Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a fascinating story, and it's truly disgusting and disheartening how these women were treated by men who valued their own profits and companies over human life. It's also extremely frustrating that radium regulation wasn't put into place until a rich, white man died from radium poisoning, despite women suffering and dying from it for over a decade by that point. These companies, and the people who own them and work for them, are truly deplorable, and I get more and more angry the more I think about them.

I appreciate so much that author Kate Moore gave voice to these women, and both their physical and mental struggles and their battles in court. For women who died too young, for no other reason than they were doing their jobs, she told their stories and immortalized them for all time. I kept flipping to look at their photos, to remember their stories, and to match faces with the many names.

My only complaint about this book is the attention to detail was so excessive that it moved very slowly for me. For a book I was invested in, it took me a remarkably long time to read - 12 days. I just wasn't motivated. Maybe I was too sad? Maybe I could sense how it was going to go? Who knows. In the end, I feel like the story could have been tightened up, and still maintain it's authenticity and truth.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe it's because I have struggled through my own body issues for many years, but a lot of this book really spoke to me.

I want to thank Roxane Gay for sharing so many intimate details of her own personal story. I can't imagine that is an easy thing to do, especially when you have been hiding those parts of yourself for so long. As she writes in the introduction, "Mine is not a success story, but it is a true story." Thank you for sharing your truth.

In many ways, Roxane's story is vastly different than mine, but there are parts of her story, of the experience of being overweight, and being overly conscious of the space your own body takes up, that really resonate with me. People that have always been small don't always seem to understand the impact your physical size has on your life. It's not even about health, it's about wondering if you'll fit in a chair or a rollercoaster or a plane seat. It's about wondering if the people that end up near to you in public spaces are going to be annoyed at the extra space you take up, and constantly trying to minimize your physical footprint. It's about wondering if you'll ever find something to wear that you like, and seeing all the clothes you'd like to wear not come in your size. I've experienced all those things, and I weigh several hundred pounds less than Roxane.

I've seen some criticism that parts of this book can be repetitive, and yes, I'd say that is true. But I think that can be attributed to the fact that these parts that are repeated are significant to each essay they are included in. For me, listening to this book over the space of a week, it wasn't an annoying repetition, it was appreciated.

If nothing else when you read this book, I would hope that your eyes would be opened to the world that so many people live in; to the biases, whether conscious or unconscious, that larger-sized people face. We need to be sensitive to the way we interact with and speak to one another, regardless of size. As Roxane puts it towards the end of the book, it's about inclusion and acceptance, not just tolerance.

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A story about life and death, race and privilege, family and home. This story benefited greatly from it's alternating narrators. If all we knew was Jojo's perspective, it would be easy to classify Leonie as just a selfish person and a terrible mother. As much as those things might be true, when the story is told from Leonie's perspective, we can see that she is much more complicated than that. The violent, senseless, and unvindicated loss of her brother Given as such a young age left a lasting hole in her life. Not only did she desperately miss her brother, but her parents were wrapped up in their own grief, and she was left on the outside, alone, until Michael came along.

This story is also about Jojo becoming a man, and awakening more and more to the reality of the world he lives in. As much as the world changes, it seems some things stay the same. His grandpa, River, was sent to prison just for being black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Richie died because he was taken by an evil man and ended up black in the wrong place at the wrong time. Given was killed because he was black boy and was better at something than a white man. Jojo, as 13 year old, is handcuffed and thrown to the group for no reason other than he is black and a cop has decided his family is suspicious. Jojo also has to listen to the racist rants of his white grandpa.

The only good thing I saw Jojo's father, Michael, do is defend Leonie to his parents. I almost wish we could have had some chapters from Michael's perspective, because I honestly don't know what that man was thinking. Who even starts dating the sister of the boy his own cousin killed in cold blood? I can't tell if he ever loved his kids or if he just loved Leonie.

I'm still not quite sure what to make of the mystical elements of this book. What makes a spirit stay around instead of heading to it's final resting place? It seemed like Given was staying for his mom. Richie seemed to stay because he needed some sort of closure on how he died, but even when he knew, he didn't seem to be satisfied. That tree of ghosts at the end was certainly creepy, and just made me really sad. Also, what is it about Jojo's family that lets them see these spirits and communicate with them? His grandma seemed to imply that it came down through her family line, but what is the purpose of their powers? To help the spirits move on? It the end I guess we'll never know.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

It's Okay to Laugh

It's Okay to Laugh It's Okay to Laugh by Nora McInerny Purmort
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of all the cancer memoirs I've read recently, this is the first one written by a surviving family member instead of the patient themselves. Nora writes with humor, honestly, and truth about what it's like to lose the ones you love to soon. Beyond just putting in to words some of the things I have been feeling over the past 6 months, though, Nora gives great advice and insight in how to be a good friend to your own people who are grieving.

The line that sticks with me most is this: "You may be the one who says the wrong thing, but that's better than being the one who says nothing at all." As a perfectionist at heart, sometime's it's hard for me to do or say anything if I fear it might not be the "right" or "best" thing for the situation, but in the end, it's not your perfect words that are going to matter to your friends, it's the fact that you texted, or called, or sent a card, or a facebook message; that you SHOWED UP and said, in your own imperfect way, "I'm here for you. I care about you. You are important."

One of my friends recently lost her husband to cancer, and through this whole process, she has been a pillar of strength and faith, especially for her kids. My friend immediately came to mind when Nora said, "You don't do it because you're superwoman, you do it because it's your life, and no one can live it for you." Life doesn't just stop, and you can't just stop either - there's still bills to pay and kids to feed and showers to take. You're strong because you have to be. That doesn't make that strength any less amazing, but that's just the way life is.

Another insight that sticks with me is the uniqueness of grief, and how isolating that can be. "Grief is lonely, no matter how many other people feel it. Each is different, because we lost different people." I take that thought and to it that you can't expect anyone else to grieve the same way you do. You have to allow people to grieve in the ways they need, even if it doesn't make sense to you.

I've never been married, so I don't know what it's like to contemplate losing the love of your life, but I can relate to the fear and anxiety that comes with the thought of losing your parents. I am extremely close to my parents, and they are getting to be an age where they have major health issues, most recently my dad's own brain cancer diagnosis. Every day, I worry about what life will be like without them, and what I can do to make their lives better every day I have with them. I loved (and also sobbed through) Nora's story of her last words for her father as he passed, and I pray that I'll not only be able to be the same comfort to my parents one day, but also that I'll tell them these things every day along the way: "You are the best dad."

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Monday, April 30, 2018

The Power

The Power The Power by Naomi Alderman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A mind-blowing, clever, and shocking story revolving around power and gender, and the effect power has on gender stereotypes and expectations. Parts of this book were extremely hard to read, because things like this actually happen around the world, but those atrocities are being perpetrated upon women, not men. When the power between men and women is flipped on its head, what comes to pass in this book is not a more gentle world, but one that is equally horrifying. Turns out, it's not his gender that gives man an incredible capacity for cruelty, it's the power he has, a power that imbibes him with invulnerability and a sense of invincibility in the face of normal checks and balances. Women are not, in fact, immune to this perversion

As the male "writer" of this "historical fiction" notes, "Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn't. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not. Tap on it and it's hollow. Look under the shells: it's not there." Gender is only important in that it signals to others where the real power lies. Women and men, deep down, are the same: wanting power, taking what they can get. Roxy and Tunde are talking towards the end, trying to make sense of all that had happened to them. "One of them says, 'Why did they do it, Nina and Darrell?' And the other answers, 'Because they could.' That is the only answer there ever is."

The men and women in this book don't truly connect with one another until the balance of power between them has been leveled. Tunde had fear slowly building in him with every female encounter, and it wasn't until he was with Roxy that he could relax and connect. Roxy who had her power stripped away by those she trusted most, had been reminded again and again that she can't trust men, but Tunde looked at her and said, Even without your Power, you are powerful. He helped her see that her identity wasn't tied to her power, but was something that couldn't ever be taken away.

One interesting this to note is that, other than at the very beginning, when Allie is noted as mixed-race, we rarely see mention of racial divide and disparity as the power structure shifts from male to female leadership and privilege. Maybe that was too many layers to include in the book, but if this was truly the way the world changed, it's not like racism would disappear overnight. You'd better believe there are just as many female racists as there are male.

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Amazing and complex and deeply moving. There is so much going on In this book that it's almost too hard to review it.

Finally, a book where a woman is "the chosen one," the unknown who might be able to save the world by destroying it. And she is a complicated woman, who has lived through unspeakable things like torture, reeducation, becoming a slave not in name but in treatment. Her body is not her own, her life is not her own, her future is not her own. Somehow, she manages to escape time and again, to carve out little pockets of freedom and love. Of course, those moments of happiness always end in almost more anguish and heartbreak than one can bear. Is she could have destroyed herself, she would.

There's a lot I still don't understand, and obviously this book needs the rest of its trilogy to provide answers and satisfaction. Normally that would bother me, but so much of substance happens in this book, that I can't imagine it containing more depths in itself. I'm still not sure what the relationship between the Orogenes and the obelisks is, or the relationship between the orogenes and the stone eaters. Obviously, Hoa has claimed Essun as his own (and fought off others for this privilege), just as Antimony has claimed Alabaster. At first, it seemed like this was a beneficial arrangement for the orogene in question - Antimony is the one who saved them from destruction at Allia - but now seeing him turned mostly to stone, and subsequently literally eaten away, I'm starting to wonder.

Also, I'm really pissed at Alabaster telling Syen that he'll never forgive her for killing Coru, because he TOLD her to do it, he would have done it himself, and she saved him from a miserable life of torture. Also, I'm pretty sure she was trying to kill herself, too, but was somehow protected by the obelisk, so really, she's living a lifetime of self-torture. So back off. Whatever Alabaster wants her to do with the moon, it still feels more important that she track down Jija and find Nassun, because any one who would kill his 3 year old son but abduct his 10 year old daughter instead of killing her... it creeps me out makes me suspicious. Find that girl!

I have to mention, too, I was really wary of a book that forces sexual slavery on people in the name of procreation, and if it had come from any other writer, I probably would have stopped reading right then. I decided to trust the author, though, and I'm glad I did. It's pretty clear that every decent person considers that system abhorrent, and the loving relationship we see most is between a bisexual man, his female partner, and his male partner, who live together with their child as a happy, whole family. There is also a transgender character, and others whose genders aren't clarified. Overall, the gender and sexuality expressed in this book is inclusive and normalizing, which is definitely encouraging and uplifting to read.

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Friday, April 27, 2018

Odd Thomas

Odd Thomas Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


An inventive and creepy story about a fascinating person. I really liked Odd, and I can imagine his gift is hard to live with sometimes. Not only have to help those who have passed, but dealing with the guilt of not being able to save everyone would be overwhelming.

I'm still not sure what exactly bodachs are, and what that weird light-sucking room in Bob's house was. Maybe it really was the gateway to hell?

I'm so, so sad about Stormy. I originally thought it was unlikely she'd make it, but then, the fact that she was talking to him in the hospital tricked me, though Odd admitted he was being an unreliable narrator at that point, because he couldn't deal with Stormy's loss in addition to his injuries. She seemed to be the perfect balance to Odd, and I wonder now what will become of him. Even if he has lots of options (as his nurse friend implied), it's hard to see him trusting anyone enough to fully drop his guard and tell her his secrets.

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