Hidden Figures and Being a Critical Consumer of Media

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book is an important contribution to the body of knowledge out in the ether about African American history.According to Nielson, “U.S. adults spent 10 hours, 39 minutes a day consuming media in the first quarter of 2016.” When you consume so much information, how do you evaluate what is legitimate, accurate and useful information? This is something that’s become increasingly prevalent over the last few months in the new/fake news storm that has occurred around the election, but it applies to more than just news. It applies to all media.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought over the past few days while I read Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book is an important contribution to the body of knowledge out in the ether about African American history. It helps reshape stereotypes about the roles of women in general, and African American women specifically, in science, math and history. It sheds new light on the American history of discovery.

But here’s the thing. I found the book dreadful. It was like listening to someone read out a timeline of facts, at time repetitive and frequently reliant on clichés.

I believe in holding up all media, which certainly includes books, up to high expectations. And I’m torn on if I evaluate Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race as it’s quality as book or its value to our greater historical knowledge.

I have friends who comment on how harshly I evaluate books I read when I log them on Goodreads. I don’t think I am harsh but I do think I am critical. My system is consistent and straightforward, though influenced by the headspace I am in during reading.

  • Five Stars: Loved it, adored it and will be recommending it to everyone I know.
  • Four Stars: Really liked, will likely recommend it but don’t love it so much I have to keep a physical copy of the book on my shelves.
  • Three Stars: Entertaining and enjoyable, but likely forgettable. Most books get this ranking.
  • Two Stars: Didn’t care for the book.
  • One Stars: Hates the book. Few books have received one star from me.

So what do I rate this book?

I’ve gone back and forth on this and think I will be giving it three stars. As a contribution to my knowledge of history, it gets five stars. But as a book, which is how I approached it, maybe two stars? I know no one else might care how I rate my books, but it’s important to me that I apply a critical lens on my media consumption so I can make the best use of the 10.65 hours of media I am consuming each day. I try to apply all media I consume to the same set if high standards, because without those standards, we end up in situations where the headline of the day is about fake news.

I do want to add that I am excited to watch the movie Hidden Figures. I am interested to see how the script for the movie was adapted from what is shared in the book. And I am, always, excited to see the work of Taraji Henson and Octavia Spencer.

Book Series Featuring Strong, Smart Women

A girl detective obsessed with science. A teen who solves crime using science, special powers and a pack of friends. A lady detective who, when she’s not landing her latest conquest, is catching the bad guy.

We all need someone to look up to, and thanks to three book series, readers of all ages can have a strong, smart female role model.

Flavia de Luce Novels by Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce is obsessed with chemistry and has a passion for poison.Flavia de Luce is obsessed with chemistry and has a passion for poison. In her constant quest to find out what’s happening in the adult world around her, Flavia frequently stumbles across murder scenes. Not one to make a discovery like a dead body and leave it alone, Flavia of course investigates to solve the crime, usually helped along with some scientific know-how.

As the Flavia de Luce series progresses, there is a larger plot afoot, making it clear that Flavia is destined for great things. Along the way, readers get to accompany her on many adventures and learn some along the way.

These are 8.5 books in this series so far, beginning with The Sweetness in the Bottom of the Pie  and ending with Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d. These are written for adults, but can be enjoyed by children ages 11-12 and up.

Virals Series by  Brendan Reichs and Cathy Reichs

The Virals series by Brendan Reichs and Cathy Reichs is about a pack of four teens and one wolf dog and the alpha of the group is a very smart girl.Readers of the Bones series will be familiar with Cathy Reichs’ quick, entertaining way of writing. The Virals series is a collaboration between Reichs and her son. In it, a group of teens catches parvo, a disease typically only contagious to dogs. The four teens who catch disease, and the wolf dog from whom they contracted it, become a pack with special powers. Tory, the leader of this otherwise male pack, leads the group to tackle crimes through the Charleston, South Carolina, area.

I’ve read each of the Bones books and a recurring complaint throughout the series is how the main character breaks off to explain scientific details. It reads as hokey and stops the flow of the story. Because the Virals books focus on a group of people, scientific facts can be shared in a more natural way, without interrupting the overall flow. It’s a welcome improvement.

There are five books in this series and one collection of short stories called Trace Evidence. These young adult novels can be enjoyed by adults, but are geared towards teens 13 and older.

Miss Phryne Fisher Books by Kerry Greenwood

The Miss Phryne Fisher Books short enough to consume in an afternoon or two and contain a perfect mixture of adventure, mystery and sex. With 20 books in the series, it’s a wonderful find.When Phryne Fisher decorated her boudoir, she did it in a specific shade of green that would look good against her naked skin. She’s also more than willing to tie herself to the back of a car, unbeknownst to the driver, so she can catch a criminal in the act. Those two sentences tell you all you really need to know about what makes Phyrne such an entertaining character.

Set in Australia, the Miss Phryne Fisher Books, of which you might be familiar with from the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries television series, are delightful novels.  They are short enough to consume in an afternoon or two and contain a perfect mixture of adventure, mystery and sex. With 20 books in the series, it’s a wonderful find.

I describe the television series as being “PBS with sex.” The description applies for the books as well. They are definitely geared for adults but could be enjoyed by teens as well.

Developing a Sense of Community, On Foot

Here in Cincinnati, it’s cold outside. That awful kind of cold where you start trying to brainstorm ways to add more layers to your day’s outfit. Where you feel your eyes starting to freeze shut as soon as you walk outside.  Where cold gives way to numb so quickly, you aren’t sure if you’re okay. It’s also getting dark earlier in the evenings, which is a winning combination.

Last Spring I transitioned my commute to work from being in a car to walking. I live less than two miles from work, so it’s easily walkable. Because my drive is all city driving and takes me through many intersections where I am apt to catch red lights, my travel to work increased by only 14 minutes, from 18 minutes to 32.

I love walking to work. I’m sort of obsessed with it. I end up going through Over-the-Rhine each day, which is an area quickly being gentrified overhauled. I can truly say that every day I noticed a new thing I think is beautiful, be it architecture, murals, people or plants. It’s also been a nice way to ready myself for the upcoming workday or decompress from a long day while I head home.

During the six months I spent walking to work, I made friends with some folks renovating a local restaurant so it could re-open after a fire. I added in a daily stop to say hello to an adorable dog and an entertaining shop owner. I met a child who calls himself Batman. I feel like I became a recognizable addition to the daily comings and goings of the neighborhood and was able to learn a little more about my community.

A photo posted by Kate (@katespointofview) on

Despite my intense love of the walk, I also love myself and so, for my own safety, I had to switch over to the city bus when it started getting dark in the evening. And now that the temperatures are in the single digits when I wake up, my morning commute is also via the bus. I hear people knock the Cincinnati bus system pretty often, but I have found it to be wonderful. Their app works great, the drivers have been helpful, the buses clean and I am easily getting to and from where I need to go.

A few days ago I messed up reading the bus schedule and didn’t want to wait around for the next one. I knew Wonder Boy was downtown so started making my way towards him. Along the 12 block walk, I talked to a woman about her dogs’ cute outfits. I heard a man make one of the funniest insults I’ve heard in a long  while. I spoke with another woman who was trying to figure out bus schedules. I cut down a different path than I normally take and admired what has to be one of the cities tiniest parks.

When I got into Wonder Boy’s car, I realized what it is I love about walking to work and walking throughout the city that I certainly didn’t get in my car and I’m also not getting on the bus. I was part of the community. I miss that sense of community and the interactions that came with it.

I look forward to warmer weather and sunnier days when I can rejoin the community I so love.

Nimrod: Not the insult you might initially think

The origins of the word nimrod change the meaning dramatically, altering how older texts like The Moon by Night by Joy Packer should be read.I’m reading The Moon by Night, a 1957 novel by Joy Packer, and there is a character, a native South African, who goes by the Americanized name Nimrod. I read that and was like, damn is this book racist. So racist! And, to be fair, it totally is. And xenophobic.

I’ve struggled to find novels set in Africa, though, and the way Packer describes the wilderness of South Africa is beautiful. So I’ve continued to read. (The book, which I bought at a used book sale from the library, also smells all musty and old, which is a definite added bonus.) After a while, two characters are discussing Nimrod and one tells the other that Nimrod selected the name himself. I thought that sounded pretty weird. Later, we learn that Nimrod is a pretty good name because of “Nimrod the Hunter.”

Nimrod the Hunter?

It turns out that Nimrod is referenced in the Bible as the great-grandson of Noah. The Bible says he was “a mighty hunter before the Lord.” So to call someone Nimrod is to call someone a great hunter.

There is (unsubstantiated but much cited) lore around the word that states that in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, Bugs sarcastically refers to his nemesis Elmer Fudd as a nimrod, and the meaning shifted. Forevermore. No longer is nimrod a compliment. I don’t know if that’s the real reason, but I like it if it is.

My book sis still racist. It’s still xenophobic. But it’s also teaching me a lot about South Africa and a little bit of etymology.