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review 2018-06-17 15:35
Duel of Eagles: The Mexican and U.S. Fight for the Alamo★★★★☆
Duel of Eagles: The Mexican and U.S. Fight for the Alamo - Jeff Long

I might have paid more attention if my Texas History lessons had been more like this book. But then, I suppose such a candid examination of the characters and motivations of the real people who created our history would not have been considered suitable subject matter for junior high school students.

 

Despite its subtitle (The Mexican and U.S. Fight for the Alamo), Duel of Eagles is really about the Texas revolution, covering a period of history from Andrew Jackson’s inauguration in 1829 to Santa Anna’s death in 1876. It could be considered a revisionist history, using original sources that proponents of a heroic Texas origin story may disregard or consider unreliable. Some critics of the book claim the author is pro-Mexican, but it seems to me that he is simply giving equal weight to Mexican sources and doesn’t hesitate to skewer the characters and actions of Mexicans and Tejanos as much as the Anglo-Americans. He notes where there are conflicting accounts of events and provides the reader with 71 pages of footnotes and bibliography to document his sources.

 

Altogether, it’s an entertaining and horrifying account of the Texas journey from Mexican province to independent republic to annexation into the United States, blowing up myths of heroic deeds and high-minded Texians seeking freedom from oppression along the way. At some point, it got a little wearisome, because, yes, we get it, this was really just a combination of speculative land-grabbing by non-residents and a push to preserve the slave state and part of the precursor to Manifest Destiny, but I started to feel as though we were beating a dead horse by the time Santa Anna surrendered at San Jacinto.

 

Hardcover, received as a gift from my father in 1994, who was an amateur Texas history buff. And a little surprising that he gifted it to me, as the views of the author don’t seem to fit his. How I wish I had actually read this when he was living, so I could have asked him about it. But history and the Wild West mythos didn’t interest me then, and I forgot I even had this until he passed away in January. Now it’s too late, and I can only read his books and remember him.

 

Previous Updates:

2/11/18 – page 11/431

 

6/3/18 – page 52/431

 

6/5/18 – page 63/431

 

6/9/18 – page 93/431

 

6/9/18 – page 109/431

 

6/11/18 – page 129/431

 

6/12/18 – page 151/431

 

6/12/18 – page 202/431

 

6/15/18 – page 259/431

 

6/16/18 – page 267/431

 

 

 

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review 2018-06-15 18:46
Everyone's TV Dad
The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember - Fred Rogers

The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember by Fred Rogers was a no-brainer for me because his show was and still is the loveliest program made for children. The book is a collection of quotes, songs, speeches, and anecdotes from Mr. Rogers on his philosophies on the topics he knows best: children and being a good human. It's divided into sections which in my opinion did nothing for the organization of the book because the subjects very loosely corresponded to the material gathered under the headings. So much of this book is packed full of amazing lines that I immediately shared via social media while others sadly seemed to be added as an afterthought or filler.

 

A few quotes that stood out to me:

“When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong with the fearful, the true mixed in with the facade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.”

“It's very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It's easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.” 

My favorite part was the introduction which was written by Mr. Rogers's wife and included stories of his upbringing, how they met each other, and what he was like off-camera. Turns out that he was so work-oriented that she often wondered if he was actually enjoying himself. (I really hope he was.) If you're looking for a positive lift (and I don't know why you wouldn't) then this is the perfect little book to leaf through. His message was always clear and never more so than in this little book which reminds us to always be kind and never shy away from talking about feelings with the children in your life. A simple enough concept but one which we need to hear now more than ever. 8/10

 

 

PS I have no idea why the font sizes are so screwy in this post but I couldn't for the life of me change it so...

 

 

What's Up Next: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

 

What I'm Currently Reading: The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-06-15 06:35
Moan: Anonymous Essays on Female Orgasm
Moan: Anonymous Essays on Female Orgasm - Emma Koenig

Was this book occasionally repetitive? Sure. Did I find it fascinating anyway? Absolutely.

 

As with any essay collection there are going to be some pieces that are better than others (and this is no exception), but what makes this collection so interesting to me is the sheer volume and the way the voices both echo and contradict one another. With each essay around two to three pages in length (a few are longer, but this was pretty consistent average) there are a lot of perspectives in here. I find it interesting getting to hear women speak anonymously, and thus totally honestly, about their sexual experiences. There are plenty of pieces in here that are basically just women relating what works for them in the bedroom, but there are plenty more about what *doesn't* work, first experiences, ruminations on femininity, how things have changed for them, how they feel different, or just how they feel in general. These aren't stories you often get to hear, and even when I couldn't relate (although there were a few where I very much could) I was interested.

 

My biggest critique would be the apparent lack of variety in the essayists. Its hard to be sure, since it is anonymous, but the contributors did seem to come from fairly uniform backgrounds, which could have been improved. I'd have liked to have read more essays from queer women, assault survivors, and various age groups. There are essays from all of those groups, but not nearly as many as there are from 20-something college educated women. I suspect this is because many essays were collected online.

 

The foreword talks about how sexuality is part of what makes us human, and by denying women their sexuality we deny them the ability to be fully human. I truly believe this, and this book put a very human voice to the varied world of women's sexual experiences. A great book for anyone interested in sexuality, regardless of gender.

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review 2018-06-10 12:46
The Recovering: Addiction & Its Aftermath
The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath - Leslie Jamison
nb. I am a recovering heroin addict with decades clean. I lived through it when some medical professionals thought I wasn't worth the effort anymore. (That still upsets me - nobody should ever give up on an addict, especially medical professionals!) My addiction is private, but it's worth a mention here since it affects how I consume recovery literature.
 

I normally stay far away from recovery memoirs, having lived one myself and heard thousands more through the years. This book, though, promised to turn "the traditional addiction narrative on its head, demonstrating that the story of recovery can be every bit as electrifying as the train wreck itself." My ears perked up and I took note. The blurb goes on to say (from the publisher):

All the while, she offers a fascinating look at the larger history of the recovery movement, and at the literary and artistic geniuses whose lives and works were shaped by alcoholism and substance dependence, including John Berryman, Jean Rhys, Raymond Carver, Billie Holiday, David Foster Wallace, and Denis Johnson, as well as brilliant figures lost to obscurity but newly illuminated here.

That interested me tremendously. I find it endlessly interesting that so many artists are sure their art is linked with their particular dysfunction -- be it mental illness, substance abuse or misogyny. And I know of some writers and other artists who have done their best work only after clearing away the wreckage of addiction (Denis Johnson, Mary Karr, David Foster Wallace, Raymond Carver to name just a few...) Jamison's theory and examples seemed (from the blurbs) to be about how the stories we tell ourselves about addiction and recovery are, in fact, part of both solution and problem. I've read enough about the hard-drinking writer. I wanted to hear about the writers who got clean and sober and continued or gone on to great success. I didn't want another quit-lit book. I wanted something deeper and more interesting. What I got was mostly (but not all) another literary drunkalog, and this ain't Tender Is The Night, Where I'm Calling From, A Moveable Feast or any of the other rather brilliant drunkalogs we have to choose from.

Jamison has been compared to such iconic writers as Joan Didion and Susan Sontag. Yet her utterly singular voice also offers something new. With enormous empathy and wisdom, Jamison has given us nothing less than the story of addiction and recovery in America writ large, a definitive and revelatory account that will resonate for years to come.

Lofty, eh? It promises not just another quit-lit recovery memoir, but something that will alter the landscape.

 

So I was mighty upset when, for the entire first half of the 544-page book, we get precious little that differs from any number of other recovery memoirs, even while she explicitly states in the text that she will not be writing "just another recovery memoir." The language in this part is practically caressed, not just massaged. Every bartender's eyes or hair rates several adjectives, every drink is served with multiple metaphors. Everything is so damned beautiful. It felt -- a lot -- like the glorification of alcoholism and the behavior that comes with it. Eventually, on her own because it seems nobody else really noticed her problem, she will get sober, relapse and start over. It's here that the tone begins to change, but we're more than halfway through 544 pages at that point. In other words, she devoted a massive amount of pages to the glorious drunken Leslie and her oh-so-uniquely artistic pain.

 

At one point she says outright that she has trouble writing without putting herself in the story, and that's clear. She makes mention of the famous writers at Iowa with her, but only in passing because we're busy learning what she likes to drink, how much of it, when and how... Once she decides to get sober, she will fail and there will be a bit more longing for drinking/scheming etc, but the shine has gone, as anyone who has relapsed could tell you in far fewer words. It's after this point that the book starts to be unique. She is an excellent journalist, and I wish she'd excised her own story from this book entirely.

 

Her drinking is written in far greater detail than her recovery. She seems to take an emotional step back the minute she gets sober. I could feel fear at her vulnerability and recovery the minute it stopped being a drunkalog. Once sobriety starts, Jamison introduces journalism, statistics and experts, so we get no "other side of the coin" to the first half of the tome -- there is no honest portrayal of Jamison sober. It's obscured by her fact-finding missions and critical readings. This is where the other writers step in to give an assist.

 

Honestly it felt a bit like she used their stories of relapse and recovery to mask her own fear that she isn't qualified to write about her own recovery. Perhaps, like any smart addict, she has a fear of relapse. If you write a book called "The Recovering" you probably hope not to have to start counting days sober again after the publication date. Instead of saying that outright, though, she shows us other writers who did exactly that. The irony is that her sponsor tells her at one point that this is her problem in life -- it seems to also be a problem in her writing.

 

Jamison leads a charmed life, drunk or not. She is in prestigious writing programs and residences throughout the entire time chronicled in this book, and she's publishing too. High-functioning isn't even close to the right word. That doesn't change her pain or disqualify her sobriety, but it's worth a mention. She says nada about insurance or paying for medical care. When she does make mention of money, it's to do things most of us will only dream of - travel, foreign research, time just to write in exotic or beautiful locales. One could imagine she saw this note coming, since she shields herself from her privilege by mentioning it a few times. 

 

But between all of that extraneous and rather privileged "just another recovery memoir," there are very interesting themes and excellent journalism. She has a great hypothesis that's buried a bit deeply, but it goes something like we are all subject to being seduced by the stories we tell ourselves and it might be good, if scary and different, to tell ourselves healthy stories rather than unhealthy ones. Artists don't have to write with their own blood, and if they do, they'll eventually bleed out. She has an excellent critical eye for reading others' writing and pulling support for her story out of their words. Those parts are extremely compelling, and I really wish that the majority of the massive amount of pages had gone to that.

 

One final thing. While she makes mention of the big names who were known to drink, some of these writers also seem to have suffered from comorbid disorders, and that is never discussed. I can't say, nor can Leslie Jamison or for that matter, her relative, author and psychologist, Kay Redfield Jamison, whether many of these suicides were caused by one specific illness - be it alcoholism or an affective disorder. I do wish these rather large topics weren't skipped. They're important, even if they don't fit neatly within the narrative built here.

 

What I would hope is that the personal story be completely excised next time and the researching, critical eye step in. Her best work is when she empathizes with the writing of others and explains it from the standpoint of one who has felt those feelings and lived to tell.

 

 

 

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review 2018-06-10 00:26
Answering the Call of Duty
In the Line of Fire: Daring Stories of Man’s Best Hero - Ace Collins

Dogs are known ubiquitously as man’s best friend, and “In the Line of Fire” develops this epithet further, highlighting instances in which dogs of all kinds have come to serve in the military over the years. From Sallie, the bull terrier who served in the Civil War, to Lucca, a German Shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix who sniffed out IEDs during the War on Terror, this illuminating work of nonfiction provides short but incisive accounts of some of the most incredible and patriotic canines involved in war efforts. These dogs served in various branches of the military—even the Navy—and encompass a variety of breeds, shattering stereotypes. Each chapter focuses on a specific dog and how he or she came to be in the military in the first place; many times, especially during the earlier wars, this happened coincidentally but paved the way for canine troops to come. The stories are fascinating, heartwarming, and yes, at times sad. Because they are true, there is not always a happily-ever-after ending, but this emphasizes the realities and vagaries of life. Working dogs hold a special place in my heart, and acknowledging their service and sacrifice allows us to properly honor them and to work toward ensuring that when their duty is done, they can live out the rest of their life in peace and well-being.

I received a complimentary copy of this ebook and was not required to post a positive review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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