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.

stuff I read

The Penguin Book of Migration Literature: Departures, Arrivals, Generations, Returns edited by Dohra Ahmad, Edwidge Danticat (Foreword)

9780143133384_fbc9eSummary from Goodreads:
The first global anthology of migration literature featuring works by Mohsin Hamid, Zadie Smith, Marjane Satrapi, Salman Rushdie, and Warsan Shire, with a foreword by Edwidge Danticat, author of Everything Inside

Every year, three to four million people move to a new country. From war refugees to corporate expats, migrants constantly reshape their places of origin and arrival. This selection of works collected together for the first time brings together the most compelling literary depictions of migration.

Organized in four parts (Departures, Arrivals, Generations, and Returns), The Penguin Book of Migration Literature conveys the intricacy of worldwide migration patterns, the diversity of immigrant experiences, and the commonalities among many of those diverse experiences. Ranging widely across the eighteenth through twenty-first centuries, across every continent of the earth, and across multiple literary genres, the anthology gives readers an understanding of our rapidly changing world, through the eyes of those at the center of that change. With thirty carefully selected poems, short stories, and excerpts spanning three hundred years and twenty-five countries, the collection brings together luminaries, emerging writers, and others who have earned a wide following in their home countries but have been less recognized in the Anglophone world. Editor of the volume Dohra Ahmad provides a contextual introduction, notes, and suggestions for further exploration.

Penguin Classics has been knocking it out of the park these last few years with their anthologies and The Penguin Book of Migration Literature is no exception. It is a wonderfully solid and wide-ranging anthology of fiction, poetry, memoir, and personal essay on the subject of migration, whether voluntary or involuntary. The pieces are diverse geographically and chronologically (earliest works are from eighteenth-century writers and enslaved persons Olaudah Equiano and Phyllis Wheatley and the more recent are migrations from the Middle East and mid-2000s green card worries). My only complaint is that for excerpts of longer pieces (like from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth) there isn’t much context to orient the reader. The “Additional Reading/Watching” section at the back of the book is excellent.

The Penguin Book of Migration Literature is out now!

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

stuff I read

Nice Try: Stories of Best Intentions and Mixed Results by Josh Gondelman

43309518Summary from Goodreads:
Emmy-Award winning writer and comedian Josh Gondelman’s collection of personal stories of best intentions and mixed results.

Josh Gondelman knows a thing or two about trying—and failing. The Emmy Award-winning stand-up comic—dubbed a “pathological sweetheart” by the New York Observer—is known throughout the industry as one of comedy’s true “nice guys.” Not surprisingly, he’s endured his share of last-place finishes. But he keeps on bouncing back.

In this collection of hilarious and poignant essays (including his acclaimed New York Times piece “What if I Bombed at My Own Wedding?”), Josh celebrates a life of good intentions—and mixed results. His true tales of romantic calamities, professional misfortunes, and eventual triumphs reinforce the notion: we get out of the world what we put into it. Whether he’s adopting a dog from a suspicious stranger, mitigating a disastrous road trip, or trying MDMA for the first (and only) time, Josh only wants the best for everyone—even as his attempts to do the right thing occasionally implode.

Full of the warm and relatable humor that’s made him a favorite on the comedy club circuit, Nice Try solidifies Josh Gondelman’s reputation as not just a good guy, but a skilled observer of the human condition.

Not gonna lie, I originally started following Josh Gondelman on social media because a) he’s married to Maris Kreisman (if you don’t listen to her excellent book podcast The Maris Review go do that) and b) it increased the possibility of getting adorable pug pictures by about 33%. But then I found out Josh was a pretty funny guy (and does Twitter pep talks which is about the nicest thing to ever happen to that platform). Now he has a book out.

Nice Try is a sweet and funny book of personal essays (and lists) about being the type of person who worries a lot and tends to give everyone the benefit of the doubt (even sketchy dudes giving you a dog and the Patriots because your grandma was a fan). Standout pieces include “You Don’t Know, Now You Know” (becoming a rap fan), “The Thanksgiving Dragon”, “The Three True Stories of How We Met” (awwww 💖), and “Bizzy” (y’all, if you don’t follow @bizzythepug on Instagram well, your life has less snorty, pizza-begging pugs wearing adorable coats in it). The book ends with “Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down” which is a call to just try and do your best and put a little back into the world when it feels like everything is going to burn down around you. Out today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss then I will be buying a copy because Josh is visiting the Iowa City Book Festival in October.