mini-review · Reading Women · stuff I read

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
Winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize

In the village of al-Awafi in Oman, we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla, who chooses to refuse all offers and await a reunion with the man she loves, who has emigrated to Canada.

These three women and their families, their losses and loves, unspool beautifully against a backdrop of a rapidly changing Oman, a country evolving from a traditional, slave-owning society into its complex present. Through the sisters, we glimpse a society in all its degrees, from the very poorest of the local slave families to those making money through the advent of new wealth.

The first novel originally written in Arabic to ever win the Man Booker International Prize, and the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English, Celestial Bodies marks the arrival in the United States of a major international writer.

I was very interested in this International Man Booker winner, the first Arabic-language winner of the prize and the first-ever novel by an Omani woman to be translated to English. Catapult was kind enough to approve my galley request. It is a beautifully-translated novel comprised of linked vignettes (best descriptor I have since the narrative is only vaguely linear with many narrators and points-of-view). Alharthi’s dream-like narrative uses the many perspectives of three generations of a family to capture a country and culture transitioning into the modern world.  There are a LOT of characters and the narrative shifts back and forth in time, so this definitely isn’t a fast read, but they’re all so interesting, especially the three sisters Mayya, Asma, and Khawla, Mayya’s husband Abdullah, and Zarifa, a woman formerly enslaved to Abdullah’s father.

Celestial Bodies is out now.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, and Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong

44600621Summary from Goodreads:
Ali Wong’s heartfelt and hilarious letters to her daughters (the two she put to work while they were still in utero), covering everything they need to know in life, like the unpleasant details of dating, how to be a working mom in a male-dominated profession, and how she trapped their dad.

In her hit Netflix comedy special Baby Cobra, an eight-month pregnant Ali Wong resonated so heavily that she became a popular Halloween costume. Wong told the world her remarkably unfiltered thoughts on marriage, sex, Asian culture, working women, and why you never see new mom comics on stage but you sure see plenty of new dads.

The sharp insights and humor are even more personal in this completely original collection. She shares the wisdom she’s learned from a life in comedy and reveals stories from her life off stage, including the brutal singles life in New York (i.e. the inevitable confrontation with erectile dysfunction), reconnecting with her roots (and drinking snake blood) in Vietnam, tales of being a wild child growing up in San Francisco, and parenting war stories. Though addressed to her daughters, Ali Wong’s letters are absurdly funny, surprisingly moving, and enlightening (and disgusting) for all.

I did snort-laugh many times while reading. If you like Ali Wong’s stand-up, Dear Girls continues a lot of jokes and themes from her specials. She does a lot of raunch humor about body fluids and sex but also about the grossness of pregnancy and motherhood that kind of gets swept under the rug. The format of letters to her daughters is a little odd since they’re quite small now but it does make some of the pieces endearing. The letters about visiting Vietnam and learning more about her Chinese (father) and Vietnamese (mother) heritage were lovely.

I didn’t quite get the necessity of the Afterword from her husband; it was nice, but tonally weird. There is also a joke that occurs late in one of the last chapters which perpetuates the stereotype of multiple personality disorder and violence which is very 😬😬😬.

Dear Girls is out October 15.

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

stuff I read

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

43682552Summary from Goodreads:
From award-winning poet Saeed Jones, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir written at the crossroads of sex, race, and power.

“People don’t just happen,” writes Saeed Jones. “We sacrifice former versions of ourselves. We sacrifice the people who dared to raise us. The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.’ ”

Haunted and haunting, Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.

Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze. How We Fight for Our Lives is a one of a kind memoir and a book that cements Saeed Jones as an essential writer for our time.

I have followed Saeed Jones on social media and read his articles for a long time so I was so excited when his memoir was announced. And then How We Fight For Our Lives got picked as a Barnes and Noble Fall 2019 Discover title.

Wow. Simply, wow. Not a word wasted, not a word out of place. How We Fight For Our Lives is a beautiful, spare, rich memoir about being black and gay and how little space is given to those men as they grow from childhood to adulthood, especially when they grow up in a very conservative town. Internalized self-loathing is so common among these pages that I can’t even imagine the work Saeed must have done to be able to bare those emotions for the reader. The book is also a love letter to his late mother, those last few chapters cut me to the quick. A must-read, one of the best books of 2019.

How We Fight For Our Lives is out today.

Dear FTC: I read an advance copy of this book provided to my store for the Discover program.

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

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

47517597._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad , Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South in the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called The Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”

In reality, The Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors, where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear “out back.” Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked and the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.

The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at The Nickel Academy.

Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.

I was so excited when The Nickel Boys was announced because The Underground Railroad was one of the best books I read in 2016. So much is packed into this little book. Now, it didn’t wreck me like The Underground Railroad – I was a sobbing mess by the end of that book. The Nickel Boys was more quietly devastating. Whitehead didn’t pull his punches but instead slipped them around from behind. The violence doesn’t hit you in the face, it come from the side, stabs you in the back. I also thought a lot about Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, currently streaming on Netflix, of all the years and opportunities schools and jails like the Nickel Academy steal from young black men.

Read for the Barnes and Noble Book Club – the best book they’ve picked for the program by far.

Dear FTC: I read an advance galley sent to my store for the book club discussion leader (me).

stuff I read

The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love With Me by Keah Brown

39297013Summary from Goodreads:
From the disability rights advocate and creator of the #DisabledAndCute viral campaign, a thoughtful, inspiring, and charming collection of essays exploring what it means to be black and disabled in a mostly able-bodied white America.

Keah Brown loves herself, but that hadn’t always been the case. Born with cerebral palsy, her greatest desire used to be normalcy and refuge from the steady stream of self-hate society strengthened inside her. But after years of introspection and reaching out to others in her community, she has reclaimed herself and changed her perspective.

In The Pretty One, Brown gives a contemporary and relatable voice to the disabled—so often portrayed as mute, weak, or isolated. With clear, fresh, and light-hearted prose, these essays explore everything from her relationship with her able-bodied identical twin (called “the pretty one” by friends) to navigating romance; her deep affinity for all things pop culture—and her disappointment with the media’s distorted view of disability; and her declaration of self-love with the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute.

By “smashing stigmas, empowering her community, and celebrating herself” (Teen Vogue), Brown and The Pretty One aims to expand the conversation about disability and inspire self-love for people of all backgrounds.

The Pretty One is a very well-written essay collection about living as a disabled woman of color – how these intersections affect personal relationships, self-worth, internalized ableism, seeing one’s self (or not, as is the case) in books, film, and TV, and mental health. She writes so bravely about self-destructive thoughts and the plan to end her own life in a way that I think we don’t often “allow” in disability literature and she credits books by Sarah Dessen and Toni Morrison to helping her. Brown has a refreshing, direct but conversational style. A writer to watch.

The Pretty One is out now!

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai (Modern Love #1)

39863092Summary from Goodreads:
Alisha Rai returns with the first book in her sizzling new Modern Love series, in which two rival dating app creators find themselves at odds in the boardroom but in sync in the bedroom.

Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules:
– Nude pics are by invitation only
– If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice
– Protect your heart
Only there aren’t any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night… and disappears.

Rhi thought she’d buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won’t fumble their second chance, but she’s wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…

Coming off of Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series, I was ready for some angsty, dating sexytimes in the new Modern Love series. However, Rai changed up the dynamics of this book.

Rhiannon (sister to Gabe from Hurts to Love You) has launched her dating app and is gearing up to acquire an old-school rival matchmaking service. However, their new spokesman? A hookup who ghosted her for their second date. Nerp! She’s been scalded by toxic dudes before. Blocked!

Samson didn’t mean to ghost his sexy, intriguing match but a family emergency happened – by the time Samson remembered his date he’d been blocked. Plus, it turns out she didn’t even use her own name! They’re thrown together by chance in a live interview at an industry event and have to make nice for the camera. Once Rhiannon and Samson clear the air, Rhiannon still wants to acquire his aunt’s matchmaking company and Samson needs help actually using a dating service for work purposes. So they agree to a series of advice-giving “dates” under the guise of helping Samson navigate the dating scene.

And, oh yes, there’s still a spark. A great, big, forest fire-level spark.

The Right Swipe is a second-chance, slow-burn-but-very-hot romance between Rhiannon and Samson. They are two capable professionals approaching 40 so if you like competence *pr0n* (it me!!!), get yourselves this book. I was 100% here for the emotional work the couple does to overcome their own baggage because it’s baggage that we all have: how do you trust again, how do you navigate a C-level position with the unrealistic expectations we put on women at that level, how do you make a life after walking away from something you love. Rai also has excellent commentary on the effect of the #metoo movement and the CTE controversy in professional sports. This is also an incredibly diverse romance – almost all major characters are people of color – and you’ll get some serious style envy from Rhiannon’s personal assistant Lakshmi, who is a serious fashionista and makeup genius. (I’ve already asked Rai if Lakshmi is going to meet Sadia’s Influencer sister….apparently maybe, but not as a couple?)

The Right Swipe is out today!!!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and bought it on my nook.