Reviews

Book Recommendations

June 12, 2017

I’ve not been so great with sharing the books that greatly influence my commentary and reflections on this blog -I will get better with listing them in the posts, but this will serve as a master list of all the books I’ve read that have influenced my life and way of thinking. The list will continue to grow so check back frequently. The links to the books include affiliate links so if you click I may make a few pennies. I hope you enjoy the books and benefit from them as much as I have.

 

  • A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit: I finished reading this book about a week ago (Around June 5th, 2017) and I have to say, it was hard to let it go. The book is primarily about female sexual modesty. It is a criticism of what has become a mainstay in our society -post sexual and feminist revolution. It questions some of the main assumptions underlying those movements. The question to readers is this: If sexual modesty is a social construct, why is it so difficult to get rid of? She argues that we have to fight so hard against sexual modesty because it is in fact natural. The overarching purpose of her book is to make us question whether women are better off in the post-sexual revolution, post-feminist world or if we may have missed the mark and are in need for a return to the virtues of the past. I can’t recommend this book enough, especially for any woman feeling a bit uneasy with current societal and gender norms -I hope to write a full review soon on the blog.

  Take a read: Amzn.to/2tcKILr

  • The Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges: I’d recommend reading Chris Hedges writings in general on his site Truthdig.com. His commentary paints quite a bleak picture of America as a failing empire. I read this book quite a few years ago and wrote a book review for it here, but I imagine myself picking it up once again to further understand how exactly we got here -here as in, to the point where we elected a reality TV star as president. We live in an oligarchy, we’re obsessed with entertainment, we objectify and demean women -that is the view of Chris Hedges which he explains in graphic detail with this book. I believe it is important to not passively live in a society but to understand it -in order to change what’s wrong with it or at least not fall victim to it, whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions, opening up your framework to see a larger view of our modern world is reason enough to read this book.

  Take a read: Amzn.to/2seSPdb

  • Between The World And Me by Ta-NeHisi Coates: Toni Morrison called it “required reading” and I wouldn’t take any book recommendation from her lightly. I’ve followed his work for some time and believe him to be one of the most important commentators on race, race relations and racism in America and he’s simply an amazing writer. I’m still in the middle of his book but I have zero qualms about recommending it. I recommend you read everything he’s written for The Atlantic in particular. His book is written in the form of a letter to his son about his life through the particular lens of being a black man in America. I’ve shed tears and throw my hands up at different parts of the book, it’s an emotional journey. A journey every black person in America knows well, but Ta- Nehisi Coates puts into words that validate our pain while also highlighting our strength. For non-black people, it will be an eye opener and hopefully, they will leave the book a different person than before they opened it -I hope to write a full review soon on the blog.

  Take a read: Amzn.to/2skd7Ts

Unfinished Business (Review in progress)

August 4, 2016

UnfinishedBusinessSome time back I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s excellent essay in The Atlantic, ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have It All‘. It was a much-needed response to the nauseating cry that women in the 21st century, in the West, can ‘have it all‘. The car, the kids, the husband, the education and the career not to mention the beauty and the ever youthful glow. I remember being in a grad school class on Motherhood and a similar subject came up. I said, with the exhaustion I felt, that the expectations on women seemed to have grown exponentially since our fore-mothers. It was once satisfactory for a woman to receive a high school or college education, then get married and settle down -maybe she’d work for some time before finding Mr. Right, but it was perfectly acceptable for a woman’s life to be linear -this, then this, then this. But now we are expected to, in the decades of our twenties and thirties, get a higher education, get married, have children, start a career, and maintain societal beauty expectations all at the same time.

It’s no longer acceptable to simply go to school and then get married, one who does is considered to have given up on life and lack motivation. Worse yet, if a woman decides to do as society tells her, to get the job the husband and the kid, she’s still judged as too weak-willed and unmotivated -and not “leaning in”, if she decides to work in a career that offers more flexibility and less prestige. So many aspects of this dramatic change have not really been contemplated by modern society. For one, when a woman is pushed to be just as successful as her male counterpart: What happens to the kids? What we forgot, as Slaughter so aptly puts in her book, “The men who have chosen to make that trade-off over the decades have… been supported… by full-time or at least lead care givers”. When women with husbands and children make the decision to lean in yes the husband may “step-up” to help more, but it largely means the children are simply getting less care. Which, as hard as we may attempt to ignore as a society, is not only a problem for the kids but for the mother as well. I’m also currently reading Maternal Desire by Daphne De Marneffe and she discusses the fact that we’ve had a very real problem in the West being honest about maternal desire, the idea that a woman may in fact want to raise her children as a primary responsibility. These conversations are difficult to have because being honest about the differences between men and women have become taboo in our society. But whether the desire to care or the willingness of women to be full-time parents as their mates pursue their career is biologically driven or socially based doesn’t really matter in my view, what matters more is the here and now.

What do women feel here and now? What do women want? Instead of women like Sheryl Sandberg telling us what we should want or what we should do, instead of telling us to ‘lean in’ why don’t we deal on-the-ground asking women what they want out of life? And if the answer is spending more time with children, raising a family, why don’t we give them the best solutions? ‘Women can have it all’ is a nice slogan, but it is just a slogan and Slaughter, in her book is peeling back from the slogans and asking questions about reality. We have to be honest about all of what we want in life and also how we want it, we also need to be honest about the sacrifices we will have to make. But this also isn’t an individual decision that we must all make on our own, as Slaughters point out, a lot of woman are being pushed out of the workforce because their jobs are simply too rigid. As a society and as individuals we made many dramatic changes post feminism but now that we’ve accepted a new normal we have to ask ourselves if we can do better and if our times call for a new movement and new ideals and a more balanced approach towards work and family life.

The Undiscovered Mind

April 9, 2016

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I’m currently reading Four Arguments For The Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander and The Undiscovered Mind by John Horgan. The former I’ve read previously and the latter is a new discovery.

Jerry Mander makes the point of his book quite clear. Before I began re-reading it -I first read it about two years ago, I flipped to the back and read the last section. I remembered that it was the last section that struck me the most. After giving a presentation to a group of fifth graders about the effects of technology on society and the individual, I remembered Jerry Mander recalling in the last section of his book that despite many reading his book and agreeing with him they still thought themselves powerless. “Are you really going to advocate its elimination?” one interlocutor asks Mander. Despite having laid out the harms of television so clearly -it’s harms to our health, to democracy, human experience and many other factors it seems we are still faced with the same question when anyone proposes that we ought to not watch TV or professes to not watch it themselves.

But in all honestly not watching TV is less rare today, not because we’ve finally awaken to its harms, but because the internet on its various devices has replaced it. The reasons to not watch TV don’t all relate to the Internet -the idea of the few talking to the many is not eliminated but it is not as present in the medium, it may in fact be among the most democratic mediums. But many of the other issues he spoke about against TV do apply to the Internet as well. I’ve read a chapter of The Shallows and it will probably be the next book I read, it seems to be the most appropriate next choice.

The Undiscovered Mind is about the limitation of science when it comes to the brain. It’s not just amazing how little we know but how little progress has been made in the field of neuroscience. One thing I dislike about our access to constant streams of information is that it allows us to believe we know so much and it’s only a matter of time before we know it all. The truth is quite the opposite. Why did a steel pole get rammed in to a man’s head and he retained complete functionality except that his personality changed dramatically? Why is it that the left hemisphere of a young boy was so deformed it had to be removed and somehow 10 months later he could speak? (Neuroscientists promoted the idea that the left side of the brain is responsible for language). Why do lobotomizes make some patients catatonic and others lose control? One quote I love from the book so far:

Because every individual is comprised of a singular combination of physiology, social identity, and personal values, in effect each patient constitutes a unique experience.

Since I’ve read The Four Arguments… already I can highly recommend it. The Undiscovered Mind is excellent so far. To make a small note, besides being enthusiastic about both these books I also find it extremely important to read books. Reading books, long form reading that required from the author a painstaking time commitment, research and well thought out philosophies are extremely valuable. For example I knew I had a hate-love relationship with TV before reading Jerry Mander’s book but his research and conviction of the subject helped to give me an even deeper perspective. I love reading blog posts, essays, magazine articles, etc. but there is no equivalent to sitting down quietly with a book -preferably a paper book that can’t distract you with Facebook notifications, to intimately take in the authors words, to pause, to reflect.

They’ve been announcing the “death of books” for some time now but I’m almost certain that the day this is true will be the day a part of humanity dies. One thing that stands out about modern society more than others is our mass literacy, we should not take it for granted.

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♣ Available for purchase below ♣

The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Brain Defies Replication, Medication, and Explanation
Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television

Book Review: Tinkers

May 26, 2015

tinkersFor better or worse an usually both, our parents affect us. It’s easy to make a political statement in light of this book, fathers matter. And so do mothers but because fathers are more often the ones who abandon than mothers and the one who abandons in Paul Hardings’ book, it is painfully clear that fathers matter. Few say, though it does seem to be getting more and more repetition, mothers don’t matter, whether directly or by example. But fathers for time immemorial have been told they don’t matter because fathers so often are given the strict role of provider, maintainer an leader when that role becomes impossible or simply difficult for them to accomplish they -sometimes, vanish. In my own life I’ve seen this happen. I can recall two women specifically whose children’s fathers simply disappeared either for a period of time or indefinitely. They were both men unable to provide financially for their families and their non relationship or negative relationship with the mothers only compounded the issue, so they left. Women are given so many routes by which to mother -financially, emotionally, physically, etc. Anyway despite this, fathers matter. Whether low life, deatbeat or indifferent we don’t forget. George didn’t forget.

George is the center of Paul Harding’s Tinkers. The story takes place in his room as he lay dying surrounded by his loved ones. His mind drifts back to his childhood and his father who disappeared when he was a young boy. The story also takes us further back to his fathers childhood and his memories of his own father, a three generational tale of how of fathers shape us. I mention his father specifically because there is sometimes an urge to pretend as though a decent childhood has little to do with our mom and dad but merely our being loved but an absent parent is still an absent parent. George’s life went on, he got married, had children and a successful job but it’s not merely the outward that counts. His father may not have hurt his ability to become decent but his abandonment left a mark, a memory, that wasn’t simply washed away with time.

Something draws us to our parents for neither good nor bad but in itself. We long to know who they were before being parents, what their life and their childhoods were like, when they met each other, when they decided to get married, when they were silent, why they yelled, their smiles both faint and wide, their undying love for us or the burning questions when it all goes wrong -why didn’t they love us? why didn’t they stay? George’s dying memories take him back to those painful times of unanswered questions but it also simply takes us back. Tinkers is a book you have to be patient with, it won’t come out all at once and it is at times, painful. Not solely in it’s events but in the depths of it’s details, its long trailing off in to nothingness, a slow an purposeful reflection on the most minuscule of things. It is the kind of book that will sometimes have you screaming “get to the point!” but if you’re patient and sit with it you’ll realize it (the moments of uneventfulness) is also the point. Life is not merely filled with high points and low points there are lengths of spaces in between that make us question if this is really it.

In my own reflection I think Harding takes these long slow uneventful moments to bring us deep inside the life and mind of George. To take us from event to event would be to cheat us, that’s not how life works, that’s also not how death works and George is dying. Family lineage and death are two of the least meditated issues of modern society. Scientists continue imagine that they are only moments away from discovering a cure for death and the latest political movement tells us love -not mom and dad, is all you need. Yet with all the talk of the modern world, death and lineage cannot just go away. Every soul is given life by the union of a woman and a man, a mom and a dad whose stories are a part of us. And every soul has reached death, chances are every soul will.

The matter of George’s death bring us to both at once, I found it to be a deeply valuable book.

Long Division and Penelope’s Honor

January 10, 2015

I was looking through my blog categories yesterday to see how I could simplify and get rid of a few. I came across “review” and thought -when have I ever done a review? Here’s one and now here’s another. I picked up the book Long Division: A Novel (also titled ‘Miss Harper Can Do It’) by Jane Berentson years ago. I was doing my usual random tour of Barnes and Nobles when I came across this book. I’m not sure what drew me to it but I settled on it found a sit and started reading. I couldn’t put it down, two days in a row I went to the book store to read this book. I was so in to it that I told my self there was no point in buying it and I could just come to the cafe to read (cafe and book store are the same place) but I didn’t and I eventually forgot about the little book.

Fast forward to my technologically enhanced life and I decided to get it on my kindle. The spark, the inability to put the book down, just wasn’t there anymore and so I abandoned it once again. Last night however I opened it back up and read until 3am when I finished. Whether it was the spark or pure insomnia I don’t know but I didn’t put it down until I read every word -with the exclusion of footnotes (why would you put footnotes in a fiction book?). So I will warn by say this book doesn’t get much of a halal rating and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to my fellow muslim. With that out the way, let’s talk about the book.

***Complete Spoiler***
The book is about an American woman, Annie, in her mid twenties whose husband David (it’s her boyfriend but let’s say husband anyway) is off in the Iraqi war. Before he leaves they are madly is love, everything is fine, and everyone supports their union. He leaves for war and she finds support from her parents, an old lady in a nursing home (Loretta), a pet chicken, her colleagues and her best friend Gus. She is alone an lonely. Though her life continues she misses him terribly. As time moves on she depends increasingly upon Loretta and Gus. Her love for David begins to dwindle as time moves on due to their separation, their superficial “How are you? I’m fine” conversations and her growing feeling the they share little in common. It comes as no surprise that old friend Gus increasingly fills the void. Both surprisingly and unsurprisingly her and David do not last and she moves on to Gus.

The story is told in a way you’d expect a typical young white Amrican girl to speak -lots of sarcasm, melodrama and overanalyzing. And that is what makes the book pretty funny. If you’re willing it can also lead to some deeply philosophical questions especially about relationships. When the Gus character first appears on the scenes I tell the character, sometimes out loud, “No, don’t!”. Spending time with someone is an easy trap to making you feel you’re in love with them. Distance can widen the gap between love making you question whether it’s real. Or is it the other way around? Does distance, as the old saying goes, “make the heart grow fonder”? And would you only fall for someone you spend time with if the love is really there? Do you have an obligation to your current relationship no matter how bad or boring it is to try your absolute best before bowing out? I spoke about some of this in The Great Divorce but the questions still rattle inside me. An in this situation in particular -Is it honorable to leave a man at war?

Penelope weavingWhich brings me to Penelope. Penelope you may know, if you’re American and went through high school, is the wife of Odysseus. Without going back in to English class 101 it suffices to say he was off at war (and other adventures) for 10 years with no one knowing whether he was alive or dead and she waited for his return.

Many people write off this bit as misogynist because Odysseus was not faithful (physically) to his wife while she was, they claim this sets up an unfair standard that women must be chase and male chastity is of no importance. While there’s value to that argument the misfortune is Odysseus’s not Penelope’s. It’s not unfortunate that Penelope didn’t get to live by the same (low) standards of Odysseus’s infidelity. If their should be any equality created it should be that his standards are raised to her level of fidelity. But more than that I see the act of Penelope in and of itself as honorable. How honorable it is to wait on the love of your life instead of giving up and jumping on any of the many suitable suitors who came seeking her hand. The honor is her honor. It not simply an act of loyalty but an act of honoring her heart, her body and her household instead of selling it to the highest bidder. Would it be wrong if she did decided to get married after 2 years of missing Odysseus? No but there would be nothing honorable about that, it would be acceptable run of the mill that’s life kind of stuff, it wouldn’t be worth thinking about, contemplating or theorizing.

So the woman, Annie, in Long Division didn’t get this honor. But I didn’t think she was a bad person for falling out of love and moving on. It just felt very “basic”. It was what anyone would do, it wasn’t an exceptional act it was just typical. I don’t think anyone will be talking about or analyzing Long Division for hundreds of years to come because in the end it’s not that interesting. David moves away, his girl gets close to her male best friend, her and David are not more, she moves on to best friend. Nothing quite remarkable about that and though Gus, the male best friend is quite the catch, I think we’re clued in willingly or not that this won’t last either, Gus says in speaking about his last break up, “I was tired of her. Isn’t that the reason? I mean, unless one person does something particularly evil to the other person, most relationships end at the pasty hands of boredom”. Boredom.
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