Two Rush-inspired reads

My boyfriend is a huge fan of the band Rush, and as a drummer himself, he particularly loves Neil Peart. He is also not a big reader, so when he suggested that I read a few books that he’s really loved over the years – both Rush-inspired – I definitely wanted to check them out. While I didn’t love either book, I can see how a Rush fan certainly would love them both. Here’s a few thoughts on these two books.

Clockwork Angels (Clockwork Angels, #1)Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson
Published by ECW Press

This is a sort-of steampunk, sort-of dystopian novel that was inspired by Neil Peart’s lyrics in the Rush album Clockwork Angels. It’s basically about a teenage boy who grew up knowing that the Watchmaker (almost like the Wizard from The Wizard of Oz) has put the world in such a perfect ordered way so that everyone can have peace and happiness. Everything is done in a prescribed way, every day is exactly like the one before it, and as long as everyone follows the rules and their routines, everything will be great. But when he’s on the cusp of becoming an adult in this society, he goes on an adventure that changes everything for him, as he learns that the way he grew up is not the only way of doing things, and he can live in a different society, with a different way of life, if he chooses to leave his father and everything he knows behind.

I liked the concept of Clockwork Angels enough and the way the world is explained by Anderson was interesting and gave me a feel for what’s going on within it. The main character, Owen was extremely ignorant about the world around him, which, although annoying, was of course by design so it made sense. Also, I would have liked to see a bit more character development within Owen, which could possibly have made me want to read future novels in this (I think) series. The story is well-paced and definitely held my interest – at no point did I consider giving up on the book, even though I found the writing and the story itself just okay.

The main thing I can say about Clockwork Angels is that I can totally see how a Rush fan would absolutely love it. There are tons of Rush lyrics sprinkled throughout the book – it would almost be like a scavenger hunt for a Rush super-fan to attempt to find them all. And now that I know some of the songs from the Clockwork Angels album, I can see how a fan of the band would love that the concepts of the album were expanded into a novel. Ultimately, this is a conceptual book more than anything else, and while it works on that level, either you’d like it if you’re a Rush fan and probably just not get it if you are not.

Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing RoadGhost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road by Neil Peart
Published by ECW Press

When Neil Peart was in his mid-forties, his nineteen-year-old daughter was in a fatal car accident. A year later, after being unable to cope with her grief, his wife Jackie succumbed to terminal cancer and also died. Ghost Rider is Peart’s memoir chronicling the year he spent by himself, driving around Canada, the US, and Mexico on his motorcycle, attempting to grieve and heal from the pain of losing the two most important people in his life.

Can you imagine losing a child, and then watching your spouse die just a year later? I certainly cannot, and I think these two things are the two things in the world most people fear the most. This was an interesting memoir because the way Peart chose to deal with his grief is definitely unique, but he knew himself well enough to know that this was the only way he could possibly heal and maybe move on to some other life he couldn’t dream of at the time that he started his journey. I liked reading Ghost Rider as a memoir on grief and found it interesting how Peart was able to heal himself throughout this journey.

While I liked the book, I can see how Rush fans must absolutely love it. Peart is a relatively private person and doesn’t like giving interviews or meeting fans, so for a Rush fan to get this much of an intimate look inside his thoughts, to get to know him this well, must be a pretty great thing. I would recommend Ghost Rider to any Rush fan or anyone who is looking for a memoir around the grieving process.

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White AmericaTears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
Published by St. Martin’s Press

This is a difficult one to “review” because there really can be no argument that what is being said here is in dispute, nor can we argue that it’s not being said in an eloquent, thoughtful, intellectual way by Dyson. He is a minister, so yes this is called a sermon, and it’s written as a sermon, but there is SO MUCH here that the format really shouldn’t matter. Anyone who says racism isn’t a problem in this country is either unable or unwilling to see the truth that is all around all of us, evidenced in every single institution we have, implicitly and explicitly woven throughout the fiber of the United States. As a white person, it may be uncomfortable at times to hear and see the truth of what we have done to create and cultivate racism in this country, but the truth is that we have. To ignore it is only furthering the problems and issues that centuries of hatred and ignorance have created.

There is so much in this book, so much meat to mull over and think about and discuss among friends/colleagues/family, that I think Tears We Cannot Stop falls into the category of must-read. But it’s one of those books that you can’t just read through, think about for a few minutes, and move on from. It’s one that needs to sink in, to fill your brain and consciousness, to reread passages over and over until the implications of what Dyson is saying are perfectly clear. This is not an easy read, but a critically important one. Don’t miss it.

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in BetweenTalking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham
Published by Ballantine Books

I’m not sure what to say about Talking as Fast as I Can that hasn’t been said by other reviewers – if you like Lauren Graham, especially if you are/were a fan of Gilmore Girls, this is a must read. She has tons of funny stories and reflections and some more serious thoughts about the show itself, what happened leading up to and during the filming for the Netflix 10 years later series, and all kinds of other stuff about her life, fame, etc. Graham narrates the audio herself and it is a fantastic performance, so definitely consider that if you’re an audio fan. The book was exactly what I expected, but in the best possible way. As I said – a must read if you’re a fan of the author or of Gilmore Girls.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Scrappy Little NobodyScrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
Published by Touchstone

From the publisher:

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

I am a huge fan of Anna Kendrick. Pitch Perfect is one of my favorite movies, and I just love her style, her attitude, and she seems to have a great personality. Yes, she’s a celebrity, but she seems very down-to-earth to me and like someone I could be friends with.

I’m glad I read this book because it confirmed everything I already felt to be true about Kendrick. She’s funny, but not silly funny, she has a sharp, smart witty sort of humor that fits with my style. I enjoyed getting to know her and found her charming and interesting along with funny.

I can’t say there’s anything revolutionary in the book in terms of the actual content, but I found a lot of her stories interesting and certainly entertaining. There’s a glimpse into show business, some behind the scenes commentary on some of the movies she’s done, and a lot about her personal experiences growing up – and while some of the stories are pretty random, there were some pretty hilarious ones in there, too.

What I would say as far as criticism is that I didn’t feel enough of a flow to the book – while I realize this is an essay collection and not a classic memoir, it felt a little all over the place without anything connecting each of the different sections to each other. Other than that, though, I really enjoyed this journey through Anna Kendrick’s brain and I’d highly recommend it if you are a fan of hers.

One other thing – I listened to the audio of Scrappy Little Nobody and I absolutely recommend that if you do choose to read the book. Kendrick narrates herself so it really feels as though she is talking to you, letting you in on her life stories and the way her brain works. I really enjoyed the experience and it for sure enhanced the overall quality of the book for me.

Final verdict – if you are an Anna Kendrick fan, this is a must-read. If you’re not familiar with her, you probably wouldn’t enjoy the book too much.

Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman

Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent ChildhoodGreetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman
Published by Harper
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours

From the publisher:

When Claire Hoffman is five-years-old, her mother informs her and her seven-year-old brother Stacey, that they are going to heaven—Iowa—to live in Maharishi’s national headquarters for Heaven on Earth. For Claire’s mother, Transcendental Meditation—the Maharishi’s method of meditation and his approach to living the fullest possible life—was a salvo that promised world peace and enlightenment .

At first this secluded utopia offers warmth and support, and makes these outsiders feel calm, secure, and connected to the world. Claire attends the Maharishi school, where her meditations were graded and she and her class learned Maharishi’s principals for living. But as Claire and Stacey mature, their adolescent skepticism kicks in, drawing them away from the community and into delinquency and drugs. Eventually, Claire moves to California with her father and breaks from Maharishi completely. A decade later, after making a name for herself in journalism and starting a family, she begins to feel exhausted by cynicism and anxiety. She finds herself longing for the sparkle filled, belief fueled Utopian days in Iowa, meditating around the clock.  So she returns to her hometown in pursuit of TM’s highest form of meditation — levitation. This journey will transform ideas about her childhood, family, and spirituality.

Greetings from Utopia Park takes us deep into this complex, unusual world, illuminating its joys and comforts, and its disturbing problems. While there is no utopia on earth, Hoffman reveals, there are noble goals worth striving for: believing in belief, inner peace, and a firm understanding that there is a larger fabric of the universe to which we all belong.

This book sounded interesting to me because I am always up for learning about a different religion, especially one considered to be strange or, even better, cult-like to outsiders. I knew almost nothing about Transcendental Meditation before reading this book, so in that area this was a total win for me, as Hoffman does a pretty good job familiarizing the reader with the religion and explaining why they do certain things and what it’s all supposed to mean. I was fascinated by this religion, and specifically loved when Hoffman went into details about the different rules and rituals, the symbolism of different aspects of the faith, and some of the history behind the faith and its leader, Maharishi. This was by far my favorite aspect of the book – every time she started getting into details about the faith and the practice of meditation that seemed to be the bedrock of that faith, I was riveted to the page, eager to take in more and more information.

Unfortunately, that’s kind of where the love for this book starts and stops with me. I didn’t really connect to Hoffman, so that made it really difficult for me to latch onto any specific aspect of her personality OR care about her story. I was interested, yes, but did I care what happened to her? No, not at all, which is a definite issue when reading a memoir – for me, at least, I kinda have to give a crap about the person telling me their story. And in this case, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t.

The other issue I had was that when I turned the final pages, I was still asking myself why. Why did Hoffman choose to write this book? What story was she really trying to tell? Was the point for her to explore how and why people blindly follow religious figures, even to their personal detriment? Or was the point to say that, sure this religion is kind of messed up and weird, but lots of people who follow it are normal and just looking for a spiritual path, and actually they might be right about doing it this way? The fact that I can’t really tell where Hoffman falls on the wide spectrum between those two ideas is strange to me, and I don’t enjoy not understanding what the whole point of her telling this story actually was. Maybe this is a weird thing for me to be annoyed by, but it really turned the book into one that I just couldn’t fall in love with.

So. I was definitely interested in parts of Greetings from Utopia Park, but overall the book did not thrill me. I’m not sure if I’d read more from this author, but I’m glad I got the chance to learn about a faith practice that I had no previous knowledge about before picking up the book.

Missoula: Rape and the Criminal Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College TownMissoula: Rape and the Criminal Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Published by Doubleday

From the publisher:

Missoula, Montana is a typical college town, home to a highly regarded state university whose beloved football team inspires a passionately loyal fan base. Between January 2008 and May 2012, hundreds of students reported sexual assaults to the local police. Few of the cases were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical.

In these pages, acclaimed journalist Jon Krakauer investigates a spate of campus rapes that occurred in Missoula over a four-year period. Taking the town as a case study for a crime that is sadly prevalent throughout the nation, Krakauer documents the experiences of five victims: their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the skepticism directed at them by police, prosecutors, and the public; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them. These stories cut through abstract ideological debate about acquaintance rape to demonstrate that it does not happen because women are sending mixed signals or seeking attention. They are victims of a terrible crime, deserving of fairness from our justice system. Rigorously researched, rendered in incisive prose, Missoula stands as an essential call to action.  

I have been putting off writing this review because I don’t even know what to say. It is absolutely insane to me that we still have to convince people that there is only one reason ever that a woman is raped: because someone decided to rape her. Not because she drank too much, not because she let a guy she didn’t know well walk her home, not because she wore tight clothes, not because she started fooling around with a guy and decided to stop, not for these reasons or any other reason besides the fact that someone chose to rape her. The fact that culturally and within the criminal justice system it is regularly assumed that the woman did something to “cause” her own rape or that the responsibility is on the woman somehow to prevent being raped is absolutely fucking ridiculous and I cannot believe we are still talking about it. I’m sickened by the whole conversation.

That being said, this book is incredible. To say that it is disturbing and sad and infuriating is also true, and to some people it may be very eye-opening. Nothing in the book was a surprise to me because I have read a lot about and studied how rape is treated in our culture and within the criminal justice system so I knew exactly what to expect while reading the book. But I was still amazed by Krakauer’s ability to get to the bottom of the issue, the real problem of rape that exists on college campuses specifically (although rape occurs everywhere, of course, the book specifically focuses on one college campus).

There’s not a whole lot more I need to say here, other than please read this book. To say it is a must-read is one of the biggest understatements ever. Oh, and the audio is pretty great, too.

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on The Decision Not To Have Kids edited by Meghan Daum

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on The Decision Not To Have KidsSelfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on The Decision Not To Have Kids edited by Meghan Daum
Published by Picador

From the publisher:

One of the main topics of cultural conversation during the last decade was the supposed “fertility crisis,” and whether modern women could figure out a way to way to have it all–a successful, demanding career and the required 2.3 children–before their biological clock stopped ticking. Now, however, conversation has turned to whether it’s necessary to have it all or, perhaps more controversial, whether children are really a requirement for a fulfilling life. The idea that some women and men prefer not to have children is often met with sharp criticism and incredulity by the public and mainstream media.

In this provocative and controversial collection of essays, curated by writer Meghan Daum, sixteen acclaimed writers explain why they have chosen to eschew parenthood. Contributors Lionel Shriver, Sigrid Nunez, Kate Christiensen, Elliott Holt, Geoff Dyer, and Tim Kreider, among others, offer a unique perspective on the overwhelming cultural pressure of parenthood.

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed makes a thoughtful and passionate case for why parenthood is not the only path in life, taking our parent-centric, kid-fixated, baby-bump-patrolling culture to task in the process. What emerges is a more nuanced, diverse view of what it means to live a full, satisfying life.

Before I talk about my thoughts on this essay collection, allow me to list the contributors: Kate Christensen, Tim Kreider, Paul Lisicky, M.G. Lord, Rosemary Mahoney, Sigrid Nunez, Jeanne Safer, Lionel Shriver, Geoff Dyer, Danielle Henderson, Courtney Hodell, Anna Holmes, Elliott Holt, Pam Houston, Michelle Huneven, and Laura Kipnis. I wanted to list them all because there are some big names here, and besides the fact that I was personally interested in the subject matter of these essays, I was really excited to read more from some authors I already loved.

If you know me well, you know that I am 99% sure that I don’t want children. My husband is 100% sure that he does not. The reason for my extra 1% is that I am thirty-two and well aware that there is a tiny possibility that I could change my mind. I HIGHLY doubt that, but I never want to say never. I hate hate hate that in my life, I constantly have to defend this choice. To friends, relatives, but most annoyingly – to strangers. I constantly get upset and sometimes angry that people have the audacity to ask me, on a regular basis, “why don’t you want kids?”, always accompanied with a look of disdain and judgment. As if I would go up to a pregnant person or a parent and say, “why do you want kids?” with that same terrible judgy face. I would never. That’s simply not appropriate, not something you do. Ever. But why people think they can do the opposite to me is infuriating, to be honest. I’m over it and I’m over having to answer for myself, to defend my choice, as though it’s a choice that even needs defending. Can you see I’m passionate about this topic? Anyway. That is the reason that I chose to read this book.

So I really enjoyed and appreciated all of the essays in this collection. Some I liked better than others, of course, but overall the quality of writing was top-notch and I loved learning each author’s personal story about why he/she chose to not become a parent. I read another review of the book that criticized the fact that several of the authors initially wanted children but sort of “fell into” not having any, which the review argued made the fact that they were childless not really their choice, but I disagree. At the end of the day, there are a lot of ways to become a parent, and if someone really wants a child, even after years of “falling into” childlessness, there is adoption, surrogacy, all kinds of options. If you end up not becoming a parent, I believe there was a choice made somewhere down the line to not become a parent.

My favorite essays dealt with the larger issues around not becoming a parent in today’s society, some of the stuff I said above was a common theme, and I connected to those essays more than some of the ones that were more focused on the author’s personal story. Danielle Henderson’s was my favorite, but there were several others that I deeply connected with.

I very highly recommend this book, not just to people who don’t want to become parents. If you have a family member or friend who has chosen not to be a parent and you feel perplexed by that decision, or judgy about it (it’s okay, I get it, we all judge), this would be an excellent choice. Not everyone who doesn’t have kids came to that decision for the same reasons, but this essay collection gives a nice variety on what those reasons might be. I loved it.