So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

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So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

I like Ronson’s writing style and previously really enjoyed The Psychopath Test. Shame – how we process it, how we use it on each other – has been on my mind a lot, and it was interesting to see a handful of public shamings explored in-depth.

There have been some really brilliant critiques of the book, too – namely that Ronson failed to recognize that women got a disproportionate amount of punishment to even the most shamed men and generally that he’s examining, and choosing, the selected shamings from a place of incredible privilege.

I thought the book was a good read. It got me thinking, as did the conversation supporting and critiquing it. Pick it up if you’re equally interested in what internet and other public shamings do to a person personally and professionally. It won’t tell you the magic solution to global harmony, but it will give you some food for thought.

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.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I think this book was more me than the book. I love Adichie. Her writing is gorgeously clear and precise and loaded with meaning without having to mine for it.

This book is about 15-year-old Kambili, who has been raised by an abusively religious (is that a term? it is now) father which has left her sheltered and scared to even speak. This turns upside down when she sees another world by spending a week with her aunt, a University professor who takes pleasure in her children arguing.

I enjoyed reading it, it was well done and engaging. I think I’m just a little bored of reading about 15 year olds. I also feel, weirdly, like I’ve read it, or something very similar before (but give me a religious and abusive father and a teenage girl trying to deal with it and I will probably always have a sense of deja vu.)

So: read this when you want a younger perspective on a world you’re probably not familiar with.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This book. Holy shit.

This book is everything I’ve ever wanted in a book. It’s gorgeously written, clear, precise, smart, feminist, intelligent, passionate and full of hope and despair and love.

It tells the story of a Nigerian immigrant come to America to live with her once-proud aunt so she can go to college. An outsider to black racial issues, she starts a blog about the racial tensions in the U.S. Back in Nigeria, there is a man she loves but doesn’t speak to, struggling with his own dreams.

It is a full and gorgeous book, absolutely easy to read – you won’t trip over sentences or meaning – but packed to the brim with insight and candor.

At heart, it’s a love story. So read this when you need a love story. Read this when you feel boxed in by the people you already know. Read it for a little hope without bullshit. Or when you need to make a big decision and are afraid to leap. Read it when you’re fresh out of college. It matters.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

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Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

You know… I liked this book. I enjoyed it as I read it. But now as I’m here typing, I don’t know what to tell you.

The basic plot is this: Ursula Todd was born and died. And then she was born again, and survived. This act is repeated throughout her life in the many ways she is killed, from falling out of a window to being victim to a bomb in WWII. Each time she comes back to life with anxiety around the situations she died in: sometimes they save her, sometimes they do not. They only linger as a sense of deja vu, never quite forming themselves into full memories.

Part of why it’s difficult to just talk about the book is that it’s “different” in many ways: the lead character is not a typical heroine, though the first pages open with her aiming a gun at Hitler. She’s not heroic, she has little control over her life or her experiences, she is more apt to think she is crazy than gifted. She is driven by love and anxiety and uncertainty.

I can’t tell you when or why or how you should read this. It’s meandering and strange and sometimes you think, Okay, did we really have to jump back? And yet somehow you get lost in the momentum and aimlessness of the book and come out on the other side glad you’ve read it.

So, I guess, here’s a book when you feel like meandering.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

I preferred this book to Gone Girl. It felt less trickster-y. In general, I think I really like Gillian Flynn’s writing. It’s detailed and strong and her sentences are packed with emotion. I like that. I’m not usually into the thriller genre but she makes me turn pages and read closely, and although I wouldn’t call her characters particularly fleshed-out, they are still more real than a lot of fictional characters out there.

This book is dark. It’s dark if you’ve ever been a cutter, it’s dark if you have parental issues, it’s dark if you’re particularly affected by murder, specifically of children. But… it’s good. It will keep you turning.

If I had to criticize it, I’d say the one moment that really stood out as unrealistic is the lack of reflection from the narrator when she finally figures out exactly who did it, especially with the emotional connection she had to the person who is murdered and the person who committed the murders. (Vague, because, spoilers!)

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Also, it’s a little weird because of this recent case (don’t click unless you want to get spoiled/have already read the book… also, more dark) and it was on the top of my mind as I read.

Grab this book for a great escape when you don’t mind if things get a little dreary. Probably great if you like a little adrenaline before you fall asleep. (I mean… I watch Ghost Adventures before I pass out, so…)