notorious rbg

It’s March 15 and it’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s birthday! What better day to write my post on Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik? From Goodreads:

You can’t spell truth without Ruth.
Only Ruth Bader Ginsburg can judge me.
The Ruth will set you free.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame—she was just trying to make the world a little better and a little freer. But along the way, the feminist pioneer’s searing dissents and steely strength have inspired millions. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, created by the young lawyer who began the Internet sensation and an award-winning journalist, takes you behind the myth for an intimate, irreverent look at the justice’s life and work. As America struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stays fierce. And if you don’t know, now you know.

Already I can tell this will be one of my favorite books of the year. I honestly didn’t know many details about RBG or her history, and Notorious RBG was an excellent primer. Her work on the Supreme Court has definitely been important and progressive, but learning more about her perseverance throughout her professional career as a woman, wife, and mother made her even more inspiring to me. I’m just in awe of her knowledge, dry wit, and tenacity. And the woman does TWENTY push-ups every day! Despite being a book born from the Internet (Tumblr, in this case), Notorious RBG is balanced well between personal life, professional accomplishments, and some playful, fun sections, too. I appreciated how the authors made the dissents and other legal items totally accessible.

This was an entertaining, informative, and unconventional biography. I was thrilled to see the news this week that a new book of her writings will be released early next year! But I can’t recommend Notorious RGB highly enough. The woman is a true American feminist hero.

Read from February 19 to 29, 2016.

just mercy

If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know I’ve been itching for some great non-fiction and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson was an incredible book that hit me right in the feels, as they say. I do have a fascination with learning about the American prison system and crime, so this was right up my alley. From Goodreads:

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

What a powerful memoir. Throughout the book, Stevenson recounts his youth and education, and also outlines the many issues with the current prison industrial complex, but the most powerful segments revolve around how his work effects him and his clients on personal and emotional levels. Chapters range from infuriating to hopeful, and ultimately I wanted to start this over right away after I finished it. Listening to Stevenson narrate added to the urgency and poignancy of the events in this book.

At the heart of this book is Walter McMillian’s case, who was sent to Death Row before he even had a trial. The obstacles Stevenson and his team faced to use the proof Walter was innocent were just enraging. It’s a piercing example of how Jim Crow still has a tight grip on our legal system, reiterating how racial oppression, poverty, and also mental illness are exploited to drive the highly profitable mass incarceration in this country.

Just Mercy was in line with two books I read earlier this year and found equally important and heartbreaking: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (my review) and Men We Reaped (my review). To go further, a couple more books I’m interested in reading now on this topic are Ghettoside and The New Jim CrowJust Mercy is an eye-opening account of a growing problem in the U.S. from the inside, and Stevenson’s dedication and compassion is truly inspiring. Can’t recommend this highly enough.

Listened to audiobook from June 4 to 18, 2015.

i never had it made

I had all these plans to write and publish blog posts over the holiday weekend (and after work this week) but couldn’t bear to be on the computer. Instead, I read, hung out with my husband and friends, and visited the Liberty Memorial at the National World War I Museum on Memorial Day. I also finished reading I Never Had It Made by Jackie Robinson on my e-reader. Edited from Goodreads:

Before Barry Bonds, before Reggie Jackson, before Hank Aaron, baseball’s stars had one undeniable trait in common: they were all white. In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke that barrier, striking a crucial blow for racial equality and changing the world of sports forever. I Never Had It Made is Robinson’s own candid, hard-hitting account of what it took to become the first black man in history to play in the major leagues. Originally published the year Robinson died, I Never Had It Made endures as an inspiring story of a man whose heroism extended well beyond the playing field.

I was reminded I had this in my e-reader when I was watching the Royals game on April 15—all the players (on all teams) wear #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (April 15 was opening day in 1947, Jackie’s first season in the majors.)

Jackie’s autobiography was surprising to me in a few ways, namely that it was less about baseball and more about other aspects of his professional life in business and politics. I also found it rather relevant to our current racial tensions and issues—I wonder what Jackie would have to say today.

The first freedom for all people is freedom of choice. I want to live in a neighborhood of my choice where I can afford to pay the rent. I want to send my children to school where I believe they will develop best. I want the freedom to rise as high in my career as my ability indicates. I want to be free to follow the dictates of my own mind and conscience without being subject to the pressures of any man, black or white. I think that is what most people of all races want. (96)

While I’m glad I read Never Had It Made and enjoyed getting a better idea of who Jackie was beyond his time on the field as a Brooklyn Dodger. He didn’t deeply analyze events or his feelings much, except for the very moving chapter about the death of his oldest son and throughout you can tell his love for his wife and family was palpable. But he recounting several hardships he faced growing up and “breaking the color barrier” in sports and business (being the first black corporate VP), and spats he had along the way with sports journalists and politicians alike.

I do wish he had covered his baseball career more extensively. I can’t be alone in that being the main interest for readers of this book, although his remembrance of his days in Montreal Royals was great—clearly he loved his time there! I admit to glazing over during the business sections a bit, and I also would have loved to learn even more about his role in the Civil Rights Movement. The prose is straightforward but rather blunt and dry, and can sometimes not feel so natural. But, Jackie was not a writer and from an era of strong-but-silent types, and I think the co-author here did a good job of conveying Jackie as a person and what concerned him during his lifetime.

On a personal note, this reminds me that I should stop by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum here in Kansas City soon! It’s been quite a while since my last trip. Jackie played for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945. (Just a fun fact from the biography project I did on Jackie Robinson in elementary school! 🙂 ) I’ll have to check out 42 soon, the movie that came out a couple years ago based on parts of I Never Had It Made.

I Never Had it Made is my third of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from May 9 to 23, 2015.

top ten tuesday: favorite non-book websites

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, a fun way to get yourself thinking and sharing about books and bookish things.

January 20: FREEBIE

Hey everyone, today’s Top Ten Tuesday is a FREEBIE! I’ve chosen to list my top ten favorite non-book blogs/websites. In no particular order:

  • KCMetropolis.org … Kansas City’s online journal of the arts! (yes, I’m biased 🙂 )
  • The Nation … oldest weekly magazine in the US: politics, culture, society, etc.
  • Wonkette … ALL TEH POLITICAL SNARK!
  • Green Bay Packers … I bleed green & gold, life-long fan, no matter what!
  • Daily Kos … Liberal website with political analysis of current US events
  • Think Progress … progressive, independent American blog; politics, climate, etc.
  • Tom and Lorenzo … “fabulous & opinionated”—Love them!
  • Vox … all-purpose current events site: politics, science, world affairs, culture, etc.
  • Reductress … hilarious satirical women’s magazine
  • Thrillist … food and restaurant lists, city/state-specific

What are your favorite non-book sites online?

the unwinding

In the aftermath of the disappointing (to me) November midterm elections, I thought there was no better time to finally read The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer, which I picked up earlier this year. From Goodreads:

American democracy is beset by a sense of crisis. Seismic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers, allowing unprecedented freedom while rending the social contract, driving the political system to the verge of breakdown, and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward. In The Unwinding, George Packer, author of The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, tells the story of the United States over the past three decades in an utterly original way, with his characteristically sharp eye for detail and gift for weaving together complex narratives.

Reading The Unwinding produced a lot of complex emotions in me. It’s been a long time since a book made me feel sad, helpless, and angry all at the same time. Packer presents the lives of several individuals—a factory worker-turned-community organizer, a biodiesel fuel entrepreneur, an equal-parts hopeful and cynical political operative, a poverty-stricken family—which expose the downward spiral the United States has been on for the last four decades. Mixed in are portraits of wildly successful people (Oprah, Jay-Z, Sam Walton), which stand in stark contrast to the lives of the “normal” folks. He also brings up the housing bubble, Great Recession, rapid decline of the once-thriving Rust Belt industries, Occupy Wall Street, and how Wall Street and Washington have become greed- and power-hungry bedfellows. An important person only briefly mentioned is Elizabeth Warren, and I HIGHLY recommend reading her memoir A Fighting Chance (my review) after this one if you have the opportunity.

I appreciate that Packer doesn’t overtly express his own opinions, though it’s fairly clear from his careful wording. He doesn’t share solutions or analysis of how the playing field of our nation has become so grossly disparate—the stories here are enough of an indictment themselves, with prosperity being wildly skewed in favor of the top 0.01 percent. This could easily be expanded with a sequel exposing other massive issues the United States is facing, like climate change, income inequality, race relations and the rise of apparent militarized police state, and religious beliefs pervading government policies, for example.

Though as I mentioned, the lives laid out here in The Unwinding often made me upset and incensed, I haven’t lost hope for my country. I have a little trouble articulating my feelings exactly, since we’re still in this mess… I wonder what it might be like to read this one in 20 years from now?

Read from November 6 to 30, 2014.

a fighting chance

Since my orchestra rehearsals started up several weeks ago (two per week, about a hour round-trip in the car each) I needed a new audiobook for the road. I’m so glad I picked A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren! From Goodreads:

As a child in small-town Oklahoma, Elizabeth Warren yearned to go to college and then become an elementary school teacher—an ambitious goal, given her family’s modest means. Early marriage and motherhood seemed to put even that dream out of reach, but fifteen years later she was a distinguished law professor with a deep understanding of why people go bankrupt. Then came the phone call that changed her life: could she come to Washington DC to help advise Congress on rewriting the bankruptcy laws?

Thus began an impolite education into the bare-knuckled, often dysfunctional ways of Washington. She fought for better bankruptcy laws for ten years and lost. She tried to hold the federal government accountable during the financial crisis but became a target of the big banks. She came up with the idea for a new agency designed to protect consumers from predatory bankers and was denied the opportunity to run it. Finally, at age 62, she decided to run for elective office and won the most competitive—and watched—Senate race in the country.

In this passionate, funny, rabble-rousing book, Warren shows why she has chosen to fight tooth and nail for the middle class—and why she has become a hero to all those who believe that America’s government can and must do better for working families.

LOVE HER. Elizabeth Warren is my new hero. I already loved her before this book, but even more now. She’s exactly the kind of politician we need more of in America: an assiduous advocate for the rights of the country’s citizens, not a bought-and-sold puppet to financial and corporate institutions who have shamefully turned our country into an oligarchy ruled by plutocrats. I would vote for her for any office in a heartbeat.

Warren’s memoir weaves her personal and professional lives together in a straightforward, approachable way. I feel like I have a much better understanding of Dodd-Frank, the Consumer Protection Agency, and more. No matter the subject, politics or family, Warren conducts herself with integrity and honesty, acknowledging any failings and blunders as she navigated the election process and being in the public eye. Her passion, dedication, and tenacity through her political journey is inspiring. She doesn’t mince words on what has gone down in the States:

I will be grateful to my mother and daddy until the day I die. They worked hard—really hard—to help my brothers and me along. But we also succeeded, at least in part, because we were lucky enough to grow up in an America that invested in kids like us and helped build a future where we could flourish. Here’s the hard truth: America isn’t building that kind of future any longer. Today the game is rigged—rigged to work for those who have money and power.

Preach it, sister. On audio, listening to Warren narrate her own story made experiencing this book even better—she’s a down-to-earth, genuine person just like the real, everyday people for whom she fights. Oftentimes I felt she was talking right to me, like she’s on my side, and I was actually kind of sad when I finished the book. What an awesome companion on my commute these past few weeks! Easily one of the best books of 2014 for me.

Listened to audiobook from September 18 to October 5, 2014.