Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Witches Are Coming

Finished The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The firebrand New York Times columnist and bestselling author of Shrill–soon to be a Hulu series starring Aidy Bryant–provides 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.””

This book feels incredibly timely. It could’ve been literally written last week, what with Lindy West mentioning the limitations of kindness as a political device and Greta Thunberg. (Is she a literal witch or has she just been paying better attention than the rest of us? Is it both? They’re probably not mutually exclusive.)

I laughed out loud multiple times and I also sighed more than once. I highlighted parts of my egalley and shared them on my Facebook* and shared some via text to some of my favorite people.

This is the book we need right now. Yes, parts made me angry, but most of it gave me hope. I feel like we’re all dealing with right-wing gaslighting and it’s good to have someone saying, “No, this is all really happening. No, you’re right.”

Also? It’s so funny. Like, ridiculously funny. Like, laugh so hard on your commute that the stranger next to you will get up and move away funny. So it’s a win-win!

* = Yes, I have a Facebook page still. Mark Zuckerberg is awful and the site is awful but it’s where I see my friends and pictures of their kids and grandkids. It’s where I see pictures of my friends’ dogs and cats and where I learn how to be a better person, thanks to a lot of my intersectional groups and my smarter-than-me friends.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman

Finished Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Coming of age in a culture that demands women be as small, quiet, and compliant as possible–like a porcelain dove that will also have sex with you–writer and humorist Lindy West quickly discovered that she was anything but.

From a painfully shy childhood in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her big body and even bigger opinions; to her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes; to her struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value; to her accidental activism and never-ending battle royale with Internet trolls, Lindy narrates her life with a blend of humor and pathos that manages to make a trip to the abortion clinic funny and wring tears out of a story about diarrhea.

With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss–and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.”

I’m so sad that I didn’t read this years ago. Lindy West has started to feel like one of my best friends, and I’m really excited to watch the Hulu show based on this book. I understand that it’s BASED ON (the main character is named Annie, not Lindy) but I fully expect to love it.

Lindy is the literal best and her essays make me happy. And, sometimes, leave me sobbing in public. Or laughing in public. Or furious. Or multiple reactions at the same time. Either way, it’s the voice I most want to hear right now. (Style I most want to read right now? I don’t know. I didn’t outsource this to Lindy West.)

Highly recommended.

 

The Witches Are Coming

Finished The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West. I received a copy for review. It’s out early next month.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The firebrand New York Times columnist and bestselling author of Shrill–soon to be a Hulu series starring Aidy Bryant–provides 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.””

This book feels incredibly timely. It could’ve been literally written last week, what with Lindy West mentioning the limitations of kindness as a political device and Greta Thunberg. (Is she a literal witch or has she just been paying better attention than the rest of us? Is it both? They’re probably not mutually exclusive.)

I laughed out loud multiple times and I also sighed more than once. I highlighted parts of my egalley and shared them on my Facebook* and shared some via text to some of my favorite people.

This is the book we need right now. Yes, parts made me angry, but most of it gave me hope. I feel like we’re all dealing with right-wing gaslighting and it’s good to have someone saying, “No, this is all really happening. No, you’re right.”

Also? It’s so funny. Like, ridiculously funny. Like, laugh so hard on your commute that the stranger next to you will get up and move away funny. So it’s a win-win!

* = Yes, I have a Facebook page still. Mark Zuckerberg is awful and the site is awful but it’s where I see my friends and pictures of their kids and grandkids. It’s where I see pictures of my friends’ dogs and cats and where I learn how to be a better person, thanks to a lot of my intersectional groups and my smarter-than-me friends.

How to Survive a Horror Movie

Finished How to Survive a Horror Movie by Seth Grahame-Smith. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

From ghosts, vampires, and zombies to serial killers, cannibalistic hillbillies, and haunted Japanese videocassettes, How to Survive a Horror Movie shows how to defeat every obstacle found in scary films. Readers will discover:

– How to Perform an Exorcism
– What to Do If You Did Something Last Summer
– How to Persuade the Skeptical Local Sheriff
– How to Vanquish a Murderous Doll
– How to Survive an Alien Invasion
– How to Tell If You’ve Been Dead Since the Beginning of the Movie

and much, much more. Complete with useful instructions, insane illustrations, and a list of 100 important films to study, How to Survive a Horror Movie is essential reading for prom queens, jocks, teenage babysitters, and anyone employed by a summer camp.”

As a near-lifelong horror fan, I was so excited to get to read this book. I feel like I’m definitely a final girl, but that also depends on the type of movie we’re in.

As someone who’s basically the lady version of Randy in Scream, I’ll survive the first one handily, but if there’s a sequel? I’m totally toast. If you have a similar personality, this book could save your life. I cosign all the advice and would add this:

If you survive a massacre, here’s what you need to do:

You may be tempted to go to the middle of nowhere to heal your fractured psyche. Don’t do that; you will die immediately. But at the same time, don’t stay too close to home. (One state away is too close; evil will be mad that you barely even tried to hide.)

Instead, find some new people and tell them all about what happened to you and your last friends. With most horror movies, that’s enough to lead the villain to them instead. Now get in your car and drive far away. Keep telling your story. Those people will be fine. Or not. Either way, you’re surviving.

We’re heading into the Halloween season (the best time of the year!) and this book may save your life.

Highly recommended.

 

If I Don’t Make It, I Love You

Finished If I Don’t Make It, I Love You edited by Amye Archer and Loren Kleinman. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“A harrowing collection of sixty narratives—covering over fifty years of shootings in America—written by those most directly affected by school shootings: the survivors.

“If I Don’t Make It, I Love You,” a text sent from inside a war zone. A text meant for Stacy Crescitelli, whose 15-year-old daughter, Sarah, was hiding in a closet fearing for her life in Parkland, Florida, in February of 2018, while a gunman sprayed her school with bullets, killing her friends, teachers, and coaches. This scene has become too familiar. We see the images, the children with trauma on their faces leaving their school in ropes, connected to one another with hands on shoulders, shaking, crying, and screaming. We mourn the dead. We bury children. We demand change. But we are met with inaction. So, we move forward, sadder and more jaded. But what about those who cannot move on?

These are their stories.

If I Don’t Make It, I Love You collects more than sixty narratives from school shooting survivors, family members, and community leaders covering fifty years of shootings in America, from the 1966 UT-Austin Tower shooting through May 2018’s Santa Fe shooting.

Through this collection, editors Amye Archer and Loren Kleinman offer a vital contribution to the surging national dialogue on gun reform by elevating the voices of those most directly affected by school shootings: the survivors.”

This is a harrowing and at times overwhelming anthology featuring people most affected by school shootings (survivors and parents of victims, but some teachers and a few others, including doctors. A couple were related to the shooters). It is not an easy read, but it is an important one.

The last shooting mentioned (the book goes in reverse chronological order) is the shooting at the University of Texas in the 1960s that left 16 people dead. It’s this horrific event, obviously, and the next most recent shooting was in the 1980s. And then, of course, they became a lot more commonplace.

I haven’t even heard of a handful of these shootings, and I would like to say how completely horrifying that is—that these shootings occur frequently enough that they aren’t even covered, necessarily.

While these accounts convey fear and anger, there’s also a sense of hope throughout, that eventually these shootings will stop. Several people mention the Parkland teenagers as being a real catalyst for change. We’ll see what happens when they’re all old enough to vote (when all the kids who grew up with active shooter drills are all old enough to vote).

This is so necessary and I hope it was cathartic for the people who contributed. I also am hoping that the editors are doing well; it was clear that working on this book was traumatizing for them, too. That’s something that’s not discussed, the idea of secondhand trauma.

Highly recommended.

Chase Darkness With Me

Finished Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Have you ever wanted to solve a murder? Gather the clues the police overlooked? Put together the pieces? Identify the suspect?

Journalist Billy Jensen spent fifteen years investigating unsolved murders, fighting for the families of victims. Every story he wrote had one thing in common―they didn’t have an ending. The killer was still out there.

But after the sudden death of a friend, crime writer and author of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara, Billy became fed up. Following a dark night, he came up with a plan. A plan to investigate past the point when the cops had given up. A plan to solve the murders himself.

You’ll ride shotgun as Billy identifies the Halloween Mask Murderer, finds a missing girl in the California Redwoods, and investigates the only other murder in New York City on 9/11. You’ll hear intimate details of the hunts for two of the most terrifying serial killers in history: his friend Michelle McNamara’s pursuit of the Golden State Killer and his own quest to find the murderer of the Allenstown Four. And Billy gives you the tools―and the rules―to help solve murders yourself.

Gripping, complex, unforgettable, Chase Darkness with Me is an examination of the evil forces that walk among us, illustrating a novel way to catch those killers, and a true-crime narrative unlike any you’ve read before.”

If you’re into true crime in general or the podcast My Favorite Murder in particular, you know who Billy Jensen is. He helped finish Michelle McNamara’s book (I’ll Be Gone in the Dark) after her sudden death, and now he’s written his own book. He discusses the Golden State Killer, of course, and his search to identify the woman and three children found in barrels (his two most well-known cases) but he discusses other cases, too.

Perhaps most valuable, he discusses how people can help him solve cold cases. (There’s an addendum with tips, including important things not to do.) There’s also a conversation with Paul Holes, which is very fun for true crime buffs and fans of their podcast, The Murder Squad.

I know we have a lot of true crime books out now, and you may be feeling incredibly burned out on the topic. Billy Jensen’s book will likely help you turn that around. His writing style is engaging but it also is full of passion to get these cases solved and find answers for the victims’ families. It’s a combination that I think many people will…I don’t want to say “enjoy,” because this isn’t a particularly fun book to read. It’s full of many people’s worst moments. But if there’s one thing that I hope brings solace to those people, it’s knowing that others care as much as they do, and will not rest until they can find answers. Possibly the worst thing about grief is feeling like you’re the only person who remembers the person lost, and Billy Jensen is careful to keep the focus on victims and not on the murderer. (For example, most people can’t name the women that Ted Bundy killed, but everyone knows his name and appearance.)

I loved this book and I hope that we get a follow up. Highly recommended.

The Pretty One

Finished The Pretty One by Keah Brown. I received a copy for review. Isn’t the cover fabulous? I love it.

Pretty One Cover

Summary (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.”

I initially accepted the pitch for this because I am obsessed with all things pop culture and because this is a voice that I don’t really hear that often. (I read books about and by Black authors, but I don’t know off the top of my head how many books by disabled authors I’ve read. Which means I don’t read enough of them. I would like recommendations.)

I’m so glad I did. Keah Brown and I have a lot of pop culture in common and I got almost all of her references. I had that sort of giddy “ME TOO!” reaction so many times in this book and it felt like I was making a new best friend.

But that’s not the real value here (although definitely come for the pop culture references, because they are perfection). Instead, it’s in her candid discussions about how it feels to be disabled (her words) in a world that not only is clearly not meant for you but which seems to purposely ignore you (and best) and grind you down every chance it gets.  The act of loving yourself and being kind to yourself becomes an actual revolutionary act, one of the bravest things you can do.

I loved this book so much and I hope this is the start of a long writing career. Keah Brown is my new favorite. Highly recommended.

They Called Us Enemy

Finished They Called Us Enemy by George Takei.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A stunning graphic memoir recounting actor/author/activist George Takei’s childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon — and America itself — in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love.

George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

What is American? Who gets to decide? When the world is against you, what can one person do? To answer these questions, George Takei joins co-writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker for the journey of a lifetime.”

Like Room, the atrocities in here are narrated by a child. George Takei didn’t realize the full extent of what was happening when he, his parents and his two younger siblings were sent to Japanese internment camps (read: imprisoned) but that doesn’t make it any easier for the reader.

This book absolutely broke my heart. We’re never getting better as a country, are we? We’re still afraid of people who we deem as “other” and we just take turns with who that “other” is considered to be.

(George Takei is a lot more hopeful about this than I am; he also shares that the government apologized—decades later, Ronald Reagan officially apologized and George HW Bush issued reparations to the American citizens who were wrongly imprisoned due to their ancestry.)

This is not an easy book but it’s a very necessary one. Highly recommended.

Outspoken

Finished Outspoken by Veronica Reuckert. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Are you done with the mansplaining? Have you been interrupted one too many times? Don’t stop talking. Take your voice back.

Women’s voices aren’t being heard—at work, at home, in public, and in every facet of their lives. When they speak up, they’re seen as pushy, loud, and too much. When quiet, they’re dismissed as meek and mild. Everywhere they turn, they’re confronted by the assumptions of a male-dominated world.

From the Supreme Court to the conference room to the classroom, women are interrupted far more often than their male counterparts. In the lab, researchers found that female executives who speak more often than their peers are rated 14 percent less competent, while male executives who do the same enjoy a 10 percent competency bump.

In Outspoken, Veronica Rueckert—a Peabody Award–winning former host at Wisconsin Public Radio, trained opera singer, and communications coach—teaches women to recognize the value of their voices and tap into their inherent power, potential, and capacity for self-expression. Detailing how to communicate in meetings, converse around the dinner table, and dominate political debates, Outspoken provides readers with the tools, guidance, and encouragement they need to learn to love their voices and rise to the obligation to share them with the world.

Outspoken is a substantive yet entertaining analysis of why women still haven’t been fully granted the right to speak, and a guide to how we can start changing the culture of silence. Positive, instructive, and supportive, this welcome and much-needed handbook will help reshape the world and make it better for women—and for everyone. It’s time to stop shutting up and start speaking out.”

There’s something for every woman in here. We’ve been trained our whole lives to take up the least possible amount of space, to be quiet and let the men speak. This book is about how to change that.

It doesn’t mean screaming, of course, but how to change the way we talk (I’m guilty of hedging and uptalk, definitely, and probably a little vocal fry) and how to stop hunching in on ourselves on mass transit (if the guys can sprawl, we can—at the very least—sit up enough to be able to take deep breaths).

There’s a lot that’s valuable in here but not everything is applicable to every reader. Even so, I’m certain that every woman will find this book incredibly important and possibly even life-changing.

Highly recommended.

The True Story of Jim the Wonder Dog

FInished The True Story of Jim the Wonder Dog by Marty Rhodes Figley. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Amazon):

“Long before canine YouTube stars, Missouri laid claim to the Smartest Dog in the World: Jim the Wonder Dog, a Depression Era hunting dog that many believed was either a genius or possessed of clairvoyant skills. Evidence existed for both claims: Jim predicted seven Kentucky Derby winners and the winners of the 1936 World Series and presidential race, but the setter could also take direction in foreign languages (Italian, French, German, Spanish), shorthand, and Morse Code and recognized both colors and musical instruments. This is the true story of the dog that became known as Missouri’s Wonder Dog.”

As you know, I love dogs but I very rarely read about them because the dog almost always dies in the books and then I cry and it’s no good for anyone. (And yes, the dog dies in this one; it’s set around the Great Depression. But it’s not a good reason to miss this book, because you guys? Jim is magic. And you want to know about it.)

This was the last book I got at ALA; my friend Bekki and I walked right into an author signing for it. I mention that because I came very close to not reading this and not learning about Jim, and that would’ve been very sad. (The author signed the book to me in memory of Sam, which is the sweetest gesture ever and I will treasure this book.)

I can’t believe I haven’t heard this story before (and how is there not a movie?!). The book includes pictures of Jim (including a fantastic drawing on the endpaper) and source material so it’s clear that this actually IS a true story and not exaggerated.

I loved this book and I’m so happy that it came home with me. (I have this marked as middlegrade, but it’s appropriate for younger readers, too; this would be really fun to read to younger kids.)

Recommended.