Browsed by
Tag: book review

book review: unspeakable things

book review: unspeakable things

the author jess lourey is an instructor at my school, so the library has all the books she’s written. she just came out with a new book inspired by the jacob wetterling kidnapping; she grew up in paynesville, and if you’ve listened to the “in the dark” podcast, you know that was a hotbed of unsavory behavior in the 80s and 90s.

so i was at the school library the other day and swiped it off the shelf; it’s #54 in amazon’s most-purchased books today, which she is super excited about (and for good reason!). i picked it up friday night and finished it this morning.

the book is told from the viewpoint of a 12/13-year-old girl who lives in rural, small-town stearns county; it’s always so weird to be reading a book and see references to places i know – i’m sure people run into this all the time, which means i need to up my minnesota author game. the parallels between her fiction narrative and the actual crimes that happened here were unsettling at times – the music teacher who lives with his parents; mother of the abducted/murdered child with the name mrs. wellstone; the syllables in jacob wetterling’s name equals the syllables in the fictionalized child’s name.

and add in all the other creepy things that were going on in the narrator’s life, which were very adult, very ick-inducing for that age – swingers parties, drug dealing, pedophilia themes, an abusive father – and it painted a very disgusting portrait of central minnesota residents. but what is very apparent in her writing is the shimmer of truth surrounding some of the themes. paynesville boys were abused in the 80s and 90s, and someone was doing it – someone who was a resident of this area.

despite the ick-factor themes of the books, i loved the narration by our 13-year-old heroine, cassie. the book is written such that it’s the looking-back narration by the present-day woman narrator. i loved the description of the band room at her school, sucking on a clarinet reed while assembling it, calling out “i seen it” or “can you borrow me that” as minnesota-isms, the clique-y-ness of lunchtime and trying to fit in.

i know this book is not for everyone. but i even liked that it made me uncomfortable at times, which i’m sure was the author’s intent. people don’t get through childhood unscathed, and some more scathed than others. multiple times it was highlighted how adults just don’t believe the kids, how it’s just boys messing around for attention. it’s even called out that what finally forced big action was that the kid who was abducted was middle class. the other victims had been from “the wrong side of the tracks” (so to speak). by making readers uncomfortable, maybe it will nudge some to start believing kids and encouraging them to speak out about assaults and prevent future assaults.

all the birds in the sky: a book review

all the birds in the sky: a book review

i just finished up “all the birds in the sky.” have you ever read a book where every time you set it down, you think, man that’s a weird little book. and then you continue to pick it back up because you want to see what on earth happens in this weird little book? that’s how i felt with “all the birds in the sky.”

it’s a melding of two genres and somehow, it works. it’s got the old-school fairy tale vibe going on with the female character in the natural world and witchy powers, and then it’s got a techy/futuristic vibe with the male character holding fast to his intelligent AI he’s built and a 2-second time machine on his wrist. somehow, the two end up falling in love in a world that’s creeping closer and closer climate disaster (oh yeah, it’s also borderline environmental apocalyptic genre too!), but when disaster strikes, the way they deal puts them at odds.

i wouldn’t give this five stars. i think i’d be hard pressed to give it four stars. it’s an entertaining read and fascinating how the different genres come together, but the story didn’t compel me like other stories have. i’d recommend it for how it messes with your preconceived notions of how storytelling genres work and to get your mind to wrap around how storytelling can shift between them and still work.

book review: “the library book”

book review: “the library book”

i just finished up “the library book” which was excellent. it’s about the LA library fire in the 80s and just info on the library in general. i learned a lot about how it came to be, the building, the head librarians (a couple early ones were women!), and the investigation into the guy who was accused of arson.

her description of the fire itself was fantastic: how it started, its movement, the way it was a perfect fire and burned so hot that it had no color. she started the book with the fire, so this was real hook into reading the rest of the book.

it was also really encouraging to read about how the LA library system is evolving as it grows. because it had to basically start over in the early 90s, it was one of the first libraries to go electronic. and now they’re trying to figure out how to help the homeless population and the patrons who want to utilize the library for more than just books. i love how libraries have always been about more than just books, too. the first head librarian wanted to add tennis racquets to the loan list.

 

interesting fact: the fire happened on the same day as chernobyl, so the media coverage of it was almost nil. i had never heard that the LA library had a major fire (neither had the author; it’s why she wrote the book).

so, highly recommend reading the book to learn more about the LA library fire, the investigation, and libraries in general.

book review – invisible women: data bias in a world designed for men

book review – invisible women: data bias in a world designed for men

unpaid work.

sex.

gender.

does it seem like i’m going to start a feminist rant? no. i’m going to talk about what we women have known forever.

i just finished up “invisible women: data bias in a world designed for men” and boy howdy am i annoyed. despite being the majority of people who inhabit the earth, we get the short stick when it comes to, well, just about everything.

caroline criado perez does a nice job of making statistics and data points palatable in her book, which tend to make me set aside a book if it becomes too boring. instead, she weaves in stories and examples with her data, using recent, actual events to back up what she’s talking about. (and if you’re worried about “citation needed”, about 30% of the book is footnotes and annotations.)

she talks about three major parts of women’s lives that are ignored in our world: sex, gender, and unpaid work. each of them is infuriating in themselves to think about discrepancies, but the most irritating for me was the medical section (dealing with the sex portion of this). think about all those medical studies and drug studies and all those medications you’re taking. now think about how the majority of test subjects and even mice are male. now think about how different the female body is with hormones and different muscle mass and metabolism, even. and the data they do get after these studies? they don’t disaggregate them by sex! so there could be a great drug out there for women that didn’t do squat out there for men, but do we know? no. science grants have generally dismissed research into childbirth and menstruation due to them being “not pressing” even though one happens every 28 days for most women and the other happens 360,000 times a day! if that’s not pressing, i’m not sure what is. and then let’s not talk about how doctors dismiss women’s pain as “all in their head”. did you know that a lot women are given antidepressants instead of painkillers? and the men in the same situation are given painkillers?

WHAT. ON. EARTH.

now, let’s touch briefly on the fact that when you include any vehicular crash tests that include dummies that are the size and stature of women (but not anatomically, so the chestal area is flat [think about where a seat belt goes]), the safety ratings PLUMMET. and they don’t even do crash tests with these smaller dummies in the drivers seats, because, you know, women don’t drive ever, amirite?

and let’s not even get started on phone size and the pocketriarchy. yes, she talked about both those things. i wish she had used the term pocketriarchy though. i’d probably’ve written her a love letter.

*EYE ROLL SO HARD*

and that’s just one. unpaid work is another huge portion. one of the scandinavian countries decided to do their snow removal backwards (start with the sidewalks and side roads and move outward) and the number of injuries massively reduced. why? because all the women who travel to various places for different errands and to take care of people are more likely to walk and use side roads. the men who don’t do all this unpaid work just use a main road to get to their jobs and go home. women are also more likely to combine various trips into one: i go to work, but on the way home, i stop at target, i stop at the grocery store, i stop to pick something else up. husbands generally don’t do this because their wives do.

throw in childcare, eldercare, taking care of infirm relatives, housework, etc.: what do you think it would add to the GDP? she posits that it would more than double what the GDP is worth in its paid work. considering the average woman’s leisure time versus a man’s, this wouldn’t surprise me one bit. consider emotional labor.

ok, phew. i’m getting all riled up here.

for the last one, gender, which is inculcated in us from day one, i think what’s most telling is how the workworld is designed for men and women are told “hey, just be more bold. be more insistent. be more” when talking about the pay gap. didn’t get a raise? well, you obviously didn’t sell yourself as well as jeeves did over in the corner office. so we’re going to have a workshop on how to teach women to show their worth in the workworld. instead of this, can’t we just acknowledge that women aren’t as aggressive as men in the workworld and are just as, if not more, worthy? can that just be… the NORM? instead of telling women they need to be more aggressive in the workplace? and when they are, well then they’re just shrill. they’re too much. they’re HILLARY CLINTON. (such an odd insult.)

*EYE ROLL AGAIN*

bottom line in ALL of these is that when standards are set or buildings are designed or drug tests are commenced, maybe a few women at the table would help. heck: if the table were half women, that would be at least egalitarian. because chances are that they will think of something that men don’t think about because they don’t experience it. that’s why it’s good to have diverse backgrounds at the table as well.

so. read this book. women, prepare to want to scratch your eyeballs out in frustration (only because you know it happens all around you all the time). men, prepare to have your eyeballs opened a bit. at least i hope that’s what happens and i hope you think about it next time you’re making decisions for the whole in a room full of men.

kudos, caroline. keep fighting the good fight.

all hail the book nerd

all hail the book nerd

i did a cool thing today! the local libraries exchange was on campus to record 5-minute book reviews for their podcast, and i did TWO books! (unfortunately, i was the only one who signed up, so i guess it was a good thing i brought a second book!)

i had listened to a few of their podcasts before i headed into this foray, and i was worried about being able to spend enough time talking about my books. well, after i rambled on and on about the first book (“the dreamers”), the interviewer said that it was almost exactly 5 minutes. i was worried i wouldn’t be able to talk about it enough!

then i talked about “a walk in the woods” which one of the interviewers had also read (and loved the author), so we almost tag-teamed on the interview, and that one was really fun. hey, if you haven’t read that one and you enjoy memoirs and humor, this is the book for you.

THEN they invited me to come to their space over the summer sometime when they’re recording podcasts about specific genres of books! OMG. i asked if harry potter was considered a genre, and then we got excited about a podcast talking about HP.

book nerds are great.

s. king’s latest

s. king’s latest

when i saw there was an additional book from stephen king out, i thought oh boy! he’s really on a roll now. i mean, we all know he writes monster books (heh could be a double meaning) and quite often. earlier this year i’d purchased “the outsider” and was amazed that a second one was already published.

i stopped at BN in the moa to pick it up and…

it’s so little!! of course i still picked it up. it’s fewer than 200 pages with large type, more of a novella than a novel. i finished it over the course of two days; it would have been one, but i started reading at 10:30 p.m. and had to go to sleep.

like all king books, it’s got a little weird element to it, but it’s an uplifting story (heh – again) with a lesson for readers.

i know i’ve said this before, but i’ll say it again. if you’re afraid to pick up one of his books because it’s attached to horror, just push that aside and dive in. most likely you’ve already watched a movie adaptation of one if his: shawshank, stand by me, green mile, etc. what i like about his writing is that he ties a lot of the stories together, a lot of times to the man in black.

if you are looking for a decent one to start with, pick up 11/22/63, my favorite. it’s got the right mix of weird (there’s always something weird in his books), sentimental, and thriller-esque.

do NOT pick up the tommyknockers. only book of his i was literally scared.

(or IT. read that one after you’ve read a few of his and start wondering what the heck is going on in derry, maine, and you’re fully acquainted with the king-style weird.)

on laura ingalls wilder (and the ALA)

on laura ingalls wilder (and the ALA)

when asked about the most influential books i’ve read, there are two series in my top ten: one is the harry potter series and the other is the little house series. i’ve written a few times before about LH, most often when reminiscing about my aunt colettie, who snagged me remainder books from her time at the rochester school system library. i also remember reading them very young, when the librarians at the small gradeschool i went to wouldn’t let me out of the children’s section to explore chapter books.

for me there’s a romanticism to reading the LH books – from laura’s time in the big woods, gathering food from the woods and eating maple syrup candy that had been poured onto smooth cold snow, to the endless prairies of south dakota and the harsh winters with grains stored in walls. i know it was rough going, but 7-year-old me wanted to live in that world.

this past week, the association for library service to children (a division of the american library association) voted to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

first, a little background on the LIW award. the award was established in 1954 when it was giving to laura herself and it’s been given every 5 years through 1980, then til 2001 every 3 yrs, then 01-16, every 2, and now every year, to a childrens author or illustrator whose books have made a substantial and lasting contribution to kids’ lit. past winners include maurice sendak, beverly cleary, eb white, and dr. seuss. the authors who receive this award have a “substantial and lasting contribution” and “occupy an important place in literature for American children and that over the years children have read the books and the books continue to be requested and read by children.”

the ALSC decided to change the name of the wilder medal because of the LHoP books’ racist themes throughout. they claim that the books are inconsistent with their core values. i have a beef with that. the books are a product of their time, just like mark twain’s books. they also reflect the thoughts of people around her: ma hated american indians and pa didn’t.

this line from pa in particular is pretty ahead of its time:  They “would be as peaceable as anybody else if they were let alone.” Pa says. “On the other hand, they had been moved west so many times that naturally they hated white folks.”

there was this line in the books when it was first published:

There the wild animals wandered and fed as though they were in a pasture that stretched much farther than a man could see, and there were no people. Only Indians lived there.

laura was just mortified when someone pointed out the line to her. she wrote her publisher post haste:

You are perfectly right about the fault in Little House on the Prairie and have my permission to make the correction as you suggest. It was a stupid blunder of mine. Of course Indians are people and I did not intend to imply they were not.

that line now says settlers. i think that in itself is reason to keep the wilder name on the medal. the thing is, her books fully embrace the theme of the medal. and given the above, i think laura the author embraces the ALSC’s core values, “which include inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness.”

and if the ALSC really wants to embrace their values, well, they’ll change the name of the carnegie medal as well. despite his philanthropic ways, there were some controversies in his life. and perhaps we should pore over randolph caldecott’s illustrations to make sure they also embrace those core values? and dr seuss, who also has an award named after him, supported the internment of japanese americans during WWII! (afterward, he changed his mind a bit with horton hears a who as an allegory for hiroshima.)

this all said, i can understand how someone reading the books outside of the white person lens sees these books as a glorification of racism and stereotyping of native americans. but as a set of historical, semi-autobiographical fiction that was explaining the time and perspective, i don’t know how we can’t see that laura’s books aren’t still relevant and educational.

i was reading reddit’s books forum and saw this comment:

As a proud Native American and member of the Blackfoot tribe, I am disheartened to hear that children will no longer have it explained to them what our roots are.

Growing up in public school we often learned of the struggles minorities faced in the history of this country, but my Native ancestors were ether under represented or left out all together.

These books were my first experience of what non-res people heard about my people. It raised questions that were sometimes hard, but gave all the class the ability to look at our history through the lens of today. A reminder not to repeat the mistakes of hatred from the past.

I think that this award for all its flaws sparked an important conversation. A conversation that is no more. One less source of truth about my nearly extinct people.

i think it’s important to hear those other voices. but did the ALSC just get complaints and decide to change the name based on those, or did they go out and find other perspectives from american indians, like the one above? and do the ALSC’s awards reflect the author or the author’s works? in EITHER case, if the ALSC is going to change the name of the wilder award, it needs to take a closer look at its other awards and how they relate to its core values.

i’m disappointed that the award has been renamed. while her award hasn’t been revoked and her works still widely published and read, stripping laura’s name from the long-time award does a disservice to historical viewpoints, a turn-of-the-century female author, and to the spirit of laura and other long-read authors.

book review: Out West

book review: Out West

what a FANTASTIC book. i picked this up on a random reddit recommendation and couldn’t have been happier i did.
written in the mid-80s, so much of duncan’s insights are still so relevant. with his road rules (never turn back. don’t stop to ask for directions.) and his stories of his traveling the same route of lewis and clark but in less time and better accommodations, this is such a pleasant read for anyone interested in the west, the lewis and clark expedition, or anyone who has an itch to travel. this book is dense but worth reading every word.
review tuesday: sleeping beauties

review tuesday: sleeping beauties

i feel like a bit of a poser whenever i read and review a stephen king novel because i picked him up so late in my reading life, and for reasons that are pretty dumb. he writes horror novels! he’s a weirdo! his writing is scary! he looks like a weirdo!
whatever. get over it. just pick up a book of his. 
want an easy place to start? “the green mile.” “shawshank redemption.” “the body (lean on me).” they’re all familiar to you. 
so, i picked up his latest book, “sleeping beauties,” which he co-wrote with his son. when i first started reading it, i thought, Oh! i can totally tell this is more owen than stephen king. but then i got more into the storyline and was like, ok – this has gone full stephen.
i’ll try to give an overview without getting into spoilers because this is a great book. what i love about SK novels is that i KNOW there is always going to be some supernatural thing crop up eventually at the root of any scariness, so it’s expected now.
sleeping_beauties_prop_embedso it was with sleeping beauties.
premise of the book: all women are made to go into a deep slumber and not awaken before this one thing happens. it’s a pretty telling story about society and what would happen if women did suddenly decide to take a vacation from life. 
there are characters you hate, there are characters you love, and there are characters that i wondered were really supposed to be written that way (writing female characters from a male eye is always a questionable thing in my mind. women are not THAT CONSCIOUS of their boobs. they’re just not. i’m not going to notice my shirt caressing the sideboob. not happening.)
but what was really exciting for me about this book was the build-up to the climax, which i don’t think i’ve gotten with any other SK novel quite like this one. i’ve gotten great build-up from other authors, just not him. it was really exciting to see how things came together and what was happening. i was glad when the baddies had it coming. i was sad when the good guys lost. and i was hopeful yet melancholy for the bittersweet ending. 
I keep telling people to pick up a king book. you won’t be disappointed. and if you want to get a story that you’re not familiar with for your first read, this is a good option. 

2016 reading challenge

2016 reading challenge

huzzah i met my reading challenge for the year! i set a goal of 60 books, and i met it. (not that the last two years haven’t been great reading years). 
screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-8-32-53-am
but what’s REALLY interesting is my pages read:
screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-8-33-05-am
first, i think it’s interesting that 2012 and 2013 were within 400 pages of each other. and this year, i read 2000 pages more than those two years.  (i don’t know what happened in 2014 or 2015.)
generally there are a couple books each year that i start and then decide, naaahhh, and toss aside. i mark them as “read” on my goodreads because otherwise they just hang out in my queue forever. i know in 2013 i started infinite jest – a lot of pages – and quit after less than 100 pages. so these numbers aren’t completely indicative of my reading habits. BUT this year, i know of two books i quit – one i was 3/4 done with (just couldn’t anymore) and the other i’d gotten about 1/4 of the way through – that one was “duma key” by stephen king, so it was pretty long. 
i wish i could set a goal by pages, not books read. i can choose books that are 250 pages or books that are 800 pages, and they both count as one. 

%d bloggers like this: