ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Sunday

25

June 2017

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COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – June 25, 2017

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HAPPY PRIDE!!

Horrific Legislation and Executive Action

“Doctors and reproductive health advocates are saying the GOP’s Senate health care bill looks like a big step backward. On Thursday, the bill was released to the public after a secretive deliberation process, and the Senate is expected to cast a vote on it next week. Here are the four key ways this bill could undermine the health of American women.” Once again, 13 men wrote a bill that’s bad for women’s health (by Julia Belluz for Vox)

Criminal Punishment System

““I don’t understand why they got to kill everybody,” said Tonya Isabell, 54, Lyles’ biological cousin, but whom everyone present called “auntie.” Cousin Robin Cockerherm said Lyles was “78 pounds wet. They could have pushed her aside like this,” swiping the air with her palm. The police shooting of an African-American woman [Charleena Lyles] appears bound to raise particular questions for a department that is operating under a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice over its use of what a federal investigation found to be excessive amounts of force. The same investigation also found indications of biased policing, although it reached no firm conclusions on that score.” Seattle police shoot black woman; tensions run high (by David Kroman for Crosscut)

Ijeoma Oluo with questions on the shooting of Charleena Lyles Ijeoma Oluo

Fight Back

“The Commerce Department removed language from its annual equal opportunity statement barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity Thursday, prompting a protest from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists. In response, department officials restored the contested language on Friday.” Commerce Department cuts LGBT protections — then restores them-in equal opportunity policy statement (by Juliet Eilperin for Washington Post)

“While some claim targets for the inclusion of underrepresented groups lead to the promotion of individuals that do not deserve it, economists at the London School of Economics found that the reverse is true. Quotas can work to weed out incompetent men.” Workplace gender quotas weed out incompetent men and make businesses more efficient, study finds (by Ben Chapman for Independent)

Sport

“When people have talked about this issue in the past, they have focused on how, with the club’s vast resources and worldwide profile, a United team would help develop the women’s game. That is still true, but it now works the other way too – United are missing out on an easy way of engaging with their huge female fanbase, in Manchester and further afield, and promoting the importance of women in the make-up of their club. A women’s team would do all of that. The game is growing fast and other clubs have demonstrated they believe it is a big commercial asset, at very little cost. Why do United think differently?” Women’s Sport Week 2017: ‘Shocking’ that Man Utd do not have women’s team (by Rachel Brown-Finnis for BBC)

Racism

“As the woman grew more and more irate at the lack of white doctors, other people in the waiting room intervened. “Your child clearly has more issues with you being his mother than him needing to see a doctor,” said one woman. “You are extremely rude and racist.”” This Canadian Woman Demanded That A “White Doctor” Treat Her Son (by Ishmael N. Daro for Buzzfeed)

Thursday

22

June 2017

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COMMENTS

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None Of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

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Four Stars

Best for: People who enjoy strong, witty writers who are able to handle fluffy and serious topics with equal finesse.

In a nutshell: Scaachi Koul shares some snipets of her life as the child of Indian immigrant now living in Canada.

Line that sticks with me: “It changes you, when you see someone similar to you, doing the thing you might want to do yourself.” (p 123)

Why I chose it: Because Lindy West, Jessica Valenti and Samantha Irby can’t all be wrong.

Review: I’d seen this book in my local bookstore a bunch of times and always walked past it because I thought it was a much more serious book. I didn’t fully process that the title was more of a joke than some clever way of of being hopeful (I’ve got the cover uploaded here so hopefully you see what I mean); that’s on me. Then I finally picked it up and flipped it over, and three of my favorite authors — and just generally awesome women — provided the blurbs. So obviously I purchased it immediately.

This is a collection of loosely connected essays in which Ms. Koul shares her perspective as a woman whose parents immigrated to Canada from India before she was born. She talks about body issues (the chapter on body hair is amazing), about being lighter skinned than other Indians. She talks about online harassment and rape culture.

I enjoyed Ms. Koul’s style of writing and her wit. Not everything is a laugh out loud joke, and some parts and extremely serious, but the book never feels heavy in a bad way. She somehow makes challenging topics feel manageable, if that makes sense. I’m so happy I got this book, and look forward to reading more from her.

Monday

19

June 2017

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COMMENTS

How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are

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Three Stars

Best for: Anyone who likes Paris, needs a bit of a quick, distracting read, and is willing to overlook the heteronormativity of it all.

In a nutshell: Four friends from Paris decided to write the type of advice book one might buy on impulse when shopping at Anthropologie.

Line that sticks with me: “darkest Africa” – used when referring to places where people might be from. I just … was a bit gobsmacked that this weird bit of racism made it past the editors.

Why I chose it: I’m pretty sure I bought it at a non-bookstore store because I’m a sucker for Paris and for advice.

Review: This book is fine. Yesterday my mind was not in a great place, and I just wanted something distracting. A book that talked about pretty clothes and a city I love and tips for making my hair looks good. And for the most part, this fit the bill.

It definitely assumes the reader is a woman who likes men, and it assumes that the reader has access to money. And is slender. But this is probably not a surprise, because the whole goal of the book seems to be to bring the stereotypes of Paris to life on the page. And they do, and mostly it just made me want to go out and find some jeans that actually fit and start wearing my red lipstick all the time.

Sunday

18

June 2017

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COMMENTS

ain’t i a woman by bell hooks

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Four Stars

Best for: Those interested in exploring how feminism has failed at inclusivity, and how U.S. society has failed Black women.

In a nutshell: bell hooks provides a history of how racism, sexism and classism have impacted Black women in the U.S.

Line that sticks with me: “The process begins with the individual woman’s acceptance that American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist, and sexist, in varying degrees, and that labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization.”

Why I chose it: I picked this for my office’s equity and social justice book club because I don’t think my feminist reading has included nearly enough of the Black woman’s perspective, and I wanted to be able to discuss this with others.

Review: I’ve somehow managed to never read any bell hooks even though I’m familiar with her importance to feminism. With this great book (which is frustratingly hard to track down in bookstores – I had to resort to ordering online) I feel like I got a more in-depth education on issues that I’ve been trying to learn more about this year.

Starting with slavery, Dr. hooks examines how racism, sexism and classism work together in impacting the experience of Black women in the U.S. For example, she explores how women who were slaves were forced to perform “masculine” tasks, but men who were slaves were not compelled to perform “feminine” tasks, and how society has spent a lot of time examining how slavery impacted the Black male psyche but has spent far less time examining how it impacted — and continues to impact — Black women.

She also looks at how the patriarchy — when combined with racism — has influenced the experience of Black women in society, eschewing the idea that Black women exist in a matriarchy simply because some households are run by women.

In the sections that might be challenging to read for white women who consider themselves feminists, Dr. hooks examines the ways in which white women have pushed black women out of discussions of sexism, seeking to maintain their status within the patriarchy as at least above Black people. She also spends time looking at how society seems to default ‘women’ to mean white women and ‘Black’ to mean Black men, leaving Black women out completely, and what the implications of that are.

I appreciated Dr. hooks’s examination of how so much of feminism (as practices by white feminists) seeks not to overturn the system, but to make gains with the patriarchal, capitalist system that exists in this country. This isn’t particularly imaginative or revolutionary, and can mean that instead of fighting for true freedom, we just end up fighting with each other for material gains. I also appreciate that despite all of this, she doesn’t argue that feminism is only for white women; she sees the real benefits of it, but only when we can really fight for the freedom that feminism should bring about. I’m looking forward to discussing it at work this week.

This is a dense read (at under 200 pages it still took longer than I expected) but definitely worth it.

Sunday

18

June 2017

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COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – June 18, 2017

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Horrific Executive Action and Legislation

“Khan’s spokesperson dismissed the US President’s comments: “The mayor is busy working with the police, emergency services and the government to coordinate the response to this horrific and cowardly terrorist attack and provide leadership and reassurance to Londoners and visitors to our city. He has more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump’s ill-informed tweet that deliberately takes out of context his remarks urging Londoners not to be alarmed when they saw more police – including armed officers – on the streets.”” Sadiq Khan Says He “Has More Important Things To Do” Than Respond To Donald Trump’s Tweets (by Jim Waterson for Buzzfeed)

“She’s arranged tournaments at Trump golf courses, served as the liaison to the Trump family during his presidential campaign, and even arranged Eric Trump’s wedding. Now President Trump has appointed longtime loyalist Lynne Patton — who has zero housing experience and claims a law degree the school says she never earned — to run the office that oversees federal housing programs in New York.” President Trump chooses inexperienced woman who planned his son Eric’s wedding to run N.Y. federal housing programs (by Greg B. Smith for Daily News)

“The Trump Administration’s Department of Commerce has outraged LGBT groups by removing sexual orientation and gender identity from the list of categories explicitly protected from discrimination in its latest equal employment opportunity statement. After this story was published, the department then said it would re-issue the policy. “The Department of Commerce does not tolerate behavior, harassment, discrimination or prejudice based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability,” read the 2017 Secretarial Policy Statement on Equal Employment Opportunity signed by Secretary Wilbur Ross. “We will also provide reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees with disabilities.”” Commerce Department Removes Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity From Equal Employment Policy (by David Mack for Buzzfeed News)

“The agency communicated its decision in a letter this week to lawyers representing the girl, an elementary school student in Highland, Ohio. The letter provided no reason or legal justification for withdrawing its 2016 conclusion that the girl’s school wrongly barred her from the girls’ bathroom and failed to address the harassment she endured from classmates and teachers, who repeatedly addressed her with male pronouns and the male name she was given at birth.” Education Dept. closes transgender student cases as it pushes to scale back civil rights investigations (by Emma Brown for Washington Post)

Criminal Punishment System

“Castile’s death garnered widespread attention — and sparked nationwide protests over the use of force by police — after his girlfriend broadcast the shooting’s aftermath on Facebook Live. Several members of the Castile family screamed profanities and cried after the verdict was announced, despite warnings from the judge that everyone in the courtroom should remain composed. “Let me go!” yelled Castile’s mother, Valerie.” Officer who shot Philando Castile found not guilty on all counts (by Ralph Ellis and Bill Kirkos for CNN)

Gun Violence

“Someone will say, “We cannot give in to fear.” To that I say: We already have. We gave in to fear on November 8, 2016, when we sent that man to the White House to put the stamp of the president on the harassment of Muslims. When we sent that man to the White House knowing he sexually abuses women with gleeful abandon. When we sent that man to the White House with his foolish, racist plan to make Mexico build him a wall.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (by Andrea Grimes via Medium)

“You get to grieve how helpless you felt all those miles away, for how inadequate every gesture felt from such a distance. You get to feel all that sadness. This was an act of terror specifically targeting the LGBT community in the midst of Pride Month in Latin Night. You were supposed to get that message. You get to respond to that personal threat with grief and anger for what was meant for you too. #HonorThemWithAction” Equality Florida Commemorates One Year Mark of Pulse Massacre And Continues to #HonorThemWithAction (Brittany at Equality Florida)

Capitalism

“”Walmart should fully comply with the law so that no one is illegally punished for a disability-related absence or for taking care of themselves or a loved one with a serious medical condition,” Dina Bakst, founder and president of A Better Balance, the advocacy group that prepared the report, told the New York Times. Among the complaints A Better Balance received, employees have said they’re afraid to call out sick, they’ve been penalized and even fired after taking sick time, and they face financial ruin as a result.” ‘I just don’t call out sick anymore at all’: New report says Walmart punishes employees for taking sick days (by Rachel Gillett for Business Insider)

“Delta’s decision is misguided. It’s also disingenuous. During the Obama presidency, Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater, along with the Acting Company, a well-regarded classics company that tours nationally, presented a Julius Caesar in which Caesar bore an intentional resemblance to Obama.* Not only was there no controversy, Delta sponsored the tour of the show and continued sponsoring TAC the next season.” It’s Outrageous to Suggest That Any Production of Julius Caesar Could Glamorize Assassination (by Isaac Butler for Slate)

Thursday

15

June 2017

0

COMMENTS

Hunger by Roxane Gay

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Five Stars

Best for: Those who enjoy amazing writing, searing honesty, and vulnerability.

In a nutshell: Roxane Gay shares a memoir of her life, framed through her relationship with her body.

Line that sticks with me: There are too many to include all of them. But here’s one: “But the pain of a tattoo is something to which you have to surrender because once you’ve started, you cannot really go back or you’ll be left with something not only permanent but unfinished. I enjoy the irrevocability of that circumstance.” (p 186)

Why I chose it: It’s Roxane Gay. Come on.

Review: I was so anxious to read this that instead of visiting my regular bookstore I stopped at chain store in the middle of the work day in a town I happened to be passing through because I wanted to be able to start reading it at the first possible opportunity. Which turned out to be waiting in line at a coffee shop before a meeting. A meeting I was nearly late to because the writing and story are so compelling that I did not want to put it down.

Dr. Gay (Professor Gay? She has a PhD, so I want to acknowledge that properly) has written a memoir that is unlike any other I’ve read. It feels almost like poetry, as the 300 pages are split into nearly 90 chapters. Some chapters are but a paragraph long; others span multiple pages. The subject matter is challenging, but Prof. Gay’s language is not. As she provides some detail of her rape at a young age, the rape that she describes as a turning point that caused her to build up a physical distance between herself and others through weight gain, she manages to use language that is extremely uncomfortable and horrifying yet possible to read through.

The book focuses on her relationship with her body and what it is like to be in this world that does not value fat people, but it isn’t a laundry list of the challenges she faces. Yes, there are chapters about the frustrations she deals with when traveling, but Prof. Gay finds a way to discuss it that simultaneously points out all the ways people unintentionally — and intentionally — shun, punish, or otherwise seek to harm fat bodies AND remind us all that this is her experience. She isn’t a headless fat person on the evening news; she is a person who lives in this body, who deserves to be seen and respected. And we as a society — and individuals — fail at this. Hard. And often.

And people suffer because of it.

As Prof. Gay points out in the beginning, this is not a ‘before’ and ‘after’ story in the sense that you’ll see her holding up her old clothes and her new, skinny body. She is still a very fat woman. And she is still valuable, and worth love, respect, and basic human decency. She won’t be more of a person if she weighs less.

This is a book you should read. We live in a world where it is so easy to deny the humanity of those who are not like us. Even some of the progressive folks I know, who would never dare mock someone who is a different race, religion, or sexual orientation than themselves, still make shitty comments about fat people. Still used fat as an insult. Still take joy in seeing other people gain weight. And that’s really fucking shitty.

I hope you read this book.

Monday

12

June 2017

0

COMMENTS

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate

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Four Stars

Best for: Those interested in a fun (but surprisingly serious) look at how the sausage is made.

In a nutshell: Comedy writer turned senator provides the story of how he got where he is, and what it really means to be a U.S. Senator.

Line that sticks with me: “They’re all extremely conservative Republicans who I’m sure don’t want me to say anything good about them. And make no mistake, I hope they get beat in their next elections. But they’re there right now! And just as part of my job is standing my ground against all the terrible hings they want to do, part of it is looking for opportunities to find common ground, because that’s how stuff gets done.” (p284)

Why I chose it: I’ve read most (maybe all?) of Sen. Franken’s books, and this one called my name from the airport bookstore.

Review: If you like Al Franken, then you’ll like this book. If you don’t, you still might like this. However, if you are looking for nothing more than revolution against all members of the GOP, then you might find Sen. Franken’s pragmatism unforgivable.

Sen. Franken spends nearly half of the book sharing how he got to be a senator. He talks (briefly) about his days working at Saturday Night Live, but spends a lot of time talking about how he came to the idea of running for office, his first race for senate, and then the recount. Man, I forgot about that one.

As interesting and pithy as that half of the book is, the fascinating stuff comes in the second half, when he’s in the senate. Hearing his perspective on why he works with some of these people that those of us on the outside despise is … almost convincing. Of course, he acknowledges that he’s a white guy working in politics, but I think he doesn’t necessarily give enough credence to the fact that as a white guy, he has more wiggle room and is probably seen as less threatening to some Republicans than others.

At the same time, though, I appreciated reading his perspective on his job, and why he loves it, and what it really means to be a U.S. Senator. How you don’t always get your way. How you need to think about the people you represent (in his case, Minnesotans), but also about your own morals.

He started writing this book in earnest in November, and was working on it well into this year, to the point where he can talk about his experience with the Trump administration and his cabinet appointees. He’s as pissed as we are, and he uses the last couple of chapters to both encourage us all to fight back, and to tell the story of a young woman who represents all that is good in the US.

It’s an interesting look at our government that left me a little more hopeful.

Sunday

11

June 2017

0

COMMENTS

What I’m Reading – June 11, 2017

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Horrific Executive and Legislative Action

“When Shin Song Hyuk was 3 years old, an American couple in Detroit adopted him and moved him from South Korea to the United States. His new family changed his name to Adam, but they didn’t fill out the forms guaranteeing citizenship for international adoptees. This meant Adam was in effect an undocumented immigrant.” 41-year-old adoptee deported after 37 years in the U.S. (by Jay Caspian King for Vice News)

Racism

“It wasn’t long before the dregs of society—Fox News readers—came for Taylor, proving that they are exactly the vile, violent, white supremacist cowards that the Democratic leadership is sill trying to woo for the midterm elections and beyond. These are the people who don’t care that Trump is a white supremacist representing the White Nationalist Party in everything but name, because they, too, hate black and brown people.” Princeton Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor Cancels Public Appearances Amid Fox News-Fueled Death Threats (by Kirsten West Savali for The Root)

“The Quinault Indian Nation, headquartered in a tiny community of 840 on the edge of the Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington, has been reeling in the wake of what witnesses have described as a deliberate hit-and-run over the weekend that killed Smith-Kramer and injured his friend, Harvey Anderson, 19. Smith-Kramer, a father of two-year-old twins, had been celebrating his birthday at a Grays Harbor County campgrounds when the driver, who had been doing donuts in the parking lot, backed over him. Anderson told KING 5 that the driver hit reverse after the friends asked the driver to stop doing donuts, and Smith-Kramer tried to save Anderson by pushing him out of the way.” 20-Year-Old Quinault Father Killed by Hit-and-Run Was a “Basketball Hero,” Respected by Youth and Elders Alike (by Sydney Brownstone for The Stranger)

“But I won’t be watching the NFL this year. I can’t, in good conscience, support this league, with many of its pro-Trump owners, as it blacklists my friend and brother Colin Kaepernick for taking a silent, peaceful stance against injustice and police brutality in America. It’s disgusting and has absolutely nothing to do with football and everything to do with penalizing a brilliant young man for the principled stance he took last season.” KING: I’m boycotting the NFL because of its blatant bigotry and anti-blackness (by Shaun King for The Daily News)

“But Maher has a long history of racist, sexist, and grossly bigoted public comments. The audience, like Sasse, reacted with instant glee to the “joke” because it’s exactly what they expect from the Real Time host. He’s deeply Islamophobic. He once asked a Pakistani-British member of a popular boy band where he was during the Boston Bombing. He routinely denigrates the Quran, Muslims, and Islam—occasionally under the guise of a joke, but often in outright statements of naked bigotry.” Bill Maher has been a public racist for a long time. Here are the receipts. (by Emily Q. Hazzard for Think Progress)

Saturday

10

June 2017

0

COMMENTS

Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman

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Three Stars

Best for: People who enjoy pop culture analysis that is serious but not too serious.

In a nutshell: Film critic explores some of the top movies of the 1980s, focusing on what made them good and why we don’t see them anymore.

Line that sticks with me: “Nineties teen makeover scenes are all about stamping out a teenage girl’s awkwardness and unique personality, whereas the girls in the eighties teen movies celebrate those two qualities.” (p76)

Why I chose it: Book club!

Review: First, thank you everyone who voted for this as our CBR book club pick. It’s pretty much made for me: nonfiction, essays, humor, pop culture, written by a woman. Huzzah!

I haven’t read any of the other reviews of this so I might be repeating other folks, but I wanted to go into without any preconceptions. And overall, I enjoyed so much of it. I appreciate the author’s honesty about her feelings about the films, and the fact that she didn’t remove herself from the analysis. It’s apparent — and she acknowledges — that much of what she has to say is based o personal taste, yet she’s able to back up her assertions.

So instead of focusing on the good (and there is so much — especially her analysis of teenagers and teenage girls specifically, and the overall way these films tackle sexism), I wanted to share a couple of things that bothered me, and they are intertwined: the discussion of race (or lack thereof) throughout, and the Eddie Murphy chapter, where Ms. Freeman seems to put much of the discussion of race.

Ms. Freeman spends so much time providing good critical discussion about the depiction of women in film (ten of the eleven chapters, while not each focused on gender issues, at least touches on it), but she glosses over racism in nearly every other one. She does mention the issue in the chapter on Ghostbusters, and sort of makes an attempt and looking at it when talking about John Hughes, but mostly she seems to just be making excuses for filmmakers.

But any movie set in NYC that she discusses, for example, should at least be questioned if there aren’t any non-white characters (When Harry Met Sally … I’m looking at you. And I love you, but that’s a pretty white NYC). And sure, John Hughes may not be able to speak personally on the experience of a person of color, but perhaps he could seek to include at least a couple of non-white, non-stereotypes characters?

And then there’s the Eddie Murphy movies chapter. Ooof. Just not great. And I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about it, but it feels ironic to have nearly the entire discussion about race shoehorned into a single chapter. A chapter with the subheading “Race Can Be Transcended.” Oh Ms. Freeman, no. Just…no. You would have benefited from a sensitivity reader here (of course I’m assuming she didn’t have one, but I could be wrong). Or perhaps just a read over of this article.

Because of that, this otherwise four-star book gets three stars from me.

Tuesday

6

June 2017

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COMMENTS

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell by W. Kamau Bell

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Four Stars

Best for: Fans of decent memoir writing.

In a nutshell: Comedian and political commentator offers some insight into his perspective on life.

Line that sticks with me: “If there’s one thing that I learned from both of my parents, it is that you don’t need the paper to get the information.” (p33)

Why I chose it: The cover and subtitle (”Tales of a 6’4”, African-American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian”)

Review: I’m trying to figure out the best way to describe this book and my reaction to it. It was a nice, fun (thought not especially funny – which I think was the point), fairly quick read. It offered insight into Mr. Bell’s life. It tackled topics like race and sexism in a nuanced and clever way. But it didn’t leave me raving. It was like a perfectly fine dinner at a decent restaurant. Not going down in the top five meals (or books), but also not necessitating that I warn off others from experiencing it.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some rough parts – this isn’t a fluffy book. He tells some sweet stories, but also some challenging ones. Like his experiences being a Black star of a show dealing with heady topics like interviewing the KKK with a white showrunner who doesn’t really get it. Or his honesty in recognizing that some of his jokes, while spot on in the racial commentary category, were missing it with some thinly veiled (and unintentional) misogyny.

I also appreciate that, while I believe that books like this are often turned in pretty far in advance of their publication, I’m guessing he either edited or added some things to address the 2016 election.

Mr. Bell is a talented writer, and I enjoyed the stories he chose to tell. I would recommend this as a library book read for sure, or maybe pick it up when it’s available in paperback. I think if you enjoy memoirs, this is a good one to add to your list, especially if you want something refreshing and honest but not annoyingly self-deprecating.