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Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter

Source: FSB Associates
Paperback, 352 pgs.
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Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is a book focused on not letting rejection and negative thoughts get in the way of your dreams. Carter’s book guides writers through the doubts, negative thoughts, roadblocks, and obstacles of writing and publishing, helping them review their own perspectives and how to change their mindsets.

She begins by talking about her hammock where she daydreamed and thought about her writing, but one day, her neighbor cuts the shade tree down in his yard and the hammock is now not “perfect.” Carter’s thoughts are consumed by the loss of shade and the bright sun, but her husband suggests she moves the hammock to another spot. She’s unwilling to do that, until she realizes that sometimes obstacles pop up when we need to change direction.

“I had traded the powerful peace that I am for the illusion that somebody had taken it,” she says. “You may think, as I did, that someone or something outside you is responsible for your upset. As convincing as this appears, it’s a misconception. Our peace and happiness come from within.”

Our internal demons and thoughts are those that keep us from reaching our dreams, and she urges us to stop being rats on that spinning wheel and get off. We need to release ourselves from the “cage of our own making.” In order to do this, however, you need to know wholeheartedly what you want, especially from your writing. You need to have a clear vision of the writing and its purpose. Without it, agents and external forces can push you in directions that are not a perfect fit for you. While some may provide additional opportunities that you may want to pursue, other opportunities may not be a right fit. The trick is to have a clear vision at the start to recognize those right opportunities.

“We cannot control outside circumstances or thoughts, we can choose how we relate to them.”

Carter does offer some writing advice, but her book is less about craft itself and more about the mindset you need to create freely. She does offer a great deal of insight about choosing agents and publishers and learning what route is best for your writing. Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is part spiritual journey, part publishing advice, and part writing craft advice.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Bella Mahaya Carter is a creative writing teacher, empowerment coach, speaker, and author of an award-winning memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, and a collection of narrative poems. She has worked with hundreds of writers since 2008 and has degrees in literature, film, and spiritual psychology. Her poetry, essays, fiction, and interviews have appeared in Mind, Body, Green; The Sun; Lilith; Fearless Soul; Writer’s Bone; Women Writers, Women’s Books; Chic Vegan; Bad Yogi Magazine; Jane Friedman’s blog; Pick The Brain; the Spiritual Medial Blog; Literary Mama, several anthologies’ and elsewhere.

The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield (audio)

Source: Freebie
Audible, 2+ hrs.
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The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield is a hommage to Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac that relies on Rolling Stone magazine’s extensive archives. It is clear from Rob Sheffield’s effusive narrative that he loves Stevie Nicks, considers her songwriting genius, and her style transcendent. He clearly loves Stevie Nicks and he takes listeners on a journey through her music with the band and as a solo artist. I loved learning that Nicks wrote songs and that none of them were earmarked ahead of time for the band or her solo albums. She just couldn’t help but write songs all the time.

I liked the light-hearted nature of this nugget, as I’m not as familiar with Nicks’ work as others might be. I’ve listened to Fleetwood Mac many times, and I enjoy their music, but I was interested in her as an artist, who seemed to be a force in the band and on her own. I would probably seek out a more in-depth look at her work and her life, but this provided a nice overview without too much “romance/breakup” gossipy stuff, which I tend to not like as much.

The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield is one fan-boy’s love of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks told by the man himself. It does provide a great overview for the curious who might not want to be too invested, but if you want something more than squealing about how great she is, you might want to try something different.

RATING: Tercet

Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 128 pgs.
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Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells from National Geographic Kids is another stunning book from this publisher. The full-color pictures, the facts throughout the book, and just how the book is put together is fantastic. For kids who are curious about the world around them and pick up rocks and stick them in their pockets as they walk through the park, this is a book for them. This book will open their eyes to the wonderful world of rocks, minerals, and shells.

The introduction gives parents some basic information about how the book rolls out its information, from fact boxes to interactive questions for the kids and the parent tips at the back of the book. This book offers parents a starting point for exploring the natural world with their kids and rekindling some of the curiosity they once had as children. I remember taking earth science in school, but this rock cycle graphic is a great refresher about how all rocks can come full circle.

In addition to pictures of mountains and natural formations that are comprised of rock, the book points to man-made structures that use different types of rock. Kids will learn about rocks in their own backyards, as well as rocks they don’t see every day. I learned about rock that floats like an island in the South Pacific. The interactive map of rocks in different locations is a fun matching quiz for parents and kids alike.

Kids also will learn about shells and mollusks and turtles and so much more. Don’t forget about the minerals. We love discovering new minerals and the matching game where kids are asked to match minerals like topaz with their natural forms, rather than their refined gem looks.

My daughter has collected rocks for as long as I can remember and when we visited Myrtle Beach she started collecting shells. This book has so much information, you may get overloaded if you read it in one day, but as a resource you can come back to again and again, it is a gem of a book. We’re always amazed by how National Geographic Kids puts its informational books together and makes them interactive, and Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells is no exception.

RATING: Cinquain

Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise and Marcus Brotherton (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 12+ hours
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Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise and Marcus Brotherton, read by the Gary Sinise, explores his upbringing, wayward years, and his stumble into acting and building a theater in Chicago from the ground up. These stories are full of antics, and spontaneity, but they also demonstrate the tenacity of a young man who has found his calling. It is this determination that will carry him not only throughout his acting career, but family trials and his charity work with veterans and children.

Sinise is most well-known for Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump and CSI NY but among veterans, he’s Lt. Dan — yes, military personnel have called him that more than one time. While not a veteran himself, Sinise understands the sacrifices many military men and women make for our country and how heavily the PTSD and wounds weigh on not only those sustaining them, but also those caring for the wounded. Listening to this on audio, I was engaged in the story most of the time, unless he was listing accomplishments.

Despite that drawback, Sinise provides a good look at how his wayward early years and stumble into acting not only set him up for success in film, theater, and television, but also in using that success to help others tasked with protecting our freedoms. While there are moments in the memoir where he references things that later proved false (like WMDs in Iraq), the focus on his work is not political — it is humanitarian. This is the work and the part of the memoir that was the most “real” to me. He seemed to genuinely care about the people he tries to help through his foundations and other organizations, and it is clear that he believes in his purpose.

Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise and Marcus Brotherton is an exploration of one man’s journey away from his own concerns and career to a life of service. He’s clearly done a lot of good from uplifting the morale of troops overseas to providing children with school supplies in war zones and ensuring that veterans return home to a place where they can thrive and do more than just survive from appointment to appointment. This is the work to be proud of, work he plans to continue, and work that will leave a lasting impression.

RATING: Quatrain

Go Wild! Sea Turtles by Jill Esbaum

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Go Wild! Sea Turtles by Jill Esbaum from National Geographic Kids offers a look at the sea habitats of sea turtles, including the leatherback, green turtle, hawksbill, and more. Like Go Wild! Pandas, this books includes vibrant photographs and a ton of facts about turtles. There is so much variety in these turtles and what they eat and where they live. The book opens with a beautiful photograph of a sea turtle gliding through the water and a child-like poem about turtles, the reptiles of the world’s oceans.

Turtles live in so many oceans around the world, except the Arctic. The book talks about the turtles’ anatomy, and you learn about how the leatherback doesn’t have a traditional shell and that sea turtles cannot retract their head and legs inside their shells like land turtles can. We learn about how vulnerable these animals are to our own trash, which are dumped in the oceans, as well as how we can help turtles recover and thrive by protecting their habitats and dimming city lights so the babies can find the sea. There are simple things each of us can do, including take a few hours to clean up our own waterways and beaches.

Go Wild! Sea Turtles by Jill Esbaum has a great deal of information about habitats, eating habits, dangers, and human interventions. Like the other book reviewed this week, this one offers tips for parents on how to engage their children in learning more about turtles from writing stories to holding plays. It also has a few games for kids so they understand what they’ve read. Definitely a book you’ll want for your little naturalist.

RATING: Cinquain

Go Wild! Pandas by Margie Markarian

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Go Wild! Pandas by Margie Markarian from National Geographic Kids is chock full of panda facts and vibrant photographs. Kids will open the book to find a panda hugging a tree, but when they turn the page, they’ll be greeted by the smiling panda face and a riddle. Kids will be learning in a fun and interactive way with this book.

We loved all of the facts, the pictures, the riddles, the quiz at the end, and the call to action on how kids and parents can help pandas. Pandas, as many know, are endangered and most of that is because their habitat is disappearing. There are also tips on how to engage your children in learning about pandas beyond reading the book. Some of the ideas include adopting a panda online, doing some math about how much pandas eat vs. how much the child eats, and putting on plays about pandas. The book also contains a glossary for words in the book from “habitat” to “reserve.”

Go Wild! Pandas by Margie Markarian is a great starting point for young readers interested in the natural world. From its interactive quizzes and riddles to its plethora of facts and photos, National Geographic Kids has created a book that can create a lifelong learner and spur kids to explore the world beyond the page.

RATING: Cinquain

Forward by Abby Wambach (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook; 5+ hrs.
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Forward by Abby Wambach, read by the author, explores her need for soccer in her life and her early hatred of the game and her talent. But at its heart, it is also a memoir that explores identity and self-love. A lot of her high school and soccer years are spent trying to be seen, but even as she is seen by the public more and more, she feels more unloved. This vacancy in her heart leads her to destructive behavior and she becomes very unbalanced. There is one moment where she turns the tables on herself — asking herself if she knows who she is.

Her life is a roller coaster of emotion where she is on highs and slumps into lows, exchanging booze for pills. However, I feel like when she decides to kick these habits, they are still there but she places less emphasis on them. She talks a lot about getting fit and kicking habits, but she still allows for medications that can be addictive. I found this a bit hypocritical, especially since they mask a larger problem. I sense that there is still denial here in how these pills mask her underlying issues. It begs the question of whether more time apart from soccer and the publicity would have given her more time for reflection and self-assessment, perhaps growth.

Forward by Abby Wambach is an inside look at a woman who has a hard time letting go of control, cannot have faith in others, and learn to love herself and know that she is worthy of love. Soccer is always there for her, even when she doesn’t want it to be. Soccer fans will love the recounting of her championships, Olympics, and more, but these are wider examples of her need for adrenaline and attention. Wambach struggles to be alone and love herself, but she never really recognizes this in the memoir. I think with more distance and further reflection, she would have written a deeper memoir.

RATING: Tercet

On the House by John Boehner (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 7+ hrs.
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**Caution: foul language throughout**

On the House: A Washington Memoir by John Boehner, read by the author, is an insider’s look at how the House of Representatives works from backroom deals, challenges with fellow party members, and camaraderie between representatives when the media is not in their face or fundraising isn’t front and center. I loved his no-nonsense attitude, but what I found lacking was his own self-reflection on how he could have steered his party and others in different and better ways during his time as Speaker of the House. Much of what he imparts in his years in the House are more “I was right and others were wrong” commentary, which I don’t feel to ring true.

It was great to see his relationships with Presidents Gerald Ford, George Bush, and Barack Obama, especially as Speaker Boehner tried to navigate “Crazytown.” I found it ironic that Boehner started his career in the House as a radical who wanted changes to the House bank, but ended up fighting against “radicals” (Tea Party and otherwise) in his days under the Obama administrations. He has more colorful words for people like Sen. Ted Cruz and others, which I’m sure you’ve heard about online or TV.

Much of the issues facing Boehner were related to the 2013 government shutdown, which he had warned his fellow Republicans that such a standoff would fail against the Obama administration. He may have been right, but allowing the party to hang itself out to dry to prove a political point (which it didn’t) runs contrary to the earlier set up of the book where he hails his respect for the country and its institutions. Mind you, he’s still a Republican with ideals that lean toward smaller government, but in this case, it seems he could have fought Cruz (who was not in the House) harder by pushing his own party away from shutting down the government.

What I did find interesting were the yarns about his childhood and his early House years, including his assessment of Sen. Ted Kennedy and others. Some of these stories seem a bit inflated, but that’s typical with memoirs focused on making the speaker sound more upright and honest than they may have been. We all want to remember our past actions in the best light.

As an aside, I had no idea that the Speaker could make their own rules for their office, including being able to smoke inside! But Boehner did just that! Another fun fact, according to Boehner, Bernie Sanders is the most honest and non-cynical politician in government.

On the House: A Washington Memoir by John Boehner is his review of his time in the House from his early years scrapping his way to the top and as Speaker of the House, one of the most powerful positions in government. What I got out of this is that you are only as powerful as the relationships you build and the consensus you can achieve through those relationships. However, as more politicians become “radical” — adhering to their beliefs without room for new information or compromise — the government is likely to become far more dysfunctional.

RATING: Tercet

How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 10+ hrs.
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How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, read by the author, is a phenomenal listen. I want to read the book as well in print. Kendi has the perfect voice for this book, and it makes the personal stories far more relateable. Much of this resonated with me because I grew up in the 1990s and I saw many of these phenomena that Kendi talks about. The idea that “color” is no longer seen is obviously ridiculous, but the sentiment is even more trying when systemic processes and socialization force us to “see” color as thug or criminal or worthy of the benefit of the doubt or forgiveness, etc.

“The hate that hate produced. … More hatred makes them more powerful,” Kendi says. He himself is a victim of this, enabling the racist policies and power to continue and gain strength. Hating white people becomes hating black people and vice versa, he adds. His arguments can be convoluted and circular in his narration, which is another reason, I’d like to read the text because I tend to absorb these kinds of concepts better in print than audio. I was particularly fascinated by his conclusion that white supremacy is actually a nuclear ideology that is anti-human because many of the policies it opposes actually would have helped their poor white brethren, so the question is which white people are supreme? Those with more money, at least so it seems from the examples provided by Kendi.

Kendi also reminds us that we often look for theories and evidence that validates our points of view or biases. None of us are immune to it, but we can be watchful for data that caters to those biases and learn how to see through the fog. The story of Kendi in college coming to a conclusion that white people are aliens and that’s why they hate blacks is an illustrate of this point. What we need to understand is that racism is the lumping of one group of people into a group to be looked down upon or turned into the “enemy” or “evil” other. We all have the power to protest racist policies, no matter where in the power structure we are.

The only drawback for me was that Kendi tends to get sidetracked and the narrative becomes convoluted, which muddles the message in some ways. His narrative also is far from linear. I do like how he personalized his examples to demonstrate that all people are capable of racism. This is a message we all need to hear and understand, so that we can be prepared to move away from racism as the human race.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi reminds us not to fall under the mind control of white supremacy that we have no power — if they control your thinking, they control you. These are wise words. Now, if you are looking for a practical guide on how to accomplish real change in policy and processes, this is not the book for you. What you need is to take the lessons in this book about identifying racism and resisting those policies, affecting change, and standing up to the oppression of yourself and others.

RATING: Quatrain

Advanced Lift-the-Flap: How Your Body Works by Rosie Dickins

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 16 pgs.
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How Your Body Works by Rosie Dickins from Usborne is full of information in easily digestible chunks for young kids. From the organs to growth and eating, this book covers a lot. Some of the book covers nutrition and the importance of exercise, but there is a lot about immunity, germs (good and bad), and about different levels of maturing the body goes through.

My daughter could read most of this on her own as an elementary school student, which is great because it provides her with interesting facts, real microscopic images of the tongue and other things, and engaged her. She was eager to lift the flaps to learn more, and she was excited to share what she learned with the rest of the family.

The book is visually engaging with full-color images of the body and germs and other things. How Your Body Works by Rosie Dickins is a book that children can read over and over. It’s definitely a fun way to introduce important topics like eating healthy and exercising as well as puberty to young kids. My daughter enjoys science, and this book really held her attention, even when she knew some of the facts already from school.

RATING: Cinquain

The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis takes another look at Aline Griffith, a small town girl looking for big adventure and to serve her country. Loftis uses source material from the National Archives, Griffith’s own fictionalized accounts of her time as a spy with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and many are source materials to suss out the truth of her time as a spy. Aline was a model who trained to be a spy at The Farm and her own accounts of her exploits are likely to have been embellished because as publishers will do, they want to sell books and car chases, murders, and more sell books. While Aline may have wanted to recount her life honestly, other marketing experts were at play and Loftis strives to piece out what was true from those accounts with secondary sources. I also think some people have a glamorous view of spies and what they do (e.g., James Bond), and the reality is much more mundane and nuanced — it’s about building trust and relationships that can be leveraged for information.

Was Loftis successful in finding the truth? For the most part, he did his best based on what was classified and what isn’t any longer. What I loved about Loftis’ narrative is that it read like historical fiction, and I think with any book based on research there’s a tendency to be too dry in the narrative. Because he chose to narrate it more like a novel, it was easier to eat up the pages and get engrossed in Aline’s story. Her time at The Farm was fascinating, and some may wonder why her family wasn’t in the book and asking about her whereabouts, etc., but I think it’s clear that when you become a spy and have a cover story, the family must accept it as truth and you make sure that they do. Adding those conversations would have bogged down this narrative.

Being part of the OSS coding room in Spain (considered neutral in the war) to send information to the U.S. State Department during WWII is not a glamorous job but no less important than being a spy. She spent much of her career in that room, but she also attended parties, social events, and had a semi-romance with a bullfighter. When she finally became a field agent, it is clear that all those parties and social events she was invited to opened the door for her career because she was in places where she could probe without drawing attention and could overhear conversations that might be of importance with regard to Nazi movements.

Loftis also creates a wider link between espionage and the Spanish bullfights. Like the matador, Aline lures her targets closer to her with the hope that she can evade capture, jail, and death. She’s weaving her spell on the crowd around her and she’s masterfully moving her cape to lure the bulls and create an illusion of a career woman learning about her current home — Spain. It probably helped that she was genuinely captivated by the Spanish culture.

The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis is engaging, thrilling, and insightful, and he provides a great deal of information about the spy business (but I’m not an expert). I do think there are holes and gaps that could be filled, and I would love to know more about her time doing “odd jobs” for the CIA after her marriage and her life in Spain was in full swing, but alas that information is still classified (my guess is it had a lot to do with preventing communism’s spread). Aline Griffith served her country with honesty and dignity, and she enjoyed doing it, even if she was in danger. She clearly was a people person and the relationships she maintained throughout her life are a testament to her personality and care for others. Loftis has humanized a spy who believed her efforts helped the country during WWII, but I’m still curious about some of the characters in her life like Pierre and Ryan (two figures who are much more mysterious — perhaps there’s a fictionalized account of them in Loftis’ future).

RATING: Quatrain

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 6+ hrs.
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White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo, narrated by Amy Landon, takes a sociologists’ approach to race (which does involve generalizations). White Americans must remember that we are products of our socialization and culture, and no aspect of society lies outside the forces of racism, even if you come from a mixed-race family, had ancestors who were once discriminated against (Irish, Italian, etc.), or experienced poverty, etc. The trick is not to see our unique experiences as making us exempt from racism but to see how those experiences shaped who we are within a racist society and to see the larger picture of how racism impacts others. Secondly, she says we need to redefine the term “racist” — we’ve been taught that racists are immoral and mean and that they consciously hate/oppress others based upon their race. However, this assumption is a societal definition propagated by a racist society. White people need to first examine what it means to be white and what that has brought them in society and cost others — this examination will be a struggle for many.

Superficial differences between races and genders are a result of geographical location and evolution, but biologically we are all the same. The race construct is just that – made up. White supremacy has taken that construct and divided resources based on a false hierarchy, hence the accessibility gaps for non-white groups and non-male groups. Many of these discussions are ones I’ve had before in college with courses and other groups — open dialogue is essential about things that are not “fact” even though they were credited as such. She does touch on exploitation as the catalyst for racism (I would read Stamped From the Beginning for more on this).

Imagine going to court to proclaim you are white because you were misclassified as another race! This actually occurred and scientific experts were called into these cases to provide “expert” testimony. DiAngelo indicates that those European immigrants are the only ones who were successful in becoming “white” after assimilation, etc. Assimilation — think about that — casting aside their customs, speaking English only, and eating only American foods, etc. Those assimilated people now benefit from their whiteness. DiAngelo also points out that if poor and working class Americans across all “races” worked together – they could become a powerful force against the upper “white” classes. However, many perceived as “white” also tend to look down on other poor and working class peoples because of their “whiteness” and the system that oppresses them both. The irony!

“Scholar Marilyn Frye uses the metaphor of a birdcage to describe the interlocking forces of oppression.16 If you stand close to a birdcage and press your face against the wires, your perception of the bars will disappear and you will have an almost unobstructed view of the bird. If you turn your head to examine one wire of the cage closely, you will not be able to see the other wires. If your understanding of the cage is based on this myopic view, you may not understand why the bird doesn’t just go around the single wire and fly away. You might even assume that the bird liked or chose its place in the cage.

But if you stepped back and took a wider view, you would begin to see that the wires come together in an interlocking pattern—a pattern that works to hold the bird firmly in place. It now becomes clear that a network of systematically related barriers surrounds the bird.

Taken individually, none of these barriers would be that difficult for the bird to get around, but because they interlock with each other, they thoroughly restrict the bird. While some birds may escape from the cage, most will not. And certainly those that do escape will have to navigate many barriers that birds outside the cage do not.”

We all have prejudices (it is the way our brain operates) or a sense of discomfort around certain people or groups — acting on those prejudices is discrimination. Racism is a structure (white supremacy) and we need to remember that we have a role to play in that structure. We need to learn to recognize our prejudices and work toward not acting on them and dismantling the structures that employ discrimination against groups different from white males. This is a tall order because many of these ideologies are reinforced in our daily lives.

One notion that came to mind, however, is the “kafkatrap” by which an accused is guilty by merely being silent. Many of us are silent, many of us fail to stand up and point out discrimination (even subtle discrimination), and does this mean we’re all complicit in racism? While this may be true, I prefer less circular arguments and prefer that we work as a human race to improve our systems for all of us. THIS will require us to have discomforting conversations and require actions that run counter to our normal daily actions. It will require us to reform and dismantle white supremacy. We’ll need to widen our view of history, particularly in schools, to acknowledge both the good and the bad, highlighting those who have exploited and committed racism to obtain the upper economic hand, among other things.

My only complaint is that DiAngelo was very repetitive toward the end. She would bring up examples she already used and talk about them again in the same manner she did in the previous chapter. I wouldn’t have noticed it as much if it wasn’t back-to-back repetition. Perhaps she believes repetition will stick with readers more and help them to see the situations she discusses in a new light. I’m unsure.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo, narrated by Amy Landon, asks us to recognize our faults, work to fix them, and to question ideologies that are considered the norm. There is much work to do. Challenging racism starts with recognizing your own prejudices and being conscious of how to modify/change your reactions and behaviors going forward. This is a very academic look at racism, which some may find too high-brow for them. Racism is real and present today (across the globe) — it is not a thing of the past, and we need to tackle it head on and in a multitude of ways. While some of her arguments are circular, she provides a good overview of racism in today’s society and the reactions that white people have when confronted with its subtleties.

RATING: Quatrain