Review: Know My Name by Chanel Miller

I’ve been struggling with this, trying to figure out the best way to write about this book.

What can one say, what should one say, when reading this? It’s not an easy book to read, but it is such a brave and powerful book.

I soon learned that I couldn’t read this in bed, I couldn’t read this before falling asleep as it made me very tense, it made me grit my teeth while reading it, it made my head full of thoughts, angry thoughts, swirling around and keeping me awake instead of lulling me into a deep sleep. I learned to read it in the daylight.

“They were deciding whether I’d make a good victim: is her character upstanding, does she seem durable, will the jury find her likeable, while she stay with us moving forward. I walked out feeling like, You got the job! I did not want this job. I wanted my old life. But let him walk away? I could not let it happen. Pressing charges was my choice, they’d say, but sometimes you feel you don’t have one.”

As I read it, I kept thinking, but this is so readable. It reads so easily, it reads so beautifully. But really, why am I reading this at all? Why did this book exist? Because of Brock Turner, a man, a vile person who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on the campus at Stanford University. And a judge, who decided that putting this man in jail for six months was enough punishment for such a deed. He was released three months early.

As a review in The Atlantic put it: “When trauma is transformed into art, there will always be a paradox at play: The art’s existence is beautiful. But it shouldn’t have to exist at all.”

So many people have written about this book more eloquently than I can. So I’ll point you to Book Marks, which has already put together links to reviews of this book.

“His fault, her fault. How quickly victims must begin fighting, converting feelings into logic, navigating the legal system, the intrusion of strangers, the relentless judgment. How do I protect my life? From the investigators? The reporters? I was being equipped with a prosecutor, going into battle, but no one could tell me how to hold all this hostility, this wrecking sadness.”

What I can tell you is what I took away from this piece of writing. This is an important book by a brave young woman. This is also a brutal read. It is precise, unflinching, as Miller takes us through the whole process – being swabbed, photographed, examined all over at the rape processing rooms; and that ridiculously time-consuming legal process. I didn’t really follow the news at the time, so it was disheartening to see how the media portrayed both Miller and Turner.

“They counted my drinks and counted the seconds Brock could swim two hundred yards, topped the article with a picture of Brock wearing a tie; it could’ve doubled as his LinkedIn profile.”

Know my Name is powerful, heartbreaking and infuriating (teeth-clenching and all), and I am full of admiration for Miller who writes her story with such wit and determination.

 

 

Tuesday musings (Autumn Light by Pico Iyer)

I was just thinking about the book I’ve been slowly reading – slow reading is required for Autumn Light as it is the kind of book that makes you pause and think, it’s the kind of read where you want to pace yourself, enjoying the moment, enjoying the scenery that Iyer paints for his readers, of Japan, of his life in Japan.

It has been many years since I’ve been in Japan. I’m sure so much of it must have changed, and yet plenty has remained the same. I have such strong memories of the trip, although the guy I went with is someone I’m no longer in touch with.

And I can picture the people and the places Iyer writes about so easily, even though I’ve never been to the neighborhood he lives in.

The book makes me think of my dear friend in Japan. We met as flatmates at graduate school in the UK and she is still one of my good friends today, although I haven’t seen her since she attended my wedding in Singapore. She was the first person in the university housing I talked to, and she shared her dinner with me that very first night that I arrived (she had arrived a couple of weeks before, to take up English classes). And every Christmas she makes sure to mail me some tea and snacks from Japan.

It is not by the light of autumn that I write this. It’s still winter in Northern California but it has been a very mild and unfortunately dry one. It’s currently 21C at 3pm and I’m watching the shadows grow longer in the backyard. My Japanese maple tree is still bare and I am looking forward to seeing it’s splendid red leaves again. But I can’t help wondering if I’m taking care of it properly. I am no gardener and I marvel that things actually bear fruit in my backyard.

So this is Tuesday and I realize this isn’t quite a usual post from me. But I hope your week’s going well. What have you been up to?

Moon Rush: The new Space Race by Leonard David #TLCBookTours

 

I’ve read many works of fiction that are set in space, watched many movies and TV shows set in space, but I’ve never really read much nonfiction about space.

And you can rest assured that you are in good hands here with journalist Leonard David, who has been reporting on space-related news for over 50 years.

The race to the moon began in the 1960s, between the Soviet Union and the US. But today it is a very different landscape – in January, the Chinese landed a spacecraft on the far side of the moon; a spacecraft from an Israeli nonprofit crash-landed on the moon in April; India’s moon-lander is scheduled to take off later this year; or how about Japan, which plans its own lunar rover to land next year? The race to space is definitely back on and this book is published just at the right time to tell us all about the history behind it all, as well as what’s upcoming developments that we can expect in lunar exploration.

 

Some fascinating tidbits of information were gathered from my reading of this book.

Such as:

“Three sealed samples, one each from Apollo 15, 16, and 17, remain unopened, intentionally saved until technology and instrumentation has advanced to the point that investigators can maximize the scientific return on these unique specimens.”

I couldn’t help wondering when exactly that would be. How, for instance, could anyone decide, oh we should open this year, when who knows what kind of scientific advancement could happen next year? It’s not like science and technology is going to stop improving (or at least I hope not) so who makes that decision and how do they make such a decision?

Reading this book made me wonder, would I go to space if that were an option in the future? Would I want to go to the moon? I don’t know if I would. I don’t think I like the idea of hurtling up in a spacecraft powered by rockets (that’s probably why the first astronauts were pilots). How about you? Would you want to be a space tourist?

 

I received this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

 

Pick up a copy of the book: National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures – edited by America Ferrera

I listened to this one and it was such a great audiobook. Quite a lot of the chapters were narrated by the writers themselves. And what a wonderfully diverse group of essay writers! I love that they were from so many different ethnicities and cultures and backgrounds. These are not just people who write for a living (of course there are plenty of writers in the mix) but there are also politicians, people in sports (like Michelle Kwan and Jeremy Lin), people on TV/stage/screen (like Padma Lakshmi, Lin Manuel Miranda, and Wilmer Valderrama), activists like transgender advocate Geena Rocero.

They all have amazing stories to tell about being American – some wanted to blend in, wanting those white-bread sandwiches that would help them feel less different, others determined to stand out and be different.

Listening to this as an audiobook was a great choice. I loved hearing them read out their stories, and it was nice to put a voice to an unfamiliar name.

As America Ferrera writes: “I believe that culture shapes identity and defines possibility; that it teaches us who we are, what to believe, and how to dream. We should all be able to look at the world around us and see a reflection of our true lived experiences. Until then, the American story will never be complete.”

National Geographic’s 100 Dives of a Lifetime – Review

 

 

 

I have to admit that scuba diving scares me. I had many chances to learn – I’m from Singapore and lots of people in Singapore scuba dive and there are so many lovely spots in the region to scuba dive at. But I never did. There’s something about the open water that puts a tremble in my hands. I love to swim – and I’m quite a good swimmer – but I like to swim in a swimming pool, where I can see the bottom and the walls and know where things start and stop. The open sea is not for me.

But I do love the sea and beaches and got to live for a year right across the beach in Brighton, England, and that is still one of the best years of my life.

My kids also have a fascination for things underwater. And my 5-year-old and I sat down and went through the book together, he marveling at all the wrecks sharks and rays, me mesmerized by all the corals and the manta rays. And who knows, maybe one day my kids will learn to scuba dive and go and explore some of these amazing and beautiful places.

So you don’t have to be a diver to appreciate a book like this. The beautiful photos are impressive but the book also opened my eyes to many places I’ve never heard of, like Wakatobi National Park in Indonesia which looks like a gorgeous beach resort (and which I’ve bookmarked as a possible future travel destination!). I was intrigued by the various shipwrecks that I would never have heard of if not for this book, like the S.S. Thistlegorm, a WWII steamship on the bottom of the Red Sea. There’s the remote, relatively untouched Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, where Charles Darwin once stopped at. And even a missile silo in Royal City, Washington, where divers can “indulge your inner James Bond”.

This was a great book to pore over and dream up travel plans with.

 

 

 

I received this book from its publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for a review.

Check out the rest of the tour stops here

Pick up your copy from: National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

This was a great read. If you like books (and since you’re reading my blog post, I’m presuming you do) and libraries, this is a book for you!

I’d seen some reviews and synopses where it mentioned the Los Angeles public library fire of 1986 and I had thought, oh wow a book just about this library fire? I hadn’t known that this huge fire had occurred – it burnt hundreds of thousands of books and damaged many more – so that already had me intrigued. So I thought it would some kind of investigative reporting about the fire. It wasn’t exactly. And I was thankful it wasn’t.

We are told about the terrifying fire. How it burned for hours, hit 2500 degrees (!), had more than 3 million gallons of water dumped on it

Orleans discusses a variety of related issues like book burning in history. And how, as part of her research, burnt a book herself. Her research into the history of the Los Angeles Public Library is really interesting and thorough.

But for me the loveliest – and saddest – parts of the book was when Orlean talked about visiting the library with her mother. How her mother used to take her to the library as a child and as a teenager. How her mother had thought that being a librarian would have been the job for her. But sadly her mother had been suffering from dementia. I loved how she wrote the book for her mother, and shared her mother’s love for libraries with fellow library lovers and readers of this lovely book.

“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned. When I first heard the phrase, I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realise it was perfect. Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share, one that burns down and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it–with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in a story recited–it takes on a life of its own.”

You Can’t Touch My Hair

Here’s where I admit I hadn’t heard of Phoebe Robinson before I saw this book..wherever it is that I saw this book..on one of your blogs, on Litsy, Instagram? I definitely saw it very many places before deciding to download it.

So who is Phoebe Robinson? She’s a comedian, a host of a podcast called 2 Dope Queens, and a series on YouTube. All of which I hadn’t heard of or seen. I’m obviously not current and modern and young and up to date enough to know all these things! Maybe you are!

But you know what, it didn’t matter.

It was such a fun, funny read that also made me sit up and learn a great variety of things.

Like just how difficult it is to be a woman of colour in the entertainment industry. In the aptly titled chapter ‘Casting Calls for People of Color That Were Not Written by People of Color’, made up but inspired by what she’s seen in real life such as the African-American Principal “nice-looking, personable, but not too dark”, which was explained because of the special effects and lighting. To which Robinson retorts

“If the BBC can light Idris Elba for Luther so he looks like a delectable blueberry tart from Giada de Laurentiis’s kitchen, then y’all can light a garbage ad that’s going to air during the Jane the Virgin commercial breaks.”

In a collection like this there will be essays that make you sit up and go, yessss finally someone wrote this. And there will be others that might not sit so well with you but I kinda reckon that’s still pretty ok as long as Phoebe Robinson is writing it. I mean I could do without all the abbreviations like J/K. That might just be me. But abbreviations aside, she’s just such a delight to read, in her very conversational tone. For instance when she’s ranking the members of U2, or talking about doing her laundry at her parents’ house or ordering for two (for one) from McDonald’s. I mean, she’s even making want to go and investigate her podcasts. Me, who has no time to myself to even finish listening to an audiobook.

But she is at her best when she talks about race and racism.

“But as a nation, we are far from the “everyone holding hands in racial harmony” that we assumed would happen once Obama was ushered into office. In fact, throughout the Obama years, there had been, at the very best, resistance to change, and at the very worst, a palpable regression in the way the country views and handles – or more accurately, refuses to handle – race.”

She is not one to mince her words or to call out people for their racist behaviour.

“First of all, people need to stop acting like racist behaviour only happens within a three-block radius of Paula Deen’s house. Ignorance exists everywhere, including liberal bastions like New York City.”

My favourite chapter is where she writes letters to her 2.5-year-old niece Olivia, who is biracial.

“…lean into your “girlness”. Throw it in people’s faces that you are fully embracing everything they think is a flaw. Eat, cuss, laugh, feel, dance, fight, dress, think, love, and tell your story like a girl, which means do everything you intend to do with no regard for how people want you or expect you to behave.”

Now that is an awesome aunt.

This was just such a delight to read.

(Also if Jessica Williams, Robinson’s work wife who also wrote the foreword to this book, has plans to write a book, I would definitely want to read it. Does she? Anyone?)