Showing posts with label non-fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label non-fiction. 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:
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.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis

Rating: WORTHY!

In a seemingly radical, but ultimately common-sense challenge to status quo, this author asks whether it's ever necessary to require someone to have their gender flagged on something like a birth certificate or a driver's license. He examines four areas where a true unisex environment is called for - not just to not use a binary sex-marker, but to dispense with sex-markers altogether. These areas are (from the blurb): "sex-marked identity documents such as birth certificates, driver's licenses and passports; sex-segregated public restrooms; single-sex colleges; and sex-segregated sports." A section of the book is devoted to each of the four topics.

While I support this agenda as a general principle - there are far too many areas where gender is irrelevant, but where it's made into an issue of one kind or another - I'd take some small issue with the way this argument is presented in some areas. I felt it didn't make as good of a case as it ought to have, and I felt it was a somewhat biased case - there wasn't much of a serious effort to look at the opposite side of the argument or to seek out opposing views and present them - and argue against them.

Yes, there were some objections raised and summarily overruled, but it felt more like the author was trying to steamroll his case through in preference to offering a completely calm and rational approach. Not that he was raving or ranting, but it felt a little bit like a high pressure salesperson, and I have little time for those!

One example of this was in the section where the author is talking about how long a person has to live as a woman before they're considered fully a woman. It's more complicated than that, and you'd have to read the book to get the full scoop on the issues and arguments, but for my purposes, this fell into the gripe I made about too little use of studies to back arguments and more reliance on personal opinion and anecdote than was healthy to make a solid case.

The author says, "...does it matter that some transgender women will have been socialized as boys and/or men for certain periods of their lives?" The problem with this is the inherent assumption it carries that they have indeed been fully socialized as their biological gender as opposed to their desired or self-identified gender.

I could see my argument being irrelevant if a need for a gender-switch was triggered from a head injury or by a sudden whim or need for attention, but this is flatly not the case. One thing I learned early in my reading about transgender people is that they had lived all their life feeling like they were the gender they eventually (hopefully!) were able to migrate to. So why would they honestly be socialized as boys/men or as girls/women necessarily?

It felt presumptive and patronizing to leap to the conclusion that they had or likely had. We had no evidence presented to support (or refute) this - it was just out there like it was self-evident, and this felt like the author had fallen into the same trap he was arguing against: if it's always been this way, why should we change?

Of course we haven't always been this way. Binary gender is just a convenient convention we fell into because historically we were too ignorant and blinkered to think it through. Maybe a biological male who has always felt female might be rather less acclimatized to male patterns of behavior and thinking than we should feel comfortable assuming, and so might a female in inverse circumstances. This is what I mean when I talk about making better arguments.

So one issue I had with the book was that it felt like it relied too much on anecdote - some of which was personal - which left some holes where a wider survey or study would have filled the gap. Some studies are quoted, but the inline references in this book are not actually links, which is a problem in this day and age for an ebook. In a print book you can flip through pages to get to end notes. It's a lot harder in an ebook, which is why actual links would have been a big help.

That said, the anecdotes were engrossing, saddening, disturbing, and downright horrifying at times, and this is the main reason people need to read this book, because the hit is still shitting the fan, even after all these years, and it needs to stop now. If getting rid of sex markers is guaranteed to do that, then I'm pretty well on-board! But I have some qualms about the arguments, mainly because of the area the book did not cover, which is medical care.

You can argue all you want about men and women and everyone between and on both sides being treated equally in areas of sports, rest rooms, college admissions, and state and government documents, but being treated in hospital is another issue because the fundamental fact is that men and women are anatomically and biochemically different and sometimes it genuinely matters what gender you are.

Let me give a simple example:- a traffic accident victim is brought into an ER unconscious, and xrays need to be taken. if this is a man, there's usually no problem, because men never get pregnant, but if this is a woman, the doctors need to be sure they're not harming a fetus.

Often, it's easy (or at least seems easy!) to tell what gender the patient, but also often it's not and it's downright foolish to make assumptions, as this author has pointed out often! If the woman is a mtf individual, then short of religious miracles, there's going to be no fetus, but if the doctors do not know, then there's potentially a problem.

I'd argue this is a case where gender does indeed matter and more importantly, knowing the gender matters, and while this is a simple demonstrative example, it's not the only medical instance where the gender (or sex if you like - I don't like to use that term because it's so loaded with baggage) of the patient matters. Men and women react differently to some medications, so knowing the gender of the patient can be vitally important.

Now you can no doubt press arguments against my simplistic example, and maybe against medical treatment and knowing the birth sex of the patient, but that's just the problem: since this critical topic wasn't covered in this book, none of this was ever addressed. Having a sex-marker on the driver's license could be in some cases, the difference between life and death here. So maybe we should not argue to eliminate the sex-marker at least on driver's licenses or state ID cards, but to make it voluntary? It's just a thought.

I don't typically comment on book covers because my blog is about authoring, not façades and lures, but in this case I have to say that this cover was quite a stunner. The ambiguity and charm in it were remarkable! It's a credit to the book and a pity the publisher rarely sees fit to give some credit to the model.

One curious personal comment I found was when the author volunteered, "For example, my birth mother was white and my birth father African American. I identify as either biracial or black" but he never went on to explain why he doesn't ever identify as white. It seems to me he has an equal case for either or both. It's not a big deal to me, but I just found it interesting and curious that someone with one black and one white parent had to be (at least historically), considered black instead of white!

To me, that's just as screwed-up as the gender issues discussed here, but I guess it's none of my business; however, it was one of several times things were tossed into the mix which I found curious. Another was his reference to the 2013 movie Identity Thief. The author cites this as an exemplar of the inadequacy of sex verification as fraud protection.

I thought it was an inappropriate reference in a book that rightly tries to set a more scholarly tone, but the objection here was that, as the author explains, "...the fact that many people have gender-neutral or 'unisex' names, Sandy being just one of many examples." I get that this is irrelevant when credit card fraud is perpetrated over the phone,or the internet, but it does prevent some abuse in person when a woman might try to use a credit card which clearly has a male name on it. It's not foolproof, especially in these days of fast everything, but it does offer some preventive opportunities! The real question to ask is: is it worth the hassle some people might get for the prevention it offers in other cases?

But that's not the reason I thought the example of the movie was a poor one; it's that, in the movie (which I have not seen I have to say), the man whose identity has been stolen, Sandy, seems like a sad sack of an example to offer since he apparently never thought to report his card stolen and thereby avoid all of the issues he was subject to in the movie! Hollywood is not real life and I think it was a mistake to cite what seems to be a rather slapstick comedy movie in support of a serious topic like this.

That said, I recommend this because it needs to be read - it's that simple. It has important issues in it about an ongoing problem that needs to be cut off summarily at the ankles, and it makes some good arguments, especially in sports, which has long been a pet peeve of my own. Some of the sports anecdotes are truly upsetting, as indeed are the anecdotes in other areas. Read them and weep - seriously. I felt like it after reading what some of these people - including the author - have had to endure.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Transphobia by J Wallace Skelton, Nick Johnson

Rating: WARTY!

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

I would have really liked to have given a passing grade to a book with the aims this one has, but the presentation was inexcusably lousy and the book was literally unreadable on my phone, and practically unreadable on a tablet computer, which is to say that it was useless in two of the three media on which I tried it.

The reason for this once again seems to be, ironically, discrimination! The book was designed as a print book and yet it goes out to reviewers as a Kindle format ebook! The problem with that is the crappy Kindle app cannot handle a book presented and formatted like this one is, and the book should either have been thoroughly reformatted for Kindle and Kindle apps, or not offered in this format at all, which would severely restrict the distribution it can enjoy. It's poor attention to quality on the part of the publisher, and worse, no-one seems to have been bothered with actually looking at the resulting ebook. If they had, they'd see it was unacceptable.

For a book about inclusivity, the print-book snobbery here is laughable. The fact that this book is actively excluding various common reading formats would have been hilarious if it were not so hypocritical. The only format in which the ebook was readable was PDF format on my desktop computer, but even there, some of the print was so small that it was hard to read, and any medium with a smaller screen - even a tablet - would have made parts of it pretty nigh illegible.

In terms of content, the book doesn't do too bad of a job, but it's really not offering anything that will win converts to the side of tolerance and acceptance unless those 'converts' are largely converted already. In terms of offering help to those who need it, it doesn't do too bad of a job, but it was hard for me to determine what kind of an audience it was aiming for in terms of age and maturity.

But overall, I cannot recommend a book which so single-mindedly disrecommends itself. And if the publisher and authors evidently don't care about this, why should I? I had further confirmation of this after I submitted the review. The publisher contacted me and offered a print version, but never once did they take responsibility for the fact that neither they nor the author had taken a look at this book in various formats to see how (or even whether!) it worked! They tried to blame me, they tried to blame the applications, but never once did they say they screwed-up by failing to verify that the output was readable in the most common formats and devices reviewers (and more importantly, end-users) might read it in! I rest my case!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi

Rating: WORTHY!

While I enjoyed this graphic novel and consider it well-done, and a worthy read, I have to object to the blurb extolling Ernest Shackleton as "one of the last great Antarctic explorers." He really explored nothing. His only goal was to strive for the pole, at attempt at which he failed. Thereafter, he went back with the intention of crossing the continent via the pole, yet this expedition was a complete disaster, and even bigger failure than his attempt to reach the pole. Never once did he consider the smart move of turning back and perhaps trying later. If none of his expeditions had ever taken place, how would the world be one iota worse off? it would not. The guy was a self-centered moron.

He was an insensitive clown who wasted his life in money-losing pursuits, and then in ridiculous 'exploratory' pursuits, essentially abandoning his wife and three children for years on end. Who took care of them? Emily barely gets a mention in Wikipedia, but Shackleton's blind blundering on Antarctica is detailed endlessly! What did he achieve? He didn't discover the pole - it was already known to be there!

There was nothing there when he got there, not even a pole! Not that he ever did get there. There were no new medicines came out of this. No great survival or sailing techniques. No life-altering discoveries. No educational material. There wasn't even any exploring - just a desperate drive to get to one place after another, all of which failed. He achieved literally nothing, and contributed nothing to the advancement of humankind. And for being benighted, he was knighted?

That's nothing to do with this graphic novel which only tells his story, and does it well as it happens, but all this does so well is to highlight what a thoughtless and ill-prepared fool Shackleton was! I found it amusing, and truly, very sad. But it does make for an entertaining read.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls by various authors

Rating: WARTY!

This book is authored by assorted women who have participated in a real, and long-established rock 'n' roll camp for girls, a camp which I think is a great idea. The actual camp teaches empowerment, confidence, and safety, as well as music. The problem for me was that this book doesn't seem to get it done.

I'm currently writing a novel about a girl band and I thought this would be a perfect read to keep my creative juices flowing, and maybe provide an idea or two, but I read and skimmed through the entire book and it fell completely flat for me. I honestly don't think anyone is going to learn anything useful from this except that there's a Rock 'n' Roll camp, knowledge which in itself would be worthwhile, but I cannot recommend the book.

Yes, it does offer some useful tips and pointers here and there, but most of it seems to be fond reminiscences from people I've never heard of, none of whom are known for their runaway success. While it does offer trips down memory lane for the authors, it doesn't seem to offer much for young girl reading these unless their thing is reading other people's stories instead of making their own history.

Like I said, I am sure the actual camp will deliver a memorable experience, but this book seems like a very sad and pale shadow of the real thing, and it was pretty much obsolete as soon as it was published in the rapidly changing music world, so my advice is to skip this. Save your money, and go to the camp - or to a camp, instead.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer

Rating: WORTHY!

I haven't read anything by Germaine Greer since I read The Female Eunuch a long time ago, which I thought was interesting, educational, and insightful, but not anything spectacular. This book was along those lines, too. I have taken to avoiding books which have a title which makes a woman an appendage of a man in the title. By this I mean books of the form, "The ________'s Daughter or 'The ________'s Wife, because they're abusive to women. Women deserve better than to be an afterthought!

So why read this one? Well, apart from the fact that I found it to be engaging, well-researched and entertaining (and filling me with ideas!), and while the author had a choice in the title and I would expect a woman with Germaine Greer's credentials to do better than to name it this way, I have to wonder if she deliberately rendered the title in this form because it realistically portrays the reality of the situation disturbingly well.

The sad fact is that the content is forced to relate to Agnes Hathaway in the same way that the title does - as an appendage of someone else rather than a person in her own right precisely because there is so very little history available about the older woman who married Shakespeare and then was practically abandoned for twenty years. Had she not been married to Shakespeare, and had he not become famous, she would probably have been lost to history altogether.

The book is really detailed! Sometimes it's too detailed for me. Yes, it's a welcome addition to see something of what life was really like back then for your average citizen, but on the other hand, we don't need so many details about so many things, with Greer going off on long tangents into displays of how well the author researched the book, rather than displays of what we know or can reasonably deduce about the woman who is central to it. Fortunately this is quite well-balanced by Greer's take on the story as we've all-too-typically had it fed to us: that history is made by men and the little women must of necessity be confined to the sidelines. Well, I call bull's-pizzle on that one!

Greer deftly redirects us, at every reasonable opportunity, to reconsider the standard story and ask: could it possibly have been this way rather than that way (where 'that way' typically demeans and/or impugns Agnes (pronounced Annis, and shortened to Anne)? She very often, but not always makes a strong case for her view. One problem is that Agnes all-too-often is lost under the rain of research details with which Greer pads this book. Less of that and more of the realistic look at what is known and what are reasonable assumptions based on what's known would be welcome, but then we're simply back to how little is known. I think Greer does a sterling job with what's available, but she need not have padded it just because it's available, especially if it had little bearing on what Agnes may or may not have done, thought, or felt.

This is why her story, as opposed to history, is an important one, because the idea that Shakespeare is this lone genius who is isolated from, and above his world - as he is in most of his worshiper's minds - is nonsensical. All of his ideas and inspirations came from somewhere (often from someone else's work that he'd read and appropriated!). He was not living in a bubble, and part of his world was his roots, and his kids, but a huge portion of it was his loyal wife, expertly holding down the fort while he was off playing in London.

Tammy Wynette's song, Stand by Your Man could have been written about this couple, and you cannot isolate him from her (Agnes, not Tammy!), no matter how much it superficially looks like he chose to do so himself. Unlike Shakespeare's plays, this is actually a true story that's worth thinking about, and this book is worth reading.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Handbook of LGBT Tourism & Hospitality by Jeff Guaracino, Ed Salvato

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is the second non-fiction book tied to the LGBTQIA community that I shall review today and it gets a 'worthy', too, despite problems I had again with the formatting of the ebook. Clearly this is intended as a print book, with the e=-version getting short shrift, in that it looks like ti was pretty tossed together to get it out before reviewers, but just as this book advises those who wish to take advantage of the spending power and willingness to travel of a particular community to prepare well and know your market, I'd advise publishers to send out better review copies if they don't want to irritate reviewers and get lower grades!

That said this is an important book, and formatting problems aside, it offers a detailed and thoughtful approach to how businesses can position themselves to take advantage of the current boom (which I dearly hope continues) in how the LGBTQIA community is looked upon by the rest of us, and I thought it deserved to have the shortcomings of the e-version overlooked in the hope that if this ever does get released as an ebook, it will look a lot better than the sorry copy I got to review! The rainbow community deserves better, too!

It may sound a little mercenary to talk about a community of people who have had enough crap to deal with already, as a marketing opportunity or as a rising segment of disposable income, but that's what this book is about, and businesses wouldn't be in business long if they didn't make money, so what are they going to do? Ignore this community? They're morons if they do. Meanwhile the smart ones are going to be looking for ways to work with an in this community and this is where this book shines. The authors have done their homework and talked to the people who know.

I list below a more detailed contents than you might find elsewhere (and frankly, I deserve a medal for managing to extract this from Kindle's crappy app!):
Your “elevator pitch”: The importance of developing a segment-specific program for LGBT tourism
Sizing the LGBT segment: Buying power
The importance of the LGBT segment in the travel industry
Tips before launching your LGBT marketing campaign
Success in the LGBT travel market: Top ten tips from Jeff and Ed

Understanding key segments and focusing your resources
Lesbian travel: Women first, then lesbians
Bisexual travel: Identifying an elusive population
Putting the T in LGBT travel: Introducing the trans traveler
LGBT family travel trends
The top ten trends in LGBT travel
Training, staff, business policies, and employee resource groups

LGBT tourism and hospitality businesses
LGBT events, festivals, and sporting events: An overview
LGBT sports to drive revenue and visitation
Pride festivals
Tailoring your mainstream product with an LGBT twist
Welcome signs and symbols
The cruise industry
LGBT tour operators
Gays and the motor coach
Airlines: Putting more butts in seats
Hotels and lodging
Meetings, conventions, and business groups
Milestone celebration travel: Weddings, honeymoons, and other celebrations
Navigating controversies and turning them to your advantage

Setting your marketing goals, budget, and staff
Getting your advertising history straight
Strategies for building an effective marketing campaign
The changing media landscape: The rise, fall, and rise of LGBT publications
Great content in context is your foundation
Communications, public relations, and media relations
Smart press trips
LGBT print advertising and gay-inclusive creative
Online and digital marketing
Marketing through mobile phone apps
Ten tips to keep your LGBT campaign and your destination competitive
The ten classic principles of successful LGBT marketing

Asia: The most gay-friendly destinations
Argentina: Five tips for your LGBT business
Brazil: A strong LGBT tourism market
Canada: New ways of marketing using content in context
China: A market opportunity
Colombia: Five tips from an emerging destination
Europe: Tips on the lesbian market
India: Cultural, religious, and societal challenges
Israel: Marketing LGBT tours in Tel Aviv
Japan: Welcoming international LGBT guests to a conservative country
Mexico: A gay-friendly but macho country
United Kingdom: Reaching LGBT travelers is always a challenge
The United States: Beyond New York and San Francisco

Market research: Companies, data, surveys, and reports
Associations and conventions
Advocacy organizations
Conferences and expositions
Further reading
Annotated bibliography
Discussion question

I'll mention a few of the problems with formatting I encountered which will hopefully be cleared up before any ebook is released. need to mention. There were items like this: "For exam2A ple, an LGBT traveler in the United States," where some sort of numerical marker had become embedded in the text. This was quite common.

There's a table, Table 2.2, featuring "Terms Used by Trans People to Describe Themselves" which is so screwed up that it's completely unintelligible. The phrase, "3d 3D PRIDE FESTIVALS" was not only repetitive, it was in three different font shades/colors!"

But as I said, I am not rating it on the crappy Kindle app(earance). I'm not a fan of Kindle (or Amazon!), so ignoring that, I rate this a worthy read and a valuable asset to anyone who wants to attract LGBTQIA business, because take it from me, we're never going to be over the rainbow!

LGBTQ-Inclusive Hospice Palliative Care by Kimberly D Acquaviva

Rating: WORTHY!

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

This amazingly-named author is a tenured associate professor at the George Washington University School of Nursing, and evidently knows her stuff. I'm not a health-care professional, but I have worked closely with nurses in two different hospital environments, so I was familiar with the kinds of things she discusses here, and the importance of getting them right. She's also a doctor - of the PhD variety (in Human Sexuality Education) rather than the MD variety - and has a master's in Social Work and a BA in sociology (all from UPenn). She's also been a Fulbright scholar, so clearly she's on top of her game when it comes to the material she goes into here, and she pretty much covers the gamut of required learning when it comes to the treatment (in the broadest sense) of people from the LGBTQIA community.

The chapters cover these topics:
Self-Awareness and Communication
Sex, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Behavior, and Health
Understanding Attitudes and Access to Care
The History and Physical Examination
Shared Decision Making and Family Dynamics
Care Planning and Coordination
Ethical and Legal issues
Patient and Family Education and Advocacy
Psychosocial and Spiritual issues
Ensuring Institutional Inclusiveness
But what was really impressive was how often the author steps outside the box to point out areas you might never even have considered might be relevant or important. She's definitely given this topic some considerable thought, and I doubt there are many questions you could come up with which aren't at least touched on here.

The book is written for academics, but it's very accessible and straight-forward throughout. It contains a glossary, references, and an index. Overall I recommend it. If I had a reservation about any of this, it was that, as usual, this type of book seems to have been written solely with a print version in mind, and the e-version coming in a poor second, so while I am sure the presentation and formatting of the print version is excellent, the e-version which I got left a lot to be desired! I am hoping, as I write this, that the advance review copy I had was a quick and dirty conversion for reviewers, and that if there is to be a ebook, it will be a lot better than this, because frankly the e-version was awful!

The errors and poor formatting of the e-version made for a really irritating read. You may call me a prima donna if you wish, since I don't care what you think of me, but my expectations are low when it comes to the quality of e-versions of ARCs. Even so, there really is no excuse for a sloppy review copy like this. Reviewers aside, it's an insult to the LGBTQIA community, and any reviewer would be perfectly justified in failing a book in this condition. I know Amazon offers a truly crappy Kindle app, but even it can do better than this would lead you to believe!

I'm not a professional reviewer despite the shields with which Net Galley has honored me, and I realize that we amateurs can't expect to be treated like professional reviewers and get a pristine copy, much less a print copy, but we do deserve a certain minimum level of respect, especially if we're expected to enjoy a book and be persuaded to feel inclined to review it favorably! personally, I ditched Smashwords as a publishing platform because they're insanely anal and too-often inconsistent for my taste, but I have to agree in principle with their approach to pristine ebooks, because it does matter!

However, for me what's most important is the overall book - not the cover, the gloss, the blurb, or the hype, but the interior, and what it says (or what the author clearly intended it to convey in the version they worked on!). What saved this book for me was that it's far too important to fly off the handle over poor formatting in review copy, so while I recommend it, I am going to point out examples of the main flaws I saw here for the record in the hopes that they will be fixed before any e-version is published.

Tables are not represented well in this version. Some of them appear right in the middle of the text with no separation, such as table 1.1 in the self-disclosure section. The result of this is that the table appears as though it's a part of the text, causing some sentences to end right in the middle, and then resume later, such as "...wife, though her eyes were dry..." in Chapter I step 5. There was a really bad example at location 593: "If you notice the patient appearing agitated or impatient each time a family My dad moved in with me over the Christmas holiday in 2012." 'Family' was completed three paragraphs later with 'member'. The 'My dad' portion was evidently an insert for a side bar or something like that.

There were also other oddball mixtures, such as Location 679 where there was a book reference and copyright notice to this book and author right in the middle of the text with what looked like a page number (38), but it's hard to tell what that was since there are no easily discernible page numbers in this e-version of the book. I don't read introductions (or prologues, prefaces, etc). I think they're antiquated, but as I was swiping past the intro to get to chapter one, I noticed that the lower case Roman numerals for the page numbers were in the middle of the screen rather than at the top or bottom. Some text was randomly in red "ink" such as " What are your goals related to the treatment and prevention of adverse effects of treatment?"

So, while I was disappointed that the presentation was not better, I was delighted with this book, which from my non-professional, but not uninformed PoV, looks to be an invaluable addition to resources any health care professional can call upon to enable them to do a better, more empathetic, and more caring job. The rainbow can only get brighter.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Rogues' Gallery by Philip Hook

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher!

It was also a fascinating study of art dealership over the centuries (yes, centuries!), focusing on some of the main characters of the last two or three hundred years, and their modi operandi. It's also, in parallel, a study of greed, avarice and capitalism at its worst. I found it engrossing, and was pleased to see that one of my pet peeves about scholarly works like this: that they have margins far too wide, and text lines far too widely-spaced, and are thereby abusive to trees, circumvented in this case, because the margins were not ridiculously wide and the text was quite finely spaced, so you see? It can be done! Kudos to the author and publisher for achieving this.

Of course, none of that matters if the book is only to be released as an ebook, but usually these works are not, so this is important. In fact, one of only two complaints I might make is that this book it did not work as an ebook because it was in PDF format which is not ebook-friendly unless you read it on a reasonably large tablet or on a laptop or desktop computer.

On a smart phone, the text is far too small to read comfortably, and if you try to "stretch" the screen to enlarge it, it takes forever to get the fit right, and then you can't swipe to the next screen without reducing the text again! It was a real irritation. Another issue was that the PDF format did not lend itself to reading in "night mode" wherein the screen colors are inverted so the text is white and the page is black.

This is actually my preferred mode to read, and it's a great way to save energy (by reducing battery use so recharges are required less frequently), but it doesn't work with this because what happens is that the screen colors are quite literally inverted - not just the text, but also the images, so instead of looking at gray-scale photographs of people or art works, you're looking at photographic negatives. I think publishers have a long way to go before they can say they're in the ebook book business - and have that claim sound intelligent!

The other complaint I originally had was circumvented in one away but exacerbated in another! It was initially to be that the biggest problem with the book was that, for a work which talks about paintings, it was curiously lacking in pictures of them! In fact there are pictures, and in color, but they are set together in the middle of the book rather than appearing close to the text that references them. Again this is because the book as designed as a print book, not as an ebook.

There are also pictures of some of the characters brought to life here, but these are in gray-scale imagery. When I also saw a couple of pictures in that format too, I had feared this was all I would get, and not even at their best because of the lack of color, but I need not have worried because between pages 160 and 177 there is satisfaction to be had. It only served to leave me wanting more though.

If there is to be an ebook version of this, then it would have been a real joy to have had links directly in the text to an online source for color images of the paintings which are discussed. This would be a perfect use of an ebook, especially since I am also greedy when it comes to wanting to see everything that's talked about. Again this leads me to believe this was produced solely with thought to the print market and not to the electronic market, which begs the question as to why the review copy is being distributed in electronic from? It made little sense to me and did no justice to either the print version or to the e-version if there ever is to be one. But I have to blame the publisher, rather than the writer, for this! it did make me decide not to request any books of this nature for review in future. I don't think it's possible to adequately review a book designed for print by means of an electronic version of it when it contains art work as this one does.

But let's look at the writing because to me, that's typically far more important than anything else. This book focuses on the last four or five hundred years, becoming more detailed as we get into the twentieth century, but it reaches even as far back as ancient Grecian times, so it is very wide-ranging.

Art dealing is nothing new, but those dealers from yesteryear can scarcely have imagined the kinds of sums that modern art dealers routinely deal in, not when a dealer sells a picture in the USA and immediately claims $300 is the highest price that will ever be paid for a painting in America! LOL! Even in Victorian times, there were large sums of money exchanging hands in one direction as paintings moved in the other. Some of these characters, such as Joe Duveen, were both notorious and well-liked, others were merely notorious. For at least one character, his love of his partner's wife evidently exceeded his love of art, and this queered his pitch in a serious way in time.

Another dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, who almost single-handedly brought Impressionist works into the spotlight when no one else gave them the time of day was an intriguing guy. The names of the people he personally knew are impressive: Degas, Monet, Manet, Pissaro, Renoir, and so on. It's pretty odd to think someone knew all of those guys and such a relationship would be a lot harder to have today, when artists names are not so legendary as those past masters.

There are controversial issues discussed here, too, such as how maligned should be those art dealers who dealt with the Nazis? On the one hand, they rescued paintings that would probably have been destroyed, since the Nazis considered them deviant. On the other hand, those who rescued the paintings by buying them from the Nazi art dealers (and others), were helping to fund that evil cult even as they preserved the paintings. Were they good or bad or were they, like the pictures of the people featured in this book - in a gray area?!

The author makes some fascinating observations and interesting points, and he's not afraid to ask awkward questions about dealers or about dealing in general. Does it really make it better to say that pictures are sources and placed rather bought or sold, for example?! It may rob the transaction of its 'filthy lucre' connotations, but does it really sanitize those transactions?

I should probably say before I close out this review, that I'm not widely knowledgeable about art, nor do I consider myself even remotely an expert on the topic. I'm not an artist either, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate a book like this or learn something from it.

So while I can very much enjoy works of art, I can also see both sides of this world - the appreciative side, and the cynical side. What I think is that art is a very personal thing, and its most personal for all of course, for to the artist. Anyone beyond that artist who talks about art is doing it purely from their own perspective, not from any objective and authoritative position. Anyone who wants a laugh at the expense of art critics (not the same as dealers per se, but definitely in a parallel line of "business", they should look up Pierre Brassau in wikipedia.

On a related note, When we have a director of a state museum of art, Katja Schneider, mistaking a painting done by a chimpanzee, for a work by the artist Ernst Nay, it serves only to highlight how very personal a world this is, and sometimes i honestly have to wonder if any of these people really have a clue what they're talking about!

That Impressionism, which is today renowned, had to be kick-started against opposition for example, poses questions about what is art, who determines this, how the quality of one picture over another is to be honestly and fairly judged, and how some works get to become all but priceless, whereas others which to someone like me, seem every much the same, cannot even command a price. This book helped with some of those questions (it comes down to trust as often as it does dissimulation it would seem!), but it also raised others, and that's fine with me; ideal in fact!

Overall, I do recommend this for anyone interested in art and art history. It makes for an engrossing insight into the past, and into the world of the dealer, As well as into artists and dealers themselves, and the shifting, often contentious, yet at other times endearing and heartwarming relationship between them, and into people struggling to make a living, and those with more money than sense!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How to Read Nature: An Expert's Guide to Discovering the Outdoors You've Never Noticed by Tristan Gooley

Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book was written by a guy who seems quite dedicated to the outdoors and this book is supposed to communicate his love to the rest of us, but I had a hard time with it.

The author is very widely-traveled, I understand, and he seems to know what he's talking about, but for me this book failed to connect or to inspire, and I think it was because he didn’t approach it the right away. It felt to me like a slapdash approach, with scattered thoughts being tossed in almost at random, like the author was merely dabbling here and there without really coming to grips with things. I think he could have done a better job at bringing newbies into his world. He has other books out there along similar lines, and I found myself wondering if this might be a shorter distillation of one of the earlier works.

I kept asking myself who is this book aimed at? To whom is it supposed to appeal? The obvious answer is 'anyone who is interested in nature', which is why it interested me, but the problem is that it’s too invested in 'wild nature' - being out in the countryside - for it to be relevant to city dwellers. Now it’s true that many city dwellers do like to get out into nature, but it’s not so common for those people to be able to devote the time and frequency to getting out into the countryside that it would require for this book to be of any real and enduring value. I kept thinking that a 'Nature for City Dwellers' book might have been of more utility in this case.

For those who reside in, or spend a lot of time in the country, a lot of what's in here will be preaching to the choir, since they already know many of these things. I acknowledge that there's nearly always something to be learned, but it felt like it would be of limited value to them, too.

Is there a segment of the population in between those two extremes which might benefit? I'm sure there is, but how large it is, is an open question. Additionally, the book is very British in its own nature. It’s not that it doesn’t mention other countries and other cultures, and other wildlife, but it’s essentially British at its core, which may limit its appeal.

There is a group of people like me, who are not blind to nature and always willing to learn more. I live on the edge of a city and take care of my own yard, so there is a connection I have that perhaps too many others do not. I don't notice the detailed things he does, because I don't have that kind of time to spend on this, but I do notice things both in the yard, and at times when I do get a chance to be out in the semi-wilds, and to me they're interesting.

On hikes and rambles in the past, I've pointed things out to my kids, but their interest in those things waned as they grew to have other focuses. Maybe that's a failing of mine, but I remain unconvinced that this book, which tries to do the same thing, is a going to draw in very many people who do not already lead, or seek to lead or in some way emulate the same kind of outdoors life to which the author has access. Most people do not have that option very readily available to them.

Yes, these things are interesting, but they’re not critical to most people's everyday life and a lot of the things he talks about are irrelevant or unattainable to most city dwellers. So this begs the question as to why a better connection was not made to the advantages this knowledge would bring, or to the utility it would have or your average person about town (and I mean that quite literally).

A connection with nature is always better - better for the planet if nothing else. If people are made more aware of how critical Earth's health is to us and how delicate aspects of it are, through people being led to feel closer ties to nature, Earth is likely to be better protected, but there are other virtues, mind-expanding ones which, while touched upon here from time to time, felt somewhat glossed over. Which brings me to the photographs included in the book. They are all monochrome, which really divorces them from nature, in its glorious technicolor, so for me they didn’t add anything. More on this anon.

The biggest problem for me though was the apparent random nature of the book. The chapters I thought ought to have been the lead-in: nature's clocks and calendars, all appeared in the second half of the book. This made no sense to me. Starting with the big picture and carefully moving to an ever detailed smaller one would have been the best approach.

To me it would have made more sense to organize the whole book in that way: following the year, and looking at how nature changes during it, with little detours into the other topics he covers as appropriate; in this way, people could jump into the book at whatever season they're in when they get their hands on it, and follow it all the way from there.

Some parts were slightly misleading. For instance, the tale of the Jarawa people who survived the St Stephen's tsunami in 2004 by moving to higher ground before it came. The book implies that they had - not quite, but almost - a sixth sense to read the clues and take action, but the fact is that their folklore told them if there was an earthquake, there often can be a giant wave on its heels. They were merely following word-of-mouth traditions of their people. It was not some magical connection with nature. They would still have moved even if a tsunami had not come, which would have been a waste of their time on that occasion, but still a smart move in the grand scheme of things wherein it’s better to be safe than sorry. Their survival is to be rejoiced and is worth learning of, but it's not worth making it seem like there was something just short of otherworldly going on.

In contrast, other parts of the book were oddly-lacking important details. For example in one section the author makes some observations about how to determine what kind of rock you're likely to find under a piece of land based on the flora that grows on that land. He says pines like acidic soil and beech trees like alkaline, but he doesn't say how to recognize a beech tree! Without that basic piece of knowledge, you’re prevented from anything else in that cascade. That seems like a sorry omission when it would have been just as easy to put it in there. Would a photograph, even a black and white one, of a beech tree have been appropriate here? I think so - or at least a drawing. Such photographs would have made a difference and not at all appeared all-but randomly chosen.

Obviously in these days of Internet searches, you can not only discover what a beech tree looks like, but also feed in a picture of an unknown tree and likely get a result telling you what tree it is, but if you only have the print book to hand, you’re rather stuck! This is part of what I meant when I said this book had a slap-dash feel to it, like a hastily-packed suitcase might be opened at your beach-front hotel to reveal no swim-suit or no sun tan oil! At least most-everyone knows what a beach looks like!

On a more serious note, I do agree that taking a greater interest in nature not only adds to our joy of life, but also helps us become aware of the more important things: that pollution and climate change are real and dangerous. I'm sorry there was essentially nothing about those critical topics in this book. It's a sad omission which brings me to an observation of my own. This book was formatted with very wide margins and a huge amount of white space, and with lines that were not single-spaced. It’s only a hundred-sixty pages but it could have been much shorter, probably a hundred pages or so.

This matters less in the e-version, except in that it still requires energy to transmit all those blank spaces across the Internet. In the print version, however, should this book go to a large print run, it’s an awful waste of trees. I would have thought that someone who boasts a close-connection with nature would have appreciated that and sought to ameliorate it, so this was another disappointment for me.

As was the search engine! At one point I was looking back to the beech tree and alkaline reference to verify I had not misunderstood. When I searched for 'beech', the app (Bluefire Reader) found it with no problem, but a search for 'acidic' crashed the book and brought me back to the screen which contained the list of books in my Bluefire library (which in this case was only this one book). That's not a problem with the writing or book layout, but it is a problem if people want to look up something and the search engine isn’t stable. Again this was an advance review copy, so maybe this problem, whatever it is, will be fixed in the published version. Maybe the problem is with Bluefire reader. I can't say. I can say it was annoying.

There's a practical issue to the book formatting, from a purely reading PoV, which is that the text was very small on the screen of my phone, which is more likely what you'd be carrying on a nature ramble, rather than the book or a large tablet computer. It’s possible to enlarge text on the screen, but then the page will not swipe to the next one (and sometimes it jumps back to the previous one while you're enlarging it, which is another annoyance!).

For each page, you have to enlarge the text to read comfortably, then you must reduce it to its original size in order to swipe to the next page, and finally, you must then enlarge that page to read it. It made for an irritating read. This is a problem with distributing books in PDF format. It’s not e-reader friendly unless you have a large screen. As I mentioned, though, this was an advance review copy, so maybe the actual published version will be in a more e-friendly format.

So in short, while I do believe books like this are of value and it’s important that people read them, I think this one could have done a much better job than it did and as such, I cannot recommend it as a worthy read.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Demagoguery and Democracy by Patricia Roberts-Miller

Rating: WORTHY!

Having battled a few young-Earth creationists in my time online, I can't say there was anything new in this book for me, but I still considered that it was worth the reading. It refreshed my mind, and reminded me of a few things that I might be getting rusty on. The saddest thing about it is that the people who most need to read this are the very ones who are least likely to want to read it, but I hope I'm wrong on that score, because everyone who is registered to vote needs to read this book, especially after the last few elections in the USA, and there is no excuse not to, since it's very concise, very clear, and pulls no punches.

From the blurb, we learn that a demagogue is someone who turns "complicated political situations into polarized identity politics," but as the author points out, it's more complicated and more nuanced than that, and it's all-too-often difficult to spot when the demagogue wool is being pulled over your eyes precisely because we're so used to it. In fact you could make a decent argument that American politics is composed entirely of demagoguery on both sides of the aisle these days. Those who bravely seek to do an end-run around it and stand as independents, are mauled to death by the sound-bites of the two front-runners. The media - which is supposed to be impartial and be wise to these tricks - simply plays along with them.

We can learn from this book what these shameless, grandstanding people say and do to gain and hold power, and what we can do to restore deliberative democracy, because that's the antidote to this poison. The first step is to recognize it, and the next step is to focus on the best way to deal with any given instances of it. This book will help you with both of these issues, because this author knows her stuff and displays it to advantage here. I recommend this book and I sincerely hope more people read it than I fear actually will!

I'm surprised the author didn't use references to creationism or climate change, because demagoguery is rife in the shallow dialog over those contentious issues, too, but if I had a complaint about the book, it's not about the content or the writer's style, but about the presentation, which is in what I call academic minimalism - and it's a style which is wasteful and may even turn-off some readers.

For an ebook, it really doesn't matter that much, but even there, a bulkier book requires more energy to transmit over the internet. From the point of view of a print run, a book like this is far harsher on trees than it ought to be. The pages have wide margins and widely spaced lines. Were the margins smaller and the lines closer, the book could have been probably a third smaller and saved a proportionate number of trees (and perhaps encourage more people to read it since it looks shorter!) I realize my voice is one of a paltry few crying in the wilderness, but at this rate that wilderness ain't gonna be with us much longer and all that will be left is the crying.

Other than that I recommend it unreservedly. Trish Roberts-Miller is a Professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley, and teaches in the Liberal Arts department. Though UT is only a few miles from where I live, I don't know this author, but I do know never to get into an argument with her! I wish her all the best with this book.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Arriving at Ellis Island by Dale Anderson

Rating: WORTHY!

At a time when we have a president who seems dedicated to destroying all that the US stands for (apart from rampant capitalism, that is), I think it's important to remember the things it used to stand for: huddled masses yearning to be free, being an important one of them.

This children's book is part of a series titled 'Landmark Events in American History', and it discusses the history of Ellis island, the arrival point of many immigrants to the USA over the years. It was nice to read a book which covers all the bases and is written in an unflinching, yet child-friendly manner. This is an illustrated, but text-based book for older children, and there is a lot to be learned from it. It mentions American Indians (as the first immigrants) and African Americans (as involuntary immigrants during the shameful slavery era), and it does not hide from teaching about the abuses that immigrants underwent, and the struggle and fight they had to endure to finally get free and start a new life. I recommend this book.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Basher Basics: Punctuation by Mary Budzik, Simon Basher

Rating: WORTHY!

Part of a series which covers a wide variety of educational topics from science to writing to music and math, and so on, this small volume looks like a children's book on the outside, but it really isn't - not unless that child is writing intelligently. Once they're ready for a nudge to the next level, this book will get them there. And it wouldn't go amiss as a gift for older writers too - not a few of them published ones!

Again I'm unconvinced of the value of the illustrations by Basher, but younger children might like them. Each page covers a different aspect of punctuation, in some detail, but not too heavily. The text is larger so it makes for easy reading both in seeing it and in following it. I recommend this for anyone who is interested in better using language - which ought to be all of us.

Basher Basics: Creative Writing by Mary Budzik, Simon Basher

Rating: WORTHY!

This is part of a series I'd never seen before. It evidently started out with science books and now has also branched into writing. These look - from the cover - like young children's books, but fortunately my blog has nothing to do with covers, which are all glitz and slick packaging. Mine is about what's between the covers: writing, and if you look past the cover, you'll see why I like this book. These are not for the very young, but any child who has taken their first steps into creative writing can benefit - as can many adults, including not a few published authors!

This book is a how to of getting started, and of understanding all aspects of creating a story. Each topic fills only one page of fairly large text, so there's not a lot of heavy reading, but what is there cuts straight to the chase. Frankly, I am unconvinced of the value of Basher's illustrations, which tend to obfuscate as much as illuminate, but the writing itself is where the value is here. I recommend this but it will be useless without a companion volume which I also review today: Punctuation!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Jane Austen's England by Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins

Rating: WORTHY!

Sometimes fortune favors the depraved, so today I have two books to blog which were pure joy to read. The first is this one, written not about Jane Austen's stories, but about her times - not her life, but the time in which she lived, and what life was like back then. It's reasonably-well documented because people were fond of writing letters and keeping journals, and some of Austen's own letters are quoted from here.

Austen was a contemporary (near enough) of Mary Shelley, although to my knowledge, the two never met. Austen was twenty-two and had completed Lady Susan when Shelly was born. She died by the time Shelley was twenty, the year before the latter published Frankenstein, so while Shelley had undoubtedly heard of Austen, the reverse was never the case. Austen as so prim and proper that the two of them probably would not have got along together even had they known each other! The Brontës were all of this era, but they were all born right around the time Austen died, so they never met either, which was probably just as well. By all accounts, Charlotte was no fan of Austen's.

There were other well-known writers alive in this era, too, such as Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, who published anonymously, Donatien Alphonse François, aka the Marquis de Sade, who died three years before Austen, and Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley's mother, who died as Shelley was born. There was also Sophia Briscoe, and in terms of better known writers, both Charles Dickens and Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot were born around the time Austen died - to within a few years. Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, better known as George Sand, was around treize when Austen died.

Austen was not the only known and read female writer of that time; Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Ann Radcliffe all preceded her very slightly, and she knew of, and liked at least two of these. She disliked Radcliffe. The reason I mention all of these people is that this book surprisingly does not. Despite it being about Jane Austen's England, and despite it quoting many many writers of letters and journals, there are none other of what we might term "professional" writers, even mentioned! We get not a word on their lives or influence during this era. I found that very strange.

That glaring flaw aside, I enjoyed this book every much; it was well written, well-supported by contemporary account, well-referenced, and fascinating in many regards. It was very much another era back then, with different senses and sensibilities, much misplaced pride and prejudice, and a different outlook on life altogether, with death and disease looming at every stage. There was war, off an on, and many injured ex-soldiers had been left on the scrap-heap with little to their name despite their sacrifices. There was a huge gap between rich and poor, as there is now, and very little hope for - or love of - the latter.

This book devotes a chapter to each stage of life, exploring what it was like for rich and for poor, what customs and habits were, and how things fell together. There was an introduction, which I skipped as I do all antiquated prologues, prefaces, forewords and so on; then comes a chapter each devoted to marriage, "breeding", childhood, home, fashion, church, work, leisure, travel, crime, medicine, and death. Some of it is amusing, much disturbing, some very surprising. Nude weddings, for example, were not invented by Star Trek writers!

Aside from the missing writerly references, this is all-in-all a very comprehensive work, and a must-read for anyone who aspires to write a novel as Austen did. I recommend this as a worthy read, although I must confess curiosity as to why Roy gets precedence in the attribution over Lesley. The names are not alphabetical, so was this done because Roy did the most work? Because it was his idea? Or because even in 2013 when this book was published, even in a book dedicated to a woman and her times, the male still takes precedence as he did during Austen's lifetime, and the woman still takes his name?

Friday, February 17, 2017

March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World by Christine King Farris, London Ladd

Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by the curiously-named London Ladd, this memoir is aimed at children and was written by MLK's sister, who wasn't there at the Lincoln Memorial rally in Washington DC that day he made his dream speech, but who had traveled with him on many other trips.

That day, she was home taking care of their parents, but she watched the story on TV, and it's clear from her writing how proud she felt of her brother and how much she loved him. It's depressing to think how she must have felt that day he was shot. There is now a stone marker at the Lincoln memorial identifying the place from which he delivered the speech. It's tragic that two people, one white, one black, and who were so influential in freeing people from slavery should both have been murdered, and are now memorialized in different ways at the same location.

The author writes passionately and very descriptively, bringing the stories to life, and the memories powerfully to mind. I thought it sad that the text of the speech wasn't included here, though, but it's easily found online, at places such as The Martin Luther King, Jr Research and Education Institute, and it's also available on You Tube I recommend this book for young children, to teach them an important piece of history in a struggle that sadly is still forced to continue to this day.

Platypuses by Megan Borgert-Spaniol

Rating: WORTHY!

I don't know of anyone who doesn't love a platypus, although the critters can be dangerous. The have poison spikes on their back legs that can do you up a treat if they stick you with one, although if you have one raised from infancy, it seems that it's not inclined to spike you, because I've seen people on TV handle platypuses without harm.

This book is part of a big series (Blastoff! Readers: Animal Safari) on different animals, but this same author and judged from this one, it looks like this is a fun and educational series. despite being quite short, it's full of informative text (although not too much!) and a bunch of photos of cute-looking platypuses. I recommend it for any kid who is interested in learning about a specific animal. Whether you'd want to get the whole series is another issue! That would be some investment.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Rating: WARTY!

I found this best seller to be very disappointing. I listened to the audio-book version which lacked a little something in enthusiasm, but otherwise wasn't too bad of a listen in terms of the reader's voice. The problem was much more with the material, and it got me thinking about what people would be looking for when they pulled this off the shelf at the book store or the library, and whether they would be as disappointed in it as I was. For me, I was looking for what promised to be an interesting and shamefully belated story of the contribution of black women to the US space program. Waht OI got was a rambling family history written by a relative which was more focused on rehashing the shameful black history of the US rather than telling the story of these women.

Though the Russians put a woman into space in 1963 (Valentina Tereshkova), it was really more of a showboat than a space flight, aimed at furthering the embarrassment the Americans, who were continually playing catch-up back then, than ever it was a serious effort to integrate women into the space program. The Americans to their shame, took twenty years to set this right, and it wasn't until a year after the Russians had put a second woman into space, Svetlana Savitskaya.

Sally Ride was a physicist and went into space aboard the shuttle in 1983. It took the bulk of another decade before the first black woman went into space: Mae Jemison, who is an engineer and a physician and went up in 1992, which was a decade after the first black male astronaut, Guion Bluford, had gone up there. Everyone knows Armstrong and Aldrin. They may even know names like Gagarin and Glenn, but few know the names of Bluford and Jemison. No one even remembers the second two men on the Moon (it was Charles Conrad and Alan Bean), so why would they ever hear about black women who helped make it possible for early astronauts to get into space and return safely?

Of course we typically don't hear of the back-room people in these adventures, so this isn't quite as bad as it's painted, but what makes it worse is that white people tend to think that all of those 'unsung heroes' are also white, and so do far too many black people. It's a bad habit that shamefully overdue for correction, so it's a good thing to learn that no, they're not all white! A good many of them are black (and Asians and Hispanics too, for that matter). I just wish the three depicted in this book: Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan, had a better memorial.

The book covers a range of topics and many people, but is primarily about those three women who succeeded despite having to contend with the appalling discrimination which had become so embedded in the nation's psyche so much that it was actually considered normal back then, and in some minds, is still viewed that way today. But let's not mention any recent presidents.

The problem I had is that the book is so intent upon laying the scene that the main characters tend to get subsumed into the scenery, which in my opinion does them a dire disservice. The discerning listener can pick out their dark threads which have been in the dark for far too long before now, finally, being brought into the light, as they run through the story and intertwine, along with other characters, such as the rebellious Miriam Mann, who quietly removed the 'coloreds' sign from the cafeteria table every time a new one appeared until whoever was putting it there finally gave up. A small victory but an important one.

So while I believe books of this nature are important ones, I have to caution potential readers about this one. You should consider what it is you're looking for before you plump for this volume. If it's a book version of the movie you just saw, then this isn't it. This is much longer, and more detailed and in considerably more depth than Hollywood ever likes to go, and more than you (or I) might be prepared for. If you're looking for black abuses revisited, then this will work for you, but if you've been there and done that, and are looking for something a bit different this time like a good real life story that gets under the personal skin of the black female experience, this one might leave you as dissatisfied as it did me.

Hollywood likes it short and snappy, perky and preferably controversial, but shallow and easy and that has its place, but this isn't any of that apart from the controversial bit), and it rambles endlessly and digresses mercilessly, and offers all kinds of details you may not care about or be interested in (such as soap-box derbies).

It doesn't even get to the NASA bit until two-thirds the way through, and then it's a long stretch of John Glenn, a huge leap from there to the Apollo program and the Apollo 1 disaster (from which NASA learned nothing if we're to judge from the subsequent Challenger and Columbia disasters which together robbed us of more than four times as many astronauts as the Apollo One fire did), and then a quick skip to the moon landing and we're done. I confess I skipped tracks increasingly as I plowed through this as the bits that interested me became ever more scarce, but I did want to tackle this before I took on the easy, sugar-coated, and simplified version of the movie. I haven't seen that yet, but even unseen, I'd recommend the movie over this for most people.