Showing posts with label biography. Show all posts
Showing posts with label biography. Show all posts

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Doll Parts by Amanda Lepore, Thomas Flannery


Rating: WARTY!

I bought this out of curiosity, but in the end I should have realized that if a person needs to have their 'memoir' ghost-written by a third party, then it's probably not going to be told from the best perspective. It wasn't. As it turned out, I can honestly say I have never in my life read a more self-obsessed, shallow, vindictive, and clueless memoir as this one. I was truly disappointed at the lost opportunity here to write a meaningful and helpful memoir about a very important topic. Instead of that, the book was wasted in welter narcissistic self-adulation.

I'm always interested in transition stories, and it's especially à propo during this month of gay pride (not that this is a gay story, be advised) to review a number of LGBTQIA books, but I couldn't get with this story because even though it is 'true', it didn't feel true-to-life to me. In the end it was far more a story of how much in love the author is with herself than ever it was a story of her migration from a young male to a mature female, although it did tell some of that story, albeit in a blinkered and self-obsessed manner.

In terms of it being a true story, I have to question that, also. Not that I think the author is lying, but we are treated here to a detailed history including verbatim conversations, and short of the handful of people with a true eidetic memory - which can entail other issues, and which this author doesn't claim - there is no way in hell anyone can remember this amount of detail and conversation unless they're making it up base don what have to be somewhat vague and modified memories after all these years (the author is almost fifty). I tried to keep that in mind while reading the three-quarters of this that I could actually stand to read.

The story seems far more devoted to self-worship and self-promotion, and to unhealthy sexual appetites, and talking tediously of "pussy" than ever it is talking from the soul or from the heart, and it felt like a tragic waste. Unless this flimsy veneer actually is her soul, which would be truly disappointing.

There's nothing wrong with a person taking pride in their appearance and feeling good about themselves, but the focus here on beauty and glamor was endless and obsessive, and it felt completely misplaced to me, given how shallow beauty is as a measure of a woman and how unimportant it is in the grand scheme of things when talking about the qualities a human being can or ought to have, and especially in this context, where there are far more important things to talk about.

Some of these things were talked about, but they were very effectively swamped by the shallow tide of self-indulgence which swept relentlessly across this narrative. Most disturbing of these matters was perhaps the abuse the author suffered a the hands of her husband, but this is so lightly and fleetingly dealt with that it loses all force and impact, and nowhere is any advice offered to others about how to get out of abusive relationships, or where to seek help. This was yet another appallingly wasted opportunity. This was especially sad given how often the author expressed a fear of being killed. This is not a joke because transsexuals are killed at an horrific rate for doing nothing more than being who they truly are - in every sense of that phrase.

Here are some resources:
http://www.thecentersd.org/programs/behavioral-health-services/warning-signs.html
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/a-same-sex-domestic-violence-epidemic-is-silent/281131/
https://www.abuseandrelationships.org/Content/Resources/warning_signs.html
http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/lgbt-abuse/
http://stoprelationshipabuse.org/get-help/resources/
https://helpguide.org/articles/abuse/domestic-violence-and-abuse.htm
http://www.thehotline.org/2013/02/dating-abuse-resources-for-teens/
http://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/dating-violence-statistics/
http://www.loveisrespect.org/is-this-abuse/abusive-lgbtq-relationships/
http://www.teensagainstabuse.org/index.php
http://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence/resources
https://www.roomtobesafe.org/recognizing-unhealthy-relationships/
https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/news/2011/06/14/9850/domestic-violence-in-the-lgbt-community/
I urge anyone in an abusive relationship to leave it and get help. It's not easy, but it sure-as-hell isn't going to improve if you stay there. Your abusive partner is not going to miraculously change. You need to protect yourself. There are people who can and will help you.

In terms of the story told here, there was nothing new, which was the biggest disappointment of all, and this repeated self-worship from the author grew old very quickly. At one point we read of her doctor's office, "He liked me. The whole staff did. I was the office pet." Self-congratulate much? The book is larded with pictures of the author, but not a one of them is labeled to give it any context, and every one is a glamor shot or a shot with a celebrity.

We never see the real Amanda Lepore, unless, as I said, she really is all façade and no substance, but if that is so, then what price a memoir which contains nothing of its author? There were of course common elements true to every transgender story: the gender dysphoria appearing early in life, and being not a whim or a fad, but a deeply-rooted conviction that no amount of adversity can overturn, and the over-arching desire to change it, but she was never happy despite repeatedly assuring us she got everything she wanted; it was never enough.

Ultimately, the story became one not of a woman trying to escape a man's body, but something Michael Jackson might have written, which is in the end about turning a perfectly fine human being into a caricature of one. here I refer not to the author's gender reassignment, but to the endless tweaking afterwards, which did nothing to improve on what she started life as a woman with, and in my opinion, ruined it, just as Michael Jackson did. That said it's her body and she can do with it what she will. But in running to the extremes she did, she had better not try to turn around and make absurdist claims like all men love and lust after what she became: Just relax,” Michael said. “You look amazing; you’re every man’s fantasy of the ideal woman" No! Not even remotely.

There was nothing new in her desire to become the woman she was from the start. This is the root of all transgender stories. I was hoping for much more depth than that although that said, maybe it bears repeating, because some people simply don't seem to get how profound it is: that a male to female transgender person is a woman from the start, just as a ftm is a man from the beginning regardless of how they look on the outside.

The problem here seemed to be that all the author achieved was to change one false façade (that she was a male when she clearly was not in any meaningful sense) for another equally false one of glitz, glamor and shallowness. It would have been so nice to have got more of the person and less of this cheap veneer. I can't recommend this one at all, not even remotely.

One of the problems is that the author is not merely focused on herself to the exclusion of all others (her commendable devotion to her mom is the one exception here, but even that slipped as she grew older and ever-more intensely focused on her own life), but she is actively disparaging of others for no good reason.

One shameful example of this is what she says about a brave and generous trailblazer in gender reassignment: "Christine Jorgensen was the most famous case and we talked about her a lot, though I didn't relate to her so much. She wasn't that pretty." How appallingly insulting can you be? Christine Jorgensen was a US Army veteran who began her change in 1951, and fortunately for her health and welfare, became a celebrity in the USA, advocating for transgender people long before anyone else was, and yet this is the epitaph this girl gets from Amanda Lepore: she wasn't that pretty? WTF? How disgustingly shallow can you be?

Another issue is that the author has absolutely no interest in having - let alone promoting - safe sex. Her story opens with a gratuitous snippet about some guy flattering her with compliments and so getting an automatic in to her pants. She's thrilled with him because he has a large penis, but nowhere in any of this is safe sex mentioned. This is a continuing and disgusting theme throughout this book.

Her first boyfriend is Dylan, with whom she has underage sex and she says this about him: "Sex with Dylan was wonderful, but she was right. I knew he was fucking around." Yet again, there is no mention of safe sex. She apparently doesn't care that he's having sex with other people or that he has anal sex with her (this was before her surgery) with no condom. Even if we give her a bye here for being young and stupid to begin with, looking back on that more than thirty years later, she still has no comment to make on how foolish it was?

This same lack of a clue is apparent later, when she has sex with some truck driver who picks her up. She's pissed-off with her husband (and understandably so, it has to be said) so she starts an affair with this guy, having unprotected sex the same night he picks her up for the first time. This is supposed to be a role model?

She frequently talks about having a love relationship but she seems far more interested, if not obsessed with large male genitals than ever she is in a human connection. Here's a sad glimpse into her psyche:

Tina was a world-class tease. Her favorite thing to do was to lead guys on and then give them the boot. "Men are so gullible, they'll believe anything you tell them. They believe you when you tell them you're a girl, right?"
"I am a girl."
"You know what I mean," she said.
Tina had a great idea: we'd go out, find the most straitlaced guy in the bar, and trick him into thinking I was a regular girl. It was a new way for Tina to tease men. I willingly played along, since the prize for the game was a hot guy for me to make out with. When things started to get a little too hot and heavy, I'd tell my date I had my period to throw him off.

Has she never heard of transgender hate crime? Of rape? Obviously she had because she frequently talks about fear of being done harm to or killed. Yet never once does she consider that her behavior might be a contributing factor towards the poor attitude that some men - not all men as she implies here, but some men - have towards women - and that her behavior might serve to help provoke this behavior and make life worse for other women? How selfish can you be? Lest you think this is merely the adoption of an extravagant tone, this is what she says later: "And who the fuck cared about these guys? Tricking them was like paying back all the people who had made fun of me for being so feminine."

She repeatedly makes herself look clueless or ignorant or stupid. Here's one example when she's feeling down and tries to 'commit suicide': "I went into her bathroom, picked up the first bottle of pills I saw, and swallowed them all." Those pills were aspirin! Maybe she had a few shots of tequila afterwards to get over the complete absence of a headache?

Her enduring cluelessness is clear in this incident which she reports without any kind of analysis at all: "Everything went as planned with the new psychiatrist. I liked the way he described me in his report; he said I was very attractive with feminine features and that I'd make a pretty girl" Seriously? That's his medical diagnosis? That she finds nothing wrong with these inappropriate comments is the sad part. She has such absolute tunnel vision when it comes to anyone complimenting her. She sees nothing wrong in a medical professional talking about her like this.

At one point we learn that her father, who had left the family because of her mother's schizophrenia, had got married to another woman. Never at any point did we hear of a divorce from her mother! I thought that was weird. Presumably there was one, but why did she not mention it? Did it not impact upon her in any way at all? The only saving grace for her in this entire book is that she stood by her mother longer than her father or her brother did, and that might have counted for something if the author could count: "Women never came to our house. Maybe five total that I can think of, if the twins count as two." I guess twins are really the same so there's only one of any pair worth counting.

Her vaginoplasty, purportedly the most important thing to her, is discussed only cursorily. The most disturbing part of it is actually when she visits the surgery the morning of her operation.

I lay on the operating table, ready to go under, I could hear the nurses talking about me.
"This one's really beautiful."
"Her skin's like peaches and cream."
"This might be the prettiest girl we've ever had"
Even here. as you can see, her only thoughts are for her own shallow beauty. Right after I read this, I also read that the assistants were feeling up the patient's breasts as she was succumbing to the anesthesia. If that wasn't yet another self-complimentary fantasy, there was a case there for a lawsuit, but it's never pursued, because she never sees this abuse as a problem, not just for herself but for every patient who goes in there. Again, no thought whatsoever for anyone but herself.

On having sex with her husband for the first time after her vaginoplasty: "Now here I was, with a man on top of me who loved me and was ready to make a woman out of me" Oh? That's all that's required? You have sex, you're a woman? Have sex and you're a man? What a clueless philosophy that is, but she sees nothing wrong with it! Role model my ass.

Neither does she see anything foolish about mixing drugs and alcohol: "I had a few drinks, which I usually never do, and he gave me a Quaalude" This is her husband handing her the 'lude, so it's hardly surprising that later we learn he's having Amanda fake dental issues to get Demerol from the dentist which she then gives to her husband. That dentist should be struck off. Later she says "I don't know when I realized that Michael was addicted to painkillers" - how about the time he asks you to lie to your dentist to get meds to give to him? Again, clueless.

And self-obsessed. Did I mention that? After she's said repeatedly that she has everything she wanted, I read this: "I was too scared to talk to these women. But I took mental notes on what they were getting done, so I could figure out what I needed to have done myself." She has everything she ever wanted, but she still needs work?

Her passive acceptance of her husband's abusive ways is pathetic. Bemoaning her husband's switch-up from mental abuse to physical abuse, she says, "I was grateful, but there was no point in worrying about things I could never change." This is a role model? She can't do anything about a husband beats her, when she already has an offer to stay with someone who cares about her in order to get away from being abused? Clueless.

Her ridiculous side-panels are a sick joke. Here's a small selection of the things she says and you can clearly see how shallow and superficial it makes her look:

  • On women who do not manicure their nails: "This girl will try to come off as low maintenance, but in reality she is just too busy with her career and family to take care of herself. Seriously? If you don't fuss over your nails you're a loser because you're more focused on career and family? You don't want to know my response to that.
  • At another point in the book, her obsession with her nails is made even more clear: "I'd spend hours doing my nails (I've lost several friends who were sick of waiting for me to finish my nails), o plucking hairs, bleaching my pussy hair, or bejeweling a dress. That's all I wanted to do. It still is." How pathetic.
  • In a warning about exposure to the sun she says, "Think of the sun as Kryptonite. Bring a camisole with you everywhere you go."
    Camisole?? Does she mean parasol, maybe?! I really don't think camisole is going to do much to protect against the sun!
  • Along similar lines was this out-of-left-field comment: "Michael...picked up H like sheep jumping off a cliff." Does he mean lemmings maybe? And lemmings don't, as it happens.
  • On meeting Pamela Anderson's husband at the time:
    "Tommy Lee wanted to see my pussy at a party. We went to the bathroom, I sat on the sink, and he got a good look. Pam was pissed. Super jealous. He loved it."
So she has no qualms about possibly wrecking a marriage by stripping for some person she never met before?

Just how irresponsible is she about abusing others? You'd think she'd be sensitive to that after what she went through but no:

He loved to play tricks on people, tripping them on the dance floor, or pissing in a cup and dumping it out a window that overlooked the line of people waiting to get into his party. Other people would yell at him or call him an asshole. I’d just say, “Oh, Michael, you’re too much,” and leave it at that. It wasn’t my place to judge him. I think that’s what he liked about me.
Ri-ight! This woman makes me sick.

It's hardly surprising that this Michael was later arrested in connection with the murder, dismemberment, and disposal of a drug-dealer's body. Here's how she relates this:

They found Angel’s body,” she said. “Michael really did kill him.”
“Oh.” I just stared at her and Larry Tee. They stared right back. I didn’t know what to say. “Poor Michael.” “Yeah.” Sophia hugged me and I started crying.
“And Angel, of course.”
“Of course.”
“Will Michael be arrested now?"
It was at this point that I honestly began to wonder if there actually was no Amanda Lepore and I was reading a very well done and elaborate parody.

How dumb is she?

Just get bigger breasts,” Keni said. “Nobody will even notice a scar on your face if your tits are gigantic.”
Maybe he was kidding but that made a lot of sense to me.
Why isn't that a surprise?! Here's another example:
The Insider had just done a segment on me (they called me “one of the most extreme plastic surgery cases The Insider has ever uncovered”)

Here's how little she cares for those she become involved with: "Ricky didn’t like me going out naked and could be really possessive, like most men." If that's what you think, then you're A clueless, and B meeting entirely the wrong class of men. Try quitting your obsession with big dicks and look for a guy with a big heart instead! Then stay faithful to him and don't go out naked if it upsets him! It's not rocket science.

And what's with the dick obsession? It's so rife in this book that despite myself I couldn't help but wonder if it was some sort of subconscious compensation for giving up her own. I know, that's bad right? But it's not me publishing a book about nothing more than an obsession with her own looks and unsafe sex with big dicks.

One last example of dumb:

One of the logs in the fireplace rolled out onto the carpet, sending thick clouds of smoke into the air. Stoned and unsure of what to do, David and I fumbled our way to the back patio and watched as the room got cloudier and cloudier.
Seriously? Le stupide is strong with this one! She should have kept her mouth shut, dispensed with the book idea, and just looked pretty. That's what she was all about after all. Nothing more than that, but even there she went far too far over the top.

At one point, referring back to her mother's untimely death from cancer, the author says, "Mom had spent her life trapped inside her own mind. I refused to let that happen to me." I'm sorry sweetie, but you were stuck there long before your mother ever was.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Malala: Activist for Girls' Education by Raphaële Frier


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

On National Wonder Woman Day I'm not going to get into the dire gender politics and hypocrisy of a UN which proclaims a woman's day whilst rejecting a bunch of female candidates for secretary general, but it seems only right we should celebrate the spirit of this day by looking at a real-life wonder woman. Back in August of 2015 I positively reviewed I am Malala, and this version of her story, aimed at a much younger audience, is a worthy read, too. It zeroes in on the facts of her life, what she did, what happened to her, and how she survived, without going into exhausting detail. The images are colorful and enticing, and bring the reader into the story, which is an important one, and a potentially tragic one which fortunately had a happy ending.

This book even looked good on a smart phone, with the images large and the text legible. It tells of Malala's early childhood, and the conditions in which she lived, which deteriorated dramatically after an earthquake that idiotic religious flakes decided was some god's wrath! You’d have to be a complete and utter moron to worship a god which is as capricious and childish as that, and you would have to be criminally fraudulent to try to argue that this god generates cruel earthquakes, but this is the kind of extremists these people are, and this is what they were promoting. They take power not because they are right, or respected, or admired, or favored by the majority, but because they can get guns and threaten people. These are no disciples of any god of love.

Malala was lucky in having a family which supported educating girls, but the Taliban fears women, and detests equality. They're not the only whack-jobs who do so. There are many nations where women are treated in this same way, although 'treated' is a bad choice of word to describe it. Not all of these nations are condemned as they should be. Some are close allies of the USA. These people have no concept of fun and relaxation, and none of equality or parity. They are control freaks and bullies who fear women garnering any sort of power for themselves, and they started bullying everyone, not just women, but women in particular. People like this are so disempowered that they can only be 'men' when they have 'their women' as the phrase goes: barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen - and uneducated in order to keep them that way. This is something my wife joked about some years ago when she was actually barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen! It’s no joke when it’s real life though.

Malala started a blog to speak out about the problems they faced, and she soon became a local spokeswoman and representative. The Tailiban were pushed back but not far enough, and when they resurged, they cracked down just as hard, and they decided that this little girl was emasculating them. They proved this to be actually true when the only response they could engender was to shoot her three times, but she proved stronger than they, and she resurged herself to become a more effective opponent of their bruitality and cluelessness than ever she had been before. This is an important story which needs to be heard, and children are never too young to start hearing about female heroes. This little book is a great start. I recommend it.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Octavia E. Butler by Gerry Canavan


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I consider this book to be a worthy read, especially for those who are already fans of science fiction author Octavia E. Butler, but I have to confess some slight disappointments in it. Let it be said up front that I have never read anything by Butler! I was interested in this book because I thought it was a biography initially. Since so few women and so few people of any color other than white are active in the sci-fi genre, I thought it would be an education to read of someone who was both female and African American, and it certainly was. I have no complaints there at all.

What I had hoped for though, was more about Butler herself - her youth, her method of working, and so on. As a hopeful author myself, I must confess to selfish reasons for reading about other authors! Maybe I can learn something about how they work, where their ideas come from, how they get through the writing process of growing an embryonic idea into the finished novel - or why they fail to do so. In many ways this book did not disappoint, which is why I favor it. If you want to learn about Butler's books and her triumphs and failures, then this will reveal a lot because of the very approach which was employed, but I felt myself hungry for more about Butler herself, about what was in her mind, and how she went through the creative process. She wrote on a typewriter, and not even an electric one, which sounds primitive and frankly boggles my mind, but it was all she had in the seventies and eighties.

She was lucky to even have that, growing up as impoverished as she did. It makes a heart break to think of how many other such children there are out there who could be enriching our world with their creativity, yet who will never do so because they will not get even the sparse yet good breaks Butler had to somewhat offset the bad. This is a real tragedy. Butler had four older brothers who all died before she was born, and her father also died when she was a child. Please don't ever limit your child's imagination and creativity. Never block their horizon. Butler refused to let her own horizon be dimmed and we're better off for it, but it's sad that she's one of few instead of one of the many that there could be.

The irony of Butler's life is that it was her mother, who didn't even rate her as an author and wasn't supportive, thinking her dream was nothing but frivolous, who was the one who got that typewriter for her. She was also the one who destroyed her comic book collection when Butler was away from home on a writing course. That really struck a resonant chord with me, because my own parents did the same thing with my school books when I was out of the country for an extended period. I never forgave them for that. They did it without warning and without asking, deeming those things to be junk to be disposed of, and I lost a piece of my childhood that I would have liked to have shared with my own children, but now cannot. It was barbaric and cruel. Fortunately, life goes on in other ways.

As far as this book is concerned, in some ways I felt like I lost sight of Butler behind her novels, in a case of 'can't see the author for the trees' (in the form of print books!). So this felt more like it was a biography or an exegesis of her novels than it was of Butler herself. While looking at her through the lens of her books was a...dare I pun and say novel approach?!...I confess to a little disappointment that this method seemed to camouflage her as much as it revealed her.

That said, I found myself oft fascinated by this examination and apart from a piece here and there that I skipped, I was much more often interested in reading through and learning a bit about her thought processes, influences, and setbacks. The author of this book knows his stuff and has researched extensively. The book is packed with insights and observations. He was the very first researcher to dig into some of this material and has some very interesting things to say about it. The book also has an index, a glossary, and extensive reference end notes.

If I had a serious disappointment, it would be that the book seemed very much aimed at academics, especially judged by the language employed here. As such I feel it did a disservice to girls who are growing up in the same circumstances as Butler did: young African Americans who might have been inspired to follow in Butler's footsteps were the book written in a tone more accessible to them, but who may well be put off by the language employed here. Maybe that book still has to be written. Until then, this is what we have, and I recommend it for its worthy and needed exploration of an important author and her work.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Einstein by Corinne Maier, Anne Simon


Rating: WORTHY!

I got this from the local library and it was a fun read. It's a great introduction to Einstein, and though it feels that we're rushing through his life while reading this, he did lead a long, full, and very complex life. This bio touches on every important aspect of it, including those which do not present Einstein in a brilliant light. It conveys a little bit of his science, but in a very soft way. This is not the place to really learn anything, even in a simplistic form, of what he accomplished.

It is a good starting point if you're interested in Einstein, his era, or why he became such a renowned figure. In that regard, a small bibliography would have been nice, but there isn't one! The story is still interesting, covers a lot, and is a great lead in to further study or reading. The color drawings are quite simplistic - more scribbles than art, but still they serve their purpose. The authors of this one have written at least two more, about Freud and Marx. It sure would be nice if they wrote a similar number about women.

That said, I recommend this for children and even adults if they want to get an introduction to the man and a very basic groundwork of what he achieved and what he stood for.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Helen Keller: A Life by Dorothy Herrmann


Rating: WARTY!

I started out liking this biography of the deaf and blind Helen Keller, but as it went on (and on), I started disliking it and gave up about half-way through. The problem wasn't the reader, for a change! Mary Peiffer did a workmanlike - if a bit pedantic - job. The problem was the boring and extensive asides the author insisted upon meandering into just when the actual story I wanted to hear - that of Helen Keller - got interesting.

For example, Helen's closest companion was Annie Sullivan, the controversial woman who brought Helen out of her silent darkness and into the world - almost as a mother births a child - and we hear a lot about Annie here, including the fact that she had a sort of control over Helen's life that only religious cults seem to manage these days. At one point, the author began a chapter talking about the unprecedented event of a deaf and blind woman graduating Radcliffe summa cum laude. Right in the middle of it, she meandered off to talk about Mark Twain, who couldn't be there because he was escorting his wife's coffin back through Italy. Just to mention this would not have been a bad thing. Helen knew Mark Twain, and he had entered the story several times, but instead of merely mentioning it and getting back to the graduation and Helen's story, the author completely subverted her account of the remarkable achievement Helen had managed there, in favor of rambling on in endless detail about Twain.

Whose biography am I reading here?! Now contrast this with the fact that when Annie Sullivan gets married, the entire event gets such short shrift that it may as well not have happened. This was seriously a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment. Get a life, woman - not a death! The author was quite evidently obsessed with Mark Twain. I think she needs a slap upside the head with a langhorn, the little clemens.

This was not the only time she rambled on either, and after a while it really ticked me off. I wanted to hear about Helen, not everyone but Helen. I'd like to visit this remarkable and intriguing person again at some point in the future, but I shall not read another work by Dorothy Herrmann. Next time I'll pick one which Helen Keller wrote herself!

Spoiler alert: Helen dies at the end.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius with Megan Lloyd-Davies


Title: Ghost Boy
Author: Martin Pistorius with Megan Lloyd-Davies
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Rating: WARTY!

Martin Pistorius might have chosen a better title for his autobiographical book. Ghost boy is a very common title (B&N lists at least half a dozen), and that's not even Martin's face on the cover as far as I can tell. Why isn't his picture there? Why not a before and after kind of cover? I know that writers don't get a say in their covers unless they self-publish, but you'd think a publisher might have more clue than this.

The book was co-written by novelist and ghost-writer Megan Lloyd-Davies, so it's one of those novels where it's really hard to be sure who said what and whether that description or turn of phrase was really the author's - it was really something he honestly felt, or endured or experienced, or whether the ghost writer simply chose to dramatize it that way. It was an interesting read in parts, and no one in their right mind can deny the horrors through which this author went, but in the end, I can't rate it a worthy read and I am not sure I can properly explain why.

It didn't feel like a satisfying read to me even though it starts out horribly and has a happy ending. Indeed, it feels very much like a fairy-tale, except that it's true. That said, the book seemed a bit jumbled, and it jumped around way too much for me instead of giving me a smooth narrative, and a clear idea of what was happening and how things were regressing or progressing. I was never quite sure where I was in the story or which Martin I was reading about at any given time unless there were obvious indicators in the narrative. It was too easy to lose track of time period, and this negatively impacted the impact, as it were.

There were things in it which bored me and which I skimmed, and there were other things which I felt were not discussed, or were discussed inadequately and glossed over instead. There were some commendably harsh and cruel truths in these pages too, humbling truths; truths which make you doubt the decency of humanity, but in the end I felt like I didn't read a satisfying story. I didn't know this guy, and didn't really have a good idea of his life, or of him. Despite what it did deliver, it felt shallow and superficial to me, and this is why I can't say this was a worthy read, and I'm sorry for that because people need to read books like this, in order to know what horrors can come - and the biggest of these wasn't even his condition, it was the way he was treated when he had it. A story like this deserved a better telling.


Friday, June 12, 2015

The Story of Squanto, First Friend to the Pilgrims by Cathy East Dubowski


Title: The Story of Squanto, First Friend to the Pilgrims
Author: Cathy East Dubowski
Publisher: Dell
Rating: WORTHY!

Contrary to the other review I did today, purportedly about the life of Thomas Edison, this story of Tisquantum (and kudos for using the guy's real name as opposed to an ignorant white man's clueless 'grasp' of it) tells a good story in a voice suitable for the target age group without glossing over or fabricating anything. We are told the unvarnished events, starting briefly with his childhood, and later how as a grown man, he was captured by an unscrupulous English captain who transported him and many other native Americans to Málaga in Spain, where he tried to sell them as slaves.

Tisquantum eventually made it back to the US, but his life was never smooth. Before he could go back to his own village, he once more had to visit England and finally, when he did get home, he discovered that his entire village was gone - wiped out by "plague" which may have been smallpox or possibly leptospirosis.

He served as a liaison between English colonists and native Americans for many years, performing invaluable services and helping the colonists to survive, but eventually, neither the English nor his own people felt they could trust him completely. He seemed to each people that he was playing both sides against each other in the hopes of his own personal aggrandizement.

Tisquantum died of what was referred to back then as "Indian Fever" - an evidently deadly disease which resulted in bleeding from the nose and death shortly afterwards. He was buried in an unmarked grave which showed how little regard he was held in at the time of his death, despite all he had done for his "friends". I recommend this book.


The Story of Thomas Alva Edison Inventor by Margaret Davidson


Title: The Story of Thomas Alva Edison Inventor
Author: Margaret Davidson (no website found)
Publisher: Scholastic
Rating: WARTY!

I am rating this book negatively because it's such a lightweight mash-up of truth and fiction that it's nothing short of a disgrace that Scholastic ever allowed it to be published. The author should be ashamed of herself for some of the things she's written here. Yes, it's true that Edison's mother took him out of school and educated him at home, but no, he did not suffer deafness because some guy pulled him aboard a train by his ears. That was a lie that Edison promulgated. His deafness came from repeated illnesses he had as a child.

Neither did I like the way this author uncritically parrots things she's evidently cribbed from some official biography or other and then adds bits she apparently made up. Yes, he was taken out of school, but for this author to suggest that we know exactly what transpired, or what Mrs Edison thought at the time is misleading at best. The author quietly glosses over parts of his life, too - such as Edison being ejected from the train on which he worked because he had turned one of the cars into a research lab without permission.

The newspaper which Edison started was the Grand Trunk Herald, named after the railroad line, not the 'Weekly Herald'. Yes, he did save a kid from a runaway train, so we get a version of the truth there, but we don't learn that he was fired from his subsequent job as a telegraph operator because once again he was abusing his employer's premises and caused damage.

The story of Menlo Park isn't quite accurate, but yes, Edison did view it as a research lab and eventually it was huge. The author glosses over how much work Edison's employees did though, effectively making it look like Edison did everything with no real input or help from anyone.

You will not learn here of how much of Edison's work built upon inventions (and occasionally infringed patents) of other inventors, such as people like William Sawyer and Joseph Swan, nor will we learn from this author that Edison and his business partners were bilking every penny they could get from their customers for his electric light until George Westinghouse produced sufficient competition that the price came down. To suggest that Edison was trying to create the Volkswagen of electric lights and provide cheap lighting for everyone is dishonest.

You will read nothing here of the power struggle over power! There was intense competition between Edison and Tesla over distribution of electricity to power these electric lights and machinery. While Edison was stubbornly promoting DC (direct current), Tesla was offering the real solution: AC (Alternating Current), but Edison would not have it and organized tours where animals were cruelly electrocuted to 'prove' how 'dangerous' Tesla's invention was. Yes, AC power is deadly, but safe if handled wisely.

You will read here of Edison's invention of motion picture phtotography, but though Edison was granted his patent for his "Kinetograph", he was responsible only for the electromechanical design. William Dickson, a Scots photographer, working for Edison, was responsible for the optical side of things, which is what movies are actually all about.

So in short, no, I am not impressed by this "impression" of Edison's life, and I cannot recommend this book.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon


Title: Romantic Outlaws
Author: Charlotte Gordon
Publisher: Random House
Rating: WORTHY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

This is a true story (if a bit overly dramatized here and there!) of two Marys: mother and daughter, the elder of whom, Mary Wollstonecraft, pretty much single-handedly founded feminism, and the younger of whom, best known as Mary Shelley, became famous for her novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, written when she was eighteen (and which was almost universally panned upon its initial publication).

The title of this book is oddly ironic since there's nothing either romantic or outlaw-ish about either of these two women unless you think of outlaw as the opposite of in-law and consider Mary the younger's circumstances once she eloped with Percy Shelley, the pretentious poet. Outlandish Scofflaws might have been a better title!

What this history is, above and beyond all else, is a shocking account of abuse, cruelty, and injustice heaped upon women by the very men they loved and counted on: Imlay, Godwin, Shelley, and Byron. Mary Wollstonecraft, before she ever met Mary Shelley's father, was doing a great job of being the very thing she stood for - a strong and independent woman, until she met a complete jerk by the name of George Imlay, whom she allowed to take advantage of her before he then abandoned her for someone younger.

She fell apart at this point, betraying her feminist principles, going into a funk, and twice trying to commit suicide, selfishly sparing not a thought for her young daughter, Imlay's daughter and Mary Shelley's sister-in-law, Fanny, who herself committed suicide later in her own life. This is the same woman who competed with men on equal terms as a writer, who lived in and lived through the French revolution, becoming perhaps the world's first foreign correspondent, working for a news and social commentary magazine.

In turn, Mary Shelley, who never knew her mother, spent her whole life missing her, and took off with Percy Shelley in what was superficially a romantic elopement, but which proved to be nothing for than delusional juvenile folly which turned into a dire marriage sabotaged by Shelley's selfish and self-absorbed inability to love, and exacerbated by Mary's crushing loss of her first two children. Mary was partly to blame for the death of her second child, William, since she knew that Rome was subject to the fever (malaria) in the summer but selfishly refused to move away from the city. She never forgave herself for that poor decision.

The contrast between these two women's lives is as stark as the similarities. Mary Wollstonecraft had to fight for everything she admirably gained only to lose it willingly as she allowed herself to become a slave to her ironic dependency upon Gilbert Imlay. Mary Shelley was spoiled rotten except for her perennial longing for her father's affection, which never came. She got everything she wanted, although it came with the pain of being in dire financial straits and with social ostracism for her running away with a married noble man who turned out to be about as ignoble as they come.

Percy Shelley seduced his wife-to-be, Harriet, blinded by some asinine "romantic" notion that he was saving her - a notion which came to him again when he met Mary Godwin, and yet again when he met an Italian noble woman while still married to Mary. As soon as Harriet, and then Mary became pregnant, Shelley pretty much lost interest in them since they were no longer romantic, and he evidently had no idea how to be anything other than a distant lover. He preferred to go off by himself writing grandiose, but ultimately shallow poetry than to sit with his bereaved and grieving wife and hold her hand. Mary's cold withdrawal after the death of William didn’t help. No romance there.

Mary and Percy's relationship was lived in the pale shadow of Mary's other half sister, Claire, who traveled with them everywhere, adding to the scandal under which they lived, making Mary look (and in some ways feel) like one of two female concubines to the poet. This pressure came to a head more than once in fights between Mary and Claire.

Lord Byron was no better. He joined them on their extended vacation, seducing Claire and then abandoning her when she had his child. This so-called god of the romantic poem was himself nothing but a lowlife and a complete jerk around women. Why he's held in such high regard today is a mysterious as it is scandalous. He was present that dark and stormy night when the four (Byron, Shelley, his doctor John Polidori, and Mary) all agreed to write a ghost story. Mary and John were the only two who actually did, and neither one of them actually wrote a ghost story. Mary came up with Frankenstein, which was disturbingly autobiographical in many (metaphorical) ways and John wrote a vampire story which in turn inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula. Polidori killed himself only a few years later.

Mary's father, Godwin, had no idea how to show affection to a child, and Mary felt the loss of her mother and her father's icy demeanor throughout her life. Godwin, supposedly a free-thinker and an advocate of free love, ostracized Mary after her elopement, even as he hypocritically harangued Shelley for loans to pay off his own debts! He did not come around until Shelley's wife, Harriet, killed herself, and Mary and Shelley finally married against their own "principles". Shelley then hypocritically tried to gain control of the two children which he had until then quite effectively rejected!

Later in life, Godwin appallingly withheld Mary's novel Mathilda, from publication, refusing to submit it and refusing to return her own manuscript to her. It wasn't published until 150 years after her death! In short, this is the story of two women who were remarkable, each in her own way, but who fell afoul of bad men and ended-up on bad relationships, yet who seemed unable to stick to their principles and extricate themselves.

To be fair, society and the law were harshly stacked against women in those times, even more so than they are now. It’s remarkable that these two Marys achieved what they did, and in the long term, both did prove to be strong. After her two suicide bids, Mary Wollstonecraft came back to life, restoring her career, meeting and became involved with Godwin, and finally giving birth to Mary, but dying shortly afterwards - the fate of all too many women back then.

Mary, having lost her step-sister fanny, lost her first two children, and been sorely used by Shelley, wrote many novels, survived the death, tragedy and suicides around her, survived Shelley's sad death in a boating mishap, and lived to fairly ripe old age, becoming revered and an institution in her own lifetime.

This is a long, long book - almost six hundred pages (of which about ten percent is chapter notes) - packed with detail, anecdotes, and pictures. It’s remarkable history of the lives and times of two remarkable and very memorable women. I recommend it.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Song of my Life by Carolyn Brown


Title: Song of my Life
Author: Carolyn Brown
Publisher: University Press of Missippi
Rating: WORTHY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

Continuing with what seems to have become a minor theme on my blog this month, this is a short, but fact-filled and moving biography of an under-appreciated and not widely known African-American.

Margaret Walker was a poet and writer who had to struggle throughout her life in the USA to get herself an education, to be accepted, and to pursue her career and her dreams. Even when she had earned herself a doctorate and begun her writing and teaching career at a university she still had to deal with racism which was only exacerbated by the fact that not only was she a black person in a white person's world, she was also a woman in a man's world.

As if this wasn't bad enough, when Alex Haley published his run-away best-selling book Roots, and Walker sued him for plagiarism, citing instance after instance of examples where she argued that he had lifted material from her writing (her 1966 novel Jubilee), including the name "Chicken George", she lost the case, although 1978, Harold Courlanderwho filed a similar suit, won his.

As this biography makes disturbingly clear, Walker Born in Birmingham, Alabama, navigated a cash-strapped and racism plagued childhood, moving homes several times as her father, a Methodist minister, tried to stay employed. She attended school and college in New Orleans still struggling to make ends meet. In 1935, she got a BA at Northwestern University, following it with a master's from the University of Iowa (in creative writing) in 1942. The following year she married Firnist Alexander, had four children with him, and remained married to this war veteran until his death.

She was a professor of literature for thirty years at what's now known as Jackson State University, and continued to write - and win accolades - throughout her life. Her works include an award-winning poetry collection titled For My People, and Jubilee, a remarkable novel about slavery, before, during, and after the Civil War and based upon the life of her own great-grandmother.

This biography tells her story - a story that needs to be told - and tells it well. It will make you feel uncomfortable, but it will make you feel triumphant as you read through to the success and praise which Margaret Walker earned after her struggle, throughout which she maintained her poise and equanimity. Her success inspired a whole generation of black writers to take up her baton and continue moving forwards. I recommend this book.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Joss Whedon by Amy Pascale


Title: Joss Whedon
Author: Amy Pascale (no website found)
Publisher: Chicago Review
Rating: WORTHY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

I am not one of the Joss Whedon groupies. I respect his abilities, but while I loved the Buffy movie, I detested the TV series. I liked Dollhouse and Firefly, and I loved the Avengers movie, so you could say I'm a fan, but definitely not a fanboi. That's how you know that when I recommend this biography, I'm not gushing mindlessly, but considering it rather more dispassionately than many reviewers might.

The biography (which contains no photographs - not in the advance review copy anyway) covers Whedon's life from youth to present (at least present as defined by when the book was written), and it's written by someone who is definitely a fangirl, so yes there's some gushing, but it's kept in check, and it never overrides the facts, of which there are many from a diversity of sources.

These sources include writers and producers who worked with Whedon on his TV shows, such as David Grunewald and Tim Mi near, actors from those shows, such as Anthony Head and Sarah Geller, and actors from The Avengers, along with a host of others. The list occupies a whole paragraph in the acknowledgments, and features Whedon's wife, Kai Cole, and of course, Whedon himself.

The biography makes very good reading, and fills in a lot of details surrounding his rise to success, and the struggle he had to get there. I'm not someone who really cares that much about the details of his personal life (although this book has plenty of those). As a writer myself, I'm much more interested in his writing career. For me the mechanics of how he goes about this is what was the most engrossing to me: where he came up with his ideas, how he got them into a format that could be filmed, how he made it happen on the small and the large screen.

I would have happily read much, much more about that than this book contains, but then it would probably have been really boring to other readers, so be comforted that Pascale strikes a nice balance between the personal and the professional in telling this story. You will learn about his imperfect childhood, his stint in Britain, his school experiences, his choice between acting and writing when he was choosing a college, and how he chose Wesleyan.

From there on out it seems like his story doesn't need telling, but if you think that, then there's still a lot you'll miss. Pascale talks in detail about his work in TV and the struggles he had there in trying to find a balance he could live with between his vision, and the rather short-sighted if not bizarre demands of Fox TV. The details cover Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and Agents of Shield. His movies are also covered, including the original Buffy movie, Toy Story, The Cabin in the Woods, Much Ado about Nothing, The Avengers, and a mention of the Avengers sequel, the Age of Ultron, the notes for which were begun over a pint and some fish and chips in a Brit pub.

All in all this turned out to be everything I wanted when I picked it up, and I was completely satisfied with it!


Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson


Title: Steve Jobs
Author: Walter Isaacson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: WORTHY!

Some people have held up Steve Jobs as a good reason why abortion is a bad thing (Jobs was adopted). Others have held him up as a hero, a visionary, the guru of cool, but I don't hold him up as anything but a regrettable example of a human being. Steve Jobs was not a nice person. He was childish, petulant, obsessive, given to tantrums, downright mean, and prone to crying when he didn't get his way. He abused people cruelly, not physically, but emotionally, and he followed utterly bizarre diets which could change completely on a whim, the previous diet being dismissed as though it were someone else's dumb idea. He refused to acknowledge parentage to his first child (and threw out her mom) until he was taken to court over it, and even then continued to deny it for many years. He probably contributed to his own early death by refusing to acknowledge how sick he was for many months, resorting to ridiculous and utterly useless New Age 'cures' which did nothing but let his cancer spread.

So why do I care about his biography? Well, I read this for the same reason I read Joss Whedon's: because I was interested not so much in the person per se, as in the mechanics of the thing. How did he get his ideas? How did he bring them to fruition? In Job's case, how did these products get conceived, put together, and brought to market?

The bottom line was that Steve Jobs was just as much an incompetent blunderer as he was a genius of design and marketing. He just happened to get it right more than he screwed it up, and even when he got it right, he screwed it up in ways not so obvious to the consumer - like producing under-powered computers that were hard, if not impossible to upgrade.

So while he did usher in the original Mac, his arrival on the Mac team was a punishment, not the result of anyone's inspiration! He did contribute materially to its design, but the original interface idea was not his; it was that of the Xerox corporation which didn't have any idea what it had. So after taking their idea and making it work, and making it cool, Jobs then had the nerve to go after Microsoft for "stealing his idea" when they came out with Windows! I'm no fan of Microsoft. I agree with Jobs that they're amateurs and kings of kludge, especially when compared with Apple.

Jobs did resurrect Apple after it misstepped badly with the Lisa (named after the very daughter he refused to acknowledge), and the Apple 3, and Jobs was tossed out of the corporation he founded. His incompetence was highlighted starkly when he was finally on his own at this time and able to give give free reign to his whims. He tried to bring the "Next" computer to the world and again larded it with unnecessary design expenses, and underpowered it, and hobbled it with poor specs and over-pricing.

'Next' folded quickly, but fortunately for jobs, he had by then grown an interest in another computer company, one named Pixar. Despite his dumb-ass idea that they could open stores and sell the Pixar animation machine for $30,000 each, he was smart enough to appreciate the value of the interest amongst employees in developing animated movies, and he was a really strong advocate for Pixar in its battles over its partnership with Disney, before Disney simply up and bought the outfit completely.

The Next operating system (Next Step) did come back with him to Apple when he was 'rehired' and ended up taking the reins (or the reign), but it was a while before it was integrated into Apple's operating system. His first really solid move was to push out the iMac, which was the first step in Apple's resurgence. He quickly built on this with the iPod, then the iPhone, then the iPad.

None of these ideas were original with him either. The iPod was a better version of music players already entering the market, but its sales were definitely bolstered by Job's iTunes, which was, in the form we know it, his idea. The iPhone was a result of development of the iPad, which was an idea he first heard from a Microsoft employee. The iPad was slow to the market for a variety of reasons, but the iPhone used its technology and came out first. When it finally arrived, the iPad was a huge success despite popular media skepticism and it did incorporate some of Jobs's ideas from his Next days - where a computer would come complete with a variety of useful apps, but it wasn't until iPad 2 that this vision began to be properly realized.

So, I skipped a lot of this book because it wasn't interesting to me, but I read with eager interest all of the product development and launch material. The book is very well researched, deeply informative, contains photographs, and is well-written, with lots of input from those who knew Jobs personally and those who worked with and for him. I recommend it.