Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts

Review: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review addresses both the book and the audiobook. Bridget Jones is that dear friend that we all know who manages to somehow just mess things up, without even trying. A social klutz to no end, but you can’t help but to smile and love the poor girl. For those who read (or listened, or watched) the first book, Bridget Jones Diary, you’ll remember the story ends with Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy in a typical “Happily Ever After” scenario. “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” picks up shortly after that and asks “What does happen in happily ever after?” The couple gets together in the third act, but what happens in the fourth act? Helen Fielding answers this by showing the listener that happily ever after does not always work out the way we expected.

We find dear Bridget still working away at her diary in the new year and dancing on cloud nine now that she is currently going out with Mark Darcy. Her elation doesn’t so much fade but morphs into a bit of neurosis as she and her single friends (singletons) analyzed every word and action of Mark Darcy with the assistance of numerous self-help books. In fact, these self-help books bring about Bridget’s demise, for some many different books professing often conflicting philosophies and how to achieve “happiness”—that her actions resulting from said influence, almost always backfire.

Within a few months, the couple has gone its separate ways due to a series of miscommunications and mishaps on both ends. So Bridget returns to the world of singletons, still deathly scared of dying alone in her flat only to be found half-eaten by wolves. So it’s back to the world of self-help books and her fellow singletons, all of which preach different “must do” tactics to happiness and yet they have not achieved such happiness either.

It almost seems that since the previous year, nothing has really changed for her. She still looks the same, weighs the same, smokes the same amount of cigarettes, drinks the same amount of alcohol, and is still single. But this time, she knows she wants Mark Darcy, but getting him back become quite the problem.

Bridget faces many challenges and new exciting adventures such as a botched remodeling attempt in her flat that does nothing but leave a large gaping hole in the wall for the rest of the world to see and an interview with Colin Firth in which she obsesses of his part as Mr. Darcy in “Pride & Prejudice”. Her mishaps are on a grander scale this year—including several run-ins with the police, a death threat, and involvement in an international drug ring. It doesn’t spoil the end to let your know that she does find her way back to Mark Darcy—that’s inevitable—however, the adventure getting there is the real joy of this audiobook. The height of which leaves her in a Thai female prison singing Madonna songs in her undergarments for the other inmates.

There’s one point in the book that puts a whole blur on reality and art is the actor, Colin Firth. Numerous times, Bridget refers to Colin Firth and how she loves the scene in “Pride & Prejudice” where he leaps into the pond. In the book, she is given an opportunity to interview him. Now, in the movie “Bridget Jones Diary”, Mark Darcy is played by none other but Colin Firth. This put a tint of irony to the whole situation for those who have seen the movie, because Colin Firth is held to be the ideal man by Bridget and her singletons.

At some points in the book, where Bridget goes over each minute of her day (usually as part of some joke the author is plotting), the listener might get annoyed to hear the time read out five to six times in a row: 12:01AM, 12:02AM, 12:03AM, 1204AM, 1205AM. The repetitiveness can wear on the listener because often, the joke is predictable at that point and therefore, the humor doesn’t play out as well. Regardless of this, the book still plays out fantastically. The diary format lends itself well as an audiobook.

Barbara Rosenblat is sensational! There, it’s been said. She magnificently narrated this audiobook; I can’t imagine it being done any better. Her vibrancy and accent are simply smashing. She maintains the liveliness that permeates from Bridget’s diary, even during the low times. Her narration is like seeing right into the mind of Bridget Jones and directly listening to her thoughts. Her talents at understanding and properly voice the feeling of text is more than impressive—it’s perfect.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is not great work—but it is a great source of entertainment—poignant, funny, and very enjoyable. Bridget is an endearing and sweet woman, whom we can all relate to. Helen Fielding has produced another gem of a novel that keeps the readers and listeners deeply entertained and laughing.

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Review: Nina: Adolescence

Nina: Adolescence Nina: Adolescence by Amy Hassinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note:  This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe.  This review addresses both the book and the audiobook. This audiobook is an endearing story about a young girl emerging into womanhood and the many expected and unexpected dilemmas that come with that growth. Most young women wage war with their self-image, but Nina not only battles with her own inner demons, she faces additional pressure with her naked body being publicly displayed. Her mother, a painter, has cataloged Nina's transformation from child to adult in a series of nude portraits that are being shown in a gallery. Nina also carries a burden-the guilt for the death of her younger brother, four years prior to the beginning of the story. Her lost brother is detrimental enough for her to become quite introverted. She does not have any friends in school-until she meets Raissa, a friend from her dance class. In addition, as her mother's acclaim grows, a personal friend and renowned art critic, Leo takes a very deep and dangerous interest in Nina.

Nina's two primary relationships (Nina and Raissa, Nina and Leo) comprised much of the book. From Raissa, Nina learns about friendship and redevelops her youthful exuberance, which was lost with her brother. Their relationship is the typical teenage friendship but it is completely new to Nina who has not had friends. They fight, they laugh, they play "Truth or Dare". The two friends find themselves in a slew of teenage predicaments and remain friends through it all.

The intricate relationship that develops with Leo is another beast altogether. Leo, who was close to Nina's mother, takes a sexual interest in the fifteen-year-old, seducing the innocent Nina with cunning and guile. Amazingly, the talented author is able to deliver this part of the story in a believable manner. Her writing does not pass judgment-rather the author provides keen insight into Nina's mind to find that Nina's actions are a result of a combination of her confusion, her budding sexuality, and Leo's advances.

Another strong aspect to this story is Nina's relationship with her parents. While she does love her parents-she jumps back and forth with them in regards to how she feels towards them. They frustrate her one moment and are the best parents ever in the next moment. Her parents are present throughout the book, but much like everyone's teenage years-they may be there, but in many regards they are not there. They are no longer completely involved in their daughter's life and they begin to understand that Nina is becoming an adult with her own life.

This story captures the nuances of a female's emergence into womanhood. The author is able to freeze those memorable events of youthful discovery that many reminisce over delightfully. In addition, the realism of the story makes it that much more compelling-all elements of the story are so believable that one never really thinks, "Oh that couldn't happen."

Mia Barron does a fantastic narration of this book. Her tone was perfect for the exuberance, youthfulness, and energy of Nina. Mia captivated Nina with superb precision, however, there was one fault. This reviewer happens to be from the Boston area-where the story takes place. Knowing that the Boston accent can be a bit obnoxious, I can understand doing a flat accent for a dialogue, but the narrator delivers much of the dialogue in an accent resembling the Wisconsin/Minnesota region. Being distinctly familiar with the accent, I did find this a little disrupting. But her skill is not to be underrated-her depiction of a teenager emerging into womanhood is right on key.

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Review: White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anderson skillfully deconstructs an unspoken but prevalent theme in the US history of race relations since well before the Civil War: white rage. Directly and indirectly, she shows how the often stereotypical assumption of African-Americans as being unwieldy or out of control (that is, having "black rage") is largely a matter of projection of a white rage. White rage has historically over-reacted to each attempt by African American and other marginalized peoples to establish an equal footing as put forward in the US's founding documents. Thus, she shows from the Civil War to the presidency of Barak Obama, how viciously and brutally dominant white culture has reacted. Whether it was de-facto enslavement for unemployed African Americans in the post-Civil War era, the rise of segregation, the intentional exclusion of compensation for African Americans who fought in war, the attempts to shut down or create private or charter schools in the absence of desegregation to unequal sentencing (or due process) in the justice system to systematic attempts to limit their ability to vote, white social, cultural, and political power has actively sought to see equality as a threat to the status quo and been willing to take innocent lives and freedoms to maintain and perpetuate this power and racial divide. Anderson's makes that proves entirely clear with accessible prose that provides specifics but does not inundate readers with unnecessary details.

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Review: We Should All Be Feminists

We Should All Be Feminists We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Adichie's short book (what's the equivalent of a novella in nonfiction? Long-form essay?) is a collection of short essays that stem from her TED Talk exploring how and why feminism is a necessity for all societies. She connects her personal stories and experiences to the larger discourse on feminism and draws useful analogies for many to understand and appreciate about its place in the 21st century throughout the world. It's a quick read that can refuel some while also introducing complex considerations about feminism to someone just exploring it for the first time.

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Review: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If there is a single book that can structurally explain how racism permeates the history and mythology of the United States, then Kendi's book is if not the book, then certainly a contender (having not read all of them, I cannot say, but having read many books on race, this one is among the best). Kendi traces the history of the United States' approach to, discourse on, and political consequences of racism from the colonies in the 1600s until the present. He does this by exploring the lives of five pivotal figures in the history of racism who span all five centuries of US history: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis. Kendi posits three ideologies that are found in various forms throughout the history and the works of those with whom he presents: racist, assimilationist, and anti-racist ideologies. Ultimately, Kendi's power lies in his ability to tie the individual lives to the contemporary discourse of the individuals' time while also drawing parallels to and building a mounting context for understanding racism in the present.

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Review: The Making of Asian America: A History

The Making of Asian America: A History The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where do I begin with this review besides just saying, "WOW!" I knew about some of the aspects of this book such as strong anti-Asian immigration laws and racial discrimination in the US toward Asian-Americans since the 1800s. But Lee provides a meticulous and nuanced exploration of the history of migration and representation within the Americas since the 1500s. She traces the history of discriminatory practices by different American countries that challenge, limit, devalue, or pit against one another the many different immigrants from the numerous Asian countries. In doing so, she helps the reader understand the denial of identity and culture that comes with the term "Asian American", and how it masks the distinct experiences, cultural dynamics, and sense of history that different immigrants from Asian bring with them. In tracing the history to the present century, Lee further aids readers in considering the experience of Asian Americans whose families have been here for generations and the more recent Asian American immigrants fit into the rhetoric of immigration for various discourses and for different dominant-group purposes. It's definitely a must-read for people trying to better understand race and ethnicity in the Americas.

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Review: White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wise's memoir of his own awakening to systematic racism in the United States is a powerful and useful tale for white people to read and reflect on their own experience. From his early upbringing in the south to his education in New Orleans and early days of activism against the David Duke campaigns in the 1990s, Wise explores the ways in which he has succeeded and failed in being an ally to non-white people. But what Wise does best throughout the book is to mark with clarity the ways in which the privilege afforded him by being white created opportunities or nullifed threats that would have existed for him, were he not white. Additionally, he is great at unpackaging the ways in which investment in whiteness doesn't harm just non-whites but does damage to white people as well. For anyone looking to better understand how one can strive to address and engage with the racial strife in this country, Wise's book is a great start.

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Review: March

March March by John Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

These three graphic novels capture John Lewis's first-hand account as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. From his upbringing in Troy, Alabama to his entrance into college and earliest political experiences, the story provides his bird's eye view and experience in striving for a nonviolent revolution in the face of overwhelming white supremacy, oppression, and violence. His experience in the 1960s is paralleled with the inauguration in 2009 of President Barak Obama, providing a beacon to the harsh and vitriolic culture to which both Lewis and Obama (and for that matter all African Americans) were (and continue to be) subjected to. Through the three volumes, Lewis touches upon the leadership of the Civil Rights Movements, the different factions, and the challenges of trying to find the best courses of action to take. The book is both a history and a primer on attempting to change a racist culture that is worth reading for those interested in autobiographies, history, African-American studies, and organizational and cultural change. It would be fascinating to see a volume 4 that parallel's Lewis's experiences with the cultural backlash of the 1970s & 1980s that goes hand-in-hand with the inauguration of Trump.

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Review: TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris J. Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anderson, the head of TED, the central repository for engaging ideas in small 7-18 minute speeches by many key industry leaders (of almost every industry) presents a concise and clear guide to organizing and preparing to give the best speech of one's life. Focused largely on giving a "TED Talk," which is not necessarily every talk one is likely to give, Anderson walks readers through everything from different approaches on preparing, to technical considerations to delivery styles and wardrobe questions. He draws upon many of the most famous TED talks to illustrate the best examples of what he is discussing and while he does refer to bad examples, he usually is vague on the details, sparing the targets (and probably himself from lawsuits). I appreciate Anderson's ability to pull together different aspects of a speech and clarify with each, what is the essential consideration one must keep in mind. Anderson's guide provides a lot of great information and ideas about how to improve one's speaking technique and is likely to be useful to anyone trying to hone their presentation skills.

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Review: Focus by Arthur Miller

Focus Focus by Arthur Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came across this novel in a used bookstore and thought the premise sounded fascinating, especially since I've been a fan of Miller's dramatic works. The story follows Lawrence Newman after he awakes in the middle of the night to hearing a screaming woman being assaulted. But since the woman is a minority, he largely seems to pay it no mind. The bachelor enjoys a home in a white Christian neighborhood and works in New York City and is largely successful until his eyesight gets the best of him and he's forced to get glasses. His glasses, as he feared, make him appear more Jewish in the race-obsessed world of the World War II 1940s. What follows is Lawrence's demise as those around him increasingly suspect him to be a Jew and he becomes subjected to the same cruel realities that he perpetuated just months before.

Miller's tale is a classic tale of what it's like to live in another man's shoes but also well layered with reflection by Lawrence as he comes to weigh the meaning behind the white supremacist view and how easily it insinuates itself into the minds of the privileged. Originally published in 1945, there is so much about this book that resonates with the world today that it could have easily been written as today with only slight adjustments.

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Review: American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good

American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good by Colin Woodard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Woodard provides a fascinating framework for understanding the differences in the United States between those who lean towards more collectivist approaches to society and those that believe in more individualistic approaches. Building off his previous work, rather than provide a simple divide of socialist vs. libertarians, he articulates the presence of eleven "nations" within the United States that represent different historical-cultural origins and occupy different geographical spaces in the country. From there, he delves into the history of the country and illustrates how different alignments of the nations resulted in the swaying of the country between its more collectivist and individualistic modes of governmental involvement. It's a fascinating book that highlights the often-complex ways in which different people align and dissent from the different political groups in the country (and why so many people identify as "independent"). It will be interesting to see how much this work is used to better understand and address current politics.

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Review: Advice from a Wild Deuce: The Best of Ask Tiggy

Advice from a Wild Deuce: The Best of Ask Tiggy Advice from a Wild Deuce: The Best of Ask Tiggy by Tiggy Upland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I openly admit that I am biased in reviewing this book because I am close with the actual author (spoiler alert—Tiggy Upland is a pseudonym!). Regardless, I found this book to be a fantastic dialogue on the subject of understanding bisexuality (my own, and others). Upland pulls together the best questions from her advice column to provide a panoramic view of what it means to be a bisexual in the United States in the 21st century. She’s great at taking on personal questions and drawing out the nuance issues present and parsing out specific advice to the person while also connecting the question to the larger tapestry of navigating bisexuality in a culture that still doesn’t appreciate or provide much room for it. What’s more is that Upland’s tone is bemusing, sagely, and engaging. She’s capable of calling out self-deceit in a way that doesn’t turn the reader away but rather endears them to her and to the letter-writer. Beyond the question and answer format that permeates much of the book, Upland includes various asides, resources, and even photo-comics that add more nuggets of wisdom. For those looking to understand the complexity of bisexuality for personal or professional reasons, this book is a great resource.

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Review: Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad

Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad by Brett Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Martin explores the history of dramatic television in the last two decades, defining it as the third golden age of television. The title refers to the defining feature of this third golden age in that both onscreen in the form of lead characters and off-stage in the form of the rise of the "show-runner" writer is universally male. In tracing the history of many of the most famous and genre-defining shows, Martin shows how the leading characters (Tony Soprano, Vick Mackey, Don Draper, Walter White and others) are men in constant desire of power in a variety of forms and willing to do harm to achieve it. They are contrasted with often more complicated but still flawed creators and writers who are also trying to leave their own mark on the world. Taken together, the book holds up a fascinating mirror to the American culture and in particular, males. It's a nice slice of Americana, gender studies (though not necessarily too overt), and cultural history.

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Review: For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Edmin's book shows the depths and methods needed to go in order to institute transformative teaching and learning in a classroom that engages all students. He names his approach reality-based pedagogy and its core idea is that it is impossible to teach students if you do not embed their realities into the classroom; altering how one may teach, how power is negotiated, and what it means to demonstrate learning. Clearly from the title, there is a specific context to which he is speaking, but the application of his approach can potentially open up any classroom (e.g. it's easy to imagine how this could play out in a rural environment). He explores his pedagogy through his own triumphs and setbacks as he aims to help his students channel their enthusiasm and interest into productive learning experiences that reflect what he hopes they will learn with how it fits within their worlds. It's a powerful book that in many ways takes the ideas of Paulo Freire and Lisa Delpit and demonstrates particular ways one can execute them in the classroom.

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Review: Context: Further Selected Essays on Productivity, Creativity, Parenting, and Politics in the 21st Century

Context: Further Selected Essays on Productivity, Creativity, Parenting, and Politics in the 21st Century Context: Further Selected Essays on Productivity, Creativity, Parenting, and Politics in the 21st Century by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cory Doctorow continues to impress me and many others with his thoughts on what it means to be a creator in the 21st century. This collection of essays (which you can download for free on his website) brings together a lot of his different works that he's written for his blog and elsewhere about the nature of copyright, open source living, and censorship. At its center are questions about how do we as a culture decide to empower creators new and old and what does it mean to create in a technological world wherein replication can happen without significant costs. Doctorow makes a strong case to move in the direction of openness for all creators, believing that this will be more empowering than limiting. What's also interesting about this book is the ways in which Doctorow illustrates how he is often collaborative with not just other writers but with fans and people who appreciate his work. In total, the book provides a great look at how one can think about being a creator in a very mindful and engaging way.

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Review: Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success

Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success by Angela Duckworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Duckworth's book has gotten to be pretty popular by now and it's no wonder given the topic and her means of exploring it. The first challenge of this book is that the reader is likely to be constantly comparing their experience to those in the book and wondering about their level of grit. That's ok--just let it happy. But more importantly, Duckworth's book provides a range of ways of understanding what grit is and how it can be developed in everyone. It's a powerful book to help us think differently about what it is that we look for in developing youth as well as how we foster better outcomes for everyone. If you are looking for a way to understand some of the ways in which we as humans can do great things or want a better sense of how one can improve their approaches for self development or development of others, this would be an ideal book to start with.

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Review: Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better

Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better by Clive Thompson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thompson dives into the ongoing debate about how technology is impacting humankind with a fascinating look at how the relationship between humans and technologies tends to improve and enhance outcomes in many different ways. He doesn't negate that technologies has limitations and can make things more complicated (e.g. we can now record everything but find nothing), but there are many more areas that he argues well that technology enhances life and meaning for people from the way we play games to how we understand and approach education to how it improves our ways of communicating. It's not necessarily a particularly better book than many of the other ones out there that make similar arguments but it does introduce some different research and materials than what's been said.

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Review: Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Pedagogy of the Oppressed Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For those not in the realms of education or social justice, you may not have stumbled upon this book. But for those interested in such subjects (as well as politics, cultural studies, criminal justice, etc), then this is one of those essential classics. Freire's theoretical and complex book may come in well under 200 pages, but it's still an intellectual journey. Reading and processing it reminds me of reading Foucault's History of Sexuality Volume 1; I might have had better luck learning the native language it was published in and then trying to read the book. It's dense but particularly chapter's two and three (there are only four chapters), I found to be the most useful. Basically, Freire explains a way to reconsider how teaching and learning is done at a time and in a place where teaching was entirely one-directional and more part of a system of regulating minds than encouraging actual growth. His writing is sometimes a bit to etherial and he could do better with more grounded examples or clarifications throughout, but as a work that makes an educator think about how he or she will look to those seeking education, this book will change one's philosophy of education.

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Review: Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It

Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It by Kate Harding
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In many ways this is a brutal book for many people. For victims of rape and sexual assault, it confirms and explains what many of them have gone through in a culture that pays mere lipservice to victims of such violence. For those who have never been directly involved, it's an eye-opening exploration into how many of us are likely to be complicit in sexual violence in our culture. But equally important, it's an eloquent and strong critique that gives victims and allies the means of which to see the pernicious assumptions about sexual violence in our culture and to call it out when we see it. Harding's accessible prose, wit, and drawing out of the different aspects of American society that create a rape culture blend together so well that the reader is left speechless. It's one of those reads that I feel that everyone should read and even if it people disagree with it, we'd be a better society for having read.

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Review: Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It

Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It by David M. Ewalt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was always fascinated with but never got the chance to explore playing Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games. I did fall in love with role-playing games on video game systems and the fantasy genre for books, films, and comics so there was always a hope and interest in getting the chance to play, but the possibility never availed itself. So reading Ewalt's book on the topic was informative and inspiring for the most part. His history of the game from its birth to the current state of role-playing games coupled with his own personal journey towards, away, and back again to role-playing game made for a great story. He does slip, a bit problematically I think, into representing that game as borderline addicting, a cliche that is long overdue and annoying when it comes to games and gaming in general. But if you can disregard that element, the book has some great explanations and considerations about the power and engagement that role playing games.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.