Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

SoldSold by Zana Muhsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holy shit.

Seriously, I have little to no words to describe this book. It’s not the most well-written piece in the world, but I’ll cut her some slack for being ripped from her native country of England at the young age of 16 and forced to speak another language for 8 years while she was beaten, raped, enslaved, and lied to, and as an added bonus, she got to watch her younger sister go through the same shit in the next town over.

See that run-on sentence? We can’t all write beautifully when we’re frazzled out of our minds. As of the writing of this book, Zana’s sister Nadia was still in Yemen. Part of Zana’s motivation for writing the book was to let people know what had happened to her and to raise enough awareness to get her sister out of there. Nadia has since returned to England with her children.

I don’t know what became of their father, the man responsible for selling them to two Yemeni families for 1300 pounds each. Toward the end of the book, when Zana is about to get a divorce from the man she was forced to marry, her father called, begging her not to leave Yemen. “I’ll be so ashamed, I’ll kill myself!” he said. The way their story was blowing up all over the world, I’m sure quite a few people would line up to help him out with that.

On a personal note, I read this a few months after a rather disconcerting conversation with my own father in which he repeatedly suggested that I require a husband and children to be happy, and I should change myself to accommodate this. Although he claimed his children are his greatest accomplishments, it was difficult for me to tell, since this was the first conversation we’d had since my grandmother (his mom) died. It sucks that he feels qualified to tell me what I should do when he has such an inactive role in my life. I’m happy already, and thankful every day for my comfortable home, stable job, unique side business, and fun activities. Yes, I’m sad my father can’t see that, but he never tricked me into going to Yemen so I could be abused by a miserable, impoverished family and forced into an arranged marriage.

So I got that goin’ for me… which is nice.

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An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About ItAn Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It by Al Gore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Turning a powerpoint presentation into a half-way interesting book is no easy task, particularly for politicians who’d much rather yap us to death than put it all in writing. However, Al Gore managed to do just that in the wake of a lost presidential campaign, and I think the world is better for it. This quick read is rife with visual aides, somewhat topical anecdotes, and easily digestible information that is suitable for audiences ranging from environmental novices, scientific experts, and global warming naysayers.

Even if you don’t believe global warming is a problem, go sit by a highway in Houston or LA and smell the shit in the air. Wouldn’t you want a cleaner burning vehicle if didn’t cost any more than what you pay now? Wouldn’t you want to live in a home more accessible to work/school/wherever you go if it was as cheap as living in the boonies? The book makes some convincing points about how altering habits and investing in better sources of energy today can have great benefits in the future.

Say what you want about Gore’s politics (and he couldn’t resist throwing a little bit in there, e.g., “I wanted to do x, but Bush did y“), but it’s clear he means well. Fighting for the environment is an uphill battle, and it’s hard to see an ulterior motive for someone to do it when most of the money is on the other side. If you’re not a Gore fan, pretend he’s just some random guy sharing travel photos and snapshots of his family and read the book anyway. It’s pretty quick and painless when you consider all the Bushisms we lived with for eight years.

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Boxelder Bug Variations: A Meditation on an Idea in Language and MusicBoxelder Bug Variations: A Meditation on an Idea in Language and Music by Bill Holm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my friends at the aquarium bought this for a dollar at Half Price Books. Everything about nature seems to interest her, so why not? I don’t know how we got to talking about box elder bugs. I haven’t thought about them since I was a kid, collecting them off the side of my friend’s house, giving them names (usually Moe), and drawing pictures of them. Although this book alludes to their “variations,” I can assure you every drawing looked the same. When you like to draw, but can’t do it very well, it’s best to choose a simple specimen, one that won’t get insulted when you get it wrong.

This collection of pictures, poems, and songs is an unexpected joy to read. With literary references that could redden any ivory tower, it doesn’t leave a single stone unturned when discussing our tiny black and red pals.

Five stars, huh? Yeah, FIVE. This book is just one more surprise example of the shared human experience. No matter how many people call you weird for liking something, there are at least as many people somewhere in the world who like it too and evidence of such is marvelous!

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Skinny Bitch: A No-Nonsense, Tough-Love Guide for Savvy Girls Who Want to Stop Eating Crap and Start Looking Fabulous! Skinny Bitch: A No-Nonsense, Tough-Love Guide for Savvy Girls Who Want to Stop Eating Crap and Start Looking Fabulous! by Rory Freedman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Written in a brazenly aggressive tone, this book reads like a mouthy older sister who knows what’s good for you and won’t shut up until you admit it. The word “bitch” is in the title, so I wasn’t surprised to see phrases like “a list that’ll make your nipples hard” and “so good your pubes will fall out”. In fact, the conversational style made it an exceptionally easy and enjoyable read one Sunday afternoon.

However, writing this way comes with a certain set of risks. In order to be taken seriously, the two former modeling industry veterans who authored this book were careful to cite their sources frequently; the bibliography goes on for miles and there are more than 200 footnotes. Was this tedious documentation done in vain? Perhaps. Everyone knows you can’t be smart AND pretty. (Ladies and gentlemen… sarcasm!)

The overall message of this book is great: Be in control of your body, make conscious decisions about what you put in it, don’t eat whatever is around “just because”, etc. However, they devote a large chunk of real estate to denouncing the USDA and the farming industry. In fact, if you subtract the pages of helpful ingredient definitions, daily menus, and added resources, more than half of the actual reading material consists of disgusting anecdotes about slaughterhouses and shady government practices. It’s important that the public knows this stuff, but Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation does it better.

I was expecting a little more science peppered with inspirational guidance. We get some of that through explanations of how your body metabolizes certain foods, why you need different vitamins, and the physical danger of consuming things you can’t pronounce. And I appreciate their direct, proactive approach to delivering common sense (e.g., read the ingredients before you buy something, if you don’t understand one of them, call the company and ask, etc).

I don’t read most diet books and magazines because they tend to coddle their pudgy readers, telling them exactly what to eat and what stupid little exercises they can do to “get tighter abs in 8 minutes a day!” As someone who recently toed the line of being overweight, I can attest to the formula for weight loss being as simple as “eat less, move around more”. Seriously, we’re not building rockets here, and this little book makes no such claims. Use your damn head.

These ladies push a vegan diet, and depending on how sensitive you are, their descriptions of the meat industry might gross you out enough to try it. I’ve found that making a point to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day is a simple way to guard against filling up on junk food. You have to do what works for you, and they recognize this. But be ready to cut out coffee, alcohol, sugar, and pretty much anything that brings a tinge of joy as you cram it down aching gullet.

Toward the end, the authors nicely include a note warning against going overboard, which I don’t doubt some people need. Even if you don’t go full anorexic, how much fun is it talking to someone obsessed with losing that last 5 pounds? Don’t be that bitch.

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Barrel Fever: Stories and Essays Barrel Fever: Stories and Essays by David Sedaris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The books begins with a tempestuous tabloid recount of the author’s numerous affairs with famous figureheads, including boxer Mike Tyson who apparently has a softer, gayer side that none of us knew about. Throughout the first chapter, the most prevalent thought in my mind was “What the fuck am I reading?” But of course, this is David Sedaris we’re talking about here, and perhaps the barrage of non-fiction literature I’ve been reading up to this point hadn’t prepared me for the silliness.

Although the book was clever and funny and everything you’d expect from Sedaris, I didn’t enjoy it as much as Naked, Holidays on Ice, or my absolute favorite, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

After the WTF wave passes, there are a few gems toward the end of the book. He bemoans the use of repetition to make a point, saying people must have learned to do this from watching bad TV. Instead of saying a cliche a second time to emphasize it, people should just say something original once if they really want to grab their listener’s attention.

He also calls out my favorite pet peeve, people who refer to themselves as crazy. I feel like I’ve run into these types all too often. “I am wearing two different socks, I’m so crazy!” “I’ve got a pet iguana, look at me! I’m nuts!” “I got drunk at a bar with my friends and we made a scene because we’re so crazy!”

If you have to tell me you’re crazy, you aren’t crazy enough.

And on the topic of smoking, a touchy subject whether you do it or not, he slashes a non-smoker who asks the narrating character, “Could ‘we’ make this a non-smoking park bench?” As Sedaris indicates, you’re not doing a smoker any favors by asking him to put out his cigarette. He won’t be profusely thanking the kind stranger who added 15 seconds to his life further down the road. You’re merely giving him an extra 15 seconds to hate your guts and think up ways to subtract at least as many seconds from yours.

His final essay recounting his days spent as an elf in a department store Santa wonderland provided a few good laughs. My favorite line was, “I couldn’t tell where the retards stopped and the regular New Yorkers began.” Although it’s an overstatement, it goes to show just how much fodder that city provides for an aspiring writer working at minimum wage.

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Guide to Getting It On! Guide to Getting It On! by Paul Joannides
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Written in a pleasant, conversational tone. Very informative and nearly all-encompassing. Probably best used as a reference. But since I’m me, I’m still trying to read it cover-to-cover.

***

And let us mark this momentous day, the day I finished The Guide to Getting It On! I purchased this book under the direction of my ex when we were still together… three years ago. I’ve been picking it up and putting it down periodically not due to anything lacking, but because at 850 pages, it’s friggin’ heavy!

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is sexually active. It was worth every minute I spent reading it, and I will probably continue referring to it from time to time. I can’t even begin to go into specific parts; all I can say is CHECK OUT THIS BOOK!

I feel like I just finished reading The Bible!

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Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is full of beneficial guidelines for living a mindful, peaceful life and helping those around you do the same. Even if it confirms what you already know, it is a pleasurable read and a beautiful inspiration to actively appreciate the positive aspects of living.

Like most other Buddhist works, it is centered around living in the present. I wasn’t expecting him to devote a section to the idea of hope as an obstacle, but it made good sense. It’s very easy to keep looking toward tomorrow, wishing for better days, but in doing that you’re practicing avoidance. Facing your current situation and dealing with it head-on isn’t always easy, but it’s heavily encouraged here.

I also appreciated Thich Nhat Hanh’s encouragement to eliminate distractions. We waste so much time being “entertained” that we forget to live our own lives to the fullest. Not being a fan of most television programming myself, I am all for turning off the TV and foregoing the 40,000 some-odd murders we see a year, the 80,000 or so companies shoving products and services in our faces that we must “buy now,” and the made-up numbers I use to talk about these unnecessary absurdities.

What’s more dangerous than violence and guerrilla advertising, I think, is what we neglect when we decide we’d rather be entertained than really alive. When we fall into the fantasy worlds TV, games, and online environments provide, we are putting aside the important people who comprise our actual worlds. If you have 30 minutes to kill, why not take a walk or write a letter to someone you haven’t seen in awhile? Even if you’re dirt poor and in the middle of nowhere, you can still meditate. It’ll clear out your mind and improve your mood over whatever the latest reality show is pushing.

Another main point of this book is to deepen your understanding of your friends and enemies alike. And then, it’s not enough to just understand, you have to act on this understanding. In order to reconcile your differences, you have to talk to the other person to test your real strength. Having the peace of mind to do this in a calm, well-executed fashion is tough, but when you come upon challenges like this, it is comforting to have this simple yet powerful book to lay the framework for some good meditation sessions.

“Peace Is Every Step” came at a good time for me. At this point in my life where everything seems to be in upheaval, it’s nice to remember that I can decide to be centered whenever I want. I need not depend on outside circumstances or other people to relax and find my own true happiness.

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