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As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI


David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI has been on my to-read list for a while, but with so many physical books actually on my shelf, it has been relegated to the wish list. This summer, while at the beach, my best friend handed me her copy and told me I had to read it. I was ecstatic.

In the early 1920’s members of the Osage tribe in Oklahoma began dying off, some suspiciously and others through outright murder. At the time, most white settlers could not care less, as they viewed the Indians as less than human and despised the Osage for their shrewd maneuvering of the oil system to claim headrights to the liquid gold underneath their reservation, making them all wealthy beyond belief. The headrights, however, were the key to this mystery, as they could only be obtained through inheritance — no Osage could sell their rights. Could there really be a cold-blooded plot to murder dozens of men and women simply for their fortunes? As Hoover’s FBI is in its infancy and the feds as we know them were just starting to take shape, this case, known by the Osage as the Reign of Terror, would become the cornerstone of the bourgeoning agency and would remain a  source of devastation to the descendants of a people who deserved so much better. 

I found this story, and this book about it, to be absolutely fascinating. I didn’t want to put it down, and I was thrown by the calculated, cold-bloodedness if it all. Interestingly, the mastermind of a large amount of the murders comes out mid-way through the story, and it’s almost unbelievable because you’ve come to know the man as someone doing good. I found it odd that as much as I love murder and mayhem, and as much true crime as I read, that wi would be flabbergasted by the white man’s lack of limits for wealth. To look at a group of people as genuinely inhuman and as lacking the same humanity that you have is just something I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around. It’s not that I don’t believe it — after all, we have all seen how cruel humanity can be — it’s just that when confronted when something this diabolical and cruel, it’s difficult for someone like me to grasp it. I wouldn’t even begin to imagine a plot like this, so it’s not a surprise that I have a hard time wrapping my head around it. 

Grann’s writing is wonderful and easy to read without being pedantic, and I appreciate the adaptability of the journalist to reach a lay audience. I loved the weaving of the Osage murder plot with the beginnings of the FBI, and he was wonderful at combining the information that we needed to know about the FBI and which would enhance our understanding of the Osage murders without burdening us with minutiae. I can see why this book was a bestseller and why it was consistently rated as one of the top non-fiction titles of the year it was published. 

It’s a strong and important retelling if a piece of hurtful history in Osage history and, frankly, in American history. Our country’s treatment of the Natives in so many ways was beyond cruel, and then to read it as personalized as Grann has made it here slaps you in the face. It only started with displacement and genocide and then it continued on with guardianships of the Osage fortunes, declaring Natives as incompetent and essentially forcing them to marry white man and women, and then turning a blind eye to their systematic murders for greed. When we say that as Americans we are “better than this,” we can pick up a book that extols the history of our dehumanization of the people who owned our land before we did and we can hopefully recognize that no, we aren’t — but that we can learn from history and choose to be better from here on out. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Orson Scott Card's A Town Divided by Christmas.


This book brings me a good bit of joy, as I've been waiting a long time to write this post. At BookExpo this year, I arranged to get Orson Scott Card's A Town Divided by Christmas from his very hands, with his autograph for my husband for Christmas. Ender's Game is one of his favorite books, so when I saw that he would be signing advanced review copies of his new book, I made it a priority. 

Of course I was going to read it first, which I did before I wrapped it. I had to hide it in my dresser drawer under another stack of books in hopes that he would never go through it. I then had to plan to read it in one setting on a day when he had a long day at work. It was a success and not too difficult at 108 pages. Also, it was a good read. I don't know much about Card's other work other than it's more fantasy based than this novel is, but I like what I have seen so far.

Spunky (aka, Dr. Spunk) is a post-doc who knows she will soon need a job. Her mentor receives a big grant based on her research, which focuses on whether there is a "homing gene" involved in small towns with residents who don't leave. She heads to Good Shepherd, North Carolina with her annoying but incredibly smart co-post-doc, Elyon, and sets up shop to sequence as much DNA as they can while also interviewing residents to create an ethnography of the town. They are hoping to be in and out by Christmas. Except that pesky part where they both end up falling in love with residents of the town and find that they don't want to leave. After all, if they leave before Christmas, they won't be able to see the dueling pageants put on by the split Episcopals which occurred after that fateful holiday season of 1930. Southerners understand that this happens. Outsiders -- well, they either catch on or they don't.

I was quite taken with the characterization; Card has a hankering for writing very real, very full characters. Left in the hands of a less skilled writer, I would have been incredibly annoyed that this story came up with these conclusions so quickly. (After all, as I said, this novelette is only 108 pages.) However, Card has deftly crafted a whole series of characters, not just Spunky and her co-worker, who jumped off the page and came to life within a few paragraphs. His prose and his dialogue serve the characters well, and they read as so very real. Having a background in the ivory tower myself, I felt like I knew the two of these very well. I know people just like them.

I was quite taken with this story and I found myself wonderfully surprised that I was able to get this book, and the surprise came from my own enjoyment. I'm glad I was able to get this for my main squeeze (love you babe!), but I was also happy that I found the time to sneak in a quick read before I had to wrap this up for him. It's a lovely holiday read, and you still have time to get it in before the new year!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Marvelous Maravilloso: Me and My Beautiful Family


Marvelous Maravilloso: Me and My Beautiful Family was a pick up from BookExpo this year for some family fun reading. It's about a young girl who sees all of the colors of her world bright and clear, and she takes us, her readers, through her life in a tour. She even sees the color of the people in her world, including her mommy and daddy who are different colors. Her mother is like crema, and her father is like chocolate. She herself is like cafe con leche. What a lucky girl she is!

I love love love that this book incorporates Spanish seamlessly; it's a natural part of the story and it's written in when it feels like it should be. One page talks about where her grandmother lives, and the next refers to her as "Y mi abuela." It feels so natural and the connections are so clear.

It's also a lovely story of a girl who is of two cultures, and she moves between them seamlessly. She does this because she sees the beauty of the world in all of its amazing colors and differences. There are three pages in the back of the book that lead the reader to discuss race and discrimination with their children, which is always helpful if you need a little guidance as to how to address these issues with small children. It can be difficult, but it is so necessary, and children are open to these discussions if you begin having them early. This book is a wonderful jumping off point for those discussions, and I'm so happy I picked it up. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Girl with a Pearl Earring


I have a whole bunch of older books that I buy when I go to bookstores while traveling, books that I've always wanted to read or that I should read because everyone has. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier was one of these. I wasn't too keen on picking it up as I don't care for period pieces, but once I did I found myself absolutely captivated. 

Griet is almost sixteen when her parents inform her that she will be serving as a maid to help with family finances. She is sent to work for the Vermeer family, and one of her tasks is to clean the painter’s studio without moving a single thing. She struggles in the beginning to find her place in the house, with a fiery mistress, an ever-pregnant wife, and a stoic master. As the painter takes to Griet, she takes to him as well. His talent fuels her. When a wealthy patron known for his indiscretions takes to Griet, her master seeks to shield her from his advances. His efforts lead to one of his greatest works — but the end of Griet. 

I went into this novel hesitant for several reasons. First, I tend to not be into period pieces not historical fiction. I’ll give it a shot, but I’m more of a contemporary murder and mayhem kind of girl. Second, this was such a big hat that I was sure it would be overhyped. I have learned my lessons the hard way. I had purchased this at a used bookstore somewhere forever and a day ago, and since I was trying to work through some older books to sell back to the used bookstore this summer, I thought I would pick it up. I was wrong to be hesitant, as it was a great piece of work. 

I found Chevalier’s writing style to be compelling. I was interested in enough in her storytelling that I continually wanted to come back to find out where the story was going. It was a slow burn — this is not a high-octane, action-packed thriller, so there needs to be an element of languid prose to be able to keep me interested in what’s going to happen next. The key in why I enjoyed this so much was in the author’s weaving of the complicated pattern of Griet’s life. The characters served to move the story rather than the other way around. Chevalier made this work to deliver a carefully crafted story that was so vivid it felt real. 

Griet’s father plays a small role, but it is her relationship with him that drives the plot line and reveals moments that otherwise might not be revealed. Pieter, the butcher’s son who takes a fancy to Griet, is not a loveable guy but is necessary to what will be Griet’s ultimate breaking point in the Vermeer house. I even found myself rooting for him even though I didn’t actually like him. Again, that’s a touchpoint in this novel. Vermeer wasn’t even terribly likeable but he was compelling as a character nonetheless. 

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel, and now I’m curious to check out the film and see what I think of it. I had never seen it, although I’m familiar with Scarlett Johansson as the lead and WOW, is that ever a 1:1 match. Talk about on point. However, I find myself wanting to live with the characters I developed in my mind with this book, as Chevalier has created such a vivid picture for me. Only time will tell. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction that Changed America


Les Standiford's Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction that Changed America was one of the novels I chose to "check out" from Amazon, along with a bunch of children's books and a book on the history of Budweiser. (What can I say? I have eclectic taste.)

This book is incredibly in-depth, closely examining the Walsh case from start to finish. In the event you haven’t heard of it, Adam Walsh was a six-year-old boy in Florida who disappeared from a Sears store while his mother was just in the next department. This was the late ‘70’s/eary ‘80’s when everyone was a bit more trusting and severely less fearful than we are in 2018/19. He wanted to play with a video game console, and there was no reason for his mother to say no. His head was found a couple of weeks later several miles away, and his body was never found. It would take almost three decades to name his killer even though it only took months to identify him. 

Standiford’s book bookended a long, sordid tale of Otis Toole, the killer of Adam and many others, with the Walshes. That was, to me, the most interesting piece. I ended up skimming over a lot of the middle of the book because I found Toole to be egregiously disgusting and I didn’t care to hear the details of his crime. I was much more interested in the details of the day that Adam disappeared and the aftermath of that. The relationship between the Walshes and Matthews, the investigator that ultimately solved and closed the case for them, intrigued me more than the sordid and pained life of someone like Toole. 

Going even deeper than that, I was horrified by the police work done in the case. Toole confesses mere months after Adam’s killing, spontaneously even, and because it didn’t fit the narrative the investigators had about the crime, they ignored the confession or brushed it aside as false when challenged. It angered me to no end, as the Walshes could have had some sense of closure early on if the man had been identified and at a minimum had charges brought against him. These two people, Adam’s parents, had to spend almost 30 years wondering exactly what happened, as the police delay told them nothing. Even as John Walsh featured his son’s case on America’s Most Wanted and the tips came in, the police went to great effort to cover up their mistakes. If I had any faith left in criminal investigators, this shook that deeply. Unfortunately, it appears the doggedness based in their biases was much more common than we want to know. 

Ultimately, this was an interesting book about the Adam Walsh kidnapping and murder, and its detail and clarity was well worth the read for the true crime nut. It was one of the two cases that I really feel shaped our understanding of child abductions by strangers (the other being Etan Patz) and changed how Americans view the right to a carefree childhood. In fact, there is a direct connection to Small Animals, which I reviewed last fall. We were never the same, and we can never go back. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Touchpoints: The Essential Reference for Your Child's Emotional and Behavioral Development


My husband has been working at a downtown theater these past few months, so when we head down to meet him for dinner I will often swing by The Strand and see what used books look interesting. I've reviewed books by Dr. T. Berry Brazelton before, and I happen to be a fan of his work from a professional standpoint as well as a personal one. I found Touchpoints: The Essential Reference for Your Child's Emotional and Behavioral Development and I picked it up for a dollar to use with my early childhood development classes.

I found this book to be a great reference for new parents and those who may be skittish about whether their kids are "on the right track." Funny enough, last night I had a childless friend over along with a parent friend, and CF said that just about everyone she knows with a child is worried about whether they are developing correctly except me. She said this laughingly, but it's true. A big part of that is my work; I teach human development and understand it intimately, and I also understand that resilience is the norm. I don't freak out easily, and I would like to urge others to as well.

That's where Touchpoints comes in. I found most of the information to be reassuring to the general public, and the thrust of the book is a noble one: that there are certain times where you will see your pediatrician and you will wonder if what you are doing as a parent is correct. (Short answer: most of the time it is, so chill out.) The first section of this book goes over 13 touchpoints starting in pregnancy and ending at three years. Each of these touchpoints talks about what Dr. Brazelton expects to see when you walk into his office and how most of what he sees is normal. Emotional and behavioral development are just as important as physical development, and they are also the most nerve-racking to find a balance with new parents.

The second section covers challenges to development such as allergies, divorce, illness, and school readiness. The last section discusses allies to development such as grandparents and your doctor. Overall I found this book to be a helpful one, although it did contain some inaccurate information regarding cognitive development. Some of this can be chalked up to this book being published in 1992 (26 years ago for those of you whom have trouble with math) and it's more than fair to say that understanding of cognitive development especially in children has grown and changed tremendously in that time. The rest of it can be attributed to the difference between medical doctors and psychologists. There is a difference in what people learn and why, and just like I would never purport to know about the inner workings of a baby's body, it's fair to say that sometimes pediatricians aren't up to date on the latest research outside of their field.

One thing that I like to make sure all parents know is related to chapter titled, "Lying, Stealing, and Cheating." Actually, it came up in conversation last night, too. Lying in children under four is a sign of appropriate cognitive development. This doesn't mean that you don't correct them according to your values, morals, and ethics, but it's important to remember that children are not small adults. They have a developmental trajectory and cognitive map that is different that what we have as grown ups, and that should be respected. We often assign motives to children's actions when really, they are just in a constant state of learning and absorbing. Appreciate that all of it is a part of development, and it's your job as a parent or caregiver to shape the clay but understand that clay is malleable and fragile. Children are constantly learning and growing into adults, not as adults. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Knish War on Rivington Street

I mentioned somewhere previously that one of my goals at BookExpo this year was to buff up my children's library, and I specifically was on the lookout for diverse books. The Knish War on Rivington Street by Joanne Oppenheim and illustrated by Jon Davis fit this bill. 

It's the story of Rivington Street in lower Manhattan, which for generations served a large immigrant Jewish population. Benny is a young boy whose mother's knishs were so famous that she was able to open up a knish store on Rivington Street. Then one day Mrs. Tisch opens up a competing knish store across the street, and her knishes are fried and square. Who has ever heard of that?!? 

The two knish sellers each begin lowering their prices in order to compete with one another, and when that isn't enough, each store resorts to crazier and crazier tactics to win customers. The war heats up, and it comes to a head when the Mayor shows up to sort out which knish is the best. Which one will he choose?

Based, albeit loosely, on a true story -- yes, my friends, there was actually a knish war on Rivington street! -- this lovely, lovely children's book is simply a delight to read. It has a great message -- that one person's success doesn't take away from that of another -- and it is told through an entertaining and easy-to-grasp story of two boys who are simply caught in the middle of their parents' feud. I am just madly in love with this book, and I hope that one day my son is as well. 

The best part of this book (well, I don't know if it's the best, but it's certainly wonderful!) is that the last page of the book has recipes for both baked and friend knishes! My son isn't old enough to get the connection yet, but as soon as he is, we will make knishes after reading this book on a cold winter afternoon. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Dry: A Novel


Dry, a new young adult novel by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman, needs warning before you pick it up. It’s incredible, but also a little hard to swallow right now (pun completely intended) if you are aware of the effect of climate change on the Earth’s current water situation. It was so realistic it was painful at times. 

The Tap-Out, as it will be known for generations to come, was not entirely unexpected, but they were never really sure that it would actually come. After all, water has always seemed to be an unlimited resource. But the day the taps ran dry was the day that their worlds changed, and Alyssa was front and center to witness it all. She and her parents and little brother are just a little too late to the warehouse club to buy up water -- after all, how long could this really last? When her parents go to collect some from the desalination machines, they don't return. Alyssa, along with her brother and their survivalist neighbor (who just happens to be madly in love with Alyssa) have to get out of town before neighbors start killing each other. Their journey might take their lives, but they won't stop until they at least try to save them. 

This young adult novel was heavy, for sure. There were times when I felt my chest grow heavy and panic start to set in. I am quite concerned about the water issue; there is plenty of evidence leading to the conclusion that we, as an industrialized society, are running out of water. The conflicts in the middle east can be traced back to scarce water resources. After all, humans can't survive without it. It's incredibly frightening to me, and this book did not quell those fears. In fact, the Shustermans' story felt remarkably realistic, and that's what makes the book so outstanding yet so frightening. 

Researchers have a good understanding of why humans believe the crazy things that they do. We know, for example, that humans living in the Western world tend to overemphasize events that are statistically unlikely (especially if they are man-made) -- think stranger abductions. However, humans tend to ignore or underemphasize events that are statistically likely and dangerous -- think building homes in hurricane territory and staying even when warned to evacuate. It's cognitive bias at work. It's also a matter of ignoring things we can't control and overemphasizing things we can.

All of this to say that it's no surprise that many people don't take this seriously. All of the estimations that scientists have made about population growth, demographics, resource scarcity, and climate change have all changed drastically in the past decade -- and they are speeding up, not slowing down. Things will change much more quickly than we think. The Shustermans have captured this in their story. Kelton, Alyssa's neighbor, has grown up in a survivalist family, seems a little nutty at the beginning of the book, but boy was I grateful for him (and his regimented, authoritarian, conspiracy-nut father) by the end. The boy was prepared to n-th degree, and I'm not going to lie when I say that I am contemplating following suit.

Everything about this book -- the desperation of the neighbors, friends turning on each other, new alliances being formed, the government not doing anything to help while leading the people to think that they are -- every last thing felt true-to-life, and it left me shook. It was an outstanding book, and I can't recommend it more highly. Now I'm going to go build my home off the grid and I hope you have a nice day.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Gray Mountain: A Novel


This summer, during our family vacation to Myrtle Beach, I chose John Grisham's Gray Mountain as my Grisham reading because you know I can’t hit the sand and not do one. It’s in my bones. 

During the great implosion of 2008, law firms were going belly up or, at a minimum, hemorrhaging employees. Poor Samantha — her hours of poring over commercial real estate contracts for wealthy magnates has come to an end. She has been offered a “furlough” with r in one year as long as she agrees to take an unpaid internship for that year. She ends up in rural Virginia, in the Appalachian mountains known for their coal. Land owners drool at the prospect of selling strip mining rights to big companies that wheel and deal and cheat and lie. At the legal aid clinic she comes to, Samantha soon discovers that she has the ability to help people who desperately need it, and some who don’t even want it. When a new friend is found dead after initiating the biggest lawsuit that side of Virginia has ever seen, Samantha must make a choice between the safety of New York City of the danger of pushing forward to keep her promises to her new friends. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book in the best vacation way. It was absolutely perfect for a beach read — a little thriller-esque, a little pulpy, and a lot of character. Samantha was interesting if sightly annoying in that NYC bullshit snobby way of young people who earn too much money and think they need to spend it all. I had no patience for their bullshit in 2008 and I have even less in 2018. There’s no reason you should have so much money that you can afford to pay rent on your TriBeCa or Village high-rose while you intern for free in another state. My eyes are rolling into the back of my head as I type this. 

Other than that, I actually quite liked Samantha. She wrestled with doing right by her indigent clients while still trying to hold on to a piece of herself. She avoids the temptations of one romance (for good reason) while indulging in another (for yet another good reason). She cares and grows to care even more during her time in Virginia while still clinging to her knowledge that she can’t settle there forever. She doesn’t give in to what I expected would be a do-holder trope, and that was great to read. 

I also appreciated the social justice angle that Grisham took in this novel. The strip mining of land in the Appalachian region has been egregious to say the least, and it’s nice to see him bringing light to the issue. He even provides a reference to donate money for aid if you feel so inclined. Unfortunately, so much of the land has been destroyed in that area in the decade since this book was published, and little has changed in the way businesses hold and wield power. It’s angering at best and heart attack-inducing at worst. Putting that on the page for readers to face head-on deserves applause. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Reluctant Queen: The Story of Anne of York


Jean Plaidy's The Reluctant Queen: The Story of Anne of York was passed on to me by one of my best friends along with A Rose Without a Thorn, which you may notice isn’t on this blog for reasons we will get to in a moment. I found the premise of this one interesting as the only thing I know about Richard III is what Shakespeare has told me. So I gave it a roll. 

Lady Anne Neville, our protagonist, is a proviledged girl in Britain during the War of the Roses. Her father, Earl of Warwick, is the most powerful man in the country who is not king. He helped win the War and put King Edward on the throne. Edwards youngest brother, Richard, grew up as Warwick’s ward, where he and Anne are drawb together in mutual kinship and a spark is alighted. However, as times change and politics stir and alliances shift, young Anne is betrothed to the enemy of the throne, one who aims to take it back, in hopes that her father willl win his influence in return. Anne had no desires for the throne, and is devastated at the notion of marrying such a brute. Her sister, Isabel, who has married the other brother of the trio, the Duke of Clarence, Richard’s older brother, would happily be queen. When Anne’s fiancĂ© dies in battle, she is free to marry Richard and live the quiet life they’ve always wanted. 

But you didn’t think that would last, did you? Silly rabbit. 

I was definitely intrigued by the first couple of chapters in this book, and I found myself wanting to keep digging in. I mentioned a previous book above, which I found to be melodramatic and stilted in terms of prose, so I didn’t post on it. This one, though, was interesting enough for me to push through. My general assessment is that it kept my attention until the middle, the. I found myself horribly bored until the last chapter again. I had the same issue with this book as I did with Rose — the story is way too bogged down in details that I found irrelevant to the story at hand. The history is interesting, but it comes across as staged when the dialogue is written here. 

However, I will say that I’m not this series’ primary target. If you like historical fiction with a twist of romance, then this is your jam. I do not like romances as a genre (good for you if you do!) so this didn’t fulfill a need in me to see my characters beguiled. (I mean, it’s not like the story ends well. Anne dies while Richard is on the throne — no spoilers here, you had 400+ years to see the movie — and it’s not even like she does a dignified death.) I did appreciate the historical situating of the marriage between Anne and Richard. It has sparked in me some interest to poke more into their situation and what historical records exist of their marriage. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler


John Hendrix's The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler was a book that I picked up because it not only looked interesting, but it was also something that I know I will one day want my son to read.

This graphic depiction of a story I had never heard about before was just amazing. I was blown away by the representations of some difficult material, including Hitler and the underpinnings of the Holocaust. Hitler was portrayed as a wolf, so his actual human representation was only presented once. This is important, as any other consisted picture of him might have served to humanize him; rather, seeing him as a wolf in sheep's clothing created a metaphorical yet arresting picture of a man whose need for power destroyed millions of lives. I also found the explanation of the rise of the Nazi party to be incredibly well-done and very clear. It's hard for even those with high level reading skills to grasp onto all of the nuances and details of that point in history, and I felt that this book did a wonderful job making clear what happened along with the timeline. Hendrix put a small box on the corner of the page when he was discussing the military exercises that contained a map showing the areas that the Nazi's had already conquered and that which they were moving into. Not only was this a great story of standing up for your beliefs -- and we will get to that momentarily -- it was also a history book.

I was never aware of the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man of God who believed it was his moral imperative to kill Hitler. Spending time in America and seeing legal racial discrimination, even among his fellow Christians, shapes who Bonhoeffer is and what his faith means. When he returns to his home country of Germany at the beginning of the era we know well from our history books, he wants to bring the active faith he discovered in America. As Germany begins to see its takeover by the Nazi party, he finds himself involved in anti-Nazi activism that puts him on the enemy list, and he briefly escapes to America before realizing that to truly live his faith, he must be in the middle of the storm. He returns to Germany and joins the resistance. He struggles with his belief in the Bible and what he knows needs to happen to save Germany -- and the world -- from a tyrant who was seeking to end the lives of millions of minorities. The question he faces -- is it justified to kill a person to save millions of others -- shapes his activism, and Bonhoeffer becomes central to the plot to kill Hitler.

This is an absolutely incredible story, and one that I want my son to read one day. I want him to know that people don't just oppose hate with their words, but also with their actions even if they seem extreme at the time. We can't prove what would have happened if Hitler had been stopped earlier; it could have been a Medusa situation, or it could have helped good people realize that they were turning into bad ones. Maybe those who sought power would have still pushed forward because this was the way they were taking it. Who knows? But we do know now who Dietrich Bonhoeffer was and why we should be grateful to him. My son will know, too. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Sick: A Memoir


Porochista Khakpour's Sick: A Memoir was a popular new release, so I jumped on the bandwagon as soon as it came out. I was unfamiliar with her previous work, and much to my shame. She is a beautiful, compelling writer who drew me in with her prose and her tale-weaving. 

Most likely but as a child, Porochista has never known a time when she wasn’t sick. Things had always felt off for her, and when as a young woman at college in New York she finds herself spiraling down into a series of health breaks, she can’t quite put her finger on why. Although several people mention the possibility of Lyme over the next few years, it’s not until a definitive diagnosis almost a decade later that she can find any sort of short-lives relief. Her work and wanderlust takes her all over the word, but her illness continues to bring her back. 

Porochista’s story is fascinating, and well worth a read. She has many in her life who don’t believe her, and through her story I did a great deal of reckoning with myself over people I have known who have suffered from similar ailments. Was I a non-believer? Did I hurt anyone I loved because of an illness that was hard to diagnose? Quite possibly. I also had to reckon with my own ailments. I have been suffering from extreme exhaustion on and off for four years. It got better with pregnancy and post-partum, but it’s recently started to read its ugly head again. No doctor has taken me seriously, and so I soldier on, grateful that I have the ability to work from home on days when I just have difficulty moving. 

Following Porochista’s journey from childhood to adulthood and colored by this mysterious illness that has lent a cloud cover to her development was fascinating. Her timelining her illness with her relationships was something we can all easily relate to, even though by the time her illness became so bad that she had to leave Germany, I wanted to smack her and tell her to let herself heal emotionally as well as physically. For once, a character listened to me! For a bit, anyway, so by the time she found a relationship after making her way back to NYC I was cheering for her. 

I appreciate that she ended the book with the recognition that her journey is far from over. She talks about the book that she pitched which is not the book that she ended up with due to an unexpected relapse. Her open heart that she lays bare on her pages makes me feel as though she is my friend, and her words strung together on the page have made me think more deeply and honestly about capital-H Health. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

My Body Belongs to Me!


Amazon Prime Day is a beautiful thing. I didn't intend to buy anything more than what we absolutely needed, but when I saw this My Body Belongs to Me! by profamilia and illustrated by Dagmar Geisler, I knew we absolutely needed it.

Clara is a young girl who understands that from being a baby to being a small girl, her body has changed and she is becoming different as she grows. She also knows that sometimes it's nice to touch other people, like sitting close to a friend, hugging her family, and sitting on her grandmother's lap. But Clara most importantly knows that she is the only one who gets to decide who touches her and when they do. She has the right to tell others to not touch her, and to decline when others offer and she does not want it, even if it is someone she knows well, like her parents. And if she tells someone no and they don't listen, she can always go get an adult she trusts, because she gets to choose when and how someone touches her.

One thing that is very important to us in our household is that our child does not have to touch anyone he doesn't want to. I ask him to give high fives, hugs, or kisses to people we know and love, and sometimes he just doesn't want to. It's not a problem; in fact, quite the opposite. Sometimes he doesn't feel like it, even at 16 months old. It's his right, and we want to encourage bodily autonomy with him. I ordered this book for exactly that reason; I wanted a resource that we could read to him that says this very thing.

Over 90% of children who experience sexual abuse and assault know their victimizer. All of this brouhaha over the last few years about transgender men and women using the bathroom of their choice because it puts kids in danger is a bullshit, and not just because of the primary reason that we should respect people's choices with their own bodily autonomy (and, frankly, if you are going to look over my stall to see my genitalia, I am absolutely going to call the cops and report you for sexually inappropriate behavior). The statistic at the start of this paragraph should alarm you, because it's NOT a stranger in the parking lot, but someone your child -- and YOU -- knows. It's someone you might very well trust.

Sex education begins young. It begins when babies are teeny tiny. It's a constant education, not just a single sex talk. It starts with making sure that children know that their bodies belong to them, and they have a right to say no and to be listened to when they say it. I love this book, and the culture of consent that it reinforces.

There is an introduction from the International Center for Assault Prevention recommending this book and providing information as to how to use it with your children to discuss bodily boundaries. There is also a list of resources at the end for parents if they need them. I would also like to point you to RAINN, another great resource if you are in need of help or other resources.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

When Breath Becomes Air


Recently in my apartment building, someone started a book table where they leave books and others can take them. I am not interested in most of the titles, but occasionally one pops out that I have wanted to read. This was the case with Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air.

This book is mostly a memoir, but it is a beautiful and arresting treatise on life and love. How do we live to our fullest? Kalanithi tells us, because he did it. Beginning as a child with a deep love of literature instilled in him by his mother, he was encouraged by his parents to delve deep into his curiosity and to learn. In college he continued to immerse himself in his beloved literature as well as indulge his curiosity in how the mind works through biology and the beginning inklings of neuroscience. He then went off to find himself, continuing his studies at Cambridge before moving on to medical school and eventually becoming one of the most sought-after neurosurgeons and neuroscientists in the nation. He married Lucy, the love of his life whom he first met in medical school, and together they had a child when they knew his life was near its end. Other than dying at a young age -- 37 -- he had it all.

But the thing that Paul teaches us in this book that dying is merely the end, but it's not the definition of who we are the lives that we have led. The measure of our worth as humans are the things we have accomplished in between birth and death -- knowledge, love, kindness, and the depth of our souls. In this short memoir, he puts that all to words in the most eloquent, moving, and thoughtful prose I have ever read. His words seared my heart in a reminder of how important it is to reflect on our lives through the lens of thankfulness when we have been given so much. Paul is one of the most gifted motivational writers that has ever existed (and yes, I am not exaggerating), and just a few hours with his gifted mind feels like it was a gift meant for me. It is clear why he would have been incredibly successful as a writer, and his self-education in literature is apparent in his writing.

There are so many beautiful moments in this book to touch on, but I want you to read them for yourself. When Paul is diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer in his 30's, at the height of his career, when he is being pursued by some of the most elite medical institutions, he has to reexamine his life plan. Practicing medicine for the next 20 years and spending the following 20 as a writer isn't possible anymore. He just won't live that long. He has to make a decision to live the last of his days and months to their fullest. He finishes out his residency, he begins this book, and he and Lucy decide to have a baby. This is where I am broken.

Paul's final words in his final chapter broke me as a human. His final paragraph, written to his infant daughter, is the most meaningful work I have ever written. It's simplicity belies the depth of his words and the meaning of life and love for another human. Even if the rest of the book wasn't worth the read -- and it very much is worth every second you will give to it -- those last few words will wreck you.

But you aren't done -- you need to read Lucy's afterword. Reading her bear her raw soul in telling us about her last few moments with her husband was so real that I had to read it in one-paragraph chunks. It was too much to bear in one setting without openly breaking down.

This book as a whole is one of the all time greatest memoirs ever written. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories From a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook


The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories From a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and Maia Szalavitz came across my radar a while ago, but an old childhood friend recommended it to me recently, so I got it from the library. I was shocked that I had not read it earlier, but it has been indispensable for my work in teacher training. 

Trauma is far more prevalent than we ever could have imagined. Dr. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist by training, fell into the work of treating trauma in children by accident. From there though, he has built a movement that seeks to give children the space and time they need to process through their pain and experience to learn how to cope in their world. He tells some of his bigger, more memorable stories in this book: his work with the children released from the Branch Davidian compound during the siege; a young girl who witnessed her mother’s murder; children raised in a home of cyclical sexual abuse; and many more. He uses these stories to build a history of what he learned and how it shaped him as a practitioner. He also updates each chapter with the most recent research in order to place each anecdote and subsequent explanation into the most current context possible. 

This book has spurred me to do so much more reading into the recent research on trauma and its effects on children and adults, including health ailments such as autoimmune disorders, mental illness such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder and anxiety, and attachment issues. The roots of this run deep, and the relationship between trauma and human outcomes is staggering. The stories in this book are extreme, and I caution anyone with trauma triggers to proceed with extreme caution. However, it’s important to note that trauma is on a continuum, and it’s not always witnessing a murder or being held in a cage. The common denominator is a lack of need fulfillment from caregivers — and those needs include (per Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs) food, water, shelter, and safety. Love? Sure, that’s important, but it’s not a buffering factor if you don’t feel safe, physically or emotionally. It’s why a parent who physically abuses you can show you love when they aren’t hurting you, but it doesn’t mitigate the lack of safety you feel in not knowing when they will lash out. 

All of this to say that you shouldn’t fear traumatizing your children if you provide for their needs, including safety. I had a conversation with a friend just last night about this, and her concern that she was traumatizing her young child because he gets upset when saying goodbye to the people he leaves. That’s normal, and not trauma. Having your parent spit at you when you are crying is not normal, as an example. 

Now for the importance of this book. This is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to do any work with children. You will run across the long-term affects of trauma, although most likely not as extreme as the surviving Branch Davidian children, for example. However, the sexual and/or emotional abuse of children is far more common that we could ever imagine, and its effects last long into adolescence.  Knowing how this affects your students is vital to being a caring educator and seeing past just simply placing the blame on students for behavior that very well may be out of their control. 

I would LOVE to do Dr. Perry’s training in trauma treatment, but it’s a bit out of my financial reach for something that just fascinated me but is y directly part of my practice. However, what a gift this man is to the children being served not just by him, but by the practitioners who have learned from him. I’m so thankful for this book — I even purchased it as a reference piece. I can’t recommend it more highly. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Whistle in the Dark: A Novel


Emma Healey's Whistle in the Dark came to me through a review somewhere, I believe, and the premise of a teenager missing for four days was fascinating for me. So from the library it came. 

Lana was gone for four days. Her mother, Jen, who only wanted to take a holiday with her younger daughter, hoping it would help them connect and bring Lana out of her depression. It was supposed to be a week of painting in the country. But one night, Lana doesn’t come back to the cabin. After Lana is found wandering a field in the area, she is treated for cuts, bruises, a head wound, and ligatures around her ankles. The family returns home to recover. She is different, though, sleeping with the lights on, jumping at small sounds, and lying about where she’s been. Jen is convinced the answer lies in where Lana was those four days and what happened to her while she was gone. 

The premise of this book gripped me, as I have, of late, just wanted to read some murder and mayhem. However, this book was not that. The whole time, I was reading to find out what happened to Lana, and I was given clues throughout her story as she was recovering, but it isn’t until the end of the story when Jen, about to lose her mind, goes in search of the answers in the place of their holiday. Lana, throughout the book, is at times a typical sullen teenager and at others, a young woman recovering from an experience she refuses to think about. She claims to not be able to remember what happened to her, and the cops are quick to close the case without further evidence of foul play. How far can a mother go to fine out what happened? 

The truth is quite far. I was less than activated by Lana’s story about halfway through the book, and I’m still not sure why. However, I kept pushing forward to explore the relationship between Jen and her older daughter, an exacting lesbian who has gotten pregnant by her best male friend (purposely) and is bringing new life into a family who is struggling with the fallout of a depressive episode and disappearance. I loved this relationship and the contrast it was to that of Lana and Jen, and which informed that relationship. Jen doesn’t understand Lana, but she is clearly close with her older daughter. This was the part of the book I gravitated toward and that which I found to be the most compelling part of the novel. 

Ultimately, Lana was a difficult young woman and a frustrating g character to read — I found myself not caring about what had happened to her. However, I found the rest of her family to be terribly interesting, even Jen in her neuroticism. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Witches Protection Program: A Novel


I have reviewed some Michael Phillip Cash before, and I put Witches Protection Program on my TBR shelf when it came, and during the nice weather I decided it would be a great read in the park during the nice weather.

Wes is the black sheep of his family of overachievers, and when he fails at the task of protecting a witness assigned to him by his father, he is told to report to an address that he can't find in Brooklyn. Once it's revealed to him, he finds himself in the Witches Protection Program and paired with Alistair, a veteran of the secret program. Wes can't believe it, and treats his new job with the same disdain he wears on his face. That is, until a beautiful young cosmetics heiress finds herself on the wrong side of her CEO aunt's wand. Through a series of events, Bernadette Pendragon seeks to not only retain full control of her company, Pendragon Cosmetics, but she also seeks to take over the world. She just needs her niece to cooperate.

This book was fun. I was surprised at how much fun I had reading it, because you all know I'm a little back and forth on how I feel about the paranormal. However, I also realized that I tend to really like Cash's paranormal, so I jumped in feet first. He did not let me down with this one, and I found myself just enjoying my time reading this novel. Every character is a bit of a trope and it adds to the fun, because even though I could tell which direction the story was going in, the pages were laced with a goofiness that was lighthearted and full of enjoyment. Wes was unbelieving at first in his job (and don't worry, he comes to be a believer), Alistair is staid and time-honored, Wes's dad is a hardass, Bernadette is a cold, calculating lady-on-top, and her henchwomen are exactly what you expect them to be. The two main female characters, though, were by far the most fascinating. Morgan at first comes across as a ne'er-do-well heiress brat and becomes anything but. Junie is an unexpected tour-de-force in the book and is quite an enjoyable character to watch unfold. This would have been a fun day-long beach read if I had saved it for that purpose, so that's my recommendation to you. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Big Mouth & Ugly Girl: A Novel


How I got to Joyce Carol Oates's Big Mouth & Ugly Girl is a fun story. I was in Chicago for Book Expo 2016, and I went to a bookstore as I am wont to do. I found this in the used section and thought it would make a good read. At checkout, there was no record of the store ever having the book in stock. How peculiar, they said. Someone must have left it behind and it was shelved by accident. I could just take the book. That is how I found myself in possession of JCO’s first YA novel. 

Big Mouth is Matt, a high school junior who is semi-popular. One day he is dragged out of class by police officers investigating a threat to shoot up his school. He can’t imagine who on earth would have said such a thing — it’s not in Matt’s nature to be violent. No matter. The long-hanging stench of scandal holds on to him with the tentacle grip that only a scandal can. Ugly Girl is Ursula, a tall basketball player who hides behind her invented persona in order to avoid being hurt by anyone — friends, romantic interests, even her family. However, she know that Matt isn’t guilty. They aren’t friends, but Ursula does what’s right, and that’s sticking up for the wrongly accused. Soon Usula realizes she is Matt’s only remaining friend. Neither of them bargained for this.  

I was surprised at how charmed I was by this novel. I have been hesitant lately about the school shooting genre, what with one happening in our world every couple of days. In fact, I put a mass market paperback away for a while because it was just too real to read for fun right now. However, this story was much deeper than a gory, graphic portrayal of a bullied kid getting payback. Matt is the opposite of a bullied kid — he has friends, or at least kids he thinks are friends. He is well-liked and a sweet person. It’s only after he is wrongly accused (we find out who did it toward the end) that he learns this friends are of the fair-weather type. They don’t want to be associated with his scandalous name, and as we know, those who kick you when you are down aren’t really your friends at all. 

This pushes Matt into a period of self-discovery where he has to look past all that shimmers and see what he really needs in a friend. Ursula is hesitant to be that person, because her fear of rejection is too deep to open up willingly. It’s only when she literally saves Matt’s life that she can open up to him. It’s a sweet moment, and JCO has captured that youthful terror or wanting a friend but holding on to a deep-seated fear of rejection. I loved watching the friendship of Matt and Ursula grow, and how it blossomed in the middle of such a tumultuous period for them both. I remember those hormones and the put-of-control feeling that comes with being an adolescent, and JCO has written that in so lovingly in this novel. It’s like it was yesterday for her own self. 

I’m a JCO fan, and I have been for some time. I am impressed at her foray into young adult literature, and I’m glad I got my hands on this book. It reminded me to dive back into her cannon with gusto. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Dan Brown's Origin


I happen to quite enjoy Dan Brown's work from a relaxed reading perspective. The subject matter is terribly interesting and I like being challenged with learning new things. Origin is no exception.  

Edmond Kirsch has discovered a secret that will change the how humans believe in supernatural forces. He claims it will even turn the masses away from religion. The winderkind computer scientist, a former student of Robert Langston’s, is about to present his discovery to the world when he is shot down moments before hiring “play” on his presentation to the world. Langdon (as usual, frankly) is immediately suspected and must go on the run with the stunning Ambra Vidal, curator of the museum and fiancĂ© of the future King of Spain, also suspected in the gruesome plot to kill her friend Edmond. What was Kirsch’s discovery, and what other secrets was he keeping that deeply affect the future of mankind — and what does his militant hatred of religion have to do with it all? 

How on this green earth does Langdon find himself in these ridiculous quagmires? Exactly how many times in the span of a decade must be run for his life while solving a great mystery that puts the fate of millions in his hands? While I quite enjoyed this book, I had to wonder as I was halfway through how much longer Brown can put Langdon in these odd positions without us starting to catch on. I mean, how am I supposed to trust Tom Hanks the next time I see him? I am definitely not getting on a plane with that guy. 

All that being said, I quite enjoyed this book. While I don’t think it’s necessarily one of Brown’s intellectual best thrillers (I leave that still to Angels and Demons), I was quite fascinated by his weaving together a tale around the origins of life, which were actually quite plausible. By the time we got to the heart of the matter, which was Kirsch’s discovery of the origins of life (I will say no more), I was ready to jump into the science of entropy. I appreciated Brown’s ability to come up with such an intricate and heady scientific concept, and I was digging it. (As one guy I only went on one date because, well, you see, he constantly said, “I Dog, I dig.” Like, always twice in a row. I’m giggling now as I write this.)

There were some eye-roll inducing parts, such as Brown’s constant reference to the discovery that would shake religious belief forever — see, this went on for the better part of the book and I wanted to just tell, “Tell is the fuck about it already.” It was quite overwrought and we could have dealt without the melodramatics by, I would guess, 40%. But hey, this is Brown’s book and not mine. 

Weaving together this detailed story, it was nice to see it all come together at the end into a semi-loose narrative. There were some things that I think were extra (like motivations of red herrings, and you will just have to accept my lack of spoilers here), but overall I enjoyed myself and that’s really why I come to Brown’s novels when it comes down to brass tacks. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Kid Scientists: True Tales of Childhood From Science Superstars


I knew the second I saw Kid Scientists: True Tales of Childhood From Science Superstars by David Stabler and Anoosha Syed that I had to have it on my son's bookshelf. When David signed the book, he remarked that it was to David, from David. I swooned.

Neil Degrasse Tyson. Jane Goodall. Rachel Carson. Benjamin Franklin. Katherine Johnson. Temple Grandin. Sally Ride. What do all of these very different people have in common? They are all scientists, but more importantly, they were all kids once. The grown ups in their lives encouraged (and sometimes discouraged!) their curiosity about the world around them, all of which gave them the encouragement and support to make the discoveries that shaped our world as we know it. These stories were each a perfect length with large font, allowing my son and I to read the stories together and having them move fairly quickly. We read one every night before bed, and I fell madly in love with this book chapter after chapter.

I was really blown away by this book and the focus on famous scientists' childhoods. Their accomplishments later in life did come up at the end of their stories, but the focus was really on their early lives and how their futures were shaped by their childhoods. Some faced great adversity while others had great privilege. All of them had in common, though, a curiosity that ran deep. This was a huge reminder that it is absolutely vital that we allow kids to feed their curiosity and dig into whatever they are interested in and want to investigate. Not everyone is destined to become a scientist, but every child has a scientist within them. We are so quick to beat out curiosity in our kids in favor of being able to do well on assessments, and we lose sight of the forest for the trees. I would always rather have a curious kid than one who scores well on a silly exam.

This book made such an impression on me that I am going to purchase some of the other books in the series, including Kid Artists, Kid Presidents, and Kid Authors.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World


One of the top five adult buzz books at BookExpo this year was Sarah Weinman's The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World. I nabbed myself a copy and was hooked as soon as I started reading. Sally Horner was a young girl -- not even twelve years old, who was coerced into running away with a man four times her age. A simple act of youthful rebellion -- stealing something from the dime store -- set off a series of events that removed her from her family for two years and pushed her into a nightmare that would define her life.

It might seem odd to many of us that a young girl could be "kidnapped" but not picked up and hauled off. She went with Frank La Salle (a name among many he used) willingly because he told her that he was an FBI agent who required her to come with him on a road trip to avoid being arrested and telling her mother for the petty theft. We as a society underestimate the fear and the power that adults have over children, and how likely it is that children feel obligated to those in power will do what they say, even if they get a creepy gut feeling that they shouldn't. (I will put a plug in here to say that teaching children compliance as opposed to autonomy contributes greatly to being picked as a victim by predators -- they know to look out for this type of child who willingly goes along and fears getting in trouble for "telling.") Ten years ago I would have not believed that Sally went along so willingly with a convicted child molester; a decade, some degrees, and a lot of reading later I understand how easy it was for La Salle to take her and convince her poor mother that he was the father of a classmate.

Sally's time with Frank is only known somewhat, although there are details from witnesses who knew them in the neighborhoods in which they lived. The long-term effects of her ordeal, though, were not to be seen, as she died young in a tragic car accident. Her experience didn't just affect her, however. It affected her mother and sister, and her friends that she had both before the experience and after. However, the most wide-ranging impact Sally's kidnapping had was on the public at large, as she served as an inspiration for Vladmir Nabakov's Lolita. While he would deny it until the day he died, Weinman's detailed and painstaking research shows that he was quite familiar with the story, even weaving details too small for the public to recognize into his narratives.

This book was gripping and I couldn't put it down. Weinman is an outstanding narrative non-fiction writer and she tells a tale that is winding and confusing in as close to a linear manner as she can, while still keeping us totally involved in the story. It reads like a novel until  Weinman brings you back out of Sally's story and reminds you that Nabakov was living a parallel life at the time. It is the best way to tell Sally's story; otherwise, it's incredibly difficult. She was sexually assaulted the entire time she was gone, and she was captive to a man who worshiped her in the creepiest way you can imagine. Weinman has crafted a gorgeous retelling of a time in a young girl's life that was horrific, yet iconic. It's well worth sinking your teeth into and getting to know the other side of a book you may know, whether you like it or not.

I need to read Lolita now, as I have never read it. I never had a desire to, but reading Weinman's take on the book and her deep connections to Sally's story makes me intrigued as to what my take of the book would be. Will it be a sordid tale that makes me shiver, or will I despise Humbert Humbert in the way that Nabakov possibly intended his audience to feel toward a man who is clearly a sexual predator? I love a good unreliable narrator, so I will look out for it soon on my next few jaunts to the used bookstore.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Library Book


Susan Orlean's latest book, The Library Book, was a hot ticket at Book Expo this year. I didn't get a hard copy, which was a bummer, but I was approved for an electronic copy so I jumped for joy. And what a joy this book was. 

One spring morning in 1986, a fire broke out at the main Los Angeles Public Library. It was so intense, so all-consuming that 30 years later, residents remember it well. No one knows exactly how or where it started, only that it was arson. A suspect began to emerge — a man named Harry Peak, an aspiring actor and a generally confusing man who lived to spin tall tales. Orlean, a recent Los Angeles transplant, hears about the story after re-finding her childhood love of libraries at the venerable Los Angeles institution. Part narrative non-fiction, part historical record of the Los Angeles Public Library, and part love letter to libraries everywhere, this book focuses in on a place we all know and love yet rarely dig deep into: the oublic library. 

I wanted to read this book, but I can also say from looking into the rear view mirror that I wasn’t quite expecting what I got with this book. It was so much more than I was expecting, which was an historical account of this fire that destroyed millions of books and brought out the best in Los Angelenos. Orlean has put together a beautiful book that closely examines the history of libraries in general and the LAPL in terms of its origins, it’s sexist history, and the current societal position it holds as a welcome mat for the masses regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or even itinerancy. The library is open to all who can get through their doors while they are open. Orlean focuses on this and breathes life into a building that is so much more than that, as it is the lifeblood of the city to so many. 

The trips that Orlean takes with the staff of the LAPL, to other branches both closed and in use; into meetings about how to better serve their constituencies; and to library conferences where staff from all over the world seek ways to improve what they do in a changing world all serve to elevate the story of the fire and give us, the readers, a full-bodied and overt understanding of why we need public libraries. This was an absolutely fascinating read, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. And if you aren’t already a partron of your local public library, make it a point to go before the month is out. See the good these places do for all of our communities, no matter where we are in the United States. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Under the Knife: The History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations


Under the Knife: The History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations by Arnold Van de Laar showed up in a search for new books on Netgalley and the blurb grabbed me. 

In the history of medicine, surgery has not always been the hot ticket residency position we currently see in shows like Grey’s Anatomy or whatnot. In fact, it was considered a specialty that doctors ran from, and certain surgeries weren’t even classified as such in order to avoid correlating the knife with the huge risk of death. It wasn’t until, for example, cleanliness improved and a surgeon realized he could cut out his own bladder stone a different way and not bleed out that the diagnosis began releasing pain in so many afflicted. As sanitation increased tremendously and medicine improved, surgery has taken on a life of its own, and it has both saved and ended lives. This historical look at 28 operations that defined the field will change the way you see the process. 

This book is incredibly interesting, drawing on so much history both medical and not. It covers a range of historical figures and what happened to them — popes, European royalty, American politicians — and analyzes what happened, why, and how it could have been different if we knew then what we know now. This book can be incredibly detailed at times, and informative albeit clinical. I love the interweaving of historical figures and the surgeries that saved them, or just could have, and I took a good chunk of information away from this, including the technicality of death via gunshot. (Want to know what that is? Pick up the book!)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self


I picked up Manoush Zomorodi's Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self at Book Expo last year (2017), and I read through the intro immediately. It was different than I was expecting -- I was hoping for a treatise on the boredom research -- but it was interesting nonetheless. I put it aside for a while, and I picked it back up recently in the wake of my family's discussion of how we can be better about electronics. 

Westerners are spending more time on their electronic devices than ever. We are also reporting that it is negatively impacting our lives and our relationships -- so why can't we just put the damned things down? Zomorodi wondered the same thing, so she set out to challenge both herself and her listeners with the Bored and Brilliant challenge to get people off of their phones, get them bored, and bring back their brilliance. 

I began the challenge by downloading the Moment app and tracking my usage for a couple of days. I was surprised that, by the fourth day, that I clocked in less than two hours of phone time a day. However, I ended up with 25+ pick ups, which is an interesting ratio. I think that this usage is less than my usual, as I was already working to become aware of how often I was using my phone and making an effort to cut that usage down, at least at home with my family. Unfortunate, I found that it made me more aware of my husband’s phone usage, but that’s for him to fix. I just get to be exasperated with him. 

The second challenge, putting away my phone while I commute, was both easy and hard. I am a bookworm (obviously — this is, after all, a book blog), so staying off my electronics wasn’t terribly hard. However, I do often use 20 or so minutes of that commute to respond to emails and — here’s the irony — blog. It helps me keep my phone away at home to take care of little things on the train. So I modified the challenge. I could only use my phone and catch up on emails and such after I read at least one chapter in my book.

The third challenge, not taking a single picture during the day, wasn't too hard. Because we run an Instagram page for our family to see pictures of our son, it was important that a picture still go up, so I made sure to assign my husband to picture duty. I have found myself not taking pictures of the boy on days before, so this wasn't as hard as it seems. I made the decision several trips ago to avoid taking photos all the time and to just enjoy my experiences, which oddly coincided with me getting a smart phone. The first six months of my child's life was an exception, but otherwise, this was a good use of my restraint skills.

The fourth challenge, deleting an app that is a time suck, was one that I skipped, not because I couldn't bring myself to do it, but rather because just becoming more cognizant of my phone use on a regular basis meant that I was spending less (and sometimes significantly less) than two hours a day on my phone, and that included work time. Facebook may have been the one I would have chosen, and I found myself gravitating away from it anyway, which I find super interesting.

Then we get to challenges five (take a fakecation), six (stop and smell the roses), and seven (bored and brilliant), and I have to admit that I didn't do them. After reading the earlier chapters, I felt as though I was on the right track. And retrospectively, I can confirm this. I not only find myself on my phone less often, but I also find myself forgetting to bring my phone from room to room and, when I do notice, I tend to not care that I don't know where it is. That might change when my husband starts back up at work and we are on opposite schedules again, but right now it's working super well. So well, in fact, my husband has been annoyed with me when he can't get hold of me because I just don't have my phone around. Ha. Whoops! Sorry not sorry?

I will definitely do the bored and brilliant challenge sometime in the near future -- I think it's a good one. And I'm not deleting the Moment app from my phone so that if I do ever notice it becoming a problem again, I can refocus and get back to the deliberate use that I am working on now. I use my phone while putting my baby to bed because I have a book on my Kindle app that I'm reading. I check it while I'm out to see if my husband and/or child needs me. But otherwise, it's just not that important, and it feels like a great place to be.

During the challenge, which took me more than a week because I wanted to make this a change in how I use my phone regularly not just challenge myself for a week, my husband and I went on a date. While we were at the bar, right in the middle of our conversation about our family, he notices a film crew and asks if I had heard of the show. I said no, and while I proceed to pick back up the conversation, he immediately pulls out his phone to look it up. I became more than a little pissy, and I laid into him about how we were having a conversation and his addiction to his device just broke it up. Rather than filing it in the back of his mind, or work on continually observing, he had to go down an electronic rabbit hole and fill a void that previously had not existed. I told him that I needed him to start tracking his phone time because it was getting ridiculous. He has since started to do so, and next I'll have him read this book.