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url 2018-09-20 05:51
The Personal, the Political, and the Giant Robots: Peter Tieryas’ Mecha Samurai Empire
Mecha Samurai Empire - Peter Tieryas

Though the middle is maybe a little slack, this is an excellent bildungsroman in the alt-history suggested by The Man in the High Castle, run half a century later and into the life of one small boy who aims to pilot one big ass robot. 

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review 2018-09-07 23:11
Who runs the world?
Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World - Palmieri, Jennifer

Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World by Jennifer Palmieri is an empowering voice for women. It's written as a letter to the future female President of the United States (if you couldn't figure that out from the title). To give some background, Palmieri served as the White House Director of Communications under President Obama and then afterwards as the Director of Communications for the Clinton presidential campaign in 2016. Therefore, the reader will not be surprised that a large chunk of this book is devoted to behind the scenes of that campaign and its aftermath on herself and the country (from her point-of-view). From this standpoint alone, the book is interesting as we are seeing an event through the eyes of someone who actually experienced it from the inside. The overarching purpose of this book is to give advice and encouragement to women in any and every type of environment. Palmieri seeks to embolden women to allow for vulnerability and use the strengths that have historically been seen as weaknesses to launch yourself to the top. She emphasizes the importance of sticking up for yourself so that your voice is heard especially when yours is the only female voice in the room. (Did I mention this is quite a pro-female book? It is and I love that.) Remember: We cannot play by the same rules as men and we shouldn't have to. Personally, despite its shortness I think this is a necessary book for all peoples to read regardless of gender (but ladies ya'll should really try to seek this one out). I especially liked the book recommendations scattered throughout. :-D A solid 8/10 for me.

 

What's Up Next: Condoleezza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me by Condoleezza Rice

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Star Trek Destiny #2: Mere Mortals by David Mack

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-09-06 06:55
Small Animals by Kim Brooks
Small Animals - Kim Brooks
I only recently realized the extent to which helicopter parenting in America has become the norm, the expectation, sometimes even in the law of the land. That the definition of a “good parent” now requires keeping an eye on your child at every moment. That kids’ hanging out with friends has been formalized into “playdates,” typically arranged by parents and involving play directed by at least one parent, often with both kids' parents present. That parents hover over their children on playgrounds, issuing a constant stream of instructions and intervening in their interactions with other children. That parents consider it highly risky to allow kids to play in their own yards unsupervised, and in some cases bystanders will call the police if they see it; walking around a suburban middle-class neighborhood in daylight hours is right out. That parents’ decisions about the sort of childhood their kids will have are driven by fear, of improbable catastrophes or Child Protective Services or both. In retrospect this should have been evident. There are kids living in my neighborhood, I think; I only ever see them going from house to car and back.

It’s all driven by fear, even though this is the safest time to be a kid in American history. Parents are paranoid about kidnapping, despite the fact that stranger kidnappings are extremely rare (and usually involve teenagers). A kid would have to be alone in public for tens or hundreds of thousands of years before they’re statistically likely to be kidnapped. As for the actual risks to kids? Car accidents are a big one, killing over a thousand American kids each year, yet harried parents will pile kids into a car rather than letting them walk or bike or take public transit alone. Childhood obesity and diabetes are on the rise, with 1/3 of the country likely to be diabetic by 2050, likely in large part because kids don’t get to run around anymore and instead spend their time staring at screens, losing out on exercise as well as opportunities to explore and develop social skills. Depression and anxiety are increasing among the young too, and no wonder, when they’re taught that the world is a terrifying place and simultaneously given no power over their own lives.

What a terrible time to be a child! How can they become independent, self-reliant adults when their parents dictate their every move? How will they acquire good judgment or self-confidence without the opportunity to take risks and make meaningful decisions? How will they learn social skills when they see other kids only in highly structured, adult-organized environments, and with adults mediating their every interaction? How will they develop creativity without down time? How will they develop resilience without being allowed to fail or be hurt? How will they recognize obsession and controlling behavior from a romantic partner as early warning signs of abuse, when this is how their parents showed love? Is it surprising that the more powerless kids become, the more they bully each other? And what about simple enjoyment of childhood; isn’t kids’ enjoyment of the first 18 years of their lives important enough for parents to learn to tolerate some anxiety?

This book delves into the culture of fear around parenting today. Brooks was a helicopter parent herself, but one day she was arrested for leaving her four-year-old son in the car for a few minutes on a cool, overcast day while she ran into the store. Her ordeal led her to learn more about what is going on with parenting in America, to examine why she and so many others are so fearful, and the consequences of it. How we got here makes sense: the news media broadcasts attention-grabbing headlines to draw in viewers; exposing oneself to stories about parents' worst nightmares makes the worst seem common and likely; parents respond, irrationally but understandably, by curtailing kids’ freedoms; once this becomes common, it’s expected, and even parents not inclined to be paranoid feel it is the norm and don’t want to feel that they’re putting their kids at risk, while others know their kids are safe but are forced to toe the line anyway for fear of someone calling CPS.

There are some terrible stories in this book – like the single mother (much less privileged than the author) who let her 9-year-old daughter play in a park with friends (and of course lots of adults present) during the day while the mom was at work . . . not only was the mother arrested and interrogated, but her daughter was taken to a group home for two weeks without being able to see her mother, and ended up afraid to even leave the house. Of course this doesn’t happen to most families, but we’ve created a culture in which parents are expected to be always monitoring and focused on their kids, to the point that they have no lives of their own (a great example for the little ones I’m sure). How dare they do something as simple as running into Starbucks alone for their own convenience! They must not want to be parents, since they clearly don’t want to watch their kids!

At any rate, I found this to be a well-written memoir and an accessible work of nonfiction (short and engaging enough that hopefully even parents consumed by the demands of shuttling kids to half a dozen activities will be able to read it!). It’s a reflection on the state of parenting today rather than a how-to book; the author talked to experts as well as dissecting her own attitudes and decisions, but stops short of offering solutions. I do wish she’d talked to more kids, or young adults raised by helicopter parents; she only interviews one teenager, and he’s an unusual case. Mostly she talks about the consequences of today’s parenting on parents themselves. She discusses interesting studies, writes a lot about the way people are judgmental toward mothers in particular, and has insightful commentary on related subjects (like whether being a stay-at-home mom versus a working mom is really a choice for most people. Her answer: not really, but at the time she still turned necessity into a virtue when discussing her own “choice”). I hope lots of people read this book, and that it will be a wake-up call.
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review 2018-08-25 16:01
Proud Shoes by Pauli Murray
Proud Shoes (Black Women Writers Series) - Pauli Murray,Patricia Bell-Scott

This book is a hidden gem: the biography of a mixed-race family around the time of the Civil War. It was published well before its time – in 1956 there wasn’t much interest in African-American family sagas – but it is well-written and fascinating in part because this isn’t a commonly-told story. Murray was a fascinating character in her own right – a prominent civil rights and women’s rights activist, a lawyer and finally a priest, genderqueer long before people knew what that was – but here she focuses on her family history, which is fascinating in its own right. The book is chiefly about her maternal grandfather, who grew up free in the North, joined one of the first black regiments to fight in the Civil War despite the fact that he was already going blind from an injury, and went south after the war to educate freed slaves in the face of white opposition. Murray’s grandmother’s story is quite different: she grew up a slave, though she didn’t feel like one, being the daughter of a son of the house and mostly treated as such. (Murray’s mother’s family would likely be seen as white today, though by the conventions of the time they were black no matter what they looked like.) All this is mixed in with Murray’s memories of being raised by her grandparents in the early 20th century.

 

Pauli Murray mural

Pauli Murray mural in her hometown of Durham, North Carolina

 

Overall, I really enjoyed this biography/history/memoir and found it to be absorbing reading, though somewhat slow going. It is a good story and provides a little-known perspective on a well-known time in American history; unlike many books, which approach the time period through fiction, this one is based on family stories and documents and on historical research, and is more complex and authentic for it. I am definitely interested in reading more about Murray and her family.

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review 2018-08-23 00:25
Just Like Us by Helen Thorpe
Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America - Helen Thorpe

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot, though a number of issues bothered me. The author, a journalist, follows the lives of three young Mexican-born women living in Colorado for several years, beginning just before they finish high school. Two of the girls are undocumented, having been brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents at a young age; despite their intelligence and motivation, their immigration status creates myriad barriers to living a normal life. The third has a similar history, but comes from a family that was able to obtain legal status, and the differences in opportunity sometimes put a barrier between her and her friends.

This book is not a representative look at the lives of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. (I would love to read a book like that, but it doesn’t appear that one exists.) These girls are exceptional, able to overcome the barriers that poverty and family circumstances put in their way, perhaps because they have such a strong support system in each other. The author does an excellent job, though, of bringing them to life on the page, getting to know them and their lives and telling an engaging story. I really enjoyed reading the book, found the author’s style readable and compelling, and became invested in the protagonists. The pages flew by.

That said, it has its issues. First, there's the degree to which it is influenced and held back by the career of the author’s husband, then mayor of Denver and currently governor of Colorado. Immigration was a hot topic in Colorado at the time of writing (the book was published in 2009), and Thorpe even writes about her articles being used against her husband by his political opponents. In the same paragraph, she insists that she opposes illegal immigration, largely from seeing how their lack of status limits the girls’ opportunities. Thorpe visits Yadira’s family in their hometown in Mexico and knows very well that however curtailed her opportunities in the U.S., she would have had even less of a chance there, so I don't believe her; either she's not thinking her opinions through or what she actually opposes are the circumstances that make illegal immigration necessary. In another cringeworthy passage, she observes that some critics called then-U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo “a modern-day Nazi, but . . . I did not think he could be so easily dismissed. His critics failed to acknowledge the congressman’s considerable charm,” as illustrated by an anecdote in which he makes a joke. I can’t tell whether she’s honestly stupid enough to believe that charm is inconsistent with hate, or is just struggling vainly to look “balanced.”

Either way, her discomfort with being the mayor’s wife crops up a lot, for a book that isn’t about her – in another unfortunate passage, she compares her life to the girls’ because both are defined by other people’s decisions – and she closes the acknowledgments with the opinion that “In truth, writers and politicians should never marry, so at odds are the two endeavors.” Based on this book I think she is right, and awful as it sounds, the fact that she and her husband divorced before she published another book makes me more likely to read her other work.

Perhaps because of her husband, or perhaps because she was a journalist still feeling out the transition to author, Thorpe chooses to spend much of the book reporting on the immigration debate, rather than contributing to it. Where other authors would supplement the human drama with their own research by interviewing other immigrants, providing relevant statistics, or tracing the history of immigration policy, and ultimately would make an argument or policy proposal of their own, Thorpe just describes the political situation, for instance, by going to the statehouse for a floor debate on an immigration-related bill and quoting what various state representatives have to say on the topic, or by attending yet another Tancredo event. This is not very enlightening – anyone likely to read this book already knows the contours of the immigration debate – and seems to equate immigration opponents’ opinions to the girls’ lives.

Finally, for an author who is clearly sympathetic to the plight of immigrants, Thorpe sure likes to call people “illegals,” with a frequency that made it nails-on-a-chalkboard for me. Marisela and Yadira are collectively “the illegal girls,” a discussion of a court case will say that “the judge ruled in favor of the illegal schoolchildren,” and so on. I wonder what the girls – Marisela in particular is an activist – made of that.

It speaks to the quality of Thorpe's writing, though, that despite all these issues, I’m still interested in reading her other books. She sounds a bit obnoxious as a person, but she can sure tell a story, and does a great job of finding and getting to know people with different perspectives (including the woman whose identity was stolen by one of the girls’ relatives). While I would have made different recommendations had I been Thorpe’s editor, I still recommend this book.

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