#REVIEW: A Promised Land, by Barack Obama

This one sat on my shelf for a lot longer than I expected it to. Amazon tells me it arrived at my house on February 6, so it took almost exactly four months for me to actually read it once I had it. There are reasons, I suppose; the fact that the damn book is two inches thick and 700-pages-plus-endnotes long certainly had something to do with it, but the simple fact is that while I wanted to hear what Barack Obama had to say about his presidency, I didn’t really feel like I was ready for it. Frankly, I was angry with him, and not really for any good reason; the last four years were not his fault, but that doesn’t change the fact that I wasn’t really ready to remind myself of a time where I not only liked the president but was reasonably happy to be living in America. And while I feel like Joe Biden has had an enormously consequential first 100 days, it remains to be seen whether we’ll be right back neck-deep in shit in a couple of years.

On Sunday, unwilling to take yet another Unread Shelf picture with this damn book in it, I begrudgingly picked it up and started it. The entire idea of wading through it made me tired, frankly, and I was fully prepared to force myself through a hundred pages and then put it down, convincing myself that I’d tried and it’s not like I can’t pick it back up later. I wasn’t going to burn the thing or anything, but I definitely wasn’t looking forward to it.

Well, it’s the 3rd, and I probably read the last 300 pages of the thing today– which turned out to only be volume one of Obama’s memoirs, ending with the night they killed Osama bin Laden– so apparently I got over that. Obama has always been an engaging author (I have both of his previous books) and that is on full display here. There is also something about reading what is essentially a history book about a time that I remember. I have said this before, but let me remind you: not only have I voted for Obama nearly every time he has run for public office (I moved into his district in 1998; he became an Illinois state Senator in 1997) but my life intersected with his in a lot of ways. I know exactly where his home in Hyde Park was. His first kiss with Michelle was at a Baskin-Robbins that was literally across the street from my first apartment in Chicago; there’s a plaque there now. I had several classes with Bill Ayers in graduate school, and Ayers was very nearly my Ph.D advisor. And I’ve met Jeremiah Wright, his pastor. I am one of those people who was telling everyone that he was going to be our first Black President, although I figured it would be 2012 or 2016 before he ran. Honestly, I wasn’t terribly happy with his decision to run in 2008, thinking he was too young and inexperienced; his campaign convinced me I was wrong about that. Obama was my President in a way that no other President has been, and unless Pete Buttigieg actually succeeds in gaining the White House at some point in the future, it’s hard to imagine that any such thing will happen again.

tl;dr I barely put the damn book down for four days, and even took it to work on Tuesday. It’s exactly as good as Barack Obama’s memoirs ought to be, and it shouldn’t be especially surprising that I enjoyed it. Honestly, I feel dumb that it surprised me; I let myself get too caught up in my head over the whole thing and forgot that being reminded of a time where even if I didn’t agree with everything the guy in the White House did (he made terrible choices on education, which was the worst thing about his presidency, or at least his domestic policy) I at least trusted him to think. And there’s something to be said about voting for someone who you are absolutely certain is smarter than you. I wish I could do it more often, honestly.

(Before you say anything: Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris are both smarter than me. I’m not convinced that Biden is, but he’s absolutely a better President than I could be.)

Anyway, go read the book. Even if you don’t tear through it like I did, it’s engaging and interesting, and while I can imagine someone who finds it a little dry (did you find Obama too professorial? You will feel the same way about the book. He gets into the weeds.) I am absolutely not that person. Maybe wait for paperback, as the list price of the hardcover is $45, but go read it.

One-week LASIK update and a book note

My LASIK surgery was a week ago today, and I’m pleased to announce that I seem to be adjusting fine. Other than the first few minutes after waking up during the first day or two, there’s been no pain, and as you would probably expect I’m noticing my vision less and less as the days go on. I’m still not as happy with my distance vision as I want to be, but the “good range,” for lack of a better phrase, does seem to be expanding, and the scientist in me is suffering from being unable to put my glasses back on and compare what my vision was like back then to what it is now. It’s entirely possible that this is just what it’s always been but I’m paying more attention to it now, but the fact that I don’t know and don’t have a way to check is making me moderately crazy.

The urge to reach for my glasses in the morning and when I get out of the shower remains pretty overwhelming– 37 years of conditioning will do that to you– and I’m also noticing that at the end of the day my eyes are tired, leading to a similarly overwhelming urge to remove the contact lenses that are not actually in my eyes and put my glasses back on. In fact, honestly, other than the (no longer an issue) early eye pain, this has been almost exactly like adjusting to contact lenses, except for all the eyedrops and the vague notion that my vision is improving from day to day. I need to find an excuse to take a drive after dark sometime this week to see if I have any issue with halos or starbursting; driving in general is fine so long as I’m going places I’m used to driving to (which is 100% of my driving; I’m not leaving the house much, because quarantine) but I’m not sure my distance vision is great for driving somewhere new, because I have to get pretty close to road signs before they’re legible and if I was looking for street signs to know where to turn I’d have to either drive slower than was safe or make some very abrupt decisions.

One way or another, though, I’ve been repeatedly assured that the stuff I’m currently concerned about will get better, and I still am amazed at how easy the surgery and the recovery process have been. Yesterday was the first day that I didn’t spend every second I was awake thinking about my vision, so this is definitely on an upward trend.


One additional sign that my eyes are improving is that after not being able to read more than small chunks of Scarlet Odyssey at a time without my eyes getting tired, I blew through Ilhan Omar’s excellent memoir This is What America Looks Like in basically two sittings. Granted, it’s quite a bit shorter, at 265 pages and a relatively large font, but it’s nice that my ability to binge-read is coming back. This is one of those books where I think you probably already know if you want to read it or not, and if you do, you should follow that urge, and if you don’t, you should read it anyway. Omar’s story is barely even possible in America any longer, but remains a perfect example of the type of country we like to think we are, and her life has been fascinating regardless of what you think of her politics (not a problem for me, obviously) so the book is definitely an engaging read. If anything, I wish it was another hundred pages long, as I’d like to know more about what life was like as a younger person for her, both in the refugee camps and her first few years in America when she was trying to navigate middle school without being able to speak English. Give it a look.

I get reviews!

BookJunkieKrystal did a nice review of Searching for Malumba over at her site sometime after I went to bed last night.  Go check it out!

IMG_2872

SEARCHING FOR MALUMBA now available for pre-order!

This is probably a teeny bit premature, since the book description’s not done and I’m not completely set on the price, but Searching for Malumba: Why Teaching is Terrible… and Why We Do It Anyway is officially available for pre-order at Amazon!  The cost, in line with my other books, is a completely reasonable four of your dollars and ninety-five of your cents for what is currently a 116,000 word manuscript.  A Goodreads page ought to be appearing at some point today too.

Release date is October 27, y’all.  Woohoo!

SEARCHING FOR MALUMBA cover question/reveal

These are both roughs; I think the image is happening but I’m not convinced about either the font or the text placement.  Anybody have suggestions?  (“Scrap the whole thing” is a fair suggestion, by the way.)  You can click for a higher-res version but I think you get the idea.

Also, weird– the yellow on the right looks darker to me right now.  It’s exactly the same.  The only differences are caps vs. lower case.

Malumba cover rough lowercase  Malumba cover rough

Thanks!


EDIT: After reading the first couple of comments, let me take a second and explain my thinking here: this is my first (probably only) nonfiction book.  It’s going to be about teaching, and it is mostly, but not exclusively, drawn from blog posts.  About half of the material in it is on this very blog.  I do not expect, even in comparison to my other books, that this one will sell very well, and I’m mostly doing it as a vanity project.

That said: I need something that screams “teaching!” when it’s the size of a couple of postage stamps on Amazon’s website, and thus the simple image of the broken pencil, which frankly fits my feeling about teaching right now anyway.  The font choice is because I like the simplicity and the humility of it, although I think my second commenter is right that it does look a little low-rent and I may need to jazz it up a bit.

There will be a print and ebook edition; I have no illusions that anyone other than me will ever buy the print edition.  I’ll print half a dozen of them to have some with me at cons and I suspect I won’t have to reorder that often.  🙂

Also, the image was purchased from SelfPubBookCovers.com, which means that I can’t just arbitrarily rotate the pencil or change the background color.  Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to  hear those types of suggestions– if the cover is bad, it’s bad, and I want to hear that– but understand that when you suggest that you’re saying “redo the entire cover,” not “alter this in Gimp.”

(All that said: my wife hates the cover, so if you feel the same, please don’t hesitate to tell me.  If everyone thinks this is a misfire I’d rather know now.)