Not That Bad/Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I loved this collection of Essay’s. This is a powerful set of personally stories that forces the reader to recognize the harm of various actions people often think are essentially “not that bad.” Every story is unique from the last, but one thing is consistent throughout. Every narrative evokes a vivid picture of what each of our writers has gone through. This will likely end up on my top ten books of the year as a beautiful and emotionally fraught book that is guaranteed to strike the reader to the core.

From a personal experience, I left it contemplating my own choices and the effect I have on others. What’s more, it has helped me better live my own life in the choices I make around the things I say and do. For that reason, I loved this book. Because this is a collection of authors writing their own very personal story, I did not break this rating down. Nevertheless, I can only think of positive attributes, and I think these stories really speak to an immense level of courage. 5/5 star

Similarly, I really enjoyed Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. This one felt a lot more lighthearted. There are plenty of serious topics explored here, but Gay’s cavalier way in which she writes is witty, immersive, and at times just down right funny. It has been about half a month since I’ve read it, so sadly a lot of the details are leaving me. Nevertheless, I highly recommend the book. The fact that the details are not coming to mind means I need to reread it! Part of that relates to the wide range of topics she explores.

This is as much a memoir as it is a political statement on a number of different topics. From what I recall, I found myself agreeing with pretty much everything she had to say (or rather no disagreements come to mind).

Writing Style: 10/10
Content: 10/10
Structure: 10/10
Summary: 10/10
Engagement: 8/10
Enjoyment: 10/10
Comprehension: 9/10
Pacing: 8/10
Desire to Reread: 8/10
Special: 10/10
Calculated Rating: 4.78/5
Final Rating: 5/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance to calculate a final score that is rounded to the nearest half.

The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen J. Gould ★★★

Read 1/18/20 to 1/19/20

The Mismeasure of Man was a poignant book about the use of racism, sexism, and xenophobia to fuel misinformation and bad science to support the bigoted views of scientists throughout history. Gould tells a story about how bigotry can drive us to believe things that aren’t true, even in science. I read this novel right after How We Know What Isn’t So where it talked all about human bias and how it can lead us to believe in untrue things because of our, or someone else, preconceived beliefs.

A key point in that book is how science is probably our best tool to try in avoid said deception. Of course, that makes this book all the more discouraging considering how rampant bias has allowed racist and sexist bias to exists throughout scientific history. In this way, it is clear that science is not immune from such biases. It highlights how even scientists need to be acutely aware of these biases not only in our everyday life but also in the science that we do. If our goal is to reach the truth, then there is a clear path forward to do so.

Gould uses this book to discuss a series of cases where scientists use bad judgement, lies, and bad methodology to reach what are clearly preconceived conclusions based on their personal bigotry. They do so by manipulating their approach, manipulating the data, or outright misrepresenting what they find to get to their conclusion. This is a necessary book, and I implore every scientist to read it. It doesn’t matter if this is your field. Don’t assume you are a immune to this type of fallibility (in your science and in how you treat people).

My biggest problem with this book is it overall structure. The way Gould presents the book is very in-cohesive. As I said, it covers a series of examples where bias has produced bad science. He does not shy away from this shameful side of science, but he fails to create an overarching narrative. Each example felt separate. Moving from one example to the next meant I had trouble retaining the details of most of them. I don’t expect to memorize everything he tells me, but I would have liked a more succinct conclusion to each example that tied it to the next one so we have a better overall picture. The book doesn’t flow well. Sure, I leave the book with the point across, but I think each example could have been tied together more effectively.

All together, I do not regret reading this. I’ve already said I think other people should read this too,especially scientists. Not all works of science are the easiest to read. Some people would rather ignore history rather than acknowledge the fallibility or the harm that the that their history has caused. As I am a part of this institution. Therefore, I am have to be able to defend science against these actions that abuse the institution of science. It is the job of scientists to demonstrate how science is still the best tool to avoid misinformation, misdirection and bigotry. Still, I am not rating this on principle but on its merit as a book. 3/5 stars

Stephen J. Gould discusses the use of IQ tests to suggest black people are less intelligent.

Rating Break Down
Writing Style (7%): 7/10
Content (15%): 10/10
Structure (15%): 5/10
Summary (1%): 7/10
Engagement (5%): 5/10
Enjoyment (25%): 5/10
Comprehension (20%): 6/10
Pacing (2%): 5/10
Desire to Reread (5%): 2/10
Special (5%): 10/10
Final Rating: 3.11/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance.

The God Delusion: 10 Years Later

This book had a profound effect on me. I don’t want to pretend it is the singular reason I became an atheist; that was a series of things that had morphed my beliefs as I entered young adulthood. What this novel did was open my eyes to the world of nonbelievers of which I lacked any real knowledge of.

I recall meeting two people in high school once who told me nonchalantly that they were atheist. Of course, they seemed so nice and so normal. I was so confused. I asked why? They had no good reason, so I went on believing. Perhaps, had they actually put thought into what the believe, I would have stopped believing sooner. Sadly, I didn’t. It took a long time for me to appreciate the level of uncertainty and debate around the concept of a god. This novel was a pivotal part of that revelation.

On Goodreads, I rated this 4/5 stars, but I decided not to feature that here because I read it so long ago. I thought this was a good opportunity to share my thoughts on religion and Dawkins as a whole.

The novel worked for me: someone curious about religion, what they believe, and pretty much on the edge of disbelief. I had become a very liberal christian. Public school mixed with the literature I read in school (and on my own) had really began to challenge my perception of morality. More specifically, I was struggling with the idea of evil and the nature of beings influencing their actions. For example, is Grendel (of Beowolf) an evil monster or simply a creature who was doing what he was born to do. His incompatibility with the surrounding village was clear, but that doesn’t mean he should be punished for all eternity. Ideally, he (it?), like a wild animal, ought to have the chance to live on his own, in a way that won’t conflict with the lives of humans.

When I was finally faced with the notion that religion is not the default (in fact, it is an outrageous notion if we think about it) I fell victim to an emotional swapping of sides. It took a great deal of time for me to settle on my final, agnostic atheist position (a disbelief acknowledging ones inability to know) with a gnostic atheism towards specific gods with outright falsifiable claims attributed to them.

That took a long time. I even went through a period of deism (a greater disconnected higher power), and a period of asshole atheism. I am sure there are some who would say I am still that. However, I no longer go out of my way just to get people riled up about religion (usually). That said, I don’t think it’s not my responsibility to “respect” a religion or a religious practice. I am not a member of said religion, so don’t expect me to acknowledge it. That is to say, people get offended by the mere notion that I don’t believe it. If speak ill of their god or religious figures, they take it as a personal attack. I’ll respect your right to practice your religion however you see fit, but understand, me blaspheming Jehovah or Allah is no more immoral than me blaspheming Zeus.

In any case, when I discuss the topic of belief with people, I’ve come to appreciate the problem of religion lies less on theism itself, but rather a lack skepticism and logical way of thinking. It is also easier to address minor things like how someone approaches a problem rather than trying to undermine a fundamental belief. If a person can abide by logical reasoning in everyday life, recognizing their religion is held to a separate, lower, standard, then I am all for it. In practice, I have don’t have much faith in most people to be able to do such a thing. That said, there are some. I know of one scientist, communicator, and skeptic Dr. Pamela Gay is one such person. Even if it is a failed endeavor, the approach is still more likely to do at least a bit of good, if not what I would consider the ideal result.

That is where I think this book fails. It relies so heavily on the emotional side of the debate. Granted, there are some valid points, but atrocities of religion is not evidence against a creator (maybe an all good creator). I would recommend the Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan to most people in search of informative ways of thinking. The ideas and principles of that book should lead you to the same, or similar, conclusion. What’s more, it is a measured approach to pseudoscience and religion.

The last thing I want touch on are the problems with this author. Dawkins is an excellent scientist, but his atheism pushes on racism. There is a difference in attacking the institution than the people themselves. He is also a misogynistic asshole. Perhaps that influenced my own atheistic asshole phase. Overall though, take this work with a grain of salt. Sure, most of what he says is fair, so far as I can remember, but it isn’t the best way of convincing anyone who hasn’t already taken themselves part of the way. Nor does it promote a good approach to handling religion either.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood ★★★☆☆

Read 12/1/19-12/4/19

I am so torn on how I feel about this book. This is a story of an old woman who tells us about her life and her sister, who we find killed herself (or died accidentally) by driving off a bridge. This isn’t a spoiler. The opening line is: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off the bridge.” What unfolds is a story split between Iris (our narrator) telling the story her life and excerpts from her sister, Laura’s, “scandalous” romance novel, titled The Blind Assassin in which the male love interest tell his own story, The Blind Assassin which is a very sexist and poorly formed science fiction story. For nearly the entire book I mistook Laura’s book for her memoir of sorts. I thought it was a parallel narrative of part of Laura’s life.

Iris provides what I find the most compelling part of the story. It starts from her grandfathers perspective because his pride for his self made business plays such a pivotal role in shaping her father and his choices. This ripples through the story in a way that is representative of what make it so well told. Atwood has woven an intricate and compelling narrative about a family struggling to get by all while dealing with a stranger daughter (Laura). Atwood does an excellent job crafting a compelling story that is fairly sad and painful.

The fact that I didn’t understand the side stories were fictional (I had to google it) should tell you how this part of the book played for me. That is to say, I didn’t love it. Honestly, I didn’t mind the narrative of the wealthy woman and the hack writer; it was the long overdrawn segments of the science fiction The Blind Assassin that drove me absolutely mad. I recognize it has its merits. The dynamic between between the two characters reflects Laura’s own way of thinking about life and love. In fact, that story makes a lot more sense now that I know it was essentially a fantasy written by Laura. Still, Atwood digs into the hack writers story for so long that it just started feeling like a job. I was not enjoying it.

That sucks because I really enjoyed the main storyline. When I think about that, it is a solid 4 stars easy, but when I start to think about those parts that just drone on, I couldn’t give it that high a rating. Atwood is a more literary writer who. I knew going into this I may find the literary style difficult to connect with. Still, I am trying to read more of her books because she often has a lot to say in a novel, including this one. There are parts of this book that really didn’t work for me, but there were parts that did. I don’t regret reading it. Unfortunately, it has a lot holding it back from being a really great novel. 3.5/ 5 stars, rounding down.

Girls Burn Brighter, by Shobha Rao ★★★★★

This may be one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. It’s almost the opposite of fairy tale where nothing goes right and everything only ever gets worse. The saddest part of all is the reality of the fictional circumstances we read about. We follow two women who grow up in the same village. The novel jumps between the two characters, almost as if they each have their own novel of their life. The story begins with them as children as they learn the way of the world (in India) and the place of women there. They eventually form a bond with one another, and when they are separated in young adulthood, every bad thing that follows motivates them to find one another again.

I did not know a lot of about this novel going in. It was somewhat disconcerting at first, listening to the narration of the story going from two different characters to two different series of chapters (going 1, 2, 3, 1, 2 etc.). I wasn’t sure if I was that lost or if there was something more going on. When I finally picked up the book and realized the structure of the book, it all made much more sense. Alas, it did effect my enjoyment of the book at first.

Luckily, there was plenty of story that followed that was effective at getting me to care and empathize with the two characters. It is hard not to be infuriated by the things they have to endure. What’s more, it might be easy to judge India for their society, but it is important to remember we are not that far ahead of them when it comes to women’s rights and other human rights. The story reminded me of the Handmaid’s Tale. Gilead, like India, was a very authoritative and hierarchical society where women had little to no rights. Even in regular day life, they are objects and subjects to act and do what is expected of them. There are a never ending supply of injustices inflicted on our characters. Then there is the instinct to escape, or, more aptly in Rao’s novel, an instinct to reunite with the only person they ever truly felt safe with.

The connection with the two characters was a signature part of their relationship. I wish Rao had explored the extent of their connection more fully (I won’t dig too deeply into this to avoid spoilers). This friendship is what the novel revolves around, yet the amount of time we get with them together feels so short. Then when we finally reach the ending, the conclusion was abrupt and even a little ambiguous.

I can see why Rao might choose the type of ending we have; this isn’t a exactly a fairy tale. Not knowing what is to come is simply the reality of life, but I was still left daunting. All there is is hope, something these characters get so little of. 4.5/5 stars, rounding up.