Susan Page is an American journalist and biographer and the Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today. Prior to Madam Speaker, Page published another biography titled, the Matriarch, a biography on Barbara Bush. I haven’t read this biography, but it is on my to-be-read shelf. I have a great admiration for Nancy Pelosi, which I will explore in a bit, but the big reason I wanted to read Madam Speaker (and eventually the Matriarch) was because of my history with Susan Page. She isn’t a major celebrity journalist. That is, she doesn’t host any television segments or any podcasts. However, she is a semi-frequent guest on some public radio/broadcasting shows. In fact, it was on NPR’s the Diane Rehm Show (now the 1A) that I first heard her discuss various political topics. I think this was around 2011-2012, when I first started listen and it made me want to be the kind of person who listens to NPR. I figured, I could try. Next thing you know, I actually really liked it.) The Diane Rehm Show was the first show I really became attached to, but in 2016, Diane Rehm retired. I really hoped Page would be her replacement (as did many others), but it went to a new face. All in all, I really like where the 1A is now, but it left me wishing there was more amazing reporting by Page to enjoy. Which is why, when I learned that she had written a book (the Matriarch), I knew I had to read it.
Not long after buying the Matriarch, I realized Page was writing a new book. I did what I often do; I looked for an advanced reader copy. Sadly, it wasn’t on NetGalley, so I emailed the publisher. They didn’t answer. A few months later, I sent a snarky email (that I now wish was more cordial) about how the least they could do is say no. I quickly got a response apologizing, explaining there had been a change in employment that lead to my email being lost. The representative said “Sure!” to my request and asked for my address. I was shocked. I’ve never actually gotten a physical review copy before, so many many thanks to the publisher both for the opportunity and sheer thrill of getting to review the physical copy.
My thoughts on Speaker Nancy Pelosi
As I alluded to before, I have great respect for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I say that because I know many (on the left and right) have great animosity toward her). I recognize she is the quintessential politician, but I always thought there was more to admire than to hate. Even her fiercest opponents acknowledge and respect that Speaker Pelosi. Many on the right characterize her as a far leftist, but in modern times, many on the left say she hasn’t gone far enough. The tendency in politics to draw a binary is very strong. A person is good or bad with no room for complexity. I am far from unbiased, but I try to acknowledge that fact. I could go all in about the ins and outs of what I think and why, but there is nothing I can say that isn’t already explained by Page, more coherently than I could ever could.
Page vs Speaker Pelosi
Let me be clear, I don’t think Page wrote this biography to bolster the Speaker’s image. Nevertheless, it’s hard to read this and not see the respect, and likely admiration, that Page has for the Speaker. Regardless of if you agree with Pelosi’s politics, her achievements as speaker are unmatched in recent history. There will be those who disagree, but it’s important to separate animosity for politics from animosity for Pelosi. Furthermore, there will be those that judge Pelosi in a way they never would a man doing the same things. When I speak of her achievements, it assumes a mutual respect, if not for Pelosi’s politics, then of the system of governance itself and what that system is capable of in it’s most idealistic state. I often think of Leslie Knope (in the shows later seasons) and her pure belief of what government can do even if it fails to be as pure as we would like. I recognize many do not hold that view, but you don’t have to agree to appreciate why or how one might find Speaker Pelosi admirable.
Overall, this book is about about Pelosi’s life as a whole, but it feels centered on her time in politics. Pelosi’s early life is merely a filter by which to better understand Pelosi as a politician. However, it’s no secret that Pelosi is very guarded. Page compares Speaker Pelosi with First Lady Barbara Bush when she asks to see their transcripts from high school. The first lady laughed at the triviality of it; the Speaker scoffed and refused. That guarded persona is present throughout the book. Page’s attempt to work around it is one of the best parts about the book. Early on in Pelosi’s life, it seems hard for Page to separate fact from narrative when the facts are so sparse, but as the Speaker gets further into her political life, Page is able to dig deeper into every situation beyond what Pelosi is saying in their interviews.
This likely makes the Speaker sound calculating or deceptive, but I would argue against that, nor does Page portray the Speaker that way. All Page does is present the Speaker as she is in a way that is intended to appreciate the subtleties of her character and motivations. She never tells you what to think, but she does her best to provide you with the information for you to make your assessment yourself. I’m leaving with an emboldened respect for the Speaker, but I’d be naïve to think my own bias doesn’t shape my view of the book. I wonder what others will think. Pelosi isn’t an angel, but no one is. The fact is, this book, in my view, conveys the fundamental motivations of the Speaker that feel true and pure.
Reflecting on Madam Speaker and Nancy Pelosi
One thing this book achieved was convincing me that Pelosi is far more liberal than I gave her credit for. Time and time again she has advocated for liberal causes, from the moment she took office. Even with the healthcare bill, I got a different perspective with this book. She very much wanted a much more liberal version of the bill. She was not happy with the bill that got through. However, a series of unfortunate political events stole that win from her. She was so close and a small shift in power made it impossible. In fact, everyone was ready to give up. Obama’s own administration wanted to get past the failure. The fact that we have anything is only because the Speaker chose to do what could be done. I knew she was responsible, but I never truly appreciated just how far she wanted to go or how close she got to it. Speaker Pelosi is the epitome of what I want in a leader. She is competent, effective, and realistic. She doesn’t waste tears on what might have been; she asks what can be. She is not a god. Although, what she’s able to achieve sometimes gives that impression.
Speaker Pelosi, like Secretary Clinton, is not very personable, nor is she a very open person. Human instinct is to distrust those kind of people. That doesn’t mean our instinct is always trustworthy. So much of the good that has happened in the last few decades is thanks to Speaker Pelosi. This book conveys that, and if you’re not liberal, it conveys that Pelosi is a formidable opponent that the left is lucky to have had.
To read or not to read
From an average reader’s perspective, I thought it was written well. I listened along with Page’s narration of the book, and it was just as well narrated. Page uses her journalistic voice, but she isn’t afraid to insert emotion or inflection where necessary. What’s more, the book was just as engrossing as it was fascinating. I sat there reading about everything Pelosi did during Trump’s presidency, eager to find out if she was successful, only to remind myself, you lived through this, and it failed. That really speaks to how well the book is crafted, for me to feel like I am reliving this but from the Speaker’s perspective. For those of you who don’t read a lot of political nonfiction, I think this will be an easy book to read and enjoy.
Big picture, I’d give this between 4.5-5 stars (final rating determined after sitting on it a bit). Anyone interested in Speaker Pelosi, either as a supporter or an avid opponent, should consider reading this. I can’t promise you’ll leave with as positive a view of her as I have, but you’ll leave with a better understanding of who Speaker Nancy Pelosi is.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an E-ARC of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Gutter Child was a fascinating and amazing book by Canadian author Jael Richardson. This is Richardson’s first novel, preceded only by her memoir, The Stone Thrower. I had not heard much about this book before it’s release. It was from Richardson herself that I heard of it. She was leading a discussion on the 2020 Canadian Reads competition on her Instagram feed, and it was there that she mentioned her forthcoming book next year. I did not look into what the book was about–not even its genre. However, I ordered it and requested in on NetGalley to review because of how much I appreciated her discussion on the Canada Reads novels. Fast forward to 2021 and imagine my surprise upon learning that this was the type of science fiction light dystopia that I really like in books. For whatever reason, I was expecting some mundane narrative, historical or contemporary. I was thrilled to learn it was more speculative because of how thought provoking these types of books often are. Right away, I realized this was going to be an awesome book from the writing to genre and topic.
The book is set in a fictional world with similarities to our own. The Gutter people are a group of indigenous people who were colonized by a Euro-type settler. By the time our story begins, we see the Gutter people segregated and discriminator against, forced to live as slaves to work off the debt their ancestors accrued when they fought back against the settlers. Our perspective follows that of a young girl who was taken from the Gutter people and given to one of the Colonizers to raise as their own. There are heavy racial themes in this book, and I believe our main character is brown skinned. However, race is not the key identifier for this caste system. Rather, Gutter people have marks embedded on their hands.
The story follows our young protagonist as she’s forced to learn the truth of her world, a truth she has been shielded from by her adoptive mother. The story is fast paced and depressing. As our main character learns the truths of her world so do we. This book is an analysis of the horrors done by colonizers throughout history, to bother black and indigenous peoples. In fact, some of the ideas explored are of crimes that are, at best, only recently stopped. It’s this mirroring of real world issues–both modern and historical–that really makes the book shine.
Since I read the book, I’ve heard several great reviews. Njeri from ONYX Pages review is one checking out for sure!
I’m a fan of String Theory, but I came to this book more than two decades after it was written. Because of that, one thing bugged me throughout this book. How much has actually changed in one of the most fringe areas of physics? The book starts out with a recap of basic physics (i.e. quantum vs relativity). The problem is I am familiar with all the ideas explored in this book. I’ve read all but Brian Greene‘s newest book, Until the End of Time, before this, and that, coupled with all the other material I’ve consumed, made the recap feel more distracting than anything. While I am a big proponent of constantly reconsuming things, especially ideas outside your realm of expertise, this book is necessarily less well developed as everything that has come since. The sign of a good scientist and author is to learn how to communicate better with time. It isn’t particularly bad, but it was easy for me to zone out.
Then we get into string theory. Even here, most of the major ideas I was familiar with. I was hoping to leave this book with a better appreciation of the finer details of the theory, but I found it was most effective at communicating the broad ideas. Then the finer details were really hard to get through and failed to make a lasting impression. I feel like this book would have been a much more positive experience if I had read it earlier in life because it would have been an excellent introduction to the field and precursor to Greene‘s own follow up book, The Fabric of the Cosmos. I do think it is time I return to Greene‘s other novel, The Hidden Reality, which was the first book of his I ever read; that was with very little background.
If you’re interested in learning more about this theory, I highly recommend watching the Loose Ends video I posted at the top of this post. For a brief review, string theory is a theory that the smallest things of nature are these tiny vibrating strings of energy, where the vibration of each string is what defines the type of particle it is (e.g. quarks, neutrinos, electrons, etc.). These strings can perfectly reproduce our current model of particle physics, but it comes at a cost. 1) it requires the existence of many more dimensions, and 2) it suggest all of our particles have a twin symmetric particle. Why don’t we see these other dimensions? They are small and folded in onto one another. If you have a problem with the idea of tiny dimensions, I found it helpful to remember our current 3D space used to me much much more constricted before they began to expand. They don’t say this explicitly, but my mind figures, perhaps the process of expansion only applied to the 3 dimensions we see. I wonder what Greene would say to that logic? Take it with a grain of salt. This theory is fundamentally mathematical, and we have yet to show it experimentally.
The physic’s true success is in connecting Quantum Mechanics with General Relativity because the math of the two fundamentally disagree with one another (i.e. I think in particular situations like a black whole with large gravity in and very small spaces). The true beauty, as Greene suggests, is not that it necessarily needs to be a description of reality; it is that String Theory proves the two laws are reconcilable. It may be that this is not necessarily the true description of our reality. Nevertheless, it shows that a connection can exist. Now is it worth believing? That’s where things get really complicated.
The theory itself, I love despite my issues with the book. It’s a fascinating concept with compelling motivations. There are many Goodreads reviewers who seem to approach string theory with a level of cynicism. Some who dismiss it because they struggle to understand it. Others who dismiss it because it breeches into the currently unknowable. However, there is a strong argument to be made about using the information we have available to best describe the nature of the universe. As we strive to improve these descriptions we can push ourselves forward in hopes that it can be improved further. That may or may not happen. The problem I have with opponents to this theory is that they seem comfortable dismissing a theory that may very well be the nature of reality simply because the physics is so difficult to constrain. Such a mindset will merely ensure that what is currently unknowable remains unknowable.
The Large Hadron Collider was hoped to show indirect evidence for String Theory. The energies and technology needed to observe strings are far outside our wheelhouse, but string theorists had hoped the energy at the LHC would be enough to produce the larger by products of the theory, the symmetric particles that we have yet to observe. This did not happen. However, string theorist had already noted it may be more difficult to reach the energies needed than those achieved with the LHC. The simplest explanation as to why string theorists were unable to simply make a fixed prediction of what energies are needed to produce the predicted particles is that there are a large array of possible configurations of string theory. At one time, it was small enough to brute force the process, but we now recognize far too many solutions exist to truly test them. It is, in that way, currently unfalsifiable. Nevertheless, we are brought back to the point I made before: it is still the best way we have to describe reality.
If you are interested in this topic, you could read this book. It’s worth noting most people I see enjoyed this book much more than myself. However, there is an ample supply of more recent resources you can pursue too, or you could read the book and follow up with the most recent discussions available. Here are some of the resources I sought out. The first video I posted at the top of the blog was a fantastic discussion about the history and current state of SH hosted by Greene at the World Science Festival in 2019. Sean Carroll did a discussion with Greene, where Brian Greene put his bets at String Theory being a real description of reality at 50/50 shot (obviously an off the cuff comment). This was a great casual discussion. Another episode of Sean Carroll‘s podcast had a more formal, string theory specific, discussion as well. Lastly, Greene discusses String Theory, black wholes and other topics with Leonard Susskind (one of the founders of String Theory) in the late 2020 on the WSF YouTube channel.
Of these, if you are coming in blind, I would recommend you check out the WSF YouTube discussion first. If you’re someone more familiar with it, you may find these other resources interesting too. Lastly, there is, of course, Greene‘s adaption of this book on PBS which I have not watched, but I will soon.
I started writing about what I was reading in 2019. It started with a post where I talk about what I am reading. In the summer of that year, I started reading more, and my reading post turned into ongoing individual review posts. A few months later, I learned about Booktube which triggered an even larger jump what I read and my activity on my blog. My reading was flourishing, and I loved talking about it. This took a good deal of my time. I liked the idea of getting a Booktube channel, but I didn’t see how I could possibly have the time. In January, I was single again and had a lot more time, so I figured it was now or never.
I wasn’t sure if I could sustain the channel, but I decided to give it a shot. I think it was going well early in the year. Then the pandemic happened, and working from home really reshaped my life, paving the way for my channel to solidify itself. Now, reading is one of the many things I obsess over. Naturally, this obsession comes with an obsessive study of what I’m reading. I do enjoy this process, and Booktube has proven to be the perfect outlet for that passion. It also helps motivate me (and justify) the making of detailed statistics like this. It works out well because these reviews are also important to ensure I’m getting the most out of what I’m reading and that I am reading a good diverse set of books.
This last year I read about 212 books (I say about because I may be missing a comic or something) equating to about 72,500 pages. There is a lot to be understood by breaking this down by month. January was when I started my channel, and it was also when I was pushing myself to read as much as possible using the techniques I had ascertained from booktuber. While there is a dip in February (perhaps from classes or a reading slump), things increase as the pandemic starts. April is the month I really hit my max potential where I read a lot, but this was also when I started watching more TV. In fact, I watched Westworld and listened to several podcasts, so it is interesting how I was still able to reach such heights.
However, in May several things change. First, online classes began. Second, I made a goal to try to read less because I had obsessed so much over it that I let it stress me out. That goal doesn’t last as I start to creep back up in the summer, especially in August. Although, on the whole I do tend to read less. Even still, it was in October I began considering a new goal of limiting my TBR strictly to ~15 books or 1550 books. It seems to had made an impact. In December I read the least I had all year, yet I stayed home with two weeks off for the holiday’s.
There is less to learn from the range of book lengths, ratings, and publication dates of what I read. I see these more as goal oriented stats. My average book length is 342 pages plus or minus 150 pages (standard deviation) with a median of 329 pages. Standard deviation is a measure of the amount of variation; think of it as the boundary where most of the books are. The median just tells us there are plenty of shorter books despite a few longer ones making my average length a nearly 350 pages. The goal here is longer books. I have no other reason other than the satisfaction of finishing a long book.
My average rating is too high at 4.08 stars with a median of 4.00. I feel like this is similar to course grades. You want the average to be in the middle. Like may be a 3, but I struggle to really give low ratings. This really doesn’t matter, but it feels akin to oversaturating the market with gold. It loses its value. What’s more, the purpose is to illustrate the range of quality I experience, and I fear I am limiting myself.
The average year published was 2005 with a median of 2017 and a standard deviation of ~30 years. The oldest was 1818 and the newest was this year (2020). I’d like my median to be more extreme especially since average doesn’t mean nearly as much as the median does here. I think it is easy to get distracted by flashy new things, and in doing so, I ignore a range of quality content that has more than flash by surviving the test of time. Perhaps that is a little extreme, but I think you get my point.
My favorite stat is the range of genres. Note, I choose one but most have multiple. A lot of scifi-fantasys overlap into the over genre. Classics are basically any older work. Historical can be fantasy. Usually, I will mark what I consider to be the dominate genre or a genre I am trying to get more of. I am very happy with this. It shows my love for scifi, fantasy, and horror as well as for history, politics and memoirs. I want to read more general fiction, but I think this year was a pretty good listing as is. I am blown away that nearly a third of what I read was nonfiction.
Now I want to look into the diversity of what I am reading with a focus on queer representation and authors of color.
One of my biggest shortcomings has been my lack of non cis authors. At the very least I can read one a month, but I’d like to read more. To be clear, this isn’t just a quota. By allowing groups to go underrepresented, I am doing myself a disservice. Some of the best books I read this year were by non-binary (NB) authors. My goal in 2021 is to ensure at least 1 NB or trans author each month to ensure I continue to consider this when choosing what I want to read. Granted, part of this was a matter of looking for authors and buying books that will allow me to achieve this. 2020 was good for that, so I am very hopeful for a better year this year.
Reading by a diverse range of authors by race has been a difficult thing to track and work towards. Race and ethnicity are not the same, and trying track this is not always straightforward. As with NB and trans authors, these people are not just quotas to be met, and I have to be aware of that while also trying to ensure I am not letting my bias drive what I choose to read. On the whole, ~1/3rd people of color (POC) is not a bad way to end the year. I don’t have a hard number that I am aiming for. Instead, my goal is to continue to improve. If I am at 1/3, I can push to a 1/2. While I read a large fraction of black authors, I ended up breaking what I read down to ensure other groups didn’t go underrepresented. I strive to ensure I seek out a range of voices, and this helps me think about that. That is especially true on a quarterly basis as I can look back and be aware of my on going tendencies. In this, I can be more cognizant and avoid just boiling this down to a monthly quota.
As a queer person, I am very disappointed with my queer representation in my books. As with everything, the goal is to improve; first I can strive for 1/3 and then a 1/2. Again, these are stories that I can both learn and connect to. My queer identity is an ongoing part of me that I am still learning about, and books are one of the many ways I learn to think about it while also empathizing with others.
In this year end review, I decided to consider a new data point. That is, I wanted to consider intersectionality within the queer books I am reading. It is a decent amount, but as with everything else, there is room for improvement. I should also add, I am still toying with how and what to consider for intersectionality. I would love recommendations for those who think there are other areas worth studying. I went with this analysis in part because I am partly limited by the data I have, but can gather some new data moving forward.
Lastly, I want to consider where I am getting my books from. To be clear, I listen to almost all the books I read, but I like to consider if it is a book I don’t own physically (which the goal is to own it first). If I don’t own it or it isn’t on my to be read (TBR) shelf, then why isn’t it? This is usually for book clubs and advanced reader copies as well as rereads. I try to keep book clubs of books I don’t own to a minimum. My level of rereading is more than 2 a month which I am perfectly happy with because there is so much to be had from rereading. I would like to read and review more ARCs, but that’s because I request so many. Naturally, I should request less. Lastly, I want to consider my TBR shelf.
My TBR shelf has grown significantly in the last couple years because as I read more I bought more. Technically, 3/4s of what I read is on my shelf, but a big portion of those are new books, so the question arises, am I reading my older (longer owned books). If I am, can and will I read my newer books? To answer this question, I began tracking how long a book is on my TBR shelf. That is, I track how long I’ve owned a physical copy of a book. Using this, I can see just how well I am addressing my older books.
This graph says a lot. First, I bought a lot of books in the last year and a half, and I have a lot of books preordered (less than zero). As a result, a lot of what I read are books I’ve owned for a short period. The goal is to read older books on my TBR, but if I own more newer books, naturally I will read more newer books. What this figure shows is that the books I read roughly reflect what I own. I may only read a few books that have been on my TBR shelf for 3-6 years, but the total number of books on my shelf that I have owned that long is also much lower.
In 2021 I have a book buying ban, or I have a ban on ordering new books to add to my TBR. I will still allow myself to buy books I review via ARC or that I have read but don’t own physically. I am still restricting how many books I will let myself read that are not on my shelf (outside of ARCs), so I think this should be fine. That said, I kind of gamed the system by preordering a lot of books in 2021.
All in all, 2020 was a great reading year, and I am looking forward to 2021.
I am by no means a Shirley Jackson super-fan. Rather, I wasn’t, but that may have changed after reading this fantastic biography. I’ve read some of Jackson’s biggest works, the Haunting of Hill House, the Lottery short story collection, as well as both of her personal memoirs, Life Among Savages and Raising Demons. Of course, there are many other works I haven’t read, perhaps the biggest being We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Any hesitation I had about reading her other works has vanished. Franklin has inspired me to read Jackson’s entire list of work, and reread this biography when I’m done to fully appreciate the depth and significance of Jackson’s work.
I originally sought out this biography after reading Life Among Savages, Jackson’s first memoir, in October of 2019. I had hoped to get a look into Jackson’s psyche because I knew how significant her work (e.g. the Haunting of Hill House) is in the horror genre. Imagine my disappointment when I came to find out that it is less a memoir and more of an outtake of what it’s like to be a housewife in the 50s (or what you’re expected to be). There’s nothing really discussing her personal life outside of her kids; never is there a mention of her life as a writer. There is the hint of what might be satirical commentary on her life and society, but overall, the book comes across as somewhat antiquated. I couldn’t decide if the book is Jackson being cleverly critical or just doing exactly as it seems, trying to paint herself as the “perfect” housewife. I ended up thinking it must be somewhere in between. Franklin goes deep into what Jackson was trying to get at with these memoirs and what motivated her to write them, and it seems I was mostly right about it being a mix of critic and showcasing. My point here is that the memoir left me wanting. I realized it was never meant to be an honest peak into Jackson’s life.
I approached this biography hoping for a deeper dive into her personal life as well as into her mind. Thankfully, that is exactly what I got. This biography excels because it is more than just an outline of her life; it’s a detailed look at how her life fed into her work and vice versa. Franklin’s expertise as a literary critic really shines through in this aspect. This is as much a critical analysis of Shirley Jackson’s literary works as it is of her life. As someone who has come to enjoy reading memoirs and biographies of celebrities and other significant people in history, I must say this is one of the best that I’ve ever read. Sure, I am biased as a fan of Jackson, especially after learning more about her, but objectively speaking, there is so much here to love.
It is at times almost academic in its detail, but never is a dull. The hardest part is adjusting to just how dense the story is, but it quickly morphs into a compelling story of Jackson’s life. This book is very long—over 600 pages, but never was I bored. I found myself lying in bed at night listening to the audiobook eager to find out what happened next. Needless to say, this book is a masterpiece. I absolutely loved it.
That said, there are caveats. Because this is a literally analysis, Franklin walks us through every single significant work that Jackson wrote. That means spoiling the big reveals and walking us through the arc of Jackson’s books and stories. That includes how the story originates and how it eventually morphs into what we read today. Of course, if you haven’t read all of Jackson’s work and intend to, you absolutely should read those first. I’m not the kind of person who is bothered by spoilers. Plus, I’m often very forgetful, so hopefully it won’t affect my enjoyment when I get around to reading Jackson’s other works.
While I highly recommend you read Jackson’s works before this biography, the exception to that would be Jackson’s memoirs. I mentioned before how the memoirs felt very calculated and almost disingenuous. It’s interesting to hear Franklin discussion of these, and given the somewhat dated nature of these memoirs, I think that they would work better if read with Franklin’s analysis as a frame of reference. Sure you could read the memoirs, then the biography, and reread the memoirs for a complete experience. Except, I don’t think her memoirs are worth the added effort of rereading. The most fascinating side of it comes from Franklin’s analysis. Quite frankly, if you aren’t a Jackson fan working your way through all of her works, I don’t think they’re worth reading in the first place, but that’s your decision to make.
As a person, Jackson doesn’t come across as the most likable. There are aspects of her life that a very pitiful; she has “a rather haunted life” indeed. She suffered in a mediocre marriage with a husband who was not good to her. She had a mother who was insufferable and unfair, and that doesn’t even consider the everyday struggles of being a woman in a patriarchal society. As a result, she suffered with addiction to alcohol and drugs that were prescribed to her. She also struggled with her weight. All of this would lead to her untimely death before the age of 50.
There are other details that were interesting to learn about. One thing that really stood out for me was her friendship with Ralph Ellison. I never knew how close they were, and Franklin seems to suggest that the two’s friendship may have fed into their work. It makes me want to reread his book, Invisible Man (not to be confused with HG Wells the Invisible Man). Another thing worth noting is that there were moments in Jackson’s life where she expressed some homophobic ideas. Franklin says she is a product of her time, but it is disappointing nonetheless. I also find it hard to sympathize with someone who comes from wealth. At the same time, Jackson’s story is humanizing because it shows how even people of a higher class have their own struggles. Besides, Jackson wasn’t rich her entire life even if her parents were well off. They still struggled, and that was very much apparent throughout Jackson’s life.
No one is perfect, and that is especially true for Jackson. Nevertheless, I’m still left mesmerized by Jackson as a person and as a writer. This was a fantastic book as I’ve made abundantly clear. There are plenty of biographies I have loved reading, but few add as much to the conversation as Franklin’s work. What’s more, rarely does the person being discussed feel quite as significant as Jackson does. Part of that is Jackson herself, but it’s also a biproduct of Franklin’s hard work. 5/5 stars
I reread this a 2nd time as I read the e-arc for McGuire’s newest companion novel, Over the Woodward Wall, see that blog post. I loved it even more getting the extra insight into the side story of Over the Woodward Wall.
What the fork was 2019 Josh thinking (giving this 4.75 stars). This book is flawless. I think I had such high expectations going in I was overly critical, to the point that I docked it points for a non issue.
This story is so we’ll crafted and the perfect mix of sci-fi and fantasy. It’s also time travel which is the best thing ever. End of story. The one complaint I had last time was about the depth of our villains; this go around, it became very obvious to me why they are the way they are.
God I loved this book. I kinda want to read it again but I should pace myself before I overdue it. 5/5 star
First Read – October 2019
I decided to read this because Lala at the booksandlala youtube channel spoke so highly of the book. It is a scifi-fantasy story about two siblings with potentially god-like powers for nefarious purposes. I seems like everything I would love. Plus, McGuire is the author of another series I’ve wanted to read called the Wayward Children. It’s the winner of Hugo and Nebula awards.
My biggest fear her is the hype. There is something special about going into a book you think and hope you are going to like, and then you read it and do love it. Here, there is the opinion of someone I value significantly (granted with limited data). I don’t want to set my expectations too high. Still, I think this is going to be a lot of fun.
I’m almost done. I have a 1/4th left, and I hate it’s almost over. Everything about it is fantastic. I’ve actually stopped reading it to prolong the ending. I am starting my next book in hope that I will get invested in it, so when this is done, I have something else I’m also excited for and into. This story is very well told. I almost wish it was longer just because it is so fast paced. It is very long, nearly 500 pages I think, so it is hardly lacking in material.
I think the biggest flaw in this for me is the basis for the magic. It isn’t badly done. McGuire uses pseudoscience like Astrology, Homeopathy, and Alchemy as a real device by which to do this magic. It’s fiction, but I can’t help but cringe at how so many people don’t see it that way. This is the skeptic in me. It doesn’t lessen the quality of the book, nor do I think most people will be as put off by it as me.
What I have been asking myself is whether this is a favorite of the year. This story is great. It is well written. The plot is well crafted and unique. The characters are largely good characters. The big bad feels a little one dimensional, but most of our other characters are flawed yet well meaning. There is some mystery around the motivations in this book. So, we may get more background to flesh out our main villain. My favorite set of characters are of course the main characters, that is the siblings.
I really appreciate the dynamic they have and the love they share for one another. It’s an easy thing to relate to as someone with two sisters. Siblings are, for at least a part of your life, your best friend, and the bond you share outmatches and outlasts the bonds we share with others. I am really hoping for some heart wrenching moments towards the end. There have already been tough moments between the siblings, and one moment early on almost had me crying. That’s really what solidified the dynamic between the two for me.
This is a fantastic story founded in characters we are invested in. The story itself is the perfect mixture of science fiction and fantasy. My favorite types of stories are those that incorporate a bit of both but are still grounded in real everyday life. That made this story easy and fun. However, it goes deeper with how it explores the ideas of family and a sibling bond as I mentioned before.
The biggest faults I found in the story were the villains. They felt one dimensional, and they never got fleshed out. There really isn’t a more stereotypical villain then one that seeks to take over the world. What’s more the story’s conclusion (light spoilers ahead), while not exactly predictable, feels like what we would expect.
McGuire still maintains some mystery about the fate of the world. The siblings are real people, but they’re also more than that. They are something not even they understand. What might happen if they ascend to their full power may be itself dooming to the earth. If they don’t, they will just be replaced with another pawn for the main villain. Is it a lose lose or is there hope?
All in all, the story is near perfect in its telling. While the villain is a caricature, our “heroes” are real characters that we can connect to. 4.75/5 stars. I hate not giving it a full 5 stars. I can’t help but wonder if I am being overly critical because I came in hyped up. I remember Viscous was similarly hyped, but I definitely enjoyed this story more.
I am beyond grateful to be offered the opportunity to review this book. I just recently finished one of Carroll’s older books, and it is one of my favorites of the year. I know this book is already out. Nevertheless, the copy I was granted expires on the 31st of December, so intend to finish it before then to provide feedback for the copy I received. When I reviewed From Here to Eternity, I tried to review each part of the book. I think the result was a bit of mess; it was also a lot of work. Here, I will stop after each chapter to very briefly summarize his points and to discuss how effective it was as a chapter. Summarizing it will help me get a sense of how well I really understand it. Basically, I’m blogging my entire experience with the book. When I’m done, I’ll summarize my thoughts above my blogging experience (right after this).
I absolutely adored this book. I am so grateful to NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this. I didn’t even realize it was already out, and I ended up using the audiobook (also amazing) to read the book. I still am happy I got the ARC because I may not have read it otherwise. I have only just started on NetGalley. I am a fan of Carroll, so I wanted the chance to review his newest book early. Even if it was already out, I may not have read it without the ARC because that was really the biggest motivator (the need to provide a review).
Otherwise, I might have read a different book by him because I was honestly very afraid of this book. The first time I saw the synopsis (prior to finding it on NetGalley), I read quantum mechanics and thought this was not for me. I have never understood it and was unlikely to start trying now. Then, with the added incentive, I decided to give it a try. Dear Sagan am I happy I did. I left this book feeling as though I actually understand quantum mechanics. Then add on the extra benefit of being beyond fascinated, intrigued, and excited by his discussion of Everett’s Many World’s hypothesis. I go in depth in my thoughts on that in my live bloggingwhere I responded after each chapter. I would refer you there, jjoshh.com, if you are interested in reading that.
All in all, this book did everything I want from a science book. It challenged my fundamental way of thinking all the while in a clear and structured manner. What’s more, it is one that doesn’t shy away from the tough parts of science while not creating a story that completely hinges on your reader to have an expert level understanding to follow along. I highly recommend this book and Sean Carroll (and his podcast Mindscape). This will probably be one of my top 10 books of the year. 5/5 stars
I will probably do a review on my channel as well, but that will be in a week or so when I have time.
Rating Break Down Writing Style: 10/10 Content: 10/10 Structure: 10/10 Summary: 9/10 Engagement: 10/10 Enjoyment: 10/10 Comprehension: 8/10 Pacing: 9/10 Desire to Reread: 10/10 Special: 10/10 Final Rating: 4.785/5 Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance (see blog for more details).
The book is already out, so I should be okay to quote it. Lastly, I am reading this via the e-arc in conjunction with the audiobook (on Scribd). The audiobook is narrated by Carroll himself, and it is very well done. If you haven’t already, check out his podcast, Mindscape where he gets guests to discuss leading topics in science. I mention that here because the first thing I noticed was how much the audiobook was like listening to this podcast. It feels natural well performed.
Carroll uses the Prologue of this book for a very simple purpose. He is here to talk to us about Quantum Mechanics, but before he does that, he has to make has to make us care. He takes a subject that, I suspect, most people assume is resolved, and explains why what we think we know is wrong. What’s more, he hints at how he intends to make us look at Quantum Mechanics in a brand new way. He does it in a way that highlights how skilled a science communicator he is, and it gets me beyond excited to dig deeper into this book.
Part One: Spooky
In Chapter 1, His first step is to explain exactly what quantum mechanics tells us, generally speaking, and where it sits within the realm of physics. Basically, it is a foundation chapter. He discusses how quantum mechanics compares to classical mechanics in how we go from a world of concise reality to one of probability. He sums it up as follows: “What we see when we look at the world [through quantum reality] seems to be fundamentally different from what actually is.” Quantum mechanics works similarly to classical; that is, the system is set up and is let to evolve. The difference comes with the act of measuring. The fundamental problem addressed in this chapter is to understand that quantum theory, as it currently exists, doesn’t explain how reality works only that it is how it is.
The concept seems simple enough, and his background feels like a good description of what quantum mechanics is. In Chapter 2, Carroll takes us on a journey to how this all came to be understood. He tries to make his point, stated in Chapter 1, that there is something missing in our understanding. Carroll explains the difference between epistemology which is the state of our knowledge versus ontology which is the state of reality. Essentially, this says there are ways of getting to the result without fully understanding how we got there. I get a little lost as he transitions to thinking about QM in a different manner. He treats the idea of a wave function as reality. where everything is literally a wave and when we observe it as otherwise, we aren’t observing a fact of reality, simply a piece of reality lacking a bigger picture. The impression I get from this is that the problem with QM isn’t an ontological one but an epistemological one.
I can’t pin point exactly how he goes from each point to the next, but I find his explanation overall effective. I’ve never quite understood what it meant to be a wave function. Now I think I do. Waves aren’t just a construct, they are a fact of reality, where reality acts fundamentally different than we perceive it in classical mechanics. That is, the universe is as much in a state of superposition as the quantum particles that make it up. That leads Carroll to the idea of Many Worlds, where many worlds are simply an extension of quantum theory. “The potential for such universes was always there,” and each world is a realization of that each position. This may be the best explanation of the many worlds theory that I’ve ever read (not a cosmologist). What’s more, Carroll doesn’t hold back that this could be wrong, and he takes the time to address other possibilities.
Chapter 3 felt like an introduction to quantum mechanics. Carroll provides a reader with the history of the science that lead to our current understanding. He concluded by explaining how the scientific community came to the understanding that quantum mechanics is fundamentally probabilistic despite many attempts to assign it a deterministic nature. It was a fine review, but I found myself wondering what the point of it all was until he spelled it out that they never really explored the implications. Overall, I can’t help leaving the chapter unsure what it means to be probabilistic. Ideally, that is the point; I just wish I could, as a reader, have ascertained his point without him spelling it out.
Carrol is an apt story teller and science communicator. He uses Chapter 4 to explore probabilities, or more specifically, the nature of uncertainty, further. It seems the most important thing to understand is that the wave and uncertainty descriptions are not a broad description that works with gaps of knowledge. The physics that governs this world is fundamentally different than the rules of classical mechanics. I’ve got a background in that area, and it makes sense to me.
He finishes his discussion by focusing on the nature of what it means to be a wave. It was probably the most difficult material he has covered yet but still easily understood. He gets into a conversation on spin that feels esoteric and a bit over my head. Luckily, he doesn’t leave us stranded. He uses the information to guide us in our understanding. The nature of waves is a confirmed fact. The act of measuring quite literally appears to alter the wave like nature of a “particle.” I think he explains it best but it is fascinating.
Chapter 5 is what feels like, a concise discussion of the nature of entanglement. It is a doozy. I’m here reviewing the material trying to make sense of what Carrol is saying, but I am having a tough time. It seems entanglement is when two electrons share the same spin. The trick is, their spins are in superposition, and they don’t consolidated until measured. The trick is, once one is measured then the other is guaranteed to be measured as such too. What I don’t get is how we know this isn’t a correlation; why must it be an entanglement.
If a photon is used to force particle a into a fixed spin that doesn’t change the spin of what it is entangled to, it only passes that entanglement on to the photon used to change the spin. That suggests a shared dynamical relationship not an intrinsic entanglement. I have to assume there is an independent way of identifying them as entangled.
My initial impression at the start of the chapter was that entanglement is the way the wave function of the universe (or of these two particles) is intertwined. That is more than a coincidental correlation. All that is to say, the chapter is complicated, and I hope it becomes clearer later in the book.
Part 2: Splitting
Chapter 6 was easier to read. It discusses the nature of decoherence and it’s implications on the many worlds hypothesis. I can’t say I left the chapter absolutely convinced, but it was a much more compelling story to read. Now we are getting into the nitty gritty.
Chapter 7 tackles the nature of probability and the effect on the multiverse. I think the first very compelling point was how it doesn’t feel like we live in a multi-world universe, but the same was said about the earth rotating or the earth orbiting the sun. Sometimes, our intuitive senses aren’t enough. I found this chapter immensely fascinating. The nature of probability means all that can happen does happen. Now I’ve heard that before, but I’ve always wondered what the realistic effect is on the macro scale (vs micro/atomic).
If the position or spin of an electron can be in superposition, what difference does that make on the classical physics of the world. I still don’t really know, but one fantastic point Carroll makes is how we can discuss probabilities. Say we do a random number generator our interpretation of that will vary. If we assume the RNG is quantum (which Carroll’s actually is) then a string of 16 spin directions (1/0) will produce a world where every possible line of 1’s and 0’s exists. In that world, Carroll’s use of this list in his discussion would be directly effected by unlikely results like all 1’s or weird patterns. It’s fascinating to think of the different directions his book and life would take in those scenarios. It’s debatable how big of an effect it would have, but it’s a substantial example of a direct influence of these quantum superpositions on the macro world.
Carroll finishes the chapter exploring how we might differentiate between more likely scenarios. This part highlights my biggest problems with the book which my inability to comprehend the more esoteric discussions. That said, Carroll continues to keep us grounded by walking through each piece such that I leave understanding (I think) the points he is trying to make. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to study what he’s saying to fully appreciate every step along the way.
The fascination continues in Chapter 8 as Carroll begins to attack, head on, the question of whether the Many Worlds perspective is (1) the most logical conclusion and (2) really science. The quintessential simplicity of the theory is that anything else would have to add on or change the laws of quantum mechanics as we understand it. Basically, if you want to deny the existence of an infinite number of worlds, you have to complicate our own. As far as occurs razor is concerned, that just doesn’t work. Then as far as science, it is said that a theory must be falsifiable, and one cannot deny that the law that implies the multi-world perspective is entirely falsifiable simply by disproving the laws of quantum mechanics.
Chapter 9 is dedicated to the opposing theories that have been proposed to counter the Everett Many-Worlds interpretation. I thought it was a great overview and comparison. To be fair, we have multiple theories condensed to one chapter with 2/3 of this book to talk about Everett’s view, but I thought it Carroll did a good job defending against them. Granted, I may struggle to explain this myself without further review.
What we got in Chapter 10 is really what I’ve been waiting for all along. He talks about the implications on us. He delves into the question of free will, consciousness, and whether these quantum processes can really be assumed to extend to the choices we make. He makes a compelling case that it is unlikely that our choices are in fact quantum. That is to say, the processes that govern it are probably not probabilistic. Nevertheless, he talks about opportunities that we might introduce such randomness into our decisions. We can use quantum number generators to help make decisions to ensure multiple versions of our-self, however minor.
Now, I came to this revelation last month, and ever since, I’ve been striving to make decisions by it. Right now, I’ve used it to decide which books (or the order by which) I read. This may be minor, but books can have profound effects on us. I can imagine a world where I read one book and not another and it seriously effecting me. This book is a prime example of that. I may expand on this discussion in another post, but I’ll summarize with how exciting I find this all to be. The ability to actively create multiple versions of one’s self is so enthralling to me.
Part 3: Spacetime
In Chapter 11 Carroll begins to explore what this actually means for reality. That is, where are the other worlds, and how are they connected to us. My understanding is that these states all coexist in the quantum realm, but there is something about our entangled selves that then experience these physical laws for our specific reality given. However, the others can be thought to be there, experiencing reality slightly different. I think he did a good job explaining this. It is still very abstract but overall a good take on how this relates to the greater universe.
I found Chapter 12 to be a bit esoteric. He seems to be discussing the nature of quantum field theory, and, while interesting, I didn’t understand the point as it relates to the Many Worlds interpretation. I think he was trying to highlight the fundamentally difference between the way reality works in quantum mechanics than in how we perceive reality. That is to say, particles aren’t strictly what we perceive them to be. Perhaps this suggests the same may be true for Many Worlds? It may be that it has nothing to with that and Carroll is branching off into another tangential area of research.
On that note, Chapter 13, the last chapter, is all about quantum gravity. He makes sure to be very clear: this is purely hypothetical. Quantum gravity may be an intriguing idea, but it is not yet on the same level as say even the Many Worlds interpretation which at least is based on an understood scientific idea. I think it did a really good job bringing this section to close. While it is very theoretical and ongoing research, I can better appreciate how chapter 12 was building up to this idea which is essentially that space, and maybe time, is emergent. That is, the nature of entanglement of particles brings space into existence as we perceive it. As such, that might explain why we perceive our world from a different world where the quantum state is a bit different.
Epilogue and Appendix
This was pretty straightforward close to the book. I like that he read the appendix (or selected parts) on the audiobook.
As a white man, I am not writing this because I think I have a special insight that can’t be found elsewhere. I am writing this because 1) I have a platform, 2) to promote Black voices, and 3) to take responsibility. I will highlight things that I think are important but for the purpose of encouraging you to check out the various resources I’ve provided. A lot of this will be Booktube content, but I use them because they are completely reflective of society as a whole. I started this post with a video of Kimberly Jones, the author of “I’m Not Dying with You Tonight,” discussing the problem with the system and why the riots/protests/property damage are not the problem. If anything, they speak to the severity of the problem. What’s more, it was beautiful, profound, and devastating. Please watch it.
Now lets talk about silence and complicity. People don’t want to talk about this. Why? Because they’re uncomfortable. They’re uncomfortable because they don’t know what to say or don’t want to say the wrong thing. Well, if you don’t know what to say, do same damn research. White Fragility (check that book out, I still need to read it), isn’t an excuse not to talk. You’re going to make mistakes. I continue to do that. Just the other day, I made a comment about our responsibility and described it in a way that perpetuated a white savior complex which goes right back to white supremacy and this idea of superiority. Obviously, that isn’t what I think, or maybe my ingrained prejudices have subconsciously made me think that. The fact is, consciously, I know it isn’t true. What I intend doesn’t matter when what I say and do feed into the ideas of white supremacy and oppression. I’ve used that phrase to a lot of people, and white fragility leads a lot of us to jump to the defense. We know we don’t want to be racist, so we assume that is enough. We have to take responsibility for what we say and do and that takes work and a desire to learn and listen.
However, learning is only the beginning. Another thing Francina (the booktuber in the video) touches on is the power of social media. Those of you who haven’t shared/said even the slightest thing, I’ve noticed. I can’t make you speak out, but if you are reading this, please recognize we have to do more. Now before I go on, I recognize social media isn’t a direct reflection of what someone is doing to support. Support can be shown through donations, petitions, and protesting, and complications in life happen too that may prevent you from being as active as you’d like to be. I say this to encourage self reflection on if you’re doing enough not to pass judgment. Social media is just one small way to make a difference.
Social media, even before Covid, has become the center of some many of our lives. It shapes how we see the world (e.g. Russian bots), and because of that, it’s a powerful tool. While it is a useful means of listening and learning, it is also an opportunity to share voices that some people aren’t exposed to. It is also a way to spark a conversation. Fundamentally, it is about getting people to listen.
Understanding racism is to understand the oppressed. That means we have to listen to Black voices. Looking back, we can see how support for Black Lives Matter has evolved. Look at everything that is happening, all because more people are listening and believing. One question that Ashley (I’m unsure about the spelling) poses is “Why now?” She doesn’t believe us. We sit here showing support but history shows it’s fake. History shows we speak up when it’s trendy, and go away when it is not. Again, I doubt few of us would say we intentionally would do that, but intent and actions are not the same. We have to recognize our silence. We have to ask why, and we have to be aware of how easy it is to let it just fade into the background (because we have the privilege to do that; black people can’t escape it so easily). I still don’t know why now is the moment people are listening. I wish I knew.
The closest answer I could come to seems to be the one Ashley gives: we are afraid of being called out, afraid of being shamed. I know I am ashamed. I think back to when BLM first arose; I considered myself an ally (a term we have not right to assign ourselves). In reality, I was, at best, complicit, at worst actively fighting against it. Both are just as bad. In my years here at Western, my best friend has accused me of racism, more than once. My first reaction is to get defensive, deny, reject, and gas light. I owe her an apology. Yes, I am ashamed but not because of how it makes me look; I’m ashamed of the harm I have put into the world, even on the people closest to me. I don’t say this looking for forgiveness or a pat on the back. Yes I am ashamed. That may have been what made me care enough to listen, but that doesn’t do jack-shit to fix the problem.
I can sit here all day and cry about the bad I’ve done, but the point of self reflection is to figure out how to fix the problem. Diana, from the second video on being an ally, summed it up pretty well. Racism isn’t a black problem, it’s a white problem. We started it. We benefit from it. It’s up to us to fix it. Black people have been fighting racism for centuries because their resilient, strong, and capable; it’s on us to decide if we stand on the side of oppression or the side of equality.
Speaking up and joining the conversation is the first step. The other is calling people out; friends, coworkers, and family. Any time, any place. Speak up. This isn’t about politics; it is about basic human rights. I also intend to listen. Too often black voices are ignored, but I know as a white man, I can’t understand without listening because my experience is so fundamentally different than what it is for Black people and other POC. But more than that, I was raised by a system that taught me I should benefit from discrimination and oppression. I can easily sit here and say, “I don’t stand for that!” But that doesn’t change the fact that it is ingrained into my psyche and the society I live in.
That is why it is all the more important that we listen and believe Black people and other POC (Western students, check out the amazing memoir by an alumni of our own University, Eternity Martis). Then we use that to support them; stop supporting racist people and organizations that contribute to the oppression. Stop being silent. Lastly, vote and fight for systematic change.
I want to finish this post off with two videos from TikTok. I know many of you may scoff, but these highlight how powerful social media can be. In this first video we see a strong yet succinct message of how white people ignore Black people. Then we see a performance of a piece that references all the harm and fear the Black community has to experience. Like the first video I shared, it stresses the pain that is being felt.
September Update 2020
The more time passes the more I realize I don’t know. The biggest thing I realize is I need to listen more. There is a difference between promoting black voices and talking for them. Despite my intentions, I’ve continued to do harmful things, but it is an ongoing effort.
I approached Jill Watt’s book with a little trepidation. I was intrigued by the concept and the topic because it’s not something I’ve ever heard of. History is not my profession, and I know there’s always more for me to learn. As the publication data approached I grew wary of reading it. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in learning about what was in it; I was just worried about my ability to comprehend what I read. Some of these more academic books can be really difficult to get into and read through. It doesn’t help that I’m a better reader when listening to audiobooks. Lucky for me, May was a tough month, and I was late to reading this. By the time I got to it the book was published. The audiobook was out. So I chose to listen to it. And I’m glad I did because I ended loving the audiobook. What’s more, I also think this would probably make a fantastic book to read physically as well.
The black cabinet first informally started in the age of Theodore Roosevelt, not long after the reconstruction when we begin to see a few black figures begin to get a voice in the federal government. Unfortunately this is also the time of the reconstruction when the federal government was supposed to be keeping the South from implementing things like Jim Crow, basically forcing them to follow the law rather than be resistant as they were prone to do.
Unfortunately, black Americans proved to be more trouble than it was worth, so the Republican party decided to let it go. Any issues to do with black Americans was put to the sideline. Voices were ignored and after Theodore Roosevelt left the office the few people in the black cabinet were removed from the federal government and lost any sway they might have had. A few presidencies passed and we begin to see a few voices pushing back on this idea that the Republican party as the party of African Americans.
African-Americans may have played a part in the election of Woodrow Wilson, but that democratic win was also in part due to a third party candidate. Around the time of FDR we begin to see black Americans really pushing for his election. We see people thinking that this might be the candidate who can represent them and can make things happen.
When he finally is elected, we begin to see a few African Americans again in positions of power. They weren’t a cohesive group of people, nor was it anything formal orchestrated by FDR. These were just a few individuals placed throughout the federal government or in organizations tied to the government. In fact fractions begin to form as certain African Americans push back against each other in the fight for civil rights and equality.
Income Mary Bethune and things change. Where there was a fraction there was now a group of people held together by this amazing woman who was capable of inspiring and leading them into standing together. Across FDR’s several administrations, they would go on to decrease black unemployment and increase funding in black American education. They fought for in the military, but this battle was not completed before FDR’s death in his fourth term.
While by the end of the book we may begin to feel a bit disenfranchised by all the ways in which they failed to get everything they had strove for, Watts still helps us recognize that despite their shortcomings they played an immeasurable part in the move towards civil rights. They set the stage for Kennedy who introduced the civil Rights act. Even before him, FDR’s successor would go on to desegregate the military, something FDR fought against out of fear or apathy. Of course, eventually Johnson would sign into law the civil rights act. Johnson had a had a relationship with Bethune before he took office, and it is impossible to measure the effect that kind of connection may have had on him. Many of the civil rights figures, who you may be more familiar with, were inspired by people like Mary Bethune.
In all of this, FDR is often remembered as being responsible for putting together this group of people to help advise him. However, that is not the case. The reason in which they could not get everything they wanted was because of FDR and his cabinet. FDR may not have played an active role in fighting them, but he stood by and let the rest of his administration do that for him. Either out of a desire to prevent it or a apathy toward African American, he would consistently fail to act. Any of the few actions that may have happened under his presidency were done very much against his will. To him the problems about the Americans were too much of a risk.
In his death he may have been memorialized as this civil rights figure, but it is important to recognize that the progress of his time was not due to him. It was due to this group of people who fought him every step of the way. While his untimely death (well he did get elected four times) may have caused a slight rewriting of history, it’s important to remember that this was because of a group of African Americans who put themselves at risk to fight for equality and they deserve to be remembered. What’s more, I think this book is very relevant today when we think about the existing inequalities whose existence is similarly denied or marked as unavoidable. What’s more, it speaks to the need for representation. When people say why do we need a women of color VP, this is why. They aren’t just overlooked when qualified, their viewpoints are necessary to truly overcome our inequalities.
Now the book itself was fantastic. There were times where I got a bit lost. A part of that is just because it is very detailed, and there are a lot of names we need to remember. Mary Bethune is just a leader here, and there are four or five other important figures who you might want to take note of. I mentioned them in my video review and vlog. Watts begins the book with an introduction where she talks about this basic setup of Bethune guiding the black cabinet and her relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt and how FDR really played no part in the black cabinet. However, I would have liked if she had mentioned the other key figures there too just so that I would have known to keep an eye out for those figures. When we’re talking about so many different individuals in history, it’s easy for these more significant individuals to get lost in the details. Once I identified them I did a better job keeping up, but that was really my only complaint in this book.
However, even with that one complaint I never stopped being thoroughly engaged. I enjoyed reading this. I did not want to stop; I wanted to find out what happened next even if have a general idea of what was to come. I was also just very excited to learn about history and politics. I’m excited to continue learning and to find other resources about the past. I’m interested in learning more about the civil rights movement and the different people who played a role in the past and the intricacies that are often lost in the history books. For that, I applaud Watts.
I adore this book, and I’m so happy that I read it. Any hesitation I had about it being too academic or too difficult to read was wrong. I highly recommend this book if you have any interest in the history of civil rights movement or politics because it is fascinating for all of those reasons.
Inferno: New Tales of Terror by Ellen Datlow ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
The Other People by C.J. Tudor ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Radicalized by Cory Doctorow ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Raven Boys by Maggie Steivwater ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Men Explain Things to Me by Revecca Solnit ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
Home by Nnedi Okorafor ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen MAria Machado ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I Crawl Through it by A.S. King ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
Female Husbands by Jen Manion ⭐️⭐️ (DNF at 46%)
This wasn’t a bad month. The ratings aren’t bad, but that makes me wonder if I’ve been too generous with my ratings. The lowest rating was 2 star, but that was a DNF. The next lowest was six 3.5 star books. Then I had eight 4 star books. That leaves two 4.5 star books and four 5 star books. That means ~6 exceptional books. All in all though the month still feels mediocre, so I might need to stop with the 3.5 star books. I’ve been using my rating scale, and most of these ratings are pretty fixed, meaning, slight changes in one area don’t usually change the rating. I still prefer that approach.
Welcome to Nightvale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman
My Real Children by Jo Walton
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell
Provided by NetGalley and/or publisher for a fair and honest review.
I fell behind and didn’t read all the review books I was given last month, so I need to read those first thing this month. I will say, eight days into the month, I have had a very slow start. That said, I am aiming for smaller TBRs. My goal is 15 books a month, then if I have time I will fit in others. I am planning a few readathons where I want to read other books. Although, I will reassess my progress when they arrive. If you are wondering which readathons I will be doing it is Dewy’s 24 hour readathon and the intermediate reading rush. Next Month, I may be even more conservative and go with 10 books for my TBR then leave a big gap for other readathons or booktube ideas.
Towards the end of March (2020), I came across the Queer Lit Readathon that happens every six months. This is a readathon that is meant to encourage reads to read LGBTQ+ books (i.e. queer books). I decided to participate because I had the time to fit in a couple books at the end of the month.
I choose to read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. The audiobooks add up to ~40 hrs (20 hrs at 2x speed). It was a very ambitious goal. Going in, I managed to read the first two books (Dorian Gray and Song of Achilles) on Saturday, but by the time Sunday came around, I was distracted by Covid-19 stress and did not want to read. Therefore, I decided not to force myself to read Middlesex.
I will finish Middlesex this month (April 2020)! Below I’ll briefly discuss my thoughts on each book. However, I am also going to talk about one more book as well. I was granted an e-ARC of Female Husbands: a Trans History by Jen Manion which is published today (April 1st, 2020). I decided to include it’s review with this reathathon wrap up because it too is queer related and was read right after the readathon.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
This is a historical fiction book about an androgynous person born with both sexes. He is raised as a girl until he eventually comes out as a man, and the book follows his fictionalized life starting with his parents. I started this on track to finish, and I was actually enjoying it. I thought the narrator was fantastic; he was enthusiastic and engaging. I just wasn’t in the mood to read, so I decided to hold off on finishing this book until after the readathon. I intend to finish it this month.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
This is a classic horror or psychological book about a main named Dorian. He is young and loved by many for his beauty. We first learn just how enthralling he is at the start of the book when he is painted by a famous (?) artist who becomes enamored with him. The trick is bad things seem to happen to people around Dorian. It isn’t exactly him doing it, but it is a result of his own arrogance and self absorption. This begins to be reflected by the painting that was made of him. What unfolds is a dark and creepy tale.
I enjoyed this, but it wasn’t as scary as I was hoping. It also wasn’t the level of queerness I was hoping for; it was much more subtle. Perhaps the only reason it didn’t do better was the fact that it’s a classic, and they aren’t as effective for me as more modern works.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I loved this book. It was just as beautifully told as Madeline Miller’s book Circe but with even more weight to it. Last year I read several Greek mythology retellings, among those was Circe. I enjoyed each of them, but they definitely did not look fondly on Achilles as a person or character. Nevertheless, Miller is able to write a story that convinces me that all of those past stories can be true, but hidden behind them, is still this man who is fundamentally good. Granted, part of that means seeing Achilles through the eyes of Patroclus, his friend and lover. This story is entirely from his perspective and is their story.
It was the queer side of the story that really resonated with me most of all. Circe was great all around, but it never hit me at my core, not like the Song of Achilles. I loved it and I highly recommend it.
Female Husbands: a Trans History by Jen Manion
This book was provided by NetGalley for a fair and honest review.
This book is not for me. It is a very detailed account of people in history who challenge preconceived assumptions on gender, with a focus on people considered “women” dressing and living as men. This isn’t what I was expecting as a trans history, but it is not my place as cisgender man to decide what that classification is. My issue with this book isn’t what it has to say, but with how it is said. This is a very dense and dry book. I think it is probably a great academic reference, but it it is not a good book for me.
I have DNFed this book at 45%. I normally would make a point to push through a book that has been provided for review, but it just wasn’t worth it because I wasn’t retaining the information. It is clear by the other reviews, that it works great for plenty of other people, so you may still get something out of it!
I also don’t consider this read a complete waste. Upon reading other reviews, there were a few other books of similar subject that I will be looking into.