Showing posts with label adult non-fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adult non-fiction. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Once We Were Sisters by Sheila Kohler


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook fail. It sounded interesting from the blurb, but don't they all? Well not really, but many of them do! The blurb says (yes in block caps!) that this is "ONE OF PEOPLE MAGAZINE'S BEST NEW BOOKS." It adds that People thinks it's "An intimate illumination of sisterhood and loss." No, it really isn't. I immediately made a mental note never to trust a People magazine rating. The blurb also says that according to the BBC, this is "A searing and intimate memoir about love turned deadly." No, it isn't. It's a rambling recollection of a childhood that was seemingly obsessed by defecation. I kid you not.

The most absurd aspect of the blurb though was when it said, "Kohler evokes the bond between sisters and shows how that bond changes but never breaks, even after death" yet the memoir is titled, "Once We Were Sisters" like that no longer holds. Unbreakable bond? Bullshit. Had it been a truly unbreakable bond, Maxine would never have died so tragically.

So the blurb was at best hypocritical, but unless they self-publish, authors typically don't write their own blurbs. In my experience that chore is typically consigned to the most inept member of the publishing team. The fact that none other than Joyce Carol "Feeling Her" Oates says this is "Highly recommended" ought to tell you all you need to know about how useless these recommendations truly are.

The author got the news that her older sister by two years, the thirty-nine-year-old Maxine, had died when her husband drove them off a road in Johannesburg. The blurb tells us that, "Stunned by the news, she immediately flew back to the country where she was born, determined to find answers and forced to reckon with his history of violence and the lingering effects of their most unusual childhood--one marked by death and the misguided love of their mother."

To me that sounded like it would make for an interesting read, and maybe provide some ideas for a story of my own? Who knows? I'm always open to ideas but that's not my primary motivation for reading anything, especially not something that came off sounding like a detective story, but in the end it wasn't: there was no detecting and there were no answers offered.

Anyway, I checked it out of the library I adore and started listening to it right away, and I noted the first problem: it's written exceedingly sparsely. It's more like a set of notes for a memoir rather than a finished work. It's read pretty well - if somewhat quirkily on occasion - by the author, but the story itself really isn't anything special or very engrossing. Apart from the excrement fetish, it's nothing more than the usual childhood recollections that any family of similar circumstances might relate. Why all this stuff and nothing about finding answers? I'm guessing this is because there were neither answers sought nor found. I have my own theory about why this memoir was written which I shall go into shortly.

It's obviously set in South Africa, but you really wouldn't know it from the writing. Apart from an occasional reference here and there, this memoir could have been of any wealthy, slightly dysfunctional family, living anywhere, which had rather more tragedy than any family ought. There really was very little to anchor it to South Africa and the story jumped around too much between early childhood and later life, so we have the author talking about an eight year old in one paragraph, having babies (which seemed to excite her quite a lot) in the next, and then back to relating how she, as a child, had urinated through the wicker chair on the porch. Really? As a listener, I wasn't prepared for the jumping between different ages, let alone for the entirely unnecessary revelation about urination.

I don't do prologues (or prefaces, introductions, author's notes, and so on). To me they're misplaced at best, and fatuous at worst, but it's often hard to avoid them in an audiobook. I managed it here, but not without hearing the opening sentence to the prologue, which said, "This is a story about South Africa" No, wrong again! I was truly sorry because I'd wished it was, but it wasn't. The truth is, it seemed to me, that this was about the author: her childhood, her love of babies ...and defecation, her spoiled-rotten life and oh yes, I think there might have been a few mentions of this beloved sister.

The saddest thing is that even when she told us of this life of hers, it was always superficial. There were never any real insights into living in the depths (and I do mean depths) of apartheid or even anything insightful in her relationship with her sister. It was always about the author, and only the shallowest recollections even of that. This is why the story felt so bland and generic rather than richly-hued and personal.

These sisters thought nothing about jet-setting and going on ritzy vacations and fashion-buying trips to Europe, leaving their children behind. Neither did they have a problem taking lovers, yet they would not leave abusive husbands? The most powerful thing that this author conveyed to me is not so much how utterly clueless she is (or was: maybe she wised-up) about real life, but how thoroughly shallow, self-centered, and superficial she is. I detected no sign of any love here for anything but her own comfort.

Ultimately the saddest part of this is that it would seem that the author knew her sister's marriage was a bad one: that her husband was physically abusive to his wife and their children and yet no one did a thing about it. They just let it run its unnatural course and so it seems that her sister's untimely and violent death was an inevitable outcome, and that the blame for it really needs to be placed elsewhere than on this psychotic husband's shoulders. Her mother forgave her son in law. Sheila never pushed for an investigation regardless of what the blurb says.

When Maxine had indicated there were problems, she was never offered any assistance by her family, so we're forced to conclude from this memoir. Where was the love? Where was the bond? It felt like her mother and sister had said to Maxine: you made your bed; now you must die in it. In her own words, Sheila pretty much told her sister to stay in the marriage for the sake of her children, thereby ultimately condemning her to death. And it's unclear whether Maxine's husband drove the car off the road or whether Maxine took hold of the steering wheel to end it all, or whether it was simply an accident. He was wearing a seatbelt. She wasn't. Still, today in South Africa only about six in ten drivers use a seatbelt.

Had the memoir been written differently, I may have experienced it differently and now been able to view it differently, but I could only review what the author offered, and what this felt like was less of a loving memoir, or an attempt to find some truth, as it was a determined effort assuage a tortured soul: to seek absolution for the author's inexcusable inaction in light of her sister;s suffering.

In the end, it was really nothing more than an attempt to turn a hard, harsh marble sculpture of a life into a soft, pretty, pastel watercolor, and in that light, it was quite sickening to listen to. It's a very short memoir, which is just as well, because if it had been any longer I would not have stayed with it to the end, As it was, I found myself skipping parts here and there. I cannot commend this at all. It doesn't remotely feel to me like it's a fitting memorial for the tragic life of a prematurely deceased sister.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Bad Feminist Roxane Gay


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I requested after becoming interested in the author from my reading of World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates. The problem is that unlike the graphic novel, which I loved, this book was self-obsessed and boring.

Let's get one thing clarified right up front: it has nothing whatsoever to do with any brand of feminism, good, bad, or indifferent (and however you might foolishly try to define those!), so the title is completely wrong and disgustingly bait and switch. This is evidently one of those books where the author puts together a collection of essays and takes the title of the collection from one of its constituents. I always have a problem with that precisely because it is too often misleading.

In this case it was especially misleading because this is far more 'Bad Memoir' (assuming there are really good ones, which I confess I sometimes doubt) than ever it is anything else. The essays are just god-awfully rambling, self-serving recollections from her life, and not even ones that offer anything new, or insightful, or any great wisdom. I'm neither black nor gay and this book revealed nothing to me about either quality which told me anything I had not heard or read before, or thought of myself. So what was the point?

After listening to some essays and skimming some others, I quit this and went to look at some reviews to see if it was just me who felt this way about it, and no, it wasn't. Others had come independently to the same conclusion, and this is where I discovered that there's barely a thing in here about feminism. So maybe after all, the title is right and it's bad feminist because it contains so little about the topic in the title? Maybe? LGBTQED?

Anyway after reading those reviews, I felt no compulsion whatsoever to go back in here and listen to any more. All I can say is that I'm disappointed, sadly disappointed, and I cannot recommend this, especially since I'm unwilling to commend it in the first place!


Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Imitation game by Jim Ottaviani, Leland Purvis


Rating: WARTY!

This was disappointing graphic novel which spent too much time on the wrong topics, I felt. Plus it was too long and rambling, and tried to cover too much ground instead of focusing on the core points. That said, it did a better job than the movie of the same name, which was rife with inaccuracies, and no amount of arguing that no-one expects a painting to be a photograph can excuse some of the inexplicable changes that were made in depicting Turing's life at Bletchley Park in that movie, as engrossing and fascinating as it was in parts.

The story is of course Alan Turing's life and his World War Two work on cryptography. Both this and the movie are based on Andrew Hodges's Alan Turing: The Enigma, and at least this graphic novel inspired me to read that, but the biography is over seven hundred pages long, so it will be more of a skim with a detailed reading of points of interest since I do not have the time to read a seven-hundred-page book.

Alan Turing was gay during a time when gay meant something like 'party animal' and nothing more, and when homosexuality was literally illegal - and of course the punishment for a man who loved men was to incarcerate him with a whole lot of men. This made sense how? You could argue (if you were a spiteful SoB) that the way to punish male homosexuals should be to incarcerate them with women, but that seems to me like it wouldn't work either! It makes far more sense not to have it be illegal in the first place!

The art by Purvis was scrappy and unappealing to me and the text by Ottaviani was at times confused or at least confusing and lacking sharpness and clarity, so I took to skimming parts of this. Overall he story was interesting enough to make me game to consult the source rather than read this pale imitation, but as for this version, I can't recommend it.


How to Speak Science by Bruce Benamran


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Translated from the original French by Stephanie Delozier Strobel, this is a chatty, loose look at science and its history and the people who made that history, and it’s often light on the science and heavy on the chat. This might have something to do with the author having a French language You Tube channel (e-penser) on this same topic. The author has an easy, breezy tone, which can make for a nice read, but can also be annoying, and sometimes I think he assumes too much, such as when he says, "The other school of thought was led by Democritus - and of course Leucippus before that."

I found myself asking, why 'of course'? I'm not a scientist nor an expert on science, but I am very well-read for a lay-person and I try to keep up on science and technology as time permits, yet I'd never heard of Leucippus and I'd guess that most people have not, perhaps even including most scientists, so I didn't get why the author writes like everyone knows this already! No, we don't! Or maybe I'm just cantankerous today!

There was some looseness about grammar in the book, too, such as when I read, "...seemed to made it his life's goal...,' which should have been 'make it' (of course!). Not long after this I read, "Such as, running electricity through water (electrolysis) to break down two volumes of water...yields two volumes of hydrogen gas (H2) and one volume of oxygen gas (O2)." I didn't understand the 'two volumes of water' bit! To me it would have made more sense to talk about a volume of water.

Perhaps this sentence, in a section talking about the transmutation of one substance to another and the work of Lavoisier and Dalton, was transmuted itself, but the transmutation didn't complete properly, leaving two half sentences mismatched together instead of one intelligible one? It was issues like this that made me feel this book could use another read-through before publishing. Since this is a translation, it’s hard to say if these problems reside with the translation or with the original authorship, be advised. And since this was a ARC, perhaps these issues have been corrected since this version was made available for review.

There was unintentional humor, too! In a section talking about Giordano Bruno, there was a numeric reference to a footnote which revealed the source of the quote. It's after the colon in the following sentence "Bruno also believed that God was both the mystical minimum and maximum: the monad, source of all numbers" The numeric reference was 6, but it was repeated - a regularly-sized six, followed closely by a smaller, superscript six. I believe this was a duplication of the reference number. It's a pity it wasn't a triplication which would have given us an amusing 666! Although there are some who believe the number of the beast was not 666 but 616, which is several doors down the street. But again, another read-through would benefit the text and catch minor issues like this.

The overall readability though, is good, although there are some oddities and annoyances. The author refers to draft dodger Muhammad Ali when he compares a heavyweight hitter to a problem, but Ali wasn't the greatest by any measure. He comes in third after Wladimir Klitschko and Joe Louis in cumulative title wins, most opponents beaten, and most wins in heavyweight title bouts, and seventh after those two in Longest individual heavyweight championship reigns. There isn't any category where he comes out on top. Except motor mouth, maybe! He was an amusing and sweet guy so I understand but not the self-described greatest.

This is a matter of preference and a minor issue really, but to me it was suggestive of the author going for easy rather than realistic, which is odd choice for a science volume. I could see that sort of thing in a creation "science" book, but in a real work of science? I think the same problem evidences when he tries endearments such as overusing the term "dear readers" and his repeated "joke" when he uses the word 'people' and consistently follows it with "the species, not the magazine" even when 'people' isn't capitalized. The first time might have been amusing, but repeating it endlessly? Not funny. In fact, I found both of these things truly annoying and distracting from the import of the book itself.

On big problem is that this book was written as a print book with academic inclinations, which means it has very wide, tree-killing margins. In an ebook, it matters less because no trees were harmed in its production, but this still doesn't get it off the hook. More voluminous books usurp more energy when stored, retrieved, and transmitted, so a shorter book is always wiser if it can be achieved without seriously compromising readability and quality. Narrower margins would have made this book shorter and less abusive of trees. In a world where trees are really the only entity fighting greenhouse gasses with any determination and application, I can’t favor a book which advocates killing more of them.

There were other issues caused by this being designed from the ground up as a print book and then sent to lowly amateur reviewers like me as an ebook. The organization of the printed page, if it’s anything other than straight-forward text, doesn't translate to screens on a smart phone! The print version has what the author calls 'focus panels' - which I assume are small, hived-off sections, perhaps outlined by a border, which briefly digress into a topic mention in the main text. This might well have worked admirably in the print version, but in the ebook, there is no demarcation between these focus panels and the main text other than a change in font.

Aside from that, one section runs right into another so that, for example, in the chapter on light, in a section talking about Arab scientist Abu Ali al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham, known more commonly as Alhazen (the author tells us) one screen ends with “...mainly by Ibn“ and the next screen starts with a section on reflection and refraction, which occupies almost the entire screen. Confined tightly to the bottom of that screen is the rest of the sentence that was begun on the previous screen. It’s really disruptive to reading. Evidently no thought whatsoever was given to producing an e-version of the book wherein the focus panels are turned into links which can be tapped to read the content and then tapped again to return to the text. That’s annoying at best.

The section on al-Haytham was regrettable in another way. The author introduces this amazing scientist with the admittedly awkwardly long name, especially for we westerners, and then diminishes the man by saying, "I'm going to shorten that to 'Ali', no offense intended by using the nickname." I did find that offensive. The name Ali is not actually an insulting name in Arabic. It means something along the lines of 'esteemed', or 'worthy', but in western hands it has come to be a term that's at best dismissive and at worst abusive of someone of Arabic descent. I don't understand this patronizing usage. Why not simply use his "last" name (al-Haytham) as he would any other scientist? Why not use the already established 'nickname' of Alhazen? Going the way he went is the equivalent of saying of Einstein, I'm going to shorten that to 'Fritz', no offense intended by using the nickname! Or of saying of Richard Dawkins, I'm going to shorten that to 'Dork', no offense intended by using the nickname. It is offensive, period.

I made it about a quarter of the way though this book. I could read no more of it after I read this in a discussion of the antiquity of telescopes: "[Telescopes] were primarily used on ships for looking at things that were far away...and sometimes, I'm sure, for watching the hottie next door through the window without being seen." I know this guy is French and maybe they think they have a disreputation to keep up, but seriously? It's inappropriate. He couldn’t have said "for spying on the person next door'? Or even 'for spying on the woman next door'? It had to be 'hottie'? That was less than fifteen percent into this book of some 330 pages, so I felt like I ought to have read more than this , but I flatly refuse to continue after a comment like that in a science book. It's supposed to be aimed at the lay reader, not at readers who can only think of getting laid.

In a world where myth, rumor, wild-ass blind conviction, religious fervor, and gossip are all-too-rapidly taking the place of established facts, people need a solid grounding in science and critical-thinking more than ever, and good science books can help. I didn't feel that this one does help, so while I wish the author all the best tackling subjects outside his field of expertise, I cannot recommend this particular effort as a worthy read.


Boob Job by Natalee Woods


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Subtitled "Confessions of a Professional Bra Fitter" this was the rather tedious story of the author's experiences in the lingerie section of a department store, fitting women for bras. The blurb tells us that "Woven into the humor are subtle and profound insights into larger issues, such as the relationship between women and their bodies, evolving ideas about women's breasts and their sexual, social, and cultural implications, and how women negotiate all these influences and pressures as they stand before the mirror in the dressing room," but I got very little of that!

I gave up on this about a third of the way through as I read what seemed to be the same story yet again - of fitting an older woman with overly large and/or pendulous breasts for a bra, or of fitting a youngster for a bra, or of fitting a 'thrown over wife' for a bra. It was far too repetitive in describing the women, describing the sweat, describing the lingerie draped on hangers, describing grabbing the tape measure.

It offered no insights whatsoever into "larger issues" unless those issues were breasts, and it seemed far more interested in fangirling over the guy in men's suits than exploring the female condition. I think we would have gotten far better insights into that very topic - and more authentic and realistic ones - if this same author had hung out in the fitting area of a Target store and listened in on the conversations there rather than in an exclusive, high-priced department store.

You can't take the experiences and mindsets of rich, spoiled women and think they apply to everyone. It doesn't work like that, and even if it did, as I said, no such insights were forthcoming unless they were all held back for the second half of the book where, like a female fitting room, I had no interest in venturing. Based on what I read, I can't recommend this. I had expected a lot better from someone who writes for Huff Post. I guess I learned my lesson!


Friday, June 1, 2018

Doing Harm by Maya Dusenberry


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a great book about gender problems within modern medical practice. There is a systemic bias against women not only in how many women get into medicine and just as importantly, get onto professional medical boards, but also in how women are perceived and treated as patients and even how medical studies exclude women. The contents list is quite short, but the book is quite fat and very dense. I liked the fact that it was not written in an academic style which means wide, tree-killing margins and acres of wasted paper. Just the opposite here! What it does mean is lots of detail to wade through, and I confess I skipped some sections once I'd got a good sense of the general topic.

Topics in part one cover things like a knowledge gap and a trust gap, both of them serious. The author tackles issues from lab rats (mostly male!) to human tests (mostly male) to how a female patient is perceived by the majority of doctors versus how that same doctor views a male patient. There are anecdotal stories, yes, and those are tragic, telling of women who took forever to be taken seriously when they showed up reporting pain, but these individual stories are backed by study after study which shows that sexism in the practice of medicine is rife at all levels, harking sadly back to an era when women's medical complaints were far more likely to be brushed off as 'hysteria' than they were to be taken seriously, diagnosed, and treated.

Part two investigates heart diseases and auto-immune diseases, relating how people have taken literally years to get a decent diagnosis after being dismissed repeatedly by multiple male doctors many of whom would rather overlook a woman's reported symptoms of pain, labeling them as attention-seeking or drug-seeking. Ninety percent of lupus cases are in female, yet it takes longer to diagnose a woman with lupus than it does a man because of the lack of regard doctors have for female medical complaints. Black women not only received an even shorter end of the stick, they were beaten with it being dismissed as drug-seekers, despite the fact that the largest abuse of prescription drugs is by whites! Racism. Genderism. It's the same old story.

Part three is amusingly subtitled "The Disorders Formerly Known as Hysteria" but it's no joke how the possession of a womb, the most important thing to the continuation of the human race, gets its owner dismissed and labeled as not a serious patient. It was depressing to read story after story of people failing to get vital treatment not because they didn't have a medical issue but because doctors wouldn't believe they had one. it's sickening and it needs to stop. Hopefully this book will at least start a serious movement away from status quo.This is an important book, to be taken seriously and to be seen as a call to alarms when over half the population is being discriminated against in very real and dangerous ways. I fully recommend this as a worthy, if sad, read.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

VBQ—The Ultimate Vegan Barbecue Cookbook by Nadine Horn; Jörg Mayer


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

It's been a long time since I've been a vegan, but as a vegetarian I still keep my eye on what's happening and this is why I requested this for review purposes, because it's a topic you don't often see: a barbecue cookbook for vegans! Lots of recipe books, but nary a barbecue book amongst them!

This one was full of tasty and useful suggestions, hints and tips, including information about selecting a maintaining a Barbecue grill - even if you live in an apartment (assuming you have access to some outdoor balcony or something where you could grill). It begins with a lengthy section on barbecuing in general, followed by an introduction to barbecuing vegan style with lots of useful pointers about grilling just right, including retaining moisture and not over-grilling.

The next few sections cover burgers, sandwiches and patties, then "steaks" (including Seitan style!), "sausages", and skewers, stuffed, braised, and grilled veggies, grilled "cheese" sandwich, chapatis, veggie chili, sweet potato buns, pizza (including Vietnamese style!), wraps, and so on. The last time I grilled a wrap my wife refused to wear it and made me buy her a new one! I could probably have used the advice in this book right then! But seriously, the book goes on to cover salads (including Sichuan style!) and sauces, basics, bread, and more, so it's pretty darned comprehensive.

The only complaint I would have is one which I have about all ebooks which contain photos. It's nothing to do with these authors or this book in particular. Actually you could blame me, because I read my books in 'night' mode which saves on battery power because it lights up only the text, leaving the screen background black. The problem with this is that all images show negative, so you have to put it back into daytime mode to see the image as the author(s) intended. I'm not sure anything can be done about that - although you'd think it oughtn't to be beyond today's technology. So this is a ebook reader/ebook app issue, not a problem with this book per se.

That aside, I recommend this book for a refreshing variety of ideas, food preparation tips and tasty meals! Grilling ain't just for carnivores any more!


Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Heart and the Fist by Eric Greitens


Rating: WORTHY!

This was yet another audiobook I picked up on spec from my sterling local library, and while I confess to some disappointment in it, I have to recommend this as a worthy read overall.

The blurb makes much of the author's Navy Seal training and service, but that portion of this story occupied less than a third of the book! This disappointed me, because it was the part in which I was most interested. The rest of the book covers his time in college, which includes some interesting experiences in Rwanda and China, but he also rambled on and on...and on about boxing, which bored the pants off me (fortunately, not literally, which would have been embarrassing), but I skipped this part wholesale.

For me this was the biggest problem with what was otherwise a decent read: the author seemed not to know how to prioritize, which felt to me like an extraordinary flaw in a writer whose professional career must have consisted - as an officer in the Seals - in reliably and ably setting priorities! I guess he wrote about what made most impression on him without wondering if it would have that same impact on the reader.

While his entire story, taken as a whole, was worth listening to, I can't help but think that others might have wished for more about his military experiences too; however, what there was of them was educational and of real interest, and this is the part to which I listened most intently. Once again he reiterates what I've heard from other knowledgeable and competent sources: torture isn't the way to get information out of terrorism suspects. Who knew?!

The book is read by the author and he does a good job. I'm very much in favor of authors reading their own work in audiobooks although it seems to happen infrequently. I don't think anyone can feel their work better than the person who wrote it, and therefore cannot give it the life it deserves like the author can. There were times when this author's diction was less than crystal clear, and he had a habit of starting a sentence five by five (as a military person might say) and then tending somewhat to a wooden two by two as he finished which resulted in an incoherent mumble form time to time, but this was no big deal.

There was one section where he went on at length about a ceremony involved in crossing the equator for the first time, but while I am sure this was memorable and meaningful to him, it was completely lost on me as far as entertaining reading goes, and once again it went on interminably. I lost patience with that and skipped it as I did with his boxing stories. Other than that I found this book to be eminently listenable, moving, and satisfying, and I recommend it.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Running is my Therapy by Scott Douglas


Rating: WARTY!

This from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This author runs to help relieve symptoms of depression, and this book is intended to support and disseminate that idea. I think that's a good idea in principle, and I wanted to like and recommend this book, but the more I read of it, the less I liked it. It came across as being way too pushy and preachy, and even strident in its premise that running and only running (as opposed to other forms of aerobic exercise) can bring salvation. I know the author is very enthusiastic in his convictions, but this felt too much like evangelism, propaganda, and elitism for my taste.

The author does quote some studies to support his thesis, but when I looked up some studies myself, they didn't specify running! They specified aerobic exercise. For example, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110 says quite clearly, "We don't know exactly which exercise is best. Almost all of the research has looked at walking, including the latest study." It adds a quote from a Dr McGinnis who says, "It's likely that other forms of aerobic exercise that get your heart pumping might yield similar benefits." In addition to quoting a study which talks only of aerobic exercise and then immediately translating 'aerobic' into 'running', the author tends most often to quote people he knows, but anecdotes are not studies, and most of the people he knows seem to be professionals - lawyers, accountants. and so on. I saw no quotes from people in less ethereal professional jobs, such as teachers, and none from your everyday people who work in anonymous office cubes and on factory floors, who may not enjoy the freedom other people have to be running. This smacked strongly of elitism to me.

The author does say that aerobic exercise works differently for different people so your results may not be as advertised. In my amateur opinion, no one should consider it to be an alternative to medical treatment without discussing it with qualified medical personnel. Maybe it can replace your meds, maybe it can reduce your dependence on them, or maybe it will not help at all; only a qualified medical practitioner can advise you on that score and on the advisability of running for any individual in view of whatever their health status may be, but as long as you're physically capable, no harm will come from talking a little exercise of one sort or another, and it can bring much good.

While I think this book has some great ideas and suggestions, the feeling I got was that this author was so enamored of running that he rather forgot that there are other ways to get exercise and 'generate those endorphins'. It seemed to me that he was taking a rather narrow view of exercise. Running does get your blood flowing, but it is also quite high impact exercise and can carry with it potential for injury and for damage to joints and bones, so any program of exercise should be undertaken with care, and unless you're reasonably physically fit to begin with, it's always wise to consult your doctor before embarking on anything that's unusually strenuous as compared with your normal habits.

At one point the author discusses evolution and how humans evolved to chase down prey, but this is a truly dim view of our history. Humans did not run five or ten miles every day. They doubtlessly walked a heck of a lot more than most of us ever do nowadays, and they ran if they had to, but they never went jogging except as a means to get from A to B. They spent their time trapping and foraging. There's was no way they could run down a four-legged animal. They could stampede an animal into a trap, or kill it by employing subterfuge, but to equate them to modern runners and claim this is what we evolved to do is patently nonsensical. We gave up our claim to being any kind of running paragons when we stood up on two feet.

On top of this, there may be issues with running - your neighborhood may not be a safe one for running in, and it's also known that running can be hard on legs, feet, and joints, yet by the time I pretty much quit this book - over half way through - I had read not one single negative assessment of running or even caution from this author. Everything was positive and hunky-dory. Anything from ankle sprain, to Achilles tendinitis, illiotibial band problems, ligament tears, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis are all on the menu for runners, but not a single one of those terms appears anywhere in this book. We hear a lot about runner's high, but not a word about runner's knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome). I have to wonder just how rose-tinted those eyeglasses are that this author evidently wears. Note that if you run with correct form and good (read expensive!) shoes, you can stave-off the worst injuries, but any runner might be subject to any one of these problems at any time.

On the topic of endorphins, there needs to be clarification. Endorphins are generated by the body as a result of physical stress and injury (in other words, as we were just discussing, running damages your body!), and while exercise does increase endorphin levels in the blood, they don't tend to pass through the blood-brain barrier, which means they don't affect your brain much. They do affect your body and this in turn can lead to a good feeling about yourself because you're essentially running your own internal morphone factory - duhh! Also, note that endorphins affect different physiologies in different ways and you may well have to run for an hour before you generate significant endorphins, so a short run isn't necessarily going to work for you. Note though that there are other chemicals that are active in the brain, and this is what might help mental faculties and relieve symptoms of depression.

These chemicals are actually a result of the body experiencing stress or pain, which might explain why walking doesn't work as well in generating the chemicals, but any aerobic exercise that gets your heart rate up ought to do the same trick - such as riding a bike - either stationary or outdoors - or dancing, or weight-lifting (kettle bells, for example), or playing a sport, or having sex - or even eating chocolate, although that's hardly an exercise! The advantage of running is that it doesn't need special equipment as long as you have suitable clothes and a decent pair of running shoes, but you can lift weights using anything around the house that's easy to pick up, (but also heavy enough!), or swing kettle bells or a safe, home-made equivalent, such as those larger paint cans with handles (pad the handles first!). You can cycle without a bike by holding your legs up and moving them in a cycling motion, and mixing that with flutter kicks, so running isn't the only option, and other options do less damage!

In terms of negative effects of running, which you really won't read about here, https://www.active.com/health/articles/why-too-much-running-is-bad-for-your-health">Active.com reports:

In another observational study, researchers tracked over 52,000 people for 30 years. Overall, runners had a 19 percent lower death risk than non-runners. However, the health benefits of exercise seemed to diminish among people who ran more than 20 miles a week, more than six days a week, or faster than eight miles an hour. The sweet spot appears to be five to 19 miles per week at a pace of six to seven miles per hour, spread throughout three or four sessions per week. Runners who followed these guidelines reaped the greatest health benefits: their risk of death dropped by 25 percent, according to results published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
so, as in all things, moderation! Forget about enduring the pain and being tougher - run smartly if you run, but not too smartly! Think about that! The tortoise beats the hare even though it doesn't look as pretty.

Mental acuity can improve even from simple exercise. An article in Britain's The Guardian from June 18th, 2016 reported that "German researchers showed that walking or cycling during, but not before, learning helped new foreign language vocabulary to stick" and "Just 10 minutes of playful coordination skills, like bouncing two balls at the same time, improved the attention of a large group of German teenagers." It also reported:

The runner's high - that feeling of elation that follows intense exercise - is real. Even mice get it. It may not be due to an "endorphin rush", though. Levels of the body's homemade opiate do rise in the bloodstream, but it's not clear how much endorphin actually gets into the brain. Instead, recent evidence points to a pleasurable and pain-killing firing of the endocannabinoid system: the psychoactive receptor of cannabis."
The author does mention this endocannabinoid system, and it's really quite interesting, but as always it was from the biased angle of running that he addresses things, not from 'walking or cycling'.

That same article also reported that:

Yoga teaches the deliberate command of movement and breathing, with the aim of turning on the body’s “relaxation response”. Science increasingly backs this claim. For example, a 2010 study put participants through eight weeks of daily yoga and meditation practice. In parallel with self-reported stress-reduction, brain scans showed shrinkage of part of their amygdala, a deep-brain structure strongly implicated in processing stress, fear and anxiety.
so quite clearly it's not just running which can have beneficial effects, and yoga is about as far from aerobic as you can get!

While running works - and if its your thing, then go for it, it's not the only thing that works well and I felt it misleading of this author to push running almost as though there's no real alternative. This was one of my biggest problems with this book. According to https://www.livestrong.com/article/490163-negative-effects-of-running-on-the-body/:

As many as 40 to 50 percent of runners experience an injury on an annual basis, reports a 2010 paper from researchers at the Moses Cone Family Medicine Center in North Carolina in "Current Sports Medicine Reports."
That's worth thinking about if you choose to run as opposed to undertaking some other aerobic exercise.

When I quit this book (apart from skimming a few of the later pages), it was at a point where the author has a section titled Runners Really Are Tougher. His thesis here is that runners are better at managing and holding up to pain and I have to ask, why is that important? Depression carries its own kind of pain, but it's not of the physical variety this author is discussing, such as would be experienced from an injury say, so I have to ask how is proving how tough you are relevant either to the author's aim in writing this book or to anyone in general?

Yeah, if you're planning on signing up for the Navy Seals, then by all means revel in your toughness, but there's no need to "man-up" and withstand pain when we have abundant medical remedies for combatting it. Nor is there any call to subject yourself to self-induced pain from running (or any other source) if another alternative works, or if running less gets you your healthy high without running your body into the ground - which is going to leave you low. For me, this section was the last straw and it struck me as one more absurdist foray in a book that bothered me by the very fact that it was so determinedly blinkered in its approach.

I have to say a word about wasted space in this book. Once again we have a book where whitespace rules, and if only the publisher had been wise enough to use smaller margins and fewer blank pages, the book would have been significantly shorter and thereby saved the lives of a few trees if it went to a long print run. Even if you avoid the dead tree version and go for the ebook - a longer book uses more energy to travel the Internet, so you don't get to win that way. I think it's time that traditional publishing ideologies gave way to reality. Trees right now are the only things doing anything to combat greenhouse gasses, and to slaughter them so wantonly is irresponsible.

There was an odd story at the end of this book which nevertheless shows how debilitating depression can be. The author talks about reusing plastic bags for groceries, and for whatever reason, he washes them, and one time he simply stopped because he saw no point in it. I have to wonder why he uses plastic at all when sturdy reusable canvas shopping bags will work just the same and not employ oil byproducts in their manufacture. That's what I use.

But the point is that the anecdote is exemplary in showing how irrational and unpredictable depression can be, so if a regime of regular aerobic exercise works for you, then go for it! If that involves running, then this book may or may not be of help, but from my perspective, and while I wish the author all the best, I cannot in good faith recommend this.


Friday, December 22, 2017

Single Girl Problems by Andrea Bain


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

While this was an advance review copy I found a lot of errors in it. If it had been run through a spellchecker one more time before being submitted to Net Galley it would have fixed a lot of these, and presumably these will be fixed in the final copy, but as it was, it just came over as being sloppy and as having little regard for reviewers.

Errata (page numbers in this review are all from the Adobe Digital Editions copy):
p 23: "But regardless of our marital status, we aren’t any different from anyone else regardless." One too many regardlesses!
p 39: Cuckoo was misspelled as "cuckcoo"
p 46: "Things have changed completely, or better or worse" should read, "Things have changed completely, for better or for worse"
p 48: "...as we all wai to see who gets the ring." Should be "as we all wait to see who gets the ring."
p 97: "Even after getting caught men and ending the affair, men still miss the excitement of the affair." There's an extra 'men' in there which actually could be the theme of this book!
p103: "Someof us also" missing a space.
p128: "...and though we hadn’t talked about being exclusive, r, we were smitten" I don't know what that lone r represents! (In Dating Horror Story #11)
p131: "...won’t-settle-for-anything-less-tha n-a-great-guy you..." that space in 'than' is a problem for how the words fold at the end of the line. The line break should be at the dash, not in the middle of the word!
Since the author is Canadian, there were some British spellings of words such as favourite as opposed to the American 'favorite'. I did not class these as errors although some readers might.

Subtitled "Why Being Single Isn't a Problem to Be Solved", I thought this might be an important book and was definitely one I wanted to read because I've been making this same case in reviews of young adult books (and too many adult books) for years, chastising authors for stories that take the forty-minute TV show or the Hollywood movie route that the woman has to get her man or she's a failure. Given how rife this motif is in books and movies, I was rather surprised the author really didn't mention how pervasive this 'gotta get married' paradigm is there.

The thing is that I was predisposed to favor the book from the start, and I started out liking it for the good points being made and for the sense of humor:

I compare dating to sifting through a bin at a second-hand clothing store. You’ve gotta go through a lot of crap other people threw away before you find what you like, and even then you have to smell it, check it for stains, look at the stitching, and see if it even fits before you bring it home.
and
Have you ever gone grocery shopping without a list when you’re really hungry?
Amusing as it is, I'd add a caveat to that last one which is that if you can’t control your impulses with groceries then you sure don’t want to be trusting yourself in a relationship with a new man!

My favorable perspective rapidly deteriorated though when I started reading dating tips. The book, while claiming in the blurb "Andrea Bain takes the edge off being single and encourages women to never settle," seemed like it turned a complete 180°, and started pressing women to change their approach and get a date! Not that single women can't have dates without a view to getting married, but it felt like a betrayal of the premise. Of course this depends on how you view single in the "Single Girl"! Is it single as in not married, or single as in not dating? And why 'girl'? Why not woman, since this is really aimed at more mature women, not those who are just embarking upon dating as teens, for example.

I have to say here that the conversion to a Kindle format book was a disaster, and far too many publishers do this without even checking the end result especially when the intent is to get the review copy out to reviewers in several formats. Amazon's crappy Kindle app is a disaster unless the book is essentially stripped of all special formatting and submitted as little more than a dumbed-down student-essay RTF format effort.

I recommend to publishers not to issue books in Kindle format at all if they have anything in them like images, special formatting, or anything fancy at all, because Amazon will trash all of it. In the case of this book, every header had apparently random caps in the middle of the header. These, on closer inspection, were not random and seemed to affect only characters 'c', 'f', 'p', 's', 'w', and 'x'. Why? Ask Amazon! I don't know! Chapter 14 was an amusing example of this. After the chapter number, it read: "the C Word aS Far aS i’m ConCerned" I thought having all the C's capitalized was amusing given the chapter title!

It was not only the headers (and in the contents), but also in the first handful of words in the first line of text in each chapter, which in the PDF copy was also block caps, so the line starting chapter two, for example in the PDF read, "I DECIDED TO WRITE THIS BOOK IN HOPES of changing", but when you enter the Amazone, this becomes: "i deCided to Write thiS Book in hoPeS of changing."

It would be nice to say I hope these will be fixed in the published edition, but I have zero faith in Amazon beforfe which author must debased themselves and dumb-down their text to get decent results. Full disclosure: This is one of several reasons why why I no longer do business with Amazon of any kind, neither in terms of buying things from them, nor in publishing my own work with them. I'd honestly rather have no sales than associate with them any more.

This book had sidebars and insets, and these were thoroughly trashed by Amazon. The sidebars were actually inset into the text and looked fine in the PDF format in both Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) on my desktop computer, and in Bluefire Reader (BFR) on my iPad. They looked sweet there except for another issue regarding margins which I shall also go into shortly, and which is increasingly becoming a review factor with me - not that anyone seems to care about that issue, sorry to report! Anyway, the PDF format represents much more closely (although not precisely, curiously enough!) what the printed copy will look like, and it looked fine.

In the Kindle formatted book, the background to the inserts was on one screen, and the dark gray and therefore hard-to-read text that ought to have been superimposed on the background, was on a separate screen. Note that I have my phone set for white text on black background because it saves power, so I get a somewhat different and more informative perspective than I imagine many - if not most - people do when using the more usual black text on a white screen.

The small text inserts that ought to have appeared inset into the main text looked exactly like the main text except again they were a hard-to-read dark gray and appeared right in the middle of a sentence of the main text! The "Dating Horror Story" inserts ought to have been added between chapters, not in the middle of them. As it was, these suffered the same issues: separated from their background and in dark gray text.

The book cover was also sliced-up, so that instead of a complete cover announcing "SINGLE GIRL PROBLEMS" there were two slices one announcing 'SINGLE' and the other, 'GIRL'. Where 'PROBLEMS' went is a mystery only Amazon can answer! Again, this isn't on the author or the book content itself, so much as on Amazon's disdain and incompetence, so I'm not rating this book on these issues. I read most of it on the iPad so it was not a problem anyway.

However, with regard to the PDF formatting I do have a few words to say about white space. I know the library of Congress has its antiquated rules, and no one wants to read a book which has the text crammed into every corner (which begs the question: why read in Kindle format, right?! - joke!), but within certain boundaries of aesthetics, a publisher can make more of an effort to save trees if they're planning a long print run of a book, by slimming down margins (not profit margins, book margins, silly!) without affecting the look and appeal of the printed page.

In this particular book, on my desktop monitor in ADE, I had the page display at nine inches tall by six wide. I don't know if this is the actual format of the print copy, but it is a common one and since we're dealing with relative percentages, it really doesn't matter. At this size, the book's gutter and outside margins were one inch, and the bottom was 1.5, so let's call that one inch to allow room for a page number. The top was also one. The total page area was therefore 54 square inches while the printed area was closer to twenty-eight! That's about half the page which was blank. Plus the text lines were quite widely-spaced and in quite a large font, and it did not actually start with chapter one until page nineteen! (I routinely skip introductions; they're boring!)

Obviously readability and aesthetics need to play a fair part, so my only suggestion is that narrower margins, slightly narrower spacing between lines and/or a slightly smaller font, dropping the antiquated introduction, and have fewer filler pages up front could have easily shrunk this book to maybe two-thirds its size, saving maybe sixty pages per printed book! How many trees would that save? Trees are not disposable! And if you care nothing for trees, (then you're no friend of mine, but) please think of how much overhead can be saved by reducing a book size by one third!

But back to the book, which was the real problem for me. The chapter headers are these, FYI (cleaned up to remove random caps!):

  1. Being single sucks
  2. Changing the narrative
  3. How not to talk to single people
  4. Even Disney gets it
  5. Why are you still single?
  6. Is dating dead?
  7. My love/hate relationship with online dating
  8. Chasing your own tail
  9. Settling is such an ugly word
  10. Insecure much?
  11. Sex: to do it or not to do it
  12. Why do men cheat?
  13. Fear of relationships
  14. The C word
  15. Single girl solutions
  16. Revamped
  17. The dating experiment
  18. Where are all the good men hiding?
  19. The whole kid thing
  20. Handle your money honey
  21. Single for the holidays
  22. It’s not only the guys’ fault
Note that this is from an ARC, so the headers may change but this will give you an idea of what's covered. I was sorry not to see a 'Why do Women cheat?" header. Let's not pretend it doesn't happen! The introduction and conclusion I omitted from the above list, so that last title I listed was a guys' perspective, but it was so skimpy and so limited in perspective that it really wasn't of much value to women - plus it was written by a woman - the author, hence my comment about the perspective being narrow.

One item of unintentional humor which amused me was when the author wrote of her childhood interest in Disney princesses. She was making a good point here, but she said, "I loved watching Disney movies and I especially loved the Disney princesses. Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, Rapunzel, Aurora...." I think it could have used a colon there before listing the princesses, but I agree with her point.

The amusing thing was that Rapunzel, in the form of Disney movie Tangled (which was actually a good movie, but not a patch on Frozen), did not come out until 2009 when the author was presumably in her thirties. Was she still wearing silk ribbons in her hair and frilly socks? This is no big deal, but this blog is about writing more than it is about reading, and this is a writing issue: about being careful how we flit from one idea to the next when writing without re-reading later what we wrote. I saw this kind of thing more than once.

While on the topic of being careful to keep track of what you're saying, sometimes the author is her own worst enemy. At one point (p21) I read, "...beautiful, sultry, sexually fluid woman, with a great pair of legs." I read this just three paragraphs before the start of Chapter 2 which is titled, "Changing the narrative." You don’t change the narrative by reducing a woman to being “beautiful, sultry...with a great pair of legs." That's entirely the wrong message to send and the author doesn't seem to get this.

It's like the manufacturers of breakfast cereal pushing sugar (which is what most breakfast cereal is) to children and then tarting it up with some OJ (more sugar) and toast (carbs which are converted to sugars) and saying "Part of this complete breakfast." Yeah it's complete if you're a humming bird and subsist entirely on sugar, but no child should start the day hopped up on that much sugar.

Employing that motif, there's nothing wrong at all with part of a woman being sugar, but for a healthy, complete relationship a partner needs more than that. There had better be fiber and protein and dairy (so to speak!), and those portions of the relationship are far more important than the sugar. Telling people they're not not by repeatedly pushing the sugary beauty drug at the expense of everything else is irresponsible, and worse it's counter-productive.

it's hypocritical, especially since later in Chapter two we read: And are relationships only for "pretty" people? Well yes, if that's how you routinely portray people, consistently listing 'beautiful' before 'smart' or 'educated' (the two are not the same although this author uses them interchangeably), and using 'beautiful' like it's a given or a requirement, and less than "beautiful" people need not apply. It's nauseating and it makes this author part of the problem, not part of a solution which is direly needed.

There is nothing wrong with a woman being and/or feeling attractive, not at all! No, the problem is in reducing her to that and only that, like she has nothing to offer except her looks. For example on page 105, I read, "They just couldn’t understand why their beautiful, smart daughter..." (again according to the list, beauty is what's most important).

In another instance, I read, "Not only does the dating pool shrink as a woman gets older, but she may find herself competing with twenty-somethings." (p136) This is why this author’s habit of describing every woman as beautiful is a serious mistake - it buys right into the youth and beauty pangloss which is not only a problem for older women who may have or may think they have lost that 'gloss', it's also a problem for younger women who find they have an impossible standard to live up to!

They don't airbrush out women's pores in "beauty" magazines for nothing. They also Photoshop® those women to make them look thinner, younger, and more hairless than they really are, and women are culturally brainwashed to buy into this impossible paradigm through billion-dollar cosmetics and weight loss con-trick industries which assault females from a very early age.

Hypocrisy was rife with this 'beauty' requirement where in men, 'beauty' is read as "six-foot tall" (or greater) in this book. At one point the author writes, "...needing a man to be six foot four should be negotiable unless you’re a six-foot glamazon yourself —and even then, ask yourself how important that is." (p44). I don't know what a 'glamazon' is - an Amazon isn't enough? Again with the beauty! But a few pages later we read, "A gorgeous six-foot-tall man caught my attention." (p57) and "I want a man who is six feet tall, with a muscular build, white teeth, a strong hairline," (p142).

So shorter men, the same height as the author maybe, who may have a very common male pattern baldness, and not be able to afford a purely cosmetic and therefore totally unnecessary professional Hollywood teeth whitening can go fuck themselves? How cruel is that? I read later, "...he wanted me to help three viewers navigate online dating...The viewers’ names were Brad, Suzan, and Carolina." Of the three, the only one she mentions the height of was Brad, and if he had been five feet six instead if six feet four, I’m guessing it would not have garnered a mention.

What's with the height? If these men had been the author's own height, five feet seven, would they no longer have been gorgeous? Routinely men are categorized in terms of height in this book, whereas women never are. Why? Are we not supposed to be treated equally when it comes to looks? Is the author such a child that she needs a father figure taller than her? I know in practice men get many byes where women are unjustly held accountable, but that does not mean an author of a book like this needs to buy into it and sell it in reverse! Again, the author is part of the problem, not the solution!

Being a part of the problem was evident in other things she wrote, too. At one point she mentioned a typical question she's asked by giving an example of it. She was asked, "Are you still single? What’s the problem?" Instead of tackling this at the source her reaction was: "I smiled politely and shrugged my shoulders." Then she complained, "But how dare she? From that moment on I lost all respect for her."

It's a pity she did not lose respect for herself for not addressing the insult right there! I can only hope she's changed her approach since that incident. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks didn’t change the conversation of black people being forced to ride at the back of the bus by giving up her seat and backing down. Admittedly she was simply tired and cranky that day, but that takes away nothing from her brave stance, and the paradigm shift she gave birth to when she refused to move! It's a pity the author didn't take a leaf from her book.

At one point the author says, "First, I love hosting reality shows." This was one thing which really turned me off taking her seriously, because there is nothing real about reality shows. They are completely artificial. They have only "beautiful" people in them for a start! Everyday people need not apply; you know the guys who are not six feet tall, with a muscular build, white teeth, and a strong hairline and the women who are not quote beautiful unquote? Worse even than this, is that the show's format is deliberately and purposefully set-up to maximize conflict: the more the better. If 'girls' can be induced to physically fight on the show, they become real celebrities.

These shows are utterly detestable. I know they're popular, but that only serves to sadden me in regarding how low people will sink for 'entertainment'. These so-called reality shows are actually the modern day equivalent of the old Roman gladiator fights. I'm not kidding. You have serious issues if you truly class these lowlife shows as entertainment and wallow in how far we've sunk as a society that this kind of trash is considered remotely normal. They're no better than the older Disney princess stories.

The hypocritical thing here is that the author appears to agree with me on the bachelor shows, but thinks it turns “beautiful, educated women into delusional, sobbing, catty little girls." Again with the beauty leading all other traits, including educated! This is part of the problem! And if they reduce women to girls, what does this say about the title of this book I'm reviewing here?!

Seriously though: educated? They may be academically educated, but that shouldn't be conflated with civilized, with having integrity, or with having any self-respect. If they were truly educated in the broadest of senses, they would never lower themselves to appear on a show which forces them to run around like so many bitches in heat after the "alpha male" whose credentials (beyond looks and/or status, and/or wealth) we learn nothing of. But then he's not the one being judged, is he?

Let's talk about how successful those shows are shall we? The author mentions this in passing, but the sorry truth is that, according to Just Jared dot com, out of 30 seasons (as of 2015) of both bachelor and bachelorette (seriously?), only six couples were still together. Not that a single one of us should be surprised by those lousy results from such an inexcusably pressurized and artificial situation. But the demonstrated fact remains that it's not reality, it's fiction!

And bachelorette? I guess that's marginally better than spinster, but what, the woman can't simply be a bachelor too - she has to be singled out for special treatment because she's a woman? She can't be an actor, she has to be an actress? She can't be an aviator she has to be an aviatrix? Screw that. Women should boycott that show based on the abusive title alone.

The genderism (I don't call it sexism because well, sex! It's too loaded a word) is rife in this book. In Dating Horror Story #2 I read, "He asked all the right questions, paid for our coffees and snacks." Excuse me? Are we equal now or not? The short answer to that is 'not' of course, but it will not improve matters if we perpetuate stereotypes that the guy always pays no matter who earns the most and no matter who asked who out on the date. Again, this is part of the problem! Later, I read the author whining, "What about paying for dinner? You’re not working, so how do you figure that part out?" It's never going to change with attitudes like this.

Why is it that we're supposed to be equal, but very few of us see anything wrong with the guy paying for everything, opening doors, sliding out chairs? It makes no sense whatsoever; it's like one party wants to have the cake and eat it, and the other party wants to treat the woman like a child. It's not romantic to infantilize a woman. I can't respect either of those antique perspectives.

Another example popped-up in Dating Horror story #10 where the woman described her date. "On the first date, he did everything right: opening doors, ordering my food and wine...." How exactly is treating you like a child doing everything right? The guy in this scenario had problems admittedly, but so did the woman with that attitude. The age of the Disney princess is long gone, sister.

In a book where the author counsels honesty, openness, and communication in relationships, where does this have a place: "Some of my personal favourites are not...pretending to be asleep to avoid having sex when you’re not in the mood." She's listing things she can get away with as a single person, and while I appreciated her completely down-to-earth approach and honesty in her list, it's hardly honest to fake a headache when you could simply say how you feel instead of outright lying to your partner. It's just wrong and if you find you're having to do that then you're in the wrong relationship, period.

The book starts out by proclaiming that it's a supportive work for woman who want to be single without the hassle of becoming pariahs, but towards the end it betrays this by offering dating advice. It felt like it started out wanting to be one kind of book, but turned into another. Worse than this for me, it seemed like it was solely-aimed at women who are well-paid professionals like the author! It really had nothing to say to working-class women, and the obsession with online dating websites was painful to read. Like this was the only way any woman can ever meet people to date! No! Neither did the book talk about women who were not into guys, but who might be interested in dating another woman. It's like the LGBTQIA community doesn't exist in this author's universe.

It doesn't help to read that "Talking to more people will lead to meeting more people" when it's actually the other way around, but it is the skewed perspective you get on life when that life is conducted purely electronically! Why not suggest avenues other than electronic ones? It's like the real world doesn't exist in this book, which is as sad as it is telling.

How about taking up a sport or a hobby? What about maybe going to online forums that are not about dating, but about things you're interested in? How daring is that?! Why not consider, god forbid, volunteering for some charity work or other, or taking an interest in your local government, school board, or something like that? What about community activism? Urban farming? Working with youth? Anything other than e-dating forums and sites?! There are lots of ways to meet people and it never hurts to have a support network, but the fact that this author mentions none of this is an indictment of the narrow and even selfish approach to this whole topic.

Nor did it have a thing to say about single moms, which was unforgivable. The author talks about the choice (or sadly, lack of choice) in having children, but offers no advice for single women who have children! That’s a cruel omission. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2016, out of about 12 million single parent families with children under the age of 18, more than 80% were headed by single mothers. A third of single moms are over forty. That's quite a chunk of the population to ignore.

This is when I realized that this book is, in the final analysis, a self-help book for the author and very few others - unless you happen to share her lifestyle and habits! She has no children so we don't need to consider women who do. She's a well-paid professional so we don't need to learn anything about about women who are not. She's not gay evidently, so let's not concern ourselves about women who are! She's a black Canadian woman, so we don't really need to worry ourselves with anyone who is not. It just felt so elitist that it was upsetting to me, and I'm not even female or single!

So in short, while I applaud the thought, it's the words that count, and they were all wrong. It started out great, but got badly lost somewhere along the way. I wish the author all the best and would probably enjoy reading a work of fiction were she to write one, but I cannot in good faith recommend a book which seems skimpy and thoughtless, and which flies in the face of too many sound principles, and which also ultimately fails to do what it set out to do.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics by James Kakalios


Rating: WARTY!

Dishonestly subtitled " A Math-Free Exploration of the Science That Made Our World", this book was a disappointment. There is math in this - a lot of it - and it starts right there in chapter one. It isn't at all well explained. That was the biggest problem here. This author simply is not one who can competently and clearly explain complex science to the lay person.

I didn't come into this completely ignorant, but I left it with little learned, which is why this is a fail. I have read quite a lot on Quantum Mechanics, which doesn't make me an expert by any means, but I do understand some of the principles and ideas. This author but this guy did nothing to enlighten me any further. His constant footnotes were far more annoying than ever they were edifying, and his frequent references to obscure antique comic books did nothing to help his case along.

For me, Lawrence M. Krauss started all this in 1995, when he published The Physics of Star Trek which was well-written, entertaining, and educational. It spawned many imitators, few of which have been as well done as his was. I think Kakalios believed he could turn his own obsession with old comics into a similar work, but whereas Krauss actually did reference a cultural icon which is well-known, Kakalios simply appears to have indulged himself in his own personal passion, which has little, if any, relevance to anyone else.

This book was dense, humorless, and unenlightened, the illustrations unillustrative, the explanations obscure and meandering when they were not outright obfuscating, and the frequent comic book and fifties 'B' movie references irritating and distracting. I can't recommend this at all.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Dharma of Star Wars by Matthew Bortolin


Title: The Dharma of Star Wars
Author: Matthew Bortolin (no website found)
Publisher: Wisdom Publications
Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
Line gap between 'of' and 'misunderstanding' (p15)
"regiment" used where "regimen" was intended (p15)

After I'd done reading chapter two, I was done reading this book because it failed for me - and failed miserably. The last straw was the attempt to link Luke Skywalker's experience in the cave on Dagobah with our experience in everyday life on Earth. Yoda tells Luke that the only thing which is in the cave is what Luke takes with him, clearly implying that the only thing on Earth is what we all carry with us, and that just as Luke was responsible for his experience in seeing Vader (and contrary to what this book suggests, actually failing to realize that the dark side was in him too), so too are we all responsible for the suffering on Earth.

Now I concede that as a society overall, we all share responsibility for what that society does, good and bad, but there is no way in hell you are going to tell me that anything I could have personally done in my own life would have either caused or stopped that psycho from killing those people in the church this week.

That's not on me. It's not on any one person, and nothing any one person can do was going to stop that from happening - unless that one person had a gun and shot the guy before he could kill other people. That is one thing which would have prevented this (short of going back to that guy's childhood and taking charge of his upbringing), but this one thing is the very thing for which Luke is chided in this book: that taking his light saber (how is it even a saber? Lol!) with him somehow precipitated the appearance of the Vader/Luke hybrid! Or that while not intending to start trouble, being prepared for trouble was a mistake?! No. Being prepared is never a mistake.

Luke's experience had nothing to do with the weapon, and everything to do with Luke's own mindset, but changing his mindset would not have magically made Vader disappear from the galaxy and undone all his evil. That's what this author seems to fail to grasp. First and foremost, he is applying Buddhism to a purely fictional world, not to the real one. I haven't read all of this book, but nothing that I have read has demonstrated to me how applying the principles of Buddhism in your own life is going to change anything any more materially than simply doing what most of us do anyway - living a good, considerate, and decent life - is changing anything.

Yes, if all of us ran wild and had no respect for others, then the world would be a truly horrible place, but just because some of us choose to live a decent life - even if the majority of us did so, this will not cause the recalcitrant minority to quite hurting people or blowing up people, or shooting people, or driving like idiots, or being boorish, thoughtless, inconsiderate, and stupid. All we can do is deal with our own lives, and while what we do can indeed help keep a bad situation from escalating, what we do is not going to magically make the world a paradise. Even if everyone whole-heartedly embraced Buddhism, this would not stop volcanoes and earthquakes and floods and tornadoes from taking lives and bringing suffering into lives. The only preventative for that is for all of us to commit suicide, and the Jonestown "solution" is utterly unacceptable to me!

This is an attempt to popularize an aspect of Buddhism by linking it with a very successful movie franchise. Dharma or Dhamma has no simple or direct translation into English, but can be thought of as the natural order of things. This isn't to be thought of in any pejorative way or as some idiotic Victorian idea of superiority or one class or race over another. It's focused on the way nature works and how humans can try to live their lives in harmony with this natural system just as we used to when we were apes. If you think of all of nature as a team, then Dharma is about how we can become the best team player we can be.

In that light, the problems with approaching this topic by linking it to Star Wars are manifold. Star Wars wasn't about the natural order of things. It was about might makes right and about how the underdogs could destroy that might. You can argue that this was really more about the Jedi way of life, but the Jedi were not really a part of the natural order of things. They were a gifted and superior 'race' who far from fitting in with the natural order sought to dominate and control that order for their own ends, no matter how benign some of those ends might have been.

In this way, the Jedi vis-à-vis the galaxy were no different than humans have been vis-à-vis planet Earth. As the Jedi sought to put in place a certain order of things, so humans have done the same on Earth. Given what we 'superior' humans have done with our power, I'm far from convinced that this is really the best way we have to look at how we live our lives!

I should probably say at this point that I do not believe in any gods. There is no good or useful evidence for any, nor is there any evidence that we live more than one life or are reincarnated or are in some sort of endless loop through which we will continue moving, like a pet rat on a treadmill, until we break the cycle and move on to the next level. None of it makes any sense, and for those who believe it does, I invite then to consider how all of this works given what we now know of the appearance of life on Earth and its evolution.

Humans have no always been here. At one point, and for massively overwhelming majority of the time that life has been extant upon Earth, there was nothing human here, but about six million years ago, a species started moving towards what we have now become. For all those who believe in reincarnation, I invite them to consider what the real evidence for this is, and to explain to themselves when this all began. Was it with the first cell that arose out of the chemistry of Earth? Was it when mammals evolved? Was it when primates evolved? Was it when Australopithecus evolved? If so, which species? Was it when Homo neanderthalensis evolved? When and why did this system come into being? No one has even tried to explain this, much less explained it with supportive evidence and made sense of it! That's why I don't buy into this juvenile concept of a cycle of death and rebirth.

In short, the Buddhist claims are nonsensical and have no evidence. That doesn't mean that living decent life, or that practices like meditation and yoga are of no value. It means that we shouldn't blindly invest them with meaning and value to which they have no right, and it especially means that eastern religions do not get a bye simply because they're new-agey, and exotic, and perhaps don't even posit any gods, like the three big monotheistic ones do, or like Hinduism does.

This book begins by recalling the beginning of the Star Wars saga (episode one, The Phantom Menace), where Qui-Gon Jinn reminds Obi-Wan Kenobi to keep his mind focused on the here and now, and not some speculative future course of events. In their circumstances, this was appropriate, but in life in general, it's important to both keep your mind on the here and now, and to plan for the future. Anyone with Jedi skills ought to be able to do both! Any human who fails to do this is inevitably going to run into trouble.

We jump from this to episode 4 A New Hope and are reminded that Luke only succeeded in destroying the Death Star when he abandoned the technology at his disposal and relied purely on instinct. In real life this is nonsensical. It's like disabling the brakes on your car and relying on your natural instinct to start slowing down in good time. We know how well that works by counting the skid marks on the highway, and the bumper scrapes on the concrete walls of on and off ramps! We have brakes and air-bags for a very good reason. Technology works. Humans often don't. Anyone who disagrees is invited to compare death and injury rates from accidents prior to seat belts and air bags with the same thing now.

Yes, you can argue that if we were more mindful when driving we would have far fewer scrapes and close calls, and this is true, but to make a blanket claim that we can all rely on instinct and our inner pilot to get through life is to assume that everyone has already achieved enlightenment, and no that one is mentally ill, not in any way at all. This is nonsensical and dangerous.

The Nazis were following their inner guide when they determined that all handicapped people, homosexuals, Jews, Roma, and other 'undesirables' should be exterminated or at least neutered. They were following their inner pilot when they pursued their belief that the "Aryan" race was superior. In the same way, organized religious groups have followed their instinct when they have tried to exterminate members of competing religions, such as when the Catholics tried to purge everyone they deemed to be a witch, and later those who were Protestant, or when they tried to force "heathens" to submit. Islam is all about submission. Judaism is only for the house of Israel.

Everyone today who isn't blind knows that these people were delusional, no matter how much they acted on their instincts and inner pilot. Your inner pilot isn't always reliable, no matter how much we may fantasize that it is. If it were otherwise, we wouldn't need laws to protect people from those who act on instinct and who give no thought for the future or for others.

We're reminded of Luke on Dagobah, where Yoda loses patience with him because his mind is all over the place and we're expected to believe that Luke was a poor student when the truth is that Yoda was a really poor teacher, as was Obi-Wan Kenobi. They had years in which they could have trained Luke yet neither lifted a finger. This was precisely because they were focused on the here and now - on their own survival - instead of planning for the future! Their incompetence nearly cost them everything. A little planning for the future would have made a huge difference, but each of them was so obsessed with the here and now that they took no thought for tomorrow. The founder of Christianity advised the same short-sighted tack.

Qui-Gon Jinn wanted to train Anakin and he was refused because despite the extreme youth of the boy and despite his qualifications (as judged by his midi-chlorian levels), it was already deemed too late in his life to teach him. The fact that he was taught so late was the reason he was so easily won over to the dark side, we're given to believe. Yet not a one of them questions the teaching of Luke who is considerably older than Anakin when he starts and far less qualified midi-chlorian-wise. yet no one questions this wisdom of this move!

Yes, Luke could have applied himself better, but so could Ben and Yoda - they could also have begun his teaching a hell of a lot earlier. Yes, this is fiction, but it wasn't me who decided to use Star Wars as a teaching tool for the Dao of Buddhism!

When Qui-Gon fights with Darth Maul, we're told that he is smart enough to center himself when the doors close between them, so he's ready to fight when they open, but this is a classic example of his failing to properly plan for the future. If he'd waited just a minute or two for Ben to catch up with him, there would have been two of them to take on Maul, and Qui-Gon might well not have been killed. By taking no thought for tomorrow, and getting himself killed Qui-Gon failed Anakin. Planning for the future is important. Focusing on the now is good, but it's not all there is, as Qui-Gon himself actually realized. He was planning for the future in an unfortunately limited way when he took the time to center himself.

An example is made of Anakin's anger over his mother's death, and his slaughter of the Tusken people, but this doesn't work either, because the root of this anger is that he was taken from his mom at an early age. No attempt was made to allow him to reconnect or to bring his mom to join him, or at least bring her to safety. that would have been planning for the future, so it's forbidden, You must focus on the here and now! Immediate gratification is demanded again Obviously this preyed on Anakin's mind, and his behavior was perfectly understandable. Some thought and planning here would have made a huge difference. Clearly neither Yoda nor Qui-Gon, nor Obi-Wan meditated on this!

What this book doesn't tell us, when it discusses suffering, is how selfish and callous the Buddha himself, Siddharta Gautama, truly was. He was a married man with a child. His wife was Yaśodharā, and his son was Rāhula. He was also a wealthy ruler of a people, yet he abandoned all of that and took off on his own selfish path. He never invited his wife and child to join him and share his journey, much less the people for whom he was responsible. He purportedly rejected wealth yet there is nothing to indicate that he redistributed what he had amongst his people. How much suffering did he put them through? His actions were not admirable. They were very selfish. Abandoning a wife and child is inexcusable. Women and particularly men are rightly pilloried in this day and age for this, yet we're expected to admire and emulate a man who did exactly that when there was no reason whatsoever for him to act as he did?

We're told that before we can improve a situation we must accept it for what it is, but this is wrong. We are forced to live with it, but acceptance of it means we're not likely to be looking at how it came to be or how it can be remedied. Women would never be able to vote now if they had accepted that they were unjustly excluded from voting and took no thought for the future. It's understanding, not acceptance, that we need, because only understanding will convey to us the power to change injustice, and to prevent it happening again. I think this book represents blinkered advice - or very poorly written guidance at best.

We're told that being mindful of our daily life allows us to see suffering as it manifests, but being mindful of what is likely to happen in the future means we can take steps to avoid that suffering manifesting in the first place. This is yet another example of how focusing on the current and the state we're in to the exclusion of all else isn't the best plan at all. There's nothing wrong with acknowledging the state we're in and understanding it, because this may offer ways out or at least insights into avoiding getting into this mess again, but to sit around wallowing in it, or meditating on it isn't going to get anything done in and of itself. Ultimately it's action which changes things, even if that action must be preceded by thought.

I think the dharma of Laurel and Hardy might have been a better comparison than this one with Star Wars. They never had a problem acknowledging that this is another fine mess you've gotten me into. Their intentions were always the best, and they had no problem working diligently to fix troubles rather than simply of sitting around meditating on them. I can't recommend this book. I see little real point in it and no value to it.

The short conclusion is that this book offered me nothing that any other decent religion offers - or that abandoning religions altogether and simply being a society of good and thoughtful people would deliver. I didn't see what this had to offer and I thought it was a poor approach to teaching this topic.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Conduct Unbecoming by Randy Shilts


Title: Conduct Unbecoming
Author: Randy Shilts
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Rating: WORTHY!

This, another success from the author of And the Band Played On is not a very original title. B&N lists over thirty books with this same title, but this is undoubtedly thee fattest of them all, weighing in at 969 pages in Bluefire Reader on the iPad. Ninety of these are notes, references, and so on, because this book is researched with the precision of the crease in Marine dress uniform pants, and like those pants, it stands out sharply despite being over twenty years old. The fear and retribution depicted in this book still goes on today, although not necessarily in the same places it went on in these stories.

The beautifully written story follows a host of different people, men and women, and the most outstanding thing that they have in common isn't the military or the fact that they are homosexuals, but the the fact that there was nothing short of a witch hunt arrayed against them - a witch hunt which was in many ways more terrifying than anything conducted by the church in the Middle Ages. It was terrifying most of all because this happened within the last forty years.

The Conduct Unbecoming of the title has nothing to do with the fact that there were gays and lesbians in the military. It's the fact of what the military did to these people who served their country and had exemplary records - exemplary that is, so the armed forces would have it, save for the fact that they loved someone of their own gender. The military is a boys' club. Always has been. Even today the stranglehold that MENtality has on it is fighting tunic and nail to maintain its death grip. These men who are trained to bond with other men and to fear nothing actually fear two things and two things only: other men who are not like them, and women, who are completely alien to their way of thinking.

Shilts walks us through a brief history of gays in the military, including dipping into stories from the revolutionary war, although he doesn't seem to have understood that the word 'intercourse' had an entirely different meaning in 1779 than it commonly bore in 1979!

That aside, the way these stories would, if you'll pardon the phrase, drag me in and hold my attention was remarkable. I'd tell myself I would just read a couple of pages before bedtime and an hour later I'd still be reading, wide awake, my eyes opened by what had been going on. I don't doubt that there are terrorists who have received better treatment than the gay and lesbian community in the military got during the seventies and eighties.

If everyone loves a parade, then these stories are a parade of one name after another who first stood up for their country and then were forced to stand up for their rights or have their lives ruined by yet another paranoid military pogrom where full-blown McCarthyism resurrected its ugly head and this time had nothing to do with any communist threat - or any threat at all for that matter. Some reviewers have argued that this book is way too long, but the truth is that it isn't long enough to do justice to these people. However, it will do for now. I recommend it.