On ‘Collusion’ by Luke Harding

Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump WinCollusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win by Luke Harding

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ho.Ly. Shit.

I am certainly no fan of the 45th president’s administration. Their policies, let alone their continual vitriol and mockery of basic decency and decorum, leave much to be desired. That said, I’d like the office of the president to remain in tact and unscathed or untarnished beyond repair. I want my own country to succeed even if an administration I have very little respect for is at the helm.

But,… if even a fraction of this book is true, 45 and this entire moment in history will make Nixon and his cronies look like saints. It will make Watergate seem like spilled milk rather than a betrayal of the highest order by those with a Constitutional duty to uphold the rule of law and act in the best interest of their country with honour and integrity.

Luke Harding, already a respected investigative journalist and a hero of mine given his work with Edward Snowden, weaves together and unpacks an incredibly complicated tale of how the current occupant of the White House in DC represents the ultimate long-game played out by the KGB and now FSB and Putin. Taking Christopher Steele’s dossier apart bit-by-salicous-bit and carefully examining each layer as though it were a slowly rotting onion, leading inevitably to the demise of the US and the Western alliance as Putin’s ultimate revenge on the collapse of the Soviet empire, this piece of journalism reads like a spy novel. Unfortunately, it’s not reporting fiction, but actual events and describing real people. It’s hard to imagine the pieces, each one of them, being refuted at this point. And, to be honest, I’d like to think that some of it is proven untrue, if only because the truth is simply too chilling and awful.

If anything, this book and it’s portrayal of collusion by the now most powerful person on the planet who may merely play the role of the Kremlin’s puppet, along with members of his cabinet, senior staff and more than a few other Congressional and DC insiders, make clear that Mueller’s investigation must be protected. Whatever the outcome. And, at all costs. Should nothing come of it, then fine. So be it. But, there are too many convenient coincidences. Too many odd overlaps. Too many moments which might be explained away as innocent yet appear anything but. And, if true, those individuals must face the punishments — judiciously and publicly — they deserve.

I’m too young to really remember Nixon’s resignation or the death spiral of his administration. But, I’m wide awake and all-too-aware for the current shit show, and can only wonder how long it will take us to recover. Whatever rabbit holes this all leads us down, we can only hope that we come out of it better equipped to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.

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On ‘Running Is My Therapy’

Running Is My Therapy: Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Fight Depression, Ditch Bad Habits, and Live HappierRunning Is My Therapy: Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Fight Depression, Ditch Bad Habits, and Live Happier by Scott Douglas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The last month has been enormously stressful and emotional. Highs and lows abound, and many a run has been completed as I quietly (or not) choked back tears. After each of those runs, however, I felt better, either less stressed or if not less emotional at least less immediately in need of a good long cry.

In Running Is My Therapy, Scott Douglas confirms much of what I already knew to be true about running. At least what running means and does for me. Running, these past few years, has certainly helped me stave off the pits of despair and keep that little black dog at bay, both those periods induced by life’s curve balls and trials, but also my own life-long battle with depression. Yet, I am not a life-long runner–it’s only within the last four or five years and certainly the last year when I’ve become a consistent runner. Running truly IS my therapy. In many respects, lacing up and hitting the trails helps me employ various tools I learned from cognitive behavioural therapy years ago.

Backed by a plethora of references and research documenting the benefits to running, this is an incredibly insightful read. But, for me, the most important message was relatively simple, although often repeated. That isn’t a complaint. Running when we least want to is often when need to the most and when we gain the most benefit. Indeed. I’ve experienced this myself several times during this past month.

In the midst of life’s turmoil at the moment, I had to take about 10 days off–unfortuante timing related to an appointment for fresh ink. As my skin healed, I really, really, really wanted and needed to run during those 10 days. My husband and I try to walk every evening in addition to my regular running schedule. But, running is when I truly empty my head. And, too much noise was accumulating during that 10-day break. My first run back was long and labourious, and at times the urge to quit was strong. I kept telling myself to just go a bit further. Make it through the next interval. Focus on X rather than Y. Still, after those 12 plodding kilometres, I felt better and better able to simply cope with what comes next.

Now, I understand that a) I’m not alone in this mental reset benefit from running and b) the science behind it. My rational brain appreciates that immensely, particularly the latter.

Obviously, for the darkest times and those facing the darkest of thoughts and deepest pits of despair, seeking professional help is best if not altogether necessary. And, I’ll keep this in mind should I sink into a particularly black period in future. For now, I’ll continue my planned runs, forgive myself when I don’t quite achieve what I intended and use the mental and physical strength running provides me to push onward through life’s bittersweet lemons.

One step at a time.

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On ‘The Fire Next Time’

The Fire Next TimeThe Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book, and just about anything else written by James Baldwin, remains relevant. It’s spooky and altogether tragic that pieces written in the 1960s reflect the current realities lived by black communities and individuals in the US today.

Eloquent. Honest. Brutally clear and well-reasoned throughout, The Fire Next Time, much like all of his works, should be required reading for us all. They also serve as a stark reminder of the as yet unfulfilled promises of the Civil Rights era.

We will never move beyond the divisions we face now if we do not honestly and openly sit down and listen to one another and attempt to understand what it means to grow up black in the US.

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On ‘The Corpse Exhibition…’

The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of IraqThe Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m honestly not entirely sure what I think about most of these short stories.

This was a compelling read, primarily because it provides a glimpse into a world I most likely will never fully understand or comprehend. War-torn Iraq both before and after the 2003 invasion by the US remains utterly incomprehensible for its violence and chaos. And, these stories paint rather vivid pictures of the realities lived by Iraqis against it all.

War is hell, and the hell lived by Iraqis is rather beautifully captured in this collection. It is not an easy read, but it is compelling.

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On ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen Macdonald

H is for HawkH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Grief affects each of us in unexpected ways. Each death of someone we love leaves marks we rarely anticipate or understand fully until time passes and healing begins leaving scars where wounds once festered.

This incredibly personal book details not just one woman’s grief following the unexpected death of her father, but her journey through that grief through the careful development of a bond with and training of a goshawk. Knowing nothing of falconry, it’s a fascinating read. But, more so, it’s an intimate and brutally honest narrative, both recounting her own misery and despair at losing her father and describing her failings related to her bird. (And, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)

Replace her goshawk with whatever pet who you’ve owned or bonded with during a particularly difficult period in your own life, and it’s completely understandable how Ms Macdonald begins to assume the personality of her goshawk. She lives, breathes and sees the world through Mabel’s eyes completely distancing herself from the world beyond. It’s an escape from the reality that left her heartbroken. And, utterly relatable.

This is a beautiful read, if rather forlorn and bereft at times. Yet, given her eventual emergence from the very deepest depths of heartache, it’s also full of hope. She emerges from the darkness and dark times. And, all of us can use a little reminder of what is possible these days.

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On ‘Notorious RBG’

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader GinsburgNotorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always reminded me a bit of my grandmother. Quiet. Proper. Often wearing a stern look or serious expression accentuated by flawless hair and pearls. And, retorts at the ready which leave all present to hear them slack-jawed and cowering at their own ignorance. In my family, we often repeated a mantra, ‘Don’t cross Grandma’. I would imagine some variant exists for RBG amongst those nearest and dearest.

Notorious RBG is a must-read for any self-respecting feminist or equal rights activist (Is there really a difference between the two?) needing a beacon of hope and a dose of ‘get up and go’. And, RBG the woman is that beacon during very dark times. This woman. Unlike her, rather than seeing nine women justices on the highest bench in the land, I’d like to see nine RBGs at SCOTUS.

Oh, to dare to dream.

Detailing her life as a young newlywed law student, then graduate of Columbia Law (top in her class) unable to land a job, then law professor (needing to hide her second pregnancy)…, she understands not just in theoretical terms but from lived experience what perceived differences mean and they affect us as individuals and groups. To her, it isn’t simply about disregarding those perceived differences and the ideal roles of men and women; it’s about those institutionalised cateogories and erasing the various barriers and injustices they unfairly impose upon us. Her weapon of choice, however, is the law and the US Constitution. And, this woman plays the long game.

As I was finishing this brilliant, inspiring book this morning, I wept. Not because of anything particularly troubling that appeard upon the page at that precise moment. But, because so many of us are simply too tired to continue fighting for and working towards what we believe is right and just. If this tiny woman could become one of the most inspiring memes of our times, we—who have benefitted from her tireless efforts in classrooms, courtrooms and on the bench—can certainly work just a little bit harder to solidify and make permanent those giant gains she made for us.

RBG inspires for many reasons. And, we do her and all others who have blazed various trails a disservice by simply giving in to despair because it is too damn hard.

One of the appendices features a list of ‘How to be like RBG’. It reads:

  • Work for what you believe in
  • But pick your battles
  • Don’t burn your bridges
  • Don’t be afraid to take charge
  • Think about what you want, then do the work
  • But then enjoy what makes you happy
  • Bring along your crew
  • Have a sense of humour
  • I’ve got my to-do list sorted then.

RBG. However long she graces the Supreme Court and this world, it won’t be nearly long enough to satisfy me. I’ll still want more. But, her legacy. Long may it guide and inspire us all. And, may we all have red hot pens at the ready to sharpen and hone our words. Because words and how we wield them truly matter.

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On ‘Assata: An Autobiography’

Assata: An AutobiographyAssata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book that makes me uncomfortable, but for all of the right reasons. If we are ever to confront racism head-on, we need to listen to and attempt to understand the effects persistent and institutionalised racism have on those it targets.

Assata, the book (and the woman who wrote it), is raw and unfiltered in many ways. Her anger and frustration and rage at social norms and the systemic racism that imprisoned her again and again and again and the criminal justice system who offered her anything but justice justify that rage.

Her rage should make us all examine why her anger and words make us squirm. It should force us to examine our own biases, and begin to shift our thinking and our actions.

This book made me think. A lot. And, I’ll undoubtedly continue thinking about my own privilege, my own biases and my own prejudices because of her words. This book will also make me more inclined to call out injustice of any kind when confronted with it, whether directed at me or others, friends / family or strangers.

#blackhistorymonth

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