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text 2018-06-22 22:56
Book Recs Solicited: Freedom and Future Library
On Liberty and The Subjection of Women (Penguin Classics) - John Stuart Mill
All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002 - Salman Rushdie
The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives - Aleksandar Hemon,Marina Lewycka,Ariel Dorfman,Viet Thanh Nguyen,Fatima Bhutto,David Bezmozgis,Porochista Khakpour,Vu Tran,Joseph Kertes,Kao Kalia Yang,Dina Nayeri,Maaza Mengiste,Reyna Grande,Novuyo Rosa Tshuma,Lev Golinkin,Joseph Azam,Thi Bui,Meron Hader
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House - Michael Wolff
A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf
Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States - Thomas Jefferson,James Madison

You'd have to be living under a rock buried somewhere halfway down to the center of the earth in order not to be aware that in recent years our beautiful world has been shaken up by a number of crises the likes of which I, at least, have not experienced in my entire lifetime -- I can't remember any other time when I have so consistently felt the urge to put on blinders and wrap myself in a giant comfort blanket approximately 10 seconds after opening a newspaper (or its online edition), or 10 seconds into listening to the news.  Obviously playing ostrich has never done anybody any good, but God knows, it's getting hard not to succumb to the temptation. 

 

So what does a book lover do in order to keep her sanity, equip herself to separate fact from fiction (in news reporting, politics, and plenty of other places) and deal with rat catchers and fire mongers?  She turns to books, of course.

 

I've decided to build a "Freedom and Future" personal library, which will contain books which (1) have either deeply impacted my personal thinking or that I expect will come to do so in the futures, or which (2) provide valuable food for thought in today's social and political debate, both nationally and internationally; be it based on a profound analysis of the issues at stake (as a matter of principle or long term), or because even though they may not be of lasting significance, they contain a thought-provoking contribution to the current debate (even if they were not written with that express purpose in mind -- e.g., books about historic persons or events or books by long-dead authors).  I'm not expecting to binge-read the books added to this library, but I'm looking to add them to the mix with a bit more focus than I've been doing of late.

 

In the past couple of days, I've trawled my own bookshelves for books to add to the library, but this is one area where, even more than anywhere else, I'm looking for suggestions -- I can already see that I'm at risk of falling back on my old standbys, and that's the last thing I want to do here.

 

So, tell me: What books have recently made you sit up -- or which are the books that you've come to turn to and trust for guidance and inspiration?

 

These can be fiction or nonfiction, and books from any or all types of genres (I only draw the line at splatter punk).  As the first part of my new library's title indicates, liberty and freedom rights are a focus, but I'm really looking for food for thought on all the issues that I think are going to determine the path human society will be taking (hence the "future" part); including, in no particular order:

 

* Liberty and freedom(s) (of opinion and press, movement, association, worship, the arts, etc.),

* Equal access to justice and judicial independence and impartiality,

* Equality and empowerment (gender / sexuality, race, etc.), and the plurality of society;

* Poverty / the increasing gap in the distribution of wealth,

* Education (general, political, etc.);

* Funding and freedom of research and science,

* Protection of the environment,

* Democratic institutions and processes and how to safeguard them,

* Xenophobia, war(mongering) and the preservation / restoration of peace,

* Persecution, migration, and internal displacement,

* Free trade and globalization,

* Technological advances,

* Ethics -- in all of the above areas.

 

I'm adding a few books to this post to give you a rough idea of what sort of things I've so far added to this library -- please take them as very approximate guidance only, though.  It can be something totally different ... really anything that's jogged your brain or made you reevaluate your perspective on any of the above issues.

 

Thanks in advance!

 

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review 2018-06-21 07:59
James Comey in his own words and my poor confused libtard brain
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership - James Comey

I'm a lefty in the old-fashioned sense of the word. I was raised with the holy trinity of MLK Jr, JFK & black Jesus on our walls,  COINTELPRO stories were the first thing I learned about the FBI, and my Catholic grade school taught liberation theology and the preferential option for the poor before I went off to Baltimore City public schools and really got indoctrinated ;). Of course all of this was pre-FOX news and in an era when truth was a real thing. My older sister married a very "law and order" type and most of my family is conservative. Only my youngest sister and I remain the good liberals we were raised to be. At work we usually have CNN in the background, and I've been known to sneak into patient rooms to get a hit of Rachel Maddow. Given all of this, I had a complicated relationship with the idea of Comey before I started this book. It was finally available from the library this week. I'm pretty conscious of the way Democrats suddenly became lovers of the intelligence community when that became anti-Trump, and I try pretty hard not to fall into "I like x because you hate it" and vice versa. But damn it can be hard. 

 

I've completely stopped watching TV news except the Maddow hits and VICE when I remember I have access to it. I start the day with a non-US newspaper and keep online subs to WaPo & NYTimes that I access on a reasonable level (more than 10 times a month though.) So I have been thinking that I'm living in my normal east coast liberal bubble, but at least trying to stay "truth-based." Because of that, one of the first big realizations from this book is how the narrative/propaganda of the president and FOX news has infiltrated my brain despite the fact that I know better and thought it was constitutionally impossible. (I experienced a bit of this earlier this year when I finally could read "What Happened" by Hillary Clinton without dissolving into tears and found it - lacking, but I didn't see that as a case of right/left - more, "I can't listen to another email story" and the book needed a better editor.)

 

All that set-up is to say that I learned a lot about James Comey from this book, and I thought I knew everything necessary before I started it. I honestly thought "do I still need to know anything about Comey? Do I care?" To learn anything given the all-Comey all-day life I lived for that weird year or two before I gave up TV in favor of keeping a shred of sanity says something for the book. Someone had put an idea of Comey in my head - and only a little bit of it seems to be at all true.

 

This is Comey's book, and it's flattering to Comey, of course. One of the first things I learned was that he's human, and his life hasn't been a cakewalk. He was bullied a lot as a kid (and since then hates bullies - you see where this will end up.) Also he and his wife lost a child to a completely preventable disease (and went on to change medical testing policies in the US - letting many more infants live, while theirs did not.) So he's quite human and has a little bit of a sense of humor. I wouldn't call him a riot, but he's not overly religious or preachy. He does, however, have a few lessons he has learned that he's clearly taken to heart in a way that may be less flexible than he imagines. He also has a habit of psychoanalyzing presidents (all three that he worked with) and other leaders that comes off as overly simplistic even while it may be based in truth. It also is sort of jerk-ish.

 

Reading this I learned how Comey ended up being That Guy during 2016. His decisions all make sense even before he explains them because he tells us how he became the person he is. He's a man who seems to be always trying to improve himself - a trait I adore in people. The fly gets into the ointment when he over-learns a basically good lesson - let's just take one example:

 

Between government jobs, Comey worked in the private sector for a company that used "radical transparency." He learned that it's best to always be honest - even when you might prefer to be "nice." In fact, it's not always "nice" to avoid the harder things - reprimands or hard truths. I call this the "spinach in my teeth test." Meaning, if you really respect me, I expect you to tell me when I have spinach stuck in my teeth, not let me continue walking around that way. This basic test can do wonders for close working relationships as well as all the personal relationships we have. It doesn't always work in every situation though - it requires the ability to read people and situations. I'll go out on a limb and say that Trump is not a person who might thank you for pointing out he has spinach in his teeth. Anyone can see that. Anyone except James Comey. Or even if he could see it, he couldn't change his "radical transparency" policy to fit his new boss. He is clearly baffled by Trump from the start.

 

Add to that bafflement and wildly different personal style the culture of DC - these men (and almost everyone is a man, though more on that in a second) who hold massive amounts of power (all the IC chiefs heads of various other government institutions, non-political government bigwigs all) don't seem to know what to do when things don't go exactly as planned. So they all just stay quiet and discuss things later or write memos and cover their arses instead of saying at meeting #1 (which we hear about in this book in detail.) It struck me that if a group of our nation's IC leaders couldn't tell the Trump team not to talk political strategy with them in the room -- all choosing to stay silent and do nothing while looking at their shoes -- then we have far larger problems than any of them are aware of. Or even the childish idea that it would be better for the other IC guys to just send Comey in alone to tell Trump about the "dossier." Why not have all four of them in there - disperse the vitriol everyone knew was coming.

 

Powerful men who can't say, "Hey - we're not political appointees. Let's stick to the topic," even to an incoming president, are already way off course. This happens again and again - silence and furtive gestures instead of awkward but at least instructive basic information: we aren't your political team. We can't hang out, Mr. President. If you won't try to deal with this situation, Mr Atty General, then to whom should I take this issue? It's not just Comey who doesn't speak up - it's every single person in every single room. And of course, it's all blown up or about to. Mr Trump may not want to hear about the spinach, he may choose to ignore the information, but at least give him the benefit of making that decision.

 

So Comey says he's transparent, but that's not the case when he's not the boss. He's still an awkward and fretful kid in those situations. Every country needs people willing to tell the emperor that he's not wearing clothes and he has spinach in his teeth. Radical Transparency goes out the window sometimes, then comes pouring back in when the coast is more clear. (To which I'd say, that's not really radical transparency at all)

 

I'm not being clear b/c it's late and this book has complicated situations, but there's lesson in here for everyone who has ever dealt with sticky interpersonal situations: don't put them off in hopes they will just go away. They usually don't. And don't jump on the high horse AFTER you stared at your shoes instead of speaking up.

 

Some of the good things Comey did while in government were: immediately upon taking over the FBI noticing that the agency was 83% white and immediately starting a big push to change that. So far it's been effective and it's still going on. He also recruited more women. He created a class taught at the academy about the way the FBI treated MLK as a lesson in not being a powermonger that continues to be one of the favorite classes of incoming recruits and does sound like an interesting class.

 

He seems to have liked and respected Obama, of course. But he also learned from him, specifically about language used in law enforcement and how some of these phrases are heard through ears that aren't white, cisgendered and male. 

 

He is willing to learn - to think about things as much as he can from other people's shoes. It was instructive to hear his thought processes about the rise in the murder rates in many (but not all) American cities following the Baltimore uprising (and similar events since Mike Brown's death.) Here he falls down language-wise. I got very upset at the way he relitigated Mike Brown's death - it was unnecessary and cruel, frankly. His editor did him a disservice in leaving that in the book - it is the only time he sounds ridiculously out of touch.

 

He doesn't have the language always for things like race relations in the US, but you can tell he really is thinking and working toward improvement. His speeches were imperfect and headlines only caught the bloopers, but his heart was in the right place, I believe, and even more - the problem still isn't solved and James Comey along with President Obama were the only two people in power who seemed to think about this rising number of dead black (mostly) men with any nuance. Hearing their frank discussion (albeit only from one side) made me hopeful.

 

He ends the book on hope too. Despite what he calls a "time of anxiety" he likens the current administration to a forest fire. Yes it's devastating and destructive, but it may be clearing  the way for new growth. (I'm pretty sure we'd all prefer a different way to grow, but OK.) All in all, while this wasn't the best book ever, it added a fuller picture and new shades to my knowledge of each situation already covered in the press and added a whole person to the idea of James Comey. What makes me most sad is that I considered not reading it because I thought "how much more do I really need to know?" That fatigue and malaise scares me. Maybe I don't need to know about Comey himself, but I need to keep thinking and protesting and writing letters and oh yeah - this week is early voting in Maryland. It reminded me that no matter how much I hear about anything, there's always more to learn, and I need to guard against propaganda more carefully than I've apparently been doing.

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text 2018-06-15 12:00
Friday Reads - June 15, 2018
Wishing Lake (A Finding Home Novel) - Regina Hart
One in a Million - Jill Shalvis
Cafe Au Lait - Liane Spicer
Welcome to Last Chance - Cathleen Armstrong
The Spirit of '76: From Politics to Technology, the Year America Went Rock & Roll (Kindle Single) - David Browne

Today is the first full day of summer vacation for my kids. Don't know how much reading I will be getting done while they are home, but I hope to finish Wishing Lake and at least get started on One in a Million this weekend. Keeping on the contemporary romance track, I hope to get Café Au Lait and Welcome to Last Chance done next week. On the non-fiction side, I want to get The Spirit of '76 read.

 

I am hoping that Storm Hector brings relief from my allergies. Happy reading!

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review 2018-06-14 18:45
BORN A CRIME: STORIES FROM A SOUTH AFRICAN CHILDHOOD written and narrated by Trevor Noah
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood - Trevor Noah

 

BORN A CRIME: STORIES FROM A SOUTH AFRICAN CHILDHOOD is hands-down, one of the most hilarious and informative audio books EVER. Seriously, it's outstanding.

 

I admit that I stopped watching THE DAILY SHOW after Jon Stewart left. I didn't know much about Trevor Noah other than the fact that he was a comedian before coming to that television show. I know a lot more now and I've started watching TDS again.

 

I remember hearing about Apartheid, but I didn't have a clear understanding as to how it affected people. Now, I understand a little better. This is Trevor's story about growing up in South Africa, his family-specifically his walking miracle of a mother, ("Jesus is my health insurance."), his father and his stepfather. It's about family life, church, music, and so much more. It's funny and entertaining, but it's also painfully honest at times, and it's those times that bring this book home. (I have never laughed at any story that involves the name Hitler. With this book and Trevor's Hitler story? I swear to all that's holy, I almost peed my pants.)

 

As the title suggests, this story only covers Trevor's time in South Africa. I can only hope that he will write another book about how his career as a comedian began and how he came to be hosting THE DAILY SHOW. Please, Mr. Noah, please write some more!

 

The audio is the only way to go with this book. Trevor Noah's accent and delivery make his special story even better. BORN A CRIME is worth your time. (Thanks to Ctgt, Petra and to Melissa for their reviews of this book, which you can find herehere, and here, respectively. 

 

My highest recommendation!

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review 2018-06-12 13:47
My one-hundred and fourth podcast is up!
 Margaret Cavendish: Gender, Science and Politics - Lisa M. Walters

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network! In it I interview Lisa Walters about her study of the thought of the 17th century writer and philosopher Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Enjoy!

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