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.

mini-review · stuff I read

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

52845775._SX318_SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A ruthlessly honest, emotionally charged exploration of the psychological condition of being Asian American, by an award-winning poet and essayist

Asian Americans inhabit a purgatorial status: neither white enough nor black enough, unmentioned in most conversations about racial identity. In the popular imagination, Asian Americans are all high-achieving professionals. But in reality, this is the most economically divided group in the country, a tenuous alliance of people with roots from South Asia to East Asia to the Pacific Islands, from tech millionaires to service industry laborers. How do we speak honestly about the Asian American condition—if such a thing exists?

Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong fearlessly and provocatively confronts this thorny subject, blending memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose the truth of racialized consciousness in America. Binding these essays together is Hong’s theory of “minor feelings.” As the daughter of Korean immigrants, Cathy Park Hong grew up steeped in shame, suspicion, and melancholy. She would later understand that these “minor feelings” occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality—when you believe the lies you’re told about your own racial identity.

With sly humor and a poet’s searching mind, Hong uses her own story as a portal into a deeper examination of racial consciousness in America today. This intimate and devastating book traces her relationship to the English language, to shame and depression, to poetry and artmaking, and to family and female friendship. A radically honest work of art, Minor Feelings forms a portrait of one Asian American psyche—and of a writer’s search to both uncover and speak the truth.

I had Minor Feelings on my list of 2020 to-reads but when I saw Alexander Chee raving about it I bumped it up my reading queue. He’d never steer anyone wrong.

Hong’s book is a thought-provoking and provocative collection of essays concentrating on the lived experience of being Asian-American in America. Hong is a Korean-American poet, so much of her life experience centers around being a child of successful Korean immigrants in a majority-white neighborhood and education system (Hong attended Oberlin for her undergrad). Those experiences are her jumping off point to examine microaggressions, language, the pressures of being the “good” immigrants, expectations of gratitude, and a beautiful, haunting essay that walks the line of biography and true crime about artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, an author and artist who was murdered in the early 1980s.

A must-read for 2020.

 

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

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

38592954Summary from Goodreads:
From the writer of Slate’s “Dear Prudence” column comes a witty and clever collection of essays and cultural observations spanning pop culture—from the endearingly popular to the staggeringly obscure.

Sometimes you just have to yell. New York Times bestselling author of Texts from Jane Eyre Daniel M. Lavery publishing as Daniel Mallory Ortberg has mastered the art of “poetic yelling,” a genre surely familiar to fans of his cult-favorite website The Toast.

In this irreverent essay collection, Ortberg expands on this concept with in-depth and hilarious studies of all things pop culture, from the high to low brow. From a thoughtful analysis on the beauty of William Shatner to a sinister reimagining of HGTV’s House Hunters, Something That May Shock and Discredit You is a laugh-out-loud funny and whip-smart collection for those who don’t take anything—including themselves—much too seriously.

Daniel Mallory Ortberg (or Lavery, since he recently got married, so may have another official name transition soon) is well-known as an essayist both sincere (“Dear Prudence“) and tongue-in-cheek (Texts from Jane Eyre). Something That May Shock and Discredit You is a compact essay/memoir/humor collection that focuses on Ortberg’s philosophy of transition – many essays touch on the physical and mental aspects of transitioning from one gender to another, with commentary from Ortberg’s religious upbringing that often references Jacob wrestling with the Angel (apt, since Jacob is physically changed and renamed by the Angel at the end of their match). Interspersed among them are “interludes” that range from rejected chapter titles for this book to rewritten pieces of classical philosophy and poetry (a few of these got a bit over my head at times, particularly the Marcus Aurelius one).

Something That May Shock and Discredit You was released on Tuesday, February 11.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care by Anne Boyer

43565374Summary from Goodreads:
Award-winning poet and essayist Anne Boyer delivers a one-of-a-kind meditation on pain, vulnerability, mortality, medicine, art, time, space, exhaustion, and economics—sharing her true story of coping with cancer, both the illness and the industry, in The Undying.

A week after her forty-first birthday, the acclaimed poet Anne Boyer was diagnosed with highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. For a single mother living paycheck to paycheck who had always been the caregiver rather than the one needing care, the catastrophic illness was both a crisis and an initiation into new ideas about mortality and the gendered politics of illness.

A twenty-first-century Illness as Metaphor, as well as a harrowing memoir of survival, The Undying explores the experience of illness as mediated by digital screens, weaving in ancient Roman dream diarists, cancer hoaxers and fetishists, cancer vloggers, corporate lies, John Donne, pro-pain ”dolorists,” the ecological costs of chemotherapy, and the many little murders of capitalism. It excoriates the pharmaceutical industry and the bland hypocrisies of ”pink ribbon culture” while also diving into the long literary line of women writing about their own illnesses and ongoing deaths: Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker, Susan Sontag, and others.

A genre-bending memoir in the tradition of The Argonauts, The Undying will break your heart, make you angry enough to spit, and show you contemporary America as a thing both desperately ill and occasionally, perversely glorious.

A vivid and moving work that defies genre. The Undying isn’t a “cancer memoir,” Boyer isn’t interested in giving a blow-by-blow account of her diagnosis and treatment for triple-negative breast cancer. Instead this is a poet trying to describe the experience of being a patient, experiencing a treatment that is often worse than the disease it’s trying to cure, comment on the utter cruelty of our healthcare system and medical leave policies, and place it within a sociological and literary framework. At one point she even says she did not write this book for people who are well.

I haven’t read Boyer’s poetry but I am interested in picking up one of her collections.

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this book from my store.

food · mini-review · stuff I read

Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers edited by Natalie Eve Garrett

43835491Summary from Goodreads:
This collection of intimate essays by some of America’s most well-regarded writers explores how food can help us cope in dark times―whether it be the loss of a parent, the loneliness of moving to a new country, the heartache of an unexpected breakup, or the fear of coming out. Luscious, full-color illustrations by Meryl Rowin are woven throughout, and accompanying each story is a recipe from the writer’s own kitchen.

Lev Grossman explains how he survived on “sweet, sour, spicy, salty, unabashedly gluey” General Tso’s tofu after his divorce. Carmen Maria Machado describes learning to care for herself during her confusing young adulthood, beginning with nearly setting her kitchen on fire. Claire Messud tries to understand how her mother gave up dreams of being a lawyer to make “a dressed salad of tiny shrimp and avocado, followed by prune-stuffed pork tenderloin, served with buttered egg noodles” for her family. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie remembers a childhood friend―who later died as a soldier in Nigeria―with a pot of fragrant jollof rice. What makes each tale so moving is not only the deeply personal revelations from celebrated writers, but also the compassion and healing behind the story: the taste of hope.

Eat Joy is a charming, and sometimes heart-breaking or heart-warming depending on subject, collection of essays and recipes from respected authors like Alexander Chee, Porochista Khakpour, Lev Grossman, Carmen Maria Machado, Anthony Doerr, Edwidge Danticat, and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. Some recipes are definitely new to me and I want to try them – Mira Jacob provides a chai recipe, Rakesh Satyal has one for pie (I have yet to master pies) – but others are just something simple that brought comfort at a tough time, like Dina Abu-Jaber’s pita+yogurt+z’atar (one is literally boxed brownie mix, that’s it).

This would be a perfect addition to a cooking-themed holiday basket you might be planning.

Dear FTC: I read a review copy sent to me by the publisher. Thank you so much to Catapult pitching it to me.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West

38362811Summary from Goodreads:
A brilliant and incisive look at how patriarchy, intolerance, and misogyny have conquered not just politics but American culture itself.

What do Adam Sandler, Donald Trump, and South Park have in common? Why are myths like “reverse sexism” and “political correctness” so seductive? And why do movie classics of yore, from Sixteen Candles to Revenge of the Nerds, make rape look like so much silly fun? With Lindy West’s signature wit and in her uniquely incendiary voice, The Witches are Coming lays out a grand theory of America that explains why Trump’s election was, in many ways, a foregone conclusion.

As West reveals through fascinating journeys across the landscapes of pop culture, the lies that fostered the catastrophic resentment that boiled over in the 2016 presidential race did not spring from a vacuum. They have in fact been woven into America’s DNA, cultivated by generations of mediocre white men and fed to the masses with such fury that we have become unable to recognize them as lies at all.

Whether it be the notion overheard since the earliest moments of the #MeToo movement that feminism has gone too far or the insistence that holding someone accountable for his actions amounts to a “witch hunt,” The Witches are Coming exposes the lies that many have chosen to believe and the often unexpected figures who have furthered them. Along the way, it unravels the tightening link between culture and politics, identifying in the memes, music, and movies we’ve loved the seeds of the neoreactionary movement now surging through the nation.

Sprawling, funny, scorching, and illuminating, The Witches are Coming shows West at the top of her intellectual and comic powers. As much a celebration of America’s potential as a condemnation of our failures, some will call it a witch hunt—to which West would reply, “So be it. I’m a witch and I’m hunting you.”

I so enjoy Lindy West’s writing and The Witches are Coming does not disappoint. I snort-laughed in public often. This collection doesn’t have as much range as Shrill, which drew from all parts of Lindy’s life and felt very personal, but has more focus on cultural commentary – good commentary, and yes, that Adam Sandler essay because I have never understood why people thought he was funny. Her excellent Goop Health piece is included here.

(1. That cover. 2. Whee, Shrill S2 drops in January!)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book. Although I might have to exchange it since we’re going to get signed copies for the holidays at the store.

Best American · stuff I read

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019 edited by Sy Montgomery, series editor Jaime Green

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
Sy Montgomery, New York Times best-selling author and recipient of numerous awards, edits this year’s volume of the finest science and nature writing.

“Science is important because this is how we seek to discover the truth about the world. And this is what makes excellent science and nature writing essential,” observes New York Times best-selling author Sy Montgomery. “Science and nature writing are how we share the truth about the universe with the people of the world.” And collected here are truths about nearly every corner of the universe. From meditations on extinction, to the search for alien life, to the prejudice that infects our medical system, the pieces in this year’s Best American Science and Nature Writing seek to bring to the people stories of some of the most pressing issues facing our planet, as well as moments of wonder reflecting the immense beauty our natural world offers.

It’s Best American time again! This year the Science and Nature volume was under direction from new series editor Jamie Green. All the pieces guest editor Sy Montgomery included are phenomenally written but taken together many of the middle pieces blend together. I’m not sure if the Alphabetical-by-Author arrangement of articles worked for this volume, especially since previous volumes had clever groupings. The balance of the included essays tips the book heavily toward pieces about nature and the environment (not surprising, given Montgomery’s own writing choices, but it felt much less of a spectrum this year). The standout articles fall to the end of the volume – Linda Villarosa’s “The Hidden Toll: Why Are Black Mothers and Babies in the United States Dying at More Than Double the Rate of White Mothers and Babies. The Answer Has Everything to Do with the Lived Experience of Being a Black Woman in America,” Ed Yong’s “The Next Plague is Coming. Is America ready?” and Iliana Yurkiewicz’s “Paper Trails: Living and Dying with Fragmented Medical Records.”

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

stuff I read

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

43126457Summary from Goodreads:
Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly in a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Jia writes about the cultural prisms that have shaped her: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the American scammer as millennial hero; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the mandate that everything, including our bodies, should always be getting more efficient and beautiful until we die.

Trick Mirror is a good collection of long-form essays (nothing wrong with a short hot-take, but a well-researched and laid out essay is becoming rare), all of which deal with the ways in which feminism and femininity are packaged and served to us. Our yoga pants, our television shows, the internet, our relationships, our celebrities. Outstanding essays include “We Are Old Virginia” and “The Cult of the Difficult Woman.”

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.