The Reason I Jump is a short but informative book written by Naoki Higashida when he was just thirteen years old. Higashida is severely Autistic and generously shares his very insightful answers to some common questions non-Autistics often have as they struggle to understand this unusual neurodevelopmental disorder.
“Mindy Kaling is my spirit animal.” This was my thought as the audiobook drew to a close. (More on that in a minute.)
I had been on the fence about this book for a while. I heard good things, enjoyed her on “The Office” and sporadically see “New Girl” but I wasn’t convinced. As I was packing for a long solo road trip, I found this in my library’s digital collection and figured it would pass the time.
I am SO glad I picked it out! I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed reading it as much as i did listening to it. It was basically like having a funny, interesting, authentic friend in the car for six and a half hours. Highly enjoyable, and a few laugh out loud moments.
Back to the spirit animal observation. I have some great girl friends, but I don’t always fit well in an all female dynamic, so I was surprised at how well I identified with this book, and with Mindy. As a single woman in the south, it’s easy to let that define you (since other people do) but her attitude reminds me to be the sassy, hopeful, independent woman I am.
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page: Blackwater is a horrible, horrible, horrible company, right? Like, everyone with a conscience is aware of that fact? Everyone who works there is not a horrible person (many are just trying to survive), but we all know that the organization is bloody awful, yes?
Okay, so starting from that premise, why read a book that tells you in detail about how horrible it is? Because it’s good. Really good. It is very well researched, with a level of detail in the writing that brings home the realities of just how atrocious an organization this is.
Scahill provides a history of the company, from its roots in the southern U.S., through the Iraq war and into present day, where Blackwater (now ACADEMI) has truly terrifying plans. He discusses the problems of a mercenary army – recruitment, payment, accountability (well, lack thereof), lawlessness. He uses the murder of four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah as backdrop against which the book is set, returning to what happened, how it happened, and the impact on the families. That running story points out how expendable these contractors are to the company. Their lives may be on the line, and they may be getting great compensation (unless they are from South American or Africa, which Scahill addresses in the book), but in the end, the company doesn’t care about them. Their deaths are a PR issue, but that’s about it.
The biggest problem with contractors like Blackwater from the perspective of the county and the world is that they are essentially mercenaries. They are paid to protect the elite, to do things that our military might or might not be able to do, and they aren’t accountable to anyone. They may technically be subcontractors, but they aren’t covered by the same laws as private citizens, and they pretend to be military even though they don’t have the same oversight. They can do whatever they want with minimal consequences; claiming immunity as a quasi-military organization. It’s despicable.
From the perspective of the families of the contractors who are killed due to the careless policies of Blackwater (and, by extension, the U.S. government for contracting with them), these contractors don’t get the same respect and care as the military. Some of them may be doing work that troops would have done in the past, but because they aren’t military, they don’t get the same benefits, or support. Is that wrong? I don’t know. You can argue they know what they signed up for, but Blackwater is so shady that who knows what they were really told, and how much time they all had to really review what they signed.
Beyond the tasks Blackwater performed in Iraq and Afghanistan, they also ingratiated themselves in the Katrina response, taking part in disaster profiteering. They lied about saving lives, and tried to not pay the contractors the prevailing ways.
This company isn’t just bad for the reasons stated above; they are bad because of what they represent: a shift from governmental accountability to private (stockholder / owner) accountability. One thing about war is that the country is supposed to feel the consequences of it. It should keep us from just going to war with anyone we dislike, without cause. But as more of the actions are shifted to mercenary companies like Blackwater, who’s to speak up and say it’s not okay?
If you have any interest in this, and want to have some details to back up your understanding that Blackwater is just appalling, check out the book.
I’ve been terribly remiss with writing these reviews, but I wanted to get this one in before Thanksgiving!
As children we were all told about the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth, their initial meetings with Native Americans, and warm and fuzzy story of the first Thanksgiving. And there it ends. (We hear something about witches later on, but things get a bit muddled until the 18th century.) But what REALLY happened, before and after?
This is something Nathaniel Philbrick (author of In The Heart of the Sea which I SO want to read), explores in his excellent book. He spends a little time on the background of the Puritan community, covering their flight from England and decade-long stay in Leiden. We are introduced to William Bradford, William Brewster (so many Williams!), John Howland, the young indentured servant who fell off the Mayflower and had to be fished out of the sea. (Full disclosure: according to my Gram, he’s one of my ancestors.) And of course, the very short Miles Standish. He was short! And violent. But oh so short! Surprisingly, the description of the voyage is not long considering the book title. The real meat of the story comes later.
The author gives a beautiful, detailed account of the Puritans’ encounters with the Native Americans and their fragile alliance with the Wampanoag sachem Massasoit. Illness, near-starvation, the rise of other, more successful colonies. The daily struggles, the political rivalries in English and Native American communities. Friendship and mistrust on either side. This all comes to a head in the very bloody King Philip’s War, 55 years after the landing at Plymouth.
What struck me most about this book was how even-handed it is. Their are no real villains (ok, maybe one or two), and no real heroes. These were real people, and they were all remarkably human and well-rounded. Philbrick offers an unflinching narrative of the both the cruelty of some and the struggles of others to rise above it.
I recommend it.
Another book I’m wrapping up – this one is only a month old, and was another purchase at Anthropologie. I cannot get out of there without buying a hard-cover etiquette or lifestyle book with fancy font and great colors on it. The clothing rarely fits, but the books so often do.
As the title suggests, this book is about things to keep in mind when you have houseguest and when you are a houseguest. I’ve actually not seen an etiquette book devoted solely to this topic – usually it’s covered in those giant Leticia Baldridge / Emily Post tomes, but not on its own. And at over 250 pages, it covers a lot.
The book isn’t bad – there are a lot of sound tips. Some are things you’d obviously think of, but some are kind of fun and clever. The next time we have people in town, or the next time we visit family (holiday travel is right around the corner) I’m going to consult the book. The first bit covers being a host, the second bit covers being a guest, and the other sections have suggestions about special considerations to take when your guests are kids (especially good if you don’t have any) and elderly folks.
There’s not much more I can say. The writing is definitely coming from someone who has a different sense of humor than I do. Some comments are condescending, some are insulting, some are obliviously outdated. The only attempt at humor that actually landed and made me laugh out loud probably was accidental. But if you like this type of book, and you ever have houseguests, or stay at other people’s homes, I’d recommend it.
As I close in on the full Cannonball, I’m trying to wrap up a lot of books that I’ve put down over the course of the year. There’s a science book, one of the Song of Ice and Fire series, another etiquette book, and one on goddesses (seriously). And then there’s this one, which I started way back in January. Why the ten month break between starting and finishing it? Well … I just did not like it.
Manifesta is on a lot of ‘must read’ feminism book lists, but I found it to be mediocre. The writing isn’t bad – it’s not like Cinderella’s Lost Diary or whatever that unfortunate book was that Cannonballers were offered for free earlier this year. My problem is that it’s not actually what it claims to be – a feminism manifesto. It’s more like a thrown-together anthology of white feminism, with some ‘picture this’ writing thrown in. The chapters feel disjointed, and I’m not entirely clear what the authors sought to do with this book. Were they trying to say what the ‘third wave’ feminists are contributing to feminism as a whole? Were they trying to explore what previous feminists did (and how that was and was not successful)? Trying to outline what we should be doing going forward? I think a book could be successful in doing all three, but that’s not this book.
In addition to the book feeling disjointed and unfocused, there were so many areas where they missed opportunities to really explore feminism – warts and all. There was even one point where I wanted to just throw the book out the window, but was nearly 200 pages in so I just stuck it out. That moment was during a discussion of toys for young girls, and the issues with Barbie, and the attempts to push Mattel to sell Barbies that look more like all girls – so not just blond, white Barbies. The authors passed that off as “PC,” and they meant that as an insult. Any book that uses the concept of “Politically Correct” as though it is derogatory just isn’t a good book in my opinion. Saying something is ‘politically correct’ means that it’s showing some empathy to people, and recognizing that straight, white, cis people aren’t all who matter.
That very specific issue is one example of the larger problem with this book – it’s so, very, very white. Yes, the authors mention contributions from women of color (usually in passing), but they don’t acknowledge any of the larger issues with mainstream white feminism. They buy into the “women fought to join the workforce and stay there after the war” story, for example, but don’t acknowledge that many women of color had already been working for decades. They don’t recognize the complexity of race, gender and sexuality – it’s a lot of Gloria Steinem and one reference to bell hooks.
Going forward, I’ll be avoiding these generic overviews of feminism, whether targeting and young women or not. I’m more interested in learning about the full history of feminism, and womanism, and reading books that look at the bigger issues of intersectionality that mainstream feminism keeps ignoring.
I had, of course, heard of In Cold Blood (1966) by Truman Capote, and I think I’ve seen at least parts of Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Despite all this, reading an entire book on a series of grisly murders never really appealed to me. It wasn’t until I saw In Cold Blood up at the top of a list of favorite non-fiction books on Goodreads, a list that was full of other books that I’d read and loved, that I figured I should see what I’ve been missing.
In Cold Blood tells the true and detailed story of two men who met in jail, got out on parole, and killed a family (the parents and two younger teenagers) at a rural farm in a small town in Kansas. Capote hits all sides of this crime. You learn all about the victims, the murderers, the hunt for the two men after the fact, the killers’ run from the law, the trial, their ultimate punishment, and how all of this affected the people living in Holcomb, Kansas.