Buy Borrow Bypass: On Grief

Book Riot does this great feature called “Buy, Borrow, Bypass” and I like it, so I’m going to do that here.

AMothersReckoningA Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

Sue Klebold is best known as the mother of Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold – and she knows it. Although her memoir twists around April 20th, 1999 (both the Before and the After), it’s not really about Columbine or even Dylan. Instead, A Mother’s Reckoning is an open-ended exploration into all of the small and large decisions she made as Dylan’s parent and also all the ramifications of those decisions – both in 1999 and 2016. Each memory has the benefit of hindsight, but also Klebold’s many years working to prevent suicide and murder-suicides. I enjoyed the biographical sections and self-reflections more than the psychology and push for mental health awareness, and readers looking for a biography of either Dylan or Columbine should best look elsewhere.

Verdict: BORROW


Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart

Honestly, I thought Rosalie Lightning was just okay. I wanted to like it, to come out of the  100ish pages that comprise Tom Hart’s graphic memoir after the death of his daughter Rosalie with some kind of reaction other than ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Unfortunately, grief is too messy for that. It’s too abstract and it takes too many forms to be universally understood in any one medium. And perhaps I was looking at Rosalie Lightning as the tribute that it could have been, the celebration of a child’s brief life in color and abstract form. Instead, Hart uses drawing to climb out of the hole she left behind. And, in experiencing that grief with him, I felt that maybe I wasn’t supposed to be a part of the process at all.

Verdict: BYPASS

WhenBreathBecomesAirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This posthumous memoir is a gut puncher. You know that its author, Paul Kalanithi, ultimately died at thirty-six from metastasized stage IV lung cancer before you start reading. It’s there: in the small blurb on the back cover, in Kalanithi’s author bio, in Abraham Verghese’s forward, in every piece of publicity the book acquired since it was published in January. Kalanithi’s death permeates the text, hanging over our reading experience as it must have for Kalanithi himself. Except that, I don’t think he would want us to dwell. For Kalanithi, death was just another facet of life – a question to be answered, yes, but not something to be feared or avoided. He explains for us (and possibly his daughter) how and why he became a doctor, and it is in that meditative reflection in exacting prose that we are forced to confront our own fears and anxieties about death and the unlived life. Just reading his memoir makes me hope that I can accomplish in my lifetime what Kalanithi did in his.

Verdict: BUY

Buy Borrow Bypass: Kickass Ladies Edition

Book Riot does this great feature called “Buy, Borrow, Bypass” and I like it, so I’m going to do that here.

YoureNeverWeirdOnTheInternetYou’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Don’t recognize the name Felicia Day? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. You might be familiar with her face from such Joss Whedon-helmed projects like Buffy, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, or Dollhouse, though. Or maybe you remember her red hair in seasons seven, eight, and nine of Supernatural? Or somehow you’re really into MMORPG and watched The Guild??? (Didn’t think so.) If Day’s name or face doesn’t ring any bells, it’s safe to assume you probably won’t be into her debut, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), either. The book functions as a timeline of Day’s life, but feels less autobiographical and more like a play-by-play of her spectacularly odd adolescence, amounting to the origin story for the mythos that’s sprouted up around her. Is this because pop culture looks at Day as some kind of online creation and not as an actress who just happened to make it big by becoming Internet Famous™? Or maybe because it’s easy to get confused between real-life Day as Codex playing World of Warcraft and The Guild Day as… Codex… playing a fictional World of Warcraft??? I didn’t go into the book expecting much, but it was still kind of disappointing.

Verdict: BYPASS

IsEveryoneHangingOutWhyNotMeIs Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) / Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

I’m smooshing Mindy Kaling’s two biographies – 2011’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) and 2015’s Why Not Me? – into one review because I have the same feelings about both of them, i.e., they’re awesome. Kaling is someone about whom I’ve learned great things via GIFs on Tumblr, and her memoirs (basically Parts I and II) really only exaggerate her cool factor. (Is that still a thing? Let’s make it a thing.) Instead of writing about her life linearly from point A to B, she structures both books as a collection of essays and anecdotes about making a living as a female comedian in Hollywood, first as a writer on The Office and then as showrunner for The Mindy Project. Through her writing, Kaling comes off as a person who knows how to 1) successfully navigate the male-dominated film industry, 2) do so with both grace and humility, and 3) be funny as hell in the process. She’s definitely worth a read if, like me, you haven’t had the chance to officially meet via a television screen.

Verdict: BORROW unless you’re already a fan and then BUY

WeShouldAllBeFeministsWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

If you aren’t already feminist-leaning, Adichie’s print adaptation of her 2013 TEDx Talk might not convince you why you should be – but you should read it anyway. In 52 pages, Adichie succinctly explains what the word feminist means to her and why she considers herself one. Although her speech’s title definitely comes off as click-bait (if you’re feeling brave, just scroll through the video’s comments), the words themselves don’t. Adichie makes it easy to nod along and feel empowered to create change, just by acknowledging one’s own privilege in gender, race, or economic class. At its core, feminism isn’t a complex theory that one needs an advanced degree to understand; hopefully, if enough people read We Should All Be Feminists, maybe it won’t feel like one.

Verdict: BUY

Review: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

WhatIWasDoingWhileYouWereBreedingTitle: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding
Author: Kristin Newman
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: Kristin Newman spent much of her twenties and thirties buying dresses to wear to her friends’ weddings and baby showers. Not ready to settle down and in need of an escape from her fast-paced job as a sitcom writer, Kristin instead traveled the world, often alone, for several weeks each year. In addition to falling madly in love with the planet, Kristin fell for many attractive locals, men who could provide the emotional connection she wanted without costing her the freedom she desperately needed.
Kristin introduces readers to the Israeli bartenders, Finnish poker players, sexy Bedouins, and Argentinean priests who helped her transform into “Kristin-Adjacent” on the road – a slower, softer, and, yes, sluttier version of herself at home. Equal parts laugh-out-loud storytelling, candid reflection, and wanderlust-inspiring travel tales, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is a compelling debut that will have readers rushing to renew their passports.

I find it annoying (and unfortunate) that I had no idea who Kristin Newman was before reading her memoir – ’cause she is one funny broad. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is pretty much exactly what you think it is – a travelogue detailing exactly what (and whom) Newman was doing while all her twenty-something (and then thirty-something) friends and colleagues were settling down and having children. It’s honest and graphic and refreshing and fun – and I really, really liked it.

The set up is simple: in between the end of one television season and the beginning of another (or during the winter hiatus – essentially the summer and winter breaks of writers working in Hollywood), Newman embarks on extended vacations around the globe. Her memoir is broken down by trip, with a rotating cast of characters and hilarious recollections of how a single twenty-something parties it up in a foreign country “doing the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it” (which, side note, is a freaking great philosophy to have about life). I think what makes me really enjoy this book is that Newman says yes to new experiences. For her, travelling alone to a foreign country is not terrifying but exhilarating: she gets on a plane with barely a sketch of an itinerary and says, “Hell yeah let’s do this.” And, in the process, you root for her, cringe with her, and get those warm fuzzies when things go the way you both want them to.

It’s not that Newman doesn’t want kids, either, it’s that she doesn’t want them when society says she should want them. And that might seem radical, but to Newman, it’s life. And since I can’t really think of anything more intelligent to say other than, “UGH. JUST GO READ IT ALREADY,” here’s a quote:

My friends who met their spouses young have often told me they live vicariously through my adventures. That they sometimes think about the oats they never got a chance to sow. There is a trade-off for both their choice and mine. I used to beat my head over Vito, when he was struggling for years over how he wanted to be with me, but also wanted a life that wasn’t compatible with my life. He couldn’t believe that he couldn’t have everything, and so just wouldn’t choose. And I would tell him, so full of twentysomething wisdom, that life is almost never about choosing between one thing you really want and another thing you don’t want at all. If you’re lucky… life is an endless series of choosing between two things you want almost equally. And you have to evaluate and determine which awesome thing you want infinitesimally more, and then give up that other awesome thing you want almost exactly as much. You have to trade awesome for awesome.

Now go be awesome and do the thing you’re suppose to do in the place you’re suppose to do it.

Review: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

YesPleaseTitle: Yes Please
Author: Amy Poehler
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: A collection of stories, thoughts, ideas, lists, and haiku from the mind of one of our most beloved entertainers, Yes Please offers Amy Poehler’s thoughts on everything from her “too safe” childhood outside of Boston to her early days in New York City, her ideas about Hollywood and “the biz,” the demon that looks back at all of us in the mirror, and her joy at being told she has a “face for wigs.” Yes Please is a chock-full of words and wisdom to live by.

Amy Poehler is a funny lady (and if you don’t think so, maybe this blog isn’t for you). She’s smart and talented and unafraid to speak her mind or stand up for herself. And, boy, I did not know that I admired her until I started reading this book.

I mean, I think that it’s tough for anyone to write an interesting memoir, let alone someone who’s not only known for being funny, but also predominantly associated with sketch comedy, a medium which encourages the performer to use more than just his or her voice. So, Poehler isn’t just funny because of what she says, she’s funny because of the way she says it, or how her body moves while she says it, or the look she gives just after she finishes saying it. And that kind of humor is so totally hard to get across in print. (So, yeah, I’m a fan.)

Although Yes Please is technically a memoir, it doesn’t really feel like one. Poehler weaves past experiences into her most recent accomplishments, telling a thematic story instead of a linear one – interpreting her life instead of just regurgitating it. Her book is divided into loose essay-ish narratives punctuated by huge two-page quotes and hilarious photos while her writing is thoughtful, and brash, and foul, and frank, and, yes, funny. I want to be Poehler’s best friend and laugh at all her crude jokes. I want to let her know that she inspires me to be bolder, more honest, and, most importantly, less critical (of both myself and of others). She gives me courage to say the truth, even when that means admitting that I’ve fucked up. Her memoir isn’t just her story so far – it’s everything she’s learned while living that story, a story I really hope means another book will pop up someday down the road, complete with even funnier pictures and even dirtier humor.

In short, remember the titular directive: be polite and ask for what you want. (Yes please indeed.)

Rachel Reviews: Non-Fiction


I’ve been accidentally reading quite a bit of non-fiction in the past couple of months, so here are some thoughts on four newish real-life releases (and one not-so-new at all).

Bright LightsBright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly, Ex-Sorority Girl’s Guide to Why It Often Sucks in the City, or, Who Are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me? by Jen Lancaster

Jen Lancaster’s self-effacing wit and sardonic outlook on life might not be for everyone – but she’s pretty much my perfect kind of narrator. Lancaster’s written seven memoirs (with an eighth on the way), so start with Bitter Is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office before embarking on your reading binge. Either you’ll thank me for your new literary friend or hope I never give you a…

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Review: Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

NotThatKindOfGirlTitle: Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”
Author: Lena Dunham
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: From the acclaimed creator, producer, and star of HBO’s Girls comes a hilarious, wise, and fiercely candid collection of personal essays that establishes Lena Dunham as one of the most original young talents writing today.
In Not that Kind of Girl, Dunham illuminates the experiences that are part of making one’s way in the world: falling in love, feeling alone, being ten pounds overweight despite eating only health food, having to prove yourself in a room full of men twice your age, finding true love, and, most of all, having the guts to believe that your story is one that deserves to be told.
Exuberant, moving, and keenly observed, Not that Kind of Girl is a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the struggle that is growing up. “I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you,” Dunham writes. “But if I can take what I’ve learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile.”

There’s a lot of speculation about this book, mostly surrounding Lena Dunham’s very high advance – but I don’t know how to speak to that, to agree with or argue against how the ends justify the means. I just really liked this book, and that kind of surprised me. (Even though it really shouldn’t.) I don’t watch Girls nor do I follow the twists and turns of Dunham’s career. I’ve heard of Dunham but don’t know anything about her, which cleared the board in terms of expectations. I didn’t go into Not that Kind of Girl ready to confirm the thought that Dunham shouldn’t have been paid a lot of money to talk about her exceptionally successful life as a white female born and raised in New York City. Nor did I become disappointed when the reality of a memoir failed to live up to the hype I’d preconceived.

I simply read. About a girl who reminded me quite a lot of myself and about a woman who’s more successful than I am (or will ever be). About a woman who’s more or less comfortable in her own skin and doesn’t shy away from sex, but who still holds insecurities and emotional handicaps. About a woman who knows what she knows, knows what she doesn’t know, and knows for what she stands – and isn’t afraid to admit any of them. About a woman who’s well-known but sometimes misunderstood, who’s strong and fierce and weak and scared, who’s terribly flawed and magnificently human.

Dunham prefaces her book with the following sentiment: “And if I could take what I’ve learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mind was worthwhile.” Why would I shut someone out who has experienced more than I? Who has learned more and become able and willing to impart that knowledge? That then becomes my prejudgement, a preconceived notion that whatever Dunham says isn’t important simply because she’s the one who’s saying it.

And that’s dumb and silly.

Because it takes guts to write a book about one’s own life, and even more guts to put that story out into the world. It takes courage to say that one’s story holds merit – and if you take nothing else away from this work, remember that.

Staff Review: Orange Is the New Black – Piper Kerman


Orange is the NewReviewed by Rachel

Let me start by saying that I love Netflix’s adaptation of Orange Is the New Black – I LOVE it. As such, I was totally onboard for more of my favorite thirty-something Brooklynite WASP Piper and her highs and lows (and woes) during a fifteen-month stint at a women’s correctional facility. The show has microcosmic drama – Cliques! Fiancés! Babies! – and macrocosmic sociopolitical commentary – Race! Class! Gender! Sexuality! Power! Authority! Each character is fully fleshed out and, even though we’re experiencing this probably off-limits (and potentially off-putting) world of women in prison, it doesn’t feel like Piper has to be there to hold our hand. Litchfield’s insular world and all its people are so real that we feel just as invested in Taystee’s heartbreaking struggle to find (and hold onto) a maternal figure as we do rooting for Piper to navigate the ups and downs…

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