Book Review: Sorted

Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place by Jackson Bird

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I’m a hopelessly cisgender muggle, and selecting this book I admittedly embarked on a very steep learning curve in reference to our trans friends & acquaintances. I’m glad I did. Sorted was/is more than memoir, it’s a text as well.

Jackson Bird is more than a teacher; he’s an instructor. Plus, he’s a very funny dude, and if I understand what pithy means, that, too. ‘Breast of times’? ‘These hips don’t lie’ See what I mean?

Anyone who writes with such candor, courage, and competence deserves to be read widely, and this author does all those things very well. Formatted like notes to himself for future reference, Sorted is the author’s travelogue from first awakenings of his gender dysphoria, through the maze of physical and emotional, and social, and cultural minefields he had to navigate to get to serenity and a genuine life. All in all, it was quite a journey for him, and quite a payout for the ‘Free My Nipples’ effort where it seemed to begin.

This book enlightened me to just a few of the many struggles, and the very real obstacles transgender people face in this still puritanical, rigidly binary society. In writing Sorted, Jackson Bird has gone a long way toward liberating himself. But he’s also cleared a path toward liberation for us muggles as well.

From one Cisgender citizen to others, if you care to learn the basics of transgender life, and if you care for a trans person, read this brave and important book. Here’s a place to start: Like every trans person, Jackson Bird wasn’t ‘born a girl’; he was was born as himself. As he might say, instead of AFAB, he was AHAB: Assigned Human At Birth. Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place

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Launch Party: PostFlight: An Old Pilot’s Logbook

Save the date: June 27th 2021 11:00 a.m. CST. Launch party for my new book, PostFlight: An Old Pilot’s Logbook. E-vite coming soon. Save the date. If you want to be a pilot, or if you know a young person, especially a young woman, who dreams of flying, please join us on Sunday June 27th at 11 Central time. Let’s launch this book! Thank you.

Book Review: Piloting Your Life

Piloting Your Life by Terri Hanson Mead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here we have a great compendium of advice for women, especially those over forty, to make the most of their lives despite all the cultural, physical, social, and economic challenges arrayed against them. Full disclosure: This reviewer is heavily of the male persuasion, so these are thoughts at a remove.

The author is one of those people who seem never to have been satisfied to settle into any one occupation, persona, definition, or pursuit. She lists herself as an entrepreneur, angel investor, startup advisor, expert witness, podcaster, writer, mother, wife, and commercially-rated helicopter pilot. Whew!

Her book covers nearly every aspect of what attaining forty years on the planet means and does to the attainee, and her advice for dealing with the many challenges that age presents, all of it couched (somewhat) in aviation metaphor. There is discussion of disengaging the autopilot, and increasing power, and getting full on the controls, etc. All good advice, whether the reader is a pilot or not, and well worth reading in any case.

Only four stars, because as well written and authoritative as the book is, this reader purchased it believing it truly was an aviation book. As a retired commercial helicopter pilot myself, I wanted to know about the author’s journey to her own cockpit, and that story isn’t included. But if your interest is in navigating your forties as a female, my guess is this book can help guide you in for a gentle landing.Piloting Your Life

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Book review: Latinas in Aviation

Latinas in Aviation: Stories of passion, power, and breaking into the aviation industry by Olga Esther Nevarez Custodio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Only six percent of pilots are women, but after reading Jacqueline’s little book, Latinas in Aviation, I have a feeling that number will change very soon, and very much upward. A compilation of women in cockpits, as mechanics, as air traffic controllers, and filling about every other role in aviation, this book should serve as an inspiration for any young person, particularly a young Latina.

Ms Ruiz cites such aviation luminaries as Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, pilot of an Air Force KC-135 refueling aircraft, Jacqueline Pulido, first woman pilot at Volaris Airlines, Lizbeth Alvorado with ATC at O’Hare International, Amanda Grace Colón Nuñez A&P mechanic and accident investigator.

The women featured in this book have something in common besides their gender. They all have a desire to be part of aviation, and they’ve all defied a convention of some kind to make that dream a reality. A number of them are fulfilling a parent’s dream vicariously by flying. Another thing many of them share is that they had a mentor, someone who believed in them even when they did not.

Reading of the obstacles many of them faced, disbelief that they’re pilots, doubt about their abilities, comments and harassment from male pilots and even criticisms from other women in some cases, heightens these womens’ accomplishments. For any young women wishing to fly, especially a latina, this book is filled with role models. It’s time to change that six percent number, and move it to 50%. Querer es poder indeed. Latinas in Aviation: Stories of passion, power, and breaking into the aviation industry

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Book Review: This is Your Captain Speaking

This Is Your Captain Speaking: Reaching for the Sky Despite a Lifetime of Abuse, Depression and Fear by Courtney Schoch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wow. That’s what I kept thinking as I read this book. Wow. What an amazing, disheartening, brutal, dangerous, and finally heartwarming life. Why the last adjective, ‘heartwarming’? Because the author, for all her dark background, her immersion in negative family dynamics, the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, her own extremely poor judgment growing up, and her basement-level self-esteem at one point while trying to escape her past, she emerged somehow as a successful, compelling person. Despite the book’s seamy and sordid details, the author’s descriptions of the sleazy, crude, lying, and violent men she fell in with—some of whom she married—she comes out the other side, as a pilot no less, and an inspiring voice to others.

Aircraft autopilots operate on the concept of error signals. What that means is, once the pilot sets a course, the autopilot makes that course equal zero. Any deviation from the course due to turbulence, or high winds, or any disturbance, the autopilot detects the error signal, and returns the aircraft to the zero point, the course the pilot chose. Reading this, I hoped the author would heed her own error signals, and adjust the course of her life.

Three stars only because I wanted much more about her journey to the cockpit, her acquisition of flying skills, her navigation of the airline hiring process, and the ways she gained flight time and certifications. We heard very little of that journey. So this reader/reviewer’s reaction, especially as a pilot myself, was to wonder why the book’s cover, its title, and its overall pitch don’t match the contents? It takes a lot of courage to write a memoir, especially one like this, so the author is indeed brave and resourceful. I wanted to see her pull out of her dive toward the ground, and finally she did.This Is Your Captain Speaking: Reaching for the Sky Despite a Lifetime of Abuse, Depression and Fear

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Book Review: Think Again

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam M. Grant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Learning requires the humility to realize one has something to learn.’ So saith Adam Grant, author of Think Again, one of the more insightful and (literally) thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long time. A possible alternate subtitle might be ‘Tearing down our siloes.’ The author offers nothing less than a way out of our current rigid thinking, reinforced by social media, and enhanced by the echo chamber of confirmation bias.

One of the first challenges any of us encounters interacting with others is the tribal urge, the powerful need to obtain the approval of others, and to not receive argument in return. Grant says the tradition of arguing should be returned to respectability, since, as he writes, ‘arguing with somebody is not a sign of disrespect; it’s a sign of respect. It means I value (that person’s) view enough to argue about it. If I didn’t consider it worthwhile, I wouldn’t bother.’

He continues, addressing most of the common fallacies we hold about confrontation, and argument, and the value of letting go of long-cherished opinions. One method of letting them go, or at least starting a civil conversation with someone we disagree with is to ask: ‘How do you know?’ The key is, we need to ask ourselves that question as well.

A few lasting lessons from Think Again are these: Don’t confuse confidence with competence; meaning is healthier than happiness; the greatest discoveries have come not from ‘Eureka’ moments, but from ‘That’s funny’ moments; and just because it’s the HIPPO—the HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion—doesn’t make it right.Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know

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Book Review: The Fig Factor

The Fig Factor: A Memoir about Growth, Inspiration, and Second Chances by Jacqueline Camacho-Ruiz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was drawn to this little memoir partly because of its title, partly because I have a passing acquaintance with the author, and partly because it took me back to other cherished friends in the Spanish-speaking world, amigos that I dearly miss.

That disclaimer aside, let me say that even if I didn’t know Jackie Ruiz, I’d happily give The Fig Factor five stars, only because I can’t give it eight. Seldom have I read a memoir that tugs at the heartstrings like this one does, and seldom have the rewards for persistence, faith, and resilience been so clearly rewarded and conveyed. It has the added feature of being very well written.

No spoilers here, but the vector Ms Camacho-Ruiz has taken was nothing short of amazing, and considering where she has landed, and how she’s thriving is a remarkable thing to see. As for the mysterious title, suffice to say that figs played an important part in the author’s first entrepreneurial effort, and ‘Fig Factors’ still guide her efforts to this day. The book gave me a new appreciation for strong women, the value of family, the role of universal beneficence in our lives, and the goodness available to all, if we seek it out.

Political cant aside, her story also affirms for me the shallow thinking, and the ill-considered efforts of certain people to block entry to immigrants to this country. From Mexico City, to a tiny pueblo called Malpaso, to the U.S. and Chicago, to success, despite several challenges, speed-bumps, health concerns, and family crises, Ms Ruiz triumphs, and then some.

If you enjoy a good, satisfying, and inspirational memoir, read this little book, and you’ll give it eight stars, too.The Fig Factor: A Memoir about Growth, Inspiration, and Second Chances

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Book Review: The Souls of Black Folk

Life in the veil. This is the encapsulation of WEB Dubois’ seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, on what it’s like to live as a Black person in these United States. Sadly, though the book was published in 1903, it is relevant these hundred and eighteen years later as Black Americans continue struggling to be, in Dubois’ own words, ‘a negro and an American.’ Here’s my disclaimer: As a white man in America, I understood very little of this book, except that my race bears a considerable blame for its contents & conclusions.

Dubois begins the book with a simple, yet profound question: How does it feel to ‘be a problem.’ As a white person in America, this was an unusual query for me, simply because, unless we’re in trouble for some reason, or unable to accomplish a task, or lag behind our peers, we whites are never subjected to this feeling; we’re never assumed to ‘be’ a problem. Our Black friends and neighbors feel it their entire lives, simply because of the color of their skin.

Dubois writes of another sense that separates his race from whites, what he refers to as ‘second sight,’ that is, Black peoples’ constant sense that they must see themselves not for themselves, but as white people see them. They must always look at themselves through our eyes. And the message Black people often find in that sight is—don’t forget this was written 118 years ago—’the other world which does not know, and does not wish to know our power.’

He continues, unashamed and unapologetic, in calling America to task for its serial disappointments regarding Black citizens: The Atlanta compromise; the Freedmen’s Bureau and its lost promise; the on-going violence against Blacks across America, despite the 14th amendment, and on, and on….

Dubois is not shy about calling his contemporaries to task: He writes of the controversy surrounding Booker T. Washington, and his degradation of Blacks, in Dubois’ opinion, and the former’s efforts to build Tuskegee Institute. He writes also of the on-going antipathy among Blacks for Jewish people, accusing them of assisting the white race in keeping Black people subservient.

In another section reminiscent of today’s headlines, particularly those emanating from Georgia, Dubois writes about voting, and those who would make the act of voting more difficult. Since emancipation, Black churches have served in many ways to benefit their members. One of those services has been as a gathering place, a sort of circling the wagons kind of place prior to heading out for the polls. This is why, 118 years after this book came out, it is no surprise that a new legislative initiative in the south proposes an end to so called ‘souls to the polls,’ efforts. History is indeed circular.

He writes further about chain gangs in the south, and prison labor as nothing more than enslavement by another means in order to create work crews for menial tasks that the state would prefer not to have to pay for.

But mostly he writes about his title: The souls of Black folk. And the theme he returns to, time after time, is how resilient and hopeful his people are, in spite of everything they’ve undergone in America since 1619. In the author’s words, ‘there has always been the temptation to despair, when all we wanted was to be a negro…and an American.’

Highly recommended.