Apparently at the end of March I was so set to fail Nanowrimo—for which I reached 11376 of 30000 goal words, thanks, nonfiction nano is hard—I never told y’all what I read in March. So here’s a double update.

March 2019

I should have written this a month ago because my brain is pretty much about to fail me for tiny reviews. Oh well, either way, I read these.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers To When You Work in the White House – Alyssa Mastromonaco. Read on the road in Minneapolis, this book is a bit of a whirlwind (yesterday, I watched The Final Year Obama documentary and it would’ve been a great pairing with this book from a different perspective, I think), but definitely a good one for a road trip. At least it is if you’re a bit of a nerd, anyways.

Inheritance: A memoir of genealogy, paternity, and love – Dani Shapiro. Dani Shapiro does an online DNA test and discovers that her father isn’t actually her father… and goes on a quest to find her biological father (uncovering some ethical gaffes of the past in the process). 

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection – A.J. Jacobs. Oh yes, back to the A.J. Jacobs memoirs I am. In this one, A.J. attempts to become the healthiest man on the planet, through a series of diets, exercises, and discussions with experts. I think anyways, it’s been awhile and a lot of books since I’ve read this, okay?

Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey – A.J. Jacobs. In this one, A.J. tries to track down as many people as possible in making his morning coffee and thank them, from the people who do the graphic design for his coffee shop, to the people who make the coffee cups and lids, to a journey straight to the source of the coffee. An over-exaggeration of a common mindfulness exercise, but a short-ish book.

The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World – A.J. Jacobs. The one that started it all, where A.J. Jacobs reads the entirety of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, annoys people, goes on Jeopardy, and joins Mensa with much confusion involving people’s hug preferences on stickers/buttons. It was, I guess, moderately entertaining? But a pursuit I’ll never understand.

The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment – A.J. Jacobs. In which A.J. takes on a variety of mini-experiments that couldn’t be their own books, like outsourcing his life to personal assistants, pretending to be a celebrity, and following all of George Washington’s random rules of life. Yes, I did have to consult the summary for these. The mini-experiment nature of these made this book good but harder to remember than the others.

It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree – A.J. Jacobs. In which, again, A.J does something ridiculous and tries to host the world’s largest family reunion, trying to steal a Guinness world record from another family for the pursuit—after attending their family reunion also. A really bizarre but interesting examination of defining family.

Mind Without a Home: A memoir of schizophrenia – Kristina Morgan. Here’s what my two-star review says:
“The difficulty of writing in a way that gives a true representation of a mental illness like schizophrenia is what makes this book a difficult read. I couldn’t follow the lines of thought well, likely because this is just how the author and her brain coexist. It made for a difficult read where I felt I was crashing in and out of time periods and not knowing where the author was at in her illness. I know one of the themes was that she too didn’t know, but in order to become a bit more educated, I as an audience needed clearer lines to understand the ebbs and flows of the author’s schizophrenia, even if I am well aware clear delineation[s] such as these don’t exist in the real world.”

My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite. The week after I read this, the Bookshare twitter chat actually covered this book. I’m not sure if I just need to read it again or what, as certain aspects of the book (which are likely cultural) and a lot of symbolism was lost on me until I did the Twitter chat. This could be more as now that I am not in school, I don’t really analyze what I am reading and just want to enjoy it? Solid 3 stars, although many rank it much higher!

Missing: A memoir – Lindsay Harrison. Around this time in March, a friend’s son went missing. I began pouring through stories of missing persons in both books and podcasts, as a way by which to potentially wrap my head around how a person can simply disappear and not leave a trace. This book was gripping and at times heartbreaking, as a college student and her family wade through the experience, tumult,  confusion of her mother going missing, and their journey to find her.

The World As It Is: Inside the Obama White House – Ben Rhodes. Every so often, I need to go back to the good old days of Obama, despite not being American. Easily one of the best books I read last year, The World As It Is deserved a re-read. I can’t say I loved it as much as the first time, but maybe that’s because I found the actual audio-book and I’m just very used to the synthesized voice of Voice Dream Reader’s Will and Heather. Or I found it distracting not being read by Ben Rhodes as I hear his voice each week on Pod Save the World. Either way. Still a great book.

Books read: 11

April 2019.

Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law – Preet Bharara.  This book was a very real look at the criminal justice system, and the flaws it has from the view of a prosecutor—which differed from how I personally thought a prosecutor may look at the justice system. With a heart towards defendants, Preet Bharara explores themes in the US Justice system that are eye-opening. (For an ease-in, sort of, check out his interview on Pod Save America. It’s fabulous.)

Pants on Fire – Meg Cabot. I never thought I’d give a Meg Cabot book just two stars, but here we are. This book just felt… too basic to me? I don’t know, but the reviewers with the highest ranked community ratings/reviews on Goodreads have ranked it 1-2 stars too, so it’s clearly not Cabot’s best work. Which is still, arguably, All American Girl, in my opinion (did that ever get made into a movie? It was supposed to.). Or the Heather Wells series. Or 1-800-Where-R-U. See, lots of other good titles, this just isn’t one. 

Out of the Pocket – Bill Konigsberg. Last year, I read my first book by Bill Konigsberg, and I don’t know why it took me so long to read another. So I went in full force into this LGBTQ+ author’s remaining works I hadn’t yet read. It’s been years since I took the course Issues in Sport, but I feel like this is something that we should have discussed there but didn’t—the fact that sexual orientation in sports should be a non-issue but isn’t. Out of the Pocket is the coming out of a fictional gay high school football star and the societal reactions to a non-straight athlete… and whether or not coming out will ruin his future career prospects.

The Porcupine of Truth – Bill Konigsberg. This story is just unbelievable enough to be believable—but hey, its fiction, so anything can happen. Here’s the summary, because I don’t need to re-write it, but we all know I’m always up for a good road-trip story—and The Porcupine of Truth is certainly that and then some.

The Music of What Happens – Bill Konigsberg. A high-schooler needing money to help bail his mom out of debt gets a job at a food truck, which happens to be owned by the mom of a guy in his class that he’s noticed. Obviously they fall in love with some confusion, but also they are hit by a legitimate Series of Unfortunate Events, except not by Lemony Snickett, including the food truck being hauled away… and fighting to get it back. 

Let’s Talk About Love – Claire Kann. Okay so while we’re into LGBTQ+ characters, lets swing into another realm known as hooray, fiction about asexuals! Representation is important. Alice is perhaps the most awkward but classic character, her girlfriend broke up with her after learning Alice is asexual, only to develop a massive crush on this dude at the library she works at. But the part of this book I really, really loved was Alice’s relationship with her two friends she lives with, and how she stands up to her parents who expect her to become a lawyer when she really does not want to. It’s like, classic young adult life shit and confusion, with the twist of ace-ness that makes it different than every other story about a girl falling in and out of love.

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives – Dashka Slater. I think this book is written for middle-grade kids but the tone isn’t quite right, more suitable for a semi-academic read for an older crowd. The balance of story, fact and tone were awkward at times, and I think the author struggled to weave these together appropriately. The story of a boy lighting an agender individual’s skirt on fire on a bus leading to severe burns changes both of their lives, equally explores the factors that led both parties together on a bus for just a few minutes each day on the way home from school that led to the incident—and to learning and forgiveness. Certainly not everyone needs to nor should forgive their attacker… but the process certainly made for an interesting part of the story. 

The Pregnancy Project – Gaby Rodriguez. It sounds crazy but it’s true: a teenage girl, with permission of the school and her mother, faked a pregnancy for her senior project. Gaby’s mom and sister were both teen moms, and feels everyone is expecting her to get pregnant like they did. So, as a social experiment she “does”. I’m still so confused by the ethics of this decision on the part of the school, but this book was super interesting. 

Life Will Be the Death of Me… And You Too! – Chelsea Handler. Ugh, so I rated this three stars because it was generally enjoyable-ish, but also, every time I think of it my reaction is just that—ugh. Chelsea Handler is basically a famous person who can’t do anything for herself and finally figures it out, and then pays tons of money to famous psychologist Dan Siegel to help her sort out her not-normal-person-problems. Her problems are clearly valid, I am just basically irritated by the premise and tone of this book since like, she couldn’t figure out how to turn off her speaker because she never had to before and had to sleep with music on all night, and is just somehow able to have her dog running around in her first class pod? Writing this mini-review makes me feel like downgrading my rating. Anyways, I think my bottom line is: the self-discovery (of Chelsea) is interesting, but the anecdotes of not knowing how to do anything are annoying.
(I should probably add here that I’ve met Dan Siegel and done a workshop with him once at Stanford Medicine X. Which is clearly not therapy, but a fun-fact.)

Dear Nobody – Berlie Doherty. Teenage girl gets pregnant, teenage boy is the dad. The interesting thing is this is mostly written from the teenage father’s perspective, but also through letters from the mother-to-be to her unborn baby, whom she calls nobody. Predictable-ish storyline but still leaves you guessing at parts, like any teen pregnancy story should. (Well, save for that one two books up… the biggest twist there was knowing she was actually not pregnant, but I digress.)

Tash Hearts Tolstoy – Kathryn Ormsbee. I liked this book more than I’d thought I would, given it’s a fictional account of YouTube fame and all. I felt like it pretty accurately captured the weirdness of that kind of a thing, while having a character who was just quirky enough and had like, normal problems, like draining her college fund to go to a YouTube awards thing in Orlando, problems with friends, and a weird obsession with Tolstoy. It was kind of refreshing to actually see a character whose entire world wasn’t tragically falling apart.

Radio Silence – Alice Oseman. Not that this book wasn’t good but again it’s another of those let’s throw EVERYTHING into this book. Everything. type books. And at times, it’s a bit much because while life is truly chaotic, I get it, I feel like all the things in this one was a bit much. I could start to describe it, but we might be here the length of the book with all the things it contained. It was in no way bad, but yeah, a lot going on. To the extent I can’t even provide a summary other than it was based around a podcaster and a super-fan randomly knowing each other IRL without knowing it, and that spinning into a whole web of things

Books read: 12

Books read in 2019 so far: 49/115 – 43% to goal.

 

Again, what are you reading? Add me on Goodreads, I think we can still discover our book-matching-ness on there? That could be fun. (Yes, we can still discover our book-matching-ness but possibly only from a computer, not the app.)

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?

(Hello blog, it’s been forever.)

Hello, 2019. 

I’m not into resolutions, as we’ve probably discussed before. Or maybe we haven’t, because I haven’t written anything here since March, apparently. Either way, I’ve written a lot about goal-setting elsewhere, so while I know how to set goals, I’m not into planning to tackle things which I’ll never accomplish just because of a truly arbitrary date known as January 1. Let’s be honest, I’ll spend the first 4 months of the year turning the 8 into a 9 when writing 2019. 

That doesn’t mean I’m going into 2019 unfocused though. (Well, I mean, I presume I will remain unfocused.) After ringing in the new year with The Trews (preceded by The Treble and Attica Riots, which happened after a Moose hockey game—so yes, an overall kickass New Year’s Eve), at 1:21 AM I threw a note down in my phone.

Bullet points for 2019:

  • Blog more (personally)
  • See more live bands
  • Travel for fun
  • Read interesting shit
  • Embrace awesome moments.

That’s it. And that’s enough of a plan; I can make the rest later. Because “Who says it has to be the new year to start a new year?” 

As such, I hope my next post here doesn’t start with “Hello blog, it’s been forever”. That I keep up my excellent start to this year seeing more bands play live. That I do as I did last year and travel more for fun, not “just” for conferences (though hopefully I do that too!)—last year was Montreal with Dia, Orlando with my parents, the Holiday From Real Roadtrip from Palo Alto to LA with Ryan, and to Penticton, BC to see Bryan and David (thanks to Air Canada for stranding me in Toronto and then giving me a flight credit for that last one!). Hopefully I tell those stories here, in keeping with point number one. The last two are easier: I feel my reading materials diversified somewhat last year, thanks to Bookshare mostly—I mean, that doesn’t mean I didn’t just start reading a lot of true crime, but hey, that’s a departure from mainly pure YA. And finally, embracing awesome moments—whether that’s just in my head, via mindfulness, or chronicling them somewhere, too.

We’re off to a strong start 2019. Let’s keep it going. Stories, music, friends, family… and all the other good things.

This thing is cool.

https://i0.wp.com/farm5.staticflickr.com/4486/36830015114_c7fe8e7a24.jpg?resize=500%2C375&ssl=1

Awhile back, I learned of the C-Pen Reader from the Learning Disabilities Association of Manitoba. After learning more about it, I felt like the C-Pen would be a tool that would help me as a person with a learning disability who learns best through listening rather than seeing—as I’ve written before, I primarily now read audiobooks, and frequently use text-to-speech or VoiceOver on my MacBook, iPhone and iPad when reading longer texts. This switch has greatly enhanced my retention of what I read. But what about actual paper documents? It becomes a hassle to scan dozens of pages to have them convert. 

Enter the C-Pen.

In video, because it probably makes more sense that way. 

Disclosure: I contacted Scanning Pens in the UK requesting to review the C-Pen Reader. They got back in touch quickly sent me one out via a Canadian distributor. I am in no way obligated to provide a favourable review.

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.