Reading Fanatic ReviewsCurrent Events and Culture
Conversational French Dialogues by Lingo Mastery
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, 24 Symbols, Mondadori, and Angus & Robertson
Conversational French Dialogues*
Not Sure If You’ll Learn…
This is the first time I have been introduced to this way of language learning done by Lingo Mastery. I was put off from the start by the English mastery of the writer. I found that the English in the introductory section as well as the English translation of the French conversations to be odd and somewhat stilted. Occasionally, wrong words were used. Does anyone in an English-speaking country refer to teeth cleaning as descaling or plaque as calculus? The poor English made me question how good the conversational French part would be. If there are so many issues in the English sections, would there be such issues in the French parts that I wouldn’t really have enough knowledge to know? I did take French in high school and college, but I still can’t say whether the French is correct. I would definitely be leery of trusting the French to be accurate, though, given what the English is like. I thought some choices for the conversational topics were odd. Some make complete sense, like ordering food and drinks or asking for directions. But how often would an English speaker going to France need to ask about pet grooming or pest control?
This book definitely is not for a beginner learning French. You certainly have to have a background in French to appreciate some of the nuances. I can’t imagine this being someone’s first (or even second) introduction to the French language; it would be akin to reading gibberish. And, of course, you would have no idea how to pronounce these French words unless you bought the audiobook version as well—or had previous knowledge of French. There is no pronunciation guide given. I wonder, too, if the book would have been better organized if it had each sentence in the conversation in both French and English one right below the other, so you can more quickly assimilate new words as well as associate phrases between the languages. It can be a pain to flip back and forth between Kindle pages. All in all, I found myself disappointed in this book, though I would probably refer to it if I was planning to go to a French-speaking country. Although, I would not be reading about dog grooming!
Crises of Democracy by Adam Przeworski
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Thalia, Mondadori, Angus & Robertson, Indigo (Chapters), and Bol.de
Crises of Democracy*
Thought-Provoking Book about the Past, Present, and Future of Democracy
If you are concerned about the state of democracy, both in the United States and in the mature democracies of this world, you will not find quick answers and immediate solutions in this book. Indeed, the title of the book shows its focus, that is, crises and disasters. This book looks at the past and current crises of democratic states to give us context for what is happening around us and give us a snapshot of the modern state of democracy. He does go into some detail describing both crises and democracy in the introduction before delving into democracy’s somewhat perilous and full-of-strife past. I found his discussion of the vulnerabilities of democracy and the two conditions that most threaten it, unbridled and inherently unequal capitalism coupled with theoretical political equality and the quest for political power, particularly enlightening and much food for thought. He then goes on to talk about current events in modern democracies that could be considered crises. Given the troubled history of democracy, it is easy to follow the thread that shows us how we got to where we are. What is less clear is how we move on in the future, though the author does give some thoughts on the future of democracy. In the Trump and Brexit era, many books are taking a deeper look into these events and what may have brought us to this place, but I appreciated the author’s willingness to simply present facts (and opinions) and ask insightful questions. The book is certainly thought-provoking, and I think it is an important book for those of us who care about democracy and our future to read.
What Is Wrong with Twitter by Kurt Seapoint
What is Wrong with Twitter*
If You’re Really into Twitter, Read this Book
I will admit that I find myself surprised at all this book contains. I have been a member of Twitter for a couple of years, but I’ve only used it sporadically. This book reveals a world of tweetdom that I had no idea existed. If you want to use the platform to your best advantage, you might find this book, which details both recent changes in Twitter and how to best leverage the platform while staying compliant and community friendly, a helpful and engrossing read.
Speaking of Feminism by Rachel S. Seidman
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, Thalia, Mondadori, Angus & Robertson, Indigo (Chapters), and Bol.de
Speaking of Feminism*
Modern Voices of Feminism
This book is a collection of social history interviews of women who are prominent either nationally or locally in the feminist movement. For some reason, the author restricts herself to women between the ages of 20 and 50. This is such a fascinating read that I find myself curious about what the interviews would have looked like with women who are older feminists. After all, 50 is still relatively young in general and particularly if you look at the broader history of the feminist movement. In fact, those around the age of 50 would have been children during the feminist wave of the late 1960s and early 1970s. So I would have loved to have seen interviews with the still-living women who might have been a part of that particular wave. That said, this book does give fascinating insights into the lives and minds of 25 unabashed feminists. Their individual journeys are both unique and universal. With three decades looked at, are there are definitely generational differences between how they came to feminism and how they approach it now. I like how the book looks at feminism’s past, present, and future.
With the #MeToo movement, women’s marches, pink hats, and media leaders like Samantha Bee, feminism and all that it means is at the forefront of national consciousness quite often. As it well should be, because these issues matter to more than the just over 50% of the population that women are.
Augmented Mind by Alex Bates
Gets You Thinking about Artificial Intelligence… and Beyond
Like most of us in the modern world, I imagine, I am both intrigued and wary about the concept of artificial intelligence. So, when I found this book at a book review site that I use, I was curious, as the title seemed to suggest something more than straight-up artificial intelligence would be discussed. I am delighted to say that I was right. The book is written by an author who is a pioneer in artificial intelligence, and in this book, he offers a different and potentially heartening future of AI and IA. The book first details his own history with the concept, starting with finding an intriguing article on neural networks when he was a teenager to the sale of his AI firm and beyond. The first part of the book is a collection of his thoughts on why we need to see a broader role for both humans and machines in the future of AI, a future in which he sees as a hybrid of both that could allow for more than we can even envision today. The author decidedly does not want us to be wary of the future, and he thinks that intelligence augmentation is the path to that better future. He details the history of both artificial and human intelligence in a way that is both compelling and fascinating in what it could mean for the future both artificial and human intelligence. As one who is somewhat skeptical by Nature, I found myself drawn to his vision of the future. A cracking good read for anyone who is intrigued (or leery) about the future of AI… or who simply likes to future think.
Ask a Suffragist by April Young Bennett
Ask a Suffragist*
Wonderful Addition to the Canon of Feminist Literature
If you have an interest in women’s history or feminism, this book is a wonderful addition to others on the subject. It brings together the voices and stories of the suffragists who made forward strides for gender equality and ultimately triumphed in getting women the vote in the US in the early 20th century, though the stirrings of the movement began nearly a hundred years before. In this book, the author poses a set of questions that is as valid today as it was back in the early days of feminism, like how do we make our voices heard, what is men’s role in feminism, how do we balance family life with activism, and how do we break the glass ceiling. In some of my own reading and documentary watching, I’ve become familiar what did deeper stories of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but some of the other women referenced in this book were less well-known to me; I enjoyed learning both about their perspectives on feminism and their lives.
For each question, the author begins with quotes and then an extended essay that draws upon the lives and the activism of the suffragists using a lot of their own words (and others about them), pulling from their public and private writing. I found many of these stories, like the courtship of Lucy Stone, the Bloomers, and the first National Woman’s Rights Convention, quite compelling. Like us, these women lived complex lives, and they struggled against a society that vilified them and tried to make them go away. While women’s lot has much improved, there is still so much that needs to be done for true equality, as the current fight for equal wages for equal work and for respectful treatment in the workplace and beyond will attest.
The author has done an incredible amount of research. There are just shy of a thousand citation notes! Using so much of the living record adds an immediacy to this work that makes it more than just essays on feminist questions. Instead, it brings us into the real lives and work of these path-breaking women. The author does include a timeline in the back, which is handy.
Whether you have an interest in feminism from a historical standpoint or from what it could mean to us today, you will most likely find much of interest in this well-researched and inspiring book.
Truth in Our Times by David E. McCraw
Truth in Our Times*
Big, Smoochy Kiss for the First Amendment
I am not quite sure what I was expecting when I chose this book, but it was a far more compelling and insightful read than I imagined it would be. I was drawn to it because I wanted to see what the lawyer for the New York Times had to say about the topic since The Times seem to have been embroiled in a battle with the Trump Administration since the president’s inauguration. I was curious about The Times side of the story.
While the book does spend a good portion discussing The Times versus Trump, it is far more than that. It is a riveting combination of legal history about the First Amendment as well as an in-the-moment professional memoir of the fight to keep one of our most sacred amendments to the law of the land intact. Trump is not the only one looked at here; any politician who has attempted to diminish the First Amendment up for scrutiny.
The author pulls you into the surprisingly fascinating world of a media lawyer to a big-name news outlet that is regularly called out by those in the highest government positions. He calls himself a “raging moderate,” which is a phrase I love and might adopt myself. You get the sense that he not only appreciates the First Amendment because it is a part of his job, but instead, he sees it as one of the cornerstones necessary for a true democracy. Shame on those who want to dismantle this freedom, either by blunt force or slowly chipping away at it. The book presents a solid case about why it is essential to have free speech and free press in a democracy. It lays bare the dangers if they are flouted or threatened.
I thought, perhaps, when I started reading the book that it might be an interesting subject but a boring read (legalese, you know), but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Because the author keeps us mostly in the moment, only summarizing occasionally, it was as much of a page-turner as any good thriller fiction. I think those on both sides of the debate of fake news should read this book to get a glimpse of how the First Amendment works from the inside, not just as an ideal. It gives you a better sense of the forces at work in the country today and what is at stake. It’s a big smoochy kiss to the First Amendment, and I think it needs a little lovin’ at the moment!
American Exceptionalism and American Innocence by Roberto Sirvent and Danny Haiphong
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Kobo, Scribd, and Angus & Robertson
American Exceptionalism and American Innocence*
Beware of Loss of Innocence if You Read this Book
This book was not quite what I had imagined it to be. In much of my nonfiction reading lately, I’ve been wanting to read about the concepts of fake news and truth as these are often topics of discussion in these modern times of the Trump Administration. While this book mentioned fake news on the cover, it goes far deeper than to expose current media. In fact, it looks at the course of all of American history through the lens of American exceptionalism and American innocence. The authors posit that these two concepts have created atrocities that the average American cannot appreciate.
First, let’s define the terms. American exceptionalism is the idea that we, as Americans, believe that we are the pinnacle of what democracy represents; how we create democracy, therefore, must be the right way. We believe we are exceptional and right. The concept of American innocence follows from this. According to the authors, this is what kicks in when we try to resolve the cognitive dissonance of seeing our sometimes morally abhorrent actions as laudable. We see these actions as such either because we believe the ends justify the means or we no longer see former reprehensible actions as relevant.
The book of explorers a variety of topics through these twin lenses, everything from Trump to slavery to Broadway’s Hamilton to global-reaching humanitarian efforts by celebrities. The book is always harsh in its appraisal of our past and present actions. This is not an easy read. In fact, I would say once it has been read, it cannot be unread. You may very well find yourself starting to see current issues and statements made by the government and the press through the eyes of exceptionalism and innocence. I think it is good to have an awareness all these issues, but I think the message could have been delivered in a less we suck way. A more kind and forgiving presentation—rather than a strident, shaming one—might be more apt to persuade and empower.