Everything is Awful: And Other Observations

Everything is Awful

Matt Bellassai is one of my favorite internet personalities. From his weekly, angry videos about a topic to his podcast Unhappy Hour where he talks about infuriating things int he news and pop culture, he provides me with an important infusion of anger and dissatisfaction. My favorite topics that he covers are the ones that we all put up with but secretly hate, and it’s nice to hear him take that topic head on so we can nod in agreement while maintaining a facade necessary for work or family relationships. He’s the no-filter existence I wish I could have. So much of his ranting sounds like freedom to me. The freedom to be absolutely fucking done with everything.

But this isn’t a people review blog, it’s a book review blog, and I’ll say this about his memoir(?) – it’s not funny. Matt is funny when he screams about something stupid for like 5-10 minutes. He’s funny on his podcast because he has other people to break up his screaming and bounce his hate off of. This is 247 pages of stories about his life that I just didn’t need. Stories about peeing his pants and getting picked on in gym are just…uh…I don’t know, boring? They aren’t new. Any angry nerd that is a fan will relate to these stories, but they aren’t really enough.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for angst or suffering – I’ve written before about how some memoirs seem to bleed for you to get you to keep reading and that they aren’t for me. The stories in a memoir have to be similar enough to my experience that I can relate, but different enough that I’m interested. The kind of story isn’t important, but those elements are. I got through a few more chapters – the horrors and embarrassments of having braces and other dental procedures and how he can identify the type of ball he’s being hit with with his eyes closed (i.e. more gym stories, kickball, dodgeball, etc.) – and then I set the book aside. I can’t imagine how difficult the audiobook would be to get through.

Matt Bellassai is in the same category as Louis Black for me. Hilarious in small doses or mixed in with others, but surviving an entire stand up show (or book) just becomes an exercise in surviving monotony.  Their only level is loud and angry, so there’s no fluctuation or building of tension. I’ll keep him in video and podcast form, but the book is a no from me.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

Scaachi

Scaachi Koul is one of my favorite personalities on Twitter. I discovered her through other people that I already knew and followed, because they would constantly favorite and retweet her stuff. In my current online friends existence that was the best endorsement she could have received, and so I clicked a follow. I have not been disappointed. She’s fabulous.

Her collection of essays dropped in 2017, but I didn’t buy it until I saw it at the AWP writing conference in March. I brought it home and it sat on my bookshelf, waiting for me to work my way through my library holds that had deadlines. I finally put a hold on my holds (for now!) so I could focus more on my ARCs and owned books, and Koul’s collection was the first book I grabbed.

I have no contact with my family other than my grandmother. Finally taking the step to disconnect has made my life so much better than it had been. So when I began reading the life and times of Scaachi and her family, it seemed very close and boisterous in comparison to my no family at all. It was lovely to read about how much her parents cared about her, and funny when they seemed to care too much.

This collection of essays speaks to the pull of obligation. Obligation to family, friends, relationships, and yourself, and how you balance them all to cobble together a semblance of a balanced, fulfilling life. Because her connection to family is so strong, things like moving across the country (Canada) to go to college or dating a significantly older and white man were difficult, even when she knew they were what was right for her as an individual.

Obligation comes out of not only family but culture, because she struggles to remain connected to a culture that she has never truly grown up in. As a child of Indian immigrants that was raised in Canada, she talks about how she feels like she’ll never really be home. This discussion takes us through the racism she experiences as a result of her body type and brown skin in Canada, and then the privilege she experiences when she visits family in India and her skin is suddenly light there and a sign of being a part of the upper class. That her body and appearance could go from reviled to revered so quickly must have been (and still is) very confusing and strange.

This is an important collection to read in this moment in time. Understanding the different elements of the immigrant experience must come from as many sources as possible, and Scaachi is an amazing storyteller that will take you from Canada to India and back again. The reading that we do must include books like Scaachi’s, written by authors from all over the world about a myriad of experiences so that we can be sure to never let ignorance or inexperience stop us from being understanding, intelligent, accepting, empathetic, and supportive.

This was an amazing, quick, informative, wonderful read. Go get you some.

Nothing Good Can Come From This

IMG_20180630_181543.jpg

Due for publication August 7, 2018

This book was provided to me by the publisher in advance of publication in return for an honest review.

I am not the biggest fan of memoir, specifically the kind of memoir that seems to trod out the idea that we are in a suffering Olympics. That someone’s story isn’t worth reading unless they have enough trauma and hurt in their lives to kill a bull elephant. Those kinds of memoir just weren’t for me.

So when this ARC came across my desk I decided to read it immediately to get it out of the way. It was only 220 pages and wouldn’t take me very long. Once I started, however, I ended up not wanting it to stop. Kristi Coulter has written a memoir about addiction and freedom that will make you feel free and empowered no matter what your personal struggles might be.

She describes the slow slip into alcoholism as one glass of wine a night turns into two, and then three. We watch her as she attempts to live a normal life in a high powered job in the midst of a society that seems to drink to relax, celebrate, cope, socialize, really you name it and booze is there to hold your hand. The beauty in this book is seeing Coulter come to recognize that she is an alcoholic, make the decision to become sober, and then navigate the road to rediscovering who she is without alcohol.

It is that rediscovering that spoke to me the most. Her questions seemed to always start with “What would I like to…” as she discovered what she enjoyed and who she wanted to be now that she was sober. The constructive struggle mixed with the hope and freedom that these kinds of choices bring makes this a memoir that sees past the struggle to a bright, limitless future full of possibility. Maybe the closest comparable would be breaking up with a long-time partner. Who am I without this person? It’s a bigger discovery than some people realize.

What would I like to eat now that I don’t drink? Will food taste different? Will I be able to taste new things out of the haze? All these questions are so interesting and wonderful that I would have read an entire book of her talking to me about the things she discovered about herself while sober. It was like she had emerged from the cocoon and stumbled around for a bit before realizing she had wings. “What do these do?” she mused, and then she took flight.

I love that her husband quit drinking with her. That is love and support. He may not have been an alcoholic but she describes him as different and a bit angry when he drank, so that decision was probably good for them both.

She changed her goals and team at work too. Once she wasn’t drinking she discovered that the project and team she was working with was too fast-paced and, as she described it: “this isn’t me.” Not only was she discovering how things she wanted to keep around were, she gained the clarity to be able to determine those things that had to go. The aspects of her reality that just weren’t tenable anymore.

The luxury of space to breathe and the freedom to make choices concerning your own reality and well-being are front and center in Coulter’s journey, and while that is couched in the struggle of alcoholism, her tale is only ever reaching forward, only looking back in an effort to fuel progress. The only thing you can do is cheer her on, because you will be so proud of her perseverance.

I have placed this book on my Christmas list. I plan to place it alongside Megan Stielstra’s The Wrong Way to Save Your Life and Samantha Irby’s We Are Never Meeting In Real Life on my shelf. Very slowly I am making a small library of stories that make me feel inspired and, more importantly, less alone. No matter your struggles, Coulter’s journey will inspire you to ask about what you like in your own life so that you can surround yourself with joy and not miss out on a single experience. Go get you some.

Heart Berries

Heart Berries

Remember a while ago when I was running my Memoir Monday series? I got to a point where I couldn’t read so many memoirs all at once because the entire industry (genre?) seems to be dealing in pain and trauma. If you don’t have some kind of abuse in your past, you’re not publishing memoir right now, or so it would seem. Even the light hearted memoir has to have portions that have an “if I wasn’t laughing, I’d be crying” kind of feel.

Heart Berries is chock full of these themes and more. The writing is set like a journal, like a “dear diary” kind of confessional. It covers relationships and parenthood and mental illness. The entries lead you on the author’s journey of self-discovery – through a psych ward, on a reservation (the author is of Native American descent), in the homes of others and her interactions with her children.

I’m not really sure what to say about this book. It’s very short, only about 150 pages, and it’s like a dramatic monologue that will either touch you deep in your heart, leave you confused, or both. It is a very personal journey. I felt like I was eavesdropping or spying on someone who was truly struggling and there was nothing I could do to help. It was super emotional and thoughtful and weird. I got to the end and I just said “WOAH” out loud; I didn’t know what to do with what I had just read.

I encourage you to try this one out. It won’t take you long to read, and it’ll for sure make you feel things. I’d be interested to hear what you think, because I’m still not entirely sure what I think.

The Wrong Way To Save Your Life

the wrong way to save your life

Okay guys, I’m a little shaky today because I stayed up until 1am reading this book without realizing I had stayed up so late, and when I am up that late I am a zombie the next day. But I had to race to the computer to let you know that this book is life changing.

Stielstra has written a collection of essays about times she was afraid, or more generally, about fear. What makes you afraid? Chances are you will identify with the majority of this book. From parent relationships and care to job instability to simply being a woman, Stielstra takes us on a terrifying yet cathartic journey through being alive in the modern world. A world we are living in right now!

You know that my book reviews tend to be more about how I felt about a book rather than its literary structure and whatnot. I want you to understand whether a book is enjoyable or boring, exciting or dull. This collection of essays is just…everything you need. It’s a historical record of the world in the past 30 years, but if a normal person wrote it and was truly honest about how they were feeling. Omg it was refreshing and scary and it brought back memories I had hidden away just to survive what at least the last fifteen years have been. I felt safe to remember.

One of depression’s lies is that you are alone. Reading this book into the wee hours last night was like having a fellow adult look at me and say “omg yes this has all been shit hasn’t it? But I’m proud of you, you’re proud of me, and we’re in this and we can do it!” It was like having a big hug and a pep rally and a quiet space alone to cry all at once. I could’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about how amazing this book was and how I might be able to put it into words today. Stielstra showed me that even when things literally catch on fire, as long as you grab what’s important you can always find a way to keep going.

Please go buy this book as quickly as you can and read it and know that you are not alone. Life is fucking scary and difficult and You. Are. NOT. Alone.

Are you done reading it yet?

 

Memoir Monday: Yes Please!

Yes Please

I loved Amy Poehler in Parks and Recreation, but the overwhelmingly positive feelings that show gave me made me forget how much I hated her other work (including the infamous trailer for The House, that came out in theaters this summer). She and Tina Fey each had their own shows that made me forget how irritating they are (Tina Fey’s 30 Rock) but gosh this book reminded me very quickly how much I just don’t care about these ladies.

First, the pages of the book are made from magazine stock, which meant they were really heavy, really shiny, and really thick – prime for paper cuts. Just picking up the book will surprise you, because it is so damn heavy. Right away you are accosted with an arrogant inconvenience.

I did not finish this book. I stopped reading after half the book was just stories about her being on Saturday Night Live and having babies. Reading this book was like being caught in a corner at a party by that woman you haven’t seen since high school who is insisting on showing you pictures of the birth and describing, in detail, how she got that promotion at work. NO ONE CARES, JANICE.

So just before the section titled “Divorce” I cut the cord on this book. I didn’t care enough. Maybe if I was still in the throes of Leslie Knope/Ron Swanson love I could be interested enough to plow through, but that time, much like the Before Times, has passed.

If you really love her, this book tells you about her life and you can get about as much info as a tabloid might provide plus EXCLUSIVE DETAILS (only $14.99! +tax) so you would enjoy reading it. For the rest of us, there are better memoirs out there, so give this one a hard pass.

Memoir Monday: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Happy Normal

http://www.jeanettewinterson.com/

And we’re back! This week we take a journey into the world of Jeanette Winterson, and if you, like me, are asking, “Who is Jeanette Winterson?” well then you are in luck! This should be the book you start with because it is a literal autobiography as opposed to some of her other books which are fictionalized versions of her life. She’s written several books, one of which was a TV show on the BBC, but this is my first exposure to her writing. Take my word for it that it is brilliant.

There were several moments in the book that really spoke to me, and I’ll share a few here to convince you to go grab this book and let its magic wash over you.

“Books, for me, are a home. Books don’t make a home – they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside.”

This spoke to me for, what I hope, are obvious reasons.

“No one is ever going to lock me in or lock me out again. My door is open, and I am the one that opens it.” – speaking about her adoptive mother, who would lock her in closets or out of the home, randomly.

This one’s just wishful thinking, but it made me feel good to read it.

“It is better to know who you are, and what lies in you, what you could do, might do, under extreme provocation.”

No one listens to me when I say I would not make a good mom and that I understand myself enough to know this and I know WHY this is. Also I learned things about myself when we were out of power for five fucking days last week that I would rather not experience again so…

“Being barely alive on your own terms, is better than being a bloated, half-life on someone else’s terms.”

Again, wishful thinking but good to know someone else is living the dream.

“In a system that generates masses, individualism is the only way out. But then what happens to community – to society?”

This should be the official slogan of the After-Times. But we should be talking about this more.

“Unhappy families are conspiracies of silence, and the one who breaks the silence is never forgiven.”

Keeping the secrets about what happened in my house, especially during high school, was a circus act and GUESS WHO LEFT AND BROKE THE SILENCE OMG. Which reminds me that I had this story to tell you all.

My parents haven’t called or texted me since Wednesday of last week, and that was to ask me to text my sister who I haven’t talked to for almost 8 years (initially due to assholery, but then just because we don’t care) to congratulate her on her wedding, which we were not invited to, instead of asking me how we were all doing after the hurricane. She sent me three pictures of the wedding and said it would be nice if texted my sister congratulations and I had to remind her that we had been without power and air conditioning for 3 days AND THE LAST FUCKING THING I NEED TO WORRY ABOUT IS IF THE SISTER WHO IS A COMPLETE FUCKING STRANGER TO ME RECEIVES A FUCKING TEXT ABOUT HOW I FEEL CONGRATULATORY ABOUT HER NUPTIALS WHICH I ACTUALLY GIVE NO FUCKS ABOUT.

**deep breath** Let’s just say my mom is lucky she texted this to me and didn’t call.

So basically if you had an…interesting childhood? or have a complicated family situation you should go read this book because it will offer you hope and make you feel less alone because crazy and unfeeling is everywhere. Go get you some.

 

 

Memoir Monday: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

Lawson

I have been doing Memoir Monday for quite a few weeks now, but really I was just waiting for this book to come along. Jenny Lawson is another author that trusted me with Facebook friendship, and like Samantha Irby, I had not read her blog prior to becoming friends with her. I had read Furiously Happy, which at the time I only moderately enjoyed for the sole reason that I think I lacked context and background. Without understanding her relationship with Victor (her husband) and her struggles with pregnancy and anxiety, Furiously Happy seems funny in a momentary way. Having read this first book, I am motivated to return to the other. I am sure I will enjoy it much more than after the first reading.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is the memoir that should inform all other memoirs. It explores her childhood in a realistic way that doesn’t wring its hands and cry out with struggle, but recognizes the handicaps that come with a rural, poor upbringing. Her relationship with Victor is a hilarious, opposites-attract love story. The journey from Wall to Houston, from HR to writing, her memoir is a true road map through her life to where she is now (or was when this book was published in 2012) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Lawson writes in a stream-of-consciousness style that echoes how you might think about or approach any social situation. When she wrote about having two minds that talk to each other when she struggles with her anxiety, I was reminded of how my mind divides during depressive episodes; my logical mind knows what’s going on, but my emotional mind is behind the wheel and won’t let off the gas. Representation is important, and her openness in writing about her struggles with mental health makes many of her followers feel less alone, perhaps even braver to speak out about their own experiences.

This is hands down my favorite memoir thus far. It’s real, entertaining, and brings awareness to a struggle that many face – it serves multiple purposes and I am here for all of them. And now I know my new friend a little better than I did, and I love her all the more.

You are missing out if you do not read this book. Go get you some.

Memoir Monday: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me

Last week I found myself moving closer and closer to the line between caring what other people think and just being myself and telling everyone to deal with it. I know that for confident, successful people this might seem like a simple thing, but for me being who everyone else wanted or needed me to be up until this point was a survival mechanism. That’s how I kept jobs, got help, made friends – there was a point where I lied so much about who I was that I forgot who I was. For whatever reason different events last week started pushing me back to who I was before and while I’m not there yet, I can sense that time coming.

With that internal struggle and change happening, it was very appropriate that I would be reading Mindy Kaling’s first memoir: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns), because if there is one thing you should walk away with after reading this book, it is a sense for how important it is to know yourself and to be strong in that knowledge.

My only real exposure to Kaling was in The Office in her role as Kelly Kapoor. She was snotty and hilarious and I really enjoyed her acting. This book expanded my knowledge to include her writing and directing experience, which included neither at the outset. It was cool to see where she came from, hear about her educational background, and how she took the leap to try to write in New York (not necessarily with an acting focus).

It is probably true that Mindy was able to pursue her dreams because both her parents were successful and able to help her financially. We see stories that place her in stereotypically “poor” or POC-type situations, but all in all this story says “I made it” as opposed to “I made it THROUGH ALL THIS GARBAGE” and in this way this story was also exactly what I needed after so many struggle memoirs. I needed to hear someone say “It was difficult and frustrating, but I had people around me supporting me and I made it and I persevered.” Everything is so much garbage right now that reading this short, light-hearted recollection of her own experience was really refreshing.

So if you need something light that inspires you to embrace the things that make you, YOU, pick up this memoir from 2011. You will be glad you did.

Memoir Monday: Born a Crime

Born a Crime

One of my favorite kind of books to read is one that takes me someplace I have never been and introduces me to a culture that I have never experienced. Trevor Noah was born to a Xhosa mom and Swiss dad while apartheid was still in force in South Africa. His birth was evidence of a crime, I’m not sure I would go as far to say that he was born a crime, but “Born a Crime” grabs your attention a lot better than “My Birth Was Evidence of My Parents’ Crimes.”

The beauty of this memoir is that you journey with Trevor from his childhood into his early adulthood, and watch how South Africa transforms as he grows. You see the transition from apartheid to Nelson Mandela’s government, and how all the different “homelands” adjusted to the shifts in power. My favorite stories that he tells are the ones from the different schools he attended. The clearest picture of how the different degrees of racial identity (white, colored, black) interacted with each other is painted by the behavior of these children.

With all the discussion of white supremacy and the need to resist the rise of Nazi influence in this country, it was informative and interesting to see how South Africa convinced the majority black and colored (Noah’s word) population to live under apartheid. The methods they used to reinforce infighting between the many different tribes that lived there, the way they exploited the existence of so many languages (South Africa has 11 national languages!) to confuse as well as encourage miscommunication and distrust, that level of confusion and infighting created an environment where whites could reign supreme. There is a lot that we could learn from this memoir politically, racially, and structurally in terms of power. If you are not familiar with apartheid and how it was overthrown, Noah’s book is a fantastic narrative to take you on a basic, open-bus tour of the phenomenon while you are also learning about the personal history of a rising star in late-night television.

At around 300 pages it’s a relatively moderate read, and the essays are so funny and enjoyable that you’ll find yourself reading through it quickly. If you’re feeling in a memoir mood, check it out. I thoroughly enjoyed it.