Real Life

Book Review: Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself

Author
Alda, Alan
Rating
4 stars = Really Good
Review

After reading If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? , I decided to add some other Alan Alda books to my reading list. Months later, I finally got around to listening to the audiobook for Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. I appreciate that Alda was the narrator, as he already has such a great voice for narration. That being said, there are a few aspects of this book that were likely lost in the translation to audiobook format.

As a celebrity, Alan Alda was invited to speak at many graduation ceremonies for many decades. This book is a collection of some of the speeches he gave at these events. While there are certainly gems of wisdom spread throughout this book, many of the same points are reiterated from speech to speech, making it slightly repetitive after a while. Also, if you don't happen to agree with some of his political views, you might not find some of the speeches particularly interesting. Despite all this, if you can glean some useful advice out of these speeches, then it was worth the read.

One thing I had trouble distinguishing in the audiobook version was where the speeches started and ended and where Alda's reflections and asides started. I would occasionally notice an echo in the recording, which likely indicated that it was one of his speeches. I think the echo was trying to replicate the sensation of listening to Alda in a large space (like the ones used for graduations), but it was so faint as to be indistinguishable from the rest of the book. I appreciate the attention to detail, but it could have been a little stronger.

Some useful graduation advice from Alan Alda, I give Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name
Benjamin W.

Book Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope

Author
Kamkwamba, William and Mealer, Bryan
Rating
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review

This book is one of the most inspirational stories I've ever read. The journey put forth, following William, is truly a gem that makes you think about what could've happened if something had been different. I loved reading it because I felt every details of William's journey to develop his windmill that put him on fame. His determination to prove that science is 'real' and can make a difference, especially during a time and in a culture that rejects it, shows his character and his want for a better life in his land. He perseveres through the struggles of drought and hunger, and overcomes the ridicule thrown from all sides to be able to rise up and rise above, and make his visions come true. A really inspirational story, that shows a hero's journey in a way not usually thought.

Reviewer's Name
Evelyn

Book Review: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

Author
Douglass, Frederick
Rating
4 stars = Really Good
Review

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass illustrates Douglass's life during slavery in Maryland and his attempts to make it to freedom. This narrative demonstrates the horrific situations/events and the terrible way slaves were treated throughout the time period of slavery way deeper than the average history text book. The narrative is extremely informative about life's of slaves since it goes into specifics about slaves being born, their living quarters, amounts of food, the masters, etc. It is very difficult to relate to or know exactly how a slave was treated in this time period; however, this book allows readers to understand the hideous and fearful actions that were taken against these human beings. This narrative brought tears to my eyes and shocking expressions to my face when reading certain real events that took place. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and it was extremely well written because it allowed me to see more than what is taught in an American History class because Frederick Douglass goes so in-depth about his experiences in slavery throughout the narrative.

Reviewer grade: 11

Reviewer's Name
Lana

Book Review: Stop Telling Women to Smile

Author
Fazlalizadeh, Tatyana
Rating
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review

In this anthology, Fazlalizadeh shares interviews with twelve women in cities all across America about street harassment and sexual objectification, and describes her efforts to use art to communicate the pain that these encounters cause. Many girls and women can relate to her descriptions catcalling and degrading encounters, and this book confronts these discussions head on, forcing them to the forefront of conversation and refusing to let you ignore them. It gives a voice to people that are often silenced, and demands that the reader confront their own silence on the issues she describes.

I read this book as part of a research project I'm doing on gender, and am currently working on a section on objectification, especially when it comes to women. This book summed up a lot of the common encounters and the dangers of the world they create for both women and men. It gave words to people who may not have felt like they had the words before. And coupled with the poignant illustrations and quotes on every page, the book is simply beautiful to read. I think everyone should hear these women's stories, regardless of gender. "Stop Telling Women to Smile" speaks to the powerful truth of the human experience. It refuses to gloss over the pain that many people feel while also offering genuine hope for a more inclusive and kind future grounded in mutual respect.

Reviewer's Name
Mercy

Book Review: The Secret Life of Pronouns

Author
Pennebaker, James W.
Rating
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review

This book looks at what our pronoun usage in our language says about us. There is also an online website which uses the same tools Pennebaker uses in his studies, providing the reader with an interactive aspect as well. The concepts in the book about how different pronouns correlate with different social status, group dynamics, gender, and other factors provide an insight on an aspect of daily life most people never think about. It also includes charts and graphs to help convey information, although Pennebaker does not provide his raw data for portions of the book, only his conclusion. By the end of the book many points he makes feel repetitive, making the later chapters less interesting to read.

Reviewer's Name
Mark T.

Book Review: The Boy Crisis

Author
Farrell, Warren & Gray, John
Rating
4 stars = Really Good
Review

This is a controversial book. Designed as a critique to modern day feminism, Farrell and Gray draw on decades of joint research and experience to debunk the patriarchy and discuss the way that our society is neglecting the needs of young boys and men. They argue that feminism has led to a crisis of education, mental health, and sexuality for boys and men whose needs are not being met.

As a feminist myself, I had a lot of reservations about reading this. I originally checked it out as part of ongoing research for an article I'm writing on cultural standards around masculinity and femininity in the US, but I disagreed with almost everything it stood for. However, I was stunned by how thoughtful and well researched this book is. Instead of being an attempt by privileged men to degrade women or advocate a traditional "women should be in the kitchen" philosophy, this book draws on decades worth of cutting-edge statistics to draw attention to the ways that a gendered society hurts everyone. It explained bias against men in the family court and criminal justice system, and questions the lack of conversation around male victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. These were all things that I had never even thought about or realized were a problem.

If you're anything like me, this is a book that will make you uncomfortable. It will challenge your preconceptions and force you to reconsider entire worldviews you've built your beliefs upon. The book is more than likely to hit the wall at least once before you're finished reading it. However, it will also deeply affect you. I came out of this book with a much more nuanced and well-rounded picture of what gender means in this world. I didn't agree with everything, and I'm still a feminist through and through, but I now realize that feminism is for men too. Gender equality is so much more complicated than what first meets the eye.

This book a must-read for anyone who's interested in gender politics. My biggest criticism (and the reason I didn't give it five stars) was that it often went off topic, particularly in the mental health section, and often discussed homeopathic remedies to ADHD and other things that felt irrelevant and detracted from the main message of the story.

Reviewer's Name
Mercy

Book Review: Working with Difficult People

Author
Hakim, Amy Cooper
Rating
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review

Occasionally, I come across a book that doesn’t really work as an audiobook. Working with Difficult People is certainly a must-have for any working-class bookshelf. Still, it was difficult to follow the thread of different difficult personalities when it was being read aloud. Sure, there were useful descriptions of the types of people you’ll encounter in the workforce, but there were at least a few of them where I wanted to slow down and read through those archetypes again to better understand the people who irk me in life. Of course, going in, I was hoping I could read this book and understand how to handle people who I find difficult to work with. Instead, I kept listening to these people's descriptions and finding individuals who nearly matched them in my life. This was my main qualm with the book: people are more complex than a single difficult personality type. They often have two or three of these attributes combined in varying amounts to create their unique level of challenge. Alternatively, I also listened to this book and tried to identify where I fell in the “difficult people” spectrum. It can be a bit of an eye-opener when you realize, “Oh, I do that. That difficult person is me.”

I may still want to get this book in physical form, not only to appreciate its handbook format but to use it as a writer resource. I do try and strive for an amount of realism in the villains I write, so using this book as a structure for why certain difficult people (read: antagonists) are the way they are can help me create more meaningful and relatable villains and should help me avoid the standard supervillain archetypes that paint an antagonist as “purely evil.”

A simple resource for classifying difficult people, I give Working with Difficult People 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name
Benjamin W.

Book Review: I Am Malala

Author
Yousafzai, Malala
Rating
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review

"I Am Malala" was a pretty great book, and is now one of my personal favorites. It did not take me long to read and is good for anyone ages 12+. This book does contain some sensitive contents and might not be great for younger kids, unless the parents are okay with harsh and sad topics in the Middle East. The book does not contain a whole lot of content on what goes on in that area of the world, and it mostly focuses on Malala and her story. Malala is a young teen from the Swat Valley in Pakistan. She was raised peacefully, but the Taliban soon started to take over the area. The Taliban started like a little seed, but grew into a giant weed that basically controlled everything. They eventually made it so girls were not allowed to go to school, and women were not aloud out of their house unless they are accompanied by a male relative. Malala would not put up with this, for she has a desire to learn and know answers to her questions. She is the daughter of the principal of her school, and grew up admiring the students that attended. After surviving a bullet to the head, months in the hospital, and a move to England, Malala becomes activist and stands up for girl's rights and
her belief that everyone has the right to go to school. I liked this book because Malala is a great role model and author. She really provides a strong figure for any girl growing up in this hectic world. This is definitely one of the best books I have read and I am sure I will read it again in times to come. Any girl (or boy) can relate to Malala because she described herself as being an ordinary girl that wanted to see change in the world. She shows that anyone can adjust their view on the world if they just use their voice to speak out. I absolutely suggest this book to someone if they are looking for a fairly quick read!

Reviewer's Name
Sukhleen

Book Review: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

Author
DiAngelo, Robin J.
Rating
4 stars = Really Good
Review

With race relations as challenging as they currently are in the United States, a book like White Fragility is required reading for both opponents and allies of racial unity. Racism is a huge problem, and it’s difficult to tackle something this large without first understanding the foundation on which it was built. It can be easy to simply address the problem's symptoms instead of digging out the root and identifying where many secondary and tertiary issues originate. As a straight white male, I was first hesitant to read such a book, but now I think it should be required for all of us straight white males.

The only qualm I have with this book is that it almost exclusively addresses the racism toward the black community. While I understand this is the most volatile and pressing facet of racism right now, I would have appreciated a chapter about applying the tools presented in this book in other interactions with people of color or indigenous peoples. Depending on how open you are to changing your view of this nation's racial status, you may find this book hard to swallow. I know it has helped me face the racist blind spot brought to my attention earlier this year and take steps to address it in my life actively.

Perhaps the biggest eye-opener in this book was how invasive racism is in the system that makes it possible. Sure, there are racist people, but they aren’t nearly as harmful as the system that supports them and oppresses BIPOC. It was also useful to see how the “allies” aren’t helping by being overly emotional or saying that they “don’t see color.” While these allies might think they are empathetic, they are actually making the system worse by making themselves the center of attention, as they have been taught to do in a white male-run society.

A challenging but eye-opening book and required reading for all white people, I give White Fragility 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name
Benjamin M. W.

Book Review: 12 Angry Men: True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today

Author
Parks, Gregory and Hughey, Matthew
Rating
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review

This book is a sort of response to a screenplay written in 1954. The screenplay, 12 Angry Men, is about 12 jurors who have to decide the fate of a young man of color. If found guilty the boy would be sentenced to death. It becomes clear that the majority of the jurors are influenced more by their prejudices than the facts of the case. 12 Angry Men: True Stories of Being a Black Man in America Today is from the viewpoint of the defendant of color. However, these 12 black men have not been charged with any crime. Nevertheless they have been prejudged and not favorably in different situations. This is not a book of fiction. These are real men telling their stories.

Reviewer's Name
Rayn