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review 2017-07-22 16:52
The Glass Castle
The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls

To say that Walls had an unusual childhood would be a massive understatement. She didn't have any of the stability with a roof over her head or meals to eat that most children in the US take for granted, but she did have some amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to do things that many of us will never do.

I'd like to say that this is due to that her parents rarely followed the rules (or, you know, laws) and gave her and her siblings even fewer to follow. She was a child of people who had the kind of wandering existence that I've known some to pine for, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows.

In fact, it seems like it was hardly ever sunshine and rainbows. They'd have long stretches of okay times with fairly regular meals and then periods of near starvation where they had to go through the trash to eat. But their parents did have an odd splendor in the way they dealt with such an extreme level of poverty. They weren't perfect, but Walls manages to tell the story in a way that never quite judges them. They were who they were and she seems to have accepted that, even when it embarrassed her.

There were a few stories I really loved, one of which I am totally keeping in my pocket just in case I'm ever at that point with my own family. There were also lots of points in the story where my heart broke for Walls and her siblings. Some people are well suited to "adulting" and others are not, her parents are just not those people. Their hearts appeared to be in the right places though. Or maybe it's just the way Walls tells the story.

She tells the story as she encountered it, not inserting knowledge from later in life to situations, not guessing what may have been in their minds based on information she had down the road. She doesn't seem to be protecting them either, never shying away from their less attractive traits.

The movie based on her life will be out soon (August 11) and I'm thinking about seeing it, though not in the theater. We don't normally go to the theater for movies we can't take the six year old to. After reading the book, I'm not 100% sure I want to see it, but the cast intrigues me. Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson both have the ability to be heartbreakingly vulnerable about the worst parts of a person and I'm not sure how they're going to portray it. It would be easy for any director with these actors to make it heart-warming or heart-wrenching. I'd be happy with a combination. The book left me with that Good Will Hunting feeling where they went for the heart but it left me with a good feeling overall. I hope the movie does that to.

Have you read the book? Are you planning on watching the movie?

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review 2017-06-12 00:53
Rise of the Rocket Girls
Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars - Nathalia Holt

This is one of my Read Harder 2017 books. Its my choice for task #13, a nonfiction book about technology. I had already read Hidden Figures and some anthologies about women scientists, so I knew we were up to more than most would assume back then. I listened to the audio book version from the library, read by Erin Bennet. 

This is one of those covers that do a great job of showing you everything about the book but I still managed to misinterpret it. I had no idea that rockets were going as far as they were so early. It was fascinating to hear about the way the women went from being computers to programming them. It makes the whole process sound so natural. I also greatly appreciated the details on the way these women worked out family and career. I wouldn't have thought it all possible for the timeframe before I started reading more women's stories. 

Overall, the story and narration held my attention but there was something a little off about it. It took me a little while to realize that it was read in a style that was reminiscent of the introductions to for the show The Desperate Housewives. While this wasn't a bad thing, I did constantly feel like I should be expecting some crazy plot twist. 

This is a great books for anyone into herstories, or the history of rockets or space probes. 

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review 2017-06-12 00:48
The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure - Rachel Friedman
This was an unexpected amount of fun. It was one of my Read Harder 2017 picks, my travel memoir for task #8. It turns out that this was a perfect option for me. Friedman experience some different cultures, goes to some crazy places and even lives there a while but she does not get all judgey about the way people live or lose sight of where she has come from and the luxuries she enjoys.

That said, these travels of hers also take her on a bit of an internal journey. This I also appreciated. I know that some people do manage to go places and stay absolutely unchanged by them, but I relate more to Friedman on this account. Traveling changes me too. Its not so much learning about others but getting the opportunity to live in another community that looks at the world a little differently. Its hard for it to not rub off a little on me. Its hard to explain.

The point here is that Friedman recognizes this. She recognizes and relates well the value of getting outside our own communities for a while and seeing what else is out there. She's not quite trying to find herself, but I feel like that's the real journey here.

I am jealous of all the places Friedman goes. I am fairly well traveled but I haven't been to any of the countries Friedman goes to in this book. They're all on my list of places I dream of going. On the other hand, her description of the backpacker/hostel life assures me that this is not the way for me to travel. Backpacking maybe, hostels definitely not. Then again, I'm married with a little kid now. We're working on an elongated summer concept around the US to hit all 50 states one day. That's more doable in the short term.

Altogether, I really loved it. Friedman's style of writing was fun and engaging and her travels were interesting.
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review 2017-03-27 22:20
Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race - Margot Lee Shetterly

I am so glad that I read this after seeing the movie. I loved the movie, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the lifetime of achievement of the women featured in the movie plus there are more women mentioned in the book whose accomplishments aren't evident in the film. It's an amazing story and Shetterly relays it beautifully.

I loved every minute of reading this book and it needs to be in all school libraries. I get that schools don't have the time to devote to each historical topic, but having something like this (there is a Young Readers version available here) for them to read would be great. I wish I had spent more time in the non-fiction section back when I was in school but I'm trying to make up for it now. I love the stories of women throughout history, seeing that we've been contributing to the world in more than 2 ways, and promoting those stories when I see them. Fortunately, this one doesn't exactly need my help. It's been great to see all the notoriety this story has gotten, it's well deserved.

Shetterly goes a long way to giving the reader an understanding of not only the important nature of these women's work, but the sacrifices they made to do the work and the pressures they were under from several sources. The difference in the way they were treated at work and at home, by coworkers and by passersby on the sidewalk, is well delineated and it paints a good picture of what it must have meant to be there, to be breaking down barriers and to be given credit for their incredible intelligence. I appreciate that they all say they were just doing their jobs, which I'm sure is true, but there's always more to it than that. I've known people who "just" do their jobs and there's a difference between them and people who love the work. It's this difference that breaks down the barriers that these women took on, purposefully or not.

I appreciated Shetterly's inclusion of the timeline with the Civil Rights movement. I am familiar with the events from school and other reading, but it helped me out to have it overlaid on the timeline of the events at NACA and NASA, to understand the shifting sands the women found themselves on. She did a great job too of delineating the cultural and workplaces differences with being African American, a woman, or an African American and a woman. The African American men got to come in as engineers and the women had to fight for that too. White women were also given advantages over African American women, which caused the women featured here to deal with twice the problems the others had.

This is a book that everyone should read, but especially if you watched the movie, which really only covers half. The book carries the story of the three central women all the way to the moon landing, while the movie stops at John Glenn's orbit. Shetterly's writing style is impeccable and the story itself is astounding.

 

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review 2017-03-25 22:19
Opting Out
Opting Out?: Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home - Pamela Stone

I was intrigued with the premise of this work right from the beginning. Well put together and deeply researched, this book goes beyond the simple explanations to get down to the how and why of it all.

I have always hated the term "opting out" and I'm really starting to understand why. I feel like it misunderstands the choice. Opting out makes it sound like women are choosing to disengage from the greater of two goals, when I never believed that to be the case. This book gets into that part of it and even helped me put some better language to my own feelings about it.  

It begins by presenting the reason for the study and then spending some time detailing the reasons why this specific set of women were chosen to be studied for this. Stone exclusively studies married, highly educated, well off, and high achieving white women because they are, theoretically, the women with the least amount of barriers to success in the workplace. None are "opting out" for those reasons we attribute to those who are less off, which are typically attributed to child care costs.

Stone details several reasons why women are not staying at the same workplace they had their kids at and why some appear to be leaving altogether, even when some aren't. They do freelance work or volunteer locally at a professional level. 

The book makes the case that the women are more likely being pushed out of the workplace by policies that make it impossible to be good at mothering or that don't allow women to have a good relationship with their children and then are given permission to give up on their original careers by husbands who aren't under the same pressures to be available for their children and their boss in the same way and at the same time. Mothers and fathers are not looked at in the same light by employers or society at large, so fathers are not typically subject to the double bind that pushes these women out. I thought it was an interesting touch to see their husbands, most of which were similarly qualified at the beginning of their marriages, as a control group. 

The other issues that are discussed in this book alongside the why's and how's are that it's presented as a choice for women to work and therefore a privilege for women to not work. It discusses how it's seen by the women making this choice as an act of feminism rather than a defiance of it. There is also a discussion on identity and whether it is career or parenthood that identifies a person and how these women handle that question too.

Altogether, I found the book interesting and enlightening. It isn't entirely new information for me, but that's mostly on account of countless conversations with women who were also in the double bind and figuring out what to do. It didn't sound like a lot of these women had female peers to talk to about it but I have had plenty of these conversations with women who make significantly less but who are debating whether to continue difficult career paths and several with my husband as we discussed what to do when we were expecting our son. We had the same "one of us will be home with the kids" idea that some of the women in the book had, but ours came to a different conclusion. I was making more, but more important to our decision, I was under a contract that would have been near impossible to get out of. By the time my contract was over, my husband had been home with our son a few years and it would have been ludicrous to try to switch given other life situations.

This is a great book for anyone interested in researching women and the workplace, or simply interested in why women still leave the workplace for family while men still don't do it much. The end gives prescriptions for how workplaces can entice women to stay and reasons it would be good business for them to do so, but even the author has little hope of this happening any time soon.

Its pre-Lean In Movement, in fact, it's referenced in the Lean In book, which was where I first heard about it. It was only used as a reference to the way that women give deference to husband's careers, thus ensuring that husband's will be in better positions to be the one who stays at work after kids are born, but still an important part of the point that Sandberg strives to make as well. Coincidentally, this better position would also give husband's a better standing to bargain from in order to get more time or accomodations for kids, but that's not a typical expectation for them. We still tend to see male careers as important and female careers as options. Workplaces and society both do this and so women's careers suffer, even when the women are committed to them, even when the women don't have the option to opt out. Change needs to happen, but first we need to understand how our problems are created. This book digs in and looks at this one.

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