Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

I read this with Dane and I think he liked it more than I did. Paddington is a bear found at Paddington Station in London, and the Brown family takes him home and lets him stay with them. He gets into all sorts of scrapes and makes all sorts of messes but they love him so much they let him stay. (I'm not sure I understand that--I would definitely not have wanted him to stay at my house considering all the work he caused.) It was a cute story with some really cute episodes in it, like when Paddington goes backstage at a play because he thinks the villain really is bad and he needs to save the girl, or when he smashes the next-door neighbor's watch while trying to do a magic trick. (That one made me laugh out loud.) The only tricky thing for me with my audience was that the story was set in the 1950s, maybe? Not sure what time period--but it was long enough ago that I had to explain a whole lot of things to Dane, like why the photographer was going underneath a black cloth or what opera glasses are at a play. I wasn't sure if he was understanding everything even when I was explaining these things, but he still seemed to really enjoy it and was super excited about reading it every time we did. I didn't love it though and didn't really rush to read it so it still took us a while to get through.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

I am not super interested in business-y books or in Nike specifically, but I felt like I kept hearing about this book and how good it was, so I figured I would check it out as an audiobook when I got the chance. And I actually really enjoyed it. Phil Knight talks about the early days of Nike, its beginnings as his "crazy idea" out of his MBA at Stanford and selling Japanese-made Tiger shoes out of the back of his car at track meets, and goes until 1980, when Nike went public and he became overnight a multimillionaire. It was so interesting learning about how this super, super-famous brand began so humbly and how it grew from this tiny beginning, and struggled for so many years to continue to grow and to make ends meet. I definitely don't think I could make it work as an entrepreneur--it sounds excruciatingly hard. But Knight makes it clear that the work he did was "play" and that they loved the work they did. I couldn't wait to find out what happened next to the intrepid Nike team as they made it through their beginning years--it really was a page-turner (although I was listening to it, so I'm not sure what the term would be for that).

The thing I especially liked about his memoir is that he was extremely honest and candid about his failures and mistakes that he made along the way. He was very upfront about his struggles as an introvert in the business world and the times he had to testify in court or deal with politicians, and he talked about stupid mistakes he made along the years too without trying to justify his actions. He also talked at length about his mistakes with his children, and his regrets that he didn't spend enough time with them while trying to build his company. This honesty was surprising at times and very refreshing--he doesn't seem like he's writing this book to explain himself or make himself look good at all. He actually talks about the movie The Bucket List and explains that this book is somewhat fulfilling one of the only things left on his bucket list--since he is worth billions of dollars by this time and has done everything he could have wanted to do (except for fix the things he regrets). It was very well done and very interesting--I kept thinking about it even when I wasn't listening.

I would be interested to get a feminist take on Knight's account of his company's beginnings, though--it was 100% male, 100% testosterone-driven. All of the top people were men handpicked by Knight for their thick skins and their abilities to jive with the team, and their informal team weekends where they would hash out important issues were called "Buttfaces" and they spent the whole time yelling at each other, drinking, and poking fun at each other. I cannot imagine any woman thriving in that atmosphere, and I am curious how much that has changed in the last forty years since the memoir ended. It was the sixties and seventies, though, so times have changed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle

This is the fourth book in the Wrinkle in Time series, although it really has nothing to do with A Wrinkle in Time except that it features the Murry family. It's extremely different from the first three, in which Meg and Charles Wallace are the main characters, and they get taken to weird worlds and times but are always based back at their home. In this book, however, Sandy and Dennys, their twin brothers, who are always preceded as the "logical and normal ones of the family," are accidentally swept away by an experiment of their dad's and get thrown back several thousand years to the time of Noah and the ark. They land in the desert and spend some time needing to recover from their severe sunstroke and figure out where they are, and in the process become close to Noah's whole family, including his father Lamech and his children who live with him, and they need to figure out how they will be able to get home.

I loved this look at the Noah story and the focus on the other characters that you don't hear about in the Bible story--namely the women. I felt like reading this book as a kid gave me a way better view of what it would have been like to live back then. I also really liked the magical/mythical creatures and people that lived at this time, like the seraphim and nephilim, and the mammoths and manticores, and I liked how L'Engle mixed this myth and history and even some science-fiction-y stuff in with it too (explaining how the twins got there and how they got home at the end of their time there). I think it's interesting re-reading this book now as an adult, because there is kind of a focus on sex, at least for Sandy and Dennys--they start off the book completely unaware of sex and totally innocent, and become kind of awakened to these possibilities as they are treated like adults and tempted by people there. It's definitely a clean book--but the possibilities are there and Sandy and Dennys think about them for the first time. The conclusion seems to be that having sex is something important and should only be done at the right time with the right person and not just wantonly, which I think is a good message for most people, especially the young audience who this book is written for (although obviously I would generally go a little farther than that). Overall, I still really enjoyed this book. It kind of reminded me of The Red Tent because of its Old Testament rewrite sort of style, although it was meant for a much younger audience than that one.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I've meant to read this book for forever, and now that it's a Hulu series I've heard more and more about it. I haven't watched the show at all, but I guess its increase in popularity has given me more motivation to read the book because I finally got around to it.

This book is about a creepy dystopian future (or actually, now it's probably in the past since this book was written in the 80s or 90s) where this small group of religious nutjobs has taken over the country and implemented super strict Old Testament rules over society. This means that women are not given any power or choices, and they are known simply by their husband's names. Most people are infertile and so there are women who are known as handmaids, who are basically there to try and get pregnant to increase the incredibly low birth rate. The book is told from the perspective of Offred, a handmaid, who tells about her past from before everything changed, and what has happened to her since then.

I had to read this in a few chunks because it was a little bit scary. Scary in the Brave New World and 1984 senses--like this is a dystopian future that seems slightly possible, and even if it's not totally likely, there are some aspects of it that could happen if we are not careful. Like the country being taken over by a really crazy uber religious minority and imposing a completely different set of rules over the country? Not likely, but look what happened to Afghanistan. Decades ago, women were allowed to walk around on their own and wear whatever they wanted, but the Al-Queda took over the government and took away all freedoms that women had had before then. That's what I kept thinking while reading this book--I wanted to complain that it is totally impossible that all of these changes could be implemented within one person's lifetime, that this woman could remember the time Before but still be living in this world as it is now (kind of my complaint about Ready Player One), but aspects of this literally happened in Afghanistan. That's what made this so scary to me.

However, it felt like Atwood kind of dropped the ball on the world-creating aspect of her job. She never really described why or what happened--she says vaguely that the President and Congress were all killed and there were never new elections, but she never really explains who did it or why, and although you know it's just the nebulous "they" who are in charge now, I really wanted to know more about it. I think that's something that we are more used to with these dystopian novels now--there's always spot where the narrator gives you a clear-cut explanation for what's happened and how it happened, and it really didn't happen in this book. It seemed like an oversight to me as the reader. I also kind of hated reading about her past with her husband and daughter and how they got taken away from her--but that's just a personal qualm because I hate any sort of storyline that affects children negatively.

But the book definitely made me think about these possibilities--I couldn't stop thinking it over after finishing it this afternoon. I was reading the Wikipedia page about the book and read about how many people classify this book as science fiction but Atwood doesn't like that classification--she argues that it's speculative fiction, because it's something that really could happen and isn't just based on technology in the future. I definitely don't see this book as a science fiction, and I like her thoughts about it. I feel like I have many more half-baked thoughts about this book and its real meaning, but it's been a long day and I don't want to spend all night writing this up so I'll leave it here.

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle

I think the first two books of the Wrinkle in Time series are more science fiction, but this book definitely feels much more like fantasy. There isn't much science in this one--there's a unicorn, and magical time traveling, and "kytheing," or Meg and Charles Wallace's ESP connection between their minds, all of which feels more like fantasy to me. I remember really liking this book when I was younger, and I still enjoyed it today. This book starts out with the Murrys finding out that the world is about to end because of a nuclear war which is about to start, and Charles Wallace using an ancient rune to go back in time (with the unicorn) and try to change things so that this doesn't happen. I loved the different storylines that Charles Wallace drops into--first Madoc, in ancient times, then the Puritan times, then Civil War, and then just fifty years prior, and I loved how they each resolved using the rune and for the better. I love the Murrys and their close family, even with their different personalities, and I especially love how Mr. and Mrs. Murry are so open to the possibilities of otherworldly things happening, despite their oh-so-science-y minds and careers. They are a stark contrast to the ever-rational Sandy and Dennys, and are also a contrast to the standard stereotype of "scientists" today.

However, it is a little bit stretching beyond my belief nowadays to believe that a) all of those people would remember the legend of their Welsh ancestors so vividly that they would all be named Branwen and Brandon and Zylle and Zillah and that b) they would all be so interconnected like that. However, that's not a huge complaint for me, because of how much disbelief you have to suspend when reading a book like this anyway (I mean, Charles Wallace flies on a unicorn to a magical unicorn hatching ground at one point). I still loved it, although I wonder how much of me loving it is just my nostalgia and memory of it. (But it is a book written for middle-grade or YA, definitely not for someone my age, so I don't know that it matters too much what I think about it now in that respect.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging while Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider

I was kind of not excited to read this book when I first read or heard about it on whatever book blogs I follow--I'm kind of tired of people talking about how much they *love* to travel and how it's the best thing in the world (cue this video which makes me laugh every time). But, it was available as an audiobook and I will listen to (almost) anything while I'm exercising! I ended up really enjoying this book and it definitely got me more raring at the bit to try and go on some more trips with our kids.

This book is about Oxenreider's one-year trip around the world with her family of five. It's mostly a travelogue about their travels to Asia, Australia, Africa, and Europe (they completely left out South America--doesn't that seem like a bummer?), and it seemed like a pretty magical year. They did some fantastic things like snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, seeing Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and climbing the Great Wall of China. But I honestly felt like she was holding out on us about how the experience really was, and how they truly were able to manage and afford it all. She says over and over again that they were traveling on a budget, and they had to save money, and references doing "school" and "work" at random times, but doesn't really talk about it in depth or tell what she actually even does for work or how they could possibly have been "working" and making enough money to live for that year. And hearing about all of their marathon flights, spending 30-hour stretches flying and traveling to get from country to country, honestly made me want to vomit. That's where I felt like she was holding out on us--it could not have been pleasant to do those things with three small-ish kids, and she rarely talked about them struggling or being tired or throwing tantrums. Maybe her kids are such good, well-seasoned travelers like she talks about that they never have problems with those long days, I don't know. But there were lots of times where she refers back to something that happened in Thailand before, which she hadn't mentioned, and it made it obvious how much she was editing out of this memoir. Which, of course, she has free license to do, since it is her life and her book. She also talks about how she had severe depression while living in Turkey and several of her friends who travel for long chunks of time who they meet up with talk about how their marriage struggled and how they lost their sanity while traveling for so long with their families--and I have to wonder, does the magic of seeing all of these places make up for those problems? For having depression and struggling in your marriage?

I guess I just think of those things because I am pretty sure that if we tried to do that--travel so much all over the world in such a short span of time--I would lose. my. mind. I would literally go crazy. I like my routines. I like traveling, but if we go longer than two weeks I start to really struggle. Of course, this oxymoron of loving home but also loving traveling other places is kind of the point of this book, and really the only conclusion she comes to is that you can have both and it's okay. They end up coming home and settling down and living a normal lifestyle afterwards.

It did get me thinking and wishing about being able to go on some trips with our kids--nothing that big, of course! So I'm going to sit down with Tommy and plan out our trip to CA now!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

I liked this book better than I liked Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, probably because it's more memoir-ish and therefore more real. There were so many funny stories about Sedaris's childhood and his adulthood, many of them about him moving to France and attempting to learn French. I was disappointed after finishing this to find out that the audiobook is an abridged version of the written book, because I would have liked to listen to more. He does a great job of telling about his life and making it funny, but also having a lot of heart and emotion in it at the same time. Some of the stories about his drug use or about his parents' reactions to him coming out as gay are poignant at moments, although he never comes across as self-pitying. I really enjoyed his balance of emotions and I would like to find another one of his memoir books (instead of his fictional ones) to listen to.