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Sassy Peach Goes to Kindergarten: Happy 5th Birthday!

Wow! We made it! Half a decade! That's crazy talk. I said to a friend the other day how much I couldn't believe how far I've com...

Thursday, December 8, 2016

True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa



The movie "True Story" had been in my queue for a while, so I watched it one lazy night a few months ago. The movie was just okay, but as fans of this blog know, I am madly in love with true crime. So I did some digging, read some articles about the case, then decided to check out the work of Michael Finkel himself, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa.

Christian Longo murdered his wife and three children. He was not only found guilty, but he ultimately admitted to the murders, was sentenced to death, and then was put to death of years ago. The crime itself is disgusting and painful, but what follows is terribly fascinating. After he goes on the run, he assumed the name Michael Finkel while in Mexico, claiming to be the disgraced New York Times journalist. When Finkel finds out about this, he contacts Longo and forms a friendship that spans from immediately after the man's arrest and through his trial. In a way, each man uses the other; Longo for someone to tell his story and Finkel for a way out of his man-made hole into personal and professional redemption. What results is an inter-dependent relationship where each man bares his soul to the other, although one is far from honest with the other.

This book pleasantly surprised me. I picked it up thinking that it was going to basically just be a masturbatory project for Finkel. I was worried it was going to be a self aggrandizement for the disgraced journalist, laying out his woes and finding a way to be redeemed in his career. Surprisingly, I found this to be an incredibly compelling story that didn't necessarily focus on giving Longo the fame he didn't deserve for slaughter and his family, but told a story about a man who is a full-scale narcissist and absolutely off his rocker. I found that I couldn't put this book down because it was so captivating and interesting. I found it to be a treatise on what happens when you get into deep. Finkel was grasping onto straws for anyone who would be outside of his world, and Longo fit the bill. It's just that Longo himself was a liar.

It's easy to be swept up by non-truths when that is what we want to hear and to believe. I believe that Finkel wanted to believe that Longo could potentially be not be guilty, and even though I was reading this book after the man was put to death, it's clear from an outside perspective that he was a liar at best and dangerous at worst. Hearing his version of his family's financial woes was interesting in that it's clear the woes were Christian's fault. While in his telling, it's a series of unfortunate events that happened to him rather than because of him. Since one of the things I happened to study is attribution theory, which is a model for how we attribute outcomes happening either to us or because of us, I was able to pinpoint him very easily. If you are interested in a an intimate and intricate study of how a man's twisted mind works, this is your book. I also appreciated Finkel's personal commentary, and his self examination of his own thoughts on Christian and his work throughout the process of these interviews. He has clearly spent a lot of time examining his own thoughts and biases, which makes for a worthy read.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Go Ask Alice

I have never read the infamous Go Ask Alice, even though it has obviously been on my radar my whole life. I mean, who hasn't heard of this supposedly-true anonymously written supposed-memoir? I decided to read it one day that I had a lot of commuting to do.

In short, a young girl turns 15, starts keeping a diary, tries drugs for the first time and becomes a fiend. I think the first time she tries anything she drops acid. She thinks it's amazing, and she ends up addicted to everything in the book. She loses her virginity on LSD (if I remember correctly) and it was just the absolute best experience and she isn't sure if sex not on drugs will ever be just as good. She ends up a homeless runaway twice, the first time becoming a successful business owner in San Francisco. (Yes, she is still 15.) She ends up getting put away in a mental hospital and dying soon after the book ends.


If your head is spinning from that "true story," you are not alone, my friends.

This is, inarguabley, the most absurd book I have ever read. You can't seriously buy into the idea that I would actually believe this was the real diary of a young girl, right? This was clearly written by an adult who thinks that she understands how a teenager writes. (Spoiler alerts: she doesn't.) If I want to read something overwrought and completely unrealistic, I would read romance novels. Also, the events are absurd. One day she tries LSD and then she wants to try everything under the sun? She never wavers, feels bad, or questions her choices? She looses her virginity on drugs and says it was the most amazing, wonderful, fireworks-filled experience of her life? Gag me, please.

The most absurd of them all, though, is in the middle of the book when, in the course of four weeks, she gets kissed by her childhood crush, then meets a man who has her try hash which is now totally her thing, she starts selling all kinds of hard drugs for this man and plans to set up a drug shop to support him through medical school, sells acid to middle school kids, then walks in on him having sex with his male roommate and then runs away to San Francisco. YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME. WHAT IS THIS NONSENSE?!?

The most insulting part of this book is the supposed rape that occurs. It's apparently brutal and premeditated, but then nothing else is spoken about it. What I find insulting about this is that it has nothing to do with actual, long-term consequences of dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault. The end of the section is that she will never ever see those horrible people again. Really? No PTSD? No flashbacks? No panic attacks? No dealing with the issues. It's disgusting.

Would I recommend this book? Only if you want to read something completely and utterly absurd. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Obedience to Authority: The Experiment That Challenged Human Nature

This semester I was aiming to read one work book (or 5 journal articles) per week to stay on top of my field. I didn't quite succeed the way I hoped, but I still read a great deal. (See Blackballed, Savage Inequalities, and The Prize.) This is a classic that I should have read years ago: Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority.

In the 1950's, a young psychologist has a difficult time wrapping his head around how a large group of people, namely the Nazis, could carry out such heinous orders that involve the death of over 6 million people. Were they horrible people who secretly harbored sadistic tendencies, or was there a greater force at work, namely, obedience to authority? Dr. Stanley Milgram set out to find an answer by creating one of the most famous experiments in the history of psychology.

Two participants are brought into a room, but one is actually working for the experiment (we call this a confederate). They are assigned roles of teacher and learner, the teacher reading a list of vocabulary words that the learner has to memorize. The subject always "picks" the role of teacher. Every time the learner is quizzed and gets a question wrong, he must be shocked by the teacher at progressively higher voltages. As the learner continues to get more wrong, the shocks go up the scale until they reach a maximum of 450 V. How many people will insist on stopping the experiment? How many people will go to the end simply because they are told to? You might be surprised.

Several years back I had a conversation with one of my roommates about this experiment. She swore up-and-down that she would have never got all the way to the end, but I seriously doubt that she's correct about her own estimation. Most people would say they would never go to the end – most people would say they are "good people." However, based on the law of averages, she most likely would have. In fact, knowing her as well as I did, she absolutely would have listened  to and obeyed authority and gone all the way to the end. We all want to think that were special and unique, but the reality is that were are all average. We are all the kind of people would probably go to the end.

This is one of the top 10 most well-known psychological experiments that has ever been conducted. Sure, there were methodological flaws (which every experiment has), but this book lays out not just the initial experiment but the dozens that followed the original. We also know that long after Milgram finished his series, this experiment has been replicated again and again. However, just the replications in this book are astounding. The variations on the relationship between the participants in the experimenter are fascinating, from whether or not you should wear a lab coat, to the location of the experiments, to the proximity of the learner, to more than one experimenter, The results are fascinating. Very few people quit early, and a decent amount go until the end. However, based on the factors altered, the numbers change.

Ultimately Milgram finds that self-proclaimed good people will easily obey authority with and without question. The end of the book breaks down the process of how large scale organizations break down individual members in order to get them to follow authority. I read it completely astounded, only because it made such complete sense that I couldn't believe it. The stripping of the individual's autonomy, The putting in place of authority figures, and the structures in place to get The little guy to listen to those in charge is something that rings true even to this day. It's historically accurate, and contemporary at the same time. This book will never go out of style because it is as appropriate today in 2016 as it was in 1962. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Painted House: A Novel

Another beach, another John Grisham novel. It's an addiction. This summer, it was A Painted House.

One summer, a young boy's life comes to a head before it changes for good. Luke, the young man at the heart of the story, is 7years old and has grown up in his small, Southern town his whole life. His father is a cotton farmer, and every year they must hire the hill people to help them with the harvest. It's never enough – and, inevitably, the floods wipe out the entirety of the remaining crop. This year though, a particularly violent man is a part of the hired help, and with the harvest season the town is forever changed. A beautiful young woman disappears, and a young man lies beaten to death. In addition, someone is mysteriously painting Luke's grandparent's house, which is more significant than most people realize. What is the cause of all of these events?

This was an interesting departure for Grisham, and I enjoyed it immensely. Maybe not in the page-turning sense, but in a way that was easy to sink into, like a big comfy chair that smells like your grandma's house. There was certainly an air of mystery, and there was definitely a sense of injury, but overall it was a well-crafted narrative of a boy's coming of age. I love the whole metaphor of watching the house be painted, and how it never really finished in the course of the out-of-towners being there. I also love the relationship between Luke and his elders. The older I get, the more I am able to relate to the characters are in their adulthood phase and who are struggling to be just that. The protagonist's relationship with his parents was lovely and moving, and his relationship with his grandparents was one that I loved as well as envied. I didn't particularly grow up around my grandparents, so I find it interesting to read stories of those who did. Is that what it would've been like? I don't know, but I am grateful to have the reading to be able to see for myself what the fictional view would be.

I left this book with my cousin because I thought that she could join me in loving this book. As I said earlier, because it's a departure from Grisham's usual thriller fair, it's one that I could recommend to quite a few people. It was a wonderful vacation read, and I'm glad I picked this one up.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Flag for the Flying Dragon: A Captain No Beard Story

Captain No Beard is back! I have a bunch of Carole P. Roman books that are waiting to be reviewed -- she has a fantastic new series out -- but in the meantime, our favorite high-seas bandit is back with his crew in A Flag for the Flying Dragon: A Captain No Beard Story.

Cayla, Captain No Beard's little sister whom we met a few books ago, is now grown up and doesn't need her burp cloths anymore, so she's using them to improve the ship. Their younger brother, though, Zachary, is still a baby. Babies, as we know, are just so much trouble. No one can find a job on the ship for Zachary that he doesn't ruin. No one wants to hurt Zach's feelings, but no one wants him to help, either. No Beard comes up with a plan -- he chooses a flag for the ship, and asks his baby brother to guard it. The flag isn't exactly what No Beard was picturing for an official ship representation, but sometimes we have to compromise to include those we love. 

As usual, I was smitten with this book. More than usual though, I really feel that this is one of the best No Beard books I have read. Roman does a great job of whittling down the story to its essence. It's shorter than most of the other No Beard books, and it gets right to the meat of the issue. I like the short and sweet nature of this story, and I love the addition of a new sibling for the Captain. Now that one sister is old enough to join in productively, he has to deal with a little brother. Some of the same issues, but this time around No Beard is growing up and working with his family instead of against them. It's lovely to see the series progress in this way, and to see No Beard sticking up for his brother. The choice of ship flag was not exactly the one that he wanted, but he knows and understands that sometimes you have to sacrifice the details for the bigger picture. This was a lovely story, and I'm so happy to add it to my No Beard collection. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Do I Have to Say Hello? Aunt Delia's Manners Quiz

I picked up Delia Ephron and Edward Koren's Do I Have to Say Hello? Aunt Delia's Manners Quiz more than a year ago, at BEA 2015, and as we all know I got a little distracted by my (lack of) dissertation. (It's going much better, by the way!) I thought it would be a perfect fit for a Thanksgiving Day review here on Sassy Peach. I will be slaving away in the kitchen for my friends while you sit back and enjoy this post.

How do you eat certain foods at the dinner table? What is the proper response to a letter from a distant family member? Appropriate school behavior -- what is it? If you need to throw up in a moving vehicle, how should you politely ask the driver to pull over? Every question you could imagine that a young person wouldn't ask but needs to know is contained in this book. Fashioned as a question-and-answer process, Ephron covers everything you can imagine in this book and has it properly, and humorously, illustrated by Koren.

You might hear an older generation holler about the kids these days having no manners, but the reality is that manners, and morals, for that matter, are generational. Manners are seen as a moral issue, and I have heard many in the greatest generation yell and yell about the lack of respect and manners in young people. Hell, I've even heard my older graduate students wax on about this. Now, doing what I do for a living, I don't believe this to be true. Not only do the idea of what is proper and what is not changes over the years, but we also know that these things take time to learn. They aren't inherent, and not all children are rude. (Sure, some are.) You must learn how to behave in certain situations -- no one "just knows."

A form of this book was originally published in 1989, and honestly, it shows. I loved reading this book because it's of my generation -- it's something my dad's mom would have absolutely given to me as a child. She once sat me down in her living room with my aunt to tell me how rude I was, because obviously that was her job. I can't remember my response, but I think when she asked me if I was this rude at my other grandmother's house, I replied no. She asked why, and I said because I liked my other grandma. As you can see, she would have purchased me this book without taking a step back to realize that maybe, just maybe, the six-year-old me just didn't like being treated as though I had no thoughts, feelings, or autonomy. My behavior was in reaction to, and modeled by, the people I was with. Think on that.

So this book cracked me up, only because it felt as though it harked back to my childhood. It's not a book I would purchase as a gift for my friends' children, because the times, they are a-changin'. I have a much different view toward the development of children (because, you know, it's what I do). They are to be seen and heard, as opposed to my grandmother's desire for me to be a "good little girl" and be prim and proper and marry young because how on earth do I support myself as a woman in this world? I would, however, purchase this book for my friends so that we could sit back and talk about our childhoods. The ones that were good but that we want to modify for our own kids. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Water Dragons: Too Heavy to Fly

Dragons are interesting, no? I've never had the biggest fascination, but I love children's books, and I was attracted to this book by the lovely cover and the hope of a sweet story with a strong message. This is Ruth Ellen Parlour's The Water Dragons: Too Heavy to Fly.

Silver and Pearl are dragon siblings, and one day while they are out playing, they spot a bird in the sky. Not knowing what it is or how it works, Silver decides that he also wants to fly. Pearl sets him up with wings on his front legs and he climbs a tree to set off. Only when he is up there does he realize his mistake. His mother comes to save him, and together they realize that ground animals should stay on the ground and that the flying can be left to the air animals. 

This was a lovely, short and sweet book that had a great message -- everything I was hoping for when I picked it up. I loved the idea of the dragon siblings and the desire to go out on a limb (pun intended) and try something new. There is something to be said for the risk taking based on observations, and I appreciate that Parlour explored this in a creative and adorable way. One issue I had was with the illustrations; some appeared to be computer graphics and others appeared to be clip-arty, and I was bothered by the inconsistency. However, the story was sweet, the dragons were positively sweet and cute, and I loved the moral of the story. 

That's a win in my book!

(Get it?!? My book?!? Tee hee hee...)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Ada Twist, Scientist

You may remember a few months ago when I posted on finding the Andrea Beaty and David Roberts' series of students who achieve in STEM fields. Originally I had seen the cover of this book on the side of Abrams' booth at BEA and turned myself right around to speak with them. I pre-ordered Ada Twist, Scientist (I do that so rarely!), and it was everything I was hoping for. I couldn't think of a better book to kick off this holiday season's Children's Book Week here on the blog.

Baby Ada was a quiet creature as a baby, until age three when she said her first word: "Why?" She then started asking who-what-when-where-why-how questions and didn't stop, driving her parents absolutely nuts. Even in school she drove her teacher, Ms. Greer, bonkers. One day Ada decides to figure out where a smell in her house is coming from, so she experiments. First she tries the cabbage soup, and it's not that. Then she tries the cat. Nope, not that either. Her parents stop her as she is about to wash the cat (all in the name of science, of course!), and they put her in the thinking chair. Ada does, indeed, think long and hard -- all over the walls. Her parents realize what a gift this is, and Ada spends her days experimenting away.

I just can't even believe how amazing this book is. The whole series, really, but particularly this one. The search for books with diverse protagonists continues, and this one, with a young girl of color as a scientist, just warms my heart like you wouldn't believe. She is inquisitive and authentic, lovely and sharp. She chooses to speak very deliberately when she has something to ask. Ada spends her early days taking in the world, and when she has something to say, only then does she say it. I can't express how amazing it is to see this reflected in children's literature in such a mature and straightforward manner. Beaty doesn't have to beat the point with a stick; it's just a part of who the character is. She is smart and curious and that is just simply who she is. It's amazing and inspiring to read.

This book just tickled my fancy.

I love the entire series, and I can't wait until the next one comes out!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Ghosts: A Graphic Novel

I have mentioned before, and I will continue to mention, the need for children's and young adult books with protagonists of color. At BEA this year, I picked up Raina Telgemeier's Ghosts with the hope that I would enjoy it as much as I was hoping I would.

Catrina and her family are moving to Northern California where the weather is gloomy and everyone is obsessed with ghosts. Her sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis and it's a better climate for her. Catrina is upset and is slow to make friends -- everyone in this town is crazy about All Souls Day when souls return to find their loved ones. Maya buys in immediately, and can't wait to welcome their grandmother back. Catrina agrees to go out with her friends that night and is wonderfully shocked to find that she is part of something bigger than herself.

This was an absolutely charming book. I was so wonderfully, pleasantly surprised by how moving the story was. Cat loves her sister, and Maya adores Cat. When Maya becomes direly ill and Cat blames herself, the connection between the two is so powerful yet so personal, as it's easy to relate to two sisters who love each other yet want their space. The guilt is also a familiar feeling; Cat feels guilty about Maya's illness even thought it's not her fault. This book is perfect for young adult audiences and grown ups alike.

The return of the spirits to the town is amazing to read. First of all, the graphics are outstanding, but it's really the story that got me. How Cat is able to let herself go and enjoy herself in the moment when the spirits come to visit is fun and it is touching. She is able to realize what a gift it is to be in the middle of something so big and so light, and it was amazing to watch her journey as a character end in this moment. This is a perfect book, and it was a pleasure and an honor to be able to pick it up.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

MLK, Jr.'s Why We Can't Wait

While reading Jonathan Kozol's **Savage Inequalities**, it quoted from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Why We Can't Wait. I realize that I had never read Martin Luther King Jr.'s, "Letter From a Birmingham Jail." Shame on me. I ordered a beat up paper back of his larger book, and I settled in one day to catch up on some long-missed copy.

This treaties contains several pieces of writing by Martin Luther King Jr. surrounding the events of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. He lays out his rationale for why Birmingham, why now, and his writings follow us through the events of the sit-ins at Woolworth counters and boycotts of stores during the Easter season of that year. He discusses the planning stages, the performance stages, and just hopes for what will ultimately come out of these actions. It's a defining piece of writing that encompasses the story the children of all generations know.

Historically speaking, this book was absolutely fascinating and I found myself with my pen in my hands repeatedly underlining and nodding along with his work. He makes some very valid arguments as to why the civil rights movement could not have move slowly. When you have lived under a system of oppression for decades, millennia, how do you wait just a little bit longer for justice? The answer is that you don't. We know that Martin Luther King Junior was arrested with the protesters, but reading about his choice to be arrested was particularly interesting. Sometimes I felt his narrative was a little self-serving, but, if you are MLK, I guess it can be. After he was arrested, he writes a letter from Birmingham jail. It was far more moving than I ever could have imagined. He lays out the argument for desegregation from a moral perspective and his writing could make any more sense if he rewrote it today. I felt while reading this narrative but the more things change, the more they stay the same. He could have written this letter in 2016 and not 1963. It's been 50 years, and what have we learned? Not a whole lot it seems.

I find the argument that many who are anti-Black Lives Matter protests use, which is that MLK, Jr. wouldn't approve of the protests because he was a "peaceful guy" to be simply absurd. I just simply reply, "Well, clearly, you have never read his writing." He was a proponent of civil disobedience which, I would like to point out, is far from peaceful. He was a protester as much as he was a preacher. That comes through in this work -- in his very own words. 

I also particularly enjoyed his argument about using protest and civil disobedience to spark change in the government, since we know that the change in the hearts of the majority population didn't necessarily happen, nor has it really, even to this day. You can see it if you just turn on the news. He says that you may view protest as wrong, and breaking the law particularly in light of not having a permit is just as bad as segregation, but it's not. It's a moral issue, one that must be addressed swiftly and a sharply. I'm happy that I picked up this book when I did, and it will stay on my shelf for me to constantly refer back to. While I don't consider myself a Christian, and that's a discussion for another time, I do very much relate to his argument that it desegregation is a Christian issue. Wouldn't we say that it still is today? You wouldn't know based on our current political climate. My, my, how the more things change, the more they stay the same…