THE DRONE EATS WITH ME; A GAZA DIARY by Atef Abu Saif discussion

In 2014 Israel conducted an invasion of Gaza that lasted 51 days and killed 2,145 Palestinians and injured over 11,000 people. The Drone Eats With Me by Atef Abu Saif is a day to day journal of this war that will give you a first hand look as to what it is like to live in these conditions.

This is a book that I only learned of it’s existence after scrolling through Instagram. Since I actively seek out books like this, I couldn’t understand how this one had flown under my radar. Regardless, this is a book that is absolutely necessary to read. In the age of pilotless drones and continual asymmetrical warfare where wealthier nations use their superior fire power on populations of poor, impoverished people – this book provides a perspective that *we* don’t often get.

As much as I’d like to talk about how important this book is, how tough it is to read – how it provides a window into what life is like when any moment could be your last. What I’d like to take a moment to talk about is this books reception. For the most part, the reviews of this book are quite excellent – but then you’ll come across a few that vehemently denounce this book as being “too subjective”, “not presenting both sides” and some of these “reviewers” will even toss out the ‘anti-semitic’ grenade in order to divert attention away from this book and cast it in a false light.

the droneWhy I’m pointing this out is that this book, as it talks about life in a war zone simultaneously, due to the war being discussed, exists in another type of war all together; an information war.  This information war is just as lop-sided as the war being talked about in the book. The same side that flies the drones are working diligently to make sure that they control the narrative of what is going on. The brutal honesty of The Drone Eats With Me – which includes foot notes that direct you to news stories about events that are described in the book – is tough to combat, so in many reviews about the book, blanket allegations are launched at it by people on a payroll to do so.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon in almost every platform that discusses this book. I would not be surprised if a comment is written below this post tries to do much the same.  There are several legitimate critiques of this memoir; ones that refer to perhaps the grammar and issues that arose due to translating the book. Those reviews are not what I’m referring to. The ones that state that the book is “too subjective” and doesn’t talk about ‘both sides’ of the war then go on with an attempt to justify the terror that Saif experienced – those are the reviews written by people on a government payroll. The absurdity of their reviews is that would they make these demands of Anne Frank or any other person writing about their experience during a war? No.

This is one of the few books that I’ve read that is a manifestation of the idiom that books are weapons in the war of ideas. The strength of this book is it’s honesty, its humanity and its ability to convey the terror of living under conditions of total warfare. It allows you to “see” a side of this story that rarely is conveyed in the media; a side that is taboo to talk about.

Add this to your personal library – and I strongly recommend giving it a read.

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LIKE EATING A STONE; SURVIVING THE PAST IN BOSNIA by Wojciech Tochman discussion

Like Eating A Stone by Wojciech Tochman is beautiful yet horrifying overview of the aftermath of the four years of war that tore apart Bosnia. Over 100,000 people – primarily men – were rounded up and massacred, their bodies dumped in mass graves during the war. This book follows the survivors of the war – primarily women – as they try to piece their lives back together. Much of this book revolves around the process of identifying the remains of the people buried in mass graves.

like eating a stoneThe war began in 1992, a war that when I was a child, I recall hearing about on television every evening after school. The break up of Yugoslavia was extremely violent, with most of the people killed being civilians. Campaigns of genocide were being waged, it seems, from both sides. This book brings back the horror of that war while it explores the aftermath.

Due to how recent this war was, as I grew up I began to encounter many people who fled the Balkans to the US as refugee’s. Those who lived through this war and escaped, in my experience, do not like speaking about this time. Like Eating A Stone helps to depict the environment that those survivors left. It is a moment in history that certainly should not be forgotten.

This is a tough book that should be read with caution – but read none-the-less.

#Thursday @Quotables

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“The story is told that when Joe was a child his cousins emptied his Christmas stocking and replaced the gifts with horse manure. Joe took one look and bolted for the door, eyes glittering with excitement. ‘Wait, Joe, where are you going? What did ol’ Santa bring you?’ According to the story Joe paused at the door for a piece of rope. ‘Brought me a bran’-new pony but he got away. I’ll catch ’em if I hurry.’ And ever since then it seemed that Joe had been accepting more than his share of hardship as good fortune, and more than his share of shit as a sign of Shetland ponies just around the corner, Thoroughbred stallions just up the road.”

— Ken Kesey (Sometimes a Great Notion)

THE TERRORIST’S SON; A STORY OF CHOICE by Zak Ebrahim discussion

The Terrorist’s Son by Zak Ebrahim is a short memoir about how Ebrahim learned to turn away from the violent legacy left to him by his father. Ebrahim is the son of a man who was initially jailed for targeting and shooting a Rabbi. While in prison, Ebrahims father also helped to orchestrate the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

terrorists-son-9781476784809_hrThrough out this short book, Ebrahim describes how he grew up in a violent environment – one that encouraged the types of violence that his father was arrested for. He describes that after the arrest, his mother attempted to try and keep the family together but after awhile she finally got a divorce and married a man that was physically abusive to her and her children.

One way that Ebrahim attempts to break free from this environment is by getting a job. He is able to get a job at an amusement park which allowed him safety from his abusive step father and the ability to be around diverse people. Ultimately this becomes a source of enlightenment for Ebrahim where he is able to formulate for himself a choice – and the choice he makes is to turn away from violence and pursue peace.

The Terrorist’s Son is a short, quick read that is designed to offer a moral lesson. The lesson provided in this book is that violence is a choice – and uses the narrative of growing up with terrorists. The lesson in this book however needs to be expanded. Violence doesn’t only exist with religious zealots, it is a prevalent part of American culture. The book would have done well if it were expanded to discuss this. Most readers of this book probably don’t have notorious terrorists as fathers and wouldn’t consider what Ebrahim is saying applies to them. There is a certainty though that a majority of the readers of this book do live in a society that celebrates violence, a lesson on turning away from the glorification of war would have been nice.

As I’ve suggested, the downside of this short book is it’s brevity – it’s inability to expand a bit on the topic that is being discussed which is to make a choice to turn away from violence and pursue peace. I’d be interested to know how the author views the numerous wars and conflicts the USA is engaged in around the world. These are situations where the nation has made a choice to turn to violence to “solve” various problems – at the cost of countless of innocent lives.

BINGE by Tyler Oakley discussion

My evaluation of Binge may be elevated due to reading it immediately after Connor Franta’s A Work In Progress, but I found it to be hilarious and excellent. For me, Binge was more akin to one of Bill Bryson’s memoir-esque books which featured humorous anecdotes from the authors life.

With Binge I was laughing quite frequently.

binge.jpgSome people will find the humor to be very mature – but Oakley is not out to make himself look like some angelic, perfect person. The crudeness of some of the humor made the book relateable.  Perhaps the best part of this book is that the stories in Binge did not hinge on knowing much about Oakley’s YouTube career. This, I feel, was one of those books written by a famous person that was done correctly.

There were a few sections in the book that I found annoying (for instance that list of 20 things Tyler would do if he were Beyonce for a day) but these annoying parts were short and when I re-read this book in the future, I’ll know to skip them.

Overall, Binge was a joy to read, and if Oakley decides to write another book in the future – I’ll pick that one up too.  I recommend Binge IF you can tolerate adult humor – otherwise, skip it.

 

A WORK IN PROGRESS by Connor Franta discussion & review

I’m not going to sugar-coat this; this “memoir” is absolute shit.

ABSOLUTE SHIT. *insert shit emoji here*

I read this in one sitting and my first reaction was to announce to my roommate that this particular book was “trash”.

work in progressI honestly didn’t know what I was expecting when I decided to read this “memoir” of a 22 year old (at the time when the book is written) YouTube celebrity. This book is nothing more than page after page of cliche’s stacked on top of each other – then Mr. Franta has the naive audacity to try to insinuate that he has some sort of “wisdom” to impart at his young age.

What he believes to be ‘wisdom’ the rest of the world would call “arrogance”.

I TRIED to find something redeeming about this book… something, anything that I could say about it that was positive, but I drew a blank.

Unless you are a fan, I’m not sure who would enjoy this book. My dislike for this “memoir” has nothing to do with Connor being a YouTube celebrity, in fact I actually enjoyed Tyler Oakley’s memoir BINGE so much I was spending my nights at work recounting parts of Oakley’s memoir to my co-workers because they were so damn funny.

What A Work In Progress lacks is any real introspection. Franta frequently glazed over events in his life and had a tendency to try and use his book as a platform to preach the “stay positive” gospel to his readers. Although he labels this book a “memoir” it can more accurately be described as a terrible rendition of a self-help book.

Maybe this is what his audience wanted, but for the general public over the age of, lets say, 30 nothing in this book is even worthwhile.

Skip this monstrosity.

I’m breaking my rule of not rating non-fiction books with this one and saying that this is a blatant one out of five stars.

THE BRIGHT HOUR; A MEMOIR OF LIVING AND DYING by Nina Riggs discussion

Nina Riggs is diagnosed with breast cancer – initially considered to be rather benign in nature, the spot of cancer resist’s treatment and progresses into stage four, The Bright Hour is her story.

the-bright-hour-9781501169359_hrThe book begins when Nina is initially diagnosed with breast cancer and her initial method to cope with it – learn more about it. She remarks that when she tells people that she has breast cancer, many people respond by telling her that they know someone who also had the disease and had survived. The book is broke up in four parts representing each stage of cancer. The first part is rather melancholy in a way. There is optimism that the chemo therapy will take care of the cancer. You get a sense of Nina’s apprehension and hope throughout this section as she tries to deal with her diagnosis and initial treatment with humor and educating herself.

The book continues on with this mixture of hope, humor and heartache as the cancer takes over Nina’s body. Through the book Nina makes numerous literary references to a distant relative, Ralph Waldo Emerson (a quote of his from which the title of the book is derived) and also references to Michel de Montaigne, a french philosopher that Nina admires. Running parallel to Nina’s affliction with cancer is the story of her mother who is also has a fatal disease.

When I began The Bright Hour it wasn’t easy for me to get in to. The first half of the book felt very sporadic and directionless. I went into this memoir not knowing exactly what it was about, aside from a woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The further I got into the book, as the cancer progressively got worse the narrative becomes narrower and more focused as Nina begins to use her writing as a way to come to terms with the inevitable.

Almost 8 years ago, my own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember the apprehension and constant worry surrounding the disease as my mom went through treatment. The uncertainty as to whether the chemo was working. The constant sickness my mom had and, eventually, the slow recovery. I could recall all of this as I read Nina’s story. This memoir really made an impact when it made me consider what would have happened if my mom’s cancer had also resisted treatment and went terminal like Nina’s.

When I got to the section of the book titled Stage Four, it got tough for me to turn each page. I could not help but imagine my own mom in that very place, trying to come to terms with a terminal illness. There was that terrible ‘what if’ thought floating through my mind that I kept super-imposing over Nina’s story.  I believe this is why The Bright Hour resonates so well – many people know of someone who have had (or currently has) cancer.

There is no happy ending here. Nina was unable to see her own book published earlier this year. Nina Riggs died at the age of 39 on February 23, 2017. Consider picking this book up.

WINTER JOURNAL by Paul Auster discussion

Written from the perspective of his body reflecting on the events in his life, Paul Auster’s Winter Journal is a rather intimate piece of a person reflecting on their life. Winter Journal is a recounting of Auster’s life from his earliest memory to the present. The book opens with a paragraph that let’s you know that there isn’t exactly anything extraordinary about Auster’s life, however despite the rather ordinary life being lead, Auster presents it in such a fascinating way that keeps you interested.

You think it will never happen to you, that it cannot happen to you, that you are the only person in the world to whom none of these things will ever happen, and then, one by one, they all begin to happen to you, in the same way they happen to everyone else.

Winter JournalWinter Journal is my first introduction to Paul Auster’s writing and I’m pleased to state that he did not disappoint with this narrative. I enjoyed the book, from the reminiscing about his childhood, to how Auster lists all the places he’d lived through his life and the troubles and tragedies that he’d gone through as he aged.

Since this book is written in the second person, it takes a bit to get used to, but once that aspect of the book becomes familiar I no longer noticed the peculiar perspective as the book went on. This book also features paragraphs that go on for several pages* as Auster recounts major events of his life. Initially intimidating, these blocks of text were not tough to get through and added to the over all atmosphere of the book.

What is so incredibly memorable about this are Auster’s occasional introspection’s about his own craft; writing. In one part, Auster compares writing to a form of dance. These are the aspects of the book that I tended to gravitate towards and enjoy the most.

Writing begins in the body, it is the music of the body, and even if the words have meaning, can sometimes have meaning, the music of the words is where the meanings begin….Writing as a lesser form of dance.

Although an autobiography of sorts, I couldn’t help but wonder as I went through the book if Auster was attempting to build a caricature of what it means to be an American using his own life as an inspiration. Although many of the events that take place in this book are, obviously, events exclusive to the author; in many cases it felt that Auster intentionally tried to make some of the experiences universal in nature. It seemed as if he were trying to say, ‘despite this happening to me, this is an event that is shared time and time again by people across this nation.’

If you enjoy Paul Auster’s work and haven’t picked up Winter Journal, I would recommend it. I’m not sure if this book would be for everyone, but I found it to be a great introduction to Auster’s writing.

*I should note that I mistakenly picked up a LARGE PRINT edition of Winter Journal at a used book store and therefore I am unaware how exactly this book was laid out in it’s other editions. There were no chapter breaks and the text often went on for several pages with no paragraph breaks.

BRAIN ON FIRE by Susannah Cahalan discussion

Brain on Fire is brilliant; a book that I now consider a ‘must-read’. Although Brain on Fire is a memoir, it is so much more than that. This book is also a public service announcement that should become required reading across the US until the disease discussed in the book becomes more widely known. Although technically a memoir, this book could more accurately be considered a case study written in the first person, a case study about a little known disease that needs more public awareness.

Susannah Cahalan is a journalist for a New York publication. She is a young professional woman with a stable job and a promising future. Cahalan, however, for unknown reasons begins to experience symptoms – sensitivity to light, mood swings, slight hallucinations, speech impediments among others that she can’t explain. After seeing a doctor about this initially, she is told it is due to excessive partying; alcohol withdrawals. One of her doctors speculates that what Cahalan is experiencing are caused by her birth control, still another believes these symptoms are the result of too much stress.

brain on fireInitially, Cahalan is skeptical of all of these possible diagnoses and attempts to diagnose herself with having, what she believes, is bipolar disorder. This self diagnosis, Cahalan reasoned, provided an explanation for a majority  of the symptoms that she was experiencing. Initially she was content with this, however her condition worsened. Her mood swings began to get more and more extreme to the point that she was taken to a hospital to be examined. Numerous tests were run on her, and they all came back displaying that Cahalan’s health was normal, despite the severity of her symptoms.

Through a series of events, she is eventually hospitalized. Her initial doctor is so perplexed with her, that he eventually hand’s off her case to a different doctor. This new doctor, Dr. Souhel Najjar was able to discover what really was going on with Cahalan and provide her with a diagnosis, a rare auto-immune disease, then provide a treatment that ultimately saved her life and returned her to a version of normal of her previous self.

This book helped to demonstrate the continued weaknesses of modern medicine – that despite our best abilities, there are still illnesses out there that, despite being prevalent, we know little to nothing about. What appears to be one thing – a mental illness, could very well be something much different. Even Cahalan’s initial doctor was perplexed by her ailments, and since he was unaware of the existence of the disease that effected Cahalan, he had no frame of reference to use in order to diagnose her.

“In the spring of 2009, I was the 217th person ever to be diagnosed with anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. Just a year later, that figure had doubled. Now the number is in the thousands. Yet Dr. Bailey, considered one of the best neurologists in the country, had never heard of it. When we live in a time when the rate of misdiagnoses has shown no improvement since the 1930s, the lesson here is that it’s important to always get a second opinion.

While he may be an excellent doctor in many respects, Dr. Bailey is also, in some ways, a perfect example of what is wrong with medicine. I was just a number to him (and if he saw thirty-five patients a day, as he told me, that means I was one of a very large number). He is a by-product of a defective system that forces neurologists to spend five minutes with X number of patients a day to maintain their bottom line. It’s a bad system. Dr. Bailey is not the exception to the rule. He is the rule.”

This is why I believe this book should be required reading, because until more are aware of this disease, it will continue to be misdiagnosed until awareness grows.