stuff I read

Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby

49960031Summary from Goodreads:
A new essay collection from Samantha Irby about aging, marriage, settling down with step-children in white, small-town America.

Irby is turning forty, and increasingly uncomfortable in her own skin. She has left her job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, has published successful books and is courted by Hollywood, left Chicago, and moved into a house with a garden that requires repairs and know-how with her wife and two step-children in a small white, Republican town in Michigan where she now hosts book clubs. This is the bourgeois life of dreams. She goes on bad dates with new friends, spends weeks in Los Angeles taking meetings with “skinny, luminous peoples” while being a “cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person,” “with neck pain and no cartilage in [her] knees,” and hides Entenmann’s cookies under her bed and unopened bills under her pillow.

New Samantha Irby essays! Wow, No Thank You. is a group of personal essays that are much more “current” as opposed to some of her previous collections. And what I mean by that is that more of the topics appear to stem from events that happen now – working in LA as a writer on Shrill, learning to step-parent (a little bit), moving from Chicago to Michigan with her wife. That’s not to say she’s done with using her childhood experiences as topics, it’s just that they’ve shifted, less autobiographical and more “this is how growing up poor and Black impacts how I manage money now as a forty-something pretend-adult” and “I haven’t had a lot of breaks and all of a sudden I’m writing for Lindy West’s TV show and WTF is happening.” All in that signature Sam Irby, dry-as-the-Midwest-in-week-12-of-a-drought, self-deprecating style. I loved the mix-tape essay.

I read this essays one or two at a time at night before bed, once the book was out (and once I had obtained it from my store since we had just closed to in-store shopping due to COVID-19 and hadn’t quite worked out curbside or anything). Because I wasn’t fancy enough to get a galley.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book because duh.

Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (The Brown Sisters #1)

43884209Summary from Goodreads:
Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

• Enjoy a drunken night out.
• Ride a motorcycle.
• Go camping.
• Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
• Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
• And… do something bad.

But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

Do you want a mad-sexy romance between a sarcastic programmer/web designer with chronic pain syndromes and a motorcycle-riding, secret artist building superintendent set in Nottingham? Where both main characters have some emotional garbage in their pasts they have to deal with in very real-world, adult ways? Plus a very sweet cat?

You do. You so do. Get a Life, Chloe Brown starts when the titular Chloe is almost run-over by a drunk driver. Like, the car misses her by three feet. In the life-flashing-past-her-eyes moment she imagines the eulogy at her funeral, which boils down to she never did anything and possibly might have a more exciting life as a dead person. Ouch. So she decides to make some changes. First off: get her own place (family is great, but they might be contributing to the problem). Second: make a list of exciting tasks.

So Chloe moves into an apartment complex managed by Red Morgan who is sexy and fit, with gorgeous ginger hair, and Chloe is immediately attracted to him (he paints at night without his shirt on, not that Chloe is spying on him or anything….she totally isn’t! Ok, fine. She is.). But he apparently doesn’t like her. (Incorrect: he is very attracted to her, too, but his ex-girlfriend was a moneyed, emotionally abusive piece of trash and Chloe sounds like money, therefore, he thinks Chloe is not for him.) When Chloe tries to rescue a cat stuck in a tree – overexerting herself, which sets off her fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue – Red comes to her rescue. And they slowly start to learn about each other. Soon Red is helping Chloe with her list.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown is a wonderful one-sitting read!!!! I hadn’t got around to reading my galley when it came out in November but it was Valentine’s Day and Dani’s book comes out this summer so I plopped myself down and DEVOURED Chloe’s book. (It’s Red’s book, too, but you know.) It’s such a rom-com, with a great “meet-cute” and funny sisters and scenes that just make you smile with joy, but Hibbert makes her characters very real. Chloe has a “real” body, rather than an imagined ideal figure, with a physical illness that isn’t often represented in fiction and one that has contributed to the walls she has built around her heart. Red is an absolute sweetheart but he has been the victim of an abusive manipulator; his confidence and ability to trust has to be rebuilt and he starts figuring out how to do this as a result of his relationship with Chloe. They both make mistakes that require considerable acts of trust to overcome. That makes the resolution of their story that much sweeter.

Chloe and Red are funny and sexy and sweet and very honest and if someone doesn’t option this book to adapt it as a movie and fill it with sexy British people (and a cat) this timeline has no soul. I personally vote for Tom Hardy – sexy man who can play a bit of rough – and, although this wouldn’t work IRL because Chloe is in her late 20s (I think), Marianne Jean-Baptiste can deliver perfect sarcasm that would be spot-on for that character. Although I think Tom is too old, too, given Red’s age in the book so WHO KNOWS! DREAM CASTING FOR EVERYONE! (Also putting forward a vote for Letitia Wright to play Chloe’s youngest sister Eve, because she can totally pull that character off and then get her own love story in book/movie three.)

CW: description of mental abuse of a character in the past and its aftermath, but very well-handled

Dear FTC: I read my copy of this book on my Nook because I didn’t get to my galley before it expired.

stuff I read

The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang

40121993Summary from Goodreads:
Powerful, affecting essays on mental illness, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and a Whiting Award

An intimate, moving book written with the immediacy and directness of one who still struggles with the effects of mental and chronic illness, The Collected Schizophrenias cuts right to the core. Schizophrenia is not a single unifying diagnosis, and Esmé Weijun Wang writes not just to her fellow members of the “collected schizophrenias” but to those who wish to understand it as well. Opening with the journey toward her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, Wang discusses the medical community’s own disagreement about labels and procedures for diagnosing those with mental illness, and then follows an arc that examines the manifestations of schizophrenia in her life. In essays that range from using fashion to present as high-functioning to the depths of a rare form of psychosis, and from the failures of the higher education system and the dangers of institutionalization to the complexity of compounding factors such as PTSD and Lyme disease, Wang’s analytical eye, honed as a former lab researcher at Stanford, allows her to balance research with personal narrative. An essay collection of undeniable power, The Collected Schizophrenias dispels misconceptions and provides insight into a condition long misunderstood.

The Collected Schizophrenias is an outstanding collection of essays about living with schizoaffective disorder and later chronic Lyme disease. Wang provides a glimpse into an existence that is harrowing at times but also so rich and filled with life. She brings into sharp relief how poorly she was treated as a person having delusions and disassociative episodes (particularly by her college) but contrasted with her love of fashion and vintage clothing which she uses as a way to present herself as a “well” person. She writes about living with a “slippery brain” (a term taken from the last essay, “Beyond the Hedges”) and how to tether herself to reality. If you liked Sick by Porochista Khakpour, you’ll like The Collected Schizophrenias.

The Collected Schizophrenias is out today in the US.

Dear FTC: I received a paper galley of this book from the publisher.

Reading Women · stuff I read

Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour

33026961Summary from Goodreads:
In the tradition of Brain on Fire and Darkness Visible, an honest, beautifully rendered memoir of chronic illness, misdiagnosis, addiction, and the myth of full recovery that details author Porochista Khakpour’s struggles with late-stage Lyme disease.

For as long as writer Porochista Khakpour can remember, she has been sick. For most of that time, she didn’t know why. All of her trips to the ER and her daily anguish, pain, and lethargy only ever resulted in one question: How could any one person be this sick? Several drug addictions, three major hospitalizations, and over $100,000 later, she finally had a diagnosis: late-stage Lyme disease.

Sick is Khakpour’s arduous, emotional journey—as a woman, a writer, and a lifelong sufferer of undiagnosed health problems—through the chronic illness that perpetually left her a victim of anxiety, living a life stymied by an unknown condition.

Divided by settings, Khakpour guides the reader through her illness by way of the locations that changed her course—New York, LA, New Mexico, and Germany—as she meditates on both the physical and psychological impacts of uncertainty, and the eventual challenge of accepting the diagnosis she had searched for over the course of her adult life. With candor and grace, she examines her subsequent struggles with mental illness, her addiction to the benzodiazepines prescribed by her psychiatrists, and her ever-deteriorating physical health.

A story about survival, pain, and transformation, Sick is a candid, illuminating narrative of hope and uncertainty, boldly examining the deep impact of illness on one woman’s life.

I have long been a fan of Porochista Khakpour’s work online and I’ve been waiting for this memoir since it was announced.

Sick is a finely wrought memoir of Khakpour’s battle with Lyme disease and, more broadly, how the early trauma and displacement of her childhood intertwines and muddies the challenge of “putting a name” to the cause of her symptoms. Lyme is an insidious illness, hard to diagnose, hard to treat, and almost impossible, in many cases, I am learning, to determine a fixed time of infection. Was Khakpour infected as a child? An adolescent? A college-student? Her Lyme symptoms cross a time-line where chemical addiction and symptoms of anxiety could have caused or exacerbated those same symptoms. And even once she has a diagnosis, that does not mean she can now pop the right pills and return to her life disease-free. Khakpour generously details how she lives and works and tries to remain a person, not a disease, day by day.  Her writing is beautiful and a privilege to read, from the sentence-level on up.

We talk in the bookish community about how books can provide windows and doors, how reading is a way to step into someone else’s experience and try to understand them. I am a fairly healthy person. I have my share of aches and pains (hello, 33 years of dancing) but I do not experience pain or fatigue so overwhelming that it makes even leaving my bed impossible. I don’t have a medical condition that is questionably or poorly understood. I don’t struggle with mental illness. Reading Khakpour’s words gave me an opportunity to listen to her story and understand how she lives and works and loves. And then sit very uncomfortably with the times I have been ungenerous with my criticism of someone who suffers from poor health.

Sick is out tomorrow, wherever books are sold.

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

Update: Since Sick was published, Khakpour has suffered a severe setback in her health, much of it stemming from mold that infested her apartment from an illegal demolition that occurred in her building. She is receiving treatment but it is very expensive and often not covered by insurance. Please buy a copy of Sick (unfortunately, her previous works of fiction, Sons and Other Flammable Objects and The Last Illusion, are out of print). In addition, a Go Fund Me has been set up for Khakpour to help defray the costs of this round of treatment, if you wish to make a donation.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · Reading Women · stuff I read

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi (Tangled Axon #1)

18214164Summary from Goodreads:
Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually-advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego . . . and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything—even destroying planets—to get their hands on her!

Jenn at Get Booked also has recommended Ascension multiple times. So when I had a hankering for a space opera, I remembered that I had this on my nook.

Koyanagi created an intriguing world both inside and outside the transport ship Tangled Axon. Ascension itself as a book is somewhere between a three and a four star read. Primarily, it could use a bit of editing since the plot is a little poky and unnecessarily convoluted in places. But, damn, I really enjoyed what the author was getting at with found families, faith, chronic illness, and metaphysics. Alana is such a wonderful character, very complex, and she plays against Tev so very well.  I’d love to read more in this world, with these characters (uh, one of the characters is a humanoid male who either is also a dog or has a dog spirit or something and I have questions because this is interesting), so I really hope that Koyanagi writes more.

Dear FTC: I read the copy on my nook.

Reading Women · stuff I read

Invisible: How Young Women with Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine by Michele Lent Hirsch

Sum33931697mary from Goodreads:
An exploration of women navigating serious health issues at an age where they’re expected to be healthy, dating, having careers and children.

Miriam’s doctor didn’t believe she had breast cancer. She did.

Sophie navigates being the only black scientist in her lab while studying the very disease, HIV, that she hides from her coworkers.

For Victoria, coming out as a transgender woman was less difficult than coming out as bipolar.

Author Michele Lent Hirsch knew she couldn’t be the only woman who’s faced serious health issues at a young age, as well as the resulting effects on her career, her relationships, and her sense of self. What she found while researching Invisible was a surprisingly large and overlooked population with important stories to tell.

Though young women with serious illness tend to be seen as outliers, young female patients are in fact the primary demographic for many illnesses. They are also one of the most ignored groups in our medical system–a system where young women, especially women of color and trans women, are invisible.

And because of expectations about gender and age, young women with health issues must often deal with bias in their careers and personal lives. Not only do they feel pressured to seem perfect and youthful, they also find themselves amid labyrinthine obstacles in a culture that has one narrow idea of womanhood.

Lent Hirsch weaves her own harrowing experiences together with stories from other women, perspectives from sociologists on structural inequality, and insights from neuroscientists on misogyny in health research. She shows how health issues and disabilities amplify what women in general already confront: warped beauty standards, workplace sexism, worries about romantic partners, and mistrust of their own bodies. By shining a light on this hidden demographic, Lent Hirsch explores the challenges that all women face.

This spring is bringing a small crop of books focussed on women’s health and/or marginalized groups’ health. I reviewed Doing Harm a few days ago and Ask Me About My Uterus is also out today (I didn’t get a galley, so I’ll be checking that out later). Today is Invisible‘s turn.

Michele Lent Hirsch used her own experience as a queer woman with chronic pain and illness as a jumping off point to both a) research societal and medical attitudes toward young women with chronic illness and b) interview women all across the spectrum of gender identity/expression and race to give us a taste of what women with chronic illness experience. Chronic illness affects whether or not a woman is able to maintain her personal and professional relationships after symptom onset or diagnosis. It affects whether she can even acquire new relationships. It affects whether she is believed when reporting symptoms.

Invisible is the most intersectional book I’ve ever read. Hirsch has clearly made an effort to create a truly inclusive cohort of female-presenting interview subjects: straight women, gay women, women of color, queer women of color, women who are single, women in relationships, women with children, women without children. A qualitative researcher could take her notes and write a scientific paper about the common themes found in those women’s words. Her information is that good. The only other thing I can say is that the subtitle speaks for itself and this should be required reading for everyone. I think Hirsch could have done more summation or wrote a conclusion to tie all the books’ chapters together. Or perhaps not – maybe we deserve to hit the end of the book and sit there with our thoughts because chronic illness and its effects on women’s lives really has no end or conclusion.

Invisible is out now!

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

stuff I read

Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick by Maya Dusenbery

30653955Summary from Goodreads:
In this shocking, hard-hitting expose in the tradition of Naomi Klein and Barbara Ehrenreich, the editorial director of Feministing.com, reveals how gender bias infects every level of medicine and healthcare today—leading to inadequate, inappropriate, and even dangerous treatment that threatens women’s lives and well-being.

Maya Dusenbery brings together scientific and sociological research, interviews with experts within and outside the medical establishment, and personal stories from regular women to provide the first comprehensive, accessible look at how sexism in medicine harms women today. In addition to offering a clear-eyed explanation of the root causes of this insidious and entrenched bias and laying out its effects, she suggests concrete steps we can take to cure it.

As an epidemiologist, one of the first things I learned when starting data analysis was that you always included age (either categorical or a mean and range) and gender in your Table 1, usually in the first two lines. Apparently, Dr. Torner’s list of “best practices” for data analysis is an anomaly. Including gender in one’s analysis or report of results in the medical literature is often ignored. The problem with ignoring gender runs deep into scientific research, from subject recruitment for clinical trials all the way back to the gender of laboratory animals in bench research.

Doing Harm is a deep-dive into decades-long practices in science and medicine that disadvantage women and minorities from the word go. Results from huge clinical trials that enrolled only men (for a really stupid reason) are used in evidence-based medicine and applied across all genders. Laboratory phase-one pharmacology trials using only male animals fail to reveal that a female-based biochemistry will metabolize the drug differently. The imbalance spirals outward into the patient experience. Misogynistic, prejudicial, and paternalistic attitudes by physicians and other care providers are reported through interviews and research reported in the medical literature. There is a persistent and pervasive belief that self-reported symptoms by women and people of color are not to be trusted. Dusenbery gets into the actual published science behind all the bad science and medicine and how the tides are slowly beginning to turn. Very slowly – even when new science is presented, meant to effect practice changes, no one is there making sure every physician or care provider incorporates new findings into their daily practice.

Doing Harm is one of a three-book trifecta coming out March 6 about women’s health and chronic illness. I will review Invisible on March 6. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to acquire a galley of Ask Me About My Uterus so will have to wait until it arrives at the store to check it out.

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