of animal stem cells.  This will allow people to eat meat with any animals being slaughtered.  It was nice that this book ended on an uplifting note after all the horrors that came before.  

How to Know the Birds
29 Mar, 2019

How to Know the Birds

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading How to Know the Birds How to Know the Birds: The Art and Adventure of Birding by Ted Floyd
on March 12, 2019
Pages: 304
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by National Geographic Society
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Become a better birder with brief portraits of 200 top North American birds. This friendly, relatable book is a celebration of the art, science, and delights of bird-watching.

How to Know the Birds introduces a new, holistic approach to bird-watching, by noting how behaviors, settings, and seasonal cycles connect with shape, song, color, gender, age distinctions, and other features traditionally used to identify species. With short essays on 200 observable species, expert author Ted Floyd guides us through a year of becoming a better birder, each species representing another useful lesson: from explaining scientific nomenclature to noting how plumage changes with age, from chronicling migration patterns to noting hatchling habits. Dozens of endearing pencil sketches accompany Floyd's charming prose, making this book a unique blend of narrative and field guide. A pleasure for birders of all ages, this witty book promises solid lessons for the beginner and smiles of recognition for the seasoned nature lover.

Goodreads

This winter I finally got birds to come to my bird feeders after years of trying.  I was excited to see this book on a book tour. I’m not good at identifying any species other than the ones children would know.  

I was surprised to see that this book isn’t a field guide like I assumed it would be.  Instead, this book teaches you through a series of essays how to be a birder.  

It starts with a description of a day hike the author and his son take to watch birds.  He explains how birding has changed over the years.  While it may annoy traditionalists, today’s bird watcher generally considers uploading photos and song recording to social media and apps like EBird to be essential parts of the experience.  I think that this is a logical extension of the practice of journaling what birds you see that has been practiced forever.  (I put the book down to download the apps he discussed to help identify birds and to log where and when they were seen.  Technology helps.  There are apps that let you upload pictures and help you identify what you are seeing.) 

The next part of the book teaches you what to look for when you are seeing birds.  It starts with birds that are likely familiar to anyone in the U.S. – robins, cardinals, etc.  There is a one-page essay on each that illustrates a concept in birding such as variations in plumage due to season, age, or sex.  As you move through each of the essays you learn about the science and ecology around bird life.  You see how birders think and how they approach the hobby.  

This is a book that should be savored over time more than read straight through like a novel.  It is formatted to take place over a year.  The simpler lessons are in the beginning of the book/year and get more complex as they go on and the reader has more practice identifying birds.  This book would be best for a beginner birder but experienced birders may enjoy the stories that go along with the descriptions of the birds. 

North
19 Mar, 2019

North

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading North North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek, Jenny Jurek
on April 10, 2018
Pages: 292
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Library

From the author of the bestseller Eat and Run, a thrilling new memoir about his grueling, exhilarating, and immensely inspiring 46-day run to break the speed record for the Appalachian Trail.

Scott Jurek is one of the world's best known and most beloved ultrarunners. Renowned for his remarkable endurance and speed, accomplished on a vegan diet, he's finished first in nearly all of ultrarunning's elite events over the course of his career. But after two decades of racing, training, speaking, and touring, Jurek felt an urgent need to discover something new about himself. He embarked on a wholly unique challenge, one that would force him to grow as a person and as an athlete: breaking the speed record for the Appalachian Trail. North is the story of the 2,189-mile journey that nearly shattered him.

When he set out in the spring of 2015, Jurek anticipated punishing terrain, forbidding weather, and inevitable injuries. He would have to run nearly 50 miles a day, every day, for almost seven weeks. He knew he would be pushing himself to the limit, that comfort and rest would be in short supply -- but he couldn't have imagined the physical and emotional toll the trip would exact, nor the rewards it would offer.

With his wife, Jenny, friends, and the kindness of strangers supporting him, Jurek ran, hiked, and stumbled his way north, one white blaze at a time. A stunning narrative of perseverance and personal transformation, North is a portrait of a man stripped bare on the most demanding and transcendent effort of his life. It will inspire runners and non-runners alike to keep striving for their personal best.

Goodreads

I’ve been interested in Scott Jurek’s career because he is known for doing ultraendurance events as a vegan.  A lot of people were of the opinion that it couldn’t be done when he started.  I’ve read his other book and enjoyed it so when I saw this one I was excited to read it.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints – Scott’s experience on the trail and Jenny’s experience heading up the support crew.  They were at a crossroads in their lives and envisioned the run as a personal adventure.  They underestimated the amount of help that they would require for it to happen. 

People show up to run sections with Scott.  Friends come from all over to coach Scott through hard sections.  Some of them have held the record previously.  Others are planning their own attempts to break the record.

The run is brutal.  I don’t know why anyone would want to run 30-50 miles a day or more for 46 days in a row.  I really don’t know why they’d want to keep doing it when they are injured or when it won’t stop raining or when they are too far behind pace to be able to stop and sleep.  Ultrarunning is definitely not for me but I do enjoy reading about it.

The epilogue talks about the next year when Scott goes back to the trail to be on the support crew for one of his friends who crewed for him.  There is a documentary on U.S. Netflix now called Broken.  It is about that attempt to break Scott’s speed record.  The film isn’t that great on its own but a lot of the same people crew (expect for Jenny Jurek) so you get to see the people you read about in the Jureks’ book.  You can also see sections of the trail to understand exactly how challenging it is. 

I am linking this review up with the Year of the Asian reading challenge.

 

You Can’t Go Wrong Doing Right
08 Mar, 2019

You Can’t Go Wrong Doing Right

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading You Can’t Go Wrong Doing Right You Can't Go Wrong Doing Right: How a Child of Poverty Rose to the White House and Helped Change the World by Robert J. Brown
on January 15, 2019
Pages: 256
Genres: Civil Rights, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Convergent Books
Format: eBook
Source: Library

An unforgettable account of a quietly remarkable life, Robert Brown's memoir takes readers behind the scenes of pivotal moments from the 20th century, where the lessons he learned at his grandmother's knee helped him shape America as we know it today. Called "a world-class power broker" by the Washington Post, Robert Brown has been a sought-after counselor for an impressive array of the famous and powerful, including every American president since John F. Kennedy. But as a child born into poverty in the 1930s, Robert was raised by his grandmother to think differently about success. For example, "The best way to influence others is to be helpful," she told him. And, "You can't go wrong by doing right."

Fueled by these lessons on humble, principled service, Brown went on to play a pivotal, mostly unseen role alongside the great and the powerful of our time: trailing the mob in 1950s Harlem with a young Robert F. Kennedy; helping the white corporate leadership at Woolworth integrate their lunch counters; channeling money from American businesses to the Civil Rights movement; accompanying Coretta Scott King, at her request, to Memphis the day after her husband had been shot; advising Richard Nixon on how to support black entrepreneurship; becoming the only person allowed to visit Nelson Mandela in Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town.

Full of unbelievable moments and reminders that the path to influence runs through a life of generosity, YOU CAN'T GO WRONG DOING RIGHT blends a heartwarming, historically fascinating account with memorable lessons that will speak to the dreamer in all of us.

Goodreads

My first thought reading this book was, “Why have I never heard of this man?”  My second was, “This is like real-life Forrest Gump.”  The man popped up at many of the major events of the 20th century in two countries.

When I finished I had to take a minute to review how this had happened.

  1. He was born in poverty in the south but was able to get an education over time.
  2. He took the police test for research but ended up scoring really high.  He became one of the first black officers in his area.
  3. He started doing undercover drug work which led to him getting hired by the FBI to do that kind of work in New York City.
  4. That got dicey so he quit to go back to North Carolina to start a public relations firm.  That was rough going.
  5. When students were protesting in Woolworth’s because of segregation at the lunch counters, he went to Woolworth’s and told them that he could negotiate a settlement.
  6. He became a fixer for companies that had racial issues.
  7. This led to him meeting and getting to know all the big civil rights leaders in the 1960s and helping them with corporate funding from the clients he had.
  8. He decided getting stuff done from the inside was more effective so he went to work for the Republicans in the Nixon White House to increase business funding to black people.
  9. Along the way he hired Stedman Graham who introduced him to his girlfriend Oprah Winfrey who was getting into television.
  10. He paid for the Mandela children to come to the U.S. for college.
  11. He ended up talking to the President of South Africa about whether or not to release Nelson Mandela.

I probably forgot some stuff in the middle.  It was a wild ride.

It was interesting perspective to read about.  At many points he was considered to be working for “the wrong side” by the black community.  He worked for companies being protested against.  He worked for Republicans.  But he was able to work behind the scenes to potentially make more actual progress that he might have been able to in more traditional civil right roles.


This is a long video but you can listen for a bit to hear him tell his story.

The Class
06 Mar, 2019

The Class

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Class The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America by Heather Won Tesoriero
on September 4, 2018
Pages: 448
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Ballantine Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

An unforgettable year in the life of a visionary high school science teacher and his award-winning students, as they try to get into college, land a date for the prom . . . and possibly change the world.

Andy Bramante left his successful career as a corporate scientist to teach public high school--and now helms one of the most remarkable classrooms in America. Bramante's unconventional class at Connecticut's prestigious yet diverse Greenwich High School has no curriculum, tests, textbooks, or lectures, and is equal parts elite research lab, student counseling office, and teenage hangout spot. United by a passion to learn, Mr. B.'s band of whiz kids set out every year to conquer the brutally competitive science fair circuit. They have won the top prize at the Google Science Fair, made discoveries that eluded scientists three times their age, and been invited to the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm.

A former Emmy-winning producer for CBS News, Heather Won Tesoriero embeds in this dynamic class to bring Andy and his gifted, all-too-human kids to life--including William, a prodigy so driven that he's trying to invent diagnostics for artery blockage and Alzheimer's (but can't quite figure out how to order a bagel); Ethan, who essentially outgrows high school in his junior year and founds his own company to commercialize a discovery he made in the class; Sophia, a Lyme disease patient whose ambitious work is dedicated to curing her own debilitating ailment; Romano, a football player who hangs up his helmet to pursue his secret science expertise and develop a "smart" liquid bandage; and Olivia, whose invention of a fast test for Ebola brought her science fair fame and an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

We experience the thrill of discovery, the heartbreak of failed endeavors, and perhaps the ultimate high: a yes from Harvard. Moving, funny, and utterly engrossing, The Class is a superb account of hard work and high spirits, a stirring tribute to how essential science is in our schools and our lives, and a heartfelt testament to the power of a great teacher to help kids realize their unlimited potential.

Goodreads

Descriptions of this class made me a bit twitchy. Basically, anything goes. The kids do self-directed projects, maybe. If they don’t get started working on anything, ok. If they start working on something and then wander off and ignore their project for months on end, ok. If they ignore their project and then have to work nights and weekends to get it done on time, then the teacher has the lab open for them to do that. I would not be a very understanding teacher if these kids were wanting me to give up my personal time because they couldn’t be bothered to do their work in a timely manner in class. Your lack of preparation is not my emergency, etc.

I didn’t realize that science fairs were this big of a business. There are huge amounts of prize money on the line. Add this into pressure over getting into the “right” colleges and these kids are getting pushed hard sometimes by their parents. You know that parents are the biggest source of trouble in a class like this.

Greenwich is known as a super rich area even though there are students at all economic levels. This has added some tension around the program. Other schools think “Of course the rich school can produce fancy projects”. The book goes into a lot of detail about how the class is run on a shoe string budget but they do have a lot of contacts. Kids can go to professional labs and use a scanning electron microscope for free. The teacher gets a lot of used fancy lab equipment that other schools wouldn’t have access to. Some parents can pay for projects that others can’t.

The book follows several students through the year to see how they do with their projects and what life is like for them outside of class.  Who goes to prom?  Who gets into what college?  (Those college acceptances seem incredibly random.)  How do they decide what school to go to?  Should you even worry about finishing high school if you have a company producing what you invented in Science Research class and you’re in the running for a 7 million dollar prize?


Hero Dogs
20 Feb, 2019

Hero Dogs

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Hero Dogs Hero Dogs: How a Pack of Rescues, Rejects, and Strays Became America's Greatest Disaster-Search Partners by Wilma Melville, Paul Lobo
on January 8, 2019
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by St. Martin's Press
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

Lola was a buckshot-riddled stray, lost on a Memphis highway. Cody was rejected from seven different homes. Ace had been sprayed with mace and left for dead on a train track. They were deemed unadoptable. Untrainable. Unsalvageable. These would become the same dogs America relied on when its worst disasters hit.

In 1995, Wilma Melville volunteered as a canine search-and-rescue (SAR) handler with her Black Labrador Murphy in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. At the time, there were only fifteen FEMA certified SAR dogs in the United States. Believing in the value of these remarkable animals to help save lives, Wilma knew many more were needed in the event of future major disasters. She made a vow to help 168 dogs receive search-and-rescue training in her lifetime—one for every Oklahoma City victim.

Wilma singlehandedly established the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) to meet this challenge. The first canine candidates—Ana, Dusty, and Harley—were a trio of golden retrievers with behavioral problems so severe the dogs were considered irredeemable and unadoptable. But with patience, discipline, and love applied during training, they proved to have the ability, agility, and stamina to graduate as SARs. Paired with a trio of firefighters, they were among the first responders searching the ruins of the World Trade Center following 9/11—setting the standard for the more than 168 of the SDF’s search-and-rescue dogs that followed. Beautiful and heart-wrenching, Hero Dogs is the story of one woman’s dream brought to fruition by dedicated volunteers and firefighters—and the bonds they forged with the incredible rescued-turned-rescuer dogs to create one of America’s most vital resources in disaster response.

Goodreads

Once upon a time, I was a puppy raiser for a service dog organization so I have had a glimpse of what it takes to make a working dog.  So many of the trials and tribulations of the search dog scene in the 1990s sound familiar.  

It is hard to believe now but at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing, there were only 15 FEMA certified search dogs in the United States.  Search dog training at the time was a volunteer effort.  People trained their personal dogs in their spare time so it took years to get a dog with enough skills to pass the national tests.  Wilma Melville had a FEMA certified dog and was deployed to Oklahoma City.  She decided afterwards that there needed to be a way to get more dog teams ready.  She started a foundation to train stray dogs (because they were cheap/free) full time to try to turn them into search dogs in less than a year.  She decided to pair them with firefighters because they were already trained in disaster response.  

The dogs needed to have high prey drive to want to find people.  They had to be athletic to climb over rubble.  They had to be smart.  She found it all in her first rescue dog, Ana, who was failing out of service dog school for being too active.  When Wilma pulled in the driveway to meet her, Ana the Golden Retriever was standing up in the tree she had climbed.  

Reading about deployments is frustrating.  They don’t find a lot of people buried because they often don’t reach the scene for a day or more.   More teams in more areas could decrease mobilization times.  

This book is both sad and funny.  Stories of fruitless searches and the abuse some of the dogs endured before coming to the school are heartbreaking.  On the other hand, they are still dogs despite all their training and sometimes escape or just refuse to behave at exhibitions.  I loved the story of the dog searching at Ground Zero in New York who found an intact wall of Beanie Babies (his absolutely favorite toy) in a ruined store and had to be taken off the deployment for the day because he was too awe-struck to move on.  

This is a great book for all dog lovers.  

Buttermilk Graffiti
13 Feb, 2019

Buttermilk Graffiti

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Buttermilk Graffiti Buttermilk Graffiti: A Chef’s Journey to Discover America’s New Melting-Pot Cuisine by Edward Lee
on April 17, 2018
Pages: 304
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Artisan
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

There is a new American culinary landscape developing around us, and it’s one that chef Edward Lee is proud to represent. In a nation of immigrants who bring their own culinary backgrounds to this country, what happens one or even two generations later? What does their cuisine become? It turns into a cuisine uniquely its own and one that Lee argues makes America the most interesting place to eat on earth. Lee illustrates this through his own life story of being a Korean immigrant and a New Yorker and now a Southerner. In Off the Menu, he shows how we each have a unique food memoir that is worthy of exploration. To Lee, recipes are narratives and a conduit to learn about a person, a place, or a point in time. He says that the best way to get to know someone is to eat the food they eat. Each chapter shares a personal tale of growth and self-discovery through the foods Lee eats and the foods of the people he interacts with—whether it’s the Korean budae jjigae of his father or the mustard beer cheese he learns to make from his wife’s German-American family. Each chapter is written in narrative form and punctuated with two recipes to highlight the story, including Green Tea Beignets, Cornbread Pancakes with Rhubarb Jam, and Butternut Squash Schnitzel. Each recipe tells a story, but when taken together, they form the arc of the narrative and contribute to the story we call the new American food.

Goodreads

Edward Lee is fascinated by what happens to food when people move to a new country.  For example, what happens when Korean immigrants move to an area where they can’t get the types of peppers that they are used to using and have to substitute South American varieties instead?  What new types of cuisines emerge?

He traveled around America to areas where new immigrant communities have grown up to sample the food.  Along the way he tries to ingratiate himself in restaurants to find the best food.  It doesn’t always go well. 

This book challenges a lot of deeply held beliefs in the foodie world.

  • What does it mean to call a food “authentic”?
  • If authentic means “the way it was made at a certain time in the past in a certain place”, does that imply that that culture’s food scene can’t evolve?  Must it stay stagnant so rich American people feel it is worth eating?
  • Who gets to be the judge of authenticity anyway?
  • Why is he looked at strangely if he decides to open a restaurant serving anything but Korean food?  Should he be limited to cooking the food of his ancestors?  Isn’t he allowed to evolve too?

There are a lot of recipes in this book.  I actually made a few which is really unusual for me.  I know now that I don’t like anything pickled except cucumbers.  I was making coleslaw at the same time I was reading this and he had a basic coleslaw recipe.  It was good. 

White Fragility
20 Dec, 2018

White Fragility

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading White Fragility White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, Michael Eric Dyson
on June 26, 2018
Pages: 169
Genres: Nonfiction, Social Science
Published by Beacon Press
Format: eBook
Source: Library

Groundbreaking book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when discussing racism that serve to protect their positions and maintain racial inequality

Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, anti-racist educator Robin DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what can be done to engage more constructively.

Goodreads

This is a very dense book written by a white person detailing why white people get so defensive when talking about race and what can be done about it.  It is a book that I kept highlighting to remember her points.  I actually feel like I need to read it through a second time to really internalize all the points that she was making.  

Some of her important points

White people aren’t used to thinking of themselves in racial terms

 

“the white reference point is assumed to be universal and is imposed on everyone.”

 

I think this is absolutely true.  We tend to think of other people as having a race and we don’t.  We think of backgrounds by nationality instead of just as white yet we lump everyone with African origins as black.

A side effect of not being used to thinking of ourselves as a race is our lack of experience in racial discussions, specifically in difficult discussions.   When things get tough, we tend to panic and shut down the discussion. 

We don’t understand what racism is

That leads to claims reverse racism, which according to the definitions that she uses isn’t possible.

 

“The simplistic idea that racism is limited to individual intentional acts committed by unkind people is at the root of virtually all white defensiveness on this topic.”

 

Racism isn’t just a person being mean to another.  It isn’t even just prejudice from one racial group to another.  All groups of humans are prejudiced against others.  Racism is prejudice plus power.  

“When a racial group’s collective prejudice is backed by the power of legal authority and institutional control, it is transformed into racism, a far-reaching system that functions independently from the intentions or self-images of individual actors.”

 

In case that isn’t clear, she gives this example using sexism instead of racism.

“While women could be prejudiced and discriminate against men in individual interactions, women as a group could not deny men their civil rights. But men as a group could and did deny women their civil rights. Men could do so because they controlled all the institutions.”

 

White liberals are the worst to talk to about race

“In the post–civil rights era, we have been taught that racists are mean people who intentionally dislike others because of their race; racists are immoral. Therefore, if I am saying that my readers are racist or, even worse, that all white people are racist, I am saying something deeply offensive; I am questioning my readers’ very moral character.”

 

White people have to get over this defensive reaction if they want to be a productive part of the discussion.

 

“For those of us who work to raise the racial consciousness of whites, simply getting whites to acknowledge that our race gives us advantages is a major effort.”

 

“While making racism bad seems like a positive change, we have to look at how this functions in practice. Within this paradigm, to suggest that I am racist is to deliver a deep moral blow—a kind of character assassination. Having received this blow, I must defend my character, and that is where all my energy will go—to deflecting the charge, rather than reflecting on my behavior.”

 

 

I would recommend this to any white people, even if you think you know all about these topics. 

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.  

06 Dec, 2018

Looking To The Stars From Old Algiers

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Looking To The Stars From Old Algiers Looking to the Stars from Old Algiers and Other Long Stories Short by Jan Risher
on September 11, 2018
Pages: 328
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by University of Louisiana
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Jan Risher took the long way to get from Mississippi to Louisiana with stops in between in Slovakia, Mexico, China, Burkina Faso, and more than forty other countries. Since moving to Lafayette in 2001, she has been a Sunday columnist for The Daily Advertiser and has written a column every single week since March 2002.

Looking to the Stars from Old Algiers and Other Long Stories Short is the collection of these columns written over fifteen years. Arranged in chronological order, the collection creates a narrative of one woman's aim to build her family, build up her community, and weave the stories and lessons learned from the past into the present.

From her family's move to Louisiana, adoption of a daughter from China, covering Hurricane Katrina, travels near and far, author Jan Risher attempts, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding, to do her small part to make the world a better place.

Goodreads

Jan Risher

Meet the Author:

Jan Risher is an award-winning journalist and investigative reporter. She was managing editor of The Times of Acadiana. Before and after her time as a full-time journalist, she was an English teacher. She has taught English near and far, in its most basic and most lyrical forms. She continues her career as a freelance writer and now owns Shift Key, a content marketing and public relations firm. She, her husband and their two daughters have made their home on the banks of the Vermilion River.

Connect with Jan: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram

1. What inspired you to collect these columns into a book?

Through the years, I’ve been blessed to gather a large following of readers, primarily across Louisiana and Mississippi. Readers have asked for a collection through the years, but finding the time to do so has always been an issue. When the University of Louisiana Press spoke with me about the possibility, I believed in the care they would offer the collection — and had a deadline, which is really the main thing I need to get something done!

I thought I had easy access to all my columns but was wrong. Even though this collection finds its beginning in the early years of this century, I ended up having to go to the local university library and digging through microfilm to locate some of the early ones. I had not done as good of a job as I believed in keeping up with them all!

2. When reviewing the columns did you find that your opinions had changed on any subjects?

Surprisingly, I found that my views on most issues had not changed very much, which I found to be comforting. In a couple of rare instances, I was even proud of myself for certain word choices or insights gained. Going back and reading nearly a thousand columns to select the 182 that were eventually used for the book was a head trip. I relived so many of the experiences I had as a younger mother — things I thought I had remembered, but in fact had forgotten. The experience was very powerful. I was grateful to have a team of editors working with me who were able to take a more objective approach in which columns to include or not.

3. What did you hope your newspaper readers gained from the columns? Is it different for book readers?

When my daughters were younger, we said night prayers together every night. Each evening, we would pray to do our best to make the world a better place. In writing each piece for the newspaper, I had the same hope and prayer — that each could serve to and find the right readers who needed a certain tidbit to do his or her part to make the world a better place. Though I failed on occasion, I never wanted to come off as preachy. This is not a how-to book. As a collection of columns, I do believe it connects some of the dots of my hopes. I continue to pray that it serves readers and the lives they touch in a positive way.

 

Buy the Book:
Amazon ~ Author Website ~ Barnes & Noble
Add to Goodreads

 

BOOK REVIEW TOUR SCHEDULE:

Dec 3   – Locks, Hooks and Books – review / guest post / giveaway
Dec 4   – Library of Clean Reads – author interview / giveaway
Dec 6   – Based on a True Story – review / author interview / giveaway
Dec 6   – Library of Clean Reads – review / giveaway
Dec 7   – Olio by Marilyn – review / author interview / giveaway
Dec 10 – Svetlana’s Reads and Views – review / giveaway
Dec 11 – Books for Books – review
Dec 11 – The Hufflepuff Nerdette – review / guest post / giveaway
Dec 12 – Jorie Loves A Story – review / author interview
Dec 12 – #redhead.with.book – review / giveaway
Dec 13 – A Mama’s Corner of the World – review / giveaway
Dec 14 – Novel Escapes – review
Dec 14 – Mystery Suspense Reviews – review / guest post

 

​Enter the Giveaway!
Ends Dec 22, 2018


04 Dec, 2018

Mastering the Art of French Eating

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Mastering the Art of French Eating Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris by Ann Mah
on September 26, 2013
Pages: 288
Genres: Cooking, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Pamela Dorman Books
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: France

The memoir of a young diplomat’s wife who must reinvent her dream of living in Paris—one dish at a time

"Excellent ingredients, carefully prepared and very elegantly served. A really tasty book."—Peter Mayle, author of The Marseille Caper and A Year in Provence

When journalist Ann Mah’s diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment in Paris, Ann is overjoyed. A lifelong foodie and Francophile, she immediately begins plotting gastronomic adventures à deux. Then her husband is called away to Iraq on a year-long post—alone. Suddenly, Ann’s vision of a romantic sojourn in the City of Lights is turned upside down.

So, not unlike another diplomatic wife, Julia Child, Ann must find a life for herself in a new city. Journeying through Paris and the surrounding regions of France, Ann combats her loneliness by seeking out the perfect pain au chocolat and learning the way the andouillette sausage is really made. She explores the history and taste of everything from boeuf Bourguignon to soupe au pistou to the crispiest of buckwheat crepes. And somewhere between Paris and the south of France, she uncovers a few of life’s truths.

Like Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French and Julie Powell’s New York Times bestseller Julie and Julia, Mastering the Art of French Eating is interwoven with the lively characters Ann meets and the traditional recipes she samples. Both funny and intelligent, this is a story about love—of food, family, and France.

Goodreads

I had this book on my iPad for a long time.  I had started reading it and then wandered off as I so often do.  However, I realized I had this while on my recent riverboat cruise in France, so I decided it was the perfect time to dust it off and finish it up.

I was actually on the outskirts of Lyon when I picked the book back up just in time for the chapter on Lyon. Lyon is known as gastronomic hot spot in France.  Their claim to fame are small restaurants that were started by women catering to working class people.  They are called “bouchons”.  They still exist and are considered some of the best places to eat.  I appreciate this book for explaining that they still feature tripe heavily in their meals.  Vegetarian-friendly is not a concept most of these have grasped.  A few days later I was standing in old town Lyon turning in a circle looking at all the bouchons.

Whispering to the husband – “We aren’t eating anywhere that says bouchon.”

Him – “Why?”

Me, muttering like just saying the word would manifest it in front of me – “Tripe”

Him – “What?””

Me – “It is sort of like restaurants who claim they are Family Restaurants in the U.S.”

He understood my theory that any restaurant that claims that title is using recipes from some old lady who cooked meat and potatoes without any spices and believed that the way to cook vegetables is to boil them until they give up.  Also, the soups are totally made with meat broth and if you order vegetable soup anyway odds are 50/50 that there will be unexpected chunks of meat in it.  Yes, I am a vegetarian foodie snob.

I was inspired by her chapter on beef bourguignon.  Once we got home I made a yummy mushroom version from Smitten Kitchen

I would recommend this book for anyone who likes reading about local food traditions in combination with a memoir.  She decides to write this book to distract her from the fact that she’s been left in France alone for a year.  They just moved there.  She knows no one.  You see her personal growth over the year as she reaches out of her comfort zone to make friends. 


So what did we eat in France?  Stay tuned for that post in a bit.

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.

 

06 Nov, 2018

The Splendor of Birds

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Splendor of Birds The Splendor of Birds: Art and Photographs from National Geographic by National Geographic Society
on October 23, 2018
Pages: 512
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by National Geographic Society
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

An elegant collection of the best artwork and photography from the National Geographic archives depicting the magnificence of birds.

Bird, nature, and art lovers alike will treasure this sumptuous visual celebration of the colors, forms, and behaviors of the winged wonders who share our world as they have been explored, displayed, and revealed throughout the years by National Geographic. The book moves chronologically so readers witness the tremendous growth in our knowledge of birds over the last 130 years, as well as the new frontiers in technology and observation--from luminous vintage paintings and classic black and white photographs to state-of-the art high-speed and telephoto camera shots that reveal moments rarely seen and sights invisible to the human eye. The wide diversity of pictures captures beloved songbirds outside the kitchen window, theatrical courtship dance of birds of paradise, tender moments inside a tern's nest, or the vivid flash of a hummingbird's flight. Readers will delight in seeing iconic species from around the world through the eyes of acclaimed National Geographic wildlife photographers such as Chris Johns, Frans Lanting, Joel Sartore, and Tim Laman and reading excerpted passages from Arthur A. Allen, Roger Tory Peterson, Douglas Chadwick, Jane Goodall, and other great explorers. Exquisitely produced and expertly curated, this visual treasury displays as never before the irresistible beauty, grace, and intelligence of our feathered friends.

Goodreads

20181105_074120.jpg

The first thing I realized about this book is that it is absolutely massive.  There will be no laying leisurely in bed holding this above my head while reading.  I drop books and iPads on my face all the time.  If I drop this book, I would do myself an injury.

The second thing I realized is that it is absolutely amazing.

This is a history of National Geographic’s coverage of birds from the 1800s until now.  It is the best of their wonderful photography.  There are sections about how birds have been covered in the magazine.  There are articles comparing and contrasting articles on similar topics many years apart like this spread of what was known about hummingbird flight in 1957 and 2017.

20181105_074239.jpg

This isn’t a book that you are going to sit down and read right through.  It is a book to dive into a little bit at a time so you can savor the pictures and the knowledge. I’m looking forward to reading slowly through this book to properly enjoy it.

This is a high quality coffee table book that is perfect for anyone who loves birds and/or photography.  

Tuesday, October 23rd: Doing Dewey
Tuesday, October 23rd: Just a Secular Homeschooler
Wednesday, October 24th: Minnesota Birdnerd
Thursday, October 25th: she treads softly
Saturday, October 27th: The Bird Blogger
Monday, October 29th: As I turn the pages
Monday, October 29th: Birdchick
Tuesday, October 30th: Well-Read Naturalist
Tuesday, October 30th: Instagram: @the_need_to_read
Wednesday, October 31st: Instagram: @dropandgivemenerdy
Thursday, November 1st: Helen’s Book Blog
Thursday, November 1st: Jathan & Heather
Tuesday, November 6th: Based on a True Story
Wednesday, November 7th: Instagram: @megabunnyreads
Wednesday, November 8th: The Birders Library
Friday, November 9th: Wall-to-Wall Books
Friday, November 9th: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Monday, November 12th: 10000 Birds

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and National Geographic for hosting this book tour.

24 Oct, 2018

Searching for Sunday

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Searching for Sunday Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
on April 14th 2015
Pages: 268
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Thomas Nelson
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Held Evans comes a book that is both a heartfelt ode to the past and hopeful gaze into the future of what it means to be a part of the Church.Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel Held Evans didn't want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals--church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.

Centered around seven sacraments, Evans' quest takes readers through a liturgical year with stories about baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death that are funny, heartbreaking, and sharply honest.

A memoir about making do and taking risks, about the messiness of community and the power of grace, Searching for Sunday is about overcoming cynicism to find hope and, somewhere in between, Church.

Goodreads

I’m always interested in books that describe themselves as stories of people leaving evangelicalism. I want to know what was the last straw for them. How did leaving affect their lives?

I identified a lot with some of the things she talks about in this book. I could really feel her fear of leaving the community of the church. She was afraid of what would happen if they got sick or had a baby. Who would bring them casseroles? It’s a funny thing to think but there is no easy secular equivalent to that kind of community help in a functional church. I think that is what keeps a lot of people in the pews even if they disagree with what is being said.

I also didn’t like it when she talked about going to new churches and just waiting for them to do something that you disagreed with for theological reasons so you’d have something to complain about. That hit a little close to home.

Ultimately, I left the church and she is fighting hard to find reasons to stay. Me being me, I was thinking, “Why are you trying this hard? Just leave already.” But I guess she still feels connected to the god that she grew up believing in and wants to make a go of it.

This is a book where a lot of quotes jumped out at me.

I’ve gotten so spoiled reading ebooks that I’m not sure what to do with paperbooks that I want to quote. There’s no easy way to mark the quote in a library book. If I had them marked then I’d have to type the quote out instead of copy/paste? So much work. LOL.

Welcome to the laziest book review ever.

20181023_084430.jpg

Yes, yes, yes.  I would get so mad when I was in vet school and going to church because there were college age groups and married people groups and a dismal single people group that everyone felt sorry for.  Being a doctoral student defined my status much more than being single.  Likewise, I always hated the Women’s Bibles that would have commentary about husbands and children like that was what defined what a woman was.  

20181023_084406.jpg

Bouncers and Border Patrol Christianity are perfect descriptions.  

04 Oct, 2018

The Ravenmaster

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Ravenmaster The Ravenmaster: Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife
on October 2, 2018
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: England

The first behind-the-scenes account of life with the legendary ravens at the world’s eeriest monument

The ravens at the Tower of London are of mighty importance: rumor has it that if a raven from the Tower should ever leave, the city will fall.

The title of Ravenmaster, therefore, is a serious title indeed, and after decades of serving the Queen, Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife took on the added responsibility of caring for the infamous ravens. In Ravenmaster, he lets us in on his life as he feeds his birds raw meat and biscuits soaked in blood, buys their food at Smithfield Market, and ensures that these unusual, misunderstood, and utterly brilliant corvids are healthy, happy, and ready to captivate the four million tourists who flock to the Tower every year.

A rewarding, intimate, and inspiring partnership has developed between the ravens and their charismatic and charming human, the Ravenmaster, who shares the folklore, history, and superstitions surrounding the ravens and the Tower. Shining a light on the behavior of the birds, their pecking order and social structure, and the tricks they play on us, Skaife shows who the Tower’s true guardians really are―and the result is a compelling and irreverent narrative that will surprise and enchant.

Goodreads

I’ve been following the author on Twitter for a while so I was familiar with his job and what it entails.  Despite that, this is still a fascinating look at the care of the ravens at the Tower of London.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, there is a legend (which the author casts doubts on) that if the ravens leave the Tower of London, then England will fall.  There are seven ravens who live in the Tower.  They are free during the day to mingle with the tourists, steal food from the tourists, and observe the general hub bub.  At night they have an enclosure to help protect them from the foxes who also live in the tower.  

“In the past the Ravenmasters preferred to put the food out around the Tower, but the problem was that a seagull might take a nice juicy piece of ox liver, say, that was intended for a raven, have a little nibble on it and then casually drop it on a visitor from a great height.”

 

The ravens aren’t pets.  They aren’t tame.  They don’t work on your schedule.  They don’t sit nicely on the bench when David Attenborough wants to film with them.  They are prone to killing and eating pigeons (not always in that order) in front of the tourists.  Most of the Ravenmaster’s time seems to be taken up with getting them where they are supposed to be and getting them out of places where they shouldn’t be. 

“[m]ore than once I’ve seen a raven chasing the Tower’s many resident cats and dogs.” 

 

Readers of this book will find out not only lots about ravens but about what it takes to be a Yeoman Warder.  He discusses The Story – the official tour group talk that takes people about 6 months to learn perfectly before they can start to change it by adding in their own embellishments.  The Story is standardized so any Yeoman Warder can step in and take over a tour if the original guide has to step away to help someone (like if they faint after watching ravens murder other birds.)  

The book is written in short chapters in a very conversational style which makes it a very quick and entertaining read.  I enjoyed this more since I have been to the Tower and could visualize most of the places that he is discussing.  If you haven’t been there, looking at a map of the grounds would be helpful to understanding the story. 

There are several stories of the deaths of some of the ravens from illness, accidents, and old age.  They made me a little teary as did this last line of the acknowledgements about Munin, who hated him from day 1. 

“A very special thank-you to Munin. During the publication of this book, sadly, Raven Munin passed away due to complications of old age. Her presence at the Tower will be greatly missed by her partner, Jubilee; by Team Raven; and by all staff at Historic Royal Palaces.”

 

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.

 

17 Aug, 2018

The New Farm

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading The New Farm The New Farm: Our Ten Years on the Front Lines of the Good Food Revolution by Brent Preston
on May 2nd 2017
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Random House Canada
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Ontario Canada

The inspiring and sometimes hilarious story of a family that quit the rat race and left the city to live out their ideals on an organic farm, and ended up building a model for a new kind of agriculture. When Brent Preston, his wife, Gillian, and their two young children left Toronto ten years ago, they arrived on an empty plot of land with no machinery, no money and not much of a clue. Through a decade of grinding toil, they built a real organic farm, one that is profitable, sustainable, and their family's sole source of income. Along the way they earned the respect and loyalty of some of the best chefs in North America, and created a farm that is a leading light in the good food movement. Told with humour and heart in Preston's unflinchingly honest voice, The New Farm arrives at a time of unprecedented interest in food and farming, with readers keenly aware of the overwhelming environmental, social and moral costs of our industrial food system. The New Farm offers a vision for a hopeful future, a model of agriculture that brings people together around good food, promotes a healthier planet, and celebrates great food and good living."

Goodreads

A lot of the time when you read memoirs about people moving away from the city and starting a farm they stop the story after a few years.  This book chronicles ten years of the ups and downs of a small organic farm.  

What I found most interesting was the multiple times that they found that they needed to stray from small organic farm “orthodoxy” in order to have a viable and profitable business. 

  • They tried growing a large number of crops but realized that most people don’t want the exotic stuff so now they grow mostly greens and cucumbers.
  • They abandoned farmers’ markets and CSAs to sell directly to restaurants
  • They tried using wannabe farmers as interns for farm labor but they were such bad workers that they ended up hiring Mexican workers instead.  

I was interested in the difference between the experience of Mexican migrant farm workers on this farm in Canada versus what I was familiar with in the United States.  In Canada there are worker programs so they are in the country legally and have workers’ rights.  The guidelines seem reasonable and we should have programs like that too.  

I also liked that this book did not shy away from the cruelty involved in animal agriculture.  I found the section about their pigs and chickens hard to read.  They have moved away from raising pigs in part because they had issues with it too.  

There is a truism in farming that you have to go big to survive.  They discuss the conflicts that they have had about this.  At what point do you stop trying to grow so you don’t destroy yourself or your marriage?  They are very honest about the toll that the last ten years have had on their relationships.  

I really enjoyed reading this book.  I think that this is a good book for anyone interested in what it really takes to have a small farm. 

 

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. 

UA-56222504-1