Generation Chef by Karen Stabiner

Synopsis:

29496568The heart of Generation Chef is the story of Jonah Miller, who at age twenty-four attempts to fulfill a lifelong dream by opening the Basque restaurant Huertas in New York City, still the high-stakes center of the restaurant business for an ambitious young chef. Miller, a rising star who has been named to the 30-Under-30 list of both Forbes and Zagat, quits his job as a sous chef, creates a business plan, lines up investors, leases a space, hires a staff, and gets ready to put his reputation and his future on the line.

Journalist and food writer Karen Stabiner takes us inside Huertas’s roller-coaster first year, but also provides insight into the challenging world a young chef faces today—the intense financial pressures, the overcrowded field of aspiring cooks, and the impact of reviews and social media, which can dictate who survives.

Review:

I dived in hoping for a business-leaning chef book written by a journalist, and I enjoyed watching Jonah’s dream about his restaurant and work to get it off the ground.  There was a lot of talk about location and start-up costs, but I was sure the narrative would turn to food once things got rolling.

It did, but only tangentially.  The importance of keeping food costs down is discussed, as well as the benefit of fixed-price menus, raising the average ticket, and making “cocktails” when you can only serve wine and beer. But cooking itself isn’t celebrated.  I had a hard time picturing any of the dishes, and knew more about their price than how they tasted.  Food descriptions rarely go over one sentence:

The pintxo list led off with the gilda, named for Rita Hayworth’s character in the 1946 film Gilda, a skewered white anchovy curved around a manzanilla green olive at one end and a guindilla pepper at the other.

…that’s it.  I was disappointed.

Everything is looked at through a business and career-focused lens.  We learn about several cooks on the line – not what kind of food they like to make or why they became a chef, but how much debt cooking school put them in.  How they anticipate moving up the brigade ladder.  Where they’d like to be in five years.  Exactly how much they make, and how and why raises and promotions are doled out.  People become a collection of numbers.

The writing style didn’t agree with me, either.  The whole book feels like a long newspaper article complete with quotes, reactions, and lots of figures.  There were sections that went: ‘Person A was thinking this.  Person B was thinking that.  Person A was really worried about what person B was thinking.  So they had a meeting.  After discussing X and Y, they decided on Z.  But then Q happened, so they decided to go back to the drawing board.’  It was a lot of narrative work for nothing.

I would have loved it if Stabiner pulled the story together around more cohesive themes.  Instead of following a strict timeline the scope could have been widened out between major events, talking about how Jonah’s leadership style evolved over time, say, or consolidating young Alberto’s story into bigger blocks.  That way there could be deep look at how Jonah’s ethos compares to and evolved from his previous jobs, and Alberto’s rise could be more effectively linked to that of his boss.  While these themes are touched on they’re split up to avoid muddying the timeline, losing any insight that may have been there.

Also, Stabiner’s daughter worked at Huertas during the reporting that led to this book.  The daughter was working front of house while Stabiner was observing the back so she claims no conflict of interest.  I’m very glad it’s mentioned in the acknowledgements but find it sketchy at best, and even if there was no conflict it does deprive us of any server or bartender stories that may have added to the narrative.

If you’re interested in the money behind restaurants and the investing/business side of the industry you’ll find Generation Chef informative.  But if you’re a foodie like me and prefer cooking in restaurant books you will be let down.

Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for providing a review copy.


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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Synopsis:

30555488Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her of the Underground Railroad and they plot their escape. Like Gulliver, Cora encounters different worlds on each leg of her journey.

Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors of black life in pre-Civil War America. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

Review:

I wanted to love this book. I was expecting to dive deep, fall in love with the writing and the story, and pop up my head 24 or 48 hours later ready to sing its praises like an odd literary siren. Instead I’m here almost two weeks later, throat sore from swallowing water, wondering where things went wrong.

The narrative itself is epic. We follow Cora as she navigates her way North, using a literal underground railroad to run towards freedom. The device is great. I love all the research that Whitehead did – he shows that there wasn’t a simple progression of free states and slave states, but entirely different sets of rules dependent on location that had to be negotiated. We even see these rules change over time in particular places. When I studied history in school slavery was reduced to, “man, that was awful and wrong, good thing we stopped doing it”. The Underground Railroad filled in gaps, showing just how senseless and violent and unforgiving the system was – all the nasty details that were missing from my textbooks.

I love learning, so in that sense I’m glad I read it. I’m a more well-rounded human now. That’s good.

But as for the craft of the novel I have some issues. First, I was never drawn into the story. I would put the book down after a chapter and leave it for a day or two, and might have forgotten about it if not for a looming library due date. Some people have suggested making at least Cora’s point of view first person to get closer to the story, which makes sense, but I’m not sure it would have worked considering Whitehead’s more clinical style.

He’s a good writer and there are passages that sing, but there are also sections that are choppy and confusing. This is the kind of book that would be great to study in a literature course, to pick and pull apart and debate. Why did the chapters jump to minor story lines, and did it serve the narrative? What makes this particular sentence special, and how did the word choice foreshadow later events? There’s more here, but I’d have to sit down and ferret it out.

And that’s the thing – I analyze (medical) texts for work. The last thing I want to do is slog through a novel only to find that to get enjoyment out of it I would have to go back and analyze it, too. Don’t get me wrong, I love novels with depth. I like the idea of returning to a book in a year or three to peel back more layers of the onion. But it has to be an enjoyable, interesting read in the first place. Signs Preceding the End of the World fell into this category for me – gripping and thought provoking on first read, with the promise of giving up more secrets when I meet it again. Sadly The Underground Railroad wasn’t a fulfilling read the first time through.

Don’t let my dithering stop you from reading this book. It’s important, and a lot of people disagree with me so who knows, you may end up loving it. No matter what you’ll be smarter and more well-rounded on the other side, and that’s never a bad thing.

It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Chicago Stars #1)

Synopsis:

6651365The Windy City isn’t quite ready for Phoebe Somerville—the outrageous, curvaceous New York knockout who has just inherited the Chicago Stars football team. And Phoebe is definitely not ready for the Stars’ head coach, former gridiron legend Dan Calebow, a sexist jock taskmaster with a one-track mind. Calebow is everything Phoebe abhors. And the sexy new boss is everything Dan despises—a meddling bimbo who doesn’t know a pigskin from a pitcher’s mound.

So why is Dan drawn to the shameless sexpot like a heat-seeking missile? And why does the coach’s good ol’ boy charm leave cosmopolitan Phoebe feeling awkward, tongue-tied…and ready to fight?

Review:

I can see why many people like this book but I have to wonder if it’s a generational thing. Is this one of those pre-enlightenment books I’ve heard about where the guy is an asshole, the girl is a pushover, and the plot is maddening?

Phoebe, a girl abused in her youth that has no real connections to her family, was left her father’s football team in his will. She gets to keep the team if, and only if, the league basement Chicago Stars make the AFC championships this year.

She decides the best thing to do is ignore the team completely as she knows nothing about football. Contracts need signing and she’s the only one with any legal authority, but hey, not her problem.

She finally comes around and decides to go to work. In the process she falls in love with the coach, Dan, for no reason I can possibly see. He’s quick to anger, crap at apologies, and seems to think fleeting good intentions make up for all his faults. The only person he is consistently nice to is Molly, Phoebe’s teenaged half sister, as he demands admiration above all else and she readily provides it.

Many passages made me downright mad.  Shall we have a sample?

A sprinkling of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, all well-dressed and prosperous looking, mingled with the crowd.

You know, instead of the shabby, poor looking minorities you’re used to. ~fume~

And in the waaaah? department:

He grinned as he pulled away from the curb. If the Russians had been smart, they’d have taken Phoebe’s radioactive body into account before they’d signed off on that nuclear proliferation agreement with the United States.

Does. not. compute.

So getting to the end of the novel was hard. While Phillips’ writing style is technically solid she leaves little for the reader to figure out herself. Even with all this explaining I find Phoebe’s emotional journey unrealistic.

Is this Old Skool?  Am I just missing something? If I didn’t need this book for a challenge I would have never made it to the end. GRAH.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Synopsis:

9780062363596_b2357Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Drawing on the oral histories of scores of these “computers,” personal recollections, interviews with NASA executives and engineers, archival documents, correspondence, and reporting from the era, Hidden Figures recalls America’s greatest adventure and NASA’s groundbreaking successes through the experiences of five spunky, courageous, intelligent, determined, and patriotic women: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine.

Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of scientific achievement and technological innovation with the intimate stories of five women whose work forever changed the world—and whose lives show how out of one of America’s most painful histories came one of its proudest moments.

Review:

There is so much history that we don’t know about.  Some of it is hinted at in textbooks – conversations that may have taken place in closed rooms, people who may have helped behind the scenes.  These are things we can imagine not knowing.  But that there was a group of African-American women that worked as mathematicians at NASA, plotting our course to the stars?  It never even crossed my mind as possible.

But why is that?  Hmmm….

apollo13-mccmovie
Mission Control packed with white guys in the movie Apollo 13

All too often women and people of color are left out of our histories.  Hidden Figures works to fix that.

There is way too much I didn’t know about the Jim Crow South.  I mean, I knew Virginia was segregated, but I had no idea of the crazy stuff they did to keep it that way:

In 1936 a black student from Richmond named Alice Jackson Houston applied to the University of Virginia to study French but was denied admission.  The NAACP sued on her her behalf, and in response the state of Virginia set up a tuition reimbursement fund, subsidizing the graduate educations of black students in any place but Virginia.

I didn’t know that executive orders slowly desegregated the military and government jobs over time, providing an opening for all black people to get into more skilled professions.  Other things that I already knew – minorities being shut out of the housing market, women not being promoted as quickly or paid on par with men – came to life.

Shettley focuses the the story through many lenses.  What was it like to be a woman at Langley?  How about a black man?  How were those issues compounded in the case of the black women “computers”?  And what additional difficulties did the world outside of work present?  Intersectionality, I love thee.

I’m having a hard time coming up with more to say because I just want to press Hidden Figures into your hands and say, “read this.”  Learning about Dorothy Vaughan, who moved away from her family for a chance at a job that would fulfill her while providing for her children, inspires me.  I want my 10 year old niece to read about Katherine Johnson, a natural mathematician that took every opportunity that presented itself, along with a bunch that didn’t.  All the women in this book smashed ceilings, and “the best thing about breaking a barrier was that it would never have to be broken again.”

So the content gets high marks from me.  The writing is good, more journalistic than narrative non-fiction-y.  So if you like your fact to read like a thriller this may not be the best choice for you.  In fact you may just want to wait for the movie. Yes, movie!  I’m so excited, because everyone will see that NASA also looked like this:

MV5BYWJjZmE3MDItNDlkMi00YzY5LTkyYjItZTE5MjdkM2ZmYzZmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc2MTUyMTc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,956_AL_
Scene from Hidden Figures, forthcoming

Shetterly has done us all a service by researching and speaking with these amazing women while they’re still here to tell their stories.  A must read for NASA history buffs, and highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the space program, civil rights, or pioneering women.

Thanks to William Morrow and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

Synopsis:

28690387Yorkshire, England, 1911: After a moment of defiance at the factory where she has worked since she was a child, Ella Fay finds herself an unwilling patient at the Sharston Asylum. Ella knows she is not mad, but she might have to learn to play the game before she can make a true bid for freedom. John Mulligan is a chronic patient, frozen with grief since the death of his child, but when Ella runs towards him one morning in an attempt to escape the place where he has found refuge, everything changes. It is in the ornate ballroom at the centre of the asylum, where the male and female patients are allowed to gather every Friday evening to dance, that Ella and John begin a tentative, secret correspondence that will have shattering consequences, as love and the possibility of redemption are set against one ambitious doctor’s eagerness to make his mark in the burgeoning field of eugenics, at all costs.

Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, at a time when England was at the point of revolt, The Ballroom is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.

Review:

Asylums are scary, and they get more frightening the further back in history you go.  What’s this, you broke a window in a fit of pique?  Must be mentally ill, off to the asylum you go.  Depressed after losing a loved one?  The asylum will fix you up.  Not listening to the men in your life and reading too many novels?  You’re headed to the asylum too, lady.

As Charles read, he felt the pleasurable sensation of pieces of a puzzle slotting into place.  So the neuropathic taint had passed down the female line, the mother the transmitter of infection.

It makes you shiver.

I can’t quite make up my mind about this book, though.  I mean, it’s good.  Very good.  The writing is wonderful, it’s plotted well, and the characters are deep and nuanced.  I believe their inner lives.  The point of view rotates among Ella, John, and Charles, and each has a different feel despite being told in the third person.  The switch between one section and the next isn’t jarring, and I never thought “go back to her!” or “not him again”.  That’s hard to do, so major props to Hope.

While most of the book takes place at the asylum it only feels as claustrophobic as it needs to.  You know when the patients are under a less watchful eye and can breathe a little easier, yourself.

The ending though… I can’t say I like it.  It’s not the romantic happy ending, which is fine.  And it does have closure to it.  But in spite of that it left me unsettled and unsatisfied.  It also had me thinking, what was the point?  Which may be the point after all.  Check out this line from midway through the novel:

She stared at the book in her hands.  “When I go to university,” she said, “if I write an essay about it, then I’ll talk about the ending.  How I want it to be different.  But how it’s still the right ending after all.”

I reread this quote after finishing and thought “well-played, author, well played”.  I’m still not happy or satisfied, but I guess Hope didn’t want me to feel happy or satisfied, so…

~sigh~

All that being said I still give the book four stars.  The writing, atmosphere, characterization, and plot come together for an engrossing read, especially in the second half.  When you read it come back and tell me what you think about that ending because I’ll still be agonizing, I’m sure.  But that’s a sign of a good book in and of itself, right?

Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Dark Prince by Christine Feehan (Dark #1)

Synopsis:

10417569Carpathians are an immortal race of beings with animal instincts. Every Carpathian male is drawn to his life mate: a Carpathian or human female able to provide the light to his darkness. Without her, the beast within slowly consumes the man until turning vampire is the only option.

Raven Whitney is a psychic who has used her gift to help the police track down a serial killer. Now she is determined to escape the glare of recent publicity for the peace and quiet of the Carpathian Mountains. Prince Mikhail Dubrinsky is the leader of his people but, as his ancient Carpathian race grows ever closer to extinction, he is close to giving in to the heavy weight of loneliness and despair. From the moment their minds touch, Raven and Mikhail form a connection. But there are those who incorrectly view all Carpathians as vampires, and are determined to give their extinction a helping hand.

Review:

I really looked forward to getting this book – I was on a long wait list at the library for it, and if the series is 30 volumes strong it must be good. Right?

…well.

Some parts were good. I like that the vampires are more “traditional”, needing earth and blood and not daring to go out in the sun. The plot is okay. The characters are okay.

But Feehan keeps taking things up to the stratosphere. Instead of talking about the here and now the story goes on about Love and Loyalty and Duty and Honor and other words that feel like they should be capitalized. Here’s the hero while he has his heroine in bed:

He could feel his body relaxing, and peace stole into him, edging out the terrible tension. The beauty of her inner soul washed over him. How could he fault her need to reach out to someone in pain, when it was her very compassion that had drawn him out of the dark shadows and into a world of joy and light?

Looking at the big picture is okay now and then, but it’s constant. ‘That guy was totally trying to kill us. Let’s talk about how Loyal you are and how we consider ourselves Family while we also recognize our own Needs as we plan how to get back at him.’ Grah.

It’s not only that, though. The excess examination of Feelings makes the story suffer. The plot is fine but it’s stretched out over way more pages than necessary – 300-ish pages would have been ideal, but my “author’s cut” edition was over 500. Even the original edition was 450 pages. In the beginning I read every word in good faith that it would get better (ha) but ended up skimming more and more.

I looked ahead at book two to see if Gregori, the heir apparent, would get his mate but no. They apparently stretch his angst out until book four. Sigh.  I was hoping to find a long series to dig into, but instead I found a corner of paranormal that I can safely ignore.  Onward!

Tell Me Exactly What Happened by Caroline Burau

Synopsis:

9781681340098_892e2In her new book, veteran 911 operator Caroline Burau shares her on- the- job experiences at both a single- person call center (complicated by a public walk- up window) and a ground and air ambulance service. Whatever the position, the challenges for a dispatcher never end. Tragedy, boredom, and mind- bending weirdness are constant companions, as her stories- some funny, some odd, some sad- show. A “broken penis,” a case of domestic violence at the walk- up window, a tornado striking a mile away- Caroline Burau handles them all with efficiency, empathy, and humor.

But the job is not an easy one. On top of dealing with life-and-death situations everyday, Burau is shaken by the suicide of a colleague. She battles stress and burnout, knowing that she is truly helping people. She also realizes that no matter how long she is in the hot seat, listening, waiting, and answering 911, she cannot help everyone. Tell Me Exactly What Happened is one woman’s memoir, but it is also a welcome companion for anyone who has needed relief from a stressful job.

Review:

Your job can warp you.  My father was an electrician and is quick to analyze the lighting set up in any restaurant.  I was a tour guide in college and can still walk backwards like a pro. (It’s a great way to freak out a group of friends.)

Imagine being a 911 operator and listening to people have the worst day of their lives, every day.

When [Stella] was in her first year, she took a call of a five-year-old girl choking on a grape. “It was book perfect,” she said, meaning the response was right on.  She acted quickly, her responders were on the scene within minutes, and the patient was whisked to the local ER in record time.  Yet she died anyway.  So until the day her only child went off to college, Stella never let Tristan eat a single grape without first cutting it in half.

Not every call is life and death.  There’s people wondering about power outages, noise complaints, and every brand of wtf-ery you could imagine.  Burau puts snippets of exchanges between chapters to give you a feel for the kinds of people that call.

“Sir, is your friend completely alert?”
“No, but I mean, he’s not the brightest guy normally, anyway.”

It’s a harrowing and interesting job, yet removed from most of the actual life saving.  There is only so much you can do on the other end of a phone line, and this book does a good job showing exactly what it’s like to sit at the console, warts and all.

The writing is basic but mostly effective.  I would have liked the through-line and themes to have been tied together more but it works well enough.  What bothered me the most are the times Burau heedlessly runs head first towards something without thinking about the consequences.  She agrees to go on a national talk show but she’s never watched an episode. This fact is mentioned early and is meant as foreshadowing, I think, but it made me put down the book for a while.  “No way is this going to go well.”  And it didn’t.  Not horrific, but still.  I didn’t care for the dread.

I’m sure the author had no control over the cover but it still bothers me – she works at a call center, not in scrubs.  And no one uses those paddles any more, they have thin pads they stick on you instead.  Burau does spend a lot of time talking people through medical emergencies but it feels a bit dishonest.

If you’re in a medical or medically-adjacent field you’ll appreciate this insight into a dispatcher’s work.  If you’re a dispatcher yourself you’ll enjoy hearing from a sister in arms.  I won’t be pressing this book into everyone’s hands, though.

Thanks to Minnesota Historical Society Press and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.


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The Subsidiary by Matias Celedon

Synopsis:

27774369In the subsidiary offices of a major Latin American corporation, the power suddenly goes out: the lights switch off; the doors lock; the phone lines are cut. The employees are trapped in total darkness with only cryptic, intermittent announcements dispatched over the loud speaker, instructing all personnel to remain at their work stations until further notice.

The Subsidiary is one worker’s testimony to what happens during the days he spends trapped within the building’s walls, told exclusively—and hauntingly—through the stamps he uses to mark corporate documents.

Hand-designed by the author with a stamp set he bought in an bookstore in Santiago, Matías Celedón’s The Subsidiary is both an exquisite object and a chilling avant-garde tale from one of Chile’s rising literary stars.

Review:

A book told with a set of rubber stamps?  I’m there!

Sadly, the book wasn’t quite all… there.

The idea is great.  The alphabet stamps are used in interesting ways to hint at bars, blinds, the tedium that is waiting.  Some pages made me smile at their cleverness.  And it certainly reads quickly, with only one sentence on each page.  At times the writing feels like poetry.

But once you get to the end you’re like… what?  The power is cut, weird stuff happens, the power eventually turns back on.  The end.  There’s dialog and other things that happen in the middle but they’re fleeting and confusing.  I’m not sure what the point was.  Maybe if I knew more about Chile’s history?  Am I missing some huge, overarching metaphor?

It’s like a lost opportunity – the form could lend itself to deep truths and realizations and experiences, but we only skim along on the surface.  Maybe I raised my expectations too high but I was quite disappointed.

I flipped back to the beginning to have another go but the lack of execution still stuck out.  Ah well, I guess it’s not for me.


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Signs of Attraction by Laura Brown

Synopsis:

29863612Do you know what hearing loss sounds like? I do. All my life I’ve tried to be like you. I’ve failed.

So I keep it hidden.

But on the day my world crashed down around me, Reed was there. He showed me just how loud and vibrant silence can be, even when I struggled to understand. He’s unlike anyone I’ve ever known. His soulful eyes and strong hands pulled me in before I knew what was happening. And as I saw those hands sign, felt them sparking on me, I knew: imperfect could be perfect.

Reed makes me feel things I’ve never felt. It’s exciting…and terrifying. Because he sees me like no one else has, and I’m afraid of what he’ll find if he looks too closely.

The only thing that scares me more than being with him? Letting him go.

Review:

I jumped on this book when I heard it was written by an #ownvoices author. People writing about their own experience for the win!

The first half sucked me in and kept me reading late into the night. I loved watching Carli and Reed fall in love – they make an adorable couple. Reed introduces Carli to the Deaf world, something she never encountered as she grew up hard of hearing with hearing aids, and I cheered for them the entire way.

At around the fifty percent mark the story takes a turn that, if this were a fanfic, I’d call hurt/comfort. One of our pair needs some love to get through something awful, and the other person delivers. I was okay with it.

But then the whole conflict blows up. It goes from an ‘us vs them’ mentality to ‘me vs you’ within the couple, as well as ‘me vs myself’. All the information that gets added from that point on is angsty, from family dysfunction to fighting your own demons to anger at people from your past. Seriously, it’s a lot, and a sharp change from the generally amiable first half.

Props to Brown for writing true to her own experience – I would love to see her write more d/Deaf characters, and for there to be more in the genre as a whole. The medical stuff is done better than in many romances so that’s nice, too. I still have a couple of minor quibbles, but that’s the medical interpreter in me talking.

If you love heartrending stories you’ll be at home, but after the awesome beginning there was too much angst for me.


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In Our Own Hands edited by Brian H. Greenwald and Joseph J. Murray

Synopsis:

27837529This collection of new research examines the development of deaf people’s autonomy and citizenship discourses as they sought access to full citizenship rights in local and national settings. Covering the period of 1780–1970, the essays in this collection explore deaf peoples’ claims to autonomy in their personal, religious, social, and organizational lives and make the case that deaf Americans sought to engage, claim, and protect deaf autonomy and citizenship in the face of rising nativism and eugenic currents of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Review:

Author Sara Novic has written some wonderful essays about Deafness, including this one about the history and significance of American Sign Language (ASL). Reading it opened my eyes to a blind spot in my knowledge – Alexander Graham Bell was against Deaf people? There’s a movement called oralism? While I have a grasp of current issues (access to interpreting and captions, the debate over cochlear implants) I had no idea of what Deaf people were facing even fifty years ago. That’s where In Our Own Hands comes in.

I do want to say straight up – this is an academic work. The chapters are written by different people and pull from research, doctoral papers, and lots of other things that add up to pages and pages of end notes. Some authors write engrossing narratives while others are more on the dry side. So this is a book to get your learning on.

And boy, did I learn. In the 1800s deaf people were referred to as “The Deaf and Dumb” which made no sense to me until I read this snippet from a 1845 article:

The truth is, monkies [sic], and the lower animals, do not talk, because they have nothing to say. The tongue is moved by the mind, but where there is no intellect, there is no thought; and where there is no thought, there is no need of any language…

So in their minds the deaf didn’t speak because they were too dumb to need language. Cue jaw drop.

And that’s just the beginning. There are essays about Deaf citizenship, Deaf education, how Deaf organizations formed and changed over time, and just how awful Bell was. Many come back to the ideas of agency, paternalism, and oralism (the belief that spoken language is inherently better than sign language).

I especially like the intersectionality many of the essays cover. One chapter is about Black ASL, another touches on Deaf religious history in the American South, yet another looks at Deaf societies and associations in Australia. The editors have made an effort to shed light on subjects that are less known and I appreciate it.

While In Our Own Hands is not for the casual reader it’s a valuable look at Deaf history and activism that helped me fill a gaping hole in my knowledge. Looking back I should have given myself permission to skim the chapters that were super dry or covered topics that interested me less, but all in all the read was worth it.

Thanks to Gallaudet University Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.