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

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

41066983._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
The highly anticipated first book by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, the voices behind the #1 hit podcast My Favorite Murder!
Sharing never-before-heard stories ranging from their struggles with depression, eating disorders, and addiction, Karen and Georgia irreverently recount their biggest mistakes and deepest fears, reflecting on the formative life events that shaped them into two of the most followed voices in the nation.
In Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, Karen and Georgia focus on the importance of self-advocating and valuing personal safety over being ‘nice’ or ‘helpful.’ They delve into their own pasts, true crime stories, and beyond to discuss meaningful cultural and societal issues with fierce empathy and unapologetic frankness.
“My Favorite Murder started as a way for Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark to work through their fears. Now it’s a worldwide community…. Even its darkest moments are lightened by Karen and Georgia’s effortlessly funny banter and genuine empathy.” —RollingStone.com

I did not have Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered on my TBR because I don’t listen to the podcast. However, I wound up having to power-read this book and pound three episodes to run a Muderinos event at work so I came at this book cold. So for me, who had never listened to the podcast, I thought Karen’s and Georgia’s recounting of their lives was interesting at first. But it got repetitive after a while, as if each of their chapters were written entirely separately then pieced together – so the editing on the book needed work. I’ve also since read some things online that make me pause regarding their ability to adapt to criticism, particularly relating to criticism from the Native community. (Also, I do not get why this book goes in “Personal Growth”? I don’t see the “self-help” aspect, this is definitely more of a joint memoir.)

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this book from the store to prep for the event.

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.

mini-review · Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

36700347Summary from Goodreads:
A witty, heartfelt graphic memoir about what it truly means to be an American family–Aziz Ansari’s Master of None meets Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home

Mira Jacob’s touching, often humorous, and utterly unique graphic memoir takes readers on her journey as a first-generation American. At an increasingly fraught time for immigrants and their families, Good Talk delves into the difficult conversations about race, sex, love, and family that seem to be unavoidable these days.

Inspired by her popular BuzzFeed piece “37 Difficult Questions from My Mixed-Raced Son,” here are Jacob’s responses to her six-year-old, Zakir, who asks if the new president hates brown boys like him; uncomfortable relationship advice from her parents, who came to the United States from India one month into their arranged marriage; and the imaginary therapy sessions she has with celebrities from Bill Murray to Madonna. Jacob also investigates her own past, from her memories of being the only non-white fifth grader to win a Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest to how it felt to be a brown-skinned New Yorker on 9/11. As earnest and moving as they are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, these are the stories that have formed one American life.

Good Talk is an absolute banger, a one-sitting read. The subtitle for Jacob’s memoir, “A Memoir in Conversations”, absolutely nails how we speak to one another – and it’s accomplished in such a unique style of graphic art (almost collage-like). Jacob gets at the hard conversations about racism, colorism, having a mixed-race child/family, sexism, microaggressions, politics – which become even harder when the questions are being asked by her own young child. Highly recommended.

Good Talk is out now!

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book because I wasn’t cool enough to get an advance copy.

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:

mini-review · stuff I read

Dead Now of Course by Phyllida Law

34732486Summary from Goodreads:
‘My future mother-in-law burst into tears when she heard her son was to marry an actress. There’s still something disturbing, I grant you, about the word “actress”. If an MP or some other outstanding person plays fast and loose with an actress the world is unsurprised. She is certainly no better than she should be, and probably French…’

As well as being a mother (to the actresses Sophie and Emma Thompson) and a devoted carer to her own mother and mother-in-law, Phyllida Law is also a distinguished actress, and Dead Now Of Course is the tale of her early acting career.

As a young member of a travelling company, Phyllida learned to cope with whatever was thrown at her, from making her own false eyelashes to battling flammable costumes and rogue cockroaches. We find her in Mrs Miller’s digs, which were shared with a boozy monkey bought from Harrods, an Afghan hound known as the ‘the flying duster’, several hens and various children.

Filled with funny, charming anecdotes, Dead Now Of Course paints a fascinating picture of life in the theatre – and at the heart of the story is an enchanting account of Phyllida’s courtship with her future husband, the actor and writer Eric Thompson.

I saw the entry for Dead Now of Course in a catalog on Edelweiss as I was just randomly digging around – I had to have it immediately. Alas, no US galleys available so I had to wait until my order came in at work. Because I find Phyllida Law a delightful actress who pops up in all sorts of supporting roles.

This is a delightful small volume of reminisces from Phyllida Law’s early career in the theatre up to the beginning of her marriage to Eric Thompson (I believe there are a few books she previously published about other periods in her life? I will have to investigate). So many stingers at the ends of paragraphs. For those who don’t know, Phyllida Law is Emma Thompson’s mum. You can tell where she gets the no-nonsense humor.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

40180065Summary from Goodreads:
A young woman leaves Appalachia for life as a classical musician—or so she thinks.

When aspiring violinist Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman lands a job with a professional ensemble in New York City, she imagines she has achieved her lifelong dream. But the ensemble proves to be a sham. When the group “performs,” the microphones are never on. Instead, the music blares from a CD. The mastermind behind this scheme is a peculiar and mysterious figure known as The Composer, who is gaslighting his audiences with music that sounds suspiciously like the Titanic movie soundtrack. On tour with his chaotic ensemble, Hindman spirals into crises of identity and disillusionment as she “plays” for audiences genuinely moved by the performance, unable to differentiate real from fake.

Sounds Like Titanic is a strangely fascinating memoir about the author’s years working with The Composer (who is real and I’ve figured out who this is but I have absolutely never heard of him, and I say that as a PBS donor) as a violinist in his touring ensemble where all the mics were dead and the music came from a CD. The music sounds as much like the soundtrack of Titanic with out getting sued by James Horner and people LOVE it, claiming that it helps them through tough times. So I’m stuck between FRAUD and he genuinely wants to help people feel better. Hindman also provides a look into her life growing up in a poor area of Appalachia, her ambition to be a professional musician, her switch to Middle Eastern studies/journalism, and the growing panic disorder that derails those plans. Very well written.

Sounds Like Titanic is out today in the US.

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