Thursday, May 26, 2016

I am Malala. My world has changed but I have not

Have you watched the interview on the Daily Show with Malala Yousafzai? If not, why don't you just go do that now.
We good?

I'm sure everyone knows at least something about Malala. And if you don't, what the hell, I JUST told you to watch that video.

I knew she was attacked by the Taliban for the audacity of both going to school and being female an the same time. She was the youngest person to win a Nobel prize. But I realized I didn't actually know much about what she did BEFORE being attacked. And it turns out, a lot.
Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human
It's a touching look at how much Malala and especially her father were doing to try to bring education to as many people as they could and what they were doing to resist the Taliban. There's a reason the Taliban targeted her and it goes beyond the fact that she was just a girl attending school. She was in a bus full of girls attending school (2 of whom were hit by stray bullets, both survived) but they looked for her specifically. Because she was the one speaking out against what they were doing, speaking for the importance of education. She was fearless.
I don't know why, but hearing I was being targeted did not worry me. It seemed to me that everyone knows they will die one day. My feeling was nobody can stop death; it doesn't matter if it comes from a Talib or cancer. So I should do whatever I want to do.
It's not all struggle and and fighting for education. That's the central point but much of it is just her childhood and what it was like to grow up. She talks about her love of Islam and her village of Swat (she often refers to it as a "lush paradise"), going to school, learning public speaking, schoolyard rivalries for the best grades, family holidays. She gives a sense of what day-to-day life was like that makes it easier to relate to her.

As much a story about her, it's a story about how much her father was doing for education and women's rights and how it was believed that he was going to be the person targeted. He was a source of strength and support for Malala, encouraging her to speak out for what she felt was right, while also himself doing what he could.

The biggest complaint (and it's not a major complaint in the grand scheme of things) I have is with the writing. For the most part it's very simple, very straightforward. Which is fine and I guess for much of it that works and it certainly makes it accessible to a large audience. Sometimes I would find myself wishing for more but overall that's not the point of the book so as I said, it's my biggest complain but it's not a big complaint.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 265, location 3714

Yousafzai, Malala. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. Little Brown & Co, 2013.

Monday, May 23, 2016

I'm interested in the parts no one makes movies about - not the killing but the keeping alive

I've known about NetGalley for awhile but I had never bothered with it. That is until Sarah mentioned that Mary Roach's newest book Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War was available for request, at which point I decided I NEED to get in on this. Luckily I was approved, which was quite exciting. And now I get to talk about more Mary Roach, so that's just swell.
Mary Roach has quickly become a go-to author* where I don't worry too much about WHAT she's written because she hasn't let me down yet. This time she's looking into the science of war, specifically focused on the advancements in keeping soldiers alive and safe, which is a far more interesting aspect of war IMO than the bang bang part.

The opening of the book really sets the tone for what's to come. She talks about experiments shooting chickens at airplane windshield to test the effects of birds flying into a plane. And about the different types of damage different birds do to a plane. And at this point you know that this isn't going to be a book about weaponry. Unless of course we decide to weaponize frozen chickens, something I'm positive has been suggested at some point.
This is the sort of story that drew me to military science - the quiet, esoteric battles with less considered adversaries: exhaustion, shock, bacteria, panic, ducks...This book is a salute to the scientists and the surgeons, running along in the wake of combat, lab coats flapping. Building safer tanks, waging war on filth flies. Understanding turkey vultures.
The book is broken into sections looking at aspects of war such as what the soldiers wear, the difficulties faced by combat medics, the history of shark repellant for military purposes, and then a few chapters about below-the-belt issues (at least 2 chapters about genital injuries including advancements made in penile transplants). As with her other books, she approaches the subject with humor, which is needed when you're talking about something like stink bombs, but the science is serious stuff. Keeping soldiers safe is a lot of work, with seemingly 2 million variables to consider at every turn. As she points out, the "US government button specifications run to twenty-two pages." Those are a lot of points to consider about a button. 

Roach is skilled at taking what could be a dry topic and making it interesting and funny and easy for non-scientific (and in this case non-military) people to understand and enjoy. Right after getting my copy of Grunt, I picked up Gulp for sale at a local bookstore, so yeah, I'm pretty excited to jump into even more Roach.

Gif rating:
*She joins other favorite authors like Bill Bryson, Jasper Fforde, and Christopher Moore.

Title quote from location 73

Roach, Mary. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. W.W. Norton & Company, 2016. NetGalley

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Manly Man's Book Club: But how could you pass up these books?

I'm still annoyed by that Manly Men's We-Don't-Read-Women book clubs, even though I should totally get over it because it is NOT that big of a deal. Except letting insignificant things go is not my strong suit. But here's what I've decided to do. I've done a quick scan through my shelves and thought I'd pick out a bunch of books that I think a book club with a manliness rating would enjoy if they weren't so busy making up arbitrary rules about what they will and will not allow.
I'm even going to try to forgo snark and scolding and instead focus on how awesome these books are and how they would be PERFECT for a book club. And now, in groups though no particular order, here are books I think a manly man's book group should read.

Books by women

  • Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach HUMANS AT WAR. War is a "manly" thing. And this is all about science and there is more than one chapter about dude's fav thing, their crotch. 
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison Are you avoiding books by women cos you think they aren't serious? Are you then going to try to argue that Morrison isn't serious? Because that is a patently ridiculous argument, sir. And look, this one is even about a dude, in case you want to ease yourself in. 
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel Apocalypse. Art. Survival, both physical and emotional. Don't you want to get in on this? Or are these things only for the ladies? 
  • Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson Political revolutionary hackers. Discussion of religion and spirituality and some super natural and also it's a thriller. But with a more serious purpose than a typical thriller. (And seriousness is a key here, isn't it?)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan Rock and roll. Themes of the movement of time and loss of innocence. Interconnected stories from lots of different points of view, which is super fun. Plus it won a fancy award (Pulitzer)
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley MOTHER OF SCIENCE FICTION. No other explanation necessary
  • Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell History and presidents and assassinations and non-fiction. Those are all things typically thought of as guy things, right?
  • Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa If the fear is women only write chick lit (I will save my rant about that for later) then FEAR NOT with Ogawa, especially not with Revenge. Plus more interconnected short stories FTW

Books starring women

  • True Grit by Charles Portis TRY to say that True Grit is not the definition of a Manly Man's book club pick and ALSO try to say that Mattie is not the star of this one. 
  • Kings and Queens of Roam by Daniel Wallace It's possible this has too much whimsy for a dude's book club. Or at least a book club that would also specifically exclude stuff that is about women. But they shouldn't because this is a great story about family, forgiveness, redemption and the stories we tell ourselves and others
  • Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig BAD ASS MIRIAM BLACK. She is cynical, foul-mouthed, violent without being "action dude but with boobs". 

Books by and starring women

  • We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver Kevin is an important character (we are discussing him, after all) but his mother Eva is the main character. It's a disturbing book full of unreliable narrators and sociopaths and school massacres. And it won a prestigious award (Orange, 2005). Also, since the author's name is Lionel, which is traditionally a boy's name, you can just pretend a guy wrote it and then it fits FINE within your rules. Actually, let's just forget that I mentioned Lionel is a lady.
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison OF COURSE there is more Morrison on here. Most of her other stuff is also about women, I thought it made sense to include her again. And while any of her other books are more than worthy for your book club (Sula, Jazz, etc.) why not go with Beloved which ALSO won a Pulitzer and in 2006 NYTimes listed as the best American novel published in the last 25 years Because go big or go home.
  • Kindred by Octavia E. Butler History and very serious topics (slavery) but also time travel. There is no melodrama here. Butler can see the shades of gray in everyone, even slave owners.
  • Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple This book is hilarious and everyone should read it. EV-RY-ONE

This is OBVIOUSLY not a complete list because to come up with something like that would be ridiculous. This isn't even a complete list from my own books, because I'm sure I could do another scan and find EVEN MORE to recommend.
Ron would read these
So there you go. Consider this a way to ease yourself in. Experience books by and about women and realize they aren't all part of some singular women's/click lit genre. Then maybe you can continue to expand your taste. But hey, small steps.

Monday, May 16, 2016

These people are richer than God

I really liked this book. I'd heard good things about it so even where the basic plot itself didn't excite me, other people's enthusiasm did. So when I was hanging out in the city and saw a copy, I decided I needed to have it. Good choice cos I plowed through it.

It's about a few Asian families, who are crazy rich. If the title didn't make that clear. Like really crazy rich.

Nick Young's family is one of those in the super ultra crazy rich category. He's also been taught all his life not to discuss money. Which isn't the worst advice, unless of course he's living abroad (educated in England, working in NYC) away from his family and their palaces and private jets, and he's been dating this girl who just thinks he's a fellow professor trying to get tenure. So when he invites this girl, Rachel Chu, back home to Singapore for a friend's wedding (also the wedding of the century for the creme de la creme of Singapore, though he fails to mention this to her) and to meet his family (who, again, live in palaces), she's not really prepared for what she's about to walk into. And Nick's family doesn't know anything about Rachel, since she's NOT part of the super ultra crazy rich circles they typically move in. And of course there's worry that Rachel's only interested in Nick for said palaces.

When you have that much money you're not really concerned with normal things like bill paying and affording that family vacation so you have to find something else to worry about. In this case, everyone is very concerned with social status. Particularly Nick's mom:
To Eleanor, every single person occupied a specific space in the elaborately constructed social universe in her mind. Like most of the women in her crowd, Eleanor could meet another Asian anywhere in the world...and within thirty seconds of learning their name and where they lived, she could implement her social algorithm and calculate precisely where they stood in her constellation based on who their family was, who else they were related to, what their approximate net worth might be, how the fortune was derived, and what family scandals might have occurred within the past fifty years.
One of the biggest problems, and it's sort of a common one so I can't even fault it that much, it's that the main characters are sort of boring. They're smart and kinda and unpretentious and while that is GREAT for actual friends, reading about them isn't the most entertaining. But that's fine because there are loads of other people. Some are shallow and conniving, some are cruel and manipulative, some are confused and vulnerable.

The plot is mostly predictable. The most fun part is watching the characters be super ultra rich. Not even necessarily Rachel's fish-out-of-water bit (which is also fun, don't get me wrong), but like I mentioned, Nick and Rachel seem like GREAT people but not all that entertaining compared to say Nick's family.

Quick fun and funny read. I will definitely be checking out the sequel China Rich Girlfriend.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 159

Kwan, Kevin. Crazy Rich Asians. Anchor Books, 2013.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

It takes only an instant for a bullet to split the air and steal a life

No thank you, this book.
Caroline Cashion is a professor of French lit living a quiet, introverted life. The back of the book describes her as intelligent. Though I'm thinking the intelligence is tied to her knowledge of French lit cos she does a lot of really stupid things/jumps to a lot of stupid conclusions in other areas of her life. She's also described as "beautiful". On the first page she describes herself as "pretty enough" but then throughout the book she's compared to Salma Hayek and Nigella Lawson and men are constantly calling her ravishing and at one point she calls herself an "aging but still regal homecoming queen" and
ANYWAY. She's been experiencing pain in her wrist and eventually gets an MRI done which shows an unusual object lodged in her neck. This turns out to be a bullet and you'd think that would cause some more issues with the MRI but you're going to need to suspend a lot of disbelief for this one.

She begins digging and it turns out she's actually adopted and her birth parents were killed while she was left for dead at the age of three. The murders were never solved and it was decided to make a clean break and have her adopted into another family without telling her anything about her past. This knowledge leads her on a journey down to Atlanta to try to find out what happened and see if she can get some closure. But it seems that someone really doesn't want her to solve the murder. Probably the murderer.

Here's the thing: the story is fine. It's not great, it's fairly standard thriller type stuff (except the ending which takes a weird turn before wandering back to fairly predictable paths) but Caroline is just. Ugh.* She talks about not knowing anything about Atlanta despite having apparently lived there for "several years". Except she was adopted and left the whole state when she was about 3, so I wouldn't exactly call it several years living there and why would she expect to remember stuff about the place? She exaggerates a lot, to the point where I was like "Right, you need to calm down." Would you like another example? Why sure!

She's talking to the very prim and proper head of the French department about the bullet in her neck and the news that her birth parents were murdered and the case never solved.
"But the bullet in your neck might be evidence, n'est-ce pas?" The perfect eyebrow show up. "Merde. Quel bordel. C'est dingue."My jaw dropped. Madame Aubuchon had just uttered a vulgarity that, loosely translated, meant something along the lines of "Shit, what a goddamn mess."
IF her jaw was dropping over who was doing the (as-seen-on-basic-cable) cursing, FINE. Her reaction would make sense. Except a couple pages later we get this:
At home that evening, I kicked off my shoes and collapsed on the sofa. It would be hard to pinpoint which of the day's events I found most unsettling. The news that Dr. Gellert's office had illegally been entered and my chart was missing? The revelation that my elderly boss could outcurse a Marseilles dockworker?
Or maybe I'm vastly overestimating the cursing prowess of Marseilles dockworkers.

Look, I realize that's a stupid thing, and if the rest of the book hadn't been similarly eye-rolly, I probably would have let it go. But instead, it's a lot of her saying things that make equal amounts of sense. Except everyone thinks she's brilliant.

This was a Just The Right Book selection and unfortunately, this was not just the right book (HA, I'm hilarious). It's not a terrible book. It's engaging enough, if you can suspend disbelief and not get distracted by details that don't make too much sense. Because listen, some of those details bugging me are minor and could be overlooked. Not if you're me, apparently, but others could and I'm sure would enjoy the book.

Gif rating:
*I'm having trouble finding a quote from the title of this post, since apparently all of the lines I highlighted were about something that annoyed me. Other examples: she has a researcher help her locate her family, except Caroline manages to get a hold of her BPs social security numbers and fails to share that information with the researcher. The researcher she also promises herself that she'll split a large sum of money with, but forgets about that when the money actually shows up. The book also ignores things such as "statute of limitations" on crimes like rape. (Something I apparently Googled so I could tell the book it was wrong. It's 15 years, according to whatever I found.) The fact that a fragment of a bullet that's been lodged in someone's body for a few decades probably doesn't have any useable forensic evidence anymore, so maybe that shouldn't be such a huge plot point. So many things.

Title quote from page 353

Kelly, Mary Louise. The Bullet. Gallery Books, 2015

Thursday, May 5, 2016

No Girls Allowed: Book Clubs for Guys

I wasn't planning on posting anything, but I read this article in the NYTimes "Men Have Book Clubs, Too" and thought I'd throw in my two cents because there was a lot of eye-rolling.

To get this out of the way first, I don't think there's anything wrong with guys have a book club. OBVIOUSLY. If guys want to get together with just other guys to talk about books, awesome. Not by rule, but pretty much any book club I've been a part of has been all women. And female dominated seems to be the case, though I have no actual data to back that up. So book club just for guys. No problem there.

But here are some select quotes that promoted said eye-rolling
This is detailed in the Man Book Club’s criteria, on the group’s website: “No books by women about women (our cardinal rule)”.
“I was always a little jealous of my wife’s book clubs,” Mr. McCullough said. “Now our wives are jealous of us. We’ve created something that is more durable. The book club my wife belongs to — there’s a lot of changeover.”
And yet the group has standards. “We are not allowed to suggest books that our mothers have suggested,” Mr. Creagar said. “We had an accident one time. We read ‘Water for Elephants.’ It was a huge mistake.”
 The club rates the books it reads on a five-star system for overall quality, and on a five-hand-grenade system for “manliness.”
Alright, so really it's that first quote, which started the eye-rolling and once that starts it's hard to stop. But SERIOUSLY? The first criterion for this MANLY BOOK CLUB is nothing by or about women? I guess stories by and about men don't get enough attention, so good thing these guys are here.

Then there's so much defensiveness about how this isn't your mother's book club and they have MANLY names like "Man Book Club" or "Ultra Manly Book Club" and how the men's book club is so much better than the book clubs their wives belong to.

Like I said, I think it can be a good thing to have this book club for guys. They make some good points about how some men may want to join existing book clubs that are mostly populated by women but are afraid they'll be intruding on women's space or be stigmatized for being the only guy. One guy talks about how when he mentioned he was in a book club a woman assumed that meant he was gay because straight guys don't join book clubs. And he said he understood the reaction because
“Fiction is designed to examine empathy,” Mr. Nawotka said. “Men aren’t encouraged to talk about their feelings or emotions in public.
This is a good reason to make book clubs for guys. And a reminder that people shouldn't assume reading means you're not masculine (because what is that even?) and remove the stigma of guys joining book clubs. Tackling toxic masculinity? I am ALL FOR THAT. Of course the method of tackling it seems like we're taking two steps forward and one step back.

Maybe I'm being ridiculous. Let the guys have their Boy Book Club and their girls have cooties (or boring/unrelatable points of view) book choices and whatever else they want (soap in black packaging so their masculinity stays in tact while showering and stuff like that I assume).

What do you think?