Bad Blood (CBR11 #25)

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I picked this one up based on its very good Cannonball Read reviews and because I needed a book of non-violent true crime for the 2019 Read Harder Challenge. This book did not disappoint. I admit, some how I had missed the entire Theranos story as is broke in 2016, so I can to this narrative entirely unspoiled. I was in for quite the narrative ride.

Bad Blood is the story of Elizabeth Holmes and the company she founded at 19 as a Stanford dropout, Theranos. Holmes intended to develop ways to accurately test blood from simple finger pricks with small amounts of blood as opposed to intravenous draws and provide miniaturized machinery that would allow patients the ability to test at home and away from the corporate lab giants. Instead Holmes perpetrated a 15 year ever evolving con that has seen federal fraud charges laid at her feet and other high-ranking members of her company.

John Carryrou broke the story following a tip in 2015 and spent the next year going toe to toe with Holmes and her legal team with the support of his employer, The Wall Street Journal. Following his coverage in the paper, Carreyrou then turned the saga into this book, carefully laying out each step in the saga of Theranos. This is Carreyrou’s first book, and while it is award winning, it also shows here and there his journalistic background – the chapters often have the feel of articles building one on the next. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t, the Theranos story goes from one mind-numbing bit of subterfuge to the next.

The story reads as so outrageous that I actually went and watched the HBO documentary The Inventor to see if it played out as nuts on screen… and while it does it just reiterated to me how well Carreyrou built the tension and how extensively he traced how the secrets and lies built on each other to lead to a truly unbelievable if it weren’t true story.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

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Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game (CBR11 #24)

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One of the weird things about me is that I *enjoy* attending graduation ceremonies. I can understand why others don’t like attending them – they can be very long and require us to sit in uncomfortable locations but there’s something about watching people I love accomplish something and be recognized for it that makes my heart happy. Because I’m a human full of contradictions I hated attending my own graduations. All of them were pure torture.

One of the quintessential parts of graduations is the commencement addresses. I’ve read one before but I wasn’t expecting to read another. Abby Wambach’s Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game isn’t itself an address, but it is based on her inspiring viral 2018 commencement speech to Barnard College’s graduates. It was a unique audience for Wambach to address – Barnard is a women’s college. Wambach chose to focus her speech to these fellow women around one important point:  we are not the little red riding hoods of fairy tales, we are wolves who must be present to keep the environment balanced.

Wambach lays out in this short work her eight-point plan, her rules, for empowering women and engaging in team behavior (don’t fall for being the token at the table, don’t fall for the false competition we are put into with each other). Each point is couched in a story from Wambach’s life and experience on and off the soccer field. The rules are simple and forward facing, and the entire tone is positive and inspiring, and easy to start incorporating into daily practice.

  • Create your own path
  • Be grateful for what you have AND demand what you deserve.
  • Lead now–from wherever you are.
  • Failure means you’re finally IN the game.
  • Be FOR each other.
  • Believe in yourself. Demand the ball.
  • Lead with humanity. Cultivate Leaders.
  • You’re not alone. You’ve got your Pack.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Educated (CBR11 #23)

A couple of months ago I read American Like Me and focused my review on how the various contributors wrote and reflected on the way their lives hopped boundaries or existed on the edge of multiple cultures. In Educated Tara Westover is doing a deep dive of her own, very personal, journey of leaving one culture (that of her father) and exploring the cultures of more mainstream Mormonism and mainstream America. It is not a perfect book, and to my mind Westover chose an interesting time in her life to reckon with her lived experience to this degree and this publicly, our early thirties are an interesting time to take stock of life so far but Westover’s is far from typical. It was a beautifully crafted, captivating read that is having a very needed conversation about self-invention and the importance of actual truth and how we see it, even if the author sometimes backs away from her own arguments.

Westover’s experiences growing up were very tightly controlled, and it left her with enormous gaps and misunderstandings of how the rest of the world works which she explores in her memoir. Sometimes these differences in our lived experiences made it difficult for me to relate, but battling with guilt, expectation, and hope did ring very true to me. Her parents are strict survivalists in Idaho and Westover’s father believed (and likely continues to believe) that the coming of the end times was imminent which was very likely fed by an undiagnosed mental illness (I’m not a professional, I can’t weigh in definitively) as well as being  conspiracy theorist. These things directly impacted the kind of childhood Tara had: the children were kept out of school, members of the family rarely sought professional medical care, and virtually no measures were taken to protect anyone from the physical dangers surrounding the way they live their lives and earn their livings.

Educated is Westover’s account of how she went from growing up in that environment with little education and none of it formal, to being a PhD student at Cambridge and how it all comes together to form her life as it is now. But it is also more than a travelogue of joining academia – if it had stayed on that level I probably would only be rating it 3 or 4 stars because it wouldn’t be uncovering universal insights. Instead, Westover weaves her various narratives together to tell the larger story of how she discovered herself and began to trust her own interior voice. At the heart of her story is just what we mean when we say “an education”.

As she moved ever more away from her life in Idaho and her family’s compound on Buck’s Peak and into the world of mainstream Mormonism and the larger American mainstream Westover accumulates several “educations”, that of traditional schooling but also the informal educations we pick up along the way that helps us see ourselves and others. That is what her educations got Westover –  the ability to see her own life through new eyes and the will to change it in ways that honor her newly trusted inner-voice.

Unf*ck Your Habitat (CBR11 #22)

Unf*ck Your Habitat by Rachel  Hoffman

I’ve intended to read this book for some time. Down in the depths of my depression fellow Cannonballer Siege mentioned on Facebook one of Rachel Hoffman’s tips to Unf*ck Tomorrow Morning – put a little toilet cleaner in the bowl before bed. It was such a small thing, but cleaning my bathroom had become my Impossible Task and it helped get that under control that week and lift the cloud of depression just a little bit.  I knew instinctively that any author who would a) think to write that help category and b) get that specific was someone who could offer some needed help to me.

I swear I knew at one time how to clean, or maybe I didn’t. Maybe I’ve always just really known how to neaten and do a cursory clean? I don’t know, and I’m sure Ale could likely weigh in having been my roommate for several years. Either way – keeping a clean and organized home has been a struggle my entire adult life. So, a book written to conquer just that for “regular” people like me who would just like to be comfortable in a healthy living space that doesn’t expect us to be independently wealthy (no suggestions of thousand dollar closet systems) or minimalist enthusiasts featured in home décor magazine seemed perfect.

Most of what Hoffman writes is just what I needed to be reminded of: be gentle with yourself if you are struggling with a mental or physical barrier, take cleaning on as a continuing project because mess happens always, tackle the easy things every day, on a big clean don’t be afraid to slay your personal dragon – you’ll feel super accomplished having gotten the big thing done. She includes lists of core supplies that will clean nearly everything, checklists for your “basic” cleaning as well as lists of the “10 things you forgot to clean” by location, which was truly eye opening for me, so many things I have missed.

I don’t agree with everything, and sometimes feel Hoffman doesn’t follow through with her own ethos of finding what is right for you. She’s hardline on a few things, one of which I can reluctantly see the benefit of (making your bed every day) and one that I absolutely cannot (closed storage). To the closed storage thing – organized shelves and closets soothe me, and closed doors do not. I am never going to artificially close off shelving or close all closet doors (heck… I only have one closed closet door out of five in my apartment right now and that one is only closed so that another door can open) so that tip will be jettisoned. But, some version of the 20/10 (20 minutes of activity, 10 minutes of break to avoid marathoning and also get your butt moving in the first place) will be more formally added to my repertoire. Perhaps this book has similarly helpful things for you, I certainly hope so.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Dating You/Hating You (CBR11 #21)

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This is a case of its me, not the book. I see all the positive things in this book that have made it so well reviewed at Cannonball Read but I still just can’t get myself to settle in and enjoy it. After nearly a month off and on I’ve given myself permission to walk away for now. I might come back to it at some point – I really do like the characters and plot framework the authors are working with – but now is not that time and there are too many other books perched on my to read pile waiting for me.

So what is the book about? We meet Carter and Evie in Los Angeles, Carter has recently relocated and Evie has lived there all her life. They meet at a Halloween party hosted by a mutual friend. There is instant attraction and chemistry. When they realize they work as talent agents for competing firms they agree to remain friendly but not pursue anything further… until they do. Following a truly fantastic hey first date, their two talent agencies are merged. Suddenly Evie and Carter are working together under the same, horrible boss and competing against each other for their livelihoods before their relationship has a chance to solidify and begins to falter.

Dating You/Hating You gives great commentary on the subtle, sexist behavior that women must deal with in the workplace. Evie is an established professional in her early thirties with a reputable career. Her boss, Brad, is the type of grade A sexist jerk too many of us are familiar with and Evie just wants to survive him. Brad undermines her and keeps Evie perpetually set up for a fall, waiting for the sword of Damocles. Everyone knows Brad has problems working with women, and no one is surprised that he is the boss or that he is pitting Evie against the younger and less experienced Carter, but women are simply supposed to deal with it. Almost every woman who has ever held a job has been in a situation like this, and by capturing it as part of an otherwise classically good hate to love romance the authors are doing important work.

Like I said, this book is good, it just wasn’t for me right now.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Normal People (CBR11 #20)

It has been a long time since I absolutely demolished a novel in less than 24 hours. I had waited months for my turn to come up on the library hold list for Normal People so a soon as I officially finished Good Omens I ignored the other books sitting on my kitchen table and settled in to see what jeverett15 and dAvid experienced that led them both to rating it so highly. I very quickly understood and am myself rating it five stars, rounding up.

This book has a seemingly simple premise: rich disaffected girl and popular working-class boy date, break up, and orbit each other through their college years. It sounds simplistic broken down to that level, because if it only existed on that level it would be a very simple novel that I would have maybe read but likely would have walked away from. Rooney instead imbues real, honest, and accurate depth into her characters and uses their on again, off again relationship to poke at larger truths.

Normal People looks at the ways we hurt ourselves and other people, and both at the same time. The plot often hinges on miscommunications and misunderstandings, but Rooney stays away from my least favorite trope – she has her characters talk to each other, and want to communicate, and often try and fail. We experience with the characters the gulf between what is meant and what is understood and how that small difference can color years of our lives. There is betrayal, love, and how sometimes love isn’t enough to overcome our hurts and the walls we build between ourselves and the world around us, and even around the person we love most in the world.

When Marianne and Connell are close, they’re seemingly entirely in sync, but when things go wrong and they go their separate ways they are often destroying parts of themselves and their lives, and they seem incapable of seeing it. They can’t seem to stay away from each other either, needing some relationship with the other to serve as a touchstone to who they each are at the core of their beings, only feeling truly themselves when in relation to the other.

Rooney zeroes in on outwardly insignificant moments that are truly some of the most significant times in our lives and examines them, both from an incredibly close angle but also from a sometimes sterile distance. Mechanically she is choosing her phrasing, her language, her pacing, and her settings to do the heavy lifting but also leaves room for her narrative to breath, for the reader to bring themselves to the novel. As jeverett15 said in their review, she can break your heart in record time, and she does it with crisp, sparse language and emotional honesty. She writes with such precision and clarity that the shared territory becomes what matters and you are able to extrapolate the rest and find the empathy within for characters you don’t always think of in a very positive light.

The novel leaves the reader with a vague sense of what happens next, or what could happen next and I can see in that detail and so many other ones where dAvid felt that this is a harsher, more adult version of Eleanor & Park. Both books explore abuse, complex familial dynamics, fear of success, of feeling othered and both Rowell and Rooney write dynamic characters with finesse. It’s a very different feeling book to me, much more sorrowful and darker, but Normal People does feel like the continuation of a conversation Eleanor & Park was having with its audience.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines) and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Good Omens (CBR11 #19)

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I often avoid reviewing a Book Club book before our discussion to save what I have to say until the conversation, or because I’m not sure what I want to say and am hoping the discussion will help clarify it for me. When I do review ahead of time I find myself leaving amorphous reviews without much substance, reviews that I look back on and think, but what did I really get out of that reading experience?

I’m hoping not to fall into either camp with Good Omens. I’ve read a bit of both Pratchett and Gaiman’s solo works and on the whole am a fan of both, so when the time came around to read this book I wasn’t worried about liking it, and my faith in my understanding of the writers’ styles and my affection for them wasn’t misplaced. I did enjoy this book. I enjoyed it even as I clocked the things about it that I didn’t like, that show just how far both these authors grew, and how our understanding about how to exist in the world without doing harm to others has grown.

I love a story of friendship, a narrative built around an adventure that isn’t just the hero’s journey (lord save me from pointless hero’s journey tales) and Good Omens delivers on that in spades. Its also a very telling satire on the human condition and how we interact with the larger forces of the universe, however we choose to define them. Its far from perfect, and I’m sure we’ll get into that in a few days during the #CannonBookClub discussion, but for right now I’m just going to luxuriate in the fact that the book exists at all as a testament to friendship, both on the page and behind it.

This book was read and reviewed (and book club mavened) as part of the chartiable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society.