Resumes are possibly my least favorite thing to write or read . . . or maybe my second least favorite, after cover letters. It’s so difficult to land...moreResumes are possibly my least favorite thing to write or read . . . or maybe my second least favorite, after cover letters. It’s so difficult to land in the right place on the scale between unqualified/disinterested and fake/braggy, so I always aim for straight accuracy. Did I do that thing? If yes, then I will include it. If it’s a stretch, I’ll probably leave it off. I have definitely swung from one side to the other as I’ve tried to navigate the spectrum of resume writing, but I feel most comfortable if I just aim for accuracy. As resumes go, Argo landed a little closer to the fake/braggy line than I like.
Ben Affleck, as you probably know, made the main story in this book into a movie recently. I haven’t seen it yet, but I imagine it was somewhat more successful than this book is. I got trapped in a room with an older lawyer the other day, and he backed me into a corner telling stories about his legal practice. Listening to this book kind of felt like that, too, except it’s an old CIA guy telling stories about doing CIA stuff. Ultimately, in the last 10% of the story, he goes to Iran and saves some Americans who were hiding out during the hostage crisis that lasted from 1979-1981. It seems like that would be more interesting than it was, just like it seems to me like an older lawyer telling stories would be more interesting than it typically is. And the thing that always kills them for me is the fishing for an ego stroke that goes along with a lot of those stories.
The stories go like this:
I was sitting in my office smoking and looking like Don Draper, but above all being very humble and never telling anyone about the amazing work I was always doing. Suddenly, my manly secretary (not manly because of her attitude, but manly because she was a spinster) came rushing into my office with a telegram. It said, ‘The world will end unless you solve the rubik’s cube.’ I recalled that Stephen Hawking worked down the hall from me, in the office next to Jesus and kitty-corner from Shakespeare. When we weren’t saving the world, we liked to taste scotch together and goof around. Jesus was always asking me for fashion advice, and couldn’t tie a tie to save his life – that rascal!
Also, at that time, they were doing construction on a new wing of our office building. It’s the wing that Batman works in now. You’ve heard of Batman, right?
So, I walk down to Stephen Hawking’s office, and I bring my rubik’s cube. I walk on the linoleum that used to be in all of the office buildings. It was a brownish color. People now are too young to remember the brownish linoleum in office buildings, but it was installed by linoleum installers. They were salt-of-the-earth men with muscles like the rolling hills of Africa.
Because Stephen Hawking and I both speak twelve languages, the only trouble in solving the rubik’s cube was what language we should speak in while we solved it. As I pointed out to him the final move we needed to make in order to solve the grand puzzle, I noticed a glint of respect in his eye at my superior intellect.
Shakespeare came to the door and said, "Let me tell you a joke: knock knock."
"Who's there?" I responded, understanding the common exchange in a "knock-knock joke."
"Fuck you!" Shakespeare yelled. And we laughed and laughed, forgetting our worries about the end of the world and enjoying the camaraderie of the moment.
Then, many women ran to me and kissed my feet, and the President of the United States asked if he could take a picture with me. I don’t like to tell this earth-shattering story because I am so humble, so you’re welcome.
Wow! You know Batman, Mr. CIA? I bet you have one million Aston Martins and just as many fleshlightsbimbos, er, 'girlfriends'!
This book is actually even more humble-braggy than that, but it sort of gives you an idea. I know a girl who can’t stop name-dropping and reciting her resume, as well as the resumes of her mother and this federal judge she knows. Like, she is in some kind of perpetual tailspin of resume reciting. And sometimes I wonder if that is a mental disease many men contract as they get older. The saddest part to me is that there are probably a lot of good stories underneath all that humble-bragging, but I can’t hear them because I am too annoyed. I mean, if you just think of reading a book about a CIA agent saving Americans during a hostage crisis, it seems like it would be a fun story. But, this wasn’t.
Mendez deserves any praise he gets, I’m sure, but I just can’t abide fishing for compliments. Ego is the easiest way to interfere with any good story, whether the ego takes the form of showy humility or bragging. Argo seemed to be some kind of extended, convoluted resume, and I think it would have been a better policy to just aim for accuracy rather than getting so caught up in the accolades Mendez deserved or didn’t deserve. Humility and arrogance both make a story about ego, rather than about the story, and ego ruined this one for me.
Also, the reader’s voice was strikingly nasal. I would say this is the second worst audio book I’ve listened to, after Three Cups of Tea.(less)
Oh my god, I love this book!! I love histories of women that make me freak out, and this one does that. This gives me goose bump...moreOH MY GOD!
oh my god.
Oh my god, I love this book!! I love histories of women that make me freak out, and this one does that. This gives me goose bumps. The descriptions of the conflict these women felt between wanting to be good girls and realizing that being a good girl means becoming a shell and disappearing are so beautiful and told so well. Povich is brilliant, and it’s clear that she has so much compassion and understanding for women who reacted very differently to the discrimination they all felt.
And look at that cover! That cover alone makes me freak out. AAAAAAAAAHHHHH. I am reduced to inarticulate babbling because of my love for this book. I love you, book! I love you and miss you! Don’t be over, book! I neeeeeed. I think this book is going to have to take out a stalking order against me.
Rather than only inarticulately freaking out, I will tell you something of what this book is about, I guess. It tells the story of the women who worked at Newsweek in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s filing class action lawsuits under the recently passed (1964) Civil Rights Act (Title VII). Mostly, though, it draws out all of this intense humanity from the internal and external conflict surrounding the women’s decision to sue and the reactions from the magazine.
It gets the sentiments from both sides so right, and it is compassionate, while still being direct. Povich starts the story with a few girls working at Newsweek in 2009 and waking up to the discrimination they were experiencing, and then it tracks back to the parallel story of the women in the ‘60s. You never want to hear a story like this told in a way that villainizes one group or another – the women or men or the advocates for racial equality, etc. – and this one so gracefully conveys nuance in the reactions from all sides. Oh my god, how is this story not well-known American folklore???
So, the women at Newsweek ultimately filed two class actions with the EEOC. Their attorneys, a pregnant Eleanor Holmes Norton, and, later, a pregnant Harriet Rabb, kicked negotiation ass. It is so painful to read men saying, “Well, we are trying to not be racist anymore. Isn’t that enough for you?” as though the main consideration of anti-discrimination efforts is to make white men better people. And it is painful to read women disappearing to accommodate society, but Povich tells both of those points of view smartly and compassionately. Of course, though, she includes Eleanor Holmes Norton responding to the men by saying, “The fact that you have two problems [race and sex discrimination] isn’t my concern.” And she also tells of the women she knew advocating for each other’s skills and abilities and truly creating a sense of sisterhood and comradery, once they dropped their mutual suspicion, that is true to my experience of women working together.
Povich is also really interesting about the interplay of race and gender for the black women working at Newsweek. Ultimately, the entire group of black women opted out of the class action because of the tension between advocacy for racial equality and gender equality. As I understand it, there has always been that pressure on black women to be loyal to race above gender, as though they are mutually exclusive. And the sense that white women are complaining about a gilded cage, while the black women experienced a dank, rat-infested torture chamber, overwhelmed any sense of identification with the white women who first thought of the lawsuit. Povich, also, though, very articulately describes Eleanor Holmes Norton’s take on race and gender advocacy, and that was absolutely brilliant to read. Oh my god, read this book.
When I first started law school, I was really surprised by a few of my women professors who were very competitive with women students in my class. I had just come from a male-dominated law firm in which women were relegated to a secretary ghetto, but most of the women in that ghetto were very supportive of each other. The more I thought about it, though, the more the competitiveness made sense to me. These women, becoming professionals in the ‘60s and ‘70s, fought tooth and nail to be where they are today. One of the professors who has been most competitive with me tells this story of how she was first in her class at law school, editor in chief of the law review, got the highest score on her bar exam, and she couldn’t find a job after she graduated because she is a woman. Women are not welcome in society. So disgusting. So, it totally makes sense to me that when society sets it up that there is room for one token woman in a company, you would turn against other women. And it is impossible for me to feel angry at a woman who experienced that kind of discrimination and successfully retained a professional status. That is incredible, and even if it has, at times, resulted in a bad experience for me, it is the discrimination, not the women, that I blame.
Every time I talk to a woman, I hear stories like those in this book. Every woman has these stories, and they are incredible. I love them. I do not, of course, love the way discrimination dehumanizes women, but I do love when it turns us into warriors and when it makes us think of the women who will come after us and hope for a better life for them.
Thank you! Thank you, Lynn Povich, for writing this book! Thank you, women, for living bold lives. Thank you for being good girls, but thank you, also, for giving up that idea for those of us who would come after you. It makes us more willing to give that idea up, too, and stop lying to ourselves about who we are and what we want. Seeing you advocate for yourselves and each other makes me feel like, I, too, can be a real human with a life and a passion. Oh, gush gush. Read this freaking book, women, if you want to hear stories of people like you! Read this freaking book, men, if you want to know about women. People, read this book!
____________ I got a copy of this book from netgalley.(less)
Beryl Markham is someone who you would want to meet and study, I think. This story is nuts, but at the same time, it lacks the pull of human relations...moreBeryl Markham is someone who you would want to meet and study, I think. This story is nuts, but at the same time, it lacks the pull of human relationships that generally carry me through a story. People obviously read for different reasons, but for me it is relationships that pull me through a story – not necessarily romantic relationships, you understand, but the way people interact. Will they be friends? Will they fall in love? Will they betray each other? There is none of that in this book, so it is not an obvious fit for me as a reader in that way. It is, however, about a badass woman, who was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west.
For the most part, people have such interesting lives. I mean, even a person who lives the most normal, or the most domestic, life ever has some kind of story, something to say about life, something about betrayal or compassion or just what it means to be a human. And then there are people like Beryl Markham, who are like, Oh hai, did I ever tell you about the time I almost got eaten by a lion? !!! ???? Whaaa? That is very exotic to me. And then there was that time where she went hunting boar with her buddies, who were Maasai warriors. Oh, and that other time where she saved everybody from floods and killer ants and killer elephants using just her wits and tiny airplanes. So, despite the general absence of human relationships in this book, it’s just an inherently interesting story.
Hemingway was a fan of this book, and it is always interesting to me to read the writers he admired. With Hemingway, I always get this feeling that every sentence is seething with emotion just underneath the surface of what it says, and he’s stuffed that emotion down and tried to nail the sentence shut, but the emotion seeps through the cracks. But, the authors he loves always seem to actually be apathetic. Maybe I’m generalizing too much, but that’s how it seems to me from A Moveable Feast. I think this book is a good example of that. I hadn’t thought about it before, but it seems like it is entirely different to write a memoir where you treat your own story objectively and have compassion for your enemies, and another thing to be generally apathetic. And you don’t get the sense that a woman who flew across the Atlantic, before it was really the thing to do, would have been very apathetic. But, that is what I feel from the writing. Ambition, yes; competitive spirit, yes; but, passion? Not really. It is interesting because I am inclined to assume that Beryl Markham was one of the most passionate people in the twentieth century.
There was another funny thing about this book. I don’t have it in front of me now or I would quote to you. She really back-loads her sentences. I think this might have been something that created the sense of apathy for me. I’m going to give an example of the kind of sentence I’m talking about, even though I don’t have the book, so I can’t give you a quote. It’s something like, “In the heat of the summer, when the warm breezes blew and people sat on their porches drinking lemonade, and before we had heard of airplanes, but after my father had started his flour processing plant, a stampede of elephants flattened our entire village.” It’s like, WHAT? WHOA. That sentence is not about the heat of summer. It is not easy for a stampede of elephants to sneak around, but they got into that sentence pretty stealthily. I guess it is sort of a litotes sentence structure, but I felt tossed about a little bit as a reader.
I read this because my boss and I were talking about the Swahili coast, and how beautiful it is. Markham grew up there and learned to fly planes there. What a beautiful and rough and interesting place to live.
Generally, I think this is a wonderful story. Over and over, I was stunned at how amazing this woman is. And, man, if there is anything that proves that women have always been badass, it is stories like this. I think, for people who love books like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Jeannette Walls's books, this is a great recommendation. You just get this sense that Markham did whatever the fuck she wanted to do, and she could not have cared less if someone told her not to. She just swatted them away and worked with more drive to get what she wanted. I am left with an unfortunate desire to read celebrity gossip about her, though. Who was the woman behind the legend? But, at the same time, I am glad at the dignity of the story, and I am unimpressed at my own unseemly dissatisfaction.(less)
My mother died the day before my first law school final. Hope Edelman says, in this book, that partway through college she had a weird urge to walk up...moreMy mother died the day before my first law school final. Hope Edelman says, in this book, that partway through college she had a weird urge to walk up to strangers and tell them, “My mother died when I was seventeen,” because she recognized that this fact about herself, this fact that alienated her from the people around her, had become totally definitive about who she was. A girl can’t tell people that her mother died because it brings only fear and pity, it doesn’t solve anything to talk about it. But, at the same time, no one knows you without knowing that you don’t, that you didn’t, have a mother. For the past few months I have had this weird compulsion, too, to walk up to people and just say, “My mother died the day before my first law school final.”
But, what do I mean by that? It sounds like I want to be pathetic or impressive, and I don’t mean either of those things. It sounds like I conquered life that day, or like I lost all hope of being a woman. It is ambivalent and loaded. I know that even talking about reading and reviewing a book that is “self-help,” even if it is about grieving, is loaded, too. It has a pastel cover and a sentimental name, but I kind of appreciate that about the book. It looks like only the fierce of heart, those who can handle reading sentiment without shame, should attempt this book, and I think that’s good. I think I benefited from waiting to read it until I felt like I could really listen to a sentimentally titled book without sneering.
At the same time, I don’t think emotions mature themselves, so I always remind myself that I’m probably not going to get very far sitting back and waiting for mine to suddenly do so. It would be like waiting for myself to spontaneously become a stellar lawyer without ever actually going to law school or reading any books about law. Or, it would be like waiting for myself to spontaneously become a marathon runner. Not all self-help books have anything worthwhile about emotional growth to say, but neither do all legal scholars have anything worthwhile to say about the law or all personal trainers about marathons. I don’t think the gaining-skills-by-doing-nothing strategy works with almost anything, so I’m pretty enthusiastic about smart books about emotions and spirituality. I’m pretty enthusiastic about counseling, too – it’s like getting a massage for the soul.
I’m being really long winded about saying that, while I don’t think every time is the right time to read this book, I do think probably everyone would benefit from reading this book at some point. I wish I had been prepared to read it sooner. The book is directed to women, obviously, but Edelman makes the point that we, women or men, mourn rejection (in whatever form, whether death or emotional or physical abandonment) from our same-sex parent differently than we mourn rejection from our opposite-sex parent, and the book is mostly about that. Even if you have not experienced rejection from a same-sex parent, I think it would still give you perspective on what you gain from that parent that you might not even be aware of. It also might give you perspective on why (at least some of us) women who have lost our mothers act the way we do when we have not known how to mourn.
The book is arguably as sentimental as its title, even just because it is about death and emotions, but it is so smart. Edelman surveys over a hundred women who lost their mothers at various ages, and she tells their stories in an organized, clear layout. She also talks about many famous women, including Virginia Woolf, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Madonna, and how they have reacted to the deaths of their mothers. In addition to hearing and recounting all of these stories, Edelman obviously did some pretty serious research into other studies about women and grief, and about family relationships in general.
For me, much of this book was practically a miracle. If you don’t mind my spoiling what the biggest revelation of the book was for me, I will tell you about it right now. I will not say it as clearly as Edelman, though, so you should still get her take on it, and it’s probably only a small part of the book, even though it was life changing to me. It is that when a mother rejects a daughter, whether she does it intentionally or unintentionally, such as through illness and death, the daughter starts to look for the mother relationship in all of her relationships. One woman in the book described it as a “cocoon,” another described it as “that family feeling,” which is something I have said, at least in my head, a lot. The daughter starts to think that any successful relationship ultimately has that particular form of intimacy – that the intimacy from a mother is successful intimacy.
I literally thought this. I had no idea that, ultimately, all intimacy, all sense of family, isn’t necessarily that feeling of a little daughter with her mother. I had always thought that because my relationships, whether friendships or romances, are not like that, it was like “people, iz doin it rong,” and that once I figured out how to do it right, my relationships would feel like that. I have been jealous of my friends, men or women, who have families (read: friends who have mothers) and their ability to do relationships right, shown just by the fact that they have a mother. And this intensity has created a completely unfair expectation for all of my relationships because then every time I experience rejection, it is the loss of my mom, the loss of my family, all over again. It means that friends living their own lives, not focused on me one hundred percent of the time, translated to rejection, and not just rejection, but also the death of my relationship with my mother all over again. It was basically a miracle to hear that I could treat the loss of that nurturing, cocoon relationship, that mother-child relationship, as a total loss, and not let that loss pile on to every other lost relationship I ever have. It sounds weird, but it is a relief to know it is not failure that no friend ever turns out to be my mom.
*facepalm* I totally love this book.
So, that concludes the review portion of your time, and the rest of this shall be a story with no real reviewing purposes in mind. It is more my experience of being a motherless daughter than a critique of the book. Even though my personal story, like anyone's personal story, is not the same as most other people's, it was really incredible to hear how similar my reaction to losing my mother is to the reactions of other women who lost theirs.
My mom died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, but as far as I am concerned, I lost my mom about twenty years before she actually died. I was six when my family first started listening to meditation tapes from the Foundation of Human Understanding, and when I was eight, we moved to Selma, Oregon, to join what we would later refer to as “The Cult.” Really, most of the diets or clubs or churches my parents joined ended up taking on a cultish quality once my parents got mixed up with them. First, that diet/club/church was the only thing that could save us from certain doom; later, it was evil. The Foundation is basically a Judeo-Christian group that teaches men how to stand up to the domineering women around them. It teaches them how to take the world back from the invidious control of women, and it teaches women how to overcome their natural tendencies toward evil (ya know, Eve, and all that).
This is my recollection of The Cult. If you look on the website, it mostly looks like stuff you’d get out of The Secret, but if you read through the call show questions, there is some stuff about bullying women that is more what I remember. I can’t find it now, but there was this cartoon in their magazine once, which to me symbolized the teachings. The first panel was a tiny woman and a big, strong man. As the panels (maybe six or eight panels) went along, the woman got bigger and stronger, and the man got smaller, until, at the end it was a huge, ugly woman sitting next to a coffin. Anyway, my mom and dad realized that my mom was the source of all evil in our family, and that if my brother and I were to grow up right, we would have to overcome the feminine influences in our lives.
My mom wasn’t allowed to touch us any more around the time that I turned seven. My brother had been nursing, and my mom cut him off from nursing without any weaning process. If I ran to my parents’ room because I had a nightmare, my mom had to put a pillow between herself and me so that she wouldn’t transmit her evil. I was a daddy’s little girl, so I understood that as long as I stayed that way, didn’t touch my mom, married young (it was understood that this would probably be to the cult leader’s grandson), and devoted my life to my children, I would avoid the pit of feminine evil to which I was otherwise susceptible. Years later, when a friend of mine went home early from a sleepover weekend because, she said, my parents never hugged us, my parents realized that still none of us touched each other ever, but it is difficult to change habits.
I am extra-sensitive to anti-feminist propaganda, I know, because of this upbringing. My mom continued to believe for the rest of her life that it was her job to repress any part of her personality that might conflict with my dad, the head of our household. But, I continued to look to my mom for the relationship I had with her when I was very young. I always hoped she would wake up and come back to me, until I realized a few years before she died, during her eight-year-long dying process, that she never would. I set some boundaries about what I could contribute to our relationship, and because my mom couldn’t contribute anything, we lost the façade that our relationship had been. At that time, a friend reprimanded me, saying that she cherished that special mother-child bond with her own kids, and I would regret not maintaining that before my mom died. I thought a lot about that later, and my inability to maintain that connection with my mom haunted me, even though I can’t say I regretted setting the boundaries I did.
From the time I was little and my mom emotionally vacated the family, I got so used to looking for that relationship from her that I also started looking to everyone for it. I thought it was intimacy. Motherless Daughters talks about how people often call motherless women “adoptable,” and this has been true for me. Many families have adopted me, and I love all of them, but I have always thought that I haven’t been able to re-create that specific form of intimacy because of my own emptiness and awkwardness. I knew I loved these people, but I thought it was not the right kind of connection. And, then, when they had to do normal things for their normal lives, which I completely want them to do, it was a betrayal to me that was its own, plus the loss of my mom. When friends would move away, or start a new relationship and get busy, it was a betrayal with emotional intensity far beyond what I actually expected from the relationship. This was true for both friends and romances, both women and men in my life.
So, I’m not totally sure how this mourning thing works, but Edelman says that for her it is like a companion – not in a morbid sense, but in the sense that she continues to be without her mother. I think it’s reassuring to know that when I feel disproportionately intense about some kind of failure or rejection, it could be part of mourning: I could need to step back and re-adjust myself to the losses I’ve had so they don’t get confused with the relationships I am having. I could need to recognize that not every action a dear friend takes for him or herself is a sign that I am a burden to that person and they secretly wish they could reject me. I’m not sure why, but recognizing this about my relationship with my mom makes it easier to accept that people I really care about could care about me, too, even if they are not devastated when I am gone, and that when life pulls us apart, they could feel the loss of me as I feel the loss of them. Each new love does not have to be the sum of all previous loves and rejections. No new love is what I lost from my mother.(less)
I love Bethenny Frankel! But unfortunately, having said that, I am here to tell you that this book is not great. It is too bad, really, because there...moreI love Bethenny Frankel! But unfortunately, having said that, I am here to tell you that this book is not great. It is too bad, really, because there is a lot of material here that could make for a worthwhile read, but it is all told and not shown. It is all scattered by this weird formatting of having to formulate self-help rules. O for the chance to get together with Bethenny and re-write this book! So many stories with so much potential. And I would promise not to be afraid of her and to be a tough editor! You hear me, Bethenny? PM me if you have another book in the pipeline.
So, there is this thing that a lot of married couples, smug or not, do, that I find kind of disingenuous, and I am under the impression that it is the premise of this book. The male version of it goes something like this [real story from a friend’s parents]: “When I saw her, I knew she was the one, but I lived in New Jersey and she lived in Manhattan. I was so poor that I could only afford to go into Manhattan and take her out for a nice dinner about once a month, so I would save and save, and then drive in to the city, pick her up at her doorstep, buy her dinner, and then drop her off on her doorstep again. That is how you know a man respects and loves you.”
The female version of it goes something like this [from the book p. 109-10]:
“Our meeting wasn’t fairy-tale. It was ultimately modern, just like us. It was us. I wouldn’t trade it for ten Prince Charmings on ten white horses.
“As people often say when they tell the story of meeting the right one, I wasn’t looking for a man. That night, I was running around with a group of friends from out of town going from one event to another. One of our stops was at a nightclub, and when we tried to go inside, they said I could go in, but my friends couldn’t – I guess they looked like they weren’t from New York. I was furious. I knew the owner of this club, so I decided to call him and complain. He told us to come back, and that we could all go in. . . .
“This confrontation had fueled the attitude I already had – I walked into that nightclub as an independent woman who frankly didn’t give a damn, and it showed.
“And there he was, my beautiful-inside-and-out future husband, working his magic. I was posing for a photo, smiling when the cameras were up and going back to my usual smug face when they were down. He took one look at me and said, ‘Are you ready to get that stick out of your ass now?’ . . .
“He was actually working some other girl that night, and he did go on a date with her after we first met. I went on a few dates with other guys after that night, too. But somehow, in retrospect, it was always all about the two of us, more than either of us realized when we danced that night . . . .”
So, I am not against this type of story as a rule, but I feel that these are the two stories I hear over and over from a man or a woman selling romance to me. And, frankly, I find them to be weird and off-putting. The male version sounds to me like, “She had boobs; I spent money; *chestpound.*” The female versions sounds to me like, “Daddy hits mommy because he loves her, and mommy was a very bad girl.” So, that is obviously not actually what is going on for the teller in either of these stories, but there is something fundamental about them that I do not find romantic. I do not understand why a man would think it is romantic to put such a high price on a date that he never actually gets to talk to the girl he thinks he likes. I do not understand why we women think a dude being an asshole means he thinks we are special. Actually, no, that is a lie. I understand why we all think those things, but I think if we give it two seconds’ consideration, we do not think those things anymore.
The thing I think people are really trying to convey in these stories is the sense of their own coolness: the man who is a hard worker and a high roller; and the woman who is not perfect, but still has people. And, I think that is totally valid and the reason we love the stories. It is the reason I would sit at the feet of any couple, or any single, telling a story about some kind of triumph: because it is hopeful, and hope is wonderful. But the male version still sounds to me like he is talking about an iPad he camped out for at BestBuy on Black Friday. And the female version sounds like love = humiliation for women. So, actually, both of them kind of sound like that, which is why it is depressing to hear people’s “love” stories. I would rather hear about what the man did if he ever realized the woman wasn’t an iPad, and I would rather hear a woman tell about someone who openly admired her as a human.
Anyway, the book is mostly about how Bethenny has been alone and a failure for a lot of her life, but now she has it all because she stopped believing that she was a bad person. In a lot of ways I like that. I’ve seen other people complain that her advice isn’t valid because she doesn’t have a very accurate concept of what it means to be poor. On the one hand, I think that is a legitimate complaint, but on the other hand, I don’t really feel that people have issues with money based on an accurate scale of poverty to wealth. Rich people feel poor all the time and I don’t think we have no right to discuss it just because our concept of wealth is inaccurate.
Basically, I don’t think that people fail or win based on their positive or negative thinking. That makes no sense. But, I do think that people self-sabotage and that unless self-criticism is constructive, it is probably destructive. I think that a lot of women opt out of life because we think badly of ourselves, so I like that Bethenny speaks against that. I think she speaks as someone who started with a really damaged self-image and who has been slowly patching and repairing that self-image into something productive and interesting and even beautiful. In that way, I think her message is effective and positive.
Just, not in this book.
The publisher provided me this copy of the book, but not in exchange for any goods or services. (less)
This is the story of a serial killer who enslaves people, usually black men, and tortures them by telling them the date the killer plans to execute th...moreThis is the story of a serial killer who enslaves people, usually black men, and tortures them by telling them the date the killer plans to execute them and then by keeping them locked in chains until that date, always reminding them of the date’s imminence. Sometimes, the killer tells them that if they are lucky, if the killer likes them enough, they might escape death, but that just seems to increase the torture because the killer doesn’t really plan to let them go. The killer in this book also has a kind of Dexter complex, where the killer chooses victims morally corrupt enough that few people even notice their deaths. Of course, the killer in this book is state government.
This is actually one of the saddest books I’ve ever read. It’s hard to feel very sympathetic towards the prisoners that Sister Helen advocates for, and I have to be honest that I don’t share her confidence that a true life sentence will always be a true life sentence, or even that a true life sentence is more humane than the death penalty. On the other hand, I am completely convinced of the arbitrariness of state executions. Also, it was deeply tragic to read about the families of the executed men, and their devastation seems to deserve respect, just as does the devastation of the families of the executed men’s victims.
This year, I sat in the courtroom and watched parts of the trial of Angela McAnulty, who tortured her daughter to death over the course of about seven years. At the point that her daughter, Jeanette Maples, died, the coroner couldn’t name a cause of death because there were so many possible causes. She had numerous infected wounds, brain hemorrhaging, water in her lungs, and was severely emaciated. Angela had forced (forced? convinced?) her husband to install locks, to which only Angela had the keys, on most of the doors in the house, including the bathroom. Her daughter was only allowed to use the bathroom supervised because she would try to drink out of the toilet if she was unsupervised. There were other things, worse things. There were other kids who weren’t tortured, but who Angela involved in torturing Jeanette. The jury gave her the death penalty, and I have to say I would have done the same. In her police interrogation tape, she said that instead of torturing her daughter, she probably should have taken up smoking.
So, I feel pretty conflicted about the issue of the death penalty. I think Sister Helen Prejean is a lovely woman, and I think her compassion is truly noble. I’m not wholly convinced that the death penalty is the worst of American institutions, though. Buuuuuut, at the same time, the corruption that the death penalty seems to practically breed is truly disturbing. The fact that it is only used against the poor is equally troubling.
Although Angela McAnulty confessed to her crimes, and so no trial occurred as to her guilt (the only issue was sentencing), it was still a problem to me that her defense attorneys put on almost no case. Their closing argument was something like, “Yep, this is pretty much the worst thing ever. You’re a smart jury, and we’re reconciled to whatever you decide.” I’m not satisfied that that is actually a defense. I know the burden is on the state to prove a crime, but that doesn’t mean that no defense is necessary. According to Sister Helen, failure of the defense to actually provide a defense is a rampant problem.
I keep coming back to thinking about this issue in relation to the recent Supreme Court case Connick v. Thompson. That case is fascinating. Like, I want to investigate it and write a book about all of the people involved in it. It is, like, EVERYTHING interesting about the law. But, the thing about it is that I feel with great certainty that Justice Thomas’ opinion is correct (Slate does not agree). I think Justice Ginsburg’s dissent would have created really troubling law. So the reason it relates to Dead Man Walking is that they are both about the death penalty in Louisiana and how corrupt the prosecution of criminals who end up on death row is. They are both about how legal procedure is basically what decides who wins and loses. Since I totally love legal procedure for some insane reason, I kind of love that fact, but not when people unjustly die because of it.
One awesome thing about the Thompson case is that Harry Connick, Jr.’s dad, Harry Connick, Sr., who was the lead D.A. in New Orleans for a helluva long time (Wikipedia says 1973-2003), is the “Connick” in the title of the case.
Anyway, the issue in Connick v. Thompson was that Mr. Thompson was convicted of a crime and sentenced to the death penalty because the New Orleans prosecutors withheld evidence of a lab test that exonerated him. So, the lab tests get discovered, new trial, Mr. Thompson gets not only gets no death penalty in the new trial, he also gets completely acquitted of the crime. The withholding of evidence is a violation of the case Brady v. Maryland, which says prosecutors can’t withhold exonerating evidence.
Then, this is the interesting part (to me). You probably all know this, but I didn’t before law school. The statute 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is the civil rights statute that says that we can sue people who “under color of” state law deprive us of our rights. So, the Supreme Court says that “people” can mean a lot of things. One of the things it can mean is municipal authorities in their personal capacities. (Like, as themselves, not as their office. So, when Sarah Palin was governor of Alaska, I would sue her as Sarah Palin, not as governor.) It can also mean municipalities themselves, but if you sue a municipality, you have to show that there is some procedure or custom, instituted by the municipality, that supported the deprivation of your rights. Some rule to change. This is the same with suing someone in their official capacity, like suing Mr. Connick as D.A. of New Orleans, or suing Governor Sarah Palin.
In Thompson, Mr. Connick, Sr., came out and said basically, “Yes, yes, unfortunately I misread Brady when I was the lead prosecutor.” *this is me going ballistic* So, he misread Brady to mean that he was supposed to withhold evidence? No. I am not willing to believe that happened. But, the genius thing about this is that then the attorneys bringing Thompson’s case sued the municipality, or Mr. Connick in his official capacity, not the prosecutors in their personal capacities. They argued that Mr. Thompson’s case alone, one instance of withholding evidence, combined with Mr. Connick’s statement that it was a mistake on his part, showed a custom of the municipality. And Justice Thomas was like, “No, one instance doesn’t show a custom or a procedure or a rule that we can attribute to the municipality.”
People tend not to sue officials in their personal capacity because individuals have less money, less insurance, than municipalities. The interesting thing if you take the Thompson case with Dead Man Walking is that Prejean is pretty clear that she thinks that this kind of thing went on all the time in the New Orleans Parish. Even the Slate article above notes that Louisiana courts have overturned, for Brady violations, many convictions coming out of Connick’s office. Correct me if I’m wrong (and I honestly haven’t read the opinion very closely because I have to actually do my schoolwork at some point), but it’s my understanding that the Supreme Court only considered the violations in relation to Thompson (and it would seem that way, too, because Thompson is the only plaintiff here). So interesting that, at least as it appears from reading the facts in the opinion, the attorneys didn’t bring suit using the other cases as well, even as evidence. All of the courts, even the lower courts that awarded judgment to Mr. Thompson, agreed that it was not custom or procedure to withhold evidence.
Anyway, that’s me geeking out on federal courts. I’m sure I haven’t explained the whole situation that well. And it does make sense to gamble by suing Connick in his official capacity, hoping for a judgment on which Mr. Thompson could actually collect, than to sue in his personal capacity. I just wonder about the lack of evidence. I wonder about the statements that Sister Helen makes in this book, which pretty blatantly imply that Mr. Connick’s office has been consistently guilty of § 1983 violations.
Okay, none of this is actually related to the paper I have to write on judicial review and the death penalty, so I need to go work on that now. It’s all just been rattling around in my head, so I felt like I needed to put it to paper. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Do you want to write my federal courts paper for me, too?(less)
One way to really get me pissed off is to tell me that the past was innocent and simple. What you really mean when you say that is that your childhood...moreOne way to really get me pissed off is to tell me that the past was innocent and simple. What you really mean when you say that is that your childhood was innocent and simple, which is probably also debatable, but at least seems fair from a nostalgic standpoint. The farther we look back to our childhoods, the more innocent life seems, and so things that happened before we were born must be the most innocent. No. Not true. People have always been just about as fucked up as we are now. I would say we’ve never been significantly better or significantly worse. That is why I love honest memoirs and biographies like this one. It is tough to even wrap my brain around the amazing and horrible things people have done and still do, and I want to hear about all of it.
As you probably know, Jeannette Walls wrote Half Broke Horses about her grandmother’s insane life. Talk about a real life superhero! The book starts out with a harrowing description of Lily, Walls’s grandmother, saving her little brother and sister from a flash flood by making them climb a cottonwood tree and cling there overnight while the flood subsided. She quizzed them on multiplication tables and trivia to keep them awake through the night so they didn’t fall out of the tree. In the morning, when the children limped home through the residual water from the flood, Walls describes their reunion with their parents:
Dad was on the porch, pacing back and forth in that uneven stride he had on account of his gimp leg. When he saw us, he let out a yelp of delight and started hobbling down the steps toward us. Mom came running out of the house. She sank to her knees, clasped her hands in front of her, and started praying up to the heavens, thinking the Lord for delivering her children from the flood.
It was she who saved us, she declared, by staying up all night praying. ‘You get down on your knees and thank your guardian angel,’ she said. ‘And you thank me, too.’
Helen and Buster got down and started praying with Mom, but I just stood there looking at them. The way I saw it, I was the one who’d saved us all, not Mom and not some guardian angel. No one was up in that cottonwood tree except the three of us. Dad came alongside me and put his arm around my shoulders.
‘There weren’t no guardian angel, Dad,’ I said. I started explaining how I’d gotten us to the cottonwood tree in time, figuring out how to switch places when our arms got tired and keeping Buster and Helen awake through the long night by quizzing them.
Dad squeezed my shoulder. ‘Well, darling,’ he said, ‘maybe the angel was you.’”
And the story basically just takes off from there. As a teenager, Lily rides her pony five hundred miles across Arizona to teach in a rural school. She moves to Chicago to experience love and heartbreak, and she basically dominates the entire time. The Chicago story is nuts, like every other story in this book. I love it all, and while I was reading it, I just thought, “I KNEW you assholes lived crazy lives. Why isn’t all of history THIS??” Because these are the people I care about – people like Lily Casey Smith who take life head on and drain every drop out of it. I love that. I want to hear about all of it.
I think a couple of things are going on here, though, with the fact that this book wasn’t as much of a hit as The Glass Castle. I think The Glass Castle actually, counter intuitively, benefitted from its off-putting child-molestation cover. It hit the Oprah audience square on with that cover, but then it was actually brilliant, so to the extent the anti-Oprah crowd could be convinced to try it, it was gritty enough for them.
We all came to Half Broke Horses, though, with that history and expectation. Like, we wanted to have that, “OMG SO MUCH BETTER THAN I EXPECTED” experience with this book, too. But, since we expected brilliance, it was kind of an impossible standard. So, I really, really loved this book. I think it was at least as good as The Glass Castle, and it presents this incredible American history that I have never known or imagined. Where The Glass Castle was me and my childhood and my life, this was the alien landscape of our past – of the weirdness, bravery, and cruelty of American genealogy. But, if I had expected that surprise of something genius wrapped in an off-putting cover, and if I had counted on that, I think I would have been a little disappointed, like a lot of people were. I was the opposite of disappointed. This book was spectacular.
I know a lot of people treat their own personal histories as though they are a social faux pas. We hesitate to say what makes us who we are and pretend that we magically dropped into our successes and failures, that we were never victims, that we were always proper and never broken. And, while I would never encourage self-indulgence, there is nothing more beautiful to me than personal histories. These stories of floods, horseback rides, men with backup families, backbreaking work, and fierce family loyalty are that magic to me. Those are the magic that dropped us here, and I want to know and understand it all.(less)
When I was between the ages of seven and eleven, my father was particularly ready to start a militia and secede from the union. I say "particularly" b...moreWhen I was between the ages of seven and eleven, my father was particularly ready to start a militia and secede from the union. I say "particularly" because in one way or another he's always been a little paranoid and iffy on the subject of loyalty to his citizenship (except when republicans are elected to any office, then you are guarantied to see him sporting his American flag suspenders). My parents "home schooled" me for a few years (quotation marks indicate that you could take out the word "school" and the phrase might be more accurate), when not putting me in various, sometimes experimental, private schools, so I have a colorful educational background. I always loved learning, as Derrick Jensen would say we all do, but I loathed the educational circus that was my childhood. I say all this because I have a deep mistrust of people who, like my father, are excessively suspicious or critical of civilization. Jensen is one of these people, and so I am sorry to say that I am absolutely persuaded by every argument I have heard him make. He positively has me ready to march out and overthrow the global economy.
My first exposure to Derrick Jensen was at the University of Oregon's Public Interest Environmental Law Conference last year. My vegan friend and my noble-savage friend took me to hear him as a keynote speaker. When the girl introducing him to the standing-room-only audience and said something to the effect of, "Don't stampede out of here when you hear his crazy ideas. We need extremists like Jensen to make the rest of us look normal" I sighed and braced myself for chanting and rhyming gibberish (in Eugene that kind of thing, unfortunately, is not completely uncommon). Instead, I met this hilarious, kind, thoughtful man, who I believe is truly trying to help people - and not in a patronizing, rich-American kind of way, either (pet peeve of mine). He's obviously doing the things he does because he understands that making us better helps him. To give you an idea of the lecture he gave when I saw him, this youtube clip shows a small section of the beginning of the lecture, when he gave it elsewhere. In this clip he describes the original script for the movie Star Wars: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwhL4L... .
Walking On Water is primarily about Jensen's experiences as a writer and writing instructor at a prison and a university in Washington state. Those experiences are really only the frame, though, in which he presents his criticisms of the American educational system, where Jensen says we are trained to submit ourselves to a society that turns us into slaves and masters. This book is what I wished Lies My Teacher Told Me would have been. Rather than focus on the details of misinformation in textbooks and the politics of the educational system, which bogged down Loewen's complaint against public education, Derrick Jensen tackled the larger problem of the systems in which we live. This book doesn't necessarily deal with all of the larger issues Jensen typically talks about, but I read it because it's . . . ummm . . . how shall I phrase this? It's about six hundred pages shorter than his other books. It seemed like a good place to start.
The thing that really makes me impressed with Jensen's writing and speaking is that I think he deeply believes in the destructiveness of industrialized civilization, and he is honestly fighting to save the things he loves. One of the points he made in the lecture I heard was that people used to get their food from forests and rivers, so we would fight to the death to protect forests and rivers. Now we get our food from supermarkets, so we will fight to the death to protect supermarkets and let the forests and rivers that actually provide the food be destroyed by the systems that created the supermarket. I mean, it's just true. They change the deli section at a grocery store and there's a public outcry from the same people who laugh at the major destruction of ocean mammal life. And I'm no different. The things I don't know or understand that are deeply important to the survival of the human race are staggering. I'm not willing to abandon civilization entirely, but I'm definitely a believer, if only from the arguments of Derrick Jensen, in the evils of industrialism.(less)
This was a little more like actually reading the Encyclopedia Britannica than I was really prepared for. I think it took me longer to read this book t...moreThis was a little more like actually reading the Encyclopedia Britannica than I was really prepared for. I think it took me longer to read this book than it took Jacobs to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, too. So, I’m not sure what that says about my reading stamina. It took Jacobs something like a year to read the encyclopedia? I think it took me two years to read this book. Although I don’t really get how it’s possible that it took him a year because I feel like way more than half of the book was about Jacobs and his wife trying to get pregnant, but then she was seven months pregnant when the book was over. Maybe he just read a lot more during the first half of the year. Or maybe it took him more than a year. I can’t go back and check. Anyway, writing a review of this book is pretty meta because the book itself is basically a goodreads.com review of the encyclopedia. Ambitious. So this is a review of a review of the encyclopedia.
I am terrible at retaining factual knowledge long term, and I’d have to say I probably kind of avoid learning trivial facts – dates, names, places. I guess, using the word “trivial” is wrong because it sounds like they are less important than other facts, but what I mean is that systems and theories make more sense to me, and I’m not good with factual data. It’s probably because of that that Jacob’s Year of Living Biblically was more entertaining to me. Know-It-All is basically about whether there is value in knowing a lot of facts, where Biblically is about the value of religion. Both have this OCD intensity, combined with a charming humility. It’s very disarming, but at the same time disconcerting in some way. Obviously, he cares enough about these projects to follow through with them, but at the same time, most of the books are about him being self-conscious about the fact that he’s doing the projects, but he’s also proud enough of them to publish books about them. I guess it’s good that he recognizes the projects are unusual.
Jacobs writes the kind of review here that not everybody likes – it’s filled with personal anecdotes about how the encyclopedia affected him and what he was doing when reading sections of it. I find that interesting, but it is not for everyone. There is also a lot of trivia in here that relates to random legal facts and stories that I learned this past year in school – like the three-mile rule and the Bird in Space story. That was cool. I guess, again, Biblically made more sense to me because I’ve spent a lot of time considering the value of religion and of interpretations of spiritual texts, where I’ve always been pretty comfortable with my cursory decision that reading an entire encyclopedia is of no interest to me. That’s just a personal preference, and you could feel the opposite.
Anyway, I have a crush on A.J. Jacobs. He’s charming and smart, but still has some perspective. His wife is probably a saint, and she seems pretty charming, too. Maybe I have a little crush on their whole family. That adds a little sparkle to my read of his stories.(less)
It seems very authentically Jewish to write smart and funny social commentary about exploring spirituality through following obscure rules. I don’t kn...moreIt seems very authentically Jewish to write smart and funny social commentary about exploring spirituality through following obscure rules. I don’t know if such a thing as being “authentically Jewish” exists (versus everyone who is inauthentically Jewish, right?), and I hope I don’t offend by that phrase, but what I’m saying is that I don’t think Moses and Isaiah and all the boys would kick A.J. Jacobs out of their club. In fact, I think Jacobs comes closer to meaningful Bible commentary than any contemporary Christian writers I have read. I was worried when I started the book that it would be like my experience with the Will Farrell movie Blades of Glory: without much substance beyond the weirdness of the concept. Instead, The Year of Living Biblically was an adventure, and I feel it would be very thought provoking and entertaining for readers of any religion or spiritual persuasion.
Jacobs’ purpose in following the Bible as literally as possible is to prove that each of us, regardless of our specific beliefs, makes choices as to what constitutes Scripture (or holiness, or what have you) and what doesn’t. Specifically, Jacobs looks at interpretations of the Bible (2/3 Old Testament, 1/3 New Testament) and tests how relevant, or even manageable, they are today. He goes about this with the earnestness of a little kid memorizing statistics on his favorite baseball team or learning how to take apart a car, and I think that enthusiasm is what makes this book charming rather than obnoxious. For example, when he finds two prevailing interpretations of how to live a biblical rule or principal, he does both. He gives thanks both before and after a meal, and when deciding who he should stone, he looks for someone working on both Saturday and Sunday (failing to observe both the Jewish and Christian Sabbaths). I mean, if you have to stone someone, it’s better to cover your bases, right?
If it is not already obvious in what I have said thus far, A.J. Jacobs is unabashedly weird. I don’t get the impression that the weirdness is a show, either, but that the show is some kind of natural part of his weirdness. I think that makes this a compliment. Regardless, his weirdness brings out the weirdness in others enough to make the cast of characters in The Year of Living Biblically as hilarious and horrifying as a Dickens novel. The book is not a circus, though, and Jacobs treats all of his characters and their beliefs with respect, whether he agrees or disagrees with them. He is very honest about his own skepticism and willing to say when something seems hateful or unlikely, but he is also very open to the views of others.
His blog is updated pretty frequently, and while scanning through it, I came across this selection, which gives a pretty good sample of his writing:
Tuesday, April 11, 2006 The Other Moses
I got a note from a reader saying that I shouldn’t ignore the ‘hanging curveball’ thrown by Gwyneth, who just begat a new son named Moses.
It’s a rich topic, to be sure. Though as a guy whose real name is “Arnold,” I don’t think I can really make fun of other people’s names.
But...I will say that if the Paltrow-Martins are trying to form some sort of Biblical theme (Apple from Genesis, Moses from Exodus), they should know that most Biblical scholars do not think that the unnamed forbidden fruit was an apple.
The more likely candidates, they say, include pomegranate, fig, apricot, wheat and grape. One source said it was a banana tree, but that might just be crazy talk.
I hope that people will not dismiss this book before they have read it. It is possible that people on the right and will expect it to be hateful mockery and people on the left will expect it to be irrelevant. I don’t think it is either of those things, but rather, as I said, thoughtful and smart. Often he discusses debates over Scripture similar to the passage above in that his ultimate conclusion is that the very nature of the debate is a little loony tunes. I found his reflections on the value of faith and family, however, very insightful. Hopefully, we can learn his more profound lessons without having to forsake mixed fibers and carry a Handyseat for a year, but it is a comfort to have A.J. Jacobs out there on the front lines of literalness, taking the bullet for the rest of us.(less)
The other day I was talking to someone and he said, “Well, I’m no pie expert . . . Wait! No! I am a pie expert. I am an expert at pie!”
Another person...moreThe other day I was talking to someone and he said, “Well, I’m no pie expert . . . Wait! No! I am a pie expert. I am an expert at pie!”
Another person asked, “How did you become a pie expert?”
“One time I ate only pie for an entire week. I was driving across the country with my buddies, and we decided to eat only pie.”
“Like Jack Kerouac in On the Road!” I said.
“Yes! Exactly! That’s exactly what we were doing. We were reading On the Road, and we decided he was so smart when he realized pie is the best solution when you’re traveling and have no money.”
“He ‘knew it was nutritious, and of course delicious.’”
“Yes! It has all of the food groups - especially if you have it with ice cream." He paused. "Except pie isn’t as filling as you would think it would be, so we had to drink a lot of beer to make up for that. And we ate a lot of multi-vitamins because we felt terrible. We would stop and camp out by the road, eating pie and drinking beer with multi-vitamins.
“We got to my girlfriend’s house, and we looked like shit. We hadn’t shaved and we had the pie sweats. But, it made me an expert at pie.”
Other than his advice about pie, I find Jack Kerouac to be one of those useless, narcissistic, cult-leader types. He’s pretty hot, though, and he does have correct opinions about pie.(less)
I could not help but think to myself, “Get a room,” as I finished the section titled “Our Constitution” in Senator Barack Obama’s most recently publis...moreI could not help but think to myself, “Get a room,” as I finished the section titled “Our Constitution” in Senator Barack Obama’s most recently published book, The Audacity of Hope. I’ll admit that by the time I finished the first chapter, “Republicans and Democrats” I had a little crush on Senator Obama (sorry Michelle), so his love letter to the American Constitution felt a little like I had gone through his desk looking for a pen and come upon something I was never meant to see. I got the feeling that maybe he thinks the Constitution is more interesting than me, and that’s not good for my self-esteem, so it can’t be very good for health care now can it? Also, while I’m a person that carries around my own pocket Constitution because sometime it might come in handy, I still think Senator Obama’s passion for it is pretty nerdy. But I guess it’s something I should expect if I’m going to have a crush on a Constitutional Law professor.
Personal feelings aside, I found reading The Audacity of Hope one of the many good ways to answer the question asked by the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, “Just who is this Barack Obama?” - a question that has been inciting mobs and striking fear into the heart of the American countryside of late. I now feel confident in saying that this Barack Obama character is not Arab or Muslim; he does not want to kill our babies; and he does not have a terrorist plot against the United States government. He is, in fact, a member of the Senate and candidate for President in that very government. I was pretty sure of all these facts before I started the book, but when someone says something like, “Who is Barack Obama?” You have to think “I don’t know anything about that man. He’s probably a terrorist” (or you could think, “He’s that Senator guy nominated as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States.” It’s your choice).
While I started The Audacity of Hope with the admittedly biased view that Senator Obama was not a super-villain, my ultimate journey through the book was one of trying to figure out who he likes best. At first I thought, “Pick me!” But I started to get the feeling that there are a lot of other people giving me stiff competition. In discussing partisan politics, he says that one blogger called him an “idiot” for suggesting a strategy of working with the Republican majority. He says, “maybe the critics are right . . . We paint our faces red or blue and cheer our side and boo their side . . . For winning is all that matters.
“But I don’t think so. They are out there, I think to myself, those ordinary citizens who have grown up in the midst of all the political and cultural battles, but who have found a way – in their own lives, at least – to make peace with their neighbors, and themselves. I imagine the white southerner who growing up heard his dad talk about niggers this and niggers that but who has struck up a friendship with the black guys at the office and is trying to teach his own son different, who thinks discrimination is wrong but doesn’t see why the son of a black doctor should get admitted into law school ahead of his own son. Or the former Black Panther who decided to go into real estate, bought a few buildings in the neighborhood, and is just as tired of the drug dealers in front of those buildings as he is of the bankers who won’t give him a loan to expand his business. There’s the middle-aged feminist who still mourns her abortion, and the Christian woman who paid for her teenager’s abortion, and the millions of waitresses and temp secretaries and nurse’s assistants and Wal-Mart associates who hold their breath every single month in the hope that they’ll have enough money to support the children that they did bring into the world.
“I imagine they are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to distinguish between what can and cannot be compromised, to admit the possibility that the other side might have a point” (p 41-42). These were the words that wooed me. I know these people that he is talking about because they are me, and my family and my friends – people whose reality does not always match their ideals; people who work for a better life and take responsibility for their actions but have the capacity for forgiveness when responsibility isn’t enough. You can see how I would think I had a chance.
Then the Constitution came along, and after the Constitution the innovators of Google, and families losing income and homes because of exported jobs and health care costs, and then his wife and kids and mom. I was beginning to think there were a lot of people he likes more than me. Maybe it will never be a love connection.
If you are still questioning whether you know enough about the 2008 Democratic candidate for President in the areas of partisan politics, values, the Constitution, campaign financing, taxes, health care, faith, international politics, race, women’s issues, or family and you don’t feel like visiting his website at www.BarackObama.com, The Audacity of Hope very thoroughly discusses all of these issues and is one good way to determine where you agree and where you disagree with the Senator from Illinois. I reserved my copy at the Eugene Public Library, where all copies are currently checked out, but there is no wait list.
In his epilogue, Mr. Obama gives his motive for participating in politics – a motive that makes me suspicious that his goodwill toward the American people extends beyond just the people I know and to the very foundations of our country and government. He describes going for a run along the Mall in Washington, D.C. At the steps of the Lincoln Memorial he stops. “And in that place,” he writes, “I think about America and those who built it. This nation’s founders, who somehow rose above petty ambitions and narrow calculations to imagine a nation unfurling across a continent. And those like Lincoln and King, who ultimately laid down their lives in the service of perfecting an imperfect union. And all the faceless, nameless men and women, slaves and soldiers and tailors and butchers, constructing lives for themselves and their children and grandchildren, brick by brick, rail by rail, calloused hand by calloused hand, to fill the landscape of our collective dreams.
“It is that process I wish to be part of.
“My heart is filled with love for this country” (p. 361-362).
I have decided not to act on my crush, because I think when Senator Obama says he loves us, he means like a friend. And despite my initial feelings of betrayal over his love affair with the Constitution, I’ve decided not to think of myself as the woman scorned, but to be the bigger person and agree to just be friends. Maybe I’ll even vote for him just to prove that he’s not the only one who can be gracious and forgiving in a difficult situation. Maybe I’ll vote for him because, like he reminded Senator McCain in the third presidential debate, a vote for President of the United States should be about confidence in a candidate’s plans and policies, not about hurt feelings. Call me audacious, but Senator Obama has my vote. (less)
One of my friends made fun of me for a little while yesterday because he saw me walking down the street laughing to myself. Fittingly, I was laughing...more
One of my friends made fun of me for a little while yesterday because he saw me walking down the street laughing to myself. Fittingly, I was laughing to myself about the smartass comments I was planning to make to him about how rude it was that he didn’t offer to give me a ride. This book makes me think of that because of how easily I can entertain myself by thinking about a better comeback, a funnier joke, or a snappier ending to a story I already told. Reading this was sort of like reading everything Lauren Bacall wished she’d said to people her entire life.
It is not as entertaining to hear someone else’s would-have-saids as it is to hear my own.
The other issue I have with this book is that it falls into this ditch of crappy storytelling wherein she recounts the overall events that happened throughout entire years, but without any actual story. “Then we went to Paris, then we stayed at a hotel, then a lot of people got malaria, then my mom said something wise, then somebody went to the doctor.” I think every other sentence should have been edited out, and the remaining elaborated into actual stories with dialogue and descriptions. This was maybe the longest short book I've ever read. Mostly a slog.
I am giving this three stars, though, because there were two parts that I thought were really interesting, beautiful, and well told. The first was the courtship between her and Bogart, and the second was his death. I actually really loved the way she talked about Bogie’s death. It was incredibly sad and very beautiful, and at that point it seemed to unfold that the whole book had been leading up to that moment in her life. In a lot of ways, it seemed like her life became somewhat defined by mourning him.
I have had a few friends who strongly identify with Lauren Bacall, or at least her movie persona, and I have never felt that. The same with Audrey Hepburn. It seems nice, to me, for a girl to identify with women who are so elegant and graceful, but still with humor, but I am not one of them. Lena Dunham is definitely my girl. I guess I thought going into this memoir that despite her outward dissimilarity to me, there would be some kind of sympathy of spirit between Lauren Bacall and me. Whether that reflects well or badly on me, that was not the case.
The disconnect for me happened in that Bacall seemed really focused on affirming traditional values of finding a man to take care of her and devoting herself to her children, but also her career was obviously intensely important to her identity. While she was married to Bogie, according to Bacall, he was pretty clear that work should be second and he should be the priority. She was happy to agree to that. And after he died, she talked a lot about still having hope that she would find a man to take care of her. But, then, there were these times when someone would be dying, her kids would be failing at school, and she’d decide to go to Paris for a month to hang out. That kind of freaks me out because I feel like if you are really skilled as a caregiver and want to devote yourself to caring for kids and dudes, fine. But, if you aren’t, and you are skilled as an actress, don’t pretend you’re something else just to try to fit in. That bugs me. Play to your strengths.
I’m not questioning her love for her kids or husbands or lovers at all. I’m just saying I felt like my sense of who she was got all fogged up by this agenda she had to prove that she was somehow a nurturing person. And the fact that she was rarely there when something important happened to her family sort of belied the idea that she was devoted to nurturing. I have zero problem with her being skilled at other things than nurturing, and I think a person’s nurturing skills have very little to do with how much they love their family, but I got the sense that she had a problem with her skills lying elsewhere and wanted to sell herself as a nurturer. That was where I couldn’t identify with her.
It did seem like there were a couple of times where she could have been there for her family, but was at a party or in another country, or something. I couldn’t really get a good sense of it, though, because a lot of that seemed like she might have been too hard on herself and feeling some kind of survivor guilt for not being there every second of every family member’s life. Ultimately, I think it is a flaw in the book that I am distracted by not having a sense of whether she was there for her family or mostly at parties. It made me kind of curious what they would have said. What I mean is that I appreciate it when people are accurate about their own skills. I don't mean complaining, like, "I'm ugly" or "Everybody hates me" because those are not possible, and are only feelings, not accurate descriptions. I mean, like, "I am good at cooking and bad at gardening." I feel like those things build who a character is, even if the character is as complex as a real human, and I didn't get a solid sense of Bacall as a character.
I guess, Bacall's appearance and presentation is harsh and independent, but she describes herself as being soft and dependent. I am the opposite of that. I look like a helpless child, but really more of a jerk.
But, she did fall in love with a lot of married men, and I can identify with that. People are always getting married.(less)
One summer in high school, I lived at this camp on the Oregon coast. It was kind of a run-down place that a family owned. They would let high-school k...moreOne summer in high school, I lived at this camp on the Oregon coast. It was kind of a run-down place that a family owned. They would let high-school kids come there and run the place as staff while different groups of campers from different types of churches and high-school groups would come through. The girl staffers slept in bunks in one house, and the guys slept in this apartment over the gym. It was all kind of Empire Records, if that movie is actually how I remember it from watching it in high school. Or, like, Hey Dude, but Oregon-coast style, not dude ranch. Anyway, for a week, we lived on the Rogue River, and it was probably one of the best experiences of my life. Just a bunch of high school kids camping out (with adult-ish supervision). I grew up in the San Juan Islands, and on and around the Rogue and Illinois rivers, but I don’t think of the Ocean and rivers or visit them like I should. They are like blood: I take them for granted, but when I remember to, I do appreciate their beauty, and I know I would shrivel without them.
I finished my second year of law school this week, so I took the opportunity to read River Teeth, drink three greyhounds, and get nostalgic about Oregon rivers. I love that DJD loves Oregon rivers because they deserve to be loved. He is maybe a little sentimental in that hippie, rain-stick kind of way that gets to me sometimes, but when he stays out of that territory, he is my favorite ever. Ever. This is kind of a strange collection of stories. He pulled them together with the idea that they are river teeth, he explains in the very beginning. When trees fall into rivers, the current quickly decomposes their trunks, except for the knots where a branch joined a trunk, or other knots where the wood is particularly dense. Those, he explains, stay in the river much longer, and they jut up from the ground like river teeth. In the same way, Duncan goes on, time washes over our lives, and the moments that don’t decompose in our memories are like river teeth. So, this collection of stories is made up of those startling moments, the memories seared into his identity. Or, stories he heard from other people of their river teeth. I like the concept.
Otherwise, there is not much to unify one story from another. Some are Duncan’s stories, others he invented or transcribed from friends. I liked all of them, but I lovedThe Garbage Man’s Daughter. I, like, love this story, you guys. I laughed so hard at one part that I couldn’t read the pages and had to get up and walk around for a while. Then, when I came back, I still couldn’t read the story. It needs to be read. It is an outstanding story. I looked for an online copy to post here for you to read, but I couldn’t find one. You should find it and read it.
There is some dangerous territory in this book, though. The Brothers K is a perfect book in my eyes, and there is a story at the end of this book that happens after The Brothers K, and I feel that it spoils a lot of that book. I don’t necessarily know if the information would be hanging over you when you read The Brothers K, but I think it would influence your read of that book and those characters. I would rather you read that book than this, but you should still read The Garbage Man’s Daugher. I love it ever so.
The stories at the very beginning of this book are really wonderful. They are of Duncan’s childhood, and they are truly horrifying and memorable. There is also a story interestingly dedicated to Katherine Dunn, for all those Geek Love lovers out there. At the end of the book, the stories get increasingly sentimental and tie-dyed, as Duncan gets increasingly that way. I can handle that to a point, but, I don’t know. I do think he is wise, and I don’t disagree with anything he’s saying. He just goes a little to sentimental/poetical for me ever so slightly and every once in a while. Not in The Brothers K. He goes just the right amount of far in that book, as I recall. In the others, though, I just hear didgeridoos and rain sticks in the background every once in a while. And, like, Yanni. For some, that is a compliment, and I can see where it would be just the right thing in some circumstances. For me, It goes just slightly too far, every once in awhile. Then, usually, he’ll say something with all kinds of perspective that is totally hilarious, and it will reel me back in (fishing metaphor, tres apropos!).
Duncan is wonderful on fishing and rivers and baseball and personal mythology. He’s great with a subtle pun, and he’s kind. This was a lovely book. Have I told you to go read The Garbage Man’s Daughter yet? Well, go. It is a hilarious story. He is so kind about families and the way family personalities destroy and invent each other. He does that so well. I had been thinking for weeks that I wanted to re-read The Brothers K, but then I remembered that I had this one and hadn’t gotten to it yet. In a lot of ways, I’m glad I read this instead. But, I still miss that book and can’t wait to get back to it someday. Anyway, Duncan talks about rivers and families, and explains things that he understands instinctively about those things that I love and don't understand. One of my heroes.(less)