Firstly, Andy Weir (he of The Martian fame) has written a fundamental, universal truth in this short, short story of his. It goes like this:Heh heh.
Firstly, Andy Weir (he of The Martian fame) has written a fundamental, universal truth in this short, short story of his. It goes like this: "Tip for all you guys out there: If a woman is asleep, let her sleep."
Secondly, it made me giggle (and I felt a certain kinship to the main character Annie).
A note about the audiobook -- I started listening to this one and it wasn't quite grabbing me. The text was falling flat for some reason and my mind wA note about the audiobook -- I started listening to this one and it wasn't quite grabbing me. The text was falling flat for some reason and my mind wandered a little too much. Debra Winger has a lovely delivery as the reader, but the audiobook just didn't work for me this time. So I abandoned it for the hardcover -- and finished it in one sitting I became that engrossed and enthralled, moved and inspired.
In June of 2015 I was lucky enough to attend the American Library Association conference held in San Francisco that year. Not only was it a thrill to be surrounded by 20,000 librarians from all corners of the library world, but the City by the Bay had been on my bucket list for years. It was a week of great food and much adventuring (including a day trip to Alcatraz), with thankfully no earthquakes. But the absolute highlight of the entire shebang was getting to see Gloria Steinem speak in person. Let me just say that at 81 years old, this woman has lost none of her charisma, style, and magnetic presence. She is as strikingly beautiful as she has ever been, and her generosity of spirit and kindness beam from her person like the warmth of a thousand suns.
Her latest book is a compilation of memories and reflection of a life lived on the road and what it means to be an "organizer" -- of social justice movements, of rallies, of connecting others. When most people think of Steinem they think "feminist" and "speaker" and "leader" but what she's spent most of her life doing is listening and that is what has made her so good at being all of those other things. To be a great organizer, you need to first listen, and from the listening will come empathy, understanding, knowledge, and new ideas. Now into her eighth decade, Steinem continues to listen, never one to believe she has learned all there is to know, or is now someone who carries all the answers to truth and justice and gender equality.
I was surprised to learn that Steinem is a nervous public speaker, and though she has spent a life doing it, still gets butterflies before getting up in front of a group of people. I can't imagine a life on the road as she has lived it, so very untethered. I am too much of a homebody to have ever been called to such a nomadic life, but there is a part of me that wonders what I've missed in the way of human connection and adventure. When she turned 50, Steinem finally purchased a home and began to nest, and though her nomadic adventures would persist at least now she had a place to return and rest and refuel. Maybe when I turn 50 I'll do the opposite and take to the road!
It's the surprise, the unexpected, the out of control. It turns out that laughter is the only free emotion--the only one that can't be compelled. We can be made to fear. We can even be made to believe that we're in love because, if we're kept dependent and isolated for long enough, we bond in order to survive. But laughter explodes like aha! It comes when the punch line changes everything that has gone before, when two opposites collide and make a third, when we suddenly see a new reality. Einstein said he had to be very careful while shaving, because when he had an idea he laughed -- and he cut himself. Laughter is an orgasm of the mind. ~Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road
This is not a perfect book. In her passion for the subject and her glowing respect for LA Homicide Detective John Skaggs, Leovy's effusive praise can This is not a perfect book. In her passion for the subject and her glowing respect for LA Homicide Detective John Skaggs, Leovy's effusive praise can feel overstated, venturing into fangirl territory -- as if she were writing up an application essay to have Skaggs knighted or appointed to sainthood. But I'm going to cut her some slack since this book is extremely well researched, and powerfully presented. Leovy has been embedded for years in the crime area she is writing about -- the infamous South Central Los Angeles. This isn't an outsider elbowing her way into the quagmire of violence, but rather an LA citizen that deeply cares about the "plague of murders" devastating LA County's young black men and the tragic toll it has taken on those who loved them.
While the narrative arc for the book is to cover in-depth one particular homicide -- that of 18 year old African American Bryant Tennelle (son of Wallace Tennelle, a highly respected detective with the Los Angeles police), Leovy does a great job balancing the intimate details of this case with a larger encompassing analysis of race relations in America and the rise of Los Angeles gangs and black on black homicidal violence. The statistics she presents are both shocking and depressing; for example, African-American males make up “just 6 percent of the country’s population but nearly 40 percent of those murdered.” Furthermore, in the wake of improving national crime statistics (even for LA County), homicide remains the No. 1 cause of death for African-American males ages 15 to 34.
So Leovy wants to try and put some of this numbing tragedy into a meaningful context -- how have the lives of young black men become so cheap? Why has this bloody pattern of black on black violence become so commonplace? And what needs to be done to end this plague once and for all? Leovy doesn't have the answers, but I appreciate her attempts to tackle the at times, controversial and painful issues, and shed light on a problem that's difficult to know, understand and talk about.
Again I will reiterate: this is not a perfect book. There are a lot of names and shifting points of view that, as a reader, it's easy to get lost or frustrated. But at its best, this book will make you think, consider, and question. It will make you want to understand. It will bring you to a place of empathy away from preconceived notions and prejudices, and that's a powerful thing.
If you think you might read this book, I highly recommend checking out the documentary Crips and Bloods: Made In America, which provides an excellent overview of what's been called the longest running civil war in the history of America. Like Leovy wants to do with her book, this unflinching documentary humanizes what's been a very dehumanizing reality for the black citizens of South Los Angeles.
I am a sucker for survival stories, especially those set at sea. Have no idea why. Perhaps it's for the visceral, vicarious thrill of experiencing the I am a sucker for survival stories, especially those set at sea. Have no idea why. Perhaps it's for the visceral, vicarious thrill of experiencing these terrifying events unfold from the safety and comfort of my reading chair. Which probably makes me an asshole, but let's be clear -- it's not the SUFFERING I get off on, but the grittiness and ingenuity required of the survivors to live through the ordeal so that we can all learn from it in some profound way (there is a part of me that uses these stories as self-help manuals -- what to do when stranded on an island, in the desert, in the Andes, in the Pacific ocean, on Mars!)
(waves to Mark Watney -- yes I know he's a fictional character but you get my point).
To call Salvador Alvarenga's true survival story of 438 days (!!!) adrift at sea "extraordinary" just might be the understatement of the century. His tale is the very epitome of extraordinary and then some. Can we just invent a new word please? So okay, extraordinary, but also terrifying and amazing and shocking and unbelievable. How can it be humanly possible for a person to survive so long adrift at sea with few supplies? What will this person eat? Where will they get their drinking water to stave off death from dehydration? Supposing food and water challenges are addressed, how does a person go about developing a mental toughness, a spiritual and emotional resiliency to go on in the face of insurmountable odds, immeasurable aching loneliness, crippling boredom and sensory deprivation?
Jonathan Franklin does a great job here fleshing out Alvarenga's story with as much specific detail as possible pertaining to the 438 days, but also balances this side of the story with accounts from other people who have survived long periods at sea highlighting similarities and differences. He also quotes from scientists and psychologists who have studied survival and the mental, emotional and physical changes humans undergo in extreme survival situations. This helps put Alvarenga's experience into a larger, more meaningful context.
If you do the audiobook thing, the reader for this one is excellent. His voice kept me immersed in the details and drama with very little opportunity for my mind to lose focus and wander. This is a gripping tale of extreme human survival that left me exhausted, humbled, and inspired.
A before and after of Alvarenga and his first haircut and shave: