Review: “Unintimidated” by Scott Walker

17707566This one is going to be difficult. I don’t hide the fact that I’m liberal, nor do I pretend to like my state’s governor. In fact, during the lead-up to the 2012 recall election, I was campaigning from Lithuania as best I could. But I also believe that  gathering evidence that only reaffirms my political beliefs is not going to help move my state forward. So with no little amount of trepidation, I picked up Scott Walker’s book from the library (because as fair as I try to be, no way was I going to buy it).

It’s really not so bad, and maybe I should thank his ghost-writer for that, former speech writer for George W., Marc Thiessen. The book humanizes Walker and actually made me consider the 2011 collective bargaining fiasco in a different light, with a little more sympathy for his side. There is, of course, plenty of bias – I know the facts have been spun by both sides, so I can’t only blame Walker for doing it.

My problem comes when he suggests the massive protests in Madison were organized by the “union bosses.” The distress I saw on the faces of the educators I knew – college professors or public middle school teachers – said clearly that they weren’t being directed by any union thugs. This was a real battle against ordinary people, not unions. Whether the battle was fair is up to your politics. The title itself, Unintimidated, is a little silly to me. The book practically screams, “Those big mean unions tried to scare us!” Who was he afraid of? The college students or the public school teachers? I don’t doubt that he got death threats, but he had the money and manpower to protect himself.

I could go on ad nauseam, but I’m not here to talk about politics. The point is, the book is a good summary of Wisconsin’s battle regarding collective bargaining and public employee benefits, albeit with plenty of conservative spin.

Verdict:

It’s not terrible. It gave me some sympathy for a man I really, really dislike, while reinforcing the fact that I will do whatever I can to make sure he is not re-elected in November. The book could serve as an introduction to non-Wisconsinites into the collective bargaining debate that has spread across the country.

Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge is available now from Sentinel.

Amazon | Goodreads

Review: “My Mother’s Funeral” by Adriana Páramo

paramoCentral to this memoir is the death of the author’s mother. Three story lines are woven together; the first is set in a small town in Colombia in the 1950s and tells how Páramo’s mother met and became entranced by a sweet-talking man who turned out to be poor father and even worse husband. The second story, set in Colombia’s capital of Bogotá a few decades later, tells of the Páramo’s life as the youngest of five siblings under a strict and devoutly Christian mother. The final story takes place after the death of Páramo’s mother, the author’s reunion with her siblings in Colombia, and the process of accepting her mother’s death. A backdrop to the narrative is the political conflicts that disrupted life in Colombia during the last century, conflicts that resulted in senseless violence and fear for everyday people.

Sometimes it seems that authors struggle with weaving stories together, resulting in books that seem erratic and disorganized. My Mother’s Funeral, however, is well-designed and thought-out. It was easy to keep each story line straight, and what’s more, each story line was equally compelling.

Carmen, the author’s mother, I found to be the most relateable person in the book. Though often domineering, her love for her children shines through it. She is the epitome of a loving mother, and I think many readers will recognize their own mothers in her. What’s more, she’s someone most women can easily sympathize with, having survived heartbreak of the worst kind and come out stronger for it. She sounds like a remarkable woman that I would have loved to meet. In an interview for The Latino Author, Páramo said the following about her relationship with her mother:

I did a lot of crying while writing My Mother’s Funeral. My mother and I had a special bond. It was one that covered a wide spectrum of emotions. Our bond was volatile, mean-spirited, crazy, possessive, complex, loving and in this truth about the nature of motherly love, I recognized the irrefutable truth of my own role as a mother: that my daughter and I will love, dislike, resent, possess, manipulate and drive each other crazy, but underneath the stage on which our differences and conflicts take place there is an unshakable, formidably sturdy foundation of nothing but sheer love. This goes to prove that my mother was right after all. She used to say, “no hay amor mas verdadero que el amor de madre.”

A small piece of criticism is the number of Spanish words and phrases that Páramo left untranslated. I’m lucky enough to have majored in Spanish and spent time living in Spain, but for those who do not have those language skills, getting into the book may be difficult. Fortunately, the excessive number of untranslated items tapers after the first third of the book, making the majority of the book easy for anyone to enjoy.

Verdict:
I think just about anyone could find something about this book that they like. It’s great for fans of history, South American culture, memoirs, and stories about family relationships. Páramo’s voice throughout is clear and shining, and together with a strong story line and engaging characters, she has created a piece of literature that is  significant and valuable.

My Mother’s Funeral is available now from CavanKerry Press.

Amazon | Goodreads

Review: “The Bully Pulpit” by Doris Kearns Goodwin

17334495A fantastic narrative about the friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft, and the lives of each individually. But more than that, it’s a story of how the two men(primarily Roosevelt) used the media to fairly promote themselves and their agendas. It’s about a time when journalists cared about their work and strove to produce great stories that could (and did) change the country.

I got the impression while reading that there really used to be honest politicians that worked for the betterment of society rather than for the empowerment of their corporate lobbyists (the narrative about corporate lobbying in this book is painfully familiar). For example, while Taft lived in the Philippines working to set up a new government just after the Spanish-American war, he sent his own children to one of the newly created public schools along with the native children. These days, politicians preach that they know what’s best for public schools, yet they send their own children to a private school (I’m looking at you, Scott Walker).

Goodwin’s politics are pretty obvious throughout the book, though not annoyingly so. She subtly demonstrates approval for Roosevelt and Taft’s efforts to reign in corporate power, and disapproval for those who opposed said efforts.

This rather large work of non-fiction reads like a novel, Goodwin having included plenty of amusing anecdotes to present a rich picture of her subjects. It took Goodwin seven years to write the book, and the majority of that time must have been spent doing research, much like the iconic journalists she writes about.

Verdict:

This is one of the best books I’ve read of any genre in the past year or so. It’s worth picking up your own copy. The hardcover isn’t cheap – the list price is $40.00. However, there are already used copies out there, and the Kindle edition is a more than reasonable $9.99.

Amazon | Goodreads

Review: “Without Their Permission” by Alexis Ohanian

17333428One of the founders of reddit wrote a book! Don’t know what reddit is? It’s only one of the best websites there ever was, one of the most popular sites in the US (but also popular internationally). It allows users to submit links from around the web and vote them up or down, so that really great links are the most visible, and links that suck fall into oblivion.

It also allows users to create their own sub-forums (called subreddits) around any topic you can imagine. I’ve pulled information from /r/books for this blog before. Besides links, users can also submit text posts to ask questions or share information.

The book is both a memoir of the author’s life thus far and a guidebook for entrepreneurs looking to start their own online businesses or websites. As I am no entrepreneur, I enjoyed the book for its anecdotes and insight into the formation of reddit, as well as Ohanian’s other projects like hipmunk (my favorite place to book flights). It’s also a great inspiration to do anything worthwhile, including charity work or political activism (via the interwebs, of course). However, it could make you feel bad about yourself seeing as Ohanian is now known internationally and he’s barely 30. But his tone throughout is humble, not at all condescending.

It’s a quick read and at times made me laugh out loud. It also introduced me to a lot of great new websites, as well as this guy:

breadpig-avatar

You’ll just have to read the book to figure out what that’s all about. Or Google it. Either way.

If you want to hear Ohanian talk about his book, check out his interview on The Colbert Report from November 14th.

Verdict:

If you’re looking for some inspiration for a business or are a reddit fan, it’s worth picking up a copy of your own, though the $27.00 list price seems a bit much for so small a book. Otherwise, find a copy at the library.

Amazon | Goodreads

Review: The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry

Did you know that The Giver is the first in a quartet? Neither did I. That’s probably because when most of us were required to read the book, none of the sequels had yet been written. The books in the series are: The Giver (1993), Gathering Blue (2000), Messenger (2004), and Son (2012).

I’m not going to write a review of The Giver because I know most of you have probably read it. Suffice it to say that I appreciated it much more when I read it for a second time in college. For the other three I provide a brief synopsis, with my review at the end of the post.

Gathering Blue

blue

Kira is a young adult who has just lost her mother, her only family as her father had been “taken by beasts” before she was born. Having been born with one crippled leg and with her mother no longer able to protect her, Kira faces hostility and the possibility of being sent to the Fields to die. However, the Council of Guardians sees a special gift in her, and chooses not only to keep her alive, but to set her up with a comfortable life doing work for the Council. The more she learns about the Council’s motives, though, the more she questions her own history and her given role. What should she take as truth, and what should she doubt?

Messenger 

messengerMatty, once a wild, ill-mannered boy, has been tamed since coming to live with the blind man called Seer in the friendly and prosperous Village. However, he begins to notice that things are changing – a sense of selfishness has been creeping over Village, and many people have decided it would be best to close Village to any newcomers. Matty, one of the only people known to be able to enter and exit Forest at will without harm, hurries to collect Seer’s daughter before Village is sealed. But Forest is changing as well, becoming hostile toward even Matty. He must try to escape the malevolence of Forest that seems to have become as poisonous as Village.

Son

sonThe final book of the quartet begins in the same community and time as the first book, with some familiar faces springing up. The story begins with Claire, a fourteen-year-old Birthmother about to give birth to her first child- a son, who she is not allowed to see. Because of the difficulty of the birth, Claire is removed from her assignment as Birthmother and reassigned to the Hatchery, but she makes her way to the Nurturing Center when she has the opportunity so that she can see her son. She finds herself growing attached to the boy, not wanting to be apart from him. When a boy named Jonas disappears with the baby, Claire will do whatever she can to recover her son.

Review:

First things first – If it’s been a while since you’ve read The Giver, I recommend giving it a quick read again. It will help you to pick up on the clues that connect The Giver to its sequels. Although they are all connected, it’s difficult to see that at first. In fact, it wasn’t until after I finished the third book in the series that I understood the connection at all. While the world of The Giver is quite sterile and technologically advanced, the world of Gathering Blue and Messenger is medieval and even superstitious at times.

Gathering Blue is a wonderful book that could stand completely on its own. It provides a look at a world that is post-apocalyptic (or so we’re led to believe). Because it’s a YA book, it’s a bit predictable, but it’s well-written (as should be expected of Ms. Lowry) and thought-provoking. Little clues in the book hint at the past, like the Object that sits inside the Council building (two large pieces of wood in the form of a cross), which everyone still shows reverence to although they don’t know why.

Messenger is almost a direct continuation of Gathering Blue, as it has the same characters (though the protagonist is different). Also, the setting and conflict are different between the two books. Messenger probably could also stand on its own, though the reader would lose a lot of depth by not having the background of the two previous books. That being said, this book is probably the most shallow, and the ending was a bit of a disappointment.

Son brought together all the previous story lines to create a harmonious ending. The book was a bit slower than the other three, certainly not “thrilling” like the description on the cover claims. But it brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Verdict:

Go for it! If you appreciated The Giver, you’ll like the rest in the series. They don’t take long to read, and they’re fun, thought-provoking, and insightful.

Find The Giver quartet here:

Amazon | Goodreads

What’s your 2014 Challenge?

If you’re on Goodreads, you’ve probably used or at least seen the reading challenge tool, which allows you to choose how many books you want to read in a year. It shows you your progress by percentage, and you can also keep track of the genres you read most.

These are the results of my 2013 goal:

2013 challenge

I managed that 150% only because I got my hands on books in dead-tree form again once I got back from China, and I couldn’t stop myself from devouring book after book. My goal for 2014 is still 40, as halfway through the year I may suddenly not have access to books the way I do now. More on that at a later date.

Goodreads also allows you to view some collective challenge stats for all users. I was a little disheartened by my own reading habits upon seeing this:

challenge1

Really? 60 books per challenge on average? Granted, I know Goodreads is a community of readers…but the average American reads much less than that. I’m not sure of the exact number; it must be somewhere between seven and seventeen.

60 seems awfully high. I think that average must come because of a few outliers who set their goals at 300. However, I’m even more skeptical about the 55 people who already completed their challenge nine days into the new year. I guess not everyone aims high…

Do any of you have a 2014 reading goal, whether on Goodreads or otherwise?