Category Archives: Nonfiction

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life

Finished We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby. 

This is a book of essays and is not for the faint of heart. 

Samantha Irby tackles topics like dating (men and women), lesbian bed death, porn, why she doesn’t want kids, why she doesn’t want pets (but has one anyway), her family life (not great), her finances (also not great) and a ton of other things. If you are even moderately easy to offend, STAY AWAY. 

But if you have a good sense of humor, this is for you. I can’t even guess how many times I literally laughed out loud. It’s probably about as many times as I angled my Kindle away from other people on the lightrail. (Do not look over my shoulder, fellow commuters!)

Recommended. 

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What Happened

Finished What Happened by Hillary Clinton. 

If you are at all aware of the world, you know about this book already. In it, Hillary Clinton discusses her presidential campaign, election night and…well, obviously, what happened. And, most importantly, what to do now. 

You probably already know if you want to read it or not, so this review is more my experience reading it. 

If you know me at all, you know I’m a liberal and a feminist. Obviously Hillary had my vote, and it was a vote FOR HER and not against Trump. (A vote for Bernie would have been a vote against Trump, and that is still a valid reason to vote for someone.) I was excited to read this, even though I’m still sad this book needed to be written. 

I’ve grown up with Hillary in the public eye. It wasn’t a surprise to me that she’s incredibly smart; anyone paying even a little attention knows that. What did surprise me is how funny (and warm) she is. We don’t get to see that side often, probably because it’s not as fun as the narrative that she routinely has people killed and of course I’m rolling my eyes. 

In a perfect world, we’d have President Hillary Clinton, currently improving our economy and infrastructure. This book–while encouraging and well-written and a call to service–isn’t better than that. But as far as consolation prizes go, we could do worse. 

Highly recommended. 

Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies

Finished Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello. I received a copy for review. 

If you love TV and the internet, you know who Michael Ausiello is. Maybe you found him through Entertainment Weekly (I did) or TVLine.com or maybe through a shared love of Gilmore Girls, Felicity or Veronica Mars (he’s got great taste), you know who he is. What you may not know is this story. 

He was married to a man named Kit and then Kit got cancer. The title tells you how it ends and that if you have a heart at all, this will break it. But what it doesn’t tell you is that this is also hysterically funny. I cried in public, yes, but I also laughed really hard. (Like getting looks from the fellow light rail passengers hard.)

And as hard as this was to read, it’s also really beautiful. This is the kind of love I think we all want, even though it ended too soon. There is no way to read this and not see how much they loved each other. 

You need to read this and then help me make sure everyone else reads it too. Highly recommended. 

Hunger

Finished Hunger by Roxane Gay.  I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the bestselling author of Bad Feminist: a searingly honest memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed your hunger while taking care of yourself

I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.

In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her own past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.

With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved—in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.”

Almost literally every woman I know has body issues.  Of the three or four I can think of who don’t, I’m pretty sure the subject has just never come up before.  I can’t think of anyone who I know for a fact is 100% comfortable in her own skin.

I say that because I’ve heard and read interviews with Roxane Gay and she’s repeated the fact that she doesn’t think she’s brave for writing this memoir.  I am not going to insist that she’s brave if she doesn’t want that label but I would honestly rather literally shoot myself in the foot than tell you, in writing, on the internet how much I weigh.

I think basically every woman can relate to at least part of this memoir.  You don’t have to have been raped (or to be fat) to understand the awareness of how much space you take up in public. I feel like my body is judged by strangers and I have felt like that since college (when I was thin and pretty). It’s an unsettling feeling and I liked it better when I was more visually appealing, but I never liked it.

But we’re talking about Roxane Gay and I think this book should be required reading for everyone. The whole book completely resonates with me, even the parts that I didn’t personally relate to.  And I need to read her backlist, like, NOW.

Highly recommended.

To Siri With Love

Finished To Siri With Love by Judith Newman. I received a copy for review. 

Judith has twin boys (now teenagers). One, Gus, has autism. He’s high-functioning and quirky; exhibit A: he’s friends with Siri. Yes, the one in the phone. 

This is such a cool story! I recently watched Life Animated (which is briefly referenced in this book) and I love how random things (in that case, Disney movies; in this case, an app) can help people make sense of the world. 

My favorite part, though, is that while obviously we know Gus is autistic, it doesn’t take long for that to become his least interesting label. He’s a music-lover who can identify basically any song immediately. He’s able to help anyone get anywhere (the next time I’m in New York, I hope to maybe get some help with the subway system; maybe he can make a few bucks helping a clueless tourist with a horrible sense of direction). He is my imaginary friend (he’s real, obviously, but as we have never met…). 

In short, you need this book. Recommended. 

The Girl in the Show

Read The Girl in the Show by Anna Fields.  I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“I’m not funny at all. What I am is brave.” —Lucille Ball

With powerhouses like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Amy Schumer dominating the entertainment landscape and memoirs from today’s most vocal feminist comediennes shooting up the bestseller lists, women in comedy have never been more influential.

Marking this cultural shift, The Girl in the Show provides an in-depth exploration of how comedy and feminism have grown hand in hand to give women a stronger voice in the ongoing fight for equality. From I Love Lucy to SNL to today’s rising cable and web-series stars, Anna Fields’ entertaining retrospective combines amusing and honest personal narratives with the historical, political, and cultural contexts of the feminist movement.

With interview subjects like Abbi Jacobson, Molly Shannon, Mo Collins, and Lizz Winstead among others—as well as actresses, stand-up comics, writers, producers, and female comedy troupes—Fields shares true stories of wit and heroism from some of our most treasured (and under-represented) artists. At its heart, The Girl in the Show captures the urgency of our continued struggle towards equality, allowing the reader to both revel in—and rebel against—our collective ideas of “women’s comedy.”

I can’t even imagine the extent of the research that Anna Fields did for this novel.  It’s smart and funny and so interesting.  I never really thought about the…we’ll say sociology of comedy, especially female comics (or the way that I gender comedians, like I JUST DID).

Like Anna (and a lot of the women mentioned here), I absolutely love Gilda Radner.  Part of it (on my end) has nothing to do with how funny she is (although she is hilarious), it’s because I have hair that’s a lot like hers and it’s the first time I saw someone who looks like me be funny and get to do things. It meant a lot.  And I know women younger than me probably feel the exact same way about Molly Shannon and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling.

What I didn’t understand before reading this book was the sort of throughline connecting Gilda to the women after her and how all of that really began with Lucille Ball, who was the first woman to be a really powerful comedian.  She created and wrote a show, and she was protective of her character.  She set rules for what Lucy would and wouldn’t do, but also made rules like, “Lucy can make fun of Ricky’s accent; nobody else can.” There was no way any earlier lady could’ve even made a rule like that, let alone have it be listened to.

This book is smart and important (and relevant) but it’s also really fun.  If you like to laugh, read this book.  Highly recommended.

Morningstar

Finished Morningstar by Ann Hood.  I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A memoir about the magic and inspiration of books from a beloved and best-selling author.

In her admired works of fiction, including the recent The Book that Matters Most, Ann Hood explores the transformative power of literature. Now, with warmth and honesty, Hood reveals the personal story behind these works of fiction.

Growing up in a mill town in Rhode Island, in a household that didn’t foster the love of literature, Hood nonetheless learned to channel her imagination and curiosity by devouring The Bell Jar, Marjorie Morningstar, The Harrad Experiment, and other works. These titles introduced her to topics that could not be discussed at home: desire, fear, sexuality, and madness. Later, Johnny Got His Gun and The Grapes of Wrath influenced her political thinking as the Vietnam War became news; Dr. Zhivago and Les Miserables stoked her ambition to travel the world. With characteristic insight and charm, Hood showcases the ways in which books gave her life and can transform—even save—our own.”

One of the genres I love the most is books about books, and this is a great example.  Ann Hood’s family, for the most part, weren’t readers.  She and an older cousin traded Nancy Drew novels, but in general, she was the family oddball.  One of her first book-related memories involved reading Little Women and being so consumed with the story and Beth dying that she missed some school activities. Most of the books she mentioned here I haven’t read (I did read Little Women, of course, but I’m a lot more familiar with the Winona Ryder version of the movie), but I definitely still have similar stories of being late or almost late because of random books (I stayed up literally all night to read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon).

Ann Hood is also one of my favorite authors, and her books are always all these stunningly well-written things. This is especially true in this one—it’s so clearly a topic she’s passionate about, and it comes through in every word and page here.

Recommended.

A Stone of Hope

Finished A Stone of Hope by Jim St. Germain. I received a copy for review. 

Jim and his family left Haiti and moved to Brooklyn when he was a child. By the time he was a teenager, he was dealing drugs and had already been arrested multiple times. Before he could legally drive, he had been convicted of a felony. Generally speaking, we know how this story ends: life in prison or dead at a young age, right?

But instead, Jim was put in Boys Town (a group home that works as rehab, almost) and surrounded by people who expected him to succeed, get his GED and go to college. And he did all those things. 

This memoir shows how Jim’s life was turned around, yes, but also shows how the system is largely failing us. For the most part, young men (and specifically young black men) aren’t helped. More money is spent on prisons than schools, and people are being almost set up to keep going from the street to prison, over and over. 

This is an inspiring read and, more than that, an easy to follow blueprint of how the system can improve. 

Recommended. 

Off the Cliff

Finished Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge by Becky Aikman.  I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“You’ve always been crazy, – says Louise to Thelma, having just outrun the police in a car chase and locked an officer in the trunk of his own car. “This is just the first chance you’ve had to express yourself.”

In 1991, Thelma and Louise, the story of two outlaw women on the run from their disenchanted lives, was a revelation. Suddenly, for the first time, here was a film in which women were, in every sense, behind the wheel. It turned the tables on Hollywood, instantly becoming a classic, and continues today to electrify audiences as a cultural statement of defiance. But if the film’s place in history now seems certain, at the time its creation was a long shot.

Before Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon, and a young up-and-coming actor named Brad Pitt got involved, Thelma and Louise was just an idea in the head of Callie Khouri, a thirty-year-old music video production manager, who was fed up with working behind the scenes on sleazy sets. At four a.m. one night, sitting in her car outside the ramshackle bungalow in Santa Monica that she shared with two friends, she had a vision: two women on a crime spree, fleeing their dull and tedious lives–lives like hers–in search of a freedom they had never before been able to realize. She knew in that moment that she had to be the one to write it.

But in the late 1980s, Hollywood was dominated by men, both on the screen and behind the scenes. The likelihood of a script by an unheard-of screenwriter starring two women in lead roles actually getting made was remote. But Callie had one thing going for her–she had no idea she was attempting the almost impossible. And she pulled it off, by dint of sheer hard work and some good luck when she was able to get the script into the hands of the brilliant English filmmaker Ridley Scott, who saw its huge potential. With Scott on board, a team willing to challenge the odds came together–including not only the stars Davis and Sarandon, but also legends like actor Harvey Keitel, composer Hans Zimmer, and old-school studio chief Alan Ladd Jr.–to create one of the most controversial movies of all time.

In Off the Cliff, Becky Aikman tells the full extraordinary story behind this feminist sensation, which crashed through barricades and upended convention. Drawing on 130 exclusive interviews with the key players from this remarkable cast of actors, writers, and filmmakers, Aikman tells an inspiring and important underdog story about creativity, the magic of cinema, and the unjust obstacles that women in Hollywood continue to face to this day.”

I first saw Thelma & Louise when I was 12 or so.  I remember renting it the first weekend it was available (at my local Blockbuster–this was back in the days when one did such things), and I didn’t know much about it.  But I liked Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon (I had already seen The Fly and Bull Durham; my parents were very liberal about what I watched), and I loved the movie immediately.

I don’t think I could have articulated why then, but now I realize that I love the fact that–while there are guys in the movie and some of them are good or great guys and some of them are complete jerks–the movie is about their friendship.  It was probably the first movie I had ever seen (and there haven’t been that many since, either) where the guys were in the background and the women were centerstage.  It felt like a bit of a revelation, and it still does.

I like to think of myself as a Louise (in fact, one of my mantras was stolen from her—the unsympathetic but no less true “You get what you settle for”) but I’m probably slightly more of a Thelma.  I can be scattered and I may not be the best person around in a crisis.  Honestly, though, I’d be incredibly proud to be either of them.

But that all doesn’t matter.  If you love Thelma & Louise (or movies in general), you need this book.  It’s so well-written and thorough and I feel like I love the movie even more now.  And, of course, it’s always great when people are passionate about the same things I’m passionate about–and people were so passionate about this, and still are–even decades later.

Highly recommended.

What is the Bible?

Finished What is the Bible? by Rob Bell. I received a copy for review. 

Like basically every Rob Bell book ever, this one is controversial. I’m not entirely sure why, since “People wrote the Bible, and you have to (a) view it as a whole instead of as separate parcels and (b) consider the context of the time” is not exactly a revelation. 

I think most would agree that the wording of the Bible is deliberate (repeated phrases, for example, showing that Jesus is the fulfillment of earlier prophecies and parts of the Bible). 

Odds are, a lot of conservatives have decided that everything he says is heresy…but when you have someone encouraging people to read the Bible and then actually THINK ABOUT IT, I’m pretty sure that’s only a good thing.