Tag Archives For: Memoir

Becoming Superman
30 Jul, 2019

Becoming Superman

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Becoming Superman Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood by J. Michael Straczynski
on July 23, 2019
Pages: 480
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Published by Harper Voyager
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

With an introduction by Neil Gaiman!

In this dazzling memoir, the acclaimed writer behind Babylon 5, Sense8, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling and Marvel’s Thor reveals how the power of creativity and imagination enabled him to overcome the horrors of his youth and a dysfunctional family haunted by madness, murder and a terrible secret.

For four decades, J. Michael Straczynski has been one of the most successful writers in Hollywood, one of the few to forge multiple careers in movies, television and comics.  Yet there’s one story he’s never told before: his own.

Joe's early life nearly defies belief. Raised by damaged adults—a con-man grandfather and a manipulative grandmother, a violent, drunken father and a mother who was repeatedly institutionalized—Joe grew up in abject poverty, living in slums and projects when not on the road, crisscrossing the country in his father’s desperate attempts to escape the consequences of his past. 

To survive his abusive environment Joe found refuge in his beloved comics and his dreams, immersing himself in imaginary worlds populated by superheroes whose amazing powers allowed them to overcome any adversity. The deeper he read, the more he came to realize that he, too, had a superpower: the ability to tell stories and make everything come out the way he wanted it. But even as he found success, he could not escape a dark and shocking secret that hung over his family’s past, a violent truth that he uncovered over the course of decades involving mass murder.

Straczynski’s personal history has always been shrouded in mystery. Becoming Superman lays bare the facts of his life: a story of creation and darkness, hope and success, a larger-than-life villain and a little boy who became the hero of his own life.  It is also a compelling behind-the-scenes look at some of the most successful TV series and movies recognized around the world.

Goodreads

I’ve seen a lot of J. Michael Straczynski’s work.  I watched He-Man and She-Ra in the 1980s.  I’m a huge fan of Sense8.  But I didn’t know who he was until I read this book. 

Becoming Superman refers to many things in the author’s life.  He eventually was able to write the Superman comic which fulfilled a lifelong dream.  More importantly, it refers to his ability to survive and then thrive despite of his chaotic home life. 

He was raised by very manipulative people.  His family tree is a list of people who did what they wanted in order to get ahead with no thoughts to how their actions would impact anyone else.  Content warnings for this book would include genocide, rape, kidnapping, murder, domestic violence, and animal abuse – and that is just talking about his father.  Michael built his life on the simple premise that he was going to do the exact opposite of what he believed anyone in his family would do.  It has served him well.  He was able to build a successful career (or four) as a writer in journalism, television, movies, and comics.  He deliberately distanced himself from his family but curiosity about the secrets that he knew his family was keeping made him dig a little deeper.  What he found out shocked even him. 

This isn’t an easy book to read but it is worthwhile.  Pick it up if you like stories of people overcoming horrible childhoods or if you just like some of the shows that he was written.  You’ll be amazed.


 

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

 

About J. Michael Straczynski

J. Michael Straczynski has had one of the most varied careers of any American writer, penning hundreds of hours of television, comic books for Marvel and DC that have sold over 13 million copies, and movies that have grossed over a billion dollars.

Follow him on Twitter.

 
Tuesday, July 23rd: Reading Reality

Wednesday, July 24th: Bibliotica

Thursday, July 25th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Friday, July 26th: The Desert Bibliophile

Monday, July 29th: Jennifer ~ Tar Heel Reader

Tuesday, July 30th: Based on a True Story

Wednesday, July 31st: Patricia’s Wisdom

Thursday, August 1st: Literary Quicksand

Monday, August 5th: Tina Says…

Tuesday, August 6th: Man of La Book

Wednesday, August 7th: Jathan & Heather

Friday, August 9th: Instagram: @happiestwhenreading

I Have the Right To
21 Jun, 2019

I Have the Right To

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading I Have the Right To I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope by Chessy Prout, Jenn Abelson
on March 6, 2018
Pages: 416
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Young Adult
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

A young survivor tells her searing, visceral story of sexual assault, justice, and healing in this gutwrenching memoir.

The numbers are staggering: nearly one in five girls ages fourteen to seventeen have been the victim of a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. This is the true story of one of those girls.

In 2014, Chessy Prout was a freshman at St. Paul’s School, a prestigious boarding school in New Hampshire, when a senior boy sexually assaulted her as part of a ritualized game of conquest. Chessy bravely reported her assault to the police and testified against her attacker in court. Then, in the face of unexpected backlash from her once-trusted school community, she shed her anonymity to help other survivors find their voice.

This memoir is more than an account of a horrific event. It takes a magnifying glass to the institutions that turn a blind eye to such behavior and a society that blames victims rather than perpetrators. Chessy’s story offers real, powerful solutions to upend rape culture as we know it today. Prepare to be inspired by this remarkable young woman and her story of survival, advocacy, and hope in the face of unspeakable trauma.

Goodreads

I heard of this story last week in a news article about her rapist seeking a new trial.  In the article it mentioned her by name which is not usual for a sexual assault case and especially one where the person was a minor.  Later in the article it said that she had gone public to bring awareness to her case so I was interested in reading the book.

Don’t pick this one up unless you are in the head space to get good and angry.  At this boarding school it was pretty much considered normal for the girls to be assaulted.  They were taught during orientation that if they needed to discuss anything with an adult that they should always say it was a hypothetical situation.  This was specifically to get the faculty around the mandatory reporting that would be required if they knew that a crime had taken place.  Sexual conquests were tracked publicly.  This was done so openly that a guide to the terminology used was published in the school newspaper. 

Chessy’s assault took place right before graduation weekend when she was a freshman.  She knew she was basically being hunted but he offered to take her to a forbidden location and she wanted to get a good Instagram picture there.  She didn’t think he would do anything to her.  She was 15 and stupid.  She admits this. 

Even after the rape she kept trying to keep up a good front even to the point of not trying to upset her rapist.  It took her a long time to realize that this wasn’t her fault.  The story of how she and her family were ostracized from the community once she went to the police is maddening. 

She pointed out a lot of ways that the system is stacked against survivors.  One that I hadn’t thought of was regarding news coverage.  Her rapist was 18.  He was always described as something like, “Prep school athlete so and so….” with a nice picture while she was “a 15 year old accuser”.  The stories were always about him because she was a minor and a rape victim so they wouldn’t publish her name.  That’s good most of the time but it lead to sympathetic coverage for him.  That’s one of the reasons that she came out publicly.  She was able to put a face to her story.

Another aspect of this story is the reaction of the school.  All of these activities were protected by the school under the guise of “tradition.”  Alumni paid for her rapist’s lawyer to defend the reputation of the school.  How do you make a school a safe place if no one cares?

 

The Pale-Faced Lie
07 May, 2019

The Pale-Faced Lie

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Pale-Faced Lie The Pale-Faced Lie by David Crow
on May 7, 2019
Pages: 352
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Sandra Jonas Publishing
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: United States

Growing up on the Navajo Indian Reservation, David Crow and his siblings idolized their dad. Tall, strong, smart, and brave, the self-taught Cherokee regaled his family with stories of his World War II feats. But as time passed, David discovered the other side of Thurston Crow, the ex-con with his own code of ethics that justified cruelty, violence, lies—even murder.

A shrewd con artist with a genius IQ, Thurston intimidated David with beatings to coerce him into doing his criminal bidding. David's mom, too mentally ill to care for her children, couldn't protect him. One day, Thurston packed up the house and took the kids, leaving her nothing. Soon he remarried, and David learned that his stepmother was just as vicious and abusive as his father.

Through sheer determination, and with the help of a few angels along the way, David managed to get into college and achieve professional success. When he finally found the courage to stop helping his father with his criminal activities, he unwittingly triggered a plot of revenge that would force him into a showdown with Thurston Crow.

With lives at stake, including his own, David would have only twenty-four hours to outsmart his father—the brilliant, psychotic man who bragged that the three years he spent in the notorious San Quentin State Prison had been the easiest time of his life.

The Pale-Faced Lie is a searing, raw, palpable memoir that reminds us what an important role our parents play in our lives. Most of all, it's an inspirational story about the power of forgiveness and the ability of the human spirit to rise above adversity, no matter the cost.

Goodreads

David Crow survived a chaotic childhood led by parents who definitely did not have their children’s best interests at heart.  His father was an ex-con who worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  On the side he stole items from the Bureau to sell.  He was also involved in many other illegal activities including murder.  His mother was mentally ill and tormented by his father.  His father went to extremes of gaslighting her and getting the children to terrorize her.  They went along with it because they were so scared of him. 

Besides the cruelty at home, David was brutalized at school and in his neighborhood on the Navajo reservation.  The book recounts the horrific poverty and the effects of alcoholism on the community.  It isn’t a sympathetic recounting.  He was a child who considered the Navajo men as people to be humiliated and scorned and hurt if possible.  He was lashing out at people who were in a worse position than he was. 

His father was very threatened by the success of his children.  Some people might read that as strange but I know people like that.  They are very resentful of their children being more successful than them.  These families have generations of abuse in common.  The parents go on and on about how they could have been as successful as their children if they had the idyllic childhood they gave their kids instead of the poor and abusive childhood they had – even when they were also highly abusive to their children.  I don’t understand why the children of these families stay in contact as adults.  That played out here.  He tried to make normal relations with both his mother and father. 

The showdown that was discussed in the blurb was a bit of a let down.  I was anticipating a thriller-ready battle of wits that ended with one person left standing.  It really wasn’t that at all. 

I was intrigued by the beginning of the book but felt like the description of his childhood went on too long.  He didn’t give his transformation to a successful adult enough coverage.  How did he go from a dyslexic kid with poor eyesight who didn’t really pass his classes to being successful in college?  Was the dyslexia ever treated?  How did he manage to have the basic knowledge needed for his classes?  It isn’t ever fully discussed.  He just did fine in college. 

This is an uncomfortable book because everyone does horrible things in it.  If it was fiction, it would be considered too unbelievable. I wish it would have focused more on how he worked to break the cycle of abuse and self-centeredness endemic in his family and how that led him to do the charitable works listed in his author bio.  This isn’t discussed in the book at all.


To read reviews, please visit David Crow’s page on iRead Book Tours. 

Buy the Book:

 

 

 

 
Meet the Author: ​ 

​David Crow spent his early years on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona and New Mexico. Through grit, resilience, and a thirst for learning, he managed to escape his abusive childhood, graduate from college, and build a successful lobbyist business in Washington. Today, David is a sought-after speaker, giving talks to various businesses and trade organizations around the world.

Throughout the years, he has mentored over 200 college interns, performed pro bono service for the charitable organization Save the Children, and participated in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. An advocate for women, he will donate 10 percent of his book royalties to Barrett House, a homeless shelter for women in Albuquerque. David and his wife, Patty, live in the suburbs of DC.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ LinkedIn

Enter the Giveaway!
Ends May 25, 2019

 


 

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.

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.”
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.

 

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.  

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.”

 

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. 

08 Jun, 2018

Never Stop Walking

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Never Stop Walking Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World by Christina Rickardsson, Tara F. Chace
on June 1, 2018
Pages: 249
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Brazil, Sweden

Christiana Mara Coelho was born into extreme poverty in Brazil. After spending the first seven years of her life with her loving mother in the forest caves outside São Paulo and then on the city streets, where they begged for food, she and her younger brother were suddenly put up for adoption. When one door closed on the only life Christiana had ever known and on the woman who protected her with all her heart, a new one opened.

As Christina Rickardsson, she’s raised by caring adoptive parents in Sweden, far from the despairing favelas of her childhood. Accomplished and outwardly “normal,” Christina is also filled with rage over what she’s lost and having to adapt to a new reality while struggling with the traumas of her youth. When her world falls apart again as an adult, Christina returns to Brazil to finally confront her past and unlock the truth of what really happened to Christiana Mara Coelho.

Goodreads

This is a heartbreaking story of a child living in extreme poverty on the streets in Brazil.  The things that happen to her are horrific including witnessing the murder of her best friend by the police, seeing numerous rapes, and killing another child in a fight over food. 

Because this all happened as a child she didn’t clearly know or remember the reasons why they lived like they did.  All she knew was that her mother loved her and her little brother but that there were also times when she wasn’t around.  The children were taken to an orphanage where they were eventually not allowed to have contact with their mother and then were adopted by a couple from Sweden. Nothing that was going on was explained to her.

As an adult she decides to go back to Brazil to try to find her mother and to find out what really happened to make sense of her childhood memories. 

She examines the disconnect she feels about being grateful for her good life in Sweden that wouldn’t have happened if she wasn’t forcibly taken from her mother but also being angry about being separated from the person who loved her. 

The book is very simply written or translated.  That makes it a very stark read.  It is very sad but I think it is necessary to know what is going on in the poorest parts of society.  Once again in reading this book I was struck by how often male sexual violence towards women and children is considered to be an everyday thing.  I hate knowing that there are women who have to submit to being raped because they are told that it is her or her child.  Books like this just make me want to have a moratorium on men for a while.

19 Apr, 2018

One Hundred and Four Horses

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading One Hundred and Four Horses One Hundred and Four Horses by Mandy Retzlaff
on August 15th 2013
Pages: 288
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by William Collins
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Zimbabwe

‘A letter is handed to you. In broken English, it tells you that you must now vacate your farm; that this is no longer your home, for it now belongs to the crowd on your doorstep. Then the drums begin to beat.’
As the land invasions gather pace, the Retzlaffs begin an epic journey across Zimbabwe, facing eviction after eviction, trying to save the group of animals with whom they feel a deep and enduring bond – the horses.
When their neighbours flee to New Zealand, the Retzlaffs promise to look after their horses, and making similar promises to other farmers along their journey, not knowing whether they will be able to feed or save them, they amass an astonishing herd of over 300 animals. But the final journey to freedom will be arduous, and they can take only 104 horses.
Each with a different personality and story, it is not just the family who rescue the horses, but the horses who rescue the family. Grey, the silver gelding: the leader. Brutus, the untamed colt. Princess, the temperamental mare.
One Hundred and Four Horses is the story of an idyllic existence that falls apart at the seams, and a story of incredible bonds – a love of the land, the strength of a family, and of the connection between man and the most majestic of animals, the horse.

Goodreads

What would you do if you had to leave your home in a few hours?  Could you leave your animals behind knowing that animals left on other farms had been killed?  That was one of the issues facing farmers in Zimbabwe when Robert Mugabe’s government instituted a series of land seizures.

The Retzlaff family didn’t leave Zimbabwe right away like many of the other white farmers they knew did.  They moved farm to farm but the chaos followed them.  As they moved across the country over a series of years, they collected animals.  Eventually, they moved to the neighboring country of Mozambique.

I imagine that this is a book that could have a hard time finding an audience.  Readers who care more deeply about people than animals might be offended by the effort and resources that went into moving and housing the horses when so many people were suffering.  Horse lovers don’t like to read books where horses are mistreated.  Horse lovers do need to be warned.  Most of the horses you meet in this book don’t survive until the end.  Many bad things happen to them regardless of the efforts of the Retzlaffs.

Another issue in this book is historical accuracy versus personal experience.  Reading the book, the land reform movement seems to come on suddenly.  I’ve been looking a bit more into the history because I assumed that there had to have been some colonial shenanigans that resulted in all these large landowners being white people.  Yes, Rhodesia (the former name of Zimbabwe) had favored whites in land distribution.  The black population was put onto the least productive land. 

“Following Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, land legislation was again amended with the Rhodesian Land Tenure Act of 1969. The Land Tenure Act upended the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 and was designed to rectify the issue of insufficient land available to the rapidly expanding black population.[3] It reduced the amount of land reserved for white ownership to 45 million acres and reserved another 45 million acres for black ownership, introducing parity in theory; however, the most fertile farmland in Regions I, II, and III continued to be included in the white enclave.[3] Abuses of the system continued to abound; some white farmers took advantage of the legislation to shift their property boundaries into land formerly designated for black settlement, often without notifying the other landowners.” 

“In 1977, the Land Tenure Act was amended by the Rhodesian parliament, which further reduced the amount of land reserved for white ownership to 200,000 hectares, or 500,000 acres. Over 15 million hectares were thus opened to purchase by persons of any race.[3]Two years later, as part of the Internal SettlementZimbabwe Rhodesia‘s incoming biracial government under Bishop Abel Muzorewa abolished the reservation of land according to race.[3] White farmers continued to own 73.8% of the most fertile land suited for intensive cash crop cultivation and livestock grazing, in addition to generating 80% of the country’s total agricultural output.[3]”

“The Lancaster House Agreement [1980] stipulated that farms could only be taken from whites on a “willing buyer, willing seller” principle for at least ten years.[4] White farmers were not to be placed under any pressure or intimidation, and if they decided to sell their farms they were allowed to determine their own asking prices”

“Between April 1980 and September 1987, the acreage of land occupied by white-owned commercial farms was reduced by about 20%.” – all quoted from Wikipedia

Ok, so they can’t say they didn’t know this was coming.  They talk a little about the politics of it and how they weren’t paying any attention.  They mention the vote on a referendum in 2000 only because their black workers asked to borrow transportation so they could all vote.   It was the day before voting and they hadn’t really considered it?

The government organised a referendum on the new constitution in February 2000, despite having a sufficiently large majority in parliament to pass any amendment it wished. Had it been approved, the new constitution would have empowered the government to acquire land compulsorily without compensation. Despite vast support in the media, the new constitution was defeated, 55% to 45%.” Wikipedia

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It was after this failed that the government started to encourage mob violence to steal land without compensation.  I understand that they were both born and raised in Africa and felt protected because they legally owned their land but the writing was on the wall.  Things were about to get ugly and they were completely unprepared.  

What happened as a result of the seizure of white-owned farms was a complete disaster.  They were given as gifts to friends and family of powerful people who didn’t know the first thing about farming.  Zimbabwe’s economy was based on farming and when the farms collapsed it collapsed.  So no one is saying that this was a good and just plan but it couldn’t have been completely unexpected.

There are also some other statements that come across as very colonial.  One time when they move to a new farm she discusses her family moving into the farm house and then talks about her workers settling into the huts around the property.  She also has this quote – “John’s was a good old-fashioned cattle ranch of the kind the first pioneers in this part of the world had kept.”  Sure, they were the first people in the area if you ignore millennia of existence before then.  The author has commented negatively on reviews on Goodreads that bring up these aspects of the book.  That’s never a good look.

As a horse person I wish there were more details.  They talk about sometimes transporting horses in trucks.  Where did the trucks come from?  How many trips did you make?  How many horses did you have at any given time?  The synopsis refers to over 300 but the book doesn’t talk about that number.  How are you affording all this?

What happened to this family is bad.  But I can’t muster 100% sympathy for them.  I would have liked to see a bit more self awareness.  This book would have benefited from including the perspectives of the black workers who traveled with them.  A few of these people are mentioned once or twice by name but generally they are described as a faceless group of grooms.  That’s a big oversight in a book that describes many different white horse owners in detail.  

10 Apr, 2018

The Fox Hunt

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Fox Hunt The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America by Mohammed Al Samawi
on April 10th 2018
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by William Morrow
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Yemen

A young man’s moving story of war, friendship, and hope in which he recounts his harrowing escape from a brutal civil war in Yemen with the help of a daring plan engineered on social media by a small group of interfaith activists in the West.
Born in the Old City of Sana’a, Yemen, to a pair of middle-class doctors, Mohammed Al Samawi was a devout Muslim raised to think of Christians and Jews as his enemy. But when Mohammed was twenty-three, he secretly received a copy of the Bible, and what he read cast doubt on everything he’d previously believed. After connecting with Jews and Christians on social media, and at various international interfaith conferences, Mohammed became an activist, making it his mission to promote dialogue and cooperation in Yemen.
Then came the death threats: first on Facebook, then through terrifying anonymous phone calls. To protect himself and his family, Mohammed fled to the southern port city of Aden. He had no way of knowing that Aden was about to become the heart of a north-south civil war, and the battleground for a well-funded proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. As gunfire and grenades exploded throughout the city, Mohammed hid in the bathroom of his apartment and desperately appealed to his contacts on Facebook.
Miraculously, a handful of people he barely knew responded. Over thirteen days, four ordinary young people with zero experience in diplomacy or military exfiltration worked across six technology platforms and ten time zones to save this innocent young man trapped between deadly forces— rebel fighters from the north and Al Qaeda operatives from the south.
The story of an improbable escape as riveting as the best page-turning thrillers, The Fox Hunt reminds us that goodness and decency can triumph in the darkest circumstances.

Goodreads

I didn’t know much about the causes of the war in Yemen until I read this book.  It still doesn’t make much sense to me because it boils down to “Those people look different than us and think differently than us.”  It is that kind of mindset that Mohammed Al Samawi was working against prior to the war. 

The stars of this story of the activists around the world who play a high stakes game of Six Degrees of Separation.  Who do you know?  Who do they know?  Can you get one man from Aden to Africa?

What struck me while reading this is the problems that are caused by Yemen’s patriarchy/toxic combination of masculinity and religion:

  1. The whole conflict could be put down to this
  2. He was unable to shelter with his uncle’s family because his uncle wouldn’t let him in the house where his unmarried female cousins lived.  How messed up is that?  Your nephew is alone in an apartment in a war zone but you won’t take him in because you assume he wouldn’t be able to sexually control himself around his female relatives?
  3. Because he was male he was completely unprepared to live on his own without women to care for him.  He moved to Aden and was living alone.  He ate out daily since he didn’t cook so he had minimal food and supplies in the house when all the shops closed down.
  4. After he was out of Yemen due to the help of a group of interfaith activists he was still too afraid to tell him mother (still living in a war zone) that he had been talking to Jews.

 

I found the beginning of this book with his entry into interfaith dialogue more interesting than the story of his escape from Yemen.  I think that is partially because the writing is very plain.  It reads like “This happened and then this happened and then this happened…”  Secondly, I mostly just wanted to shake the guy.  This is not a heroic memoir.  Mohammed Al Samawi isn’t brave.  He isn’t very good at planning.  He moves from Sanaa to Aden but neglects to bring his passport even though he travels for work.  These things all make trying to flee the country harder.  He uses the distraction of a Northern man like himself being publicly tortured to death in the street by Al Qaeda to escape from his apartment while wondering why no one tries to help that man.  He even refers to himself occasionally as a man-child.  He was in his late 20s in 2015 when this happened.

In the end there were so many different lobbying efforts going on that it is not clear who succeeded in getting the order given to let him on the ship from Aden to Djibouti.  I wish this had been investigated.  It seems to be a very strange thing not to know who allowed his transport in a book about arranging his transport.  

In the absence of facts, he falls back on the idea that God arranged his rescue.  While comforting for religious people, this makes nonreligious people want to pull their hair out.  Basically he saying that his God ignored everyone else stuck in a war (about religion and power) to concentrate on giving him special attention.  It also diminishes all the hard work that people did on his behalf.

 

 

22 Mar, 2018

Meet the Frugalwoods

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Meet the Frugalwoods Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living by Elizabeth Willard Thames
on March 6th 2018
Pages: 256
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by HarperBusiness
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

The deeply personal story of how award-winning personal finance blogger Elizabeth Willard Thames abandoned a successful career in the city and embraced frugality to create a more meaningful, purpose-driven life, and retire to a homestead in the Vermont woods at age thirty-two with her husband and daughter.
In 2014, Elizabeth and Nate Thames were conventional 9-5 young urban professionals. But the couple had a dream to become modern-day homesteaders in rural Vermont. Determined to retire as early as possible in order to start living each day—as opposed to wishing time away working for the weekends—they enacted a plan to save an enormous amount of money: well over seventy percent of their joint take home pay. Dubbing themselves the Frugalwoods, Elizabeth began documenting their unconventional frugality and the resulting wholesale lifestyle transformation on their eponymous blog.
In less than three years, Elizabeth and Nate reached their goal. Today, they are financially independent and living out their dream on a sixty-six-acre homestead in the woods of rural Vermont with their young daughter. While frugality makes their lifestyle possible, it’s also what brings them peace and genuine happiness. They don’t stress out about impressing people with their material possessions, buying the latest gadgets, or keeping up with any Joneses. In the process, Elizabeth discovered the self-confidence and liberation that stems from disavowing our culture’s promise that we can buy our way to "the good life." Elizabeth unlocked the freedom of a life no longer beholden to the clarion call to consume ever-more products at ever-higher sums.
Meet the Frugalwoods is the intriguing story of how Elizabeth and Nate realized that the mainstream path wasn’t for them, crafted a lifestyle of sustainable frugality, and reached financial independence at age thirty-two. While not everyone wants to live in the woods, or quit their jobs, many of us want to have more control over our time and money and lead more meaningful, simplified lives. Following their advice, you too can live your best life.

Goodreads

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
 
Author Links: TwitterFacebook, and Instagram

Debt-free living is a topic that is very important to me so I jumped at the chance to review this book from TLC Book Tours.  (Free book – Look at me being frugal!)

This is a memoir of a couple who used frugality to save enough to retire to the country in their 30s. They have a blog called frugalwoods.com.  I hadn’t ever heard of this before so I went into this book with no preconceived notions about what their story was.

I appreciated the fact that the book starts with a discussion of privilege versus systemic causes of poverty in the United States.  She realizes that just by being born to married, educated white parents in the suburbs of the Midwest that she got a leg up towards being able to be debt-free in her 30s.  She points out that her frugality is elective instead of a requirement to be able to afford her rent. 

I wish this was more of a how-to book. It doesn’t really explain how they became debt-free.  She says things like she saved $2000 of the $10,000 she was given as an AmeriCorp stipend.  She was living in Brooklyn with roommates but how did she manage to do that?  I want charts and spreadsheets.  She talks later about merging living expenses by moving in with her fiance and living below their means by not trying to keep up with the standard of living of their peers.  She says that even before they really committed to saving a lot of money in order to retire early, they were saving 40-50% of their take home pay not including 401K and mortgage principal.  This is where I started to feel pretty inadequate reading this book.  We’re debt-free but we are not even close to that kind of savings.  (I know the problem.  I eat out too much.  If I cooked every meal at home, I’d be golden. I need to make myself a challenge or something.)

I feel like reader’s reactions to this book will be influenced by where they are on their financial journey.  I can see her story of giving up $120 hair cuts seeming flippant to someone who is struggling to buy groceries.  At the same time, I can see it being inspirational to people who have the ability to start saving money.  I could also see it being frustrating and making people feel like they haven’t been doing enough to secure their financial future.  I’d be interested to see how people respond to the message.

 

 
Tuesday, March 6th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, March 7th: Stranded in Chaos
Thursday, March 8th: Literary Quicksand
Friday, March 9th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach
Monday, March 12th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, March 15th: Man of La Book
Monday, March 19th: What Is That Book About
Tuesday, March 20th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, March 21st: Doing Dewey
Thursday, March 22nd: Based on a True Story
14 Feb, 2018

A Mother’s Reckoning

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

08 Feb, 2018

Waking the Spirit

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Waking the Spirit Waking the Spirit: A Musician's Journey Healing Body, Mind, and Soul by Andrew Schulman
on August 2nd 2016
Pages: 304
Genres: Medical, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Science
Published by Picador
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

Andrew Schulman, a fifty-seven-year-old professional guitarist, had a close brush with death on the night of July 16, 2009. Against the odds—with the help of music—he survived: A medical miracle.
Once fully recovered, Andrew resolved to dedicate his life to bringing music to critically ill patients at Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s ICU. In Waking the Spirit, you’ll learn the astonishing stories of the people he’s met along the way—both patients and doctors—and see the incredible role music can play in a modern hospital setting.
In his new work as a medical musician, Andrew has met with experts in music, neuroscience, and medicine. In this book, he shares with readers an overview of the cutting-edge science and medical theories that illuminate this exciting field.
This book explores the power of music to heal the body and awaken the spirit.

Goodreads

Andrew Schulman was a professional classical guitarist.  He went into the hospital to have a biopsy but an allergic reaction to medication while in surgery led to him spending time in a coma in the surgical ICU.  He was nonresponsive to anything until his wife started playing his favorite playlist of music for him.  After his recovery, he started to research the links between music and healing.  He also returned to the surgical ICU three days a week to play for an hour.

I’ve been lurking on some music therapy harp groups on Facebook.  I like the types of music that these musicians seem to play and I was actually looking for good sources of music for relaxing harp pieces. I know a lot of it is improv.  In this book, Andrew Schulman does some improv but finds himself mostly playing three types of music – Bach, Gershwin, and The Beatles.

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There are a lot of stories in the book that show how small of a world the New York music world must be.  He meets family members of composers, Gershwin scholars, and people who performed on his favorite recordings.  Along the way he is shocked to find that he starts to heal the brain damage that his time in a coma caused.

I liked the incorporation of the science along with the stories.  He will talk about seeing music calm pain responses and then will get a scientific opinion on why that works.

You’ll finish this book believing that Bach should be playing in every recovery unit in the hospital.  Even if you don’t play an instrument, this is an uplifting story about how the body can heal itself and how not every medical intervention needs to be using drugs.

02 Feb, 2018

When They Call You A Terrorist

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading When They Call You A Terrorist When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Asha Bandele
on January 16th 2018
Pages: 272
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by St. Martin's Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: California

From one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement comes a poetic memoir and reflection on humanity. Necessary and timely, Patrisse Cullors' story asks us to remember that protest in the interest of the most vulnerable comes from love. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have been called terrorists, a threat to America. But in truth, they are loving women whose life experiences have led them to seek justice for those victimized by the powerful. In this meaningful, empowering account of survival, strength, and resilience, Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele seek to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable.

Goodreads

The phrase “When They Call You A Terrorist” refers to two episodes in the author’s life:

  1. When Black Lives Matter is referred to as a terrorist group by people who oppose them
  2. When her mentally ill older brother was charged with terrorism for yelling at a person during a traffic accident

This memoir focuses more on her life leading up to the founding of Black Lives Matter than the aftermath.  It tells the story of living in a community that is very heavily policed.  When her brother starts showing signs of mental illness his interactions with the police increase.  He is taken away and no one is able to find out where he is for months despite constant searching.  He isn’t treated but just medicated to keep him quiet.  He is repeatedly beaten by the police.

I immediately compare this to police treatment of my mentally ill step daughter.  She’s 14.  She has been repeatedly restrained by the police both at schools and at home because of her violence.  She has sent adults to the hospital. She has destroyed property.  The police will not ALLOW her to be charged with a crime despite multiple requests because “she has a diagnosis.”  Wanna guess the other differences between her and the author’s brother besides access to healthcare to get a diagnosis?  Yeah, she’s white and lives in an affluent suburb. 

I’m not sure how so many white people can continue to think that unequal policing doesn’t exist. Even if you aren’t involved in a situation that highlights it, so many videos exist.  It has to be just willful ignorance to deny the evidence.

The author helped organize a bus trip into Ferguson after Mike Brown’s death.  A church was offered as a staging place for the 600 people coming in.  I thought about that for a while.  My brother works at a church that would be perfect for that sort of thing.  It is right off the interstate.  It has a huge parking lot that could hold a lot of buses.  There is a school attached so maybe there are locker rooms so people could shower.  Then I laughed and laughed.  I can’t imagine a white majority church EVER opening their doors to a protest group.  They’d have to fight about it in committee and through the church gossip networks for months before they could even begin to make a highly contested decision.  Then the pastor would be fired. 

My mental tangents aside, this book is ultimately about the power of love and what it looks like to try to live out that love in the real world.  It is a short, lyrical book that can help open people’s eyes to the needs in communities that have adversarial relationships with police.

10 Jan, 2018

Heart in the Right Place

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Heart in the Right Place Heart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan
on June 15th 2007
Pages: 304
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Algonquin Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Tennessee

Carolyn Jourdan had it all: the Mercedes Benz, the fancy soirees, the best clothes. She moved in the most exclusive circles in Washington, D.C., rubbed elbows with big politicians, and worked on Capitol Hill. As far as she was concerned, she was changing the world.
And then her mother had a heart attack. Carolyn came home to help her father with his rural medical practice in the Tennessee mountains. She'd fill in for a few days as the receptionist until her mother could return to work. Or so she thought. But days turned into weeks.
Her job now included following hazmat regulations for cleaning up bodily fluids; maintaining composure when confronted with a splinter the size of a steak knife; distinguishing between a "pain," a "strain," and a "sprain" on indecipherable Medicare forms; and tending to the loquacious Miss Hiawatha, whose daily doctor visits were never billed.

Goodreads

At first glance this is a funny memoir of life in a small town medical office.  Stories of men who try to operate on themselves or get injured doing ill advised things abound.  There are also heart breaking stories of the deaths of beloved patients and friends.  If you like stories full of small town characters, this would be a great read for you.

On a deeper level though, I found it quite disturbing.  The author’s father is a doctor.  He has a practice with one nurse and his wife is the receptionist/office manager.  His wife is unpaid for this more than full time job.  She also has a doctorate but has spent her life doing unpaid work to support her husband’s job.  When she gets sick her daughter comes home to take over her job.  Her daughter is a lawyer working for a Senator and is an expert on U.S. nuclear policy.  She gives up that job to become her father’s unpaid helper.  The reason they can’t hire anyone else is that the practice doesn’t make enough money to support a paid receptionist.  So now you have two highly educated women who have given up their careers to support this practice and you are denying a job to a person in the community who could be a fine receptionist if the job was paid.

The reason the practice isn’t making any money is because the patients are too poor to pay for healthcare.  Now we get into the failures of the U.S. health care system.  Unfortunately, that isn’t what people tend to take from memoirs like this.  They see a fine doctor who cares enough not to charge for services if people can’t pay.  That’s admirable but not sustainable.  If you can’t pay to keep the electric on, then the community loses its only health provider. 

(This is a touchy subject for me.  I work in a low cost, walk in veterinary clinic in a poor area.  I am basically living this doctor’s life in the veterinary world but with better staffing and hours.  People come in and regale us with tales of TV shows they’ve seen where the vet cares so much about animals that they don’t charge people.  The implication being that if we do charge, then we don’t care.  We just nod because no one wants an economics lesson or to hear about my massive pay cut to work here or the fact that the owner isn’t getting paid yet because the clinic just opened…)

The answer for communities like this is to find a better way for people to afford health care, not to emulate this model.  It isn’t possible moving forward.  Student debt is too high for newer doctors to be able to afford to live on what a practice like this makes.  I looked at buying a practice like this once.  The vet was making about $100,000 a year being on call 24/7.  I wasn’t willing to do that because that type of stress will kill you and once you figured in paying back a loan to buy the practice and doing some way past due maintenance to the building, I would have almost been paying to work there.  I had been out of school long enough not to have any student loans left.  If I had had the debt of today’s graduates, I could never have even considered it.

So, yeah, the book is cute and funny and sweet as long as you don’t look too closely at why a practice like this is needed. 

 

 

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