Book Review: Vox

voxVox
by Christina Dalcher
Dystopia
326 pages
Published August 2018

I felt like I was reading a horror novel instead of a dystopia. The first third of the book, specifically, was enraging. It’s the setup – the explanation of how the world is now, and how it came to be that way – that made me have to set the book down twice and walk away to calm down.

The book is the story of Dr. Jean McClellan, cognitive linguist. The forced silence is particularly painful for her, a former scientist who was working on a cure for people who had brain injuries or strokes affecting the Wernicke area of the brain, where we process language. She was about to start restoring language to people who had lost it, only to have it stolen from her and every other woman in the country.

The book opens on Dr. McClellan being asked to return to her work, because the President’s brother suffered a brain injury while skiing and can no longer understand language. As one of the most important advisors to the president, the government needs him. In return for the removal of both her bracelet and her daughter’s, she agrees, hoping to find some way to sabotage the work.

Vox sets out a sequence of events that seems far too feasible for comfort. The religious right extends its foothold from the Bible Belt to more and more of the country, pushing a return to “traditional family values” while methodically stripping freedoms from women and LGBT people. Women’s passports are surreptitiously cancelled, schools are split and classes on Christian theology introduced to the boys’ schools. Girls’ schools consist of very basic math (so they can continue to do the grocery shopping and cooking!) and a ton of home ec. Sewing, Cooking, Housekeeping. LGBT people are sent to prisons/camps unless they marry someone of the opposite sex and produce kids. Basically, it’s the right wing’s dream world.

It’s a horrifying scenario. Even given all the dystopia I’ve read, this book rocked me. It definitely belongs in the league of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Power. My only complaint is I wish the ending had been a little more drawn out, and explained the fallout in a bit more detail. Other than that, though, amazing book.

From the cover of Vox:

Set in a United States in which half the population has been silenced, Vox is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than one hundred words per day, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial. This can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning . . . 

Soon women are not permitted to hold jobs. Girls are not taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words each day, but now women have only one hundred to make themselves heard.

. . . not the end.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

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Book Review: One Person, No Vote

one person no voteOne Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy
by Carol Anderson
Nonfiction/Politics/Civil Rights
270 pages
Published September 2018

I already knew a lot of the basics of voter suppression before picking up this book – the closing of polling centers, limiting early voting, requiring photo IDs that a lot of people don’t have, locating polling centers in hard-to-get-to places. I did not, however, fully grasp the extent of it. This book does an amazing job of supplying details and statistics without just being a mess of numbers and dates.

The book is much shorter than it appears – the last hundred pages are notes, index, and acknowledgments. Mostly notes, giving sources for every statistic and event and court case that is mentioned in the book. It still took me the better part of a week to read it; nonfiction always slows me down, and keeping this much information organized in my brain slowed me down further. I can’t just sit and read it straight through like I would with fiction!

The information in this book is appalling. From the history of voter suppression, the insidious ways that politicians have devised to keep minorities from voting, it’s bad. I learned where the term “gerrymandering” came from – some politician (governor, I think) of the last name Gerry made a district shaped like a salamander when he was making a new district map. Hence, a gerrymander.

Another horrifying factoid:

In 2016, the Economist Intelligence Unit, which had evaluated 167 nations on sixty different indicators, reported that the United States had slipped into the category of a “flawed democracy,” where, frankly, it had been “teetering for years.” Similarly, the Electoral Integrity Project, using a number of benchmarks and measurements, was stunned to find that when it applied those same calculations in the United States as it had in Egypt, Yemen, and Sudan, North Carolina was “no longer considered to be a fully functioning democracy.” Indeed, if it were an independent nation, the state would rank somewhere between Iran and Venezuela. The basic problem in North Carolina was that, despite the overt performance of ballots, precincts, and vote tallies, legislators and congressional representatives were actually selected for office rather than elected.

And that was in 2016! There have been so many more voter suppression laws passed in the last two years, I shudder to think of where we rank now. (Or where North Carolina ranks!)

As a white woman in a very blue state, I personally face little barrier to voting, but the book has still given me a new appreciation for the act. I’ve actually already voted – I took advantage of the week of early voting here in Maryland. If you’re a US citizen who hasn’t voted yet, Election Day is this Tuesday, November 6th, and for the sake of those that can’t, please, PLEASE GO VOTE. If you don’t have transportation to your polling place, Uber and Lyft are running free rides to and from polling places on Election Day.

Read this book and vote against voter suppression.

From the cover of One Person, No Vote:

In her New York Times bestseller White Rage, Carol Anderson laid bare an insidious history of policies that have systematically impeded black progress in America, from 1865 to our combustible present. With One Person, No Vote she chronicles a related history: the rollbacks to African American participation in the vote since the 2013 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Known as the Shelby ruling, this decision effectively allowed districts with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice.

Focusing on the aftermath of Shelby, Anderson follows the astonishing story of government-dictated racial discrimination unfolding before our very eyes as more and more states adopt voter suppression laws. In gripping, enlightening detail she explains how voter suppression works, from photo ID requirements to gerrymandering to poll closures. And with vivid characters, she explores the resistance: the organizing, activism, and court battles to restore the basic right to vote to all Americans as the nation gears up for the 2018 midterm elections.

Book Review: Fear

fearFear: Trump in the White House
by Bob Woodward
Current Events/Nonfiction/Investigative Reporting
357 pages
Published September 2018

First we need to address this cover. It’s a great cover, but I hate it. I hate having it in my house, on my coffee table, glaring up at people in the room. It’s creepy. It’s perfect for this book, but I will be very glad to give the book back to the library and have that cover out of my house!

That said. It was interesting comparing this book to Fire and Fury, which I read at the beginning of the year. Woodward is a very respected journalist, and you can tell how much he tries to remain objective and simply report the things that happened. Fire and Fury definitely had a slant to it. Fear doesn’t have a slant, but it still comes off as negative. Which says something about the entire administration when trying to be objective still results in the president shown as a “f*cking moron,” (Tillerson’s words) or a “f*cking liar.” (John Dowd’s words.)

The thing that really struck me about this book was learning how much Trump wanted to pull completely out of South Korea. Even when he was told we could detect a North Korean missile launch in 7 seconds from South Korea, as opposed to 15 MINUTES from Alaska, (out of a 45-minute missile flight!) he still didn’t see that as a good enough reason to stay in South Korea. (You know, treaties and allies aside.) His ignorance and stubbornness is mind-boggling.

It took me three or four days to get through this book, which is much slower than my normal single-day read time. The subject matter is just that weighty, though Woodward’s writing style is fantastic. This is the first Woodward book I’ve actually read, but I want to look up his backlist now, because he’s really good at not putting me to sleep!

One other difference from Fire and Fury – there were things in the book I didn’t know. (And I pay attention to the news.) There wasn’t really anything in Fire and Fury that was surprising to me. Fear did have new information.

It’s a frightening, weighty book, so don’t read it if you’re not prepared for that. But it’s good.

From the cover of Fear:

THE INSIDE STORY ON PRESIDENT TRUMP, AS ONLY BOB WOODWARD CAN TELL IT

With authoritative reporting honed through eight presidencies from Nixon to Obama, author Bob Woodward reveals in unprecedented detail the harrowing life inside President Donald Trump’s White House and precisely how he makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies.

Fear is the most intimate portrait of a sitting president ever published during the president’s first years in office. The focus is on the explosive debates and the decision-making in the Oval Office, the Situation Room, Air Force One and the White House residence.

Woodward draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, meeting notes, personal diaries, files and documents. Often with day-by-day details, dialogue and documentation, Fear tracks key foreign issues from North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East, NATO, China and Russia. It reports in depth on Trump’s key domestic issues, particularly trade and tariff disputes, immigration, tax legislation, the Paris Climate Accord and the racial violence in Charlottesville in 2017.

Fear presents vivid details of the negotiations between Trump’s attorneys and Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russia investigation, laying out for the first time the meeting-by-meeting discussions and strategies. It discloses how senior Trump White House officials joined together to steal draft orders from the president’s Oval Office desk so he would not issue directives that would jeopardize critical intelligence operations.

“It was no less than an administrative coup d’etat,” Woodward writes, “a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.”

Book Review: Headscarves and Hymens

headscarves and hymensHeadscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs A Sexual Revolution
by Mona Eltahawy
Nonfiction – Women’s Rights/Feminism
240 pages
Published 2015

Headscarves and Hymens was the third book in Book Riot’s Persist: Feminist Book Club, which is what brought it to my attention. We’ve been reading roughly two chapters a week and talking about it via Instagram Live. It’s certainly not my favorite venue to use – for one, I can’t seem to find a setting to let me know when someone goes live on Instagram, so I have to set myself an alarm. (I missed one book club session because I just forgot.) I also can’t seem to watch the videos after they’re over, so I can’t catch up on what I missed. I much prefer the Twitter chat that YA_Pride does. I can go back through those, and still have conversations with other people that read the book (and follow them!) where I can’t do that easily with Persist.

But you’re here to hear about the book, not the club! HH is short, under 250 pages, with seven chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter is basically an essay on a topic, from driving (“Roads Through the Desert”) to veiling (“Black Veil, White Flag”) to purity and Female Genital Mutilation (“The God of Virginity”). Eltahawy is well-researched, mixing anecdotes and statistics to show us both the big picture of what is going on, as well as making it personal and hard-hitting.

I’m glad we read it in small chunks – some of the chapters are harder than others (the chapter on FGM and sexual “purity” was particularly rough). Spacing it out let the information really sink in before moving on to another topic. Additionally, we were reading it at the same time as the Kavanaugh hearings, and that was also….unsettling.

This is a really eye-opening book, but be sure you’re emotionally prepared to read it. It’s probably healthier to set it down and walk away for breaks, rather than to read it straight through.

From the cover of Headscarves and Hymens:

The journalist Mona Eltahawy is no stranger to controversy. Through her articles and actions she has fought for the autonomy, security, and dignity of Muslim women, drawing vocal supporters and detractors. Now, in her first book, Headscarves and Hymens, Eltahawy has prepared a definitive condemnation of the repressive forces – political, cultural, and religious – that reduce millions of women to second-class citizens.

Drawing on her years as a campaigner for and commentator on women’s issues in the Middle East, she explains that since the Arab Spring began in 2010, women in the Arab world have had two revolutions to undertake: one fought alongside men, against oppressive regimes, and another fought against an entire political and economic system that represses women in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and other nations.

Eltahawy has traveled across the Middle East and North Africa, meeting with women and listening to their stories. Her book is a plea for outrage and action on their behalf, confronting a “toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend.” A manifesto motivated by hope and fury in equal measure, Headscarves and Hymens is as illuminating as it is incendiary.

Book Review: The Notorious R.B.G.

notorious rbgNotorious R.B.G.
by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
Biography
195 pages
Published 2015

This was EXCELLENT. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of my feminist heroes (I have a long list, with biographies I should read!) and this book is great. It’s VERY easy to read, and was never less than fascinating. It includes some of her dissents, with commentary for the layperson written by various lawyers. There are photos of her at various points in her life; her face now is so familiar that seeing pictures of her as a young lawyer was really neat.

The only thing I didn’t like was that it’s not completely linear; there’s a chapter about her 56-year-long marriage to Marty Ginsburg, ending with his death, and then the next chapter starts talking about Marty’s reaction to something! So that was slightly odd and I had to flip back a few pages to find the actual dates for what I was reading about now.

Other than that, though, the book was really interesting, and talks about the cases she argued before the Supreme Court before becoming a justice, her nomination and senate confirmation to the Court, and the cases she’s seen since becoming a justice. It talks about how Ruth and Marty balanced their work and home lives, in a way that was definitely not normal at the time; Marty was a full partner in parenting and housework, taking over all of the cooking and the 2 am infant feedings because it was easier for him to get back to sleep!

Overall, this was a really neat look into the life of one of the U.S.’s most prominent female figures right now. Justice Ginsburg has been a tireless fighter for equality for her entire career, and this book reveals some of her motivations and thought processes. I loved it.

(This is also my PopSugar 2018 selection for “Book by two authors.”)

From the cover of Notorious RBG:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame—she has only tried to make the world a little better and a little freer.

But nearly a half-century into her career, something funny happened to the octogenarian: she won the internet. Across America, people who weren’t even born when Ginsburg first made her name as a feminist pioneer are tattooing themselves with her face, setting her famously searing dissents to music, and making viral videos in tribute.

Notorious RBG, inspired by the Tumblr that amused the Justice herself and brought to you by its founder and an award-winning feminist journalist, is more than just a love letter. It draws on intimate access to Ginsburg’s family members, close friends, colleagues, and clerks, as well an interview with the Justice herself. An original hybrid of reported narrative, annotated dissents, rare archival photos and documents, and illustrations, the book tells a never-before-told story of an unusual and transformative woman who transcends generational divides. As the country struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stands as a testament to how far we can come with a little chutzpah.

Book Review: Fire and Fury

fireandfuryFire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
Michael Wolff
Political Documentary/Tell-All
310 pages
Published January 2018

It took me a while to get my hands on this one – I was watching the scandal around its release, and laughed my butt off when the publisher scorned Trump’s threats and published it early instead. My copy finally came in at the library, and I’ve been reading it off and on for the last couple of weeks. I normally read books far faster than that, and it’s not a long book, but I kept having to set it aside for numerous reasons.

It could have benefited from more thorough editing – between a couple of typos, some odd grammar, and a phrase being repeated twice in the same sentence (I think the sentence may have originally been broken across two pages, so no one realized, and then in the final formatting it was all together) – it definitely had some technical problems.

It was also just infuriating. Especially the beginning, where so many of the campaign staffers don’t think Trump SHOULD be president, but still campaign for him because it’s impossible that he could win, so what does it matter if they don’t think he should? That was incredibly frustrating to read.

Honestly there wasn’t a lot in this book that I didn’t already know, but I’ve been following politics pretty closely since early 2016. If you haven’t, and you’re looking for a good way to get up to date on current American politics, this could be a pretty good place to start. (Don’t stop at this book, though, there’s a lot that it doesn’t cover.)

I can’t say that anything really surprised me. Everything sounds like what I’ve come to expect from this administration. The book is decent, but anything terribly salacious from it has been pulled out and splashed across the news at this point, so if you’ve been paying attention, I don’t actually think it’s worth spending your time on. It’s certainly not the groundbreaking INSIDE LOOK THAT NO ONE’S SEEN HURRY AND READ IT that it was advertised as.

Incidentally, this works as a book title with alliteration for my PopSugar 2018 Reading Challenge.

From the cover of Fire and Fury:

With extraordinary access to the West Wing, Michael Wolff reveals what happened behind-the-scenes in the first nine months of the most controversial presidency of our time in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

Since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, the country―and the world―has witnessed a stormy, outrageous, and absolutely mesmerizing presidential term that reflects the volatility and fierceness of the man elected Commander-in-Chief.

This riveting and explosive account of Trump’s administration provides a wealth of new details about the chaos in the Oval Office, including:
— What President Trump’s staff really thinks of him
— What inspired Trump to claim he was wire-tapped by President Obama
— Why FBI director James Comey was really fired
— Why chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner couldn’t be in the same room
— Who is really directing the Trump administration’s strategy in the wake of Bannon’s firing
— What the secret to communicating with Trump is
— What the Trump administration has in common with the movie The Producers

Never before in history has a presidency so divided the American people. Brilliantly reported and astoundingly fresh, Fire and Fury shows us how and why Donald Trump has become the king of discord and disunion.