Tuesday, August 23, 2016

It is easier to be than to become

I picked up Blackass as something to read on our vacation, though it is too bad I had it as an ebook instead of some other form because it means the cover was hidden from fellow cruisers and I'm pretty sure it would have started up some interesting conversations. I was looking for something that would be funny and that would help my reading resolutions since I could be doing better there. And I'd heard good things about it so that's always good. Plus the book gave Tom an excuse to quote Happy Endings at me.
Furo Wariboko awoke this morning to find that dreams can lose their way and turn up on the wrong side of sleep.
The story is a spin on The Metamorphosis except instead of waking up as an insect, the main character Furo wakes up as a white man. Except his ass, which turns out is still black. He has a job interview scheduled in Lagos and instead of stopping to consider what this super strange transformation means or how it could happen, he is super concerned with making it to his interview. So he sneaks out of the house and begins is journey into the city.

He gets strange looks on the street, a white man being uncommon, especially one with a Nigerian name and accent. But his whiteness allows him access into a world that he otherwise would be locked out of. Though that doesn't mean everything is going perfectly for him.
No one asks to be born, to be black or white or any colour in between, and yet the identity a person is born into becomes the hardest to explain in the world.
In general I liked the story, especially the parts about life in Lagos, although the story doesn't really go anywhere. Though there are some some odd detours. There's a subplot with this person Furo meets immediately after his change that keeps popping back up to narrate chapters. The become obsessed with Furo's story (which sort of makes sense cos that story is nuts) but doesn't really have much connection with Furo. They do track down his family, who are understandably worried about their missing son.

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Word to the wise, if you want to Google this book, make sure to include the word "novel" or something similar with it. Or else your results will not be book related. Which yeah, I get that should be obvious but sometimes you're just looking up a ton of book covers and don't think of that.

Title quote from page 261

Barrett, A. Igoni. Blackass. Graywolf Press, 2016. Kindle

Thursday, August 18, 2016

I thought religion would make me live with my heads in the clouds, but often as not, it grounds me in this world

I enjoy A.J. Jacobs books. They're light, quick read. Every since The Know-It-All made its rounds among my group of friends in college, I've picked up his stuff when I come across it*. So on a trip to Boston I saw his Year of Living Biblically (and Gulp by Mary Roach, but that is for another time) I needed to have it. NEEDED IT, I say.

The basic format of Jacobs' memoirs is A.J. does something (reads the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, tries out a bunch of health regimens, etc.) and writes about it. This time he's decided to follow the Bible, spending most of his time in the Hebrew Bible (he is Jewish, after all) but still dipping his toes into the New Testament. He describes himself as "Jewish the way the Olive Garden is Italian" but since he and his wife are trying for another kid, he decides he wants to understand religion more. He wants to experience the original meaning of the Bible, while acknowledging there is not necessarily any original meaning.

And so he does the big things (thou shalt not kill) and the smaller things (wear fringe); he consults with scholars and other smart people, and he spends a year living the Bible as literally as possible. He gets strange looks. He finds things he likes and wants to keep up in his daily life after his experiment is over. He finds things that aren't really for him, but he learns about their importance and meaning. And he keeps a pretty open mind which is no small task considering he visits some Creationists.
A friend of mine said that we shouldn't underestimate people's ability to hold totally contradictory opinions and be just fine with it. 
He makes jokes throughout the book cos that's his thing and the book would be boring without it. It never feels like he's making jokes at the expense of others (maybe himself and every once in awhile his wife). This humor leads to situations such as finally understanding the meaning of the Sabbath after accidentally getting locked in a bathroom for a couple hours. No phone, nothing to read. Just four hours waiting for his wife to come up to sit and think and eventually pray, while the world rushes on without him.
This is what the Sabbath should feel like. A pause. Not just a minor pause, but a major pause.  Not just a lowering of the volume, but a muting.
I can't say I learned a lot about religion, but then again, that isn't really the point. It's memoir with a theme. And I'm sure I'll read whatever other theme he comes up with next.

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*Other books include Drop Dead Healthy, and My Life as Experiment

Title quote page 172

Jacobs, A.J., The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Arrow Books, 2007.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Go listen to Witch, Please immediately

To paraphrase Raych: "Have you listened to the Witch, Please podcast yet, and if not, what are you even doing with your life?"
And thus was my introduction to this amaaaaaaazing podcast about Harry Potter, in which two academics discuss the books, the movies, and even other paratexts like the Lego Harry Potter video games. 

They talk about ridiculous things (Do wizards wear pants under their robes?) to serious things (Problematic depictions of the goblins) to the problematic (Hermione as a really bad ally to the house elves) and a billion other things in between. 
They are so funny and insightful and I have completely been neglecting all of my other podcasts (Sorry, Stuff You Missed in History Class) as I power my way through these episodes at every available moment.

Listening makes me want re-read all the books. And re-watch all the movies. So if anyone wants to get in on that, I AM HERE FOR IT!

If you like HP and you like academic discussions and in general you're an awesome person, check this out and then we can discuss and it will be wonderful.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Barely making it on $13 an hour is Jennifer's version of the American dream

I'm not entirely sure when I first heard about the book $2.00 A Day: Living On Almost Nothing in America. But since I like pop-soc books and books like Nickeled and Dimed (a BB, before blog, read), and this was on sale, I thought sure, let's read this.

So the topic is good. The execution was not my fav. There are clearly issues in this country around class and poverty. They are real problems that cause people to live in incredibly difficult situations and not enough is done to help these people. But the actual writing was not as good as I hoped.

Authors Edin and Schaefer look at the ways that welfare has changed over the years and how recent changes may have reduced the number of people on welfare but created a large population that now are surviving on only $2.00 a day, doing things like selling plasma to get by.

They visit with a number of different families around the country, from the inner city in Chicago to the rural Mississippi Delta to put a human face on the real consequences of trying to get by on so little. They highlight the cycle of poverty families are dragged into. And the vulnerable position these families are forced into. Spoiler, but there is more than one story about sexual assault against children.

They look at problems with current systems and how the complete lack of a safety net means no matter how many welfare-to-work programs there are, sometimes that isn't enough.

One of the reviews I read said that the book is short (it is) and that had it been condensed it probably could have fit into a magazine article and I think that is my main problem with it. The topic is an important one. Putting a human face to the problem is important. But somewhere along the way it felt like the book was repeating itself and yeah, maybe a magazine article (a feature piece even!) would have been the way to go. It feels unfair to be critical about a book that is about an important topic that does make some good points, so why don't I leave this with a quote I did like about the importance of the library for these $2.00 a day survivors in general and this one family in particular
Places like the public library where Jennifer, Kaitlin, and Cole found refuge are crucial to the day-to-day survival strategies of the $2-a-day poor. They offer a warm place to sit, a clean and safe bathroom, and a way to get online to complete a job application. They provide free educational programs for kids. Perhaps the most important, they can help struggling families feel they are part of society instead of cast aside by it.
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Title quote from page 47, location 924

Edin, Kathryn J. and H. Luke Shaefer. $2.00 A Day: Living On Almost Nothing in America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. Kindle

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Good for her! Not for me.

Funny lady comic memoirs I AM HERE FOR YOU*. I was originally waiting to listen to Yes, Please on audio because I had heard many good things about that format but then the ebook was on sale and I heart sales.

This is familiar but no-less-entertaining territory where Poehler talks about growing up, getting her start in comedy, what it's like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry, stories from working at successful TV shows, stories about personal life. You know the drill. So there's nothing new there, but I assume if that's a problem you probably wouldn't be reading this in the first place.

Poehler starts the book by talking about how she really shouldn't have written the book and how it wasn't fun and it wasn't enjoyable and she really should have said no and spent the time (trying) to sleep instead so well down, dropping those expectations.

Not a huge amount of this book stands out to me. I remember enjoying it, but not laughing as much as I thought I would. She has some good advice for women, such as how women should quit fighting with each other if they choose different paths ("Remember my motto, 'Good for you, not for me.'") and also that boundaries are important ("I have come to enjoy telling the cheese guy at the farmers' market that he does not value my time.")  She has some funny stories that did actually make me laugh. Like when she was freaking out because she was very pregnant, like due the next day pregnant and just found out her OB-GYN had died and she started bawling. Uncomfortable and loud and probably pretty snotty. They were rehearsing a Mad Men sketch for SNL and Jon Hamm was there and he made everything better (as he does) by saying just the right thing:
Jon Hamm held me by the shoulders and looked at me and said, "I know this is very sad, but this is a really important show for me, so I'm going to need you to get your shit together."
So I guess that's more of a story about how Jon Hamm is a TREASURE. But she told the story, so that was swell.

I would still like Poehler to be my best friend (or Leslie Knope. I might want Leslie as a best friend. Except...that sounds exhausting. Maybe I need to rethink this) along with Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling and this works right?

So yeah. Not my fav funny-lady-memoir but still entertaining and I have heard very good things about the audiobook so maybe go that way.

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*Bossypants by Tina Fey, The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman, Self-Inflicted Wounds by Aisha Tyler, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling, I Don't Care About Your Band by Julie Klausner

Title quote from location 470

Poehler, Amy. Yes, Please. Dey Street Books, 2014. Kindle

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Life is extremely resilient but not infinitely so

When I was in college, I took a class called "Natural Disasters and Catastrophes". It was a class almost everyone ended up taking cos it was a 101 science class that fulfilled one of the core requirements and was more interesting than some of the other offerings. I assume so. I assume there were other options but I also don't know anyone that skipped it. The class was pretty much "Look at all of the ways we're going to die. It's going to be horrible."

When I first picked up this book I thought of that class, although this book is about how humans are going to kill us all. So it's the same sense of dread only this time it's mixed with guilt because at least with "Natural Disasters" humans weren't (always) responsible for the stuff that was going to get us. And I don't mean this is a negative for the book, which I really enjoyed.
When the chronology of extinction is critically set against the chronology of human migrations...man's arrival emerges as the only reasonable answer to the megafauna's disappearance.
Kolbert looks at extinction that humans are directly responsible for, through things like introduction of invasive species and overhunting (something even our cavemen ancestors are responsible for so apparently this has always been our problem) and climate change. Each chapter starts with different animal that's probably going to be gone forever in a couple decades (if they make it that long) and then expands the focus to look at the larger picture. Of how we're destroying everything. BUT she doesn't attack, she doesn't place blame. She just says "Hey, by doing XYZ people have caused these changes which are killing these creatures." and then you get to be like "Well...shit. Now I feel terrible" all on your own.

The title refers to the past five big extinction events (Ordovician-Silurian, Late Devonian, Permian-Triassic, Triassic-Jurassic, and Cretaceous-Paleogene) that luckily we can say people had nothing to do with. This latest extinction event (i.e., a mass extinction or widespread and rapid decrease in life on Earth) which isn't an official extinction event (yet) but one that is happening much faster than any of those previous events.
One of Crutzen's fellow Nobelists reportedly came home from his lab one night and told his wife, "The work is going well, but it looks like it might be the end of the world."
When taxonomy was a new thing, the idea of extinction was ludicrous. How can a whole species go from existing to just...not? Now of course we know extinctions are a very real thing. It's a concept it's easy to take for granted. Though now we're in a similar situation with climate change (How can one species really change the ecology of an entire planet so much?). So maybe don't be so closed off to these ideas lest future generations will think you dumb. You know, if future generations...umm exist.

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Title quote from page 265

Kolbert, Elizabeth, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Picador, 2014.