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.

the heart goes last

The inimitable Margaret Atwood‘s latest, The Heart Goes Last, came out in the fall, and despite mixed reviews I couldn’t resist. Edited from Goodreads:

Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month—swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt, and sexual desire begin to take over.

I love Atwood, but this one went off the rails a little bit. The premise and the first half were great, very compelling—a biting commentary on capitalism and the prison industrial complex, gender roles, a frighteningly plausible near future in economic distress. I felt like just when it was getting good and juicy with life in this strange half-prison, half-1950s enclosed bubble, the story goes off on a weird journey with unexpected twists each one more ridiculous than the last. Sometimes Stan’s stuff was more interesting to me, and sometimes Charmaine’s was… although neither are very likable. I was curious to see how Atwood would wrap up this meandering plot, so I hung in there, and the final messages are pertinent to the story and thought-provoking.

I was entertained enough to finish, but it’s not my top Atwood read. That spot is still held by The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and CrakeThe Heart Goes Last started out as a serial, so it was easy enough to pick up whenever and read in small doses.

Read from November 15 to December 31, 2015.

missoula

As a big fan of his work, I’ve been waiting for Missoula by Jon Krakauer to come up available through my local library’s Overdrive on audio since it was released this past April, and finally got to it last week. Edited from Goodreads:

Missoula, Montana, is a typical college town, with a highly regarded state university, bucolic surroundings, a lively social scene, and an excellent football team with a rabid fan base.

The Department of Justice investigated 350 sexual assaults reported to the Missoula police between January 2008 and May 2012. Few of these assaults were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical.

A DOJ report released in December of 2014 estimates 110,000 women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are raped each year. Krakauer’s devastating narrative of what happened in Missoula makes clear why rape is so prevalent on American campuses, and why rape victims are so reluctant to report assault. Acquaintance rape is the most underreported crime in America. In addition to physical trauma, its victims often suffer devastating psychological damage that leads to feelings of shame, emotional paralysis, and stigmatization. PTSD rates for rape victims are estimated to be 50 percent, higher than for soldiers returning from war.

In Missoula, Krakauer chronicles the searing experiences of several women in Missoula—the nights when they were raped; their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the way they were treated by the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys; the public vilification and private anguish; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them.

As you can imagine, Missoula is a difficult book to get through. Krakauer is a relentless, dutiful researcher, and his work on Missoula is no exception. The subject matter is intense, very real, and a very real problem everywhere—Krakauer uses the single example of Missoula to illustrate the epidemic crisis that rape/sexual assault has become across the country.

I fully admit I was a bit shocked with the depth and detail of the descriptions of rape and assault—not for the faint of heart. But it’s completely necessary to the book and respectful to the victims for not sugarcoating what they went through. I was completely incensed at the perpetrators, the justice system for frequently failing these women, and even some citizen bystanders for heartless victim blaming. The cards are so stacked against women in this society that accusing a man of rape—especially a young man on a popular football team—more often than not is an exercise in futility. I can’t imagine being doubted, mocked, and shamed for a violent atrocity committed to YOU, and having to recount and relive this traumatic life-altering experience over and over again to police officers and lawyers.

One reason I gravitate to Krakauer’s books is that he maintains a clear-eyed perspective throughout. His tone is fair and without judgement, though you can usually tell which “side” he’s on. Missoula is an important, informative book for our times, and I suspect will go down as one of Krakauer’s more controversial works.

Listened to audiobook from November 17 to 21, 2015.

modern romance

On our anniversary road trip to Denver a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I (ironically) listened to Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari on audio. Edited from Goodreads:

At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated? In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

Modern Romance wasn’t quite what I expected… I guess I was thinking more along the lines of humorous personal anecdotes and silly “dos and don’ts” to dating. Turns out this book is more scientific, but not overly in-depth—Aziz does inject his brand of funny commentary throughout making it accessible. A lot of the book talks about how advancing technology has changed options and communication in dating, compared to how seemingly simple it was to find a mate just a few short decades ago.

I met my husband in grad school, neither of us had smartphones (we did text), and we did flirt a bit on Facebook, but our relationship was in-person right from the start. I never experienced dating in the modern technology age, really. I don’t think I’d even know where to begin with all the avenues Aziz and his writing partner Eric Klinenberg go over in Modern Romance. They focus on online dating sites and mobile apps, statistically successful profiles and awkward texting (and sexting), timing and mind games, and more.

Aziz does explain right at the start that Modern Romance covers mostly middle class heterosexuals, saying that delving into the romantic processes for homosexuals and other economic classes would be enough material for several other books in and of themselves. I liked the sections on the dating scenes of Japan, Brazil, and France, and also the interviews with people on their dating techniques and options in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I was pretty shocked (mostly at myself) at how “old fashioned” I guess I am—I can’t imagine being dumped via text, while apparently that has become an acceptable norm for people just a few years younger than me.

The audio was great; Aziz’s narration is hilarious as expected, but you do miss out on images and graphs. It was fun to listen to this one with my husband, several really good discussion starters in here for us!

Listened to audiobook from October 15 to 18, 2015.

between the world and me

I know I’m super late on writing this one, but I don’t feel right just skipping it because it’s one of the best books I read this year. From Goodreads:

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.

I was so moved by this book; I was brought to tears more than once. Coates tackles this brutal, urgent topic that effects us all in a poetic, even-keeled manner. I felt the heaviness of his heart and worry for his son’s future as I read. There are no answers or solutions presented here, just Coates’s interpretation of the American Dream, and that self-assessment, education, solidarity, and awareness are the ways to survive.

I’ll admit that I’m jaded some from my reality after graduating from college, but I’m also fully aware of my white privilege and that I’m living easy street compared to countless others. I was taught that if I work hard and “do all the right things” I’ll have a well-paying job out of college and a comfortable life. I’ll inherit the world, not just grow up in it. Young black Americans are given a very different message, rooted in fear and struggle and survival.

One of Coates’s most jarring (and now that I’ve read it and been made aware, accurate) assertions is that violence to black bodies is American tradition inherent. It’s a part of the system and designed by it, not a failure of the system. Why does it persist, if we’ve supposedly evolved as a society, right? Well, that’s a thought out of white privilege. Parents of black children live in fear everyday in a way that parents of white children need not—their children can be brutalized, jailed, and killed over the tiniest (or non-existent) offense.

Between the World and Me ranks right up there with Claudine Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric for me as far as urgency and potency. This is necessary reading for these times.

Read from September 7 to 10, 2015.

i am malala

I had this I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai on hold at my library for a while and it came through this past week. From Goodreads:

Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren’t allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn’t go to school. Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school. No one expected her to survive. Now she is an international symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

I’m sorry to say I didn’t know about Malala until after she was shot by a member of the Taliban in Pakistan. I honestly had no idea about her activist efforts for education and girls rights before the shooting, and she is even more inspiring now to me. Somehow I feel like this could be the first of several books about (or by) Malala to come in the future.

The copy that I borrowed was the young readers edition, and so, as an adult, the writing was simplistic and sometimes repetitive, but I think that might be a positive attribute for this edition—it read in Malala’s voice and she is quite an endearing “normal” teenager. This edition glosses over Pakistan’s history and the uprising of terrorism there (“One day, a man announced on the radio…” etc.) but there is a helpful timeline in the appendix. If you want more history and analysis, I’m sure there are plenty of other books on the subject; I’ve even seen online that the “adult” version of I Am Malala delves more deeply into history, and her father’s work and background.

Anyway, Malala is a charming, bright, wise-beyond-her-years person and I look forward to following her career in human rights. This is a perfect, important book for young teens around the world to read.

Read from July 28 to August 2, 2015.