BEA · mini-review · stuff I read

The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood by Belle Boggs

Summary from Goodreads:
A brilliant exploration of the natural, medical, psychological, and political facets of fertility

When Belle Boggs’s “The Art of Waiting” was published in Orion in 2012, it went viral, leading to republication in Harper’s Magazine, an interview on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show, and a spot at the intersection of “highbrow” and “brilliant” in New York magazine’s “Approval Matrix.”

In that heartbreaking essay, Boggs eloquently recounts her realization that she might never be able to conceive. She searches the apparently fertile world around her–the emergence of thirteen-year cicadas, the birth of eaglets near her rural home, and an unusual gorilla pregnancy at a local zoo–for signs that she is not alone. Boggs also explores other aspects of fertility and infertility: the way longing for a child plays out in the classic Coen brothers film Raising Arizona; the depiction of childlessness in literature, from Macbeth to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; the financial and legal complications that accompany alternative means of family making; the private and public expressions of iconic writers grappling with motherhood and fertility. She reports, with great empathy, complex stories of couples who adopted domestically and from overseas, LGBT couples considering assisted reproduction and surrogacy, and women and men reflecting on childless or child-free lives.

In The Art of Waiting, Boggs deftly distills her time of waiting into an expansive contemplation of fertility, choice, and the many possible roads to making a life and making a family.

As usual, Graywolf hit it out of the park with The Art of Waiting. Boggs intertwined the story of her own struggle with infertility with a larger look at the ethics of and barriers to assisted reproductive technologies and the cultural pressure to have children. The resulting book is a thoughtful examination of child-bearing in the 21st century and the pressures placed on women both physically and psychologically when the biology doesn’t work as society assumes it should. Boggs also tried to expand her work into the specific barriers facing same-sex couples, single parents, and people of color – few ART resources are readily available to women who are not white, well-off, hetero-normative, married couples, an area of institutional discrimination that needs a great deal of work.

The Art of Waiting wasn’t a book I was looking for – I’m pretty much in the “will never have kids” camp – but I’m so glad Marisa at the Greywolf table told me to come back the next day when Boggs would be there signing galleys.  (And pressing four-leaf clovers between the pages – I was very careful not to lose such a sweet gesture.)

Dear FTC: I have a signed galley of this book from the publisher from BEA.

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Best American · mini-review · stuff I read

Best American Infographics 2016 edited by Gareth Cook

Summary from Goodreads:
“When it comes to infographics…the best work in this field grabs those eyes, keeps them glued, and the grip is sensual—and often immediate. A good graphic says ‘See what I see!’ and either you do or you don’t. The best ones…pull you right in, and won’t let you go.”
—From the introduction by Robert Krulwich

The year’s most “awesome” (RedOrbit) infographics reveal aspects of our world in often startling ways—from a haunting graphic mapping the journey of 15,790 slave ships over 315 years, to a yearlong data drawing project on postcards that records and cements a trans-Atlantic friendship. The Best American Infographics 2016 covers the realms of social issues, health, sports, arts and culture, and politics—including crisp visual data on the likely Democratic/Republican leanings of an array of professions (proving that your urologist is far more likely to be a Republican than your pediatrician). Here once again are the most innovative print and electronic infographics—“the full spectrum of the genre—from authoritative to playful” (Scientific American). ROBERT KRULWICH is the cohost of Radiolab and a science correspondent for NPR. He writes, draws, and cartoons at Curiously Krulwich, where he synthesizes scientific concepts into colorful, one-of-a-kind blog posts. He has won several Emmy awards for his work on television, and has been called “the most inventive network reporter in television” by TV Guide.

I really love this series.  However, in this volume I feel like a few of the infographics selected were overly-hard to read. Not because they were interactive or large (which was an easy problem to since I could find them online) but because the graphs were unnecessarily complex, hard to interpret, or had data the graphic didn’t/couldn’t explain (was missing a key, etc). On the excellent side, there is a beautiful 8-page foldout of a NatGeo infographic about dome architecture and a charming graphic of Popemobiles over the years. Of importance to bibliophiles, there’s one that tracks literary road trips in the US. I’d encourage you to go to the webpage and use the interactive bits.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope by Berkeley Breathed

Summary from Goodreads:
OPUS AWAKENS!
In 2015, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berkeley Breathed began (without warning!) producing ALL-NEW Bloom County strips for the first time in more than 25 years! Breathed released the new Bloom County strips exclusively through his Facebook page, to the cheers of devoted and delighted fans everywhere. These brand new strips have NEVER before been available in print until now! All the wit, charm and biting satire that are trademarks of Bloom County and Berkeley Breathed are clearly on display and evident in this handsome new volume. Featuring all your favorite characters: Opus, Milo, Bill the Cat, Steve Dallas, Cutter John, and many more. Bloom County has come home and it’s about time!

One of my big scores at BEA was a signed sampler of the new Bloom County comics collections.  And then NetGalley came through with a digital advance (which my poor, aging iPad had trouble handling, taking several seconds to load a full page). I could not have been more excited than if I swallowed a cat and broke out in kittens (to borrow a Liberty-ism).

Breathed revived his beloved Bloom Country comic strip in 2015, putting two or three strips a week up on his Facebook page.  And it feels like Opus, Milo, Binkley, and Bill the Cat (*ack*) never left.  They’ve merely been waiting in the wings to burst out when we all needed a good laugh and dose of perspective.  Breathed treats us to old gags (the running genre mashup of Star Wars and Star Trek careening downhill on Cutter John’s wheelchair) with new twists (Sith Lord Sexypants, omg).  Berke still has the gift to give us pathos and humor in one frame (Steve Dallas just might have a heart) but also comfort us with a laugh when we’re sad (I dare you not to chuckle at his Bowie tribute strip). I’ll be the first one with bells on to hear him read if he books an appointment with Prairie Lights.

(My only complaint is that IDW is apparently putting this out in trade paperback, not clothbound – and I so wanted it to match my pretty collected volumes.  *sigh*)

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.

mini-review · stuff I read

Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them from Movies Anymore) by Hadley Freeman

Summary from Goodreads:
From Vogue contributor and Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, a personalized guide to eighties movies that describes why they changed movie-making forever—featuring exclusive interviews with the producers, directors, writers and stars of the best cult classics.

For Hadley Freeman, movies of the 1980s have simply got it all. Comedy in Three Men and a Baby, Hannah and Her Sisters, Ghostbusters, and Back to the Future; all a teenager needs to know in Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, and Mystic Pizza; the ultimate in action from Top Gun, Die Hard, Beverly Hills Cop, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; love and sex in 9 1/2 Weeks, Splash, About Last Night, The Big Chill, and Bull Durham; and family fun in The Little Mermaid, ET, Big, Parenthood, and Lean On Me.

In Life Moves Pretty Fast, Hadley puts her obsessive movie geekery to good use, detailing the decade’s key players, genres, and tropes. She looks back on a cinematic world in which bankers are invariably evil, where children are always wiser than adults, where science is embraced with an intense enthusiasm, and the future viewed with giddy excitement. And, she considers how the changes between movies then and movies today say so much about society’s changing expectations of women, young people, and art—and explains why Pretty in Pink should be put on school syllabuses immediately.

From how John Hughes discovered Molly Ringwald, to how the friendship between Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi influenced the evolution of comedy, and how Eddie Murphy made America believe that race can be transcended, this is a “highly personal, witty love letter to eighties movies, but also an intellectually vigorous, well-researched take on the changing times of the film industry” (The Guardian).

My library hold finally came in!

Hadley Freeman has written a very entertaining examination of Eighties films, seen through the lens of one woman’s personal favorites. It’s weighted far more towards comedies (Princess Bride, Ghostbusters, Ferris Bueller, When Harry Met Sally, Baby Boom, Back to the Future, etc) than other genres likely because these are the movies that Freeman loves (she admits to not being on the bandwagon for Star Wars, which means Empire and Jedi are both weirdly absent from a book about Eighties movies, even as peripheral references). There are some excellent points made about feminism in Eighties movies, some great Nancy Meyer quotes, and I think the last chapter brings up some needed issues about racism and how shitty studios are to black people (and by extension POCs in general). Lots of fun music and quote lists, too.

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this from my library.

mini-review · stuff I read

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

Summary from Goodreads:
Joining the ranks of popular science classics like The Botany of Desire and The Selfish Gene, a groundbreaking, wondrously informative, and vastly entertaining examination of the most significant revolution in biology since Darwin—a “microbe’s-eye view” of the world that reveals a marvelous, radically reconceived picture of life on earth.

Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Many people think of microbes as germs to be eradicated, but those that live with us—the microbiome—build our bodies, protect our health, shape our identities, and grant us incredible abilities. In this astonishing book, Ed Yong takes us on a grand tour through our microbial partners, and introduces us to the scientists on the front lines of discovery.

Yong, whose humor is as evident as his erudition, prompts us to look at ourselves and our animal companions in a new light—less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are. The microbes in our bodies are part of our immune systems and protect us from disease. Those in cows and termites digest the plants they eat. In the deep oceans, mysterious creatures without mouths or guts depend on microbes for all their energy. Bacteria provide squids with invisibility cloaks, help beetles to bring down forests, and allow worms to cause diseases that afflict millions of people.

I Contain Multitudes is the story of these extraordinary partnerships, between the creatures we are familiar with and those we are not. It reveals how we humans are disrupting these partnerships and how we might manipulate them for our own good. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it.

The hot new thing in microbiology (and pop culture diet-land) is the science of symbiotic microbes.  Microbes that help us digest food!  Or keep us from getting fat! Or sick! Or old!  Well, hold your horses.  Before you hop on the hot new fad, get some science in your brain.

And for that, you’ll need Ed Yong’s well-written and well-researched I Contain Multitudes.

This book is a very interesting and informative overview about symbiotic microbes. Yong has a gift for science writing – he neatly conveys complex information in a compulsively readable format. He covers all types of symbiotic relationships from the very simple single-cell organisms and their one symbiotic bacteria to the human gut with its myriad microbial population.  He visits scientists working with almost every Genus of organism on this planet.  He also recounts the history of our war against all microbes (at the beginning of germ theory, all the germs you came across were automatically considered harmful) and how research and advances in technology are causing scientists to rethink our relationship with our single-celled ancestors.

(Aside: more pictures!! Why are there never enough pictures? Also, many thanks to his US editors for not “Americanizing” Yong’s British English.)

Recommended for everyone, particularly fans of David Quammen.

Dear FTC:  I bought my copy of this book.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian

Summary from Goodreads:
A scoundrel who lives in the shadows

Jack Turner grew up in the darkness of London’s slums, born into a life of crime and willing to do anything to keep his belly full and his siblings safe. Now he uses the tricks and schemes of the underworld to help those who need the kind of assistance only a scoundrel can provide. His distrust of the nobility runs deep and his services do not extend to the gorgeous high-born soldier who personifies everything Jack will never be.

A soldier untarnished by vice

After the chaos of war, Oliver Rivington craves the safe predictability of a gentleman’s life-one that doesn’t include sparring with a ne’er-do-well who flouts the law at every turn. But Jack tempts Oliver like no other man has before. Soon his yearning for the unapologetic criminal is only matched by Jack’s pleasure in watching his genteel polish crumble every time they’re together.

Two men only meant for each other

A few months ago I saw a random tweet that Avon Romance had signed a new author of m/m (male/male) historical romance.  I was immediately interested.  LGBTQ+ romance is a big blind spot for me.  I’m not exactly sure why (aside from me not deliberately seeking out non-hetero pairings in my romance) but I need to remedy that.  The Soldier’s Scoundrel got to be the first true m/m romance in my reading life (i.e. the first full-length novel where the HEA between the men was the plot focus, as opposed to erotica short stories or the non-hetero pairing between side characters or something).

Cat Sebastian has given us Jack Turner (an ex-thief/servant turned sort-of-private-eye/fixer) and Oliver Rivington (wounded, earnest, aristocratic ex-military man). Recently sold-out of the army, Rivington turns up at Turner’s place of business demanding to know why his sister paid Jack for his services (Jack generally doesn’t advertise his…specialty).  Jack, for his part, doesn’t feel the need to justify himself, or betray a client, to a privileged, far too-handsome for his own good toff.

Of course, they are instantly attracted to each other.  Oliver, like a puppy with a bone, keeps after Jack until he learns the nature of Jack’s business and then he offers to help.  But Jack doesn’t need Oliver’s help (or distraction).  Or does he?

Jack and Oliver are pretty adorable together, particularly Oliver.  As described, I kept thinking of them as Aidan Turner from Poldark as Jack (dark-haired, sardonic) and Tom Hiddleston back when he was still blonde and appearing as a very young cop in Wallander (earnest, cheerful) – actually, I quite like this casting choice, this pleases me. There’s a little hint of a “Sherlock and Watson” relationship during the investigation of the Wrexhall matter which sends them off on a trip into the countryside. The male-male relationship presents an interesting shift in the power dynamic of a historical.  Without the historical gender differences, Sebastian used class differences as a way to build tension (there is a little bit of worry about homophobia in society, but this appears much less of an issue than the son of an earl having a close companion from the servant class).

This isn’t a perfect 5-star book.  There are some leaps in the plot that feel a little rough.  I had hoped that Sebastian would push the examination of class a little more, particularly since the only real objection to Oliver’s acquaintance with Jack comes from Oliver’s father and the tone of his one scene is very hard to tease out – class-based objection vs. objection to homosexuality. But on the whole this is a delightful romance to read and I’m very glad to see that Jack’s brother Georgie (who is a very interesting character) is up next in the series.

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss and then I purchased a copy for my Nook.

mini-review · stuff I read

Reading the Silver Screen: A Film Lover’s Guide to Decoding the Art Form That Moves by Thomas C. Foster

Summary from Goodreads:
From the New York Times bestselling author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor comes an indispensable analysis of our most celebrated medium, film.

No art form is as instantly and continuously gratifying as film. When the house lights go down and the lion roars, we settle in to be shocked, frightened, elated, moved, and thrilled. We expect magic. While we’re being exhilarated and terrified, our minds are also processing data of all sorts—visual, linguistic, auditory, spatial—to collaborate in the construction of meaning.

Thomas C. Foster’s Reading the Silver Screen will show movie buffs, students of film, and even aspiring screenwriters and directors how to transition from merely being viewers to becoming accomplished readers of this great medium. Beginning with the grammar of film, Foster demonstrates how every art form has a grammar, a set of practices and if-then propositions that amount to rules. He goes on to explain how the language of film enables movies to communicate the purpose behind their stories and the messages they are striving to convey to audiences by following and occasionally breaking these rules.

Using the investigative approach readers love in How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster examines this grammar of film through various classic and current movies both foreign and domestic, with special recourse to the “AFI 100 Years-100 Movies” lists. The categories are idiosyncratic yet revealing.

In Reading the Silver Screen, readers will gain the expertise and confidence to glean all they can from the movies they love.

I have read (and thought very useful) Forster’s previously published books on reading novels and/or literature “like a professor”.  They are accessible and fun to read.  So I was intrigued to see that Foster had written a book about film criticism.

Unfortunately, Foster has turned in a superficial, scattershot attempt at film-crit-lite in Reading the Silver Screen. It is very heavy on the white Hollywood dudes (Nora Ephron gets a paragraph, Kurosawa gets a mention, and Beasts of the Southern Wild has several paragraphs, likely due to getting a lot of attention in awards season that year).  Art house and foreign cinema are generally ignored – he likes Westerns and Woody Allen (meh). By leaning heavily on the AFI 100 Years – 100 Movies list he cut himself off from serious contemplation of Kurosawa, the Apu trilogy, Bergman (The Seventh Seal, y’all), and other films and directors whose innovative techniques are still used today.

If you know absolutely nothing about film studies, this book might work for you. However, I have a really solid and reasonably wide-ranging film education for someone who isn’t in the industry or a professional film critic or anything.  I got more mileage out of 10 Bad Dates with de Niro – which is essentially a book of lists – than I did Foster’s book.  I also have to recommend Ebert’s Great Movies series – which is a film education in itself if you watch every movie he wrote about (still extremely dude-heavy selections – which is a problem the film industry has yet to actually solve with any satisfaction – but is much more culturally diverse than many film books out there).

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

BEA · mini-review · stuff I read

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

Summary from Goodreads:
New York Times Bestseller

In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be “positive” all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people.

For decades, we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. “F**k positivity,” Mark Manson says. “Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it.” In his wildly popular Internet blog, Manson doesn’t sugarcoat or equivocate. He tells it like it is—a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is his antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected modern society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.

Manson makes the argument, backed both by academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited—”not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.” Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.

There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a refreshing slap for a generation to help them lead contented, grounded lives.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck was a random find at BEA (I think it was handed to me in passing).  So I gave it a whirl.

Ehhhh…it was a perfectly fine self-improvement/personal growth book about learning how to not give a fuck about stuff that gets you nowhere (loser friends, jobs you hate, dead-end relationships, etc) and learning to give a fuck about the stuff that does (hard work, meaningful relationships, etc). This is all well and good…except for the unfortunate fact that I didn’t find it terribly interesting and very little of his ideas seemed to stick in my head. I’m not a follower of Manson’s blog, so I really had no expectations going in.  Perhaps this book would work better for fans or blog followers.

I prefer Sarah Knight’s The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do which was much funnier and was far more memorable and useful given that it was a parody of a sort.

Dear FTC: I was given a paper galley at BEA in May.