Video Review: Biographies!

In which I come back after two years (TWO YEARS) and review The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs and give it 4 stars because it was an “insightful and intimate portrait” of one man’s life and an all-around great read.

And then I review Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris and give it 3 stars because it was “interesting and clever” but not for everyone.

Watch it below or check out my other videos at YouTube.

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

RosalieLightning

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

Top Ten: Books I’ve Recently Added to My TBR

logo-TopTenTuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme was books I’ve recently added to my TBR pile.

Below are the ten most recent books I added to my to-be-read shelf on Goodreads!

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All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister

A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe

The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World Building by David J. Peterson

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

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Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

The Little Shop of Happy Ever After by Jenny Colgan

Mad Men Unzipped: Fans on Sex, Love, and the Sixties on TV by Karen E. Dill-Shackleford

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

Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown

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

Top Ten: Most Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2016

logo-TopTenTuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme was the most anticipated releases for the first half (January through June) of 2016.

I’m getting a little bit better at knowing about new releases – thank you, library job – but I still don’t know about a lot (hence my shortened list!). As to me actually reading any of these next year… well, that’s an entirely different story!

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January

28th: You and Me, Always by Jill Mansell

February

9th: Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau / Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte

16th: The Rule of Mirrors by Caragh M. O’Brien

23rd: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

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March

1st: Dear Emma by Katie Heaney

April

5th: The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan / Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

12th: Giant Days, Vol. 2 by John Allison, Whitney Cogar, and Lissa Treiman

19th: Hystopia by David Means

Review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

ModernRomanceTitle: Modern Romance
Author: Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
Rating: ★★
Summary: At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, and get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

To solve this problem, Aziz Ansari teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys, created their own online research forum on Reddit, and enlisted the world’s leading social scientists to produce a result unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.


For a stand-up comedian, writing any type of full-length work is ambitious. For Aziz Ansari – perhaps best known as either a stand-up comedian with his own Netflix special or as Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation (and who, might I add, received a reported three and a half million dollar advance for this work) – something like Modern Romance should be lauded as the next great debut-memoir by a well-known and respected comedian (a la Yes Please, Bossypants, or Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)). Except it isn’t a memoir, and you can’t force it to be one just by wishing. (Trust me, I tried.) I think Vanity Fair sums up the book pretty well: “It’s an unexpectedly serious work about the challenges and pitfalls of looking for love in the Digital Age via Match.com, OkCupid, Tinder, Twitter, Facebook — the whole techno shebang.”

Which, okay, is still pretty awesome and interesting and what-have-you. But an interesting pop-science look at romance in the twenty-teens is still not a hilarious memoir written by a pretty funny stand-up comedian whose voice is so distinct I can hear his inflections just by reading. I think that if a reader were to go into this book absolutely knowing that he or she would not be getting Ansari’s stand-up in written form, and if said reader were interested in how teens through baby boomers (and maybe even octogenarians) find love since the invention of the smartphone, then, yeah, go for it. Modern Romance is for you.

But it wasn’t for me (even though I really, really wished it were).

Sidenote: I’ve heard* great things about the audiobook, read by Ansari. The only real interaction I’ve had with him is through talk-show interviews, GIFs of Haverford on Tumblr, and an episode of This American Life – but hearing Ansari’s voice act out the words that comprise Modern Romance made the text come alive in a way that, unfortunately, the words themselves lacked.

*(Eh. Heard. Did you get it???)

Review: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor

HowStarWarsConqueredTheUniverseTitle: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise
Author: Chris Taylor
Rating: ★★★
Summary: Veteran journalist Chris Taylor traces the Star Wars series from the difficult birth of the original film through its sequels, the franchise’s death and rebirth, the prequels, and the preparations for a new trilogy. Taylor provides portraits of the friends, writers, artists, producers, and marketers who labored behind the scenes to turn Lucas’s idea into a legend. An energetic, fast-moving account of this creative and commercial phenomenon, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe explains how a filmmaker’s fragile dream beat out a surprising number of rivals and gained a diehard, multigenerational fan base – and why it will be galvanizing our imaginations and minting money for generations to come.


If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll remember me talking up How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise back in April – after I’d given up trying to slog through The Secret History of Wonder Woman and wanted to find another microhistory for my participation in the #ReadHarder challenge. If you’re not a huge fan of either pop culture or history, microhistories can be a tough sell on their own; reading at length about the historical, political, economic, and cultural factors that both contributed to – and also occurred because of – a huge film series like Star Wars is really only for mega-nerds who both like Star Wars and want to read 300+ pages on Star Wars. (Like I said, it’s a tough sell.)

Unfortunately, Chris Taylor doesn’t really deliver the “how” of his title, instead focusing more on the “what” – what happened to get Star Wars going and then what happened once it broached mainstream culture. I think that anyone trying to answer the ambiguous “why” is facing an uphill battle, but I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t more theoretical discussion on exactly how Star Wars conquered the hearts and minds of billions of people. Taylor gives a few pages connecting the dots between the original trilogies and the Vietnam War, but it stays in one chapter, buried among hundreds of pages of anecdotes and biography. I understand that Taylor wasn’t writing a George Lucas biography – because, clearly, Star Wars has been wrested from its creator and now breathes on its own – but a lot of the time, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe felt more like The Life and Times of George Lucas (and also thoughts on his creation, the mega-successful Star Wars) than what it was purported to be. (Taylor almost singularly refers to Lucas as “The Creator,” imbuing him with the mythical properties he was supposed to bestow on the mythos of the films themselves.)

While the information contained within How Star Wars Conquered the Universe was interesting – I mean, it’s Star Wars you guys – I think Taylor should have either tweaked his thesis (or perhaps even thought of one in the first place???) or else shortened his work substantially. This could have been a fantastic one-, two-, or even three-part think-piece focusing on why – or dare I say how? – Star Wars jumped from space fantasy to global phenomenon. What was going on in the mid-1970s that created the perfect absence into which Star Wars fit? In what ways did the film, characters, or plot answer lingering wants that other films of that genre or period didn’t? Why did those specific characters on that specific journey in that specific universe create the perfect vortex? How is just so vague of a question – and produces so literal of an answer – that it’s really not suited to the type of analysis Taylor is trying to provide. (Unfortunately.)

However, because there is really nothing that tries to comprehensively document the journey Star Wars took from far-fetched Flash Gordon homage to pop culture commodity, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Industry is worth a perusal – but know what you’re getting into before you start reading.