life’s work

I learned about Life’s Work by Dr. Willie Parker from Lizz Winstead’s excellent podcast Repro Madness, produced by women’s health and abortion advocate group Lady Parts Justice. Edited from Goodreads:

In Life’s Work, an outspoken, Christian reproductive justice advocate and abortion provider (one of the few doctors to provide such services to women in Mississippi and Alabama) pulls from his personal and professional journeys as well as the scientific training he received as a doctor to reveal how he came to believe, unequivocally, that helping women in need, without judgment, is precisely the Christian thing to do.

I was blown away by Dr. Parker’s rational take on why abortion does not contradict with Christian values. I appreciate that he acknowledges he was not always a proponent of choice, detailing out how his view changed through his upbringing in the poverty-stricken South, and his education and experience in the medical field coupled with a deeper examination of his faith. I have frequently questioned tenants of Catholicism, the religion in which I was raised (and made it through all the rites except marriage—that was in the courthouse for me), so of course hearing the account of a pro-choice Christian piqued my interest. Life’s Work is fairly short and I admit I’m already pro-choice, so I’m predisposed to like this book and agree with a pro-choice viewpoint, but I still learned things from Dr. Parker, like the ulterior motives of elderly, right-wing white men bringing legislation down to try to ban abortion entirely. Obviously they twist Christian beliefs to try to achieve this, claiming it’s about “saving unborn children,” when really it’s about resistance to (our wonderfully inevitable) future racial and cultural diversity.

I hope that people of all different ideological outlooks and faiths read Life’s Work. It’s an eloquent, though-provoking, brave memoir that I highly recommend.

Listened to audiobook in May 2017.

reading recap: may 2017

I read 13 books in May! Even though several were short and several were on audio, this might be a personal record for me. I also already hit 50 books (currently sitting at 51)! I can’t believe it. I guess this is what happens when you listen to audiobooks all day while you draw.

  • The Hearts of Men (audio) … Nickolas Butler, read by Adam Verner
  • Frankenstein (audio) … Mary Shelley, read by various
  • The Leavers (audio) … Lisa Ko, read by Emily Woo Zeller
  • The Road to Jonestown (audio) … Jeff Guinn, read by George Newbern
  • What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (ebook) … Lesley Nneka Arimah
  • There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (ebook) … Morgan Parker
  • The Teacher Wars … Dana Goldstein
  • Men Without Women: Stories (audio) … Haruki Murakami, read by various
  • Life’s Work (audio) … Dr. Willie Parker, read by Caz Harleaux
  • The Radium Girls (audio) … Kate Moore, read by Angela Brazil
  • Drinking: A Love Story (ebook) … Caroline Knapp
  • Parable of the Sower (ebook) … Octavia E. Butler
  • Bitch Planet, Book One … Kelly Sue DeConnick with Valentine De Landro

My favorites for the month, as usual, were the non-fictions: The Road to JonestownThe Teacher WarsLife’s WorkThe Radium Girls, and Drinking: A Love Story. I was fascinated by Jonestown and Radium, while Teacher Wars and Life’s Work are important pieces to understanding where we are on the topics of education and abortion today. Drinking was personal and raw, and made me think more deeply about my own use and relationship with alcohol.

Of the fictions, The Hearts of Men and What It Means When A Man Falls from the Sky really stand out to me, as well as a few stories from Men Without WomenParable of the Sower and Bitch Planet were recent picks for my international book club with my friend Anthony, and it was so great to read these along with him.

This last month I made a detailed plan for catching up on book posts here. I want to write a little bit about everything and I WILL get to it all! I’m traveling for several weeks in June and July, so I’m not sure how many posts I can write up and schedule ahead, but I’ll try my best to keep this space active a bit while I’m away.

I’m currently listening to Going Clear on audio, the exposé on Scientology that came out a few years ago, and it’s riveting so far. I also recently purchased Van Gogh’s Ear and Pachinko, which I’ve had my eye on for weeks! I also would like to pick up Chris Haye’s A Colony in a Nation and Roxane Gay’s new one, Hunger, while I’m on the road this summer. What are you planning for summer reading?
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reading recap: november 2016

Well… that happened. You know what I’m talking about. I think based on the books I read and love you can probably guess my political views. It has been surreal watching it all unfold from here in Singapore. Just surreal and frustrating and infuriating. Someone here recently asked me how I was doing after the election, and being crappy at hiding my feelings, I responded, “Oh, boiling over with rage.” “Still?” YES STILL, ALWAYS. Anyway. Needless to say, the election results didn’t exactly change my TBR entirely, as I have consistently been interested in learning more about social movements and justice, race, religion, history, politics, and culture. But the result certainly bumped certain books to the top of my list, and I did look up more books to add to the list. The result also stalled my book reading for about a week. I’m back into it though. Reading, educating myself, practicing empathy and understanding, and listening (and donating, writing emails, and signing petitions) are what I can do from abroad.

Here are my books for November:

november-reading

  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (audio) … Matthew Desmond
  • milk and honey (ebook) … Rupi Kaur
  • Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman (ebook) … Lindy West
  • No god but God (audio) … Reza Aslan
  • Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove … Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

I gave up participating in Non-Fiction November… sort of. Now looking at my list, I realize I read all non fiction except one. All these books were fabulous except for the the one fiction.

My favorites were Evicted and Mo’ Meta BluesEvicted and also No god but God are absolutely essential reads right now. Evicted follows several families in the Milwaukee area, trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty exacerbated by addiction, disability, unemployment, and more impossibly cruel circumstances. It is extremely well written—intimate portraits of these very real people and their very real problems. Desmond humanizes an epidemic and makes clear that welfare and housing assistance reforms are necessary immediately.

Mo’ Meta Blues was just a delight—Questlove is just a charming, humble, thoughtful human being. I’ve loved the Roots for a long time so this has been on my list since it came out in 2013. In his memoir, Questlove keeps it light while going deep at the same time, which is a real feat. Important moments in his own personal and Roots’ histories are referenced with cultural progression in the U.S., and his philosophical musings about the states of pop culture, hip-hop, and music criticism were intelligent and spot on. I wish I had kept a list going of all the songs and records he mentions in order to listen to them all later. I loved it.

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam is an accessible and informative book—Aslan brings to life the intricate, sprawling history of Islam and expands on its current varieties as well as how the religion has existed and relates in the world, including in the U.S. in the twenty-first century. This was an illuminating and fascinating book for me, especially right now.

Shrill was so much fun! I went from laughing out loud to feeling enraged to uplifted and empowered, often all in the same chapter. West didn’t come off as shrill at all to me, she’s insightful and self-aware of her own self and society. An excellent feminist read, I loved it—read it all in two days. Milk and honey was just okay. It started strong, but lost me halfway through. Only a few poems were truly striking, but many I breezed right over. Some were trite and some lacked originality—I know I’ve heard or read a few of the lines before in some of these poems. I was pretty disappointed in this poetry collection, it’s been sadly over-hyped in my opinion.

Here’s hoping for a better month to close out the year…
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pilgrim’s wilderness

I saw Pilgrim’s Wilderness by Tom Kizzia pop up a couple years ago when it first came out and decided to give it a listen on audio when it became available at the library.From Goodreads:

Pilgrim’s Wilderness is the bizarre and utterly fascinating story of how Robert “Papa Pilgrim” Hale and his 15-child self-named Pilgrim family came to settle deep in one of the most remote parts of Alaska, motivated by a belief that a simple pioneer life could be lived there in the twenty-first century. Celebrated by locals for his anti-establishment ways, Hale was eventually exposed as a cult leader-like sociopath with an extraordinary criminal past who brutalized his wife and children and kept them isolated, ignorant, and under his control.

Whoa, what a fascinating read! I could barely stop listening, it just became more and more twisted as components of Hale’s life fell apart. It went from bizarre to icky to downright frightening. The story is interesting on many levels, from the in-depth look at this family’s interpersonal dynamics to the external factors working against their lifestyle. I loved how McCarthy, Alaska was basically another “character” here. I’m not sure I dug the author’s infusing himself into the story, but, with investigative journalistic non-fiction, I understand it. Just maybe didn’t work for me so well in this case.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness is a great read for anyone interested in off-the-grid lifestyles, religious extremism and cults, environmentalism, small town community, and more. At first blush it does seem like an unbelievable tale, but it’s all darkly true. It was complementary to a recent novel I read, too, Our Endless Numbered Days.

Listened to audiobook from June 25 to 29, 2015.

survivor

Posting this during Bout of Books 10, part of my goals to catch up on neglected reviews! On our road trip to Ohio last month, Nick and I listened to Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk on audiobook. From Goodreads:

Tender Branson—last surviving member of the so-called Creedish Death Cult—is dictating his life story into the flight recorder of Flight 2039, cruising on autopilot at 39,000 feet somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. He is all alone in the airplane, which will crash shortly into the vast Australian outback. But before it does, he will unfold the tale of his journey from an obedient Creedish child and humble domestic servant to an ultra-buffed, steroid-and collagen-packed media messiah.

I have read a few books of Palahniuk’s before several years ago—Fight ClubChoke, and Lullaby. I’m not sure I would have ever classified him as a “favorite” author, but I enjoyed the sort of unconventional shock factor and biting commentary on society in his stories. I always meant to read more, but ya know. School, other random life things, other books. Now my husband has become interested in Palahniuk’s work so I thought this would be a great audiobook for us both on the road trip, and it was!

Survivor definitely has Palahniuk’s signature style, which contributes both to it’s success and flaws, I think. Great, creative premise and attention-grabbing story. However if you’ve read his other books, the protagonist is pretty familiar: a misanthropic anti-hero, fairly bitter about life and the world, disenchanted attitude, nihilist tendencies, signature flat-delivery touch of dark humor. And on top of that, in Survivor, the plot line sort of loosely followed Fight Club, with the quirky, confusing female love interest and the rebellion from the society in which he was raised, dealing with internal (and external) insecurities, an so forth.

But while these elements are familiar, I still enjoyed it. The settings of the cult and the airplane were great and interesting! Maybe Palahniuk is an author best enjoyed in infrequent doses. I read some other reviews and people seemed to be worn out on the similarities between his books a lot. Perhaps I liked this one more because it had been so long since I read anything by him? Anyway. I also thought the narrator (Paul Michael Garcia) did a fantastic job conveying Tender Branson’s personality (or intentional lack thereof!) and diversifying each character. Recommended for fans of dark, satiric speculative fiction!

Listened to audiobook from April 3 to 6, 2014.

under the banner of heaven

Time for another 2013 TBR Pile Challenge book! Reading one per month has been working really well for me, and also for the Eclectic Reader Challenge.

I can’t remember when or where I got my copy of Under the Banner of Heaven. I’m pretty sure I purchased it, and I know I chose it because I had already read and loved Into the Wild and Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. I am certain that I’ve had this book on my shelves since before I met my husband in 2006 and hadn’t read it yet… yikes!

Part exposé, part true crime, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith opens with the grisly 1984 murder of a young mother and her 15-month-old baby daughter at the hands of two of her brothers-in-law, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who were instructed by God to kill them. Krakauer investigates the murders and delves deep into the religion that the Laffertys follow, Mormonism—specifically Mormon Fundamentalism.

Another fascinating piece of investigative journalistic narrative from Jon Krakauer, this one in the vein of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, and a little bit like Erik Larsen’s books such as The Devil in the White City. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a fascinating religion with a rich and mysterious history, and Krakauer does an admirably meticulous job recounting details of important figureheads and key events since its founding. I found his writing to be observant, informative, and relatively free of subjectivism. I didn’t know much about Mormonism before reading Under the Banner of Heaven, and nothing about Mormon Fundamentalists or the other myriad sects, so this was a very illuminating book for me. I had only heard about Mormons when they came up in  national news, like when occasionally women and children flee isolated community compounds and be interviewed later, Elizabeth Smart’s disappearance in 2002, and more recently Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012.

Krakauer weaves the story of the Lafferty family with that of the history of the religion throughout the book, so here and there the chapters felt a bit disjointed. Also, due to the polygamous practices of the Mormon Fundamentalists, there are so many people involved—family trees are enormous and convoluted—that sometimes it was cumbersome to keep track of everyone. Overall though, it was a worthwhile book and I learned a lot. I was outraged at the treatment of women and children—rapes, mental and physical abuse, indentured servitude, pedophilia, incest, and so on. The American history aspect is incredible, too—just how young the religion is and how far it’s expanded in just two short centuries.

Side note: when Nick and I were in New York City in April we wanted to see the South Park creators’ show The Book of Mormon on Broadway, but the tickets were too expensive. Shoot! Hopefully a touring company will come through Kansas City eventually.

Under the Banner of Heaven was my sixth read of twelve books total for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge, hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader.

Read from June 6 to 13, 2013.