Week 21: I Confront the Dread Sheryl Sandberg
The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Cold Magic, Lean In, You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, Feynman.
So I read plenty of books that week, but really, all I want to talk about is Lean In. So some tweet reviews while I get to that.
The Wind’s Twelve Quarters: UkG, short stories, career spanning, spotty in content and quality but occasional gems. Meh.
Cold Magic: Amazon thinks that this is the same caliber as The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It is not. Disappointing. Mediocre. Sigh.
You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack. Funny cartoons! Weird subject material, odd topics, great humor, fun visuals. Read at the library.
Feynman: A graphic novel that boils down to he had a life and then won the Nobel Prize. An inspiration to us all. Book is not that great.
So I read it. And I stand by all the critiquing that I did before, and then some. To summarize a variety of critiques very quickly, Lean In is feminism from the corporate view, not from the intersectional view. It’s just enough feminism to address the problems that Sheryl Sandburg encountered, and no more. If you’re more disadvantaged than she was, you’re not really addressed by this book. And also, the way to fix things is for women to work harder - to lean in, to push themselves more. See the subtitle: Women and the Will to Lead. If women only had the will to lead, this wouldn’t be a problem. Systematic change? Not needed if women just push themselves harder.
The biggest systematic change that Sandburg specifies in the book? Pregnancy parking at Google. No, really - it’s the only one I remember from the book that wasn’t specifically addressed at a problem only Sandburg or another individual woman had. That’s what feminism means, folks! Pregnancy parking!
Some of the book is devoted to advice for young aspiring women professionals. This includes a denouncement of the common advice to seek a mentor and a sponsor - Sandburg points out that this leads to hordes of young women approaching her for mentorship, and not being appreciative when she does mentor them. (Fortunately, she does recognize that the demand for her mentor services come from a stigma against young women working privately with older men, and also from the utter lack of women in upper management.) Sandburg is, of course, entitled to her opinion, but I can’t help but feel that her advice on how to do better on this front, which could be summed up as “be noticed, don’t ask” is a good way for women to be seen and not heard.
One stylistic point: Sandburg often uses anecdotes to illustrate some of her points, and quite frankly, they often illustrate that someone she admires is an asshole. For example, she tells a story about Mark Zuckerberg trying to learn Chinese, and talking to a bunch of Facebook’s Chinese native speaker developers as a way to practice. One of the engineers tries to start talking to him about a problem with her manager - originally in Chinese. He can’t understand. Instead of letting her switch back to English so she can tell her CEO about a problem she is having, he makes her keep speaking Chinese and simplifying. Finally, she says “my boss is bad” or something like that. This anecdote is meant to illustrate the value of being direct. To me, it illustrates that Mark Zuckerberg cares more about learning a language than treating his employees as real people with real concerns.
Overall, I’m appreciative that Sandburg credits feminism, and recognizes that working women today have problems advancing. She also does occasionally recognize her privilege. But still, the flaws in this memoir/advice tome are myriad. Talking about women pushing themselves is not enough, especially when broader systematic issues such as the wage gap, discrimination and the pipeline problem are unaddressed. In fact, it often reads like victim blaming - and that is a a real problem.
Week 20: Fantasy Done Right (and some other stuff)
Boomerang, Tree of Codes,The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods, The Broken Kingdoms. Catching up on the blogging, again. Somehow I always seem to get further behind on the blogging than I ever would on the reading.
So Boomerang is by Michael Lewis, and is a spiritual sequel to Big Short, which was an in-depth view of the crisis on Wall Street. In Boomerang, Lewis travels to various countries (Iceland, Greece, and Ireland) to talk to folks about what went wrong with their economies. Overall, it’s insightful and well written, although it occasionally falls into stereotyping when confronted with the various nationalities. I wouldn’t rush out to recommended this to folks, but didn’t dislike it.
Tree of Codes is the coolest formatted book I’ve ever read. See this photo:
It’s a book/sculptural object made of words that are cut out from the book “The Street of Crocodiles.” It’s more poetry than novel, and most of the time spent on it was just me trying not to rip the pages. I wasn’t familiar with the underlying text, but enjoyed the experience of reading it.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Kingdom of the Gods and The Broken Kingdoms are three books in a fantasy trilogy by NK Jemisin. Hands down the best fantasy I have read this year, and possibly the best fantasy I’ve read in five years. Jemisin is no Tolkien, in the best way - her characters are complex, her writing readable, and most of all, her world is weird, quirky and downright fantastical. It almost reminds me of good sci-fi in the way that it forces the reader to confront abstract concepts in a realistic setting.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is wonderful from a world-building perspective, and has strong, relatable characters and a interesting mythos. It reminded me of a book called Crown Duel, which followed a similar “outsider adjusts to court life” narrative, but Kingdoms has the advantage of introducing genuine strangeness into the world.
The second and third books are in the same world, but follow different characters, and they all tie together nicely without being repetitive. Books like this were why I read fantasy when I was younger, and like when I read then, I devoured the entire series in the course of 24 hours. Read this now.
Week 18 + Week 19: 2 Weeks of Book Tweets
Deviating from my usual discussions to cover two weeks of books in one post full of tweet length reviews. (Yes, they are all are under 140 characters. I checked.)
Rewire, Signal to Noise, Penny Arcade: Attack of the Bacon Robots, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Edition, There Goes the Neighborhood
Rewire is Ethan Zuckerman’s forthcoming book - it’s great, go buy it. Love the focus on “digital cosmopolitans,” a phrase I will now be using.
Signal to Noise - quick, depressing graphic novel with text by Neil Gaiman. Beautiful, highly recommend - but will make you very sad.
If you like Penny Arcade, you would like “Attack of the Bacon Robots.” Lots of early strips. Best part is the color commentary.
Philip Pullman retells Brothers Grimm. Again, best part was the color commentary. Realized Sleeping Beauty is secretly about rape culture.
There Goes the Neighborhood: About applying exit/voice/loyalty to race/class dynamics in Chicago neighborhoods. Eye-opening, incredible.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, The Child Catchers, Smart Casual, Adulting, Cinderella Ate My Daughter
Aimee Bender’s prose in 24 Hour Book Club “Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” is a bit clunky, but story is good. I cried so much. Too much.
Child Catchers is about international Christian adoption. Eye-opening, well-researched, and judging from Amazon reviews, controversial.
Smart Casual covers modern restaurant culture, like death of Jacket Required. Repetitive, and uninspired, but lots of David Chang mentions!
Adulting is brilliant - a guide to being an adult, from thank you notes to checking out a rental apartment. Wish I’d read it sooner.
Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a book on “princess culture” but awkwardly full of misogyny and slut shaming. Peggy Orenstein, you disappoint.
Week 17: ITT I Finally Review Old Man’s War
The Mansion of Happiness, Shades of Grey, The Dispossessed, Present Shock, Old Man’s War.
Jill Lepore’s The Mansion of Happiness is billed as “A History of Life and Death”, which was a bit of an overstatement. It might have been more accurately categorized as a “Selection of New Yorker pieces about Life and Death.” The chapters each take on a topic related to life, birth or death - from breastfeeding to children’s literature to the history of the board game Life. Lepore has expanded and edited many of the pieces since they were originally published, and sometimes there are ties between them, but the book still reads like a collection of New Yorker pieces and not like a book. Overall, I enjoyed the topics covered, but felt that this kind of compilation is not a strong format - it would have been much better to actually weave the themes together in a cohesive way.
Shades of Grey, not to be confused with 50 Shades of Grey, is a dystopian novel by Jasper Fforde. Its set in a world where the there is a strict social hierarchy determined by the percentage of a given color you can see. Of course, all that is based on a pseudoreligious text with a specific set of slightly capricious rules. Like much of Fforde’s other work, the reader is sort of thrown into the deep end of the world without a ton of explanation about why things work the way they do - for example, spoons are super valuable and important, because of some relationship with postal codes that was not entirely clear to me. As long as you can roll with those punches, this book, like Fforde’s Thursday Next series, is an entertaining piece of social criticism, with the added advantage of a solid central mystery.
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin is a piece of classic scifi, complete with alien worlds and incomprehensible physics. The main character is a physicist who is born and raised in a communitarian world and travels to one where things are more capitalistic. The book focuses pretty heavily on theories of government and human nature - and the struggle between the character’s desires and the political structures of the world he is on. There’s a great twist in this book that comes near the end that I don’t want to spoil, but it played heavily on expectations surrounding works like this.
Present Shock was one of my least favorite books I’ve read so far. It’s buzzword heavy, as Rushkoff makes up words like fractalnoia (which he defines somewhere, but is still utterly incomprehensible to me). Moreover, it is occasionally utterly incoherent in its pairings of examples and theoretical assumptions, thin on evidence and heavy on anecdote. In short, I might agree with some of his conclusions, but find the way he gets there odd in the extreme.
Old Man’s War, which I’ve been mentioning in blog posts for weeks, is a genuinely well thought out version of the “Space Marines” idea. The old men in this case are actual old men and women - the army of space marines is made up of the transplanted consciousnesses of senior citizens from earth. Slight spoiler there, but that’s only the beginning. A great new take on an old format, one that makes sense and adds some much needed backstory.
Vacation Books: Part Two
More vacation books: Poor Economics, Starship Troopers, Water for Elephants, Lesterland, Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That.
A Little Light Pool Reading
Neuromancer, Machine of Death, A Wizard of Earthsea, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, The Forever War. Books I read in/while sitting by the pool. It turns out a waterproof bag for your Kindle means you no longer have to read poolside. Yes, I’m still catching up on blogging books I read over vacation. Post one of two.
Baseball, Surrealism and Romance Novels?
A Tangled Web, Bel Canto, Et Tu, Babe, The Victorian Internet and Moneyball
Perfectly Good Book Reviews and Constitutional Interpretation
Omon Ra, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, A Matter of Interpretation, Packing for Mars and How to be a Woman
Originally, this was a discussion of books. At the end, it turns into a set of opinions on constitutional interpretation. You’ve been warned.
Unrelated Books without a Cool Title
Tubes, Home and Exile, Ender’s Game, Making Our Democracy Work, Logicomix. No overarching themes this week - just a lot of unrelated books.
Reading Fast and Slow
Are You My Mother?, Euonia, Thinking Fast and Slow, Paleofantasy, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
These 5 books represented a spectrum of commitment. Jekyll and Hyde, Eunonia, and Are You My Mother? were pretty easy and quick reads, where as Thinking Fast and Slow took some serious hours of reading. That being said, it was my favorite of the 5, and has made it onto one of the coveted spots of the list of books I recommend when folks ask me what I’ve enjoyed reading. (Joined by Kindred, Cairo: A Graphic Novel, Fun Home and the three Tamora Pierce books from last blog entry.)