mini-review · stuff I read

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen

Summary from Goodreads:
From celebrity gossip expert and BuzzFeed culture writer Anne Helen Petersen comes an accessible, analytical look at how female celebrities are pushing boundaries of what it means to be an acceptable woman.

You know the type: the woman who won’t shut up, who’s too brazen, too opinionated, too much. She’s the unruly woman, and she embodies one of the most provocative and powerful forms of womanhood today. In Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, Anne Helen Petersen uses the lens of unruliness to explore the ascension of pop culture powerhouses like Lena Dunham, Nicki Minaj, and Kim Kardashian, exploring why the public loves to love (and hate) these controversial figures. With its brisk, incisive analysis, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud will be a conversation-starting book on what makes and breaks celebrity today.

After living through the first half of 2017, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud is the book I needed to give me a boost and a reminder to square my shoulders and keep on going.

I really, really enjoyed this book of ten essays that examined unruly women (women who are too loud, too slutty, too old, too fat, too strong, too pregnant, etc) and deconstructed the media and culture reaction to each “type”. And no woman is perfect, another way we become unruly. I would have happily read even more because Petersen situated her writing in a good middle ground – she pulled theory from philosophy, gender studies, etc but also used hundreds of pop culture examples. This is a good place to start for anyone looking to examine “post-feminist” backlash.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

Summary from Goodreads:
When a bookshop patron commits suicide, it’s his favorite store clerk who must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this fiendishly clever debut novel from an award-winning short story writer.

Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.

But when Joey McGinty, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s back room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely, uncared for man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?

As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Her distant father returns to the fold, along with an obsessive local cop, and the Hammerman, a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and, as she soon discovers, never completely left. Bedazzling, addictive, and wildly clever, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a heart-pounding mystery that perfectly captures the intellect and eccentricity of the bookstore milieu and will keep you guessing until the very last page.​

I wasn’t sure what to make of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore.  Is it a thriller?  A coming-of-age story?  Psychological?  With loads of psychological thrillers on the market from authors like Gillian Flynn and Ruth Ware, this didn’t feel like it fit.  But it went on the Discover display at the store, so I felt like I ought to give it  a shot.

Sullivan chose an odd but compelling way to tell a thriller story that turns out to be something else entirely. Lydia is an interesting main character with a lot of secrets and backstory.  It was pretty compelling reading – if she investigates Joey’s last request, will she bring the Hammerman out of hiding? What is this message hidden in his books? However, Lydia also felt very flat as a character, without much internal motivation until the end of the book. There were some good twists and turns in this novel, all leading back to the theme of family and secrets. Structurally, though, Sullivan chose to close the novel with an Epilogue.  It was a total cop out.  He should have just written a closing chapter or two rather than cram all sorts of stuff into a time jump. #banepilogues

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard

Summary from Goodreads:
Critically acclaimed, award-winning British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard details his childhood, his first performances on the streets of London, his ascent to worldwide success on stage and screen, and his comedy shows which have won over audiences around the world.

Over the course of a thirty-year career, Eddie Izzard has proven himself to be a creative chameleon, inhabiting the stage and film and television screen with an unbelievable fervor. Born in Yemen, and raised in Ireland, Wales and post-war England, he lost his mother at the age of six. In his teens, he dropped out of university and took to the streets of London as part of a two-man escape act; when his partner went on vacation, Izzard kept busy by inventing a one-man act, and thus a career was ignited. As a stand-up comedian, Izzard has captivated audiences with his surreal, stream-of-consciousness comedy–lines such as “Cake or Death?” “Death Star Canteen,” and “Do You Have a Flag?” have the status of great rock lyrics. As a self-proclaimed “Executive Transvestite,” Izzard broke the mold performing in full make-up and heels, and has become as famous for his advocacy for LGBT rights as he has for his art. In Believe Me, he recounts the dizzying rise he made from street busking to London’s West End, to Wembley Stadium and New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Still performing more than 100 shows a year–thus far in a record-breaking twenty-eight countries worldwide–Izzard is arguably one of today’s top Kings of Comedy. With his brand of keenly intelligent humor, that ranges from world history to pop culture, politics and philosophy, he has built an extraordinary fan base that transcends age, gender, and race. Writing with the same candor and razor-sharp insight evident in his comedy, he reflects on a childhood marked by unutterable loss, sexuality and coming out, as well as a life in show business, politics, and philanthropy. Honest and generous, Izzard’s Believe Me is an inspired account of a very singular life thus far.

Eddie Izzard is one of those chameleon actors for me: I would never recognize him on the street and his characters have a huge range (I would never have pegged him to play a Nazi in Valkyrie but he was excellent) plus he’s a comic.  Believe Me is a good, solid memoir running from his very early childhood all the way up to his recent successes as an actor. If you’re used to Izzard’s stand-up shows, the writing here isn’t nearly as laugh-out-loud funny, but he’s got a really dry writing style and has some excellent bits in the footnotes.  I snorted several times. The last 50 pages or so get kind of pokey and wander around but it is a fascinating look at how he built his career from the ground up.  I also feel like I understand his sexuality much more, which is a good reminder for me that people do not fit neatly into little boxes.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

dies · stuff I read

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Summary from Goodreads:
From the bestselling author of Bad Feminist: a searingly honest memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed your hunger while taking care of yourself

“I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.”

In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her own past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.

With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved—in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.

I have been WAITING AND WAITING for this book.  A new Roxane Gay collections of essays/memoir.  Give it to me now.

I don’t think I can write anything coherent. Roxane’s book is beautiful and gutting, full of sharp cultural criticism about how large bodies (fat people, particularly fat women) are perceived running parallel to an account of her life After and how broken she became. I don’t know how she found the courage to cut this book free from her mind and allow us to read it but she did. It had to be so hard because I felt physical pain in my chest while I was reading it.  I am in awe of her strength.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. I’ll buy it, too, probably.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Allison Markin Powell)

Summary from Goodreads:
Featuring a delightfully offbeat cast of characters, The Nakano Thrift Shop is
a generous-hearted portrayal of human relationships by one of Japan’s most beloved authors.

Objects for sale at the Nakano Thrift Shop appear as commonplace as the staff and customers that handle them. But like those same customers and staff, they hold many secrets. If examined carefully, they show the signs of innumerable extravagancies, of immeasurable pleasure and pain, and of the deep mysteries of the human heart.

Hitomi, the inexperienced young woman who works the register at Mr. Nakano’s thrift shop, has fallen for her coworker, the oddly reserved Takeo. Unsure of how to attract his attention, she seeks advice from her employer’s sister, Masayo, whose sentimental entanglements make her a somewhat unconventional guide. But thanks in part to Masayo, Hitomi will come to realize that love, desire, and intimacy require acceptance not only of idiosyncrasies but also of the delicate waltz between open and hidden secrets. Animating each delicately rendered chapter in Kawakami’s playful novel is Mr. Nakano himself, an original, entertaining, and enigmatic creation whose compulsive mannerisms, secretive love life, and impulsive behavior defy all expectations.

The Nakano Thrift Shop is a quirky, understated book about three people who work at a thrift shop (four, if you count the owner’s sister) over the course of about one year. Hitomi observes the oddities of her employer, Mr. Nakano, and his sister while appearing to drift a little bit in life (I hate to use the term “quarterlife crisis” but it does feel like she is trying to figure out life a bit).  She also develops a strange relationship with the delivery driver Takeo, who definitely sends her strange signals.  This is an excellent book for when you need something quiet.

The translation seems good (I had thought that “Indian summer” was an odd idiom to use but it turns out that it was ported into Japanese some time ago). There is a weird convention about quotation marks – sometimes used, sometimes not.

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Bitch Planet, Volume 2: President Bitch by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro

Summary from Goodreads:
Eisner Award-nominated writer KELLY SUE DeCONNICK (PRETTY DEADLY, Captain Marvel) and VALENTINE DE LANDRO (X-Factor) follow up on the success of EXTRAORDINARY MACHINE with the second installment of their highly acclaimed and fiercely unapologetic BITCH PLANET. A few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman’s failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords results in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. But what happened on Earth that this new world order came to pass in the first place? Return to the grim corridors of Auxiliary Compliance Outpost #2, to uncover the first clues to the history of the world as we know it…and meet PRESIDENT BITCH.

This volume collects issues #6-10, a reader discussion guide and additional bonus materials.

Fire. Absolute fire. Amazing. I don’t have much else to say except that I am KICKING myself for not getting this in issues because the trade doesn’t have the original essays included in each issue. The notes from Kelly Sue and Valentine about two really important opening panels are amazing.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and then I’m going to buy one because obviously.

food · stuff I read

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat

Summary from Goodreads:
A visionary new master class in cooking that distills decades of professional experience into just four simple elements, from the woman declared “America’s next great cooking teacher” by Alice Waters.

In the tradition of The Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything comes Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, an ambitious new approach to cooking by a major new culinary voice. Chef and writer Samin Nosrat has taught everyone from professional chefs to middle school kids to author Michael Pollan to cook using her revolutionary, yet simple, philosophy. Master the use of just four elements—Salt, which enhances flavor; Fat, which delivers flavor and generates texture; Acid, which balances flavor; and Heat, which ultimately determines the texture of food—and anything you cook will be delicious. By explaining the hows and whys of good cooking, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will teach and inspire a new generation of cooks how to confidently make better decisions in the kitchen and cook delicious meals with any ingredients, anywhere, at any time.

Echoing Samin’s own journey from culinary novice to award-winning chef, Salt, Fat Acid, Heat immediately bridges the gap between home and professional kitchens. With charming narrative, illustrated walkthroughs, and a lighthearted approach to kitchen science, Samin demystifies the four elements of good cooking for everyone. Refer to the canon of 100 essential recipes—and dozens of variations—to put the lessons into practice and make bright, balanced vinaigrettes, perfectly caramelized roast vegetables, tender braised meats, and light, flaky pastry doughs.

Featuring 150 illustrations and infographics that reveal an atlas to the world of flavor by renowned illustrator Wendy MacNaughton, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will be your compass in the kitchen. Destined to be a classic, it just might be the last cookbook you’ll ever need.

With a foreword by Michael Pollan.

I love, love, love Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Part “this is why we cook food the way we do” guide, part cookbook, 100% delightful. Nosrat’s writing style and tone are easy to understand and completely not-intimidating. While reading this I was inspired to try some changes in the way I cook based on her advice in each chapter – it seemed to work and make me more inventive. Along the way, Wendy MacNaughton’s delightful artwork helped illustrate ideas with charts and graphs as well as providing some humor and whimsy. A must-have for home cooks!

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

Reading Graphically · stuff I read

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History by Hope Nicholson

Summary from Goodreads:
A woman’s place is saving the universe.

Think comic books can’t feature strong female protagonists? Think again! In The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen you ll meet the most fascinating exemplars of the powerful, compelling, entertaining, and heroic female characters who ve populated comic books from the very beginning. This spectacular sisterhood includes costumed crimebusters like Miss Fury, super-spies like Tiffany Sinn, sci-fi pioneers like Gale Allen, and even kid troublemakers like Little Lulu. With vintage art, publication details, a decade-by-decade survey of industry trends and women s roles in comics, and spotlights on iconic favorites like Wonder Woman and Ms. Marvel, The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen proves that not only do strong female protagonists belong in comics, they’ve always been there.

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen is a very beautifully designed overview of the history of female characters in (mostly American) comics, starting in the 1930s, twelve ladies a decade. This isn’t comprehensive, but Nicholson has tried for a cross-section of ALL female characters not just the “best”, including some that are problematic. This was a fun read and Nicholson tries to point out where one can track down the original adventures if you want to read characters’ adventures in full (if they’re available, many older comics have not been reprinted at all).

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.