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. 

On The Come Up
12 Feb, 2019

On The Come Up

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading On The Come Up On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
on February 5, 2019
Pages: 464
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

Goodreads

I’ve been mildly worried about this book.  Second books are always hard but how do you follow up a phenomenon like The Hate U Give?  I didn’t want to hear a lot of snide talk about, “It’s good but it isn’t The Hate U Give.”  I was lucky enough to be able to get a copy from the library on release day.  I stayed up past my bedtime to read it all in one sitting.  Good sign.  What do I think?

It’s good but it isn’t The Hate U Give.

The good thing is that it isn’t trying to be.  This is a much smaller, more personal story.  It is set in Garden Heights a year after the events in THUG.  It is referenced a few times as ‘when that kid got killed last year’.  They are still dealing with increased police presence in the neighborhood that she says is meant to look friendly but really means that they are being watched.

Bri is the younger child of an up and coming rapper who was killed by a gang outside her house.  Her mother got addicted to drugs following the murder.  Bri and her older brother Trey lived with her father’s parents until her mother got clean.  Their grandmother and mother still have a very contentious relationship because of this. Trey just graduated from college but can’t find a job in his field and is home working at a pizza place.

Bri’s mom loses her job as a church secretary because the church can’t afford to fix the damage from the riots a year ago and pay her too.  Their financial situation was precarious before but now they need to decide which bills to pay.  They even have to accept from help from Aunt Pooh, a gang member and drug dealer.  Bri decides she needs to start making money from her music to help out.

She writes a song called On The Come Up.  It references an incident where Bri got thrown on the ground by some security guards at school.  She writes that no matter what she is actually doing she is perceived as a thug and as a gang member who is selling drugs and starting fights.  The song is catchy and gets popular in the neighborhood.  The problem is that the catchy parts that people sing along with are all about guns and being a gang member.  People miss the “I’m not like this but people think it” beginning part.  “Claiming to be into gang life” causes even more problems for Bri because that’s not her and she doesn’t know how to get out of the trouble it is causing.  People are even using the song to justify what the security guards did at school.  “See, she was a gang member..”

Perception vs reality is the major theme here

  • When Bri gets publicly angry that people are misinterpreting her song and making assumptions about her, she gets praised by her manager for perfectly “playing the role of a ghetto hood rat”.
  • Aunt Pooh is a major supportive part of Bri’s life but she is also a gang member who will disappear for days at a time to avenge some slight from another gang leaving people wondering if she is alive or dead.
  • As a female rapper, it is assumed that Bri has someone writing her words for her instead of her speaking for herself.

I love all the interactions in this book.  They feel so real.  You can feel the bitterness and resentment between her mother and grandmother.  I love the descriptions of church services.  It is like a full contact sport of what you say vs what you actually mean. 

This gets deep into what it is like day to day to be very financially insecure.  Which bill gets paid?  How long can you go with heat or electric?  What is it like to have to go to a food giveaway at Christmas?  Bri’s mom was taking college classes but she can’t do that and be eligible for food stamps so she has to drop out.  That puts her even farther away from getting a better job to help out their situation. 

About Angie Thomas

“Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.”   from Goodreads

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month
24 Jan, 2019

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading How Long ‘Til Black Future Month How Long 'til Black Future Month? on November 27, 2018
Pages: 400
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Orbit
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow south must figure out how to save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

Goodreads

I loved this collection of short stories but it took me forever to read.  I felt like after each one I had to put the book down and let it sink in.  I couldn’t just go onto the next.  I absolutely love this cover.  I remember when this photo series came out.  This one makes a perfect book cover.  

I’ve posted before about the first story The Ones Who Stay and Fight.  That is still my favorite story but there are many other great ideas in this book.

There are children who get chosen to be a sacrifice based on their good grades.  But what happens to them?  Is this a punishment for the kids who have to excel despite the risks or a way to set them free?

Fans can freeze their favorite writers by killing them at the time of their greatest talent so they never disappoint.

Can humans who have escaped a dying Earth fix the environmental damage?  Should they be allowed to try no matter what humans who have remained behind think?

Making deals (and babies) with dragons might not turn out well for anyone but the dragons.  On the other hand, little dragons can help fight off even bigger evil.

There are tales of first contact with alien civilizations and visions of possibly imaginary women dancing in elevators.  There are gods that survive the death of humans.  How do they entertain themselves?

Wars can be fought or prevented with magic.  Maybe, someday, the tenuous connections between people on the internet will be all that there is left.  Then again, maybe if you look hard enough there is a train waiting that can take you anywhere you need to go.

There are stories here that I know Foodies Read participants would love. 

A chef unlocks her ability to make magic with food. 

A restaurant opens that can make the exact meal from any memory.  

 

The Ones Who Stay and Fight
18 Jan, 2019

The Ones Who Stay and Fight

/ posted in: Book DiscussionReading Genres: Fantasy
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

The Ones Who Stay and Fight is the opening story in N.K. Jemisin’s How Long ‘Til Black Future Month.

I fell hard in love with this story.  It is a response to Ursula La Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.  I had never read that story so I did the lazy thing and read the Wikipedia entry on it.  It is the story of a utopian city where the good fortune is predicated on the suffering of one child.  People learn about this as adults and most chose to ignore the fact and live their happy lives.  Some leave because they can’t stand the suffering this city is built on.

The Ones Who Stay and Fight describes my perfect town, Um-Helat.  Everyone is full of joy.  Reading the description of walking through the town brought tears to my eyes.  It was so uplifting and light.  Everyone is accepted where they are at this time without needing to change themselves to fit into society.  Everyone, except for a small group of people who have learned that there can be societies built on greed and that there are people who take advantage of feeling superior to others.  In the story one of these people is killed for spreading this ideology.  He has a daughter who is taken in to be raised to learn not to hate.  She will be given a choice when she is older and she can leave if she continues to espouse the ideology that her father taught her.  

To me the story said that you can have a society built on fairness and social justice if you both envision it and be willing to fight for it.  

I loved this story so much that I shared it with the husband.  Do you know what he said when I finished reading?  

“Well, that’s a cautionary tale.” 

Excuse me?  I asked him to explain himself.  He said, “That story is saying that there can never be a utopia.”

I was taken aback.  I started wondering how I had ever let that man kiss me with that mouth.  Then we went on to say that obviously the girl would grow up to tear down the whole system because hate and revenge are more powerful motivations than love so the enforcers should have killed her too. 

This started an argument that lead to me telling him that he was no longer invited to move with me to Um-Helat and he said he didn’t want to go.  I swear, I almost had to disown him.

So, read The Ones Who Stay and Fight as a Rorschach test to see what side of the divide that you fall on.  Just know that it can lead to squabbles.  

I’ll be posting more about this wonderful collection later.  I’ve been taking my time with it but I think the library is going to start demanding that I bring it back.  

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. 

Dactyl Hill Squad
19 Dec, 2018

Dactyl Hill Squad

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Dactyl Hill Squad Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older
on September 11, 2018
Pages: 272
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

It's 1863 and dinosaurs roam the streets of New York as the Civil War rages between raptor-mounted armies down South. Magdalys Roca and her friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum are on a field trip when the Draft Riots break out, and a number of their fellow orphans are kidnapped by an evil magistrate, Richard Riker.

Magdalys and her friends flee to Brooklyn and settle in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood, where black and brown New Yorkers have set up an independent community--a safe haven from the threats of Manhattan. Together with the Vigilance Committee, they train to fly on dactylback, discover new friends and amazing dinosaurs, and plot to take down Riker. Can Magdalys and the squad rescue the rest of their friends before it's too late?

Goodreads

Do I really need to tell you anything else besides THIS IS A CIVIL WAR STORY WITH DINOSAURS?  Because, honestly, that’s all it took for me.  I mean, ok, it is written by Daniel Jose Older whose adult and YA books I’ve loved.  Why wouldn’t I love his new middle grade series?

The dinosaurs are both all important and just part of the background in this world.  They are used as draft animals.  The big ones function as buses and ferries.  Triceratops pull carts.  The bad guys ride carnivorous dinos.  

This fantasy imagery is set along side a plot inspired by real events.  There was a ring of white businessmen in New York who kidnapped and sold free colored people into slavery.  The colored children’s home did burn in the Draft Riots.  This book imagines what would have happened if the survivors of the fire found their way to a resistance cell and learned to fight back — WITH DINOSAURS! 

I’d recommend this book to anyone because of the imaginative world building and a look at a part of Civil War history that isn’t often discussed, even without there being dinosaurs.  The dinosaur angle would work well to pull in readers who may be reluctant to read a book about the past.  

About Daniel José Older

“Daniel José Older is the author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015). Publishers Weekly hailed him as a “rising star of the genre” after the publication of his debut ghost noir collection, Salsa NocturnaHe co-edited the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. His short stories and essays have appeared in the Guardian, NPR, Tor.comSalonBuzzFeed, Fireside Fiction, the New Haven Review, PANK, Apex and Strange Horizons and the anthologies Subversion and Mothership: Tales Of Afrofuturism And Beyond. Daniel’s band Ghost Star gigs around New York and he teaches workshops on storytelling from an anti-oppressive power analysis.” – from his website

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:

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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.  

30 Oct, 2018

Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners by Gretchen Anthony
on October 16th 2018
Pages: 368
Genres: Fiction
Published by Park Row
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Minnesota

A formidable matriarch learns the hard way that no family is perfect in this witty, sparkling debut novel

Dearest loved ones, far and near--evergreen tidings from the Baumgartners!

Violet Baumgartner has opened her annual holiday letter the same way for the past three decades. And this year she's going to throw her husband, Ed, a truly perfect retirement party, one worthy of memorializing in her upcoming letter. But the event becomes a disaster when, in front of two hundred guests, Violet learns her daughter Cerise has been keeping a shocking secret from her, shattering Violet's carefully constructed world.

In an epic battle of wills, Violet goes to increasing lengths to wrest back control of her family, infuriating Cerise and snaring their family and friends in a very un-Midwestern, un-Baumgartner gyre of dramatics. And there will be no explaining away the consequences in this year's Baumgartner holiday letter...

Full of humor, emotion and surprises at every turn, Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners brings to life a remarkable cast of quirky, deeply human characters who must learn to adapt to the unconventional, or else risk losing one another. This is the story of a family falling to pieces--and the unexpected way they put it all back together.

Goodreads

I loved this book because I know Violet, or rather I know several Violets.  These are women who will always tell you how their family is doing ever so well.  They have a story for each member of the family to illustrate their points.  If you know their offspring, you generally know that they are the local drug dealer and you are left wondering if their mother has ever met them at all.  The other side of Violet is the control freak.  She has the idea of her perfect family in her mind and you are NOT going to deviate from it.  I might be descended from a person like this but I know better than to say that out loud because I’ve been well trained.  She would vehemently deny being a control freak.  She just knows what she wants and will passive-aggressively move everyone around until she gets everyone where she wants them.  She can deny the existence of anything that mars this perfection.  (There is a week in my life that my Violet refuses to acknowledge.)  Yes, I know Violet and found even her most outrageous plans to be familiar.  It was fun to laugh at it happening to someone else. 

There are three mysteries in this book.  Violet is obsessed with finding out who is the father of her grandchild.  I found that mystery fairly easy to unravel.  There is also the mystery of some political sculptures appearing around town and a mystery of what Violet’s friend’s husband is doing when he disappears for days.  Those I didn’t figure out.  

I tend not to read a lot of literary type fiction but this one was funny enough to me to keep my interest.  Maybe you have to be Midwestern and know people like this to find it this funny.  If you don’t you might think it is pretty over the top.  

 

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.

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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.  

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Bouncers and Border Patrol Christianity are perfect descriptions.  

22 Oct, 2018

Castle Hangnail

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Castle Hangnail Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon
on April 21st 2015
Pages: 384
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade
Published by Dial Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

From the creator of Dragonbreath comes a tale of witches, minions, and one fantastic castle, just right for fans of Roald Dahl and Tom Angleberger.

When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail's doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle's minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of all: that she isn't who she says she is.

This quirky, richly illustrated novel is filled with humor, magic, and an unforgettable all-star cast of castle characters.

Goodreads

This book has everything I absolutely love about fantasy books.  It is chock full of imagination and whimsy.  There are also dragons.  You must have dragons.

Molly knows that she is going to be a Wicked Witch.  She can do some magic.  She has an over-the-top Good Twin.  So she steals an invitation to apply for the job of Master of Castle Hangnail.  Who cares that she is only 12?

The Guardian of the castle cares, for a start.  He knows the castle is in danger of being decommissioned if a new master isn’t found who can complete all the tasks assigned.  There needs to be proper blighting and smiting and defending of the castle and capturing the hearts of the villagers (probably literally if the new master is an Evil Sorceress or a Vampire).  Can a cheery 12 year old manage that?

I love the staff of the castle. 

  • The Guardian has served under many truly evil masters and knows how minions should be properly treated.  He isn’t prepared to be given an actual name and thanked for things.  It just isn’t right. 
  • Pins is a stuffed doll who can sew anything, including waterproof sweaters for his goldfish
  • The goldfish is a hypochondriac
  • Cook is a Minotaur who is very angry about the letter Q
  • Angus is Cook’s son and general helper
  • Edward is an enchanted suit of armor with rusty knees
  • There is a woman made of steam.  This happens when a djinn mates with a human woman who didn’t know she had mermaid ancestry.
  • There are clockwork bees and all kinds of bats including one insomniac bat who stays awake during the day and sleeps at night.

Molly is going to be Wicked but not Evil.  Wicked will punish a person to make them think about what they did.  Evil will hurt people for fun.  So she blights weeds and asks around to see who is being mean and is in need of a good smiting.  When she finds someone who is mean to his donkey, she uses a spell to turn the donkey temporarily into a dragon to scare the mean man.  After that all the animals want to take a turn being a dragon, of course!  

This book was absolutely delightful from beginning to end.  I read it in a day.  I was hoping that there was going to be a follow up to see what happens next at Castle Hangnail but so far, no luck.  

15 Oct, 2018

Hot For Food Vegan Comfort Classics

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Hot For Food Vegan Comfort Classics Hot for Food Vegan Comfort Classics: 101 Recipes to Feed Your Face by Lauren Toyota
on February 27th 2018
Pages: 240
Genres: Cooking
Published by Penguin Books Canada
Format: Paperback
Source: Library


A fun and irreverent take on vegan comfort food that's saucy, sweet, sassy, and most definitely deep-fried, from YouTube sensation Lauren Toyota of Hot for Food.

In this bold collection of more than 100 recipes, the world of comfort food and vegan cooking collide as Lauren Toyota shares her favorite recipes and creative ways to make Philly cheesesteak, fried chicken, and mac 'n' cheese, all with simple vegan ingredients. Never one to hold back, Lauren piles plates high with cheese sauce, ranch, bacon, and barbecue sauce, all while sharing personal stories and tips in her engaging and hilarious voice. The result is indulgent, craveworthy food - like Southern Fried Cauliflower, The Best Vegan Ramen, and Raspberry Funfetti Pop Tarts - made for sharing with friends at weeknight dinners, weekend brunches, and beyond.

Goodreads

This would be a great cookbook for people who want to move to a vegetarian or vegan diet but are hung up on all the foods that they won’t be able to have anymore if they give up meat.  The book starts with several pages of recipes devoted to making substitutes for bacon from several different vegetables.  It moves onto using cauliflower as a base for vegan fried chicken.  A lot of the book concentrates on making vegan versions of meat-based favorites.

I don’t really have any comfort foods that contained meat.  I don’t like fried foods.  A lot of the recipes in this book don’t appeal to me for those reasons.  Others are familiar to people who have been vegetarian for a long time.

What did appeal to me as a long time vegetarian was her section on sauces.  She has a very simple vegan mayo recipe (Why does prepared vegan mayo cost a fortune?) and then uses it as a base for several dressings, including my favorite, Thousand Island.  I’m definitely going to try that when my current bottle of dressing runs out.  She also has basic recipes for cake and frosting and then shows multiple flavor variations.  If I baked much, I’d be all over that.

I am going to make the cover recipe this week.  It is a buffalo style baked cauliflower sandwich.  I’m going to make the cauliflower in slices and combine it with salad fixings for dinner. 

This book also has the most delightfully insane recipe I think I’ve ever seen.  It is for a double decker veggie burger topped with both Thousand Island and BBQ sauce (yum) but then, then, the buns are made out of ramen noodles.  Why are the buns made out of ramen noodles?  Because you can.

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I love everything in that recipe. Sure, I’ve only had them separately but what could go wrong? I’m a bit concerned about the ability to fit it in my mouth so I would make a single burger.  You know, it’s healthier that way.  I even bought some ring molds to make the buns.  It will happen someday.  In the meantime, Thousand Island and BBQ may be my go to burger dressing. 

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. 

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.

18 Jul, 2018

Witchmark

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Witchmark Witchmark by C.L. Polk
on June 19th 2018
Pages: 272
Series: Witchmark #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Tor.com
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.

Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family's interest or to be committed to a witches' asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans' hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.

When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.

Goodreads

I heard about this book on Twitter and was intrigued by its cover.  I didn’t really know what it was about when I picked it up.  I laughed when I realized that it is basically about treatment for war-induced PTSD.  I was reading this during a week when that was a frequent topic of conversation at my house and now my fantasy books were chiming in too.

The world building in this book is extraordinary.  It is vaguely steampunk.  Horses and bicycles are the main modes of transportation.  The super wealthy have some cars.  Just reading about the system of bicycle transportation was fascinating and shows how much the author thought about how the world would work.

In this world some of elite are mages who control the weather.  Other mages have different talents but they are bound against their will to weather mages to be used as an auxillary power supply for their magic.  Miles has healing magic.  He knew he was going to bound to his sister so he ran away and joined the army.  Now he is a psychiatrist working in a veteran’s hospital and dealing with his own PTSD and that of his patients.  He doesn’t want to use his powers because either:

  • He would be found by his powerful family and bound – or
  • People would think he was a low-born witch and he would be incarcerated in an asylum

His carefully planned secret life starts to unravel when a poisoned witch is brought to him by a stranger.  The witch knew who he was and now the stranger does too.

There is so much going on in this book. 

  • There is a very sweet m/m romance with fade to black sex scenes.  (Thank you very much!  I want more romance books without sex scenes please!) 
  • There is the mystery of what the dying witch knew and what he wanted Miles to do about it. 
  • There is the drama with Miles’ family. 
  • There is an usual increase in the number of veterans committing violent acts when they come home.  Can Miles figure out the cause of that?
  • There is hatred from Miles’ colleague who suspects he is a witch and is trying hard to prove it.

This is the start of a series.  I’m looking forward to reading future installments.  Come for the magic.  Stay for the unfortunately-too-realistic treatment of post-war veterans. 

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