This Month in Reality: I stumble through a review of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

img_5085

I finished listening to this read-by-the-author audio book well over a week ago and I’ve been trying to decide what exactly I wanted to say about it. On the one hand, it was a touching memoir about surviving with grit, perseverance and the support of your family (or, at least, the pieces of your family who had gotten themselves together enough to provide support). On the other hand, the wider cultural moment that this book was released into has kind of positioned it in this place where people can trot it out to say, “Look! White people suffer, too!” whenever a person of color points to some systemic issue that is causing a lot of suffering. And, while it does make some good points about the wider culture and how people are struggling and the systems we have in place aren’t adequate to support us, they were points that I had read elsewhere. Drug abuse, incarceration, broken families, and intergenerational trauma are things that have definitely been subjects of discussion for awhile, just maybe not in the mainstream.

But, that’s maybe not a problem of the book itself but its reception?

So, on the one hand, I shouldn’t blame a book for its reception and its use or misuse by its readership. On the other hand, if we’re not going to have these conversations now about how, “yes, there are class issues in America, but no they are not entirely independent of race and ethnicity and engaging with one without engaging with the others doesn’t paint the full picture”, then when are we going to have them?

So, I’m in this weird place where I was really touched by the narrative, and happy to have been given an example of another American life (because J.D. Vance’s childhood is pretty far away from my Suburban middle class upbringing). But, I still see this book in a wider context in which, if we addressed some of the race-related structural issues scholars, activists and politicians have highlighted over the years (for example, here, in Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow), people like Vance would also benefit. I mean, if we decriminalized drug addiction and made more money available for treatment and support, maybe Vance’s story would be a little different.

So, I don’t know. It was a really touching story and it has given me a lot to think about. This is a worthy result for any book, but especially a book of non-fiction. And, its not that I don’t recommend it, it’s probably more that there are other things that I’d recommend about class, family and culture in America before I recommended this.

Review: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. A BBC Radio 4 Full Cast Dramatization

img_5046

Two weeks ago, My Mom and I went on a road trip to Buffalo, NY so I could defend my dissertation and clean out my storage unit and officially move back to Iowa. Fun times. This meant that we had a lot of time together on the road and in hotel rooms, so we got a lot of audiobooks listened to. When we were planning this road trip, we decided we wanted to do some Agatha Christie. I didn’t realize, though, when we checked this out from the library, that this was a dramatization. That ended up being a pleasant surprise. The cast did an excellent job of portraying the fear and the mystery of the novel. It was really enjoyable. Fellow blogger Jack suggested we look for the James Bond dramatizations. The library doesn’t have them, but I might see if they’ll get them in for us because listening to this was fun.

Review: At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

At the end of April, before I started the Asian Lit Bingo Challenge, I was listening to an audio book before bed. Because there is maybe something a little wrong with me, the book I was listening to was At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft. 510qnpnltsl-_sl500_

I read this ages ago when I was younger and into horror and creepiness and not at all aware of the world. And, let me just say… don’t re-read old things that you loved as a younger person if you don’t want to have to confront everything that’s problematic about them.

Sigh.

Anyway, the audiobook is read by Edward Herrmann and he does an amazing performance. I believed he was an academic who just wanted to do his research but who fell into something older and scarier than he could have imagined and who now JUST WANTS TO WARN HUMANITY OKAY. He really sold it. I loved it.

But, back to the problematic bit: H.P. Lovecraft had no problems at all relating the tales of these terrible creatures to exotic things you may have heard about from other places like The Orient.

https://giphy.com/embed/3o6Ztb4ANSDC1wK1zi

via GIPHY

That’s H.P. Lovecraft, waving his fingers mystically when he thinks about the Orient. And, the first time it happened, I rolled my eyes and thought, “product of his time. all of his work is xenophobic. you know that.”

But, it comes up a lot. Like, a lot a lot.
https://giphy.com/embed/qmfpjpAT2fJRK

via GIPHY

 

It’s a good thing I was listening before bed because all of that eye rolling is exhausting. The descriptions of the creatures are still top-notch and weird and the atmosphere still comes across as spooky. And, Edward Herrmann, man. Seriously. He sells the crap out of it.

 

So, I recommend this recording if I you want to read or re-read this story. But, know, that if you’re even a little bit woke, this dusty old dude is going to make you want to shake your head and argue with him in between being creepy and being weird.

Review: The Reader by Traci Chee

So, Beth already reviewed this book and I wasn’t paying attention at all when I started reading it that we already had a review of it. To be honest, I was just thinking to myself, “crap, I’m going to fail my own challenge! I have to step up my game!” (And, then I did go and fail my own challenge.) This book was totally worth the read. It is a number of stories that are intertwined. The first is the main narrative about Sefia, a young girl who has lived as a nomad with her Aunt Nin since her father was murdered and after her Aunt’s kidnapping has to go it alone in order to find her Aunt and take her revenge against the rescuers. Along the way she meets Archer and is hunted by the kidnappers. The second narrative is the story of Lon, a fast learner and apprentice to the Master Librarian of a Secret Society. And, then there is the story of Captain Reed and his ship and crew that are bound for the edge of the world.

 

I listened to this book on audio and it absolutely sucked me in. The book was read by Kim Mai Guest and she did an amazing job of bringing all of the characters to life. Like Beth, I cannot wait to for the next one to come out!

 

I checked this book out from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries.

Review: Field of Flight by Michael T. Flynn

51rxlibe4ll-_sl300_

 

When I started this book, I was fully aware that it isn’t my kind of book. But, I thought, you can’t have a conversation with someone if you don’t know what they’re thinking. You can’t have a conversation with someone if you don’t listen.

So, I listened. And, for starters, this is not well written at all. If this book had an editor, they should give whatever they were paid back because they did not do their job. There was a whole autobiographical part at the beginning that was completely unnecessary (or, it was a different story altogether). I think it was meant to establish Flynn as an authority on military intelligence, but I spent most of this section trying to figure out why he was telling us the things he was telling us. I then spent some of the later chapters trying to figure out how the first chapter related to it. If you’ve read other reviews of this book (I can’t stop myself after I finish a book from seeing how other people liked it on goodreads), you will know that it was full of typos and other copy-editing issues. Audiobooks don’t have problems with typos.  But, even without seeing the errors, this text was still… just not very good. It seems like Flynn has a huge ax to grind against “being politically correct” and “not calling Islam what it is”. Sorry, not calling “Radical Islam” what it is. But, he also seems to not wholly be on board with making a distinction between radicals flying an Islamic flag and non-radical followers of Islam. I mean, he’s willing to say the words that not all Muslims are radical Muslims, but most of the rest of the book I felt like he wasn’t making that distinction. And, I need this to be clear. Just like I’m sure we can all agree that not all Christians are the Westboro Baptist Church and that not all Atheists are Ricky Gervais or Christopher Hitchens. Some of them are really chill people.

He also doesn’t seem to think that Islam as a religion is any different than Nazism and Fascism as belief systems. That is pretty troubling, especially when you can be both Islamist and Fascist. There were more troubling things about the texts. He seems to call for more critique from the Muslim community of the Radical actions of parts of the community. I don’t know what part of the world he’s in, but I’ve seen plenty of critiques coming from the Muslim community. (There’s a facebook group called Muslims against ISIS and there was a convention this summer to reject ISIS in the UK. Back in 2014 a number of Islamic scholars wrote an open letter to the ISIS leadership about why their state was not supported by Islamic texts. Maybe instead of calling for this kind of critique, we should cover it when it happens in the news?) Flynn also is worried about the education system in the Islamic world. He points to the number of schools (madrasas) where children are taught by memorizing passages of Koran, which is a disgusting level of indoctrination. Depending on the actual amount of that that is happening, that is really troubling. But, hooo, boy, if you want to talk about troubling things in education systems, you don’t have to look that far from home to find upsetting things. How many of our students here are being taught one specific line and never to question that? Shouldn’t we be upset by that? (Especially when that’s something we could immediately do something about?) The text also seems to suggest that we’ve been openly hostile to Israel, our best ally in the Middle East, of late. But, I thought we just promised Israel some billion dollar amount of military aid? (With strings, sure, but what agreement doesn’t involve some kind of give and take?)

Anyway, what I got from this book is that there are RADICAL ISLAMIC FORCES in the world that want to destroy America and replace all democracy with an Islamist theocracy and leadership that encourages citizens to spy on each other. To avoid this terrible future, we, the Judeo-Christian democracy-loving West, need to fight Islam, and private citizens/companies should help gather data on these anti-democratic forces.  So, basically, in order to remain Christian and free and not become Islamic and afraid our neighbors are spying on us, we should be anti-Islamic and spy on our neighbors. Of course, I’m reducing and parodying his argument here for effect, but there was a lot of anti-Islamic rhetoric here. I’m for freedom but I know we live in a complex world, so I’m not all that happy when our leaders (and their potential advisers) seem incapable of nuance.

Normally at this point in the review, I tell you, “hey, if you like X kinds of books, then check this one out!” And, I guess I kind of can. If you believe the Islam is everything that is wrong with the world, then this book is for you. It was written to preach to the choir. Or, at least I hope it was written to preach to the choir. If it was written to lay out a reasonable argument and sell people an idea, it failed.  This book was a mess. It was not well-written. It had all kinds of troubling reasoning and it didn’t make any kind of solid case. It played with stereotypes and stated it was making distinction that it then failed to maintain.  Zero out of ten. Do not recommend.

 

I got this book from the wonderful and amazing Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

Review: The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

61roymmstel-_sl300_

First, I have to start with review by saying that these are fun books. They’re ridiculous books, but they are fun books. This is the second book in a series about a wolf pack in Alaska. Instead of centering on a woman who marries into the pack, it focuses on a woman in the pack, the love interest from the first book’s sister. There is a little drama. There is a little mystery. There’s an unbelievably hot scientist. There’s a happy ending. You know the drill. Amanda Ronconi who narrates the audiobook does a nice job. So, if you’re into fluffy, paranormal romance or if you’re looking for something light, I recommend you give this a go.

 

Potential Spoilers Ahead.

 

And now that I’ve said that, I need to talk about something that bothered me so much in this book. The werewolves are infertile with anyone but the partner they’ve bonded with. I can’t imagine that there is any evolutionary benefit to this. At all. It seems like the stupidest design feature of a creature ever invented and it also perfectly explains why werewolves as a species are dying out. I’d get it if werewolves were monogamous and pretty devoted (possibly to the point of being creepy) to their partners. I mean, I wouldn’t want it, but I’d get it. And, there’s evidence in the animal kingdom of some animals mating monogamously and/or for life (easier done when life is only a few months or years, I’d venture to guess.) But, being fertile with only one partner forever? Whu?? What kind of testing apparatus would the body have to have internally to be able to tell one partner from another? And, what about close genetic matches? I couldn’t stop either questioning how that worked or feeling completely flabbergasted that it happened at all.

 

Anyway, this featured heavily in the plot and it took me right out of the narrative because it was ridiculous. So, if you like fluffy paranormal romance but you also like at least a modicum of believable scientific accuracy, this book is not for you.

 

 

This book is my audio book selection for the Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Challenge.

What I’m Listening to Now: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

51sgsv8nol-_sl150_

I have also been listening to a lot of classic Tupac because I keep waking up with the following 2pac lyric in my head, “Instead of a war on poverty, they’ve got a war on drugs so police can bother me.” I feel like it has been bad for a long time and some of us are just now seeing it.

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.

61w3f5ed1vl-_sl150_

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.