by Roxane Gay
Pub Date 03 Jan 2017
I had the privilege of hearing Roxane Gay speak at York College of Pennsylvania after the release of her book Bad Feminist. She was witty and empowering. I learned quite a bit that evening. When Netgalley offered her new book Difficult Women to review, I jumped on it. I am so glad I did.
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay was terrifying, wonderful, confusing, eye opening, lyrical, compelling, and damn good story telling. Difficult Women is a collection of twenty-one stories.
I Will Follow You - heartbreaking but hopeful in the incredible strength of twin girls together. It left me wondering could they survived if they were separated totally? I felt as though there was a message here that women are stronger when they have each other’s backs regardless of the difference in their circumstances.
Water, All Its Weight - contained beautiful prose but had an abrupt end which left me unsure of the meaning.
The Mark of Cain - was really creepy in a stephen king kind of way. You have to read it for yourself.
Difficult Women - contains the following sections: Loose Women, Frigid Women, Crazy Women, Mothers, Dead Girls. Each section helps view the women in a non-judgemental way. It gave me a lot to think about.
Florida - Looks at a gated community from all levels, the rich residents, the service personnel, and the maids. One of the residents is newly moved in and is set apart because she is a first wife and also not a size 4. Seeing the community from all the different perspectives is eye opening and interesting.
La Negra Blanca - this story infuriated and educated me.
North Country - is set at the Michigan Institute of Technology where Ms. Gay did do her graduate work. she talks about how being one of the few black faculty she is asked, “Are you from Detroit”. Her answer is a damning comment on the college’s culture.
The other stories are:
Requiem for a Glass Heart
In the Event of my Father’s Death
Break All the Way Down
I am a Knife
The Sacrifice of Darkness
Difficult Women is a book I will read over and over. I would like to read it with someone and be able to discuss it. I feel as though I have more to learn from it. I recommend Difficult Women to anyone who wants excellent stories as well as stories that touch your soul.
This is a continuation of the discussion I started yesterday trying to figure out if I was anxious or frightened about things in my life. You can find that blog post here: http://gatun.weebly.com/blog/am-i-anxious-or-frightened
I saw my therapist today. I began by giving her a copy of the blog referenced above to read. Once she read it she grabbed a book off her shelf and sat down next to me. The book was The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety by John P. Forsyth and Georg H. Eifert. She turned to a particular page and handed it to me. This was the page (see photo below)
Anyone who knows me very well knows I have an irrational fear of bears. Seriously. Ridiculous, I know but there it is. Bears, brown, black, grizzly, polar, they all scare the crap out of me. So my poor therapist had to hear how there is no difference between fear and anxiety when it comes to bears because it is all FEAR, yes in capital letters.
Once we got past that, which I am sure will be a future conversation, we began discussing the other questions on the page. She used the questions to help me understand that fear is what I feel in the moment. Anxiety is what I feel when I think it could happen. For example, I do not drive in snow because I never mastered the art of steering in a slide. So if I was driving and the car started to slide, I would experience fear. Then. At that moment. If I am thinking about driving and it is snowing, the possibility of sliding is on my mind and that is anxiety. Fear = present moment. Anxiety = future moment. As the book states, "Fear requires little thought; anxiety needs big thought."
How does this help me? I know understand that what I am feeling is all anxiety. Yes it feels huge and overwhelming and as though it is being added to each day but it is anxiety. It has been named. It has been separated from fear. I can now begin to work on it. That process of learning to work on my anxieties and control them instead of letting them interfere with my life is going to be a long process. I am not one of those people who can meditate, do yoga or chant my stress away. (Note: Please do not send me links to meditations you are sure will work. I appreciate your kindness but I have tried and tried and even my last therapist said I am not a meditation person.) My therapist and I will have to find another way for me to work through things.
She has asked me to look at the resources available through The Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI) from the North Metropolitan Health Services in Western Australia. I am going to start with the one section she asked me to and give it an honest try. I do want to improve. I do want to have control over my own emotions. But honestly when she opened the book and the first thing I saw was "Seeing a bear in the woods", my only thought was the universe was having perverse fun at my expense. I will start the "homework" tomorrow and see how it goes. I know there is not one solution for all of us but maybe if we share what works, what doesn't, and just that we are working on it, it will help lessen the stigma for all of us.
[A note to my dear children: do not give in to the urge to send me every possible bear meme including Stephen Colbert's robot bears. Yes, my dear son, this message is directed at you.]
Listening to The Killing (originally titled Clean Break) is like listening to a fantastic crime noir movie from the 1940’s. It was written in 1955 by Lionel White and made into a film titled The Killing by Stanley Kubrick in 1956. I have never seen the film and probably will not. It cannot possibly top the audiobook.
The Killing takes place in New York City and on Long Island. It is a heist novel, meaning a huge robbery is central to the story. There are several characters who could be considered the main character because of the parts they play but I feel Johnny Clay is it. Johnny has spent the last four years in jail planning the perfect heist. Not only does he have the perfect plan but he has the perfect crew to pull it off. Johnny’s crew is made up of non-criminals. The beauty of his plan is that no one should be an immediate suspect by the police. Even Johnny himself has not a record that would make him a usual suspect for that type of crime.
The heist is to rob the cashier’s office at the track immediately after the start of the biggest race of the year but right before the armoured truck shows up to collect the expected 1.5 to 2 millions dollars. Everything must go off exactly at the time planned and every man must do his job exactly as planned. This is Mission Impossible with a clock and silencer on a rifle as the high tech. If it works, they split the money, each about a half million each. If it doesn’t, Johnny is probably the only one caught and sent to jail.
Johnny’s gang consists of:
Big Mike a bartender at the track clubhouse
George Peatty a cashier at track
Randy Kennan, a cop with a need for cash to pay off loan sharks
Marvin Unger, a court stenographer
Marvin is the respectable man who has never done anything wrong. He gives Johnny a place to live and hold the planning meetings. He also fronts the money needed to pay off individuals and buy weapons. Johnny’s motivation is his girlfriend Fay. Fay waited for him while he was in prison. His plan is to pull this one job and then for he and Fay to leave the country and start living the good life.
All of this is going great until Sherry Peatty, George’s wife finds a ticket stub with an address and time written on it in his jacket pocket. She suspects he is up to something based on his recent behavior. George is a poor soul who thinks he has somehow won the luck lottery by convincing beautiful Sherry to marry him two years ago. Actually, in the vernacular of the time, Sherry is a tramp looking for the easy life and lots of money. George keeps a roof over her head and all she has to do is be “nice” to him when it suits her. She uses her hold over him to find out the minimal details on the heist. She then goes to visit Val, her boyfriend. Val is a gangster who drives a Cadillac and has a real gang of hardened criminals at his disposal. He and Sherry plan to get the details of the heist, let Johnny do the work, and then rob the robbers.
Mike Dennis’s narration is first rate. He has a wonderful voice in just doing the descriptions. When it gets to the characters speaking, his talent really shines. Listen to the gravely voice of Randy the cop which conveys his large size. Marvin truly sounds like a fussy little man who alternates drooling over the thought of the money and regretting he ever got involved. Mr. Dennis brings all of those emotions out in his narration. The accents are fantastic. His command of the different shades of a New York City accent is incredible.
The novel does a great job of introducing each character and their motivation to join the heist or try to get it for themselves. The language is full of 1950’s slang. It really is addictive. I found myself listening every chance I got. Would they get away with it? Who would end up with the money?
I received this audiobook courtesy of Audiobook Reviewer in exchange for an honest review.
It has been about a month since I last spoke with my counselor. The holidays, the flu, and a new insurance are partially to blame. Mostly it is my fault. I just cannot summon the energy to do anything that is not absolutely necessary to continued life, like grocery shopping. I know that my depression is the cause of this “avoid life outside my four walls” condition. I know that my depression is being fed, and well fed at that, by my anxiety. Once I made the appointment this afternoon to see my therapist tomorrow, I began trying to sort out what I was going to tell her. The one thing that keep popping back into the front of my mind is, “am I anxious or frightened”?
I have so many things that I am anxious about. Please note that I realize I have mental illness and I do realize that I do not have rational reasons for many of my anxieties. But for the moment, just go with it please. Accept my reasons without question.
I worry about my daughter living on her own, working two part time jobs and struggling to be able to afford food and rent. I worry about my son and his new wife and that they are well and healthy at grad school. I worry about my husband who works so hard to support me. I worry about my uselessness and my inability to contribute to our income. I worry about the present political situation. I worry that I do not know enough about the topics of the day to be able to express an opinion or get involved in a dialogue. I worry about the current political situation that seems to be building to a point where something must give and something bad will happen. I worry about the anger and vitriol I feel being poured through social media. I worry that I cannot make a useful contribution to anything due to my mental and physical limitations.
As I look at the list I just wrote, again that question comes up: Am I worried (anxious) or frightened? The two words do not have the same meaning nor do they feel the same. I just cannot separate them at this moment. Perhaps I am anxious about some issues and frightened about others. They are all tied and knotted together. It is not a gordian knot where I can pull an “Alexander” and solve it with one cut. I really do not know how to unravel it. Hence the visit to the therapist.
This is an extremely personal topic and perhaps I should not be putting it on the internet for all to see. But if the stigma of mental illness is ever going to decrease and eventually disappear, then all of us need to share our battles. I am hoping that by writing about this and thinking about what to write I can try to separate those threads into anxiety and fear piles so they can be dealt with accordingly. I will let you know if my therapist throws up her hands in despair when I try to explain this to her tomorrow.
I discovered the Robinson Crusoe series by E.J. Robinson in June of 2015 as an audiobook. I found the story original and enjoyable. I enjoyed the audiobook so much I purchased the Kindle version to share with my husband. Then I waited for Robinson Crusoe 2245 (Book 2) to be released. I finished it in October of 2015 and it was everything a sequel should be. It maintained the same high level of action as the first book. The familiar characters continued to grow and develop. New characters are introduced and enhanced the story. More information about the universe the series exists in, how it came to be, and the different cultures that inhabit it are revealed. I enjoyed it just as much as the first book. Robinson Crusoe 2246 (Book 3) was released on November 17, 2016. I was fortunate enough to receive an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review. As soon as the book downloaded into my Kindle app, I began devouring it.
The world in which the Robinson Crusoe series takes place is ours. But is our world after very bad events have occurred. I think that was one of the joys of the series, these little hidden easter eggs. As I read about this alien landscape, destroyed in cataclysmic events, I would suddenly recognize the remains of something from our time. It helped connect me to the book. I could visualize the book because I could visualize the bones of what lay beneath it. It was not a total alien landscape.
Robinson Crusoe is raised in privilege and luxury in a part of England that has managed to separate themselves from the barbarians and monsters at their gates. Book 1 details this life he leads and his family. It also details his abrupt exit from privilege and safety and how he comes to the shores of what once was America. The first book does a marvelous job of laying the groundwork in the two major characters, Robinson and Friday, and the various remnants of civilization they encounter. Book 2 continues their story with even more adventures and adversaries. As I stated earlier, I enjoyed the second book as much as the first.
Then came Book 3, Robinson Crusoe 2246. I devoured it and it was great. It was “Holy Crap” and “Wow” good. Crusoe and Friday continued to grow and develop. I really enjoyed the time spent on the choices Crusoe was faced with. What was the right thing to do? For him and Friday? For others? For the remains of civilizations? He thought before he took serious action. It demonstrated a growth and maturity in the character. Friday’s character also grew, especially is how she came to understand that their different upbringings could be used to create a safe and rational middle ground for their lives. The villains in this book were just cool. Some old enemies with new toys, some new enemies who were just out and out creepy and a new friend who may not be a friend afterall.
I have enjoyed this series immensely. I think a trilogy is the right length for Crusoe and Friday’s story. But the author has created a world that begs to be written about. What caused the Great Rendering. How did people alive at the time, people like us, deal with it. The people who survive the initial cataclysm, how did they create new lives amidst terrible loss and suffering? Was the Great Rendering the same all over the world. How about scientist in Antarctica or astronauts on the International Space Stations, what happened to them? The Robinson Crusoe series has created such a rich world with so many other stories to be told. I cannot wait to see what the author does next.
How to Win an Argument
AN ANCIENT GUIDE TO THE ART OF PERSUASION
by Marcus Tullius Cicero; translated by James May; read by Simon Vance
Courtesy Audiobook Jukebox - sent from Tantor Media
Humans communicate constantly. We inform. We educate. We question. We also try to persuade. Persuasion is the most difficult communication. We need to persuade. We need to bring people around to our way of thinking, to agree with our beliefs. This need to persuade has gone on since humans began to communicate. Which animal are we going to hunt? How many hunters need to go? What is the best way to kill the animal? Who gets the best parts of the meat? Somehow we have lost the ability to persuade. We now just confront, not communicate.
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC) is one of the fathers of the art of persuasion. In the democratic society that he was a part of verbal persuasion or rhetoric was an important part of daily life. He wrote several important books that helped teach his fellow citizens to, “Plan and execute a successful speech in public, in other words, to win an argument”. Cicero has been studied by students of rhetoric down through the ages. If you studied Latin, at some point you were probably translating Cicero.
Dr. James M. May, Professor of Classics at St. Olaf College, has done the translating for those of us who never studied Latin. He combed through Cicero’s many works on rhetoric and put together the most useful sections. He has Cicero’s own words followed by his commentary. The book starts with a short biography of Cicero. The next section is “The Origin of Eloquent and Persuasive Speech”. Next is “The Parts of Rhetoric or Activities of the Orator”. The rest is “The Value of Imitating Good Models of Speech”, “The Value of Writing to Prepare Effective Speaking”, “The Requirements and Education of the Ideal Speaker” and finally “A Ciceronian Cheat Sheet for Effective Speaking.” That is the end of the audio book. The physical book also has a section that shows the Latin text that was translated to create the book. It also contains Further Reading and Glossary sections.
Simon Vance was fantastic as always. His pronunciation was crystal clear. His pacing was wonderful. I did not miss a single word because his reading was smooth and consistent.
I was interested in this title because I believe it can help improve my writing of reviews by teaching me to better construct my arguments. I was also interested to educate myself on Rhetoric to better understand what my son, who is a graduate student at Miami University of Ohio in Rhetoric and Composition, is talking about when he tries to explain his master's thesis to me. The audiobook was great to listen to but I felt like I needed to take notes. Having essential tremor precludes note taking. Having the physical or Kindle book, I could have highlighted the passages I felt I would need to reference often. What I did do was put a ton of bookmarks with a short description for each book mark like “cheat sheet” or “argument arrangement”.
I would recommend this audiobook. At three hours running time, it can be listened to during commutes or while doing other tasks. Simon Vance’s voice is so pleasing that listening to it repetitively would be enjoyable. If you can take notes, you will probably only need to listen to it once but you will want to listen to it again and again.
The Lost City of the Monkey God
A True Story
by Douglas Preston
Grand Central Publishing
Pub Date 03 Jan 2017
The first recorded reference to the White City is in the writing of Cortez. He was told by a guide that there was a civilization that rivaled the Aztecs and Incas located in what is modern day Honduras. Cortez passed this information on to Spanish authorities but was never able to follow up on it. As the decades went by the legend of the White City persisted. Claims of finding the city were not accompanied by proof. The author does a good job of detailing the tantalizing clues that kept the legend alive.
Douglas Preston is a well known author as part of the team, with Lincoln Childs, that writes the Pendergast mystery series. He also has his own books, both fiction and non-fiction that are worth checking out. Preston first heard of the White City while doing a story for National Geographic on Angkor Wat in 1996. He was told about new technology that can penetrate the thick jungle canopy to help determine if man made structures existed. Preston was fascinated by the story and contacted the researchers to request joining the study. Steve Elkins, heading the project, accepted Preston into the group. After securing the financing, the search for the White City finally began in 2012. The preliminary work of selecting the possible sites, planning the expedition, and gathering a team of experts, not only in archeology but also in navigating the jungle. The area of Honduras that the White City was believed to be was an isolated valley, uninhabited by man but full of danger like the fer-de-lance snake, one of the deadliest snakes in the world. The expedition finally started for the valley where the White City in 2015.
This is where the book becomes addictive. The snakes, the mosquitos, the jungle itself challenged the explorers day and night. The discoveries came quickly. The team had to decide whether to announce their finds and risk it all. Although they had accessed the site by helicopter, they knew once it was announced, others would attempt to rob the site of it's priceless artifacts. Preston describes all of this, the danger, the hard choices, in detail that keeps the reader turning pages (in my case late into the night). Once the exhibition ended, the danger did not. The worst was what many of the exhibition members unknowingly carried home with them. Despite the mosquito nets and liberal use of DEET, many members of the team became ill and had mosquito bites that did not heal. When the team compared bites and symptoms through email, they knew they needed expert medical help. Naively believing malaria was the worst, the team was shocked to find they had contracted leishmaniasis also called White Leprosy.
When I was in middle school, around 1973, I had a book about lost civilizations. It included the Mayan and Angkor Wat to name a few. I was fascinated with the thought that a culture could so completely disappear for hundreds of years. I remember thinking that book I read as a young teen was the last that would be written, that all lost civilizations had been discovered. When I saw The Lost City of the Monkey God offered for review on Netgalley, I was thrilled. It rekindled all the amazement and wonder I felt many, many years ago reading about other lost cities. This is an amazing book in it's detailing of the legend itself, the preparation for and the expedition itself as well as the horrifying aftereffects on the team.