Well if nothing else, this year I will [probably] at least do a monthly blog update to tell you about what I’ve been reading. Whether or not this is actually interesting is a whole other story, but whatever, it is my blog. 

This month brought the theme of more things that are terrible or at least suck mildly, but make very interesting books. 

I finished off 12 books this month—down 3 from last month if we are quantifying this, but there are also no short fiction books on this list like there were last month, such as the 27 minute read that was Steal Like an Artist, and 3 less days in the month. 

Here’s what I read in February 2019:

  • Without You There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite – Suki Kim. I’d understood the culture of North Korea to be restrictive, I didn’t know what that “looked like”. American/South Korean journalist Suki Kim goes undercover as an English-teaching missionary in a boys school in North Korea (Yes. Journalist undercover as a missionary under cover as an English teacher), the resulting book is extremely interesting.
  • Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew – Michael D. Leinbach. I remember watching news coverage mixed with the Saturday morning cartoons. It is one of those things, like 9/11, that burned into my pre-teen mind at age 12. I was not aware of the intense search for debris, for remains, the painstaking efforts to return the pieces found in Texas to Florida to “reconstruct” what happened, written by then Shuttle Launch Director, recovery team leader, and Columbia Reconstruction Team leader, Michael D. Leinbach.
  • Prisoner: My 544 Days in an Iranian Prison—Solitary confinement, a sham trial, high-stakes diplomacy, and the extraordinary efforts it took to get me out – Jason Rezaian. After listening to this episode of Pod Save the World, I quickly dove in to Rezaian’s account of what happened after he and his wife were imprisoned by Iranian authorities. (If you read this book, the podcast is likely a great pre- or post-listen, as it includes former Obama Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes, who worked among the team to free Rezaian, adding a whole other layer). This book does a good job of also capturing the attempts made by the Washington Post and US authorities, that from the inside of Evin Prison, Rezaian knew nothing about.
  • Playing Dead: Mock Trauma and Folk Drama in Staged High School Drunk Driving Tragedies – Montana Miller. I actually downloaded this one by accident from Bookshare but decided to read it anyways. As someone who participated in a “Day of the Dead” in high school, the possibly Canadian version of “Every 15 Minutes”, I was curious about any effectiveness/deterrence research surrounding these staged events. I was also shocked by the huge dramatization and special effects involved in these “performances” at US schools investigated in this book. By the way, it was a tough slog, and I gave it 2/5.
  • Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud. The book I was actually intending to download also could have been more interesting than it actually was. The author really rambled on a lot about her own fantasies of just disappearing, but instead of disappearing she writes a book about what happens to people who choose to disappear.
  • Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival – Maziar Bahari. Another book of a captured Canadian-Iranian journalist at Evin Prison in Iran. This book, turned into the movie Rosewater, focuses much on the interrogations Bahari underwent, and his family’s pursuit to free him. Contrasting this with Rezaian’s book was also interesting. 
  • Parkland: Birth of a Movement – Dave Cullen. Author of COLUMBINE, Dave Cullen’s tactic in this book shifts from what happened during the Parkland school shooting and discovering the motives of the shooters (as he did in Columbine) to a focus on the uprising of students to protect any more kids from dying or suffering as a result of lax firearms laws. He spends weeks, months with the kids who started #NeverAgainMSD—and those who felt in left in the shadows—and crafts a comprehensive story. Reading this on February 12, just days before the one year anniversary of the Parkland shootings, I was repeatedly shocked by just how recently this all unfolded.
  • Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories – Sarah Lerner (Ed.) An often heart-wrenching collection of writings, stories, and poems from MSD students processing the tragic shootings at MSD. (As usual, I constantly wanted “more” information and of course, this is not the book nor format for that.) 
  • Poison Candy: The Murderous Madam: Inside Dalia Dippolito’s Plot to Kill – Elizabeth Parker & Mark Ebner. Dalia Dippolito hires a hitman to kill her husband—the day of his “death” she arrives home to police, police cars, and police tape, and is taken to the police station… To find her friend reported her intentions to police and her hired hitman was, in fact, an undercover police officer.
    My Goodreads review says it best: “I think this book COULD have been really good but it was written in a way that was so boring. I heard about this case from the Court Junkie podcast [which I’d gotten into days before], and wanted to learn more but beyond some random tidbits, the time invested in a 40ish minute podcast was much more worthwhile.” (Here’s the podcast.)
  • Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive – Stephanie Land. Recently, my friend Ryan wrote an article for CNN about this book’s author. It provides an “insider’s” perspective at a position nobody wants to be in: homelessness, transitional housing, and working minimum wage jobs to survive. This book is an eyeopener into the “working poor”, and why it can be so hard to get out of the trenches, when the government support that allows you to pull yourself up is stripped back as soon as you hit a barely survivable income level.
  • The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible – A.J. Jacobs. An agnostic dude who writes memoirs about things he does for a living writes down all the “rules” from the bible and tries to follow them as literally as possible for a full year. While a bit “long” at times, I was constantly captivated by the logistics of this pursuit—from goodreads “which, let’s be honest, a book like this could definitely be boring, which it was certainly not.”

26/115 — 23% of the way to my goal in 16% of the year. Hopefully I continue to crush this one ;). 

What are you reading?

I’ve written before about the massive impact that services like Bookshare and the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) have had on my ability to enjoy reading longer or more complex books given my learning issues. I think what happened before is that my visual processing/comprehension abilities got outpaced by the books I wanted to read, thus leaving what I was truly able to tackle limited. Fortunately, switching to consuming books mainly by audio has truly changed things for me. At the rate I’m going, I’m going to crush my reading goal of 115 books this year, having read 15 in January alone! Except, two of them were sort-of “cheaters” because they were really short reads I’d acquired from Bookshare near the end of 2018 for “just in case” purposes. But I mean, a book is a book!

Here’s what I read in January 2019. (And yes, I’m still on occasion typing 2018!)

  • The Girl with the Broken Heart – Lurlene McDaniel Far less sappy than the title sounds, this is actually about a girl with a heart problem. But also about love because that is what Lurlene McDaniel does, basically. Teen/YA.
  • Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative – Austin Kleon. Super short, I think this took 45 minutes to read. Probably one I should read on a regular basis until I commit it to memory. Also, I just read the first two lines of this review by a dude named Peter and I think he’s spot on.
  • The Deepest Secret – Carla Buckley. This one had enough twists I just wanted to keep going. And then [semi-spoiler] it just sort of ended. I have so many questions but I don’t know if I have enough questions for a sequel, if that makes sense.
  • Dancing with Dementia: My Story of Living Positively with Dementia – Christine Bryden. Like any memoir of this nature, it was captivating but also representative of many best-case scenarios.  Super interesting, however, and captures a form of (non-Alzheimer) dementia not as readily understood by most.
  • Meant to Be: The True Story of a Son Who Discovers He is His Mother’s Biggest Secret – Walter Anderson. You know when people discover they’re adopted after doing an online DNA test or whatever? This book was like that except without the DNA test.
  • A Life that Matters: The Legacy of Terri Schiavo — A Lesson for Us All – Mary Schindler. At the end of 2018, I read “the other book” about Terri Schiavo by Mark Fuhrman, “Silent Witness”. In 2005 when the most urgent parts of this case were unfolding, I was in Orlando—at 13 years old, I didn’t understand but the urgency of Terri’s story always stuck with me. This book was written by her mother, and I’d still be interested in reading an account by her husband Michael Schiavo, from the “other side”. I ranked both this and Silent Witness 3/5, though I experienced a much greater cognitive dissonance with the inability to “let go” in Schindler’s book given Terri was not truly Terri anymore. (I tried not to let my opposing political views play into my rating, but it was hard.)
  • Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate – Ginger Strand. After the construction of the US Interstate Highway System, murder rates began to shoot up across America. I started this December 30 but finished it on January 7 with quite the break in the middle—I think the styling initially made it difficult but I got through the last 35% really quickly so maybe it was just me.
  • Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House – Omarosa Manigault Newman. Yes, I finally read the Omarosa book. I still don’t think I know my thoughts on it.
  • Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Aron Ralston. This is one of those books where you know how it ends but you have to still find out how it happens. This is the one where an experienced outdoorsman gets his arm caught beneath a boulder and has to decide how to free himself, ultimately cutting off his own arm and somehow living to write a book about it.
  • Al Franken, Giant of the Senate – Al Franken. Despite that Al Franken is no longer a Senator, I decided to read this memoir. It was quite funny at times but also was sort of trying too hard, though I think that goes with the “award-winning comedian who decided to run for office and then discovered why award-winning comedians tend not to do that” territory. 
  • Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada’s Failing Democracy – Alison Loat, Michael MacMillan. I’m not sure I agree with the title, but I did find this an interesting read (with some familiar names). The best part of this, to me, was learning more about the dynamics in the House of Commons. (I’ve since started reading “Procedure in the Canadian House of Commons” which is not quite as dry as one might think).
  • Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Safe Itself — While the Rest of us Die – Garrett M. Graff. This book was fascinating in a terrifying sort of way, describing the secret underground facilities for saving the lives of government employees and the inner workings of an alternate government should a nuclear bomb hit Cold War America. (Also, I learned there are/were similar secret underground bunkers here in Canada, too.) 
  • Private: Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and the Biggest Exposure of Official Secrets in American History – Denver Nicks. In 2010 in a sociology class we had a massive discussion about WikiLeaks that continued throughout the 6-month term following the Collateral Murder video release. Since then, like many, I’ve been captivated by the whole WikiLeaks story. (However, while this was published in 2012, before Chelsea Manning’s transition, I spent the whole book “correcting” these things in my head, though I realize contextually this would have been challenging.)
  • The Most Dangerous Man in the World: The Explosive True Story of Julian Assange and the Lies Cover-ups and Conspiracies He Exposed – Andrew Fowler. Continuing on the WikiLeaks train, this book was far less memorable than the one focused on Manning. It was honestly a bit boring, sadly.
  • You’re Welcome, Universe – Whitney Gardner. I was really pleased with this book’s ability to capture disability while making the character actually, you know, have other character traits than being d/Deaf. Julia is kicked out of the School for the Deaf for graffiti to help her friend, and must find her way in a mainstream school—this book has a lot of nuanced plot aspects without being too unrealistic. I actually gave it 5/5. Teen/YA.

15 down, 100 to go. 
What are you reading? 

I’ve been on this huge audiobook kick the last week. As in, since December 12, I have read 8 books. (This is what happens when I finish my work early/do not have enough work to do. Honestly, this is fun but I’d rather be writing.) Maybe I’m just trying to hit my 40 book goal for 2016—I am at 26. The answer seems like yeah, right.

Through the Centre for Equitable Library Access program (CELA), Canadians with print disabilities can access a variety of audio or braille books on loan, for free. Most of these books are recorded by the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind), and as such, Canadian authors are well-featured, and I’ve actually been able to find a book on goalball in the collection. Following Margaret Trudeau’s Changing My Mind, I read Invisible: My Journey Through Vision and Hearing Loss by Ruth Silver.

On attending a conference about promoting independence for those who are both hard of hearing and visually impaired (Deafblind or deaf-blind), she writes:

There was only one speaker who was deaf-blind.
—Ruth Silver in Invisible: My Journey Through Vision and Hearing Loss 

Immediately, I rewound. I listened again, and shook my head.
Typical.

I do not know for certain what year Ruth Silver attended this event in question, of which she wrote “There was only one speaker who was deaf-blind,” prior to starting the Centre for Deaf-Blind Persons in Milwaukee in 1983. She published the memoir in 2012. In any event, that is twenty nine years prior to the book’s publication, and thirty three years ago as of 2016.

I do know that not much has changed.

In mid-November, I had the opportunity to attend an event in Toronto, one that had patients in the title no less. While matters were not “solved”, in response to Twitter-vocalization regarding true patient inclusion by Bill and I, the organizer reached out to us via e-mail following the event to “address” our concerns. The crux of the matter is, even an event that was meant for patients, did not feature a single patient speaking on the matter at hand. While you can scroll back in my Twitter feed or contact me directly to learn more, I’m not going to give nods to the event itself. One, because as much as this event frustrated me, I want to believe they had good intentions even if they were way off the mark, and two, because I believe that these nonprofits are likely doing their patient communities good: it is not up to me to speak on the actual work of these groups. (Disclosure: They paid my travel and expenses, they being pharma, I presume).

So here it is again. There was not one single patient on the agenda. I don’t want to hear any of that bogus “we are all patients” crud (nor that taxpayer BS)—yes at some time we are all patients. However, there are those of us who are chronic patients, reliant on medicine to stay healthy and/or alive.

How sad is it that as this uprising, somewhat-bright, restless collective of humans craving better, how is it we have not gotten this straight in thirty three years?

I wish I knew. Documents like the excellent Patients Included Charter for Conferences get us closer. But they need to be implemented, advocated for in themselves. And we need Canadian patients to be in on, in for this movement, too.

It’s been 33 years. And we’re only starting to figure this out. The uprising is bottom-up, not top-down. I mean, or the reverse, depending on how you view who is in power.

so must we demonstrate
that we can get it straight?
we painted a picture
now we’re drowning in the paint
let’s figure out what the fuck it’s about
before the picture we painted
chews us up and spits us out 

sick of painting in black and white
my pen is dry, now i’m uptight
so sick of limiting myself to fit your definition.

redefine.

—redefine, incubus

We are well overdue to break the typical.
Probably, well overdue by well over 33 years. 

I spent last week at the cabin.

I spent some time on the water in the kayak, some time reading [new books: Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature, On My Own (Diary of a Teenage Girl), The First Part Last (Heaven #2) (unsure of what Heaven #1 is); reread Falling Up (Diary of a Teenage Girl) although i remembered none of it), and continued on Islands and Insulin.

Something also sparked in me to pick up the Bible again. What a concept for me. Picking up the Bible, in this case, was putting the Bible Gateway app back on my phone. And here’s the thing, I was actually excited about it.

I journaled. Not a ridiculous amount, but I got my head back out of me or back in check in the way that only writing seems to do for me—really, the best therapy. I considered stuff I need to work on, and “iterations of myself I need to get back to”. Like the whole exercising/nutrition/journaling/mediating/praying thing.

I saw a sunrise—it moved me to stumble back to my bed on the way back from the bathroom at 5 AM for my phone to take a picture—to not miss the moment and not think it was just a dream in the morning.

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I created. This was, actually, before the sunrise sighting.

http://i1.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8607/28568145586_0c68c98255.jpg?resize=387%2C500&ssl=1

I played mindless games (actually, Cooking Fever is kind of stressful, my goodness), and looked for Pokemon.

I tried to be present, mindful, as much as my lack of routine and ADHD allows.

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I did some work when I felt like it. It’s part of my life, no matter how much on “holidays” people kept saying we were on. I chose to not be on vacation for the times I spent working. It’s easy when you like what you do for work and can work anywhere.

It was really, though, about coming back to where I need to be; about reflecting on self-care and seeing what I want more of in my life. And, I found a lot of good stuff in the process—stuff I need to work on. Like talking to God and seeing Him in my world—opening my eyes and allowing Him to open my eyes.

Edit: After I published this, I found this live set from Lacey Sturm on YouTube, at one point she says, “God is always pursuing you, but do we always pursue Him?” 
I think my answer is obvious; but that the question is perfect.

i feel Your eyes crawling over me
as though i am something more than me
but i don’t have anything good enough to say
i did not make myself this way

i’ll show you what He did
but i won’t take the credit
it’s not mine anyway
i just held the pen that day

and i don’t deserve this
this time right now
it’s not something for which
i can take the bow
and i don’t deserve this
it wasn’t me
i can’t take glory
for something that i can’t be
i don’t deserve this

i know what perfection is like
and i cannot stand before its might
and i’m so far from what You think that i must be
i just drown myself in mercy 

and all the art that i supposedly create
is simply a faded reflection of something He’s already made. 

penholder, flyleaf

But the further I go, the further I wander, the more I realize I need God. My friend Jessica posted a picture on Instagram last week that I needed—it said “Prayer is not a ‘spare wheel’ that you pull out when you’re in trouble, but it is a ‘steering wheel’ that directs the right path throughout life.” This is something I know, but I fall off track, and a reminder I need. I want to be well.

my scars are Yours today, this story ends so good
i love You and i understand that You stood where i stand
[thank You.] […] no matter what You’re going to break my shell.
i’m done healing—i’m done healing
i’m sorry, flyleaf 

Oh and totally out of the vibe of this post, but this makes me laugh so much:

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Such doge.

I’m not a resolutionist for the simple reason is that I don’t think resolutions help to build habits. People get off to a great start or a bad start and often that sets the tone for the year—at some point, I read on Forbes.com that only 8% of people accomplish their new years resolutions. And I’d probably definitely be in the 92% that doesn’t. (Look, I’m not being a defeatist here, just honest.)

Simplicity.

Simplicity is the intention here. Akin to the final notes of 2015’s soundtrack, here’s what I’m aiming to accomplish in 2016—even if that takes me the next 362 days to sort-of get right.

1) Write with my hands more. 
I picked up a couple unlined Moleskines on sale at Home Outfitters on Boxing Day. Since January 1, I’ve been trying to write daily, even if just a few lines (or, not lines. I’m hoping to be freed by the totally blank pages. 

Not that I consistently write on lines or anything. Overrated.

2) Read 40 books.
It’s a little more realistic than 75. In progress—new for 2016—Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick and an advance review copy of a book called Millersville by Brendan Detzner.

3) That self-care/mindfulness/exercise/wellness thing.

4) Create.
Even if that’s just colouring, or writing more (even typing). In some fashion, I want to aim to write (non-work-things) for 20 minutes a day—at least. Goes back to the “just start” thing.

5) Engage more on Twitter.
Sometimes it seems like it’s counter productive to have a goal to engage more with people on social media, but you know what? I think I engaged a lot less that year, and realized repeatedly how much I missed it. So, the Twitter part of my heart is getting some focus. 🙂

That’s it.

Keeping it simple—God knows I’ll complicate stuff in other ways. Let’s go.