Quick Review: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado

This is a memoir about what it is like to be working poor in America that addresses many of the myths about being poor. Tirado has a blunt style that is sometimes funny, sometimes touching and that I found grating in places. This is a very real perspective on poverty from someone who has lived it, and I think it’s a perspective that is often missing from our economic discourse. It was an interesting read and a quick one. The audiobook was read by the author. So, if you’re looking for a little perspective on class in America, you may want to give it a try.

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This Month in Reality: Book lists and Syllabi

A lot of terrible things have happened…well, all of human history might accurately categorized as action and reaction when terrible things happen. One of those actions that people can take is educating oneself and trying to be a better person and/or not be as much a part of the problem. I have been heartened to see what might be a new trend in book lists: the syllabus. (Can a tool for teaching in the classroom be thought of as a “new” trend out of the classroom?) I am always happy to see thematic lists and I’m always looking for new things to read, so I have been collecting them. Some of the following are actual syllabuses for college courses and some of them are just curated lists on a topic. I’ve got them and I’ve been looking back through them now that I’m aware of how far behind I am on my reading challenge. While I was looking at them, I thought I might share them with you.

This first link is an in-depth list but together following the mass shooting in Charleston in June of 2015. This list is amazing in its detail. It provides historical context starting with a general overview before readings on slavery in both the North and the South before going onto the civil war, reconstruction, and Jim Crow. There are readings on race and religion. There are readings on white identity construction and white supremacy in the US and abroad.

The next syllabus I have to offer is the Black Lives Matter 2016 Fall Syllabus. This syllabus was put together by Professor Frank Leon Roberts at NYU for a class. This is a nice syllabus because it includes not only papers and texts to read but it also includes videos and films to watch. The syllabus also includes writing prompts for reflection papers, so while you are reading and watching, you can also do some digesting.

The Standing Rock Syllabus, put together by the NYC stands with Standing Rock collective includes readings on topics like settler colonialism, the histories of indigenous peoples in North America, environmental racism, and readings on Indian sovereignty and treaty law.

The Lemonade syllabus grew out of a desire that many people had to understand and better get all of the references in Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade. It was put together by Candice Benbow and is beautiful. It is stunningly laid out, once you’ve followed the link from the site. It is 36 pages and includes space to make notes and to write down the date when you finished reading. The syllabus is divided into topics that include (but are not limited to) fiction, non-fiction, black feminism, womanist theology, photography, music, critical theory and poetry. It is so cool. People had questions, they took to twitter and using a hashtag gave each other answers.  I cannot understate how in awe of this syllabus I am.

The Luke Cage Syllabus is a look at the literature in the netflix show Luke Cage but together by Tara Betts at Black Nerd Problems. These are books that are seen or referenced in the show. This syllabus is my convenient excuse for re-watching the show.

These last two I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to look over yet. One of them is a google doc and I’m not sure who it is edited by but it is a reading list for white people who want to educate themselves so that they can be more informed. It is divided up thematically and includes readings on systemic racism and racist ideology, the history of black lives matter and readings on steps you can take to combat racism. The last one is from Haymarket books and is called the Stop Trump Reading List. This list contains books that talk may help you understand how Trump was elected and it includes a link to a list of books especially for young people.

So, there you have it. Syllabi and reading lists to help you find your next book(s) and  to learn a little about issues in the world and also about references in pop culture you may be missing!

If you have any suggestions or have seen any reading lists/syllabi out there that I missed, please take to the comments and let me know!

 

Review: Crecy by Warren Ellis

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I’m pretty sure that I read this graphic novel when it first came out but, I recently moved and in all the packing I came across it and decided it was time to pick it up and read it again.

 

 

The year is 1346 and then English army is outnumbered outside of the village of Crecy. They’ve run a shock-and-awe campaign, attacking villages and just generally making mayhem but now they have to stand and fight. French forces with mounted knights and hired crossbowmen go up against English longbows and other fighters a battle that would have a major impact on the Hundred Years war. The story is centered around one longbowman as he moves through the French countryside and prepares for battle.

 

This is a quick read about a piece of English history. It is pretty good. A little sweary and sometimes a little gross, but that is in line with the subject material. So, if you’re looking for a little history but you aren’t into reading a long tome, I say give this a try.

 

 

This Month in Reality: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

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When I posted my “What I’m Listening to” for this book I said that, just in the first chapters, I kept getting a lot of Tupac lyrics stuck in my head. In particular the line, “Instead of a war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so police can bother me.” This book made me in turns fucking furious, and heartbroken and uncomfortable, and increasingly aware that the U.S. is doing a big thing badly and that big thing is incarcerating citizens.

In this book, Michelle Alexander examines America’s prison systems and makes the argument that mass incarceration is a system of racial control that has taken the place of Jim Crow. And, her argument is pretty convincing. She looks at how, not all at once, but little by little changes have been made that have largely affected poor people and people of color. She looks at changes in the welfare system, changes in policing, the militarization of policing, and changes in drug policy.

Last year, I heard Piper Kerman speak at a local library function and this revisited some of the things that she touched on in her talk (and that at friend of mine touched on in a chat after the talk). We send a lot of people to prison. We send people to prison for murder. We send people to prison for rape (although, not often and not for very long but that’s a topic of discussion for another day). And, we send lots and lots of people to prison for non-violent drug offenses. How are we serving these people by putting them away for non-violent crime? How are we serving their communities by taking them out of the community? How are we serving them and their communities by disenfranchising them after they have served their time? How are we serving them and their communities by making access to welfare and public housing impossible after being convicted of a felony? I get it, if people do “bad” things, you don’t want to feel like you’re rewarding them. But, if you have nothing because you’ve just spent many years in prison and you want to do right and get back into the world, how can you do that with so many avenues closed off to you?

I don’t know.

This book raised way more questions than it answered for me but I am glad that I read it even if it means I now have to spend time thinking about these issues and how I can help set them right.

The Past Couple of Months in Reality: I listened to a Feminist Classic

So, I had a moment earlier this year where someone referenced the feminist classic the Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan and I realized that I hadn’t read it. It seems like something I should have read. So, I used one of my audible credits and I picked it up. And, then I spent hours cooking, cleaning and walking on the tread mill while Parker Posey read it to me.

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Isn’t that the creeepiest image?

Anyway, this classic was originally published in 1963 and it addressed a problem that women who bought (and a society that sold) the fantasy that the most fulfilling thing a woman could do with her life was get married and have children and how that not only affected those women but also had ripple effects within society. I can see, looking back, how this was a revolutionary book. It is important to know and remember that women are people and that women, all women, have capacities and interests and being stuck in and reduced to one or two roles for any person is potentially trapping.

But, this book was definitely written in a different time and was focused on different issues than the feminism is now. For one, every time Friedan wrote “women”, I found it was almost always easier to take if I added “Middle Class White” before “women”. While Friedan was probably trying to write about an ideal (and, a societal image of what a “woman” should be is certainly something everyone woman-identifying person has to contend with much like the idea of what a “man” should be is something all men-identifying people have to contend with.) most of the data she presented was about a very particular kind of woman. As already mentioned, middle class white women. And, that’s fine, but the problems that middle class white women face are not always the same as the problems that working class white women face. Or, Middle class African American women. Or, working class African American women. Or, Trans women. Or, Asian American women. Or, Native American women. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

I am glad that I read it, though. It is nice to be able to look back and think about how much we have accomplished and to note how much work we still have to do.

This Month in Reality: Shonda Rhimes is my hero. 

A Year of Yes
  

Welcome to a March 32nd tradition. I am posting this month’s in reality on the last day of March! 
This book, man. It’s life changing. Life affirming. It’s… I don’t even know where to begin. Except I do. At the beginning, I had to stop listening halfway through the introduction because I was crying my eyes out. I’ve never felt so seen…by an audiobook. I guess this is why Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday nights. 
This book is a memoir about a year in which Rhimes chose to say yes to everything that scared her. And, it would seem, a bunch of things that scare her also scare me and so hearing about how she faced her fears and won was transformative.  The book is read by the author, so, if like me, you listen to books a lot with headphones on, Shonda Rhimes is literally whispering in your ear telling you how she overcame her fears and leading by example. 
I want to say yes to everything now. I even want to say yes to saying no to things that are bad for me. 
This book, man. I loved it. 

This Month in Reality: Tidying Up

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When I get home tonight I’m going to take off my shoes and thank them (they are super cute and have done the hard work of keeping my feet out of the mud today). My wallet, essential oils bag (yes, I’m that kind of dirty hippie that brings her own aroma therapy with her everywhere she goes), my planner and the notebook I always carry with me will be taken out of my purse and I will thank them and put them in their new spots. I will hang my purse up and thank it. Then, I will feed my hungry, hungry monsters. Finally, I’ll try not to feel silly for expressing gratitude to inanimate objects. Hey, you know how I said I was done reading self-help books? Well, I lied to both of us. I read The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. All of this thanking is Kondo’s idea. I’m down with expressing gratitude as a regular practice. It’s allegedly good for you. Thanking things isn’t a problem. (It feels weird, but I do all kinds of weird things so what is one more?)

So, I read this book and now I feel like I need to divest myself of half of my possessions. Which, on the whole, is probably not a bad thing. I am kind of a pack rat so I hang onto things longer than I need to. (And, I’m on the job market expecting that a move is in my future if I want to stay in my field, so having fewer things to move would be pretty awesome.)

The Konmari method seems to work as follows: Go through all your possessions one category at a time and get rid of anything you don’t need. Don’t move it to your Mom’s. Don’t put it in storage. Straight up give it away or sell it or throw it away. No longer have it within your reach. Keep the stuff that makes you happy. Not the stuff you feel like you should keep, not the stuff that you have “just in case”. Just the stuff that makes you happy. If you use your stuff as a barrier between you and the world to keep you safe, this is going to be an awful process. However, she gives you something to deal with the anxiety-inducing trash-fest. She wants you to start by thinking about what you want from life. How do you want to be seen? How do you see yourself? What are trying to radiate? How does your space reflect that? So, the life-changing art of tidying up is not just about divesting yourself of possessions. It is also about divesting yourself of ideas, thoughts, and patterns that no longer serve you.

In short, this is going to be a rough ride.

I think this is a great way to approach tidying up your space and your life. But, I also think that confronting your feelings and thought patterns is rough work and that it might be easier when you have Kondo there in the room with you. So, I recommend this book. It was an interesting read. But, if you’re going to use the Konmari method to get rid of stuff in your life you may also want to be in therapy or keep a journal of the process so you can work out your feelings as you throw out your stuff.

 

 

This book counts as my book by an Asian author in the Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Reading Challenge.

This Month in Reality: Witches, Midwives and Nurses! Oh, My!

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2016 has really started off with a bang. You could maybe tell by my lack of posting? I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. But, I have managed to get a little reading done (just not a lot of review writing. I have been writing, but that’s another story.)

The bang 2016 started out with was a family member in the hospital. (They’re fine now.) While they were in the hospital, I tried to do my best and not panic. If I’m calm, they had no reason to not be calm, right? They had to be taken out of the room for various tests (Again, they’re fine now) and to occupy myself while they were out of the room I read a book on my phone. I read Witches, Midwives, and Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English.

I thought that was an appropriate thing to read in a hospital.

This is a short pamphlet of a book written in the 1970s. It discussed midwifery, the rise of medical professionals (as opposed to healers), the popular health movement of the 1830s and 40s, and feminism and the need for women in medicine today. This was a really short book; it was only 59 pages, but I learned a lot from it. I didn’t know about the popular health movement. Or, I knew about it tangentially because I know a little bit about patent medicine from visiting the Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta. (And, even though there was probably a lot wrong with some of the ideas the popular health movement was spreading, there was also probably a lot right about it.) Ehrenreich and English tell us a story about the movement pushing the equivalent of know-your-body courses (still a good idea) and also supporting a lot of self-advocating amongst patients. (The movement is described as espousing the virtues of frequent bathing, loose-fitting clothing for women, temperance and eating whole grain cereals. Any of that sound familiar?) The movement they describe also seems to have been initially supportive of women and minorities and in line with the cause of civil rights. While some of the professional societies out right banned women and minorities from their ranks, schools in the popular health movement did not do so (at least with the same frequency.) Unfortunately, from the description that Ehrenreich and English give, it would also seem that women threw other minorities under the bus in order to gain legitimacy and when favor to their causes. No cool, bros. So, I learned a little about the insidious underbelly of the history of the women’s rights movement.

What I found most interesting about this book (and also incredibly sad) were the conclusions. They conclude that the medical profession isn’t just an institution that discriminates against women, it is one that has been designed to exclude them. That was probably true in the 70s and it is still true today. Last year I reviewed the book the First Twenty Minutes and one of the things I found hardest to swallow about that book was the amount of research the author presented that was done only on male bodies. Women and men are different! There is a fairly large amount of scientific evidence to support that! (Also, there’s probably not just men and women! Gender as a binary is probably not a real thing!) Just as examples from recent news: women have different heart attack symptoms than men (and new research shows women aren’t aware of this) and women with ADHD present differently than men. They also conclude that we have become mystified by science and don’t know how to argue for what we need in the face of a scientific (or scientific sounding) argument. (Recent blow ups of twitter about whether or not the Earth is round seems to show that we still have a lack of scientific literacy.) They suggest that there needs to be an opening of the medical profession so that all women can have access to medical expertise when they need it. I still think that’s true.

So, this was a good read and a quick read. Not a bad way to start out the year in reality!

This Year in Reality 2015

When Beth and I decided we were really going to get on this thing and use this space and do some writing, we decided that we both needed a recurring series. Beth has been doing the Series You Should Check Out. These have been enjoyable to read (and have definitely put books into my TBR pile) and they’ve even gotten us a couple of author retweets. (Which, I have to say, was super exciting for both of us!) I decided to go in a different direction and review at least one non-fiction book a month. I flippantly titled this recurring series This Month in Reality. And, while not getting us any retweets, it has at least gotten me the personal satisfaction of engaging in some topics that I’ve had an interest in but have maybe not have made time for. The books that I read this year can probably be divided into three categories: Self help (dating advice,exercise, etc, New Years resolutions and Mesoamerican History! *only self-help for me because I study Mesoamerica*. ) Pop Culture Interest (the life and times of Kim Gordon, Piper Kerman and Orange is the New Black,Pop Physics,Travel as a metaphor for personal growth, Oscar winners ) meditation (Meditation and Science, meditation and practice, meditation AND pop culture). I’m so proud of my accidental consistency. I plan to continue this column in the coming year and I will also endeavor to be consistent, although more intentionally so. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past year considering who holds space and who is asking for it in our society, so expect to see books that help me meditate on and answer that question in 2016. But, before we get to 2016, I’d like to say goodbye to 2015 to revisiting my favorite reads/listens in reality this year! So, in no particular order:

 

 

<a href=https://stacksexceedlifeexpectancy.com/2015/07/31/this-month-in-reality-love-and-revolution/> Revolution by Russell Brand</a>.

 

This book hit me right in the feels. In a moment of synchronicity, I listened to this book at the exact right time for me because the messages of his book, that love is important and should be cherished and cultivated and that if something isn’t working we have to try something new and endeavor to make it better, were both things I needed to hear. It feels a little trite to say that a celebrity known for being a dirty hippie who once did a lot of drugs said the things that I needed to hear (especially when those things are stuff like, “your reality is the result of your attention and intention” and “sometimes you have to realize that the only power you have in a situation is the power to make it worse”) but it’s true so I might as well own it. I think Brand is a funny dude and I think the ideas he discusses are worthy ideas. So, if you’re feeling despairing and fed up with what the world looks like, take a break and hang out with this squirrelly English dude. Maybe he’ll say what you need to hear, too. (Or, maybe you’ll hate it and it’ll be one of those hate reads which is also cathartic. I don’t know.  You do you.)

 

<a href=https://stacksexceedlifeexpectancy.com/2015/04/02/this-month-in-reality-travel-as-a-metaphor-for-personal-growth/>Eat, Pray, Love</a>

 

I wanted so badly to hate this book. No, really. I wanted to hate this book because knowing barely anything about Elizabeth Gilbert (except the general plot of this story) I had decided that Gilbert was a selfish person who does what she likes and (mis)uses foreign cultures to justify her self-serving decisions. Now, maybe my original judgments about her are true and maybe they aren’t. But, try as I might to hate this book, I just couldn’t.  I found this book to be tremendously enjoyable. In the book someone suggests to her that every person and every city has a word that sums them up. When you find the city that you match, you’ve found your home. This is a clue to her that it is time to move on. I really liked this idea and I spent a long time considering what my word is. I just went back through a bunch of text messages with a friend who loved the book to see if I had come to a decision about my word. I think it might be “chameleon”. But, I’m still not sure. This book was a beautiful, painful, wonderful read. I’m so happy I picked it up!

 

<a href=https://stacksexceedlifeexpectancy.com/2015/10/31/this-month-in-reality-mesoamerican-history/>Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed by Professor  Edwin Barnhart</a>

I picked up this lecture series from audible because I thought, “What the hell? You know practically nothing about the historical context that gave birth to this language context you study, what could it hurt?” Nothing, I decided. And, I’m so glad that I picked it up. It covers the Toltecs, Olmecs, Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Tarascans, Aztecs, and Mayans: all of whom had empires in Mesoamerica prior to the arrival of Columbus. Did you know that? Prior to reading this audio book, these were names I knew, but I didn’t realize the the history that these names conveyed. These were huge empires that had sweeping impact on the culture, the people, and the land. How cool is that? Audible has an entire series of lectures, so if you’re interested in learning a little about anything, you might find something that will capture your interest! I, of course, recommend starting in Mesoamerica.

 

 

I hope that you have enjoyed learning a little this year along with me and that 2016 will bring us more knowledge about this cool and exciting world we live in!

 

This Month in Reality: Scroogenomics

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I saw this book on Eleventh Stack earlier this month and decided that it might be the perfect read for the holiday season. We’ve been reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens on Periscope, so this seemed to be the perfect foil to the original story. I still feel that way now that I’ve listened to it. This book is written by Joel Waldfogel, an economist whose specialty seems to be investigating something called dead weight loss. Or, more generally, the efficiency with which resources are put to use. In the book he lays out an argument for more efficient gift giving (or not giving).

The argument goes like this: I give you a sweater worth 50 bucks but you only get 20 bucks worth of enjoyment out of it. My gift of that sweater destroyed 30 bucks worth of value. Or, worse: I give you a sweater worth 50 bucks but you enjoy it 20 bucks worth. However, you would have bought yourself a different $50 sweater that would have given you $80 worth of enjoyment, so now the $50 sweater gift destroyed $60 worth of value (what you would have enjoyed minus what you are enjoying). Waldfogel walks us through all different ways that value can be measured and how economist collect and analyze that data. He also discusses what that means, not just for gift giving, but also for giving to charity and government spending (which he used as examples).

The book was really heavy on data, so be warned. More than a few reviews on goodreads panned it because it had too many numbers in it. (Personally, I would have been disappointed with fewer numbers. The book was written by an economist and published by Princeton University Press. Knowing those two facts, I expect to see a lot of data.) But, Waldfogel made some really great arguments for being thoughtful about what you give to whom, and I liked that. He also made some great suggestions for how to give more efficiently. One of the suggestions that he made was using the holiday season to give through people instead of to people. Which is to say: giving a gift in the name of someone to a charity or an organization. One of the things that we can do is give people money to give to charity. He hypothesized a charity gift card scheme that I haven’t seen but I do hope to eventually see. The idea would be that you’d give someone this charity gift card that they could then log into a website and give to the charity of their choosing. What a beautiful idea.

To bring this back to Scrooge and A Christmas Carol, what this book kept making me think about was the value and usefulness of something. And, this is a message that also keeps coming up for Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Twice now in the story so far (if you’re keeping up with us on periscope or katch), Scrooge has been confronted with something from his past or his present that made him rethink the value of something or someone in his life. Remembering what it is like to be alone at the holiday season makes Scrooge wish he’d been kinder to a caroler. Seeing exactly who the ‘surplus population’ is makes him regret his callous statements about the poor. Gift-giving is wonderful and provides us an opportunity to let people we care about know that we appreciate them. And, as Waldfogel points out, in many instances it is mandatory. You can’t not give a gift to your mother-in-law just because you don’t know her very well and you think anything you’d give her would just be wasted. So, since you have to give, strategies for how to give better can only be a good thing. We can be thoughtful about how we give when we give so that, in general, some good comes from our giving. The goal isn’t to hoard, but rather not to waste.

I enjoyed this book immensely, and if you’re interested in the economics of giving, you might want to give it a spin.

I got this book from audible.com