Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

A favorite daughter dies, and her family reels from the loss. A beautiful portrait of grief told in a compelling, page-turning manner. From a craft perspective, I love that each and every character detail in this book helps to answer the question, What happened to Lydia? Even the details of her parents’ past helps to illuminate how the family got to where it was and how it led to Lydia’s disappearance.

Read when you want a really deep portrait of people, or if you’re in the mood for something literary that still pulls you along with plot.

You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero

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You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero

I started seeing a therapist last week. My first time. I’ve been dealing with some anxiety. Anyway – she recommended this book, said she recommends it to most of her clients.

And I’ve got to say, it is awful.

I think Sincero means well, and has had success in her own life and wants to share her trail to success with others. She attempts to do that by saying the real reason we don’t have what we want in life is that we don’t love ourselves enough – and that not loving oursleves is the cause of things like not having a boyfriend, being broke, and the reason you’re depressed.

I found it poorly thought out, problematic and truly bad advice.

I’m all for loving yourself and finding passion and drive to do the things you want to do. But it doesn’t solve everything.

Read if: You really need a kick in the ass and don’t want to think too hard.

Reeling Through Life by Tara Ison

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Reeling Through Life by Tara Ison

I was lucky enough to have a Creative Writing class in college with Tara Ison. This is the first of her books that I’ve read. It’s a series of essays that illuminate Ison’s life and the way that it was shaped by movies. 

I really enjoyed the book, though many of the movies were not ones I had seen and many I was not even familiar with. The parts that shine most brightly are the places where Ison was able to explore her own experience more deeply because of the movies – she discusses madness in a way that was really impactful, the way that movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest shaped her understanding of madness and the quiet family secret of her aunt’s mental illness.

I’d say: Read it to get a peek into the mind of a really fantastic writer. Read it if you’re in the mood for a memoir.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

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Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I was familiar with the comic but not a dedicated reader. This was fun to read, I laughed out loud several times. I continue to be a little perplexed by the blogs-into-books thing but this is the second one I’ve purchased (I also have Tiny Beautiful Things although I’d read every column before). 

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

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The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

This book was really powerful for me. It’s a series of essays that starts with the author describing her experience as a Medical Actor – someone who plays a patient with a script of symptoms and issues that a doctor in training must then diagnose. It continues on to tell stories of 100 mile hell marathons, Morgellons disease and the people who believe they have it, and more. 

Jamison does a really lovely job of blending philosophy and fact, being smart but accessible and really teasing out the ways in which we relate to each other – whether it’s our ideal selves or the reality of how we judge.

A few pieces that I underlined:

“This was the double blade of how I felt about anything that hurt: I wanted someone else to feel it with me, and also I wanted it entirely for myself.”

“Which is the sad half life of arguments – we usually remember our side better.”

“I needed people… to deliver my feelings back to me in a form that was legible. Which is a superlative kind of empathy to seek, or to supply: an empathy that rearticulates more clearly what it’s shown.”

“That the hardship facilitates a shared solitude, an utter isolation that has been experienced before, by others, and will be experienced again, that these others are present in spirit even if the wilds have tamed or aged or brutalized or otherwise removed their bodies.”

“I’m tired of female pain and also tired of people who are tired of it. I know the hurting woman is a cliche but I also know lots of women still hurt. I don’t like the proposition that female wounds have gotten old; I feel wounded by it.”

“We shouldn’t have to turn every scar into a joke. We shouldn’t have to be witty or backtrack or second-guess ourselves when we say, this shit hurt.

Read it if you want a good think about what it means to be a person trying to relate to other people… and someone to lead you through it.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Woman starts feeling strange, within a month she’s nearly catatonic with what the doctors are saying is schizo-affective disorder. Compelling book about the brain issue that caused this and how she is now.

That said, I think what was most compelling was her struggle to find her identity again as she recovered. The brain is who we are, what we are, it’s our observation and our conclusions. So what happens when for a month your brain is wrong? How do you trust yourself again? Who are you now, especially when everyone around you knows what has happened to you? It also has far-reaching implications for psychiatric disorders – how many, like this one, are actually a complication of a physical issue?

It’s a quick read and great if you want to dive in a life that is perhaps very different from yours and get a glimpse of what it means go mad for a month.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

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Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

You’ve probably already heard of this book, but. 

When I got it I was searching for a book about going into the wilderness since I was craving something like Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I was familiar with the story and had watched the documentary, but hadn’t ever read the book. I went to a big local chain used book store. When I asked for this book, they said, “Oh you mean the one with the boot on the front?” No…

When they took me to the travel section (Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I was annoyed to find out, was not placed in that section) I realized that 99% of the books there were written by men. Boo. I plan on making it a point to read some more books written by women who go on nature adventures, so if you have recommendations, let me know.

Anyway – the book was good. There’s an ongoing controversy about how Chris McCandless really dies, which I got sucked into an afternoon of reading about. I came away with the following feelings about him:

1) How sad that he died

2) I think there was a very real and particular reason that the author included so few of McCandless’s own words from his journals, being that he was very much a kid and I imagine his words were sort of self-indulgent and not conducive to the kind of picture Krakauer was trying to paint of him. Krakauer in certain places does state this, though I think he minimizes it. Which makes the controversy and arguments around his death so much more… confusing? Interesting? Shallow? This was a kid. A smart guy, so young… and the arguments range from “he was an idiot who didn’t respect the wilderness” to “he was a genius and died from something even a wilderness expert would have suspected” all of which seems beside the point to me.

3) McCandless made me think of my own brothers, where their lives will lead them. I thought of his indignation toward the hypocrisy of his parents – and the world – and I think there is a bit of that in everyone. What made him the one who tried to escape it by going into nature? By, in many ways, avoiding humanity altogether?

It’s a great book and will haunt you for a while, so if you haven’t read it yet, do. 

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

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Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Totally enjoyable. There was a little too much about the Upright Citizens Brigade that I didn’t feel I could relate to – it was a lot of name dropping, fun having, and stuff people who are into Improv would enjoy – but other than that, truly pleasant read. She’s personal but doesn’t divulge a bunch of secrets. There’s some solid advice but also some vulnerability and doubt, and that’s cool. 

Read if you want something breezy but pleasant and smart.

The Love Wife by Gish Jen

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The Love Wife by Gish Jen

Took me quite a long time to get through. Didn’t connect with these characters as much as I did in Typical American or Mona in the Promised Land. Still good. In a lot of ways this book is more about a well-meaning white lady trying to best care for her multiracial family and how the family reacts when a mother-figure Chinese woman starts living with them. It was also a little bit (a lot?) sad.

Read this for a fictional but serious look at the complications that multiracial families can face and the power of feeling that you are “like” someone else.