Another long one, strap in.
As a reminder, here is how I rate my books:
- (★★★★★): Loved it, won’t shut up about it for the foreseeable future
- (★★★★): Really liked it, enjoyable experience
- (★★★): Liked it enough, no strong opinions
- (★★): Didn’t care for it, would actively discourage people reading it
Another few notes: I will warn if there are any spoilers with (start spoiler) and (end spoiler) so you know when to stop reading and pick up again if you don’t want to ruin the book for yourself. I no longer go out of my way to watch adaptions, but will continue to mention them and their general critiques (from Rotten Tomatoes) in my reviews. Finally, you can always check out my book review index page if you’re looking for my extremely important opinion on any book in particular.
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
Genre: Non-fiction, essays
GoodReads rating: 4.41 / 5 (51,000 ratings)
Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library)
Summary: “The Anthropocene is the current geological age, in which human activity has profoundly shaped the planet and its biodiversity. In this remarkable symphony of essays adapted and expanded from his ground-breaking, critically acclaimed podcast, John Green reviews different facets of the human-centered planet – from the QWERTY keyboard and Halley’s Comet to Penguins of Madagascar – on a five-star scale.”
Thoughts: I was really excited about this more cultural discussion to the Anthropocene to juxtapose the discussions I’ve had about it in college. I would recommend this book to most anyone, but I would strongly recommend it to those who have read and enjoyed John Green’s fiction as this book contains a lot of good tidbits from his real life that even I, as a neutral reader, found engaging and relevant.
I’ll start off with a few passages/points that I really liked:
- I related a lot to Green in terms of some mental illness struggles. I, too, have been drawn to repetitive tasks not because I love them but because I benefit from them as they calm my ADHD and anxious mind
- I loved the “Don’t just do something, stand there” as a perfect metaphor for being there for someone who’s hurting. Sometimes all you need is a shoulder to cry on
- “When you measure time in Halleys [comet] rather than years, history starts to look different… history, like human life, is at once incredibly fast and agonizingly slow.”
- Velociraptors weren’t like the ones you see in Jurassic Park, they were actually quite small (about the size of a turkey), but knowing those facts still doesn’t always help you picture the truth
- When you think about it, the term “room temperature” has roots in sexism as AC was made (probably) by dudes in an office setting wearing business suits, so the temperature is set to their comfort, that’s why women are often cold in typical offices.
- The first thing Green experienced when he saw a beautiful sunset was, “that looks photoshopped.” Being from Arizona, I often describe the Grand Canyon the same way and it’s sad to think that when we see the “natural world at its most spectacular, my general impression is that more than anything, it looks fake.”
However, there were a few parts that were amiss for me. I have a problem with this particular brand of eco-fascism lite that liberals like to employ: saying that all of humanity is responsible for the current climate crisis is not accurate: it’s the most wealthy nations, corporations and individuals that create most of the problems and the poorest, most vulnerable who suffer from it. Green says that “humanity is the apocalypse” which isn’t entirely true, capitalism is. When he vaguely says “our species will survive this,” he’s not thinking about the poor that are most effected by the climate crisis, only those that experience a certain amount of privilege will survive. We shouldn’t focus on “saving the planet,” the planet has been around for a long time, albeit in different ways (I’m looking at you, anaerobic atmosphere of the pre-Cambrian) over the eons, we should “save the humans,” all the humans. And what is in all of our best interest is, yes, saving the planet. I only get picky about this point because he does seem aware of the horrors of capitalism (“giving money to Disney, a corporation, in order to escape their horrible, miserable lives that were horrible and miserable in part because our corporate overlords [control] all the means of production”), misogyny and more throughout his book, but this particular part was a huge let-down that should have had more care since this book is literally about the geological age that is defined by the invention and perpetration of capitalism and its irreversible harm to the environment and humanity. Also, it’s 2022, stop with the Harry Potter metaphors as its creator is a vapid, shameless transphobe and still benefits hugely from the franchise so yes, supporting Harry Potter is supporting her (more in this lovely YouTube video).
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley
Genre: Fiction, mystery, thriller
GoodReads rating: 3.72 / 5 (62,200 ratings)
Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library)
Summary: After suddenly leaving her barmaid job in Brighton, Jess travels to Paris to crash with her half-brother Ben, who’s gone missing shortly before her arrival. Jess goes around the nice, expensive apartment meeting the neighbors and asking if they know anything about Ben. Not particularly eager to help, Jess starts to expect the residents in Ben’s disappearance.
Warning: This book contains mention of sexual assault, suicide and sex trafficking.
Thoughts: Meh, I didn’t totally hate this but I can’t say it was worth it. I found her other book, The Guest List, more entertaining and compelling. This book had zero atmosphere since the main character was short on money and couldn’t leave the apartment, so what exactly was the point of the Paris setting without exploring that more aside from a few phrases in French? Also I really hate the trope in thriller book where every man is hopelessly attracted to the main character (also happened in a recent thriller read In My Dreams I Hold a Knife) not one but two men try it on with Jess in this book and it didn’t do anything to advance the plot. Give this one a skip.
The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman
Genre: Non-fiction, history
GoodReads rating: 3.98 / 5 (4,700 ratings)
Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from library)
Summary: “It was long ago, but not as long as it seems: The Berlin Wall fell and the Twin Towers collapsed. In between, one presidential election was allegedly decided by Ross Perot while another was plausibly decided by Ralph Nader. In the beginning, almost every name and address was listed in a phone book, and everyone answered their landlines because you didn’t know who it was. By the end, exposing someone’s address was an act of emotional violence, and nobody picked up their new cell phone if they didn’t know who it was. The ’90s brought about a revolution in the human condition we’re still groping to understand. Happily, Chuck Klosterman is more than up to the job.”
Warning: This book contains mention of drug use, suicide and sexual harassment
Thoughts: I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I really enjoyed this book. It was about 60% music and movies but always tied back to how they influence the larger cultural conciseness.
The creation and increasing ubiquity of the Internet, it has really shaped those who lived through the nineties. Before the Internet, we were comfortable not knowing everything for certain, but “[t]oday, paraphrasing the established historical record or questioning empirical data is seen as an ideological, anti-intellectual choice.” It really made me reflect on even simple conversations I’ll have with friends and how when we don’t know something, we have to take out our phones and Google it to save face. The “Google effect” now makes it “possible to know a little bit about everything without remembering anything.” It is also suggested that the Mandela Effect, that usually orbits around phenomenons pre-00s, could be due to the massive amount of information coming in through our televisions, but no way to accurately record and access that information like we can with the Internet today.
Both my hometown of Tucson and current city of Seattle also made it into the book. Completed in 1991, the Biosphere 2 (Biosphere 1 being Earth, of course) was erected north of Tucson to “demonstrate the viability of closed ecological systems to support and maintain human life in outer space as a substitute for Earth’s biosphere.” It ran two “missions” in the nineties, to some record-setting experiments but also equally as immense problems and controversies, but its original purpose has now been dissolved. I didn’t know there was a 2020 documentary about it called Spaceship Earth that I’d love to watch and visit it for myself next time I’m home. Seattle gets a mention for its grunge music scene in the 90s and all the bands it was signing and how it effects our self-depreciating attitudes and humor as well as the morbid fascination with the grunge scene that persists today.
Finally, another part I really loved was the bit about Anita Hill’s sexual harassment case against Clarence Thomas: both for feminism (how sexual harassment, especially in the workplace doesn’t have to be physical touch but can be lewd comments or jokes) and race relations (putting a POC in a position of power doesn’t automatically make them “good”, I’m looking at you Kamala Harris, whose husband’s law firm represents Herbalife and as California attorney general she failed to take any legal action against the harmful pyramid scheme).
Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc
Genre: Non-fiction, disability
GoodReads rating: 4.16 / 5 (2,900 ratings)
Medium used: Paperback (purchased from Island Books in Mercer Island, WA)
Summary: “Through the book, Leduc ruminates on the connections we make between fairy tale archetypes—the beautiful princess, the glass slipper, the maiden with long hair lost in the tower—and tries to make sense of them through a twenty-first-century disablist lens. From examinations of disability in tales from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen through to modern interpretations ranging from Disney to Angela Carter, and the fight for disabled representation in today’s media, Leduc connects the fight for disability justice to the growth of modern, magical stories, and argues for increased awareness and acceptance of that which is other—helping us to see and celebrate the magic inherent in different bodies.”
Warning: This book contains mention of stillbirth, rape
Thoughts: This was incredible, I always love a bit of personal/memoir aspect to a non-fiction book to make the points stick better. The author gave great summaries of lesser-known fairy tales and tied them to her experience as a disabled woman.
A central theme of the book is the social model of disability: “the disability of individuals is… maintained by systems of barriers, exclusion and negative attitudes towards these disabilities more than the physical limitations of these conditions themselves,” especially compared to the medical model, which “celebrates an individual’s triumph over disability, while the social model celebrates society’s collective power and responsibility to consider the needs of all.” Basically, the difference is “[i]n the social model, there is emphasis on creating space for wheelchairs that accommodate a body that cannot walk, as opposed to needing to walk at all costs.” This makes me think of Breaking Bad, when Hank gets shot and is hospitalized/recovering, there is an especially brutal scene of him learning to walk again where he is straining, sweating and in pain because he must walk again at all costs. And when he is recovering in bed, it’s seen as pitiful, humiliating and a punchline when he takes of the hobby of collecting minerals. It always rubbed me the wrong way at the time and I couldn’t figure out why, but this explains it. Of course, he makes a full recovery before dying a noble death. In both fairy tales and modern media, the disability is either overcome, or the character lives with miserably with their lifelong “affliction.”
I was also put off more recently on RuPaul’s Drag Race when RuPaul praised Willow Pill, a queen who has cystinosis (also notice how a lot of articles says she “suffers” from it… I think rather she “suffers” from a world that doesn’t accommodate medicals conditions such as hers) and has affected her performance in the competition, most notably when her fingers were hurting during a sewing challenge. During a conversation RuPaul tells Willow she’s proud that this disability “doesn’t define her” since her performance in the competition has been incredible (at the time of writing the finale is tonight!). However, this kind of thinking constantly “puts disabled people in competition with one another”… someone else with the same condition might not be able to compete in a drag competition, does that make them less worthy of a platform?
Going back to fairy tales, some critics might argue that they’re just “made up” and shouldn’t be taken so seriously, but “[f]airy tales… are not created in a vacuum. As with all stories, they change and bend both with and in response to culture.” This is most obvious with the constant re-makes of classic Disney movies like Cinderella, which even before the 1950 animated movie went through several different adaptations. I would love more from this author about disability representation in more modern media.
Have you read any of these?
Photo by Radu Marcusu.