Tag Archives: books

Quarantine Book Club

My friend Hope and I decided to try and do a quarantine book club! We compared our currently reading and to-read shelves and came up with a few ideas. 

The thing is…I read too fast to make a very good book club person. She told me today she was thinking of giving up on the book we chose. I had to go to Goodreads to remember which book that was. Ah yes, What Remains of Me by Alison GaylinTwo stars, not very good. Lots of terrible characters. 

Thing is, that was six books ago for me. And possibly one of twelve books read since we decided to do a quarantine book club. (More or less. I don’t remember what day we officially started.) 

I’m not a slow enough reader to make a comfortable buddy reader. Or book club member. 

So we’ve come up with a new solution! I sent her a book I already read and loved. That way we can compare notes without the pressure of reading at the same time! If anyone wants to join us, we are starting with A Brazen Curiosity by Lynn Messina. 

I’m also in the middle of The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Feed by M.T. Anderson, The Two Mrs. Abbots by D.E. Stevenson, and Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles if any of those capture your fancy instead. Who knows for how long, though! 


Vindicating My Personal Library

I have decided that this forced quarantine is really an excellent vindication of my personal library. My family always judges me for buying more books. But do you know who now has enough reading material to last years of isolation? 

Me, that’s who. 

I’ve got fiction. I’ve got non-fiction. I’ve got poetry. I’ve got plays. I’ve got textbooks. I’ve got classic literature. I’ve got YA rom coms. I’ve got biograhies. I’ve got picture books. And I’ve got graphic novels. 

All in all, a most excellent library. I appreciate it very much. 

And that is absolutely why the first thing I will do when we’re allowed to leave our houses again is buy more books. 


Evicted by Matthew Desmond

I’m throwing a pity party because the trip I’ve planned for months got canceled so instead of dragging you into it, I’m just going to share a book review I wrote a few weeks ago. 

Evicted:Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond–2/5 stars

Evicted purports to look at homelessness and evictions in Milwaukee. This book has an average 4.47/5. And I just…could not get into it. It occurred to me as I made my way through the author’s “solution” in the back of the book that if this was an article submitted to the law journal where I am an articles editor, I would probably recommend against publication. So, in the spirit of the criteria I would use to objectively analyze an argument submitted to my law review, here are my thoughts on the book:

Thesis: the article has a strong and clear thesis that predominates throughout.
Agree.
The subtitle says it all. “Poverty and Profit in the American City.” Matthew Desmond blames capitalism–i.e. profit–for tenant turnover rates. Ironically, the narrative nature of this piece often feels like a direct contradiction to this argument. To give him credit, he gives it all. He reveals the good and the bad choices made by the people he highlights. But when reading about their choices, it quickly becomes apparent that how you interpret their behavior will depend on how you view poverty and the problem of generational poverty in America. (Generational poverty being a phrase he would actually probably strongly object to.) How do you react to a person spending food-stamps on lobster and then having nothing left over to eat for the remainder of the month? A conservative leaning reader will view it as wasteful and part and parcel for why the person remains poor. Desmond views it as a way of “fighting back” against a lifetime of poverty. And he says so.
Initially I thought Desmond did a good job giving glimpses of the landlords as well as the tenants and their varied motivations, but it quickly becomes apparent where his loyalties lie. And it isn’t with the landlords. The fact that anyone gets rich off real-estate appears to offend him. While I agree that some really shady behavior seems to be going down, he doesn’t go there but instead strives for a much more morally righteous tone with capitalism in general. So while I do think his extrapolation of the “data” could get interpreted differently, the author’s thesis remains fairly consistent throughout.

Novelty: the article contains original analysis that is convincing and in proportion to the background provided
Neutral.
It depends what you mean by analysis. In his explanation at the back of the book we learn Desmond moved to a trailer park and lived with many of these people. Good for him. But if I was actually writing this as a review for law review, I’d flag the narrative nature of this piece. It makes it readable–there is a reason this book appeals to a wide, non-academic readership–but is not particularly empirical. So any “analysis” he does at the end when he describes the “solution” feels…less than backed up by actual data. Or possibly even logic. It comes from a place of moral outrage. And I’m all about moral outrage, but just because he lived in a trailer park does not mean he knows the best solution for poverty in America. Talk about entitlement. You live with people for a period of time and suddenly know how to fix all their problems. But Desmond wants to provide a solution. As a reader, we want a step by step solution to combat the tragedies we just read about. I’d be mad if he did not offer one, to be honest. The thing is, solutions do not come from moral outrage. And they do not come by suggesting we throw more money at the problem. If anything, his stories reveal that programs set up by the government to address homelessness don’t do much to actually solve homelessness. Instead, they fund slumlords raising their rent because now there is more money pouring in. So why is more government the solution? I needed more than “countries we consider backwards do this so what is America’s problem.”
So, yeah, I needed more analysis and less storytelling.

Utility: the article solves an important, current legal problem in a nonobvious way and will continue to be important by the time it goes to print.
Neutral.
No matter who you blame for it, homeless is a problem. It doesn’t take a book like this to point to the education and job opportunities lost because of a lack of housing. (But trust me, this book will point it out anyway. Because that fact is about the closest this comes to data.) I already laid out above why I feel like his solution is insufficient. But it bears repeating–after 300 some pages telling heart-yanking stories about why the system fails people, Desmond provides a handful of pages that amount to: “We need a universal housing voucher system. Other countries have it. Why not us?”
Y’all, that does not address the problem. Or if it would, Desmond does not give me nearly enough arguments to prove it will. Desmond thinks that if people aren’t afraid of getting kicked out of their homes, they will pursue education and keep their jobs and pursue better relationships and make better financial decisions and everything will become kumbaya. It is quite an optimistic opinion for someone who got to return to academia (Harvard no less!) after his stint in a trailer park ended.
But perhaps you think I’m being too negative. After all, I am not offering a solution to homelessness, poverty, and racism all in one go. And this book isn’t trying to provide a solution. It is exposing the problem. The details get worked out farther down the line.
Here is my biggest problem with this book’s “solution”: first it wins over your pity, then it says “we can solve the problem by throwing money at it.”
And you what that means? You, the reader, can sit back satisfied because you, the reader, can feel engaged and indignant and cry out for the government to ‘do something!’ while not actually having to do anything yourself to help these people or address their situation or look beyond the problem. Because we have the problem: greedy landlords. Not drugs, not poor financial decisions, not violence.
No, greedy landlords who use the government to their advantage by having sheriffs engage in evictions. So apparently the decision is to get government more involved. And possibly not have sheriffs carry out evictions.

Soundness: the article addresses counterarguments, provides explanations of prior literature in the area, and generally demonstrates mastery of the subject.
Disagree.
Here is where my academic and legal training particularly kicks in–I was driven crazy by the lack of counterarguments in this book. I thought maybe the parts where the Desmond follows the landlord would make up something of a “counterargument.” After all, they’re just trying to make a day’s wage too. But no, as the book goes on, they increasingly become scapegoats for the inner city ills. And maybe rightly so. But the result is that we don’t get alternatives here–alternative solutions or alternative explanations. We simply get one morally charged outrage.
I was particularly struck by how Desmond dismisses an inner city pastor who doesn’t help a woman with her rent. I don’t have the exact quote but it was something to the effect of, “He preached loving your neighbor until it came to actually doing it.” And I’m not saying I would not have handled the situation the same or that I understand it fully. But the fact is, we’ve seen the woman make poor financial decisions left and right. And then the author wants us to get mad that the pastor won’t pour more money into the situation after even calling up her family members and asking them what they think. You’re probably noticing a theme but…less moral smugness and more facts would go a long way for my appreciation of this book.

Clarity & Organization: the article uses clear, efficient, and organized writing to convey ideas.
Neutral.
I mean, it is prettily written. It is easy to get engaged, enraged, energized. A lot of the more negative reviews dismiss the “academic” portion at the back after the more narrative beginning, but I certainly preferred the academic portion. Still, overall, he is trying to put a face to poverty and I can give him credit for it. The problem is, poverty is multifaceted and complicated and often generational. It does frequently occur because of mental illness and childhood trauma, as Desmond illustrates with many of his subjects. Much of it is cultural.
And it means no easy solution emerges. But to make a book like this tenable, you have to provide a solution. I don’t know how you get around it. And Desmond provides his solution. It is one firmly rooted in his worldview.

Your political worldview will likely impact how you read this book. It will tug on your heartstrings. It will give you the moral indignation to cry out for change. But it will not provide you with something workable or sustainable as a solution. And that is where I was left frustrated and why this did not get a higher rating from me. 


Ranking Recent Pride and Prejudice Retellings

In my end of the year reviews for 2019, I compiled a list of all the Jane Austen retellings I read during the year. Though extensive, the list barely touched the surface of available “Pride and Prejudice Variations”–a genre that continues to grow with the increase in popularity of self-publishing and fan-fiction. In the list, I mentioned two recently popular ethnic Pride and Prejudice retellings and a third one I was eyeing that I finally finished last month.

So, time has come for a more thorough review of the three popular modern, ethnic P&P retellings published in 2019.  Added bonus that  y’all are probably quarantined and want something interesting to read. I present: Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin,  Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal,  and Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev. 

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Ayesha at Last presents the most “realistic” P&P retelling. Set in Canada, it follows two Muslim immigrant/refugees from India (possibly Pakistan but my notes say India) and contrasts Khalid (the Mr. Darcy character) who is a very traditional Muslim with Ayesha (the Elizabeth Bennet) who is equally devout but a bit more liberal in her faith (i.e. wears a hijab instead of a full burka.) While following the familiar P&P plot, the story deals with racism, stereotyping, forced marriages, and a variety of other emotionally weighty topics. 

Pros:

  • Lovely, diverse characters that exist as people and not as tokens
  • Genuine emotions and discussions about stereotypes and cultural expectations
  • The blending of cultures and the immigrant/refugee experience (Canada/India)
  •  Lovely couple/romance (they are both a little awkward but they mesh well and believably)
  • Subtle Pride and Prejudice retelling (especially at the beginning. There aren’t random P&P scenes or quotes shoved in unnecessarily.

Cons:

The book attempts to be both a social commentary and a “swoon-worthy” Jane Austen retelling and because it tries to be both, it fails at both. On the one hand, the author directly confronts issues of racism, stereotyping, and human rights abuses, even and especially within the Islamic faith. On the other hand, she is writing a Jane Austen retelling where everything must end with Happily Ever After. The result is dissatisfying. As a look at Muslims and much of the inner and outer challenges they face, it falls short because it veers into drama…possible kidnapping, trafficking, wrongful termination, embezzlement, etc. Which then feels extra weird when everything wraps up with a bow.  But as a Jane Austen retelling, it lacks the romantic punch that makes you swoon at the end because it takes itself so seriously and handles such mature themes. 

3.5/5 stars

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Unmarriageable takes place in Pakistan and also involves Muslim characters, but it presents a much less hard-hitting exposé. Or any exposé, really, at all. It is the drama and fun of P&P, but in modern day Pakistan with Mr. Darcy as Valentine Darsee–a young jet-setter in town for a wedding–and Alys Binat, a rural school teacher from a once wealthy family. He’s got pride. She’s got prejudice. You know the drill. 

Pros:

This was a fun read. It is ridiculous at times and sometimes felt like a poor quality Crazy Rich Asians, but the story flowed well. I mean, the reason I love P&P retellings is because they give me a familiar story but in a slightly different setting, and this does just that. Five sisters. Three suitors. Lots of miscommunication. Sign me up! 

As a sort of pro and sort of con, the author frequently has characters rattle on about Pakistani movies, music, and literature. The goal, I assume, is to pique your curiosity and make you more interested in Pakistani culture. But too often it came across as reading a Comparative Literature syllabus for undergrads–not quite informative enough to be useful but still mildly informative. 

Cons:

There is something weirdly meta about reading a story where the characters live in a universe where Pride and Prejudice exists and they discuss it and yet don’t see how their own lives perfectly mirror the novel. Like, sure, pretend names like Binat, Darsee, and Bingla have nothhhinnnnggggg in common with Bennet, Darcy, and Bingley. I see you. Pure coincidence that there are five Binat daughters who behave exactly like their literary counter-points. The story also contrasts weirdly with Ayesha At Last because while the characters are nominally Muslim, they’re extremely loose Muslims. As an example, alcohol gets consumed frequently and the story ends by praising the Jane and Elizabeth characters for “requesting the right of divorce” on their wedding day. I struggled to understand what tone the author was going for. 

3/5 stars

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev

Unlike the other two, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors does not really play the ethnic card as much as I expected. Set in the United States, the Darcy character comes from a family of immigrants from India but the main connection to the country mostly revolves around eating Indian food. And the Elizabeth Bennet character comes from England and works as a Michelin chef in France. But this story has other things going for it because…

Pros:

THIS IS A GENDER BENDER STORY! The Darcy character is actually the female (a brain surgeon named Trisha) and Elizabeth Bennet the male (the chef, DJ Caine.) It shakes things up a bit and adds several new layers to the story. Now she’s got pride and he’s got prejudice. Though it nominally follows the P&P plot (complete with a female Wickham!), the real drama centers on DJ’s sister, a painter about to lose her sight to a brain tumor and the fight to make her realize that life is still worth living even without her sight. And, oh yeah, something something about Trisha’s family…

Cons:

Trisha’s family is priming her brother to become the next governor of California and they blame Trisha for something the Wickham character did years ago that could ruin his campaign…yada, yada. It is all over-the-top and didn’t hold my interest very well. Romance also got unnecessarily edgy near the end. Unlike the other two, I don’t have as many “concrete” complaints for this story except that the Wickham story line made me roll my eyes so hard they got stuck in the back of my head. 

3/5 stars

 

 

Have you read any of these? What rating did you give them?


Can’t Wait…For My Holds

I thought about doing a Can’t Wait Wednesday post but when I think about the books I truly cannot to read, the problem isn’t that they have yet to be published. The problem is that I’m waiting for them on my library reading app, Libby.

I love Libby. I credit it for why I can read at the level I do. It means I have a book–or 9–at my fingertips at any given moment of the day. But Libby only allows 10 holds per card! And with holds taking weeks, if not months, to come in, it can take a while to get the book you want. 

For example, I’ve been waiting for Elantris by Brian Sanderson for over two months and I still have six months to go on my hold. 

Sometimes a bunch of the holds come in at the same time. Then you have 5 days to read them all. Pressure, even for me. Alas, it means reading as far as you can and then putting the book on hold again. I got 5% into Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna by Mario Giordano before it was due back. Then I put it on hold again and waited a month. Got the book again and made it to the 15% mark. Returned it and now have at least two weeks to go before I will get it again. 

Sometimes I will read a book and eagerly search for the next one in the series…only to learn I’ve got a 7 week wait ahead of me. This proves particularly tricky when I’m in a phase–for example, cozy mysteries–and desperately eager to get my hands on Book #16 of the Miss Fortune Mystery Series. But come 7 weeks later when the books come in, I’ve moved on to Regency novels and my eagerness to read a book titled Swamp Santa went out the window over a month ago. 

So, it is an imperfect system. And even with two library cards, I get angsty waiting for my 20 holds. I swear weeks go by with nothing and then they always come in all at once. But I get quick, convenient access to a lot of books and don’t have to worry about returning them on time (it is automatic!) Plus, I love the audio book option. It lets me play books at 3x the speed. 

So, my current Can’t Wait Wednesday reads? 

Elantris by Brian Sanderson

Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna by Mario Giordano

The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis (audio)

Reflection on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis (audio)

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

Lovely War by Julie Berry

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore

A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder by Dianne Freeman

Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

A Promise of Spring by Mary Balogh

Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

(And then more Patricia Briggs and Ilona Andrews novels than I will admit to 😉 )


Criminal Procedure

Thus far,  I would not exactly call criminal procedure my favorite class. Far from it. I find it rather frustrating. Partially I am a grumpy 3L taking a class with starry-eyed 1Ls who all want to single-handedly fix the criminal justice system. (Maybe they will.) And partially I just don’t know enough. My classmates like offering opinions that I do not necessarily agree with. But I don’t  necessarily disagree with either. I just feel like we don’t have enough frame of reference or ever hear the other side of the story.  

So I did what any self-respecting bookworm would do. I did my research and bought 7 books about criminal procedure. 

I’m pretty pumped. I picked them up today. I got…

  • Ordinary Injustice by Amy Bach
  • From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime by Elizabeth Hinton 
  • Charged by Emily Bazelon 
  • Punishment Without Crime by Alexandra Natapoff
  • Locked In by John F. Pfaff
  • The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz
  • The War on Cops by Heather Mac Donald. 

Can’t Wait Wednesday

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released.

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Guess what comes out (probably) on February 4th?! 

Okay, I kind of gave it away. Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli & Aisha Saeed. It is a book aimed at YA that is about…political canvassing.

As in going door to door for a candidate. 

AS IN MY FAVORITEST THING EVER! 

Early reviews are definitely positive. And a book about politically engaged teenagers? I mean, that is right up my alley. I cannot wait to get a hold of this one. 

What book can you not wait to be published?