Review: Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House

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Review for "Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House" by Donna Brazile (2017)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

On the surface, this is an interesting book, particularly if you’re into ‘inside’ information on the recent political campaign that sent everyone into a tailspin. Donna Brazile, a DC insider with years of political campaign experience, tells the story of everything that went wrong with the Democratic National Convention’s (DNC) game plan, from Russian hackers to not getting any funding and inept leadership.

While I like Donna Brazile, I think she overplays her significance to this story. For one, she knew what she was up for as the interim chair of the DNC, especially after the mess the last chairperson left it in. Also, while it’s obvious that she likes to makes a big thing of her political achievements, the truth is that she hasn’t won much. She was manager of Al Gore’s campaign back in 2000, which was also a raging hot dumpster fire. She also conveniently dodges giving a real answer on whether or not she gave Hillary debate questions ahead of time, among other things.

Other than that, this book is mostly Brazile releasing a lot of angst. Maybe she talked to a therapist and they told her to write this book. She talks for pages and pages about being snubbed by “Brooklyn” (Hillary’s people), about how she was denied money that could have led to victories in certain states, how much money the DNC leadership wasted on trivial matters (personal assistants, etc), and how she had to tell certain people multiple times to fuck off. All seriousness aside, it’s a endearing story, and Brazile’s accounts of drinking liquor, gardening, and praying with holy water are certainly not to be missed.

Three and a half stars.

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Review: Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

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Review for "Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America" by Jill Leovy (2015)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Before I begin this review I have to commend the author, because there really is no easy way to write about the subject of Black on Black crime. How do you talk about the very real issue of Black homicide rates without pathologizing an entire race? At the same time, one has to recognize that Black homicide is indeed a problem and even though poverty, racism, and decades of neglect by law enforcement play a consistent role in its existence, you can’t “excuse” it either. Even though crime rates have dropped in recent years, the murder rates among Black men remain relatively high. Violent homicide still remains the number 1 cause of death among Black males ages 15-34 in America.

Jill Leovy starts off great in this book. For her setting, she chooses inner city Los Angeles, a city long plagued by Black homicides. She describes a crippling bureaucracy, as well as homicide detectives struggling for resources–lack of computers and cars, even buying their own “murder books” (binders in which to keep case files). They didn’t even get tape recorders, many detectives had to buy their own. Leovy argues that the LAPD and the entire criminal justice system has not placed a high priority on solving Black murders. This has created a lack of trust in the police among Black citizens, tendencies toward vigilante-style justice, witnesses afraid to talk, and a “no-snitching” culture that makes closing murder cases notoriously difficult. Names go in files to be forgotten, detectives get bogged down with even more cases.

“Ghettoside” is a broad narrative, though it focuses on the specific case of an LAPD homicide detective’s son who was gunned down in 2007 while walking down the street. A long chapter is dedicated to describing his family life and how much of a “good” boy he was (not a gangster, followed rules, etc). You almost have to wonder if the author is following the same kind of rationale that many people feel toward murder victims: an unspoken sentiment that a person’s morally questionable behavior in some way should “justify” what happened to them. Another problem is the large amount of biographical information on not just one but several LA detectives and their careers, which, honestly, I just didn’t care about. It was hard to remember who was who and after several chapters of this I started skipping pages.

Another problem with this book is that, through the case of the detective’s son, Leovy seems to make an argument that if all cases were solved by dedicated detectives like the one who solved this one, there wouldn’t be any unsolved Black homicides. Well, not really. For one, the circumstances of every case is different and second, you have to revisit the idea that (perhaps) one of the main reasons why this particular case continued to stay visible was because of who the victim’s father was. You can’t take socioeconomic status, which governs so much of our lives, out of the death equation here.

Overall, a clunky but ok book for me. 3.5 stars.

Review: The Incest Diary

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Review for "The Incest Diary" by Anonymous (2017)

Rating: none
—– Trigger Warning——

This is a very, very disturbing book.

The New York Times is very accurate when it called reading this book “a dive into the abyss.” This is almost correct. Reading this book was like a jump off of a cliff, hitting every single rock on the way down. There’s no way I enjoyed reading this, so I’m not giving this book a rating.

The writer of “The Incest Diary” is an anonymous woman who describes, in very frank detail, being raped by her father starting at age 3. The sexual abuse continues throughout her childhood until she begins, in a sadistic way, to crave his abuse. He exerts a perverted sense of control over her until she’s in her 20s and finally stops letting him dominate her. By all accounts, her mother was well aware of the fact that the author’s father was raping her and did nothing. There is also physical and emotional abuse inflicted by both her father and her mother, as well as multiple times in the narrative in which she told other people about it, but nobody does anything. It’s infuriating.

But that’s not the worst of it. There’s a jarring sense throughout this book that the author’s frank descriptions are not for the purpose of story-telling, but to titillate and eroticize her experience. While I can understand that prolonged sexual abuse can cause confusion and mixed emotions, words like ‘cock,’ ‘dick,’ and ‘pussy’ to describe the incest just made this book come off as training manual for people who do this sick shit with children. It’s a revolting thought, but it permeates this book.

Given the title, one might ask why I read it in the first place, knowing what it would entail. Honestly, I read this book because it was sitting in the library and I have to admit that it intrigued me. We hear about sexual abuse every day–in memoirs, on the news, in #metoo posts on Twitter–yet we don’t really want to hear their stories, do we? As a reviewer of books I am compelled to explore the human experience, and sometimes parts of that experience are cruel, dark, and scary. I think of myself as an intellectual who transcends fear of dark places.

Needless to say, I don’t recommend this book unless you have nerves of steel.

Review: Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction

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Review for "Getting Off: One Woman's Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction" by Erica Garza (to be published on 16 January 2018)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Often times when we hear about sex addiction, it is a taboo subject. It is also a narrative that is usually dominated by men. “Getting Off” is one of the few books about this topic that I’ve read that’s written by a woman, and shows the wide range of emotions and dysfunctions that goes along with this affliction.

Garza’s struggle with sex addiction begins when she is twelve and continues long into her adulthood. She has a brilliant writing style–raw, at times funny, and painfully honest in its detail. Once I started reading this book I didn’t put it down and finished it in a manner of hours. As you can guess from the subject matter, it is quite x-rated in certain scenes, so it’s not for the puritanical or faint of heart. If you can move beyond this, however, you will find this an enlightening and enjoyable read.

[A free digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Scribner, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother

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Review for "Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother" by Sonia Nazario (2006)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is the fourth book in my personal knowledge quest on illegal Latin American migration to the United States (Luis Urrea’s “Across the Wire” and “The Devil’s Highway” were the first two I read). Nazario’s book goes hand in hand with another I’ve read recently, Lauren Markham’s “The Far Away Brothers,” which discusses the topic of children from Central America who come to the United States, without their parents and through some of the harshest and most dangerous situations in the world.

Enrique is a Honduran youth whose mother leaves him as a young boy to come to the U.S. Left with relatives, he at first misses her, then longs for her, and finally, after experiencing the hopelessness and crushing poverty of his home, decides to join her in the U.S. To get there, he rides atop the Beast, freight trains that begin in southern Mexico and go all the way to the U.S. border. Riding the trains is nothing short of a hellish nightmare: there are brutal gangsters and criminals who rob, rape, and kill riders atop the trains and along the tracks, Mexican police out to catch and send the migrants back, Mexican natives who offer little to no help (depending on where you are), and of course, the train, which often mutilates and kills migrants who attempt to catch it and climb on top.

Seven times Enrique attempts the journey to the United States, and seven times he is caught and sent back to Guatemala by Mexican authorities. On the eighth try he manages to make it to America, yet the story doesn’t end there. Nazario painstakingly continues to document Enrique’s adjustment to the U.S. and reunion with his mother. Hint: it’s bittersweet.

I loved the writing, the attention to detail. There are also photographs, taken by Nazario herself as she rode the train north to reconstruct Enrique’s journey. She interviewed people along the route, priests, migrants, mission workers, and Mexican authorities. The only complaint I have about this book is that the information is somewhat repetitive from chapter to chapter, but that is probably because each chapter was once a feature in the LA Times. The articles won a Pulitzer Prize, so it’s definitely worth reading.

Even though Enrique took his journey in 2000 and the book was published in 2006, the information is just as timely as if it were written yesterday. Definitely worth a read.

Review: The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life

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Review for "The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life" by Lauren Markham (2017)
 
Rating: 4.75 stars

I tend to be attracted to books that showcase timely social issues in a readable, narrative format. This is just such a book.

This is the true story of Ernesto and Raul Flores, identical twins who left their home in El Salvador in 2013 and illegally came to America without their parents at the age of 17. In their small rural town, the twins live with seven other siblings and their parents in crippling poverty and in constant fear of violent criminal gangs, which rule the countries of the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) with a iron fist. For $7000 each, Ernesto and Raul’s parents seek out a loan shark to pay for the services of a coyote, a smuggler who moves people through Central America and Mexico and finally through the desolate desert interior of the U.S. The story goes into detail of their capture in the desert by border patrol, detainment in a facility for unaccompanied minors (mostly from Central America), and their reunion with an older brother who also came north in the same fashion several years before.

The story, however, doesn’t stop there. Markham follows her subjects through the myriad of challenges that make up the twins’ new American life: entering school, finding legal representation to fight deportation, learning English, paying down their accumulating $19,000 coyote debt, the struggle to send money home, family problems, and of course, the struggles that simply come with being teenagers. Interspersed throughout the book are snippets of ‘boots on the ground’ research done by the author of the various aspects of the Central American immigrant experience–their journey, frequent capture, detainment, and (almost always) deportation.

I really loved this story because it was told in an easy to follow narrative style that completely humanizes the “illegal aliens” that the current president would love to build a wall to keep out. You learn about the high, very human cost of these efforts and how, despite what laws or wall is erected, many are still willing to risk it all to live the American dream, even if it means death.

Loved this book. Get it right away!

Review: We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

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Review for "We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy" by Ta-Nehisi Coates (to be published on 3 October 2017)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Great book, I tell ya…

When I heard that Ta-Nehisi Coates was writing another book, I signed up to read it on NetGalley with lightning quickness. I also read his writings elsewhere such as The Atlantic, Twitter. Matter of fact, I’ll usually drop everything I’m doing to read Mr. Coates because his perspective and words on the most pressing issues of our time are impeccable.

If you aren’t reading Ta-Nehisi Coates then you probably should be. Like “Between the World and Me,” “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy” is a searing testimony to the ongoing quagmire of race in the United States: to high hopes, to failed promises, to the uncertainty of what lies ahead. These are a collection of eight essays that appeared in The Atlantic (one for each of the eight years that President Obama was in office) with a short preface added by Coates before each, which give the reading more perspective and insight.

Do read this. It should be required reading in all schools and universities.

[Note: A free digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]