Audio book: Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism, and You

by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Read by Jason Reynolds
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is frank talk of slavery and rape and they use the n-word a couple of times. It will be in the Middle Grade History section of the bookstore.

The publishers — and Reynolds himself — are calling this a “remix” of the National Book Award- winning Stamped, by Kendi, and a brilliant remix it is. Reynolds takes the ideas in Kendi’s book — which is a look at racism from the first recorded instance in the 14th century to the present day — and distills them down so that kids == it’s aimed at the 10 and up crowd — can easily grasp the ideas and the history.

And Reynolds makes it fun. It’s a “not history history book”, one where Reynolds talks about IDEAS and how they fit into the grander scope of history. It’s incredibly engaging to listen to (and read!) — Reynolds is a fabulous narrator — and it made me look at history in a new light. It’s an important book — I’ve checked the original out from the library because I’m interested in what Kendi’s research — especially in this day and age. It’s incredibly helpful as a white person to understand that racism is systemic and built into the framework of our society. And maybe by understanding that, we can all become a bit more aware.

Excellent and highly recommended.

Audio book: Becoming

by Michelle Obama
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s some mild swearing. It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

This is your basic memoir: the life of Michelle Robinson Obama, from growing up in the South Side of Chicago to going to college at Princeton and law school at Harvard, to how she met and married Barak Obama, her challenges and successes as a professional woman with two children, and then dealing with a husband who wanted to become (and then became!) president and all the challenges and success with being the first lady of the United States.

First off: yes, it does live up to the hype, especially on audio. Obama is a delightful narrator, and listening to her tell her insightful, funny, interesting story is a treat (whether or not you agree with her husband’s politics, I think). She is a delightful, smart, good human being and I’m glad she chose to tell her story. I do hope it does what I think she hopes it does, and inspires young girls and young women to get involved.

Mostly what it made me do, in the end, was desperately miss having someone in the White House (whether or not you agree with their politics) who took the idea of governing seriously, who did their best to be ethical and honest, and who actually was Presidential. You could argue that Barak Obama wasn’t a great president, but what you can’t say is that he didn’t take the role seriously. Same for Michelle: she took the idea of being First Lady seriously, harnessing her influence for something good, and I miss that terribly.

At any rate, this was an excellent book.

Round Ireland with a Fridge

by Tony Hawks
First sentence: “I’m not, by nature, a betting man.”
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Content: It’s sweary, both in English and Iris, and there’s a ton of drinking. It’d be in the creative non-fiction section of the bookstore if we had it.

A while back, I happened to be watching vlogbrothers, and John recommended this one, and I thought to myself “That is the sort of book I need to get me through some dull winter days.”

I was right.

The basic premise is this: Tony got super drunk one night and his friend bet him 100 pounds that Tony couldn’t hitchhike the circumference of Ireland carrying a fridge. (There are Reasons this got bet, but that’s really unimportant.) Tony, for whatever reason that I can’t remember now, decided that it was a good bet to try and accomplish. So, he set out to Ireland, picked himself up a small, white, minifridge and a dolly, and started hitchhiking.

The boon came from when someone (again, I’m not sure who) got him in contact with the Gerry Ryan Show, which was broadcast throughout Ireland on the radio. They were all so mystified by why Tony would do this, so Gerry decided to put out calls to help Tony out. I’m pretty sure without that support, this would have been an entirely different book.

As it is, it’s a delightful (if often stupid) read about a delightful (if often stupid) trip. Tony met lots and lots of people, had a good sense of humor about it all, and in the end realized that humanity (at least humanity 22 years ago) isn’t all that bad. It’s a ridiculous book about a ridiculous endeavor.

Which is to say: I really enjoyed it. Tony had me laughing out loud at parts, and it’s a truly delightful book to tell people about (“No seriously: the fridge went surfing!”). It does have a nice travel element to it, though it’s less about the landscape of Ireland and more about the people Tony meets. At any rate, it was a delightful romp to the Emerald Isle in the middle of a cold winter.

Audio Book: The Witches are Coming

by Lindy West
Read by the author.
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s swearing, including lots of f-bombs, plus frank talk about sex. It’s in the Sociology section of the bookstore.

This book of essays, written in past couple of years and spurred on by the election of Donald Trump, is not just a feminist skewering of the alt-right and those attacking progress in all its forms. It’s also a reminder — especially for me, as a white, middle class, educated woman — that there are causes worth fighting for, that all sides (at least on the national scale) are not equal, and that it’s okay to be outspoken on things you believe in (and, to be fair: believing in things is a Good Thing).

It’s a reminder that “political correctness” is really just respecting other people and their identities and boundaries. A call that fat people deserve respect too, especially in this thin- and diet-obsessed culture. And maybe West is a White Woman, but (I thought, but I’m no BIPOC) she made sure she was trying to be inclusive and reminding those of us who are White Women that there are people out there who are marginalized and disadvantaged. And that there are people suffering while we’re sitting in our nice suburban households.

No, she’s not kind to the alt-right (but should she be?) or to the men who have abused their power for their own personal profit. And that’s part of what I liked about this. It was unapologetic and brazen and I loved that. It’s not going to resonate with all readers, but I think West knows that but she’s not trying to be palatable to all readers. She has Beliefs and she stands by them, and I can respect that.

And West is a good reader as well. She was entertaining and one of those readers I’d happily listen to for a long time.

Audio Book: North Korea Journal

by Michael Palin
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It’s a journal travelogue, so it’s probably only interesting to people who like Palin or are interested in North Korea. It’s in the Current Events section at the bookstore.

I haven’t seen the BBC special this journal is based on, but I don’t think it’s really necessary. Palin is an incredible diarist, and this is based on his experience gaining access to North Korea to film a travelogue and then his experiences during the two weeks he was in North Korea.

It’s a fascinating story: I don’t know much about the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is its official name) besides what we hear through the media, which (to be honest) isn’t much. Palin didn’t get a whole lot of access to the “common” people and when he tried to strike up political conversations, he was immediately shut down. What he did wasn’t often edited, but sometimes — like in the instance when he wanted to be filmed sending an anti-American postcard to Terry Gilliam — they preempted things from happening. The “minders”, as Palin called them, wanted to show North Korea at its best, so he wasn’t really allowed free access to the country. There’s an interesting postscript on the book written by one of the directors (I think; I can’t quite remember now) about the negotiating that needed to happen before they could even start filming, and how it was difficult to get across that they wanted to see “everyday” life, not just the Best of the Best.

It’s a fascinating book (and a short one!) and Palin’s delightful to listen to.

Highly recommended. (Now, to go see if I can find the show somewhere.)

Audio book: Talking to Strangers

by Malcolm Gladwell
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and talk about sexual assault, abuse, and rape. It’s in the Sociology section of the bookstore.

I think I’ve read Malcolm Gladwell in the past, but it’s been a very long time. However, after listening to an interview with him on It’s Been a Minute, I kind of felt like this was an important book to read. And I’m so glad I chose it on audio; it was a fabulous way to experience this book.

Gladwell takes the arrest of Sandra Bland in Texas in 2015 and examines it to find out what went wrong. He comes up with three areas that affect the way we talk to strangers: human’s tendency to default to truth — we always believe that everyone else is on the level; the expectation of transparency — that our faces show our emotions the way the faces in movies and television do; and the idea of coupling — that there are certain things that go together, like crime and certain behaviors.

It’s a fascinating and revealing book, one that makes me believe that our current crisis with tribalism and police brutality really might boil down to an incredible lack of understanding all around. We don’t really get to know people anymore, and so we’re constantly surrounded by strangers. Which means, we’re constantly relying on these faulty “tools” that we use to get by in society.

The audio is fabulous as well; instead of reading the book straight, Gladwell uses original audio as much as possible, so that it has the feel of a podcast rather than an audiobook. I think it made for a better reading experience than if I had just read it outright. It definitely gave me much to think about.

Highly recommended.

Once More to the Rodeo

by Calvin Hennick
First sentence: “I can’t even get us out the door right.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: December 10, 2019
Content: There is some swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and some talk of emotional and physical abuse. It will be in the Biography section of the bookstore.

Calvin Hennick is a white man who grew up in the Midwest. For him, that meant a hot mess of a family, a father that didn’t care and wasn’t there, and not looking back after he graduated college. He met his wife Belzie, who happens to be black, in New York, and they’ve made a life for themselves in Boston with their two children. As their oldest, Nile, turns five and is about to start kindergarten, Hennick gets this brilliant (maybe) idea: take Nile on a road trip, just the two of them, to Iowa to see the rodeo. On the way, maybe Hennick can teach Nile a bit about being a black man in American (though that’s probably not something Hennick, who is white, can do well) and maybe he can figure out this whole fatherhood business once and for all.

Lofty goals for a road trip, and Hennick really doesn’t achieve them. However, the joy really is in the journey in this book. Hennick weaves his experiences on the road with Nile — who really is a sweet and precocious little kid — with reflections on his situation growing up, and the lack of love and support he felt from the adults in his life. Honestly: I’m surprised Hennick didn’t end up staying in small-town Iowa, knocking some girl up at 15, and just becoming bitter. It’s a sterotype, but that’s where his life was pointing. He didn’t, though, and he is a moderately successful (and a very good) writer. He’s making life work. And if he has doubts and questions about his ability to be a good parent… well, we all do.

Still, it was enjoyable spending time with Hennick and Nile and going on a road trip from Boston to Iowa. And maybe I learned a little about being a decent parent along the way, too.