This isn't the type of book I would normally obtain for myself, but I'm a huge fan of Gaby Dunn and have been ever since her BuzzFeed days, so in a show of support, I downloaded the book from Netgalley and read it without adding it as "currently reading" on Goodreads just in case it wasn't the type of book that I wanted to move forward with.
As others have mentioned, BAD WITH MONEY is equal parts memoir and financial self-help guide. Some people seemed put out by the memoir parts, and I can see how if you were looking for something solidly informational, that could be annoying. Personally, I thought her struggles with loans, over-spending parents, and lack of college resources made her relatable and gave her cred. It was like, "Look, I've struggled and seriously regret some of the mistakes I made that have made my current situation so difficult. Let me tell you how I fucked up so you don't."
I honestly would recommend this to older teens who are just about to start college (or are already in college). My mom told me a lot of this stuff already, but there were still things I didn't know (text messages count as wills in some states?!). Dunn gives some pretty great advice on a wide array of topics ranging from "is your unpaid internship a scam?" to "intro to tax forms 101" to the hidden costs of weddings and babies to "millennials are destroying everything: a baby-boomer story"-type clickbait bullshit opinion pieces.
People love to talk about how millennials are the over-privileged, lazy generation - one that they usually envision as a white, blonde, upper middle-class stereotype decked out in Anthropologie and sucking down on a customized Starbucks drink while using ten unfathomable apps expertly on the Pixel 3. The sad reality is that a lot of millennials can't afford health insurance, spend most of their paychecks on rent, are overqualified for the jobs they perform, weighed down by student loans, and find themselves without property, much less a well-balanced checkbook. They live in a tanked economy that was spoiled by the generation that came before them, and that generation continues to do its damnedest to continue to make their lives hell by mocking them for eating avocado toast.
The fact of the matter is, being a millennial is hard. There's no easy entre into adult life, and as much as we're sneered at for not knowing how to "adult," a lot of this stuff isn't taught in schools, and if you aren't lucky enough to have a parent or guardian figure who's willing to walk you through this kind of stuff, you might be SOL the next time you apply for a credit card or file your W2.
I enjoyed BAD WITH MONEY. The balance of memoir and instruction guide doesn't always quite work, but she says what she has to say with candor and a ready willingness to help.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Ultimately, feminism is about empowering women and providing them with the agency to not just make their choices, but to make those choices in an environment where their opportunities for success and for failure in all domains are equal to those of other genders. People have a lot of ideas about what is and isn't feminist and often, things like the Cathy comics and books like BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY are placed firmly in the "isn't" category.
Here's the thing: while it's important to fight for what we don't have, and provide opportunities for women and normalize traditionally non-feminine careers, lifestyles, and choices for women (or those who choose to identify as women at any given time), there are a lot of women who like "girly" things. And even as we fight for change, the grim reality is that a lot of us often feel trapped or bound by the constraints of our gender norms. So yes, even though we shouldn't stress about fitting into a size 12, or obsess over the jerks who don't call us after three days, we do.
Part of what I've always enjoyed about BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY and the Cathy comics is that these stories normalize the struggles of what it's like to be a woman in society, trying - and often failing - to play by society's rules for women while also sort of thumbing their noses at them, in an, "Oh, I'm stressed, you're stressed, but it's okay" way. Even as a high school student, there was a lot to relate to in Cathy. I think a lot of women felt the same way, especially since the Cathy comics were being published at a time when there really weren't a lot of comic strips specifically aimed at young-to-middle-aged women struggling to make it.
The strips were in syndication for over thirty years, until the creator, Cathy Guisewite, retired about a decade ago. When I saw an ARC for her memoir was available, I grabbed at it, because I'm super nosy and I love seeing what my favorite creators or celebrities are up to when they're not in the limelight (I don't know what you'd call the off-screen time - orangelight? pineapplelight?). I want to see them in the pineapplelight. And this memoir seemed like the perfect pineapplelight.
FIFTY THINGS THAT AREN'T MY FAULT serves as a kind of "where is she now?" expose on the Cathy creator, post-retirement. Now in middle age, she is a full time mother to a college-age daughter who no longer needs her, and a full time caretaker to nonagenarian parents who do not want her help. While fretting over family, aging, and health, Guisewite also goes back to basics with essays on the frustrations of having an entire closet of jeans that don't fit, and the sheer ridiculousness of the weight put on women's appearances to the point that we have to do different makeup for all sorts of different events and have fifty different variations on a white shirt, whereas men can just show up, clean-faced.
People who pick up this memoir looking for comedy are going to be disappointed, however. The humor here is much darker and sadder than in the Cathy comics, and there's a bitterness here that has replaced the jaded hopefulness of the Cathy comics. It also dishes out some pretty hardcore Truth Sandwiches™ alongside some tall glasses of Suck It Up Buttercup Fizzy Cola
™, so beware.
P.S. There are fun doodles in the chapter headings and paragraph breaks.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
I'm actually shocked by how many people seemed to dislike this memoir. It has a rather grim 3.17 average rating as of my writing this review, and a lot of the negatives are rather scathing. I have a soft spot for books with low ratings and thought the premise was intriguing, so I threw caution to the wind and picked up the book anyway. I enjoy memoirs written by women, especially if their experiences differ vastly from my own. As a non-religious person, I was immensely curious about what the life of someone raised in the environment of such a restrictive religion must be like.
Rhoda Janzen was raised as a Mennonite, which is very similar to being Amish except slightly more liberal - modern clothing is okay, and they don't appear to abstain from using technology. As an adult, she went her separate ways and ended up marrying a man who had bipolar disorder and was also bisexual, who turned out to be abusive and then left her for another man. As if that weren't enough, at the end of her marriage she had a hysterectomy that resulted in two of her organs being punctured, corrective surgery, and a pee bag. So basically, life was pretty sucky for her.
Ms. Janzen recounts her interesting life with a lack of political correctness and good humor. It's hard not to admire her seemingly indefatigable spirit, or be amused by her interactions with her family. Some of the negative reviews for this book said that her treatment of her family seemed cruel in print, but honestly, their portrayal seemed more quirky and eccentric than malicious; I've read RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, after all. I actually really liked her mom a lot (not her brothers, though).
At the back of the book is a brief history about the Mennonite religion, as well as some recipes from Mennonite cooking. I learned a lot about Mennonites by reading this book, and I really enjoyed the stories of Janzen and her family. She's a professor now, and has near-perfect grammar. Her sentence structure was a pleasure to read - I say that as a grammar snob, myself - and her sense of comedic timing is fairly hilarious when she's being funny. I'm not sure why this book seems so unpopular, but I'm guessing the religion angle and her seeming disdain for propriety contributed to that.
I'm just shy of thirty but I already have a healthy suspicion of the "youngins" and their new-fangled Instapics and their Snaptalks and their YouTubes. As if the music weren't bad enough - I see you, with your Carly Biebers and your Demi Jonas Grandes, thank you, next - they're obsessed with people who literally just sit in front of you and start telling you unsolicited stories that go nowhere. What used to make people change seats next to you on a bus now gets you millions of subscribers. Go figure! Kids!
Of course, if anyone is famous enough, they'll be asked to write a memoir, and now that YouTubes have finally got on, the YouTube celebrity memoir is a Thing. The first one I read was by Shane Dawson, and if there was a pool big enough and deep enough, I'd have drop-kicked my copy into it so it would sink all the way to the bottom of the earth to chill and share rape jokes with tubeworns and angler fish in the hydrothermal vent community.
When I picked up a copy of Mamrie Hart's first memoir at the used bookstore, I had never actually heard of her. I thought her blouse was cute and she had a good-natured but slightly evil smile that said, "Trust me; you'll regret it, tho." OK, I thought, being the goofy sap that I am, and I bought the book. To my surprise, I actually loved it. Reading the book is like being an introvert and having your crazy extroverted friend drag you to a dive bar - you're terrified, way out of your comfort zone, but also fascinated (who knows? this could go into your memoirs someday), and also there is booze! The writing style was kind of unpolished, and she had some goofy phrases, but the stories more than made up for it.
When I'VE GOT THIS ROUND showed up on Netgalley, and I saw her smiling another good-natured but slightly evil smile and wearing another cute blouse (seriously, where does she get her clothes?), I thought, "You win, Mamrie. You win." I applied for the book and got it - shockingly, because this book seemed too cool-for-school for me, and I have a rep for going to town on pop-cultural memoirs I didn't like - and was dragged on yet another crazy, booze-filled adventure.
I'VE GOT THIS ROUND was even better than YOU DESERVE A DRINK. I don't know if she sat down with a notepad and looked at all her negative reviews, or if she hired a better editor, or both, but the writing in this book was snappy and polished. All the clunky phrases from the previous book had been sanded down, so the result was as smooth as CÎROC vodka. Also, her stories were even more wild and hilarious, to the point where I felt exhausted even reading about them. Between being stuck on an airplane next to a judgemental cam girl and going on a cruise with the Backstreet Boys, I couldn't decide whether her life was goals or My Worst Introvert Nightmare™. Maybe both.
Honestly, though, I like this girl. She is officially free to be my VIP Trash Gold Card BFF™ any time she wants, although since she's got Grace Helbig, she probably wouldn't settle for me. Understandable. Still, I know some amazing bars in San Francisco, so any time you want to hang, feel free to call me maybe (that's one of those Carly Bieber songs I was mentioning earlier, FYI), although I have a two-drink limit and a midnight curfew, so on the other hand, maybe not.
P.S. Netgalley did me seriously dirty on this arc. There were odd spaces between words, some paragraphs would mysteriously disappear when you scrolled down the page in the reading app (???), and - the most egregious offense of all: none of the pictures showed up in the book! 1-800-FIX-THAT. I'm sure you won't have this problem in the finished copy like I did in the ebook, but it kind of ruined the overall High Definition Digital SurroundWord Reading Experience™ for me.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
I mean, there was no way I wasn't going to read this. Even if Phoebe Robinson of YOU CAN'T TOUCH MY HAIR fame hadn't wrote it, I would have picked it up anyway because it has 'trash' in the title. What kind of Trash Queen would I be if I didn't read a book that professes the solemn doctrine I hold so dear: that everything is garbage, and it's up to you to embrace the dumpster life because #traaaay (as in, trashy-slay). OF COURSE.
EVERYTHING'S TRASH is a much different book from YOU CAN'T TOUCH MY HAIR. I feel like YOU CAN'T TOUCH was a series of dialogues about what it means to be a black woman that unpacked a lot of the things that make up the identity, the heritage, and the current joys and problems that are associated with being black. EVERYTHING'S TRASH, on the other hand, adopts a broader focus while also refusing to bow down to white feminism or stray away from things that people might find uncomfortable or unsavory (e.g. white people can be trash).
I enjoyed this book a lot. Her sense of humor actually reminds me a lot of Tiffany Haddish's in her memoir, THE LAST BLACK UNICORN, but I feel like Robinson has a better idea of where the line is and knows when to stop. (Haddish, on the other hand, well. If we've read her book, we're familiar with the Roscoe chapter and we know how ~cringe~ it is.) I loved how she made up funny words and phrases that actually made a lot of sense in context, and I loved the topics she wrote on, which covered everything from sizeism to toxic masculinity to black lives matter to white feminism (and the problems associated with that) to sexism to racism.
There was a lot, and I feel like her ideas are going to make a lot of people angry (ha). I obviously was not, because I agreed with mostly everything she said, even (maybe especially?) about what she said about white people closing their eyes and covering their ears and going lalalalala every time someone tries to bring up race. It is uncomfortable to talk about, but that's all the more reason we should have these conversations. Talking about race is not inherently racist and saying that you don't see color is just as problematic as focusing on it too much. These are simple truths, and yet so many people can't be bothered to hear them. She has similar refrains when it comes to sexism and philosophy, as well. Her brief mention of what it means to be agnostic and mortality salience particularly struck me because it was a little too r e a l. I wasn't really prepared for how comparatively dark this book would feel while juxtaposed against the first, but once I got used to it, I was like, "Okay, yeah."
EVERYTHING'S TRASH, BUT IT'S OKAY is a very different book from YOU CAN'T TOUCH MY HAIR, but still manages to keep the same tone that made me appreciate the first so much. Honestly, I wish we made bigots take "good person" classes the way people who suck at driving have to take driver's ed, because this is one of the books I'd hand them to read as one of their assignments.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
When asked to describe my literary tastes, the quote from Lydia in Beetlejuice comes to mind: "I myself am strange and unusual." I'm drawn to weird books, the more outlandish the concept or the more mixed the reviews, the better. Oh, I like NYT best-sellers as much as anyone, because I'm a curious cat at heart, but what really gets that rush of anticipation through my veins is the idea of reading something super strange and freaky. #FFOMO (freaky fear of missing out). And memoirs are perfect for #FFOMO
MONSOON MANSION crossed by radar when the Kindle store was having a deal in which you could buy certain books for "credits" to get free books with purchase. I almost bought it but the price tag was too expensive, so I waited until it went on sale. The premise of abuse as explored in memoirs is sadly not a rare concept, and I think that uniform experience is another tick in the #MeToo movement's favor tbh, but MONSOON MEMOIR stood out among that backdrop of (mostly white) tragedy because it was set in the Philippines and being told by a woman of color.
Cinelle Barnes grew up in a large and opulent mansion. Her childhood was a whirl of color and glamor reminiscent of a Baz Lurhmann film, with champagne toasts and dinner parties and glittering chandeliers. Then, one day, a monsoon hits, causing destruction to both the house and their family fortunes. Her father leaves to pursue other opportunities that might make money, and in his absence her mother decides to take up with her (white) lover, a crazy and abusive con artist with political aspirations who thinks nothing of selling counterfeit title deeds or filling the house with prostitutes.
I think when I was picking this up, I was expecting something like CHANEL BONFIRE or THE GLASS CASTLE. Something that was sort of romantic, even as you found yourself thinking, "Oh my God, who does that with their kids?" (*cue "Won't Somebody Think of the Children?" refrain from Helen Lovejoy*) MONSOON MANSION was significantly darker than that. Norman, her mother's abusive boyfriend, is a monster. He makes her do chores for him to get meals. He stops paying the water bills, telling her now she gets to see what other people in her country live like, so she has to get her own water from a well and ends up getting food poisoning after ingesting hundreds of mosquito larvae (and probably bacteria as well) from the untreated water. As a present, her mother gave her a baby chick she raised to a chicken, and to punish her after losing one of his own cockfights, Norman kills her pet bird and serves it up at dinner, much to her horror. He also turns their house into a brothel and some of his creepy friends even come up to Cinelle's room and molest her. Ugh.
It feels wrong to say that I enjoyed this book because in part it was so awful, but also it had some technical errors that kept it from being a truly enjoyable book for me. First, I do want to say that I appreciate the raw honesty in the author's writing and the vividness of her recollection. I think tragedy can brand you, and if you can take that intense pain and turn it into something therapeutic, that's wonderful. Memoirs can be good catharsis - provided that they don't force you to relive your tragedies in an unhealthy way - and even provide solace to others going through similar situations. I've always believed writing to be powerfully therapeutic for people who have anger or sorrow that they don't feel comfortable expressing in other ways, and I suspect that Cinelle Barnes feels the same.
The problem is that the beginning is a slog. It's necessary to provide contrast to the last half of the book, when her family loses their fortune, but the long laundry lists of their wealth and privilege got a little dull after a while and caused me to shelve this book for a bit before gearing myself back up for round two. Her writing style is very flowery and dreamy, and while this usually works, sometimes it doesn't. She tends to use multiple metaphors, when one would serve far more concisely.
Also, from a purely technical aspect, there's something off with the page count of this book. It's supposed to be only about 241 pages but is much longer than that, because when I got to page 241 in my Kindle book, I was only about 85% done according to the progress bar. I continued reading, and the pages all said 241, even as the progress bar continued to move. Methinks someone screwed up.
Overall, MONSOON MANSION is a pretty good book. I think if you are into memoirs written by people like Jeannette Walls, Elizabegth Gilbert, or Mary Karr, you'll probably enjoy MONSOON MANSION. It wasn't quite to my tastes but I think memoir enthusiasts will enjoy it more than I did.
I wasn't expecting much when I picked up NOTHING GOOD CAN COME FROM THIS, which is maybe why it completely blew all of my preconceived notions of what it would be about out of the water. Rather than being the typical navel-gazing novel written by your average misanthropic Gen-Yer, NOTHING GOOD CAN COME OF THIS is reminiscent of early David Sedaris. It's an utterly bitter, utterly hilarious memoir of alcoholism, womanhood, and adulthood.
I devoured this memoir. It was so good. Kristi Coulter has so many valid points about how society drives people to drink, and how it can make people - especially women - feel both vulnerable and empowered. So many crucial moments of her life revolved around drink, and it became a crutch that she used to compensate for difficult moments. She never absolves herself of personal responsibility, which I liked, and she makes a point of showing how difficult it is to live with addiction.
NOTHING GOOD CAN COME OF THIS is a really poignant memoir that made me laugh and also gave me all the feels. There are a lot of "alcoholism" memoirs out there, but this is definitely one of the better ones I've ever read. You should read it, too!
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Like many others, I was interested in this memoir because I fell in love with her Star Trek: Voyager character, Kathryn Janeway. It was such an important show for me as a kid because I've always been interested in fantasy and science-fiction, but until fairly recently, all of the main characters were men. I used to write fan-fiction gender-swapping the leads, giving myself a female version of my favorite series that I could aspire to be. Kathryn Janeway was that gender-swapped fanfiction come to life, a female starship captain who balanced tenderness with firm command, and had the respect of her entire crew without having to resort to bullying.
BORN WITH TEETH is a great memoir and really shows the person behind the role. Often, celebrity memoirs tend to be very positive, following a rigid formula: the early childhood, the career awakening, and then their big break. Mulgrew, surprisingly, veers from this formula in her memoir, which is very personal. She shares a number of tragic experiences, such as her sister's terminal disease, her mother's incredibly odd (and possibly mentally ill) behavior, miscarriage, abortion, rape, reconnecting with her biological daughter, struggling to balance work life with family life (and still being found wanting at times, no matter how much effort she poured in), and of course, her romantic relationships with several men, none of them perfect human beings, but some better than others.
There were definitely slower moments in this memoir, and I would have liked more behind-the-scenes tidbits about her work (what was it like working with young Pierce Brosnan back in the day? What were some of the best and worst parts about working on the popular Star Trek franchise? Carrie Fisher's memoir had some very interesting insights in her memoir on the double-standards of Leia's portrayal, as well as some horrible/funny stories about people behaving badly at conventions). Sometimes hearing about her personal relationships was a bit tedious, as they do have a slightly privileged air to them as Mulgrew casually relates her obvious wealth.
Still, she also brings up a lot of interesting points about how difficult it is for women to work in this business, and how men are not held to the same exacting standards (particularly where work-life balance is concerned). She acknowledges the many wonderful people who helped build her up, but she isn't as gracious as some of the other female celebrities whose memoirs I have read; she owns her work, chalking it up to hard work, honesty, and persistence. You can see a lot of Janeway peering through this memoir - that grit, vulnerability, and toughness - and that made this book especially interesting for me, to see how much of herself she brought to her role on Star Trek.
If you're an Orange Is the New Black fan, you might be disappointed, because she doesn't mention her work there at all. The Star Trek chapter is one of the last chapters, and the book ends with her being reunited with the big flame of her life. It's an odd ending, particularly since the book opened so strongly with a very vivid and lyrical description of her unconventional upbringing.
Regardless of its flaws, however, I really did appreciate the honesty of this memoir and the beautiful way it was written. It made me like Kate Mulgrew more than I already did, because she always struck me as a bit of a mystery. I find it inspiring to find out how much actresses do to accomplish their dreams, particularly when they don't apologize for succeeding.
I'm honestly shocked that some of you haven't figured out my political affiliation by this point since I try to be pretty open about it, but yes, I am a liberal (I mean, I live in SF, for god's sake, LOL). And yes, I like to read left-leaning/political books. Seems like this should be pretty common sense and I don't think I'm particularly inflammatory, but literally every time I pick up a book about politics or feminism, a bunch of people immediately unfriend me, hence the books-that-made-me-lose-friends shelf. (Also YA for some reason, but I think that's because y'all just don't like it when I rip on your favorites. #SorryNotSorry)
So for future reference, I am a Californian, free-trade-coffee-drinking, feminist-thinking, left-leaning, energy-efficient-car-driving, climate-change-believing liberal hipster snowflake.
YOU CANNOT SAY I DIDN'T WARN YOU.
Now that that's all out of the way, let's talk A HIGHER LOYALTY. I've been on the waitlist for this book at the library forEVER and it finally came into my eager little paws a couple weeks ago. People were hyping this up like it was FIRE AND FURY PT. 2, and I was like, "Ha ha, no, I remember what a bust that was! You cannot fool me again BuzzFeed/pundits/bloggers." My first impression was to side-eye the title because that sounded a bit self-aggrandizing. "A higher loyalty"? To whom? God? (I kid, I kid.) But seriously, this is the dude who definitely contributed to the election sh*t-storm that resulted in Mango Mussolini being our current president, and while I certainly do not blame Comey for single-handedly causing a Republican win (because that would be insanity), I definitely do believe that dropping that email bomb to Congress eleven days before the election was a HUGE mistake - especially since he dropped a "JK, it's no big deal" bomb just a week after that.
So yes, I was side-eying Mr. Comey from the get-go as I picked up this book, but I was willing to be swayed, despite my biases, and hear what he had to say. The first part of the book is actually really amazing, probably four-stars worthy, if I'm being honest. He talks about his involvement in investigating Cosa Nostra (and later on, compares some of Trump's tactics to those that the mafia employed, particularly where loyalty is involved); he mentions the inciting incident that got him interested in being on the right side of the law (a man broke into his house with a gun and terrorized him and his little brother); and he discusses what it was like to work with Rudy Giuliani (bad) and two and a half very different presidents (okay, great, and wtf-I-am-questioning-all-of-life's-choices-right-now, respectively; guess who's who - hint: chronological order).
The part that I really took issue with was the way he discussed how he handled the "email" situation. It felt like an attempt to exonerate himself from a really bad decision of which he was one of the main deciders. I get that my own political affiliation here biases my feelings on the matter, and on some levels I do understand why Comey felt that he had to do what he did, but it was still incredibly bad timing and biased the election in a way that he swore, every moment up to that point, that he did not want to do, because he believed that the FBI and the government should be totally unaffiliated and then did something like that, something that totally embroiled the FBI in all kinds of political mess.
Yeah, I think that was a mistake. I think even people who weren't pro-Hillary could see that.
I'm glad I read this book, and even if Mr. Comey does pat himself on the back a little too much for my liking, I think he's an interesting and fascinating man who is (or at least portrays himself as wanting to be) a genuinely good guy who wants to do the right thing. I still don't quite agree with his decision about the email thing, but seeing him poke fun at Trump and Bush was mildly entertaining, and honestly, he was pretty fair to Bush (lest you brand him a liberal snowflake). Don't read this book if you're expecting a Trump-bashing spree, though, because Mango Mussolini doesn't really appear until the very last part of the book. This is more a career memoir, than anything else.
Full disclosure, I received an advanced reader's copy of this from the Goodreads Giveaways - my first win in years! - so I'm really excited about that. Hard copy ARCs are so fun.
This ended up becoming a #StealthRead because I have the flu, and my eyes were hurting so much I couldn't look at a computer screen, so I took a nap and then I read physical copies in bed instead of ebooks (which is how you know I'm feeling truly wretched, because I read mostly ebooks at home). I also wanted to read this book for International Women's Day, because I think moms are so important, and do not get the respect they deserve.
I'm not a mom, but I'm at the age when a lot of my friends are starting to become moms. I recently went to my first baby shower, and nothing says "congratulations! you're officially an adult!" like going to a baby shower (except maybe a wedding, or a 4th of July Barbecue where you're actually expected to bring something). I have so much respect for people who want to become parents, and especially women who want to become moms, because it really is a sacrifice - a physical, financial, emotional sacrifice; nothing is more selfless than raising this small person, nuturing them, and then launching them into the world.
I recently read this great book called TOO FAT, TOO SLUTTY, TOO LOUD, which was basically a series of essays about the unfair double-standards society places on women, using celebrities as examples. One that really stayed with me was the one about Kim Kardashian, and how pregnancy for her was such a miserable, awful experience, and she was totally lambasted about it in the media, who seemed to be doing their best to take unflattering photos of her and make her seem like an unfit parent. I don't know Kim, but I do think that a lot of those stereotypes about motherhood have permeated the lens through which society views mothers, and how they believe mother's should act.
One thing I liked about AMATEUR HOUR is that it's not one of those transcendent memoirs that makes motherhood seem like this Pinterest-perfect thing that happens to you, that transforms you from an ordinary person to Hestia, goddess of domesticity. Instead, it's a pretty straightforward memoir of someone who happened to become a mother and loves her kids, even if she secretly- or not-so-secretly- has second thoughts about it sometimes. There are a lot of great topics in here, like miscarriage, abortion, gender roles, unfair expectations, child-rearing, bereavement, birth, and even growing up and growing old, and the very fine line that separates the two.
The only part where she lost me was when she went on a tirade about "participation trophies." It had an unpleasant whiff of the "entitled millennials" tirade that's so popular right now. There's a fine line between rewarding kids for mediocre or even poor work and what she was upset about, which was the fact that her school had changed the play of the Lion King to add more roles so that all of the kids would have equal parts. My school did that, and let me tell you that as a shy kid, I was often shunted to the side by louder, more aggressive kids who wanted that spotlight and didn't need to be coaxed into it. Competition is important, but sometimes there are shy or anxious kids who need that extra boost. And I wasn't at all surprised when this rant segued into "entitled new hires who think they deserve to be promoted after only a year - here, have a cookie" BS. Millennials have it pretty hard right now: shitty economy, a dearth of jobs that lead to viable career paths, opinion post after opinion post about how millennials are ruining the world with avocado lattes and $50 eyeliner. And OK, I get it, I've met some entitled millennials, but I've also met some entitled Baby Boomers, too.
Apart from that, I enjoyed this book. It isn't PC and I'm sure she'll offend as many people as she entertains, but it was an honest, straightforward look about life that didn't feel like it was try to sell something or portray motherhood and adulthood as the Holy Grail. I appreciated that.
Also, FWIW, my mom is the most important person in my life and I love her a lot, and reading this book kind of helped me get a better look at what raising me was probably like from her perspective, and how frustrating I probably made her life at times (spoiler: as a kid, I could be an unapologetic little shit). Despite all the grief I must have put her through, she was always unequivocally in my corner, and did whatever she could to make me happy - or failing that, keep me safe (to a kid, happy and safe are not always mutually inclusive: for example 90% of things involving trampolines).
When I read the first volume of PERSEPOLIS, people told me that I had to explore this author's other work. Luckily, I bought volumes one and two of PERSEPOLIS together, so I could immediately jump from one to the other. While the first book primarily takes place in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and then, a few years later, during the Iraqi Invasion, the second book is about Marjane's coming of age in Austria: the place her parents decided to send her, where she would be safer from the war.
Marjane ends up in several places: friends' homes, a church (although she was thrown out for talking back to the nuns), hostels, even homeless on the streets. She writes about what it was like seeing a full grocery store after the scarcities in Iran, and the difficulty in living in a place where she didn't speak the language. She also writes about some of the racism she experienced, and her first feelings of shame for being Iranian because everyone saw them as "terrorists" because of the news.
I really enjoyed this book, because Marjane is so straightforward about her experiences. I think in memoirs there is a tendency to portray yourself as selfless, but Marjane portrays herself as honestly as possible, even at the cost of likability. One moment that particularly stuck out at me was when she accuses an innocent man of making lewd advances towards her in order to avoid getting in trouble with the Guardians for meeting a boy. She and her boyfriend laugh over the story but when she tells it to her grandmother, she yells at her for the first time in her life and says she's shaming her uncle's memory (the uncle who died for seditious activities that were against the Islamic Revolution). It was a relatable moment, because I think we have all done things as teens that we thought were humorous or fun that ended up bringing us shame later because of how they disappointed our families.
I didn't cry while reading PERSEPOLIS 2, although I came close at the end of the book, when she talks about seeing her grandmother for the last time. However, that doesn't mean that PERSEPOLIS 2 is any less touching. I liked how she described living as an expatriate, her encounters with her friends (and her enemies), and her experience with sex, intimacy, marriage, and divorce from both a Western and an Iranian perspective (and how the two frequently came into conflict). At one point she says something like "To the Westerners, I was an Iranian; but to the Iranians, I was a Westerner" which I thought was a great way to describe the feelings that many people with dual citizenship or people who are multiracial have of belonging to a group that is separate from those singular identities.
This is such a great series. It's easy to see why it was made into a film: the style, the narration, the content - it's all so compelling. As I said in the first book, if you're interested in learning more about Iran and enjoy memoirs written by interesting women, PERSEPOLIS is definitely a must-read.
Americans, as a whole, don't really know anything about the Middle East. According to this article, a Roper study conducted during the Iraq War (2006) found that 75% of students could not find Iran on a map (the link they provided was a dead link). I knew a bit about the Islamic Revolution, because I read INSIDE THE KINGDOM: MY LIFE IN SAUDI ARABIA by Carmen Bin Ladin, who was half-Persian and grew up in Iran at this time, but still, the extent of my knowledge could probably fit into a thimble and still have plenty of room for a thumb. I wanted to learn more and this seemed like a great way to educate myself.
Marjane Satrapi was a preteen when the Islamic Revolution happened. Before the change, she went to a school where everyone spoke French and women were free to wear mini-skirts. The Islamic Revolution imposed new restrictions - mandatory hijabs, religion being taught in schools, and the Iranian secret police, or SAVAK, investigating people on the streets or in their homes for illegal activities, for which they might be jailed, publicly whipped, or even executed.
I think what makes this such a touching - and important - book are the flashes of normality in between the chaos of war and revolution. Marjane was a mischievous kid who liked to fool around in the classroom with her friends and prank the teachers, she chafed at her parents' authority and would rebel or sneak out, and when she became a teenager, she wanted to dress in the latest fashions and buy the things that made her feel good about herself and her burgeoning identity.
I cried while reading this book. Marjane lost her beloved uncle; he was executed for seditious activities, and the last time she saw him, he made her a swan he carved out of bread in prison. I also cried when she was out shopping with her friends and heard about an Iraqi SCUD missile hitting one of the houses on her street. Not knowing if her family was alive, she forgot to take home the jeans she purchased as she hopped into a taxi. When she arrived home, she found that her family was safe - but her neighbors, a Jewish family, had all been killed because it was a Saturday, and they were observing the Sabbath. As her mother hurried her away, she saw the friend's bracelet in the rubble, attached to "something" (which I am guessing was probably pulverized flesh and blood).
PERSEPOLIS is not an easy read, because it delves into many subjects that I think a lot of people would rather not think about. It's never fun to read about war, but that's probably why we should. Many books and movies glamorize life on the front, but real war is full of casualties and suffering, and should only be employed as a last-resort. Last summer, I went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which is filled with "found" objects from the resulting conflagration, including schoolbooks, buttons, and uniforms, along with photos of what the city looked like before and after the blast of the A-bomb. Survivors of the blast, who were either still in utero or small children when the bomb went off, took us - a group of Americans - around the city, giving a neutral but heartrending account of the war, the A-bomb, and the terrible aftereffects. I had to step respectfully aside at one point during the tour because I had begun to cry (I was so embarrassed, but I imagine the guides are probably used to that reaction). I'm really glad I went, because Hiroshima took this awful event and turned it into a powerful statement about the importance of peace. People come there from all over the world to look at the exhibits and learn. PERSEPOLIS made me feel the same way.
Like Art Spiegelman's MAUS, Marjane Satrapi uses the "memoir as graphic novel" medium to great effect. The illustrations manage to capture the whimsical childhood outlook, and the scenes of horror and war are also illustrated as a child might perceive them - fantastical, larger-than-life, and terrifying. This is yet another graphic-novel that feels literary in terms of subject and scope, and I'd encourage you, even if comic books aren't your usual cup of tea, to pick this book up - especially if you don't know much about the Middle East, and would like to learn a bit more about Iran.
🌟 I read this for the Yule Bingo Challenge, for the category of Tonks: strong heroine. For more info on this challenge, click here. 🌟
I knew I wanted to read this book the moment I watched her interview with Trevor Noah. She seemed like such a fun, wonderful, crazy person. I watched Girls Trip recently, you know, for "research," and in that movie, I feel like Tiffany Haddish is channeling a lot of her own self for that character.
THE LAST BLACK UNICORN is a celebrity memoir that actually lives up to the hype. It's one of those raw, honest memoirs that have become so rare these days, because I think the quick access to the internet makes it all easy for people - readers - to spread the dirt, and the outrage, and be all, "Oh my God, you'll never guess what Tiffany said in her memoir! #boycott"
These days, it's like we require celebrities to be saints in order to win our admiration. They have to be larger than life and elegant, but also play by all the rules we set for them. If they don't, they get torn apart in gossip magazines or called things like "tacky," "skanky," or "ungrateful." It really isn't fair to expect people to live like this, since most people don't live like this, and I'm glad that's changing at last. It certainly results in much more candid memoirs... like this one!
In Tiffany's memoir, she portrays her authentic self and talks in the book the way she talks in real life. While reading the book, I could actually imagine her voice in my head. It added an extra level of enjoyment for me, because it made the book so personal. Most of the book is laugh out loud funny, either because she's laying out the scenes the way she does in her comedy routines, or because she's been through so many ridiculous situations that you can't help but let out a horrified giggle as you clutch your metaphorical pearls. My favorite example of this is when Tiffany decides to get back at a cheating ex (whose sex tape she scavenged out of a dumpster) by pooping in his shoes and then splicing a scene from the tape into bootlegged copies of Charlie's Angels and sending them all to his family for Christmas. Which they watched. And called her about. Angrily. She was not sorry. She also became a pimp just to undercut his own amateur attempts at pimping - and succeeded!
But the book has a darker side too, with abuse in many different kinds of forms, ranging from neglect from her mom and foster mom, to abusive boyfriends and husbands, to molestation (from her foster grandparent), to the sexism that occurs from being a woman in comedy, and how people try to take advantage of women who are just starting out the same way they try to take advantage of starlets.
THE LAST BLACK UNICORN is a really funny memoir, and if you don't mind darker scenarios being written about irreverently, and with a lot of cursing to boot, I think you'll probably enjoy this book, if not for the honesty, then for the way she has managed to channel a seemingly limitless amount of positivity for the negatives in her life and used humor as a way of coping.
Thank you, Trevor Noah, for mentioning this book on your channel and bumping it up my to-read list.
We live in a polarized America right now. One half fights for progress, and the other half appears to be actively trying to drag us backwards towards a nostalgic vision of the past that never quite existed.
One of the aspects of this current political climate that disgusts me to no end is the fact that the right has capitalized on the hate and prejudice of a few in order to secure the support and foment the rallying cry of their base. Racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia - whether overtly or through careful dog-whistling, this election has allowed for some truly hateful thoughts and opinions to become the mainstream. That is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.
A person can, strange as it seems, love America and simultaneously believe America does not love Muslims, that it is foundationally anti-Islamic (171).
When I saw Khizr Khan's memoir on Netgalley, I knew I had to have it. If the name sounds vaguely familiar to you, it is because the Khans are the grieving parents of a soldier who died during the Iraq War who Trump decided to feud with, as he has decided to feud with many. Khizr gave the speech, and Trump, disgustingly, suggested that his wife, Ghazala, was silent because she was not allowed to speak, alluding to that sexist and racist stereotype of the "oppressed" Muslim woman.
AN AMERICAN FAMILY discusses this to some extent, but mostly in the last dozen pages or so. The bulk of this short memoir is about the Khan family. They are truly incredible people. Ghazala is the descendant of Afghani royalty that later became exiled, and her grandfather was a famous poet whose works she studied for her Master's in college. Khizr was the son of Pakistani farmers, who studied law first in the Middle East, and later attended Harvard while living paycheck to paycheck.
There was so much about this memoir that I loved. His courtship with Ghazala is as grand and sweeping as a romance, and their love for one another pours from the pages. As he moves through life, he applies the tenets of Islam and his own diligent work ethic to everything he does, treating those in need with compassion even when he has nothing of his own, and taking the opportunities that are given to him. His journey is the Horatio Alger myth: the epitome of the American dream.
I landed in Houston in late 1979 carrying a single silver Samsonite suitcase and $200 in my pocket, which is the kind of detail every immigrant remembers to include, decades after the fact, when he's telling the story of how he came to make a success of himself in America (85).
Of course, knowing the end to the story of this loving, humanitarian family makes the good parts even harder to swallow. When Khan talks about Humayun, tears welled in my eyes, and they were not dry again until the end of the book. While researching further reading to suggest at the bottom of my review, I watched his speech for the first time - the one that catapulted him into the public eye and made him the target of Trump's wrath - and I began crying all over again.
War is always a tragedy, visceral and bloody evidence that all other options have failed. And yet it is often discomfortingly popular (150).
Anyone who says that Muslims are, by nature, anti-American, should be forced to read this book. It is a book written by someone who loves this country so much that he keeps a pocket-sized version of the Constitution in his pocket, and believes in its fundamental goodness with the same faith that propels him to do so much kindness in the world.
Khizr Khan makes me want to do better; he makes me want to have faith.
All of us are connected, woven into an unfathomable tapestry, each thin strand a necessary part of the whole. I believe every person, no matter his station, should be afforded the dignity of kings (88).
I'm writing this while pretty buzzed since I just got back from wine-tasting, so if you see any typos or odd turns of phrase, that's why. I'm the type of person who thinks that they're more eloquent when they're intoxicated, and who starts throwing out fancy turns of phrase ad libitum to hide the drunk. So if I begin to sound like I'm channeling Dickens, if Dickens was peppered with expletives, I'm fairly fucking hammered, if you pardon my français.
I'm honestly surprised GIRLBOMB has such low ratings, but a lot of the negative reviews seem to be coming from the pearl-clutchers who are like, "Gasp, sex and drugs in a young adult memoir?? Won't somebody please think of the children!" It's true that GIRLBOMB has sex and drugs in it, but that's pretty expected from someone who is coming from an abusive home and seems to have a litany of undiagnosed psychiatric disorders and who might be using "recreational" drugs in a subconscious attempt to self-medicate. Also, this took place during the late 80s, when drugs were basically par for the course. #cocaine #heroine #yolo
The other complaint I saw was a bit more troubling, which was that Janice Erlbaum was "privileged" and made the memoir unpleasant to read. I wasn't sure what was "privileged" about this book, unless it was something Erlbaum acknowledged herself - that she was a white girl who wasn't pregnant and wasn't sexually abused, living in a group home surrounded by women of color who did face these issues. I guess if your definition of "privileged" is "circumstances that aren't as bad as the worst case scenario" then yeah, Erlbaum was privileged. But I don't think we should be gate-keeping who gets to call themselves a victim, especially if they do come from an abusive lower-income household. You shouldn't have to be the worst-case scenario to reach out for help if you need it, which Erlbaum did.
Janice Erlbaum's memoir reminded me a lot of GIRL, INTERRUPTED, in that it shows how 1) institutional care can actually be brutal and cruel, to the point where it almost harms as much as it hurts, 2) teens need structure and neglect can be as harmful as abuse, 3) people love to gate-keep who gets to be a victim and who doesn't, and "privilege" doesn't always mean what people think it does, and 4) we as a society are much less forgiving towards women who act out than men. It's true that Erlbaum's childhoold and teen years were pretty wild, but it seems like they were a good learning experience for her, and were the catalyst for a lot of painful realizations about what it means to be an adult. I don't think that we should paint all young adult-targeted books containing sex and drugs as filth, since for many youths, those things are an integral part of their coming of age.
GIRLBOMB was a pretty good book and I think a lot of teens will be fascinated by it. It's pretty clear that Erlbaum is not an ideal role model - and to be honest, I didn't even get the impression that she saw herself that way - but despite some of her regrets, I didn't get the impression that she rued the learning experience she got from making her numerous mistakes. It must have been frustrating having a mother who was so inaccessible during a time when she needed parental guidance, so I'm seriously side-eying the (probably) parents who are crying about Janice not "respecting" her mom. That ship sailed the third time she took her abusive husband back, imho. Parents need to think about what's best for their kids, and it seems like the mom really failed Janice, based on this narrative. Their relationship got better once they were closer to being equals, and honestly that sort of dynamic is typical of people who were never ready or even willing to be parents in the first place. With books like these, it's really important to take everything with a grain of salt and realize that humanity rarely does things "by the books" and sometimes you have to make the best out of an unideal situation.
I guess you could say this is the second time she's won the popular vote. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
LOL I see that I lost a few friends over this review. You know what that means! Time to add this book to the books-that-made-me-lose-friends shelf. >:D
My dad used to tell me not to get near a scared animal; that it couldn't understand what your intentions were and since you couldn't exactly explain to said animal what you were doing, in its overstimulated state it might bite out of fear. That's a lot like what happened in this election. People were afraid: afraid of change, afraid of progression, afraid of foreigners, afraid of the future, afraid of losing their jobs - and so they bit, and they bit down hard, and logic be damned. The entire country suffered because of some scared, angry people who couldn't be bothered to sort out the facts, and relied on pure emotion, and the sheer, misanthropic pleasure of "shaking it up" while voting in this election.
WHAT HAPPENED is appropriately named. The title is a call-and-answer, all rolled into one. It asks "What happened?" while also explaining exactly what happened, in her words. I don't expect this book to change people's minds. If you hate Hillary, you'll probably just hate her more after reading this, because you'll convince yourself that she's a) lying or b) the embodiment of the demon-worshiping caricature you've made her out to be in your mind. If you love Hillary, this book will make you love her more, because she's the thoughtful, articulate, compassionate, intelligent, go-getting, invested candidate you wanted - in spades.
I've almost forgotten what an actual president sounds like, because I've been bombarded with xenophobic, Islamophobic, transphobic, bigoted, juvenile rhetoric for so long.
Before I get into that, though, let me just clear up a few things.
But what about her emails? There was an investigation. She complied fully, and was duly exonerated. For those of you crying about the remaining 33,000 personal emails, and why she wouldn't want to share them, hmm, why don't you think about some of the emails you've sent to doctors, to relatives, to ex-girlfriends. I'm sure you sent some pretty embarrassing things. Things to which you wouldn't want the general public having access. In fact, since Clinton is a notoriously private person, yours are probably worse than hers. Also, Clinton's email server was later proven to be secure, whereas Trump White House officials were tricked by this email prankster into divulging some personal information.
I've seen several reviews for this book and many of those reviewers have attempted to be politic and inoffensive about their review, to great success. Well, I'm not going to go that route, and if it costs me a friend or two in the process, that's what my books-that-made-me-lose-friends shelf is for. I was not happy with how this election went, and I find it hilarious that members of the Tangerine Tyrant's fan club are burning their MAGA hats because their fearless leader dared to compromise with the Democratic party about DACA.
In WHAT HAPPENED, Hillary discusses her election and its catastrophic (or triumphant if you're part of that crowd) results. She describes how crushed she felt, seeing what was supposed to be certain victory being taken from her by a man who seemed incredibly unqualified. She had to wear the suit she planned to travel to DC in as president-elect to her concession speech, and her first order of business was ensuring that her staff would get paid and they would all have healthcare. Meanwhile, we have a president who allegedly doesn't pay contractors if they don't do a good job.
Hillary describes the rigors of campaigning, and the close bonds she developed with her staff. She writes about her love for her daughter, who she clearly admires and feels so much pride for, and her close friendship with Huma Abedin, who Hillary refused to fire even when it became clear that her personal scandal might negatively impact her campaign. She writes about her husband, glossing over the scandal that rocked her marriage in the 90s, but she does say that she struggled with the choice to stay or leave and ultimately stayed because she did love him - and then she writes about how moved she was, when before one of her speeches, he said, to everyone, "I married my best friend."
But what really got me was how much she clearly loves the U.S. Her willingness to sit down and listen to everyone - even the people who hate her, protest her, and threaten her - and hear their stories, and try to find a way to make things work really got me. I'm sure her critics will say, in the immortal words of Joe Biden, that that's all a "bunch of malarkey," but I have a pretty good BS detector and it's hard to fake sincerity and passion - at least with the fervor that Ms. Clinton displays here. She seems genuinely saddened to have failed Middle America, and her inability to address their concerns properly. She acknowledges her privilege, and how diligently she has worked to try to understand what it is like, being unable to provide for your children while living paycheck to paycheck. She wanted to bring jobs back to the U.S., was supportive of Black Lives Matter, and wanted to create better relationships between minorities and the police in high-crime areas. She was constantly looking for solutions and successful ways to implement them.
I cried several times while reading this book. Her anger at the roles that racism and sexism played in the election; her frustration at coming so close - twice - and failing each time; her fear for the future, not just for our country but for our allies; and the deep and personal responsibility she feels towards all the people who gave their all to see her get elected and felt that failure right alongside her. In many ways, Hillary reminds me of my own mother, who I love so much. Seeing Hillary fail was like seeing someone I cared deeply about fail. Her failure got me more engaged in politics, so I could learn more and become more informed, and help others become more informed because in our current political climate "fake news" has become synonymous with "news I don't like that I'm going to pretend isn't real because I'm a jerk who likes to live in an alternative facts-ridden landscape."
I've noticed some concern from the Bernie Bros that this book basically blames them for Trump's election. And while I think that it is at least partly your fault if you either a) lived in a swing state and didn't vote, or b) lived in a swing state and voted for a third party to "stick it to the man," Clinton is much more generous and diplomatic about it (which is why she was able to come so close to winning president-elect, and I will never be running for office). She does suggest that third parties played a role in Trump's victory (though she seems to blame Jill Stein for this more than Sanders), but she also acknowledges Bernie's (admittedly tardy) concession and support of her campaign. She also points out why he was so much more popular with reluctant voters: marketability. His statements were full of panache and sounded good in a microphone. I was Hillary from day one, but even I could admit that Bernie sounded good. He just didn't seem to have a solid plan. Hillary did have solid plans, many of them, but it's hard to compress intelligent, thoughtful ideas down to a sound bite. And of course, there's also the fact that Hillary is a woman, whereas Bernie is a man, and our country, which is so advanced in some ways, can be rather outmoded when it comes to the role women play in various leadership roles - particularly those of the political or corporate variety.
Someone asked why so many men hated Hillary under the questions for this book, and this is what I responded with: "I think [men hate Hillary Clinton] because there are a lot of gender biases coded into society. We're taught- implicitly or explicitly, and from a young age- that women are not supposed to be loud, aggressive, brash, dominant, confident, or forceful. Hillary is all these things, for better or for worse, and that threatens the status quo. Anything that threatens the status quo is going to be rallied against by people who have a stake in the system staying the way it is."
If you're interested, Vox did a lengthy interview with Hillary that relates tangentially to this book. I recommend it. She details a lot of her policies and it gives great insight into what she's like.
Lastly, I just want to issue a caveat: this is a review, and not an invitation to a debate. I don't want to debate. I sat through way too many debates already in the last two years, and I've heard all the arguments before. When I was younger, yeah, I loved arguing on the internet, but now I think it's a waste of time. It's not going to change anyone's mind and it's only going to sow discord. You're welcome to write all the anti-Hillary stuff you want in your own review space, but if you post it here, I'll delete your comments, and if you do it again after I delete it, I'll block you.
That said, I heartily encourage anyone with an open mind to read this book. She was brave to open her heart and share her story, when there are so many people who are so eager to tear her down.
Recently, I read VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, and where some people seemed to see a trashy, bloated novel about fame-seeking women acting self-destructive for no particular reason, I saw a brilliant character study of ambitious women who could not cope with the cognitive dissonance of achieving their ambition while abiding by convention, and self-medicated their ensuing anxiety with sleeping pills and alcohol. That's kind of how I felt about SMASHED. SMASHED was published at the height of 2000s party culture, when Playboy bunnies were still seen as "cool" and you could get the necklaces at the mall (a lot of the girls in my high school wore them); Jackass the Movie was in theaters; Girls Gone Wild was a pop cultural phenomenon; and every Easter like clockwork, advertisements would run for tickets to the beach boardwalk for SPRING BREAK.
Don't get me wrong - this is definitely a memoir about substance abuse and drinking. Koren chronicles the start of her using from the age of a very young teen, and pushes forward, slowly, into her twenties. We see her at her worst, again and again, because the bar keeps falling. However, the culture she describes then feels so much more different than it is now, and really made me appreciate how much attitudes have changed over the last ten years with regards towards women, rape, sexuality, partying, and alcohol. That isn't to say that society is to blame, necessarily, when it comes to addiction and other problematic behaviors, but I do think that it can be a facilitator when people with a predisposition for such behaviors find themselves reinforced, again and again, by our cultural norms to engage in these behaviors.
I don't think it's appropriate to say that I "enjoyed" Zailckais's story, but it did move me. Her writing is beautiful (I'm a bit amazed by how many people criticized the writing in this book in some of those other reviews - she was in her early twenties when she wrote this book, and she demonstrates a level of self-awareness and reflection that escapes most people in their forties), and features some of the best prose I've ever encountered in a memoir. The subject matter itself is incredibly disturbing, but necessary. She came here to tell her story, and tell it she does, no holds barred. It's a brilliant snapshot of what it was like to grow up in the 90s and 00s, and is also an intimate portrait of alcohol abuse, told in a way that I think will be really accessible to and resonate well with younger individuals.
This was gossipy and fun, and proof that someone doesn't have to seem "likable" to write a good memoir. Michael Tonello made a living for a while as a "reseller" of the rare Birkin bags, named after Jane Birkin and coveted by highly materialistic, conspicuous consumers everywhere. During one year, he spent $1,600,000 on Hermes merchandise for resale. That's more money than most of us will ever see at once, and it's ridiculous to imagine it going towards handbags and scarves. I consider a scarf over $25 to be expensive, so you can imagine how much my eyes bugged out as I contemplated these prices. Jeez! The most I've ever paid for a bag was ~$145 and it was Kate Spade.
Michael Tonello reads like a Sex and the City character, or one of the catty flamboyant BFFs that populate chick-lit novels everywhere. This is a guy who enjoys judging people, and has it down to an art form, and considers an $800 tab with a colleague a good investment. I think he'd relish the Sex and the City comparison, to be honest; he seems to feel very comfortable with who he is, even if who he is sometimes means "politically incorrect" or "jerk," and is utterly unapologetic about his privileged and expensive lifestyle. There's some very off-color remarks in here, and he has put together a rather judgemental guide based on his perceptions of the walking stereotypes who work at many Hermes branches. It's hilarious AF, though, and pretty on-point based on what I've seen at some luxury stores' service.
I liked this book because it was very readable and it was interesting to see how he gamed the system. He perfected a "formula" for getting a Birkin when many people were either turned down or put on endless waitlists. You can't help but root for the underdog going against Big Corporate; in a way, it's as much of a guilty pleasure to watch as Oobah Butler faking his way to Paris Fashion Week with a pair of jeans he bought at a street market. There's also occasional moments of drama - hiring "thugs" to deal with a sketchy ex-colleague, fights with his boyfriend about money, dealing with snooty salespeople who won't fork over handbags - which add a nice bit of tension to the narrative.
The last chapter was rather jarring considering the tone of the memoir to this point, but I do agree with his point ultimately: the hustle life is a tough and unforgiving one. Initially, he enjoyed the thrill of the chase, but I think his mother's failing health and getting screwed over by that Luc guy put his "work" into perspective. I liked his decision at the end, and appreciated his outlook. He met a lot of really interesting characters (one of whom had him drive her Aston Marton to her second home as a favor) and had some of the most luxurious items in the world flow through his hands. As he said in the last chapter, he has some good stories to tell over ouzo now.
I was notified recently that my library just added a ton of books that I recommended, including several memoirs written by people of color and YA about LGBT+ characters. One of those books was ONE DAY WE'LL ALL BE DEAD AND NONE OF THIS WILL MATTER by Scaachi Koul, a culture writer for BuzzFeed Canada.
I'd been looking forward to this book for a while. I love BuzzFeed and I had heard that this book was going to address many topics like feminism and racism and cultural identity. Plus, it's written by someone who's roughly my own age, give or take a few years, and it's always amazing to read books written from someone in your generation - especially if their observations are written from a different perspective than your own. It's like seeing the world with new eyes...for better or for worse.
ODWABDaNoTWM is about Koul growing up in Canada in the 90s and early 2000s. The daughter of immigrant parents from India, she was in the unique position of being the only "brown person" in an area of Canada that didn't have many minorities at the time (I'm blanking on the exact location, but I believe it was a part of Calgary that was mostly white). She writes, with candidness and humor, about internal and external racsim; sexism; interracial relationships; rape culture; substance abuse; beauty standards; and dating. She's incredibly witty and makes some very cutting observations on Canadian and Indian culture, but she also talks about what she loves about these two different cultures, too, and how they have helped shape her identity and make her into the person she is now. Also, her relationship with her family, especially her parents, is both endearing and hilarious. I love how she includes some of her emails to her dad.
I really loved this book. Koul brings a fresh perspective to the millennial memoir collective, which seems to be mostly overrun by YouTube celebrities and pop stars. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I prefer books with a little more substance. This is the second book I've read that was written by current- or ex-BuzzFeed staff (the first was I HATE EVERYONE BUT YOU by Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn) and let me tell you, I am impressed. Both ODWABDaNoTWM and I HATE EVERYONE BUT YOU are pitch-perfect and culturally relevant, discussing many relevant and controversial issues that millennials - especially female millennials - face on a day to day basis.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a cat lady in want of cat pictures is going to buy your goddamn book if you slap a cat on it. Also, Yaa Gyasi's HOMEGOING was kicking my butt all over the place emotionally (yes, butts can be emotional, thanks), so I decided that my ARC of WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE would be just the thing to revitalize my drained repository of feels.
I WAS WRONG.
Don't get me wrong. WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE is funny. It's the crude kind of funny appropriated by YouTube celebs, but unlike most of the YouTube celebs I've read, Irby knows where to draw the line. Each expletive is delivered with deadly precision, each risque phrase meant to drive home a singular point or idea. Samantha Irby swears like a pro, and like a pro, she does it with finesse.
What surprised me the most, however, was not the swearing, but the gravitas of this book. Irby talks about some very difficult subjects, like racism, dieting, body image, sex, masturbation, depression, dismal childhoods, alcoholism (specifically living with someone with alcoholism), and discrimination. I wasn't expecting something so gritty, and even though Irby delivered these topics with the same candidness and humor as she did less weighty topics, I found myself struggling to get through some of these passages - not because I didn't appreciate them, but because I wanted to appreciate them, and had to get myself into the proper mindset to take in everything fully, which sometimes meant taking breaks to absorb what I'd read.
There are a lot of really decent memoirs coming out this year. WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE is one of them. I'll have to see about getting my hands on some of her other work; her style may be unconventional, but it is entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
"I am someone who wants very much to be popular. I don't just want you to like me, I want to be one of the most joy-inducing human beings that you've ever encountered. I want to explode on your night sky like fireworks at midnight on New Year's Eve in Hong Kong" (47).
This is going to be a difficult book to review. I've never reviewed a book so close to the author's passing, and it was a sad and bittersweet experience - sad, because the world is now deprived of a funny and highly relatable individual, an excellent actress, and a surprisingly witty and talented writer. Bittersweet, because she is all those things and it's always a pleasure to go over the accomplishments of someone you admire. There isn't much more to say than that without cheapening the sentiment.
I've read two of Ms. Fisher's other books, POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, which is a grim but evilly funny (and probably semi-autobiographical) satire that does for Hollywood what Carl Hiaasen does for Florida, and WISHFUL DRINKING, which is a memoir about alcoholism and the darker sides of fame. Both are excellent. I recommend both. Because of that, I was super excited to get my hands on this one.
THE PRINCESS DIARIST, sadly, fell short for me. I love the title and the cover, but the content inside that clever packaging wasn't as engaging.
Fisher starts off with an introduction - the highlights of 1976. Then she switches to talking about who she is, a bit about her family, and then talks about her first role in Shampoo with Warren Beatty. The heading for this section sums up this content fairly well: "Life Before Leia."
After this, she dives into what it was like to work on Star Wars, and the overall emotion here seems to be bewilderment. Like she isn't quite sure how she landed such a famous role and why people kept bothering her about it. Many celebrities, when writing about their past works, are enthusiastic and excited, and heap praise upon their coworkers. Fisher doesn't do that. She seemed jaded and resigned to me, and apart from Harrison Ford, scarcely mentioned her other co-stars at all. Maybe part of her lack of enthusiasm stems from the fact that she felt like her role was appearance-driven. There's that famous quote she said to Daisy Ridley about fighting the slave outfit, after all, and she still seems annoyed about the Slave Leia bikini costume (which is so iconic that it has its own Wikipedia page). Apparently she was also sent to fat camp to lose ten pounds for the role before she actually got around to doing any acting.
The chapter about her affair with Harrison Ford is also quite strange, made stranger by the fact that it's immediately followed by the excerpts from the diary she kept as a teenager while onset at Star Wars. Adult Fisher says a lot without saying anything at all, except for confirming that they actually had an affair, and that she wanted to admit to it first before anyone else got to digging and taking liberties with the truth (understandable). Teen Fisher's voice is much more wistful, with lots of poetry and dreamy drabbles that wouldn't be out of place in THE PRINCESS SAVES HERSELF IN THIS ONE. It makes for a very interesting contrast, seeing the two juxtaposed together, very similar to seeing the picture of Fisher as an older woman posing next to her forever-young slave self at the Wax Museum.
The last portion of the book is the easiest portion to follow, which is a double-edged sword because it's the portion of the book where many claim that she mocked and ripped on her fans. She does mock them, but not in a mean way. Again, I got that sense of bewilderment that I did in the beginning, where she just seems mystified by these people - total strangers - who are coming up to her and telling her how much of an impact she had on their life, whether it was as a feminist icon or sex symbol. One cringe-worthy moment she shares, which is perhaps characteristic of awkward fan-created situations that celebrities are unable to escape from, was during a signing in which a child burst into tears when pushed towards her by their parent because she was the "old" Leia, and the child wanted to meet the young Leia they had seen in the 1976 film. What can you say to that?
I was surprised she didn't say much about The 'Burbs and Episode VII: those are my two favorite things that she was in, and the fact that they were excluded from this book made me wonder if maybe she didn't enjoy those roles or didn't think they were worth discussing. What a shame.
The PRINCESS DIARIST is an okay book, but it didn't have the wit that I loved her for in her other books. It felt...bitter, and incomplete. She says a lot without saying much at all, and by the time you get to the end of the book, you're just as mystified about what she's like as you were at the beginning, second-guessing yourself the whole time. "Was that a hint? Is what she's saying funny? Is she secretly laughing at me?" She's like a manic pixie dream girl who's only playing the role to be ironic. Or maybe she wants to keep that last piece of herself private. I guess we'll never know for sure.
Are you a 90s kid? Do you remember what the internet looked like it its early days? Did you have an awkward Myspace?
I LOVE MY COMPUTER grabbed my attention because of that bright pink cover and that amazing title. "I love my computer because my friends live in it." Preach it, my fellow internet-aficionado! Anyone with an active social media presence these days can totally relate to having a friend circle that extends far, far away - especially if they're a teeny bit awkward and quirky.
This memoir is separated into several portions. The 1980s-90s describes the author's childhood, her frustration at copying things to floppy disks, the lengthy download time of Windows 95, and her internet escapades on the early chat rooms of the 90s. Watch her explore the Bette Midler forums with other obsessed fans.
2000-2005 talks about the author's adolescence and her experience with many popular websites in their early days. Oh, and by the way, she includes pictures that will have you smiling with nostalgia, remembering your own self-imposed frenzy at who to place in your top 8 and how to play songs on Winamp. She also talks about her years working as a Devil Wears Prada-esque personal assistant for a publishing firm & her years of living like a socialite on the dollar of some wealthy friends she met online. Remember the Blackberry? Oh yeah, you remember.
2005-2010 takes place in the author's later life, and talks about how she met her wife on match.com and how she adopted a puppy that makes sounds like a microwave from petfinder. This is a cute section. Her puppy-related shenanigans are pretty hilarious (and again - there's pics! yaaass), and I also liked how she wrote about adjusting to the stepmom life, too. It cracked me up how she ran to Facebook every time there was an issue and begged others for advice/support.
2015+ is kind of a retrospective, where the author makes closing statements and manages to get in a few digs at startup culture. She also talks about how weird it is that technology allows you to stalk the people you knew when you were young and find out uncomfortable amounts of information. I agree with that. It's shocking sometimes, what people are perfectly willing to share with strangers.
I LOVE MY COMPUTER is definitely written for that gap of people that fall within Gen Y and Millennial. People who were too young to fully experience the 90s as a preteen or teenager, but who are old enough that they're often befuddled at some of the behaviors of their younger peers (like anything Instagram or Snapchat related, for example). This is the song of your generation!
It actually kind of reminds me of Felicia Day's memoir in some ways, because both are written by geeky women with unusual interests who took advantage of the internet before it hit mainstream and watched it grow and evolve along with pop culture. I felt really nostalgic while reading about Windows 95 & seeing some of the screenshots she included of websites in their early days. I kept laughing and smiling, because her observations are either totally left field or totally on point. Either way, it's pretty darn endearing!
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the free copy!
Vox did a video about The Room recently with the co-author of this book, Tom Bissell, called Why people keep watching the worst movie ever made. He said of it in the interview: "[The Room] is like a movie made by an alien who has never seen a movie but has had movies thoroughly explained to him."
That sentence is scarily appropriate, and goes a long way towards explaining why people thought this book was important enough that it not only deserved a book, but then a second movie based on that book. The story behind the movie's inception is almost as bizarre as the movie itself, if not more so.
In his memoir, Greg Sestero writes about how he met the creator of The Room, Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, intrigued by his odd behavior and pirate-like appearance. The book chronicles Sestero's own rise from minimum wage worker and discouraged aspiring actor to a B-list actor with a couple of serious roles under his belt. Meanwhile, in the background like the proverbial elephant, lurks The Room, and interwoven with Sestero's own narrative is the narrative of what it was like to be behind the set The Room..
And, of course, Wiseau's own narrative arc, as well.
Wiseau is one of those characters who is larger-than-life (hence the movie). At times he's hilarious and endearing, at other times, creepy and terrifying. His mood shifts made him difficult to work with and sometimes delayed production, because he had a vision and God help anyone who stood in the way of that. He basically funded this entire movie out of pocket, from a bottomless money hole that led some of the cast members to believe he had illicit ties to the mob. His history remains largely a mystery, although Sestero shares some of the details that he pieced together from the rare anecdote Wiseau thought fit to regale him with, and it seems like he was from an Eastern European country and became wealthy via the American Dream, by starting as a toy-seller in Fisherman's Wharf. Apparently his name is a corruption of Oiseau, which is French for "bird" (because the toys he sold were shaped like bird), although Wiseau himself does not appear to be French.
I really enjoyed this book a lot. It's darkly funny and utterly ridiculous. According to Vox, movies like The Room fall into a category of movies called "paracinema," because they're not typical movies and they are not really viewed by a typical audience. The Room, in particular, is a trash film - which I think is probably a nice way of saying "s***." It's funny, because while I was reading this, I was thinking about this documentary I watched a few years ago called Best Worst Movie (2009), which chronicles another trash film: Troll 2 (1990). I watched Troll 2 (although I haven't yet seen the room), and it's about as terrible as you might expect... but there is an art to that awfulness. The timing somehow works out to be so wrong, that rather than being scary, it ends up like a comedy.
My Wiki-hopping ended up taking me to a page of movies that are considered to be among the worst ever made. Troll 2 and The Room are both on it, but so are a number of movies that I actually like, such as The Avengers (not the superhero one), Batman & Robin, and Glitter. The Avengers is actually my favorite movie, B&R is my favorite Batman movie, and Glitter was my favorite movie when I was a middle schooler and didn't know any better. Showgirls is on there, as well, but Showgirls is basically the NC-17 version of Glitter, so as you can imagine, I also liked that movie, too. Apparently I have s*** taste in films. (But, again, according to that Vox article, liking trash films is apparently correlated with higher intelligence because they are "subversive." Which, now that I think about it, might go a long way towards explaining my attraction to bodice rippers and pulp.)
THE DISASTER ARTIST is the perfect length, in my opinion, and does a nice job balancing both Sestero's and Wiseau's stories. The humor is great, snappy, and witty, peppered with odd-ball humor that fits the subject. Sestero details his tempestuous relationship with Wiseau, and how he slowly but inevitably got dragged in on this crazy project along with the rest of the cast. You also get cool behind-the-scenes trivia, such as why certain lines were said, or why the outfits they're wearing are so weird, or why that one table in the living room is covered with framed pictures of spoons.
If you're at all interested in this movie, I highly suggest you read THE DISASTER ARTIST. Watching the movie isn't even necessary to enjoy it (I didn't), although I'm sure it helps. But if you want to feel like you've watched the movie without going through the effort, I urge you to watch CinemaSins's video, Everything Wrong With The Room In 8 Minutes Or Less.
I consider myself an unofficial expert on celebrity memoirs. I haven't read all of them (although I would like to - even the stupid ones, because I am incredibly nosy and devour celebrity gossip the way other people devour Dorritos or fake news), but I've read a fair amount, and they usually follow a typical narrative arc. In BORN A CRIME, Trevor Noah takes that arc, flattens it out, and beats you over the head with it.
I love Trevor Noah. I love what he brings to The Daily Show. I think he's incredibly funny, intellectual, erudite, and charming. I also think he's cute, but that's neither here nor there. I actually first learned about him through his (in)famous video with "she who shall not be named" (no, not Voldemort's sister - but close). I was really impressed by how he went about the interview. That could have been really ugly - but it wasn't; it was a somewhat civil discourse between two opposing views, about why the political beliefs of a certain demographic can be incredibly problematic.
When I found out that this Trevor Noah person, this cool political cucumber, had a memoir out, I immediately put myself on hold for it at the library. Unfortunately, so did about a billion other people. It took two freaking months for me to finally get my hands on BORN A CRIME. Normally, when I wait that long, I start to lose interest and by the time I get the book I sometimes forget why I even bothered to put it on hold in the first place. Not so, here.
Trevor Noah's memoir is not like other memoirs because he doesn't talk about his "famous" life at all. BORN A CRIME is about Trevor Noah's childhood growing up in South Africa while it was still under apartheid. He talks about slavery, segregation, racism, poverty, domestic violence and abuse, and all manner of other troubling topics, but he does it in a way that, while not exactly unpleasant, never becomes so graphic or unpleasant that I had to put the book down and take a deep breath. At times, he even manages to make the terrible situation he's describing funny, which is truly a testament to his amazing sense of humor.
There's a lot more I can say, but most of it would just be recaps from the memoir and more praise about Trevor himself. I really, really loved this book. It kind of reminds me of another memoir I read about a biracial man, THE COLOR OF WATER by James McBride, but I feel like BORN A CRIME is going to be a lot more accessible because a) he's a pop-cultural icon, b) Noah's book is broader in scope in terms of topics discussed, and c) he's a millennial so his language will resonate with a lot of people, especially the young bloggers, who are reading and reviewing this book.
Read this book. It was totally worth waiting for two months for.
Scratched another female celebrity memoir off the to-read list! Yaaass!
I was telling someone the other day that celebrity memoirs tend to follow a particular format.
First you have the introduction, a la Troy McClure: "Hi, I'm ______. You may know me from _____, _____, and ______."
Then you have the idyllic childhood with the charming quirks meant to foreshadow their life in showbiz. Don't worry: it's not too idyllic of a childhood. There's always one core issue, be it an absentee parent, a traumatic incident, or a bout of drug addition or the resurgence of a physical or psychological health problem, that casts a shadow on their perfect life and makes them more relatable.
After that, you have the journey to stardom. They talk about their humble origins, and how hard they had to work to get to where they are today. This is followed by the "near fail" and/or the "lucky break" in which the celebrity talks about an incident that almost caused them to give up and/or the opportunity that gave them a firm foothold for the position they hold now.
Finally, in the epilogue, you have the extensive thanks, in which the celebrity talks about all the people they are so grateful for, and also they are talented, wonderful, kind people, and so awesome.
As you can tell, I read a lot of celebrity memoirs. I am not ashamed of this. Some people have Candy Crush or Chipotle. I have celebrity gossip. We all have our guilty pleasures, and this is mine. But I will say that after a while, I kind of feel like I'm reading the same story over and over again, only with different dressing. Amy Poehler is a wonderful human being and I love her comedy and her acting, but she, too, follows the rules of the celebrity memoir to a T.
The best parts of YES, PLEASE are definitely the parts where she talks about her work on Parks and Rec and the pranks she plays with other celebrities (I love the stunt she pulled with George Clooney). I didn't know about her work in Haiti, but that only proves in my eyes that she's just as nice as she seems in interviews. Also, her friendship with Tina Fey is #lifegoals.
Random aside: the inspirational quotes and artsy poems/dialogues interspersed throughout the work were a little strange. Did anyone else think so? Here you have a memoir about this famous comedian, and then there's inspirational quotes that you'd expect to see on a basic girl's designated PSL mug. Some of them were kind of sweet, but most were just kind of like, what. (You're such an odd little cinnamon roll, Amy Poehler.)
If you are a fan of Amy's work, loved her on SNL and/or Parks and Rec, or she features regularly in your #WomanCrushWednesdays, then you'll probably love YES PLEASE. If, on the other hand, you don't really care for Amy's comedy and are just looking to get in on some juicy deets, move along. Amy herself says that when someone asks you to tell them your most embarrassing moment, silence is definitely a viable option - and she holds to that, here.
If you've been following me for a while, you know that I've tried several memoirs by YouTube celebrities and did not like any of them. If you haven't been following me for a while, you're probably rolling your eyes a little and thinking, "Then why are you reading this, huh? Didn't you learn your lesson the last three times?" In response to this question: 1) No. And 2) What's a lesson?
I've actually been listening to Lindsey's music for only about a year (late in the game, I know). I wish I could say that it was an independent discovery, but I don't even have that claim to fame. Someone I know likes her music a lot, so I got them her two CDs as a gift. Curious, I played a few of her songs on YouTube and was blown away - by the music, the crossing of genres, the talent, the dancing, the energy, the outfits.
My favorite songs by her are probably Senbonzakura, which is a cover of a Vocaloid song; Master of Tides, which is an incredible live performance with a nautical theme; and Minimal Beat, which is pretty much what it sounds like, paired with a montage of Lindsey on tour, greeting her fans in a multitude of countries in a multitude of outfits. If it sounds like I'm hung up on the outfits, that's because I am. Her fashion sense = life goals.
But it sucks learning the dirt on your favorite celebrities because sometimes when you peek into their closets you find not just skeletons but meanness. Nothing is worse than finding out a celebrity you love and adore is actually not a nice person. So that was a definite fear of mine when I was debating on reading THE ONLY PIRATE AT THE PARTY. But then her memoir got nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award, so I bit the bullet and checked it out from the library.
I really shouldn't have doubted.
Not because this memoir sucked, but because it was so awesome. Shame on me for thinking that somebody with so much talent, passion, energy, and intelligence wouldn't be able to string to words together. I finished THE ONLY PIRATE AT THE PARTY in a day, basically. Lindsey talks about her unconventional childhood, her Mormon faith (which actually causes some pretty sticky restraints on her wardrobe - that poor stylist, haha), her road to stardom, and her struggle with anxiety and eating disorders. She was charming and real, and just awkward enough to make you feel like you were actually reading somebody's private journal, and hearing their inner-most thoughts.
It really made me appreciate how difficult it is to achieve fame when you're starting out from nothing. I know most celebrity memoirs make that claim, but Lindsey shared some of her humiliations, like being shunned by a famous singer and his orchestra at a concert they were performing at together, and her rejection from the judges of America's Got Talent. I found it inspiring how she always tried to look for the silver lining in even the worst situations, and kept looking for new opportunities.
Honestly, I haven't been this psyched about a memoir since Mara Wilson's and Felicia Day's.
Hey, you know what pairs really well with red wine? Books on feminism. BAD FEMINIST has mixed reviews among my friends, with some of them loving it and others hating it. As with any controversial book, that mixed reception only made me want to read BAD FEMINIST for myself. Because your favorite neighborhood snowflake here loves to read up on feminism in its many incarnations, to get the dirt on the latest schools of thought.
First off, BAD FEMINIST has some of the flaws that MEN EXPLAIN THINGS TO ME did, in the sense that the title suggests that the bulk of the essays will be about one thing (feminism) but much of the space contained inside are devoted to other topics (not feminism related). BAD FEMINIST has the advantage, however, because the digressions are about subjects that are still highly relevant to feminists who believe in intersectionality with regards to class, race, and gender.
In BAD FEMINIST, Roxane Gay writes on many subjects, with a focus on pop culture but also on herself, in a personal and professional context. I learned about her teaching career and the struggles of reaching out to minority students. I learned about her absolutely terrible experience with rape. I learned about her opinions, as a person of color, on books and movies such as Django Unchained, Girls, The Help, and Orange Is the New Black. I learned about why she considers herself a "bad" feminist, per the title, and honestly, I don't see why liking girly things or exploitative content is necessarily bad as long as you are conscious of the flaws of such content and discuss the potential problems they represent. Part of being a feminist is empowering yourself to speak out against problematic representations and constructs of women, and with this book, I'd say Roxane Gay is off to a fairly good start.
BAD FEMINIST is a fairly good book and I agreed with her on many of her opinions, although I still don't see why she is a "bad" feminist. Bad is such a highly charged and subjective term...and the way she uses it here, it seems to indicate that "good" feminist = eschewing feminist things.
Some of the things in here that I think will turn off potential readers are the exhaustive discussions behind some of the catalysts behind the strengthened Black Lives Matter movement, privilege (specifically white privilege) and abortion, but what she said honestly needs to be said - as many times as possible. I read this essay a while ago about women who identify as anti-feminist and it was interesting because it suggested that women do so because they are lauded by men as being "good" women: the ideal standard with regards to the feminine ideation. Women who don't want to be feminists because they want to be "good" wives and mothers (as if you can't have both, and still be a feminist). Women who don't want to be man-haters. Privilege is something that many people aren't aware of consciously - or if they are aware of it, they accept it as the status quo, in the hopes that they too can be a part of that tapestry if they "play by the rules." Many of the most vocal critics are the people who perceive that they have something to lose if the construct changes, and they try to warp that argument into a narrative that employs scare tactics (the disruption of "traditional values" typically) in order to lure more people into that myth, and preserve the status quo.
The same goes for BLM - (some) people have very specific ideas about the roles that people of color (specifically black people) have in the narrative of our society, and are reluctant to change their way of thinking - even when it results in violence. I honestly don't get why people get so freaking worked up about the Black Lives Matter movement, because the message is so important and keeps flying over so many people's heads. It isn't saying that black lives are the most important; it's calling out a specific group of people who are repeatedly getting screwed because of stereotypes. It's the same reason that feminism is a better term than equalism - if you null out the disenfranchised group with a bland name, it becomes far too easy to shut down dialogues more than we already are and be all, "Stop focusing on black lives, don't you know that all lives matter?" Or, "Women already won the vote. Why do you keep talking about women if you want things to be equal?" The name itself is a call to action, and a shortcut that tells you exactly who is in need of support and change.
Anyway, this book was pretty good despite the many digressions, although I'm going to warn you now: Roxane Gay casually spoils the twist of Gone Girl in one of her essays, so if you haven't read GONE GIRL, I suggest avoiding this book until you do. It's kind of hilarious because in another one of her essays she discussions SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL but says she doesn't want to spoil the book for anyone. Oh, I see, so Sweet Valley is sacred but you're going to go ahead and tell everyone the m a j o r . t w i s t in GONE GIRL? Why don't you just go ahead and spoil FIGHT CLUB, too, while you're at it, Ms. Gay? IT'S NOT LIKE PEOPLE ARE BOTHERED BY SPOILERS.
Apart from that HUGE SPOILER in one of the essays, BAD FEMINIST ages well despite being published several years ago, and bar a few notable exclusions, could have been published yesterday and still touch on many of the same subjects that are on people's minds. I recommend it to people who are interested in frank discussions of pop culture and feminism and want to learn more.
I keep picking up these memoirs written by my favorite female comedians expecting them to be funny, and then the memoir inevitably turns out to be a "I may be a funny person for a living, but I'm so much more - let me list out the innermost details of my psyche for your pleasure so you can understand my soul" type of deal. Which is fine. I can totally understand why comedians would want to do that. I'm sure you have off days where you don't want to be funny, where the last thing you want to do is laugh, where you'd like to talk politics seriously without being expected to toss out a Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump joke. But on the other hand, that's exactly why people are suckered into these memoirs.
People like me.
Even when she's in "funny mode", Amy Schumer is one of those celebrities you will likely love or hate. She's brassy and bold, and outspoken about sex and girl power. Her comedy sketches push the line on the things that it's acceptable for women to talk about, and her movie, Trainwreck, is basically a gender-flipped take on the Judd Apatow "foul-mouthed slacker gets the girl" trope. I've heard pro-Amy and anti-Amy spiels, and I can understand both camps to a degree. She's controversial. She's assertive. She's in-your-face. But hey, it certainly gets her noticed.
Going back to this memoir, Amy decides to turn "funny mode" down a few bars. She still tries to be funny, but she also tries to tell us about the woman behind the humor. She talks about her childhood, her adolescence, her struggle to get her foot in the door. This is a pretty typical arc for celebrity memoirs, so I'm sure you expected all this. I was. What I didn't expect were some very odd digressions in this collection of essays. Essays about Amy's horror carnival collection of stuffed animals. Excerpts from Amy's childhood and teenage diaries, replete with footnotes and analyses from adult Amy. An essay about the difference between Old Money and New Money. Lists about things that annoy Amy. Lists about things that Amy loves. A two chapter long instruction guide for what Amy wants at her funeral. I'm sorry, what does any of this have to do with anything?
There are a few good essays, but for every good essay there's at least one bad one. I was expecting THE GIRL WITH THE LOWER BACK TATTOO to be controversial or provocative, but what I wasn't expecting it to be was boring. The second half is disproportionately variable in terms of the quality of content, so I found myself skimming over the last 50% of the book, especially the self-promo bits. I liked the photographs at the back, and thought it was nice that she paid homage to the women who were shot at one of the showings of Trainwreck, but I had zero interest in seeing Amy's analysis of her favorite things and what kind of eulogy she wants.
Like her or hate her, Amy does bring attention to feminism. She might not always go about it in the most PC or ideal of ways, but PC doesn't always grab the spotlight in the same way. Some of her sketches are really funny, especially the Last F*ckable Day and the Makeup one. This book, however, was not, and I can't really say that I'd recommend it to Amy Schumer fans, feminists, or celebrity memoir aficionados. Maybe if the collection had been better curated, and funnier, it could have been a decent read. But the way it is now, I could barely make it through the pages without glazing over.
"Pitch perfect" is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot these days, but it is an apt description for WHERE AM I NOW? Matilda is one of my two all-time favorite movies (the other one is Princess Bride, in case you were wondering), and like many others, I often wondered what happened to the talented young actress who went from being in everything to being in nothing. Then I found out she had a Twitter, where I began quietly stalking her posts, and I found to my delight that not only was she talented, she was also funny - and smart. From her Twitter, I found out that she had an upcoming book of essays and well, you know the rest from there. I came, I saw, I lurked - and then I got the book.
Celebrity memoirs tend to fall into two categories - they're either (a) gossipy and ghost-written, relying on your guilty pleasure of watching famous people spill the tea to get you through the bad writing (and it does work - very well; I, myself, am not immune) or (b) very polite, very nice thank-you letters to everyone who made them famous, with a few agent-vetted anecdotes to make them seem a bit more approachable, but not too approachable (these are boring, but it's almost impossible to be mad at them, because they're so nice and so polite). Sometimes, though, there's a third category - authentic, relatable, quotable; an existentialist bible that you want to keep on your nightstand and highlight forever.
Mara Wilson manages to cover a wide array of topics, detailing her journey into fame and her journey out of it. She talks about her work on Matilda, and how much she loved her role, and lived her role; she talks about her hang-ups about sex; she talks about being a character actor for "adorable quirky child", and the anxiety she felt when she became too old and too plain to land adolescent leading roles (in fact she lost three to Kristen Stewart, which bums me out a little, because Mara would have been amazing in Speak); she talks about her experience with OCD and anxiety, and about being bullied in high school; she talks about first love; she talks about Robin Williams, and how his death affected her; and she talks about what it's like to finally find your people, and feel like you belong.
I don't really have words to talk about how this book touched me, and how powerfully I related to some of the chapters. The way Mara talks about the book KISSING DOORKNOBS, and feeling like she was reading about herself - that's kind of how I felt about reading WHERE AM I NOW? (Minus the fame, and various other parts.) This was such an honest, eloquent memoir, and finishing it was like saying goodbye to a friend you haven't seen in a while. It was bittersweet: it was perfect.
I just read Amy Schumer's GIRL WITH THE LOWER BACK TATTOO, and if you follow me, you'll remember that I had some complaints. Mainly that comedians, for whatever reason, write unfunny memoirs that are either a) self-promotional, b) long, shopping lists of gratitude, or c) boring & dry. It's like they have to prove a point - that they're not just the funny man or woman, they can be serious, just you watch. But...that's not why people are going to buy your memoirs. It's not why I buy your memoirs.
Phoebe Robinson's memoir is not like that at all. It opens with the history and the politics of "natural" hair and why it's rude to ask to touch it. Robinson discusses how different hairstyles can make a statement if you're a woman of color, the hours and effort that go into maintaining natural hair, and the frustration she and other women feel when they are othered based on their appearance.
After this, as a bit of a wind down, she discusses some of the famous (black) celebrities who contributed to the pop cultural lexicon of black hairstyles. This section includes pictures and commentary, and I really enjoyed seeing the evolving looks.
The middle section is a bit about Phoebe herself, and some of the things she loves, as a sort of belated meet-cute before she gets into the heavy stuff. Try not falling for this woman, I dare you. She's so charming, and funny, and self-effacing. She drops pop culture references and slang like a pro, and her voice is so strong that you really get the feeling that you're having a dialogue with her - right now.It can be surprisingly difficult to capture a "voice" on paper, and she does it really, really well.
After the meet-cute, Phoebe gets into the Deep Stuff. Race. Stereotypes. Bigotry. Guilt. Othering. Coded language. Privilege. The stuff that will send a small population running for the hills (or their laptops), screaming about rabid SJWs. But Phoebe discusses these topics in a really great way, supporting her points with examples that help give you an idea of what she feels and why when people use insensitive words like "exotic", "urban", or "uppity", or why she got so angry when a woman burst into tears after Phoebe was forced to read aloud and then later criticized her offensive lesbian master/slave love story and claimed that she - a white college student - felt "picked on."
Phoebe gets right to the point. Even now, decades after the civil rights movement and about a century after the end of slavery, we are still pretty damn discriminatory as a society. And discrimination doesn't have to be overt. You don't have to say the N-word to discriminate. Discrimination can be as implicit as designing camera film for white skin, treating your black friend like they're the ambassador for all people of color, or only carrying lighter shades of foundation at a drug store. Buzzfeed did a few role reversal videos (1, 2) that help illustrate what things look like from the outside the privilege zone, but the fact that it feels so ridiculous just goes to show how heavily integrated such stereotypes are within the structure of society, and why we still need change.
The book ends with Phoebe writing a series of letters to her young niece about what it means to be black, biracial, and a woman, and the importance of being an authentic, compassionate individual who is open to new experiences but also not afraid to stand up for her principles. She brings up some more great points, too, but after the previous section, it feels a bit anticlimactic. I can see why Phoebe chose to end her book this way, though. You don't want to leave your readers on a note of moral outrage (for better, or for worse), and it helps bring the memoir full circle, as Phoebe starts out talking about the politics of the parts of the individual, and ends with the politics of the whole article.
This is probably one of my top 5 favorite female memoirs, ranking right up there with Felicia Day's YOU'RE NEVER WEIRD ON THE INTERNET and Tina Fey's BOSSYPANTS. It made me cry out, "I relate to that!" "I am interested in that!" "I am outraged by that!" and "I want to be your friend!" by turns. I love memoirs that are passionate, and political, and energized, and this book was all of those things. It was also thought-provoking, and honest in a way that a lot of memoirs these days aren't (I think you've probably heard me complain that too many celebrity memoirs are too "nice"; nice is nice, but it isn't controversial and it doesn't make a statement and it doesn't get you talking, either).
I loved that. And I love Phoebe. (And now I'm off to check out her comedy and stalk her on Twitter.)