mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Knitting the Fog by Claudia D. Hernández

43192004Summary from Goodreads:
Weaving together narrative essay and bilingual poetry, Claudia D. Hernández’s lyrical debut follows her tumultuous adolescence and fraught homecomings as she crisscrosses the American continent.

Seven-year-old Claudia wakes up one day to find her mother gone, having left for the United States to flee domestic abuse and pursue economic prosperity. Claudia and her two older sisters are taken in by their great aunt and their grandmother, their father no longer in the picture. Three years later, her mother returns for her daughters, and the family begins the month-long journey to El Norte. But in Los Angeles, Claudia has trouble assimilating: she doesn’t speak English, and her Spanish sticks out as “weird” in their primarily Mexican neighborhood. When her family returns to Guatemala years later, she is startled to find she no longer belongs there either.

A harrowing story told with the candid innocence of childhood, Hernández’s memoir depicts a complex self-portrait of the struggle and resilience inherent to immigration today.

Knitting the Fog is a moving memoir told through essays and poems about the author’s childhood in Guatemala and migrating to the US at the age of 10. It’s a very slice-of-life book, full of the details that a child remembers about playing with neighbors, the oddities of the neighborhood, and being raised by strong women. However, I found the balance of poetry-to-prose memoir made it tricky to read. In my opinion, the prose essays were the stronger of the two styles and could have been enlarged.

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

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mini-review · stuff I read

I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum

42815538._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
From The New Yorker’s fiercely original, Pulitzer Prize–winning culture critic, a provocative collection of new and previously published essays arguing that we are what we watch.

From her creation of the first “Approval Matrix” in New York magazine in 2004 to her Pulitzer Prize–winning columns for The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum has known all along that what we watch is who we are. In this collection, including two never-before-published essays, Nussbaum writes about her passion for television that began with stumbling upon “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”—a show that was so much more than it appeared—while she was a graduate student studying Victorian literature. What followed was a love affair with television, an education, and a fierce debate about whose work gets to be called “great” that led Nussbaum to a trailblazing career as a critic whose reviews said so much more about our culture than just what’s good on television. Through these pieces, she traces the evolution of female protagonists over the last decade, the complex role of sexual violence on TV, and what to do about art when the artist is revealed to be a monster. And she explores the links between the television antihero and the rise of Donald Trump.

The book is more than a collection of essays. With each piece, Nussbaum recounts her fervent search, over fifteen years, for a new kind of criticism that resists the false hierarchy that elevates one form of culture over another. It traces her own struggle to punch through stifling notions of “prestige television,” searching for a wilder and freer and more varied idea of artistic ambition—one that acknowledges many types of beauty and complexity, and that opens to more varied voices. It’s a book that celebrates television as television, even as each year warps the definition of just what that might mean.

I’m not really much of a television watcher these days – for some reason multi-episode stuff isn’t doing it for me – but I do love criticism about it. I’m not going to get to most of the television shows I’d maybe like to watch – there are only so many hours in a day and after working most of them I have to share my leisure time with books and movies and cats and knitting and (occasionally) spending time with other humans – so I don’t mind getting spoiled for something I haven’t been watching and perhaps only plan to watch after the whole thing is done.

I’d read a number of Emily Nussbaum’s The New Yorker essays previously so I already knew that I would enjoy I Like to Watch immensely. Some essays are more reviews of a show’s season or finale, some are more of a critical look back. Two of the essays are completely new – which in my opinion was too few. I would have loved a better balance of older pieces and new cross-topic pieces. Out tomorrow!

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

mini-review · stuff I read

What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence by Michele Filgate

42201997Summary from Goodreads:
Fifteen brilliant writers explore what we don’t talk to our mothers about, and how it affects us, for better or for worse.

As an undergraduate, Michele Filgate started writing an essay about being abused by her stepfather. It took her more than a decade to realize what she was actually trying to write: how this affected her relationship with her mother. When it was finally published, the essay went viral, shared on social media by Anne Lamott, Rebecca Solnit, and many others. The outpouring of responses gave Filgate an idea, and the resulting anthology offers a candid look at our relationships with our mothers.

While some of the writers in this book are estranged from their mothers, others are extremely close. Leslie Jamison writes about trying to discover who her seemingly perfect mother was before ever becoming a mom. In Cathi Hanauer’s hilarious piece, she finally gets a chance to have a conversation with her mother that isn’t interrupted by her domineering (but lovable) father. André Aciman writes about what it was like to have a deaf mother. Melissa Febos uses mythology as a lens to look at her close-knit relationship with her psychotherapist mother. And Julianna Baggott talks about having a mom who tells her everything.

As Filgate writes, “Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we’re always trying to return to them.” There’s relief in breaking the silence. Acknowledging what we couldn’t say for so long is one way to heal our relationships with others and, perhaps most important, with ourselves.

Contributors include Cathi Hanauer, Melissa Febos, Alexander Chee, Dylan Landis, Bernice L. McFadden, Julianna Baggott, Lynn Steger Strong, Kiese Laymon, Carmen Maria Machado, André Aciman, Sari Botton, Nayomi Munaweera, Brandon Taylor, and Leslie Jamison.

I was so excited to read this essay anthology, filled with pieces from so many writers I admire. What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About is a very solid collection of essays from a diverse selection of writers about the things they don’t talk to their mothers about: family history, abuse, love, protection, secrets, first husbands, expectations. Particularly poignant essays are from Alexander Chee and Brandon Taylor (the last few pages of Brandon’s gutted me, not because it’s graphic or horrible, but because it’s a wish to have understood his mom and who he knew her to be).

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

mini-review · stuff I read

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

40983137Summary from Goodreads:
The bestselling author of American Housewife is back with a fiercely funny collection of essays on marriage and manners, thank-you notes and three-ways, ghosts, gunshots, gynecology, and the Calgon-scented, onion-dipped, monogrammed art of living as a Southern Lady.

Helen Ellis has a mantra: “If you don’t have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way.” Say “weathered” instead of “she looks like a cake left out in the rain.” Say “early-developed” instead of “brace face and B cups.” And for the love of Coke Salad, always say “Sorry you saw something that offended you” instead of “Get that stick out of your butt, Miss Prissy Pants.” In these twenty-three raucous essays Ellis transforms herself into a dominatrix Donna Reed to save her marriage, inadvertently steals a $795 Burberry trench coat, witnesses a man fake his own death at a party, avoids a neck lift, and finds a black-tie gown that gives her the confidence of a drag queen. While she may have left her home in Alabama, married a New Yorker, forgotten how to drive, and abandoned the puffy headbands of her youth, Helen Ellis is clinging to her Southern accent like mayonnaise to white bread, and offering readers a hilarious, completely singular view on womanhood for both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

Southern Lady Code is a memoir in short essays that are the funniest, driest, Bless-Your-Heart *pat pat* pieces of writing that I’ve ever read (I’m a little behind on the Helen Ellis party – I’ve got the audio of American Housewife out from the library to try and rectify that). Even when the subject is serious – in one she attends a rather grisly murder trial as support for her friend who is the prosecutor – she just takes it out at the knees. The first essay is about being a recovering slob and oh lordt, it me. (Also, her mom sounds HILARIOUS).

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

stuff I read

I Miss You When I Blink: Essays by Mary Laura Philpott

40539018Summary from Goodreads:
Acclaimed essayist and bookseller Mary Laura Philpott presents a charmingly relatable and wise memoir-in-essays about what happened after she checked off all the boxes on her successful life’s to-do list and realized she might need to reinvent the list—and herself.

Mary Laura Philpott thought she’d cracked the code: Always be right, and you’ll always be happy.

But once she’d completed her life’s to-do list (job, spouse, house, babies—check!), she found that instead of feeling content and successful, she felt anxious. Lost. Stuck in a daily grind of overflowing calendars, grueling small talk, and sprawling traffic. She’d done everything “right,” but she felt all wrong. What’s the worse failure, she wondered: smiling and staying the course, or blowing it all up and running away? And are those the only options?

In this memoir-in-essays full of spot-on observations about home, work, and creative life, Philpott takes on the conflicting pressures of modern adulthood with wit and heart. She offers up her own stories to show that identity crises don’t happen just once or only at midlife; reassures us that small, recurring personal re-inventions are both normal and necessary; and advises that if you’re going to faint, you should get low to the ground first. Most of all, Philpott shows that when you stop feeling satisfied with your life, you don’t have to burn it all down and set off on a transcontinental hike (unless you want to, of course). You can call upon your many selves to figure out who you are, who you’re not, and where you belong. Who among us isn’t trying to do that?

Like a pep talk from a sister, I Miss You When I Blink is the funny, poignant, and deeply affecting book you’ll want to share with all your friends, as you learn what Philpott has figured out along the way: that multiple things can be true of us at once—and that sometimes doing things wrong is the way to do life right.

I Miss You When I Blink is a nice, warm hug of a book comprised of Mary Laura’s essays about what happens when you tick off all the “happiness” boxes we’re supposed to tick (spouse, kids, house, etc) and realize that maybe you aren’t happy and, bonus, don’t recognize yourself anymore. These are funny, self-deprecating, honest, and occasionally very raw essays being an adult and wondering how you ever got to this “adult” part of your life and if you’re doing it right. Highly recommended for your Spring 2019 TBR (#sorrynotsorry).

I Miss You When I Blink is out today!

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

mini-review · stuff I read

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young

40652123Summary from Goodreads:
From the cofounder of VerySmartBrothas.com, and one of the most read writers on race and culture at work today, a provocative and humorous memoir-in-essays that explores the ever-shifting definitions of what it means to be Black (and male) in America

For Damon Young, existing while Black is an extreme sport. The act of possessing black skin while searching for space to breathe in America is enough to induce a ceaseless state of angst where questions such as “How should I react here, as a professional black person?” and “Will this white person’s potato salad kill me?” are forever relevant.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker chronicles Young’s efforts to survive while battling and making sense of the various neuroses his country has given him.

It’s a condition that’s sometimes stretched to absurd limits, provoking the angst that made him question if he was any good at the “being straight” thing, as if his sexual orientation was something he could practice and get better at, like a crossover dribble move or knitting; creating the farce where, as a teen, he wished for a white person to call him a racial slur just so he could fight him and have a great story about it; and generating the surreality of watching gentrification transform his Pittsburgh neighborhood from predominantly Black to “Portlandia . . . but with Pierogies.”

And, at its most devastating, it provides him reason to believe that his mother would be alive today if she were white.

From one of our most respected cultural observers, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is a hilarious and honest debut that is both a celebration of the idiosyncrasies and distinctions of Blackness and a critique of white supremacy and how we define masculinity.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is one of the new Discover titles at the store. Young uses the form of the essay to both tell his own story of growing up black in Pittsburgh AND write about the culture around him. He has a sharp turn of phrase and a dry humor that I really enjoyed. There is a lot to think about here, from ripping culture, to masculinity, to use of the N word in black culture, to his lack of an driver’s license and how that impacts employment, to his new identity as a parent. I really appreciated how he constructed the chapter about his mother’s illness and death then commented on how the white medical establishment views black women’s pain and bodies; very well-crafted.

What Doesn’t Kill You Doesn’t Make You Blacker is out now in the US.

Dear FTC:

Read My Own Damn Books · Readathon · stuff I read

Meaty by Samantha Irby

35952943Summary from Goodreads:
The widely beloved, uproarious, first essay collection and the basis for the upcoming FX Studios series from smart, edgy, hilarious, and unabashedly raunchy Samantha Irby.

Samantha Irby exploded onto the printed page with this debut collection of essays about trying to laugh her way through failed relationships, taco feasts, bouts with Crohn’s disease, and more. Every essay is crafted with the same scathing wit and poignant candor thousands of loyal readers have come to expect from visiting her notoriously hilarious blog.

Read for 24in48 Readathon!

I do love me a Samantha Irby essay collection (see: We Are Never Meeting in Real Life). She is so funny and dry. After the success of WANMiRL Vintage reissued her first collection, Meaty (originally pubbed by Curbside Splendor). This collection is so well-balanced, with laugh-out-loud lines about hanging out with moms, a spec she wrote for a TV show, and crusty garbage that guys pull out to get in your pants, but then she’ll hit you with a gorgeous piece like “My Mother, My Daughter” about taking care of her mom when she was really sick. Definitely pick this up before you check out Sam’s upcoming writing for TV!

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book when it came out last year.

Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin

33503495Summary from Goodreads:
From acclaimed author Ursula K. Le Guin, and with an introduction by Karen Joy Fowler, a collection of thoughts—always adroit, often acerbic—on aging, belief, the state of literature, and the state of the nation.

Ursula K. Le Guin has taken readers to imaginary worlds for decades. Now she’s in the last great frontier of life, old age, and exploring new literary territory: the blog, a forum where her voice—sharp, witty, as compassionate as it is critical—shines. No Time to Spare collects the best of Ursula’s blog, presenting perfectly crystallized dispatches on what matters to her now, her concerns with this world, and her wonder at it.

On the absurdity of denying your age, she says, If I’m ninety and believe I’m forty-five, I’m headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub. On cultural perceptions of fantasy: The direction of escape is toward freedom. So what is ‘escapism’ an accusation of? On her new cat: He still won’t sit on a lap…I don’t know if he ever will. He just doesn’t accept the lap hypothesis. On breakfast: Eating an egg from the shell takes not only practice, but resolution, even courage, possibly willingness to commit crime. And on all that is unknown, all that we discover as we muddle through life: How rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn. Billionaires, all of us.

I didn’t read Le Guin’s blog when she was actually writing it, so it was with a bit of chagrin that I picked up this volume of posts collected from her site. This is a really good selection of posts ranging from the life of a writer, aging, a little lit theory, and a number of posts about her cat, Pard (as befits the writer of Catwings).

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book a while back.