ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Monthly Archive: April 2016

Saturday

30

April 2016

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COMMENTS

Real Artists Have Day Jobs by Sara Benincasa

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Five Stars

I’m a Benincasa fan girl.* I preordered this book as soon as I learned about the release date, and it did not disappoint. This lovely guide to being human has 52 chapters, one for each week of the year, if you wish – but I highly question anyone’s ability to put this book down.

The chapters vary in length, from very long and filled with a great story, to fewer than two pages. The topics are as deep as “Abuse is Fucking Complicated” and as pithy as “A Vagina is Not a Time Machine.” Ms. Benincasa extolls the virtues of going to the dentist (as someone who has seen a dentist every six months since she was a young child and who still has had three root canals, six crowns and TWENTY SIX CAVATIES, I fully support this chapter). She implores us to identify our blind spots and educate ourselves. She supports us getting some construction paper and glitter and going to town, pre-school-style.

I think the chapter I most took to heart was “Do It Anyway,” which features this glorious quote:

“Suck at stuff. Fuck up. Fall down. Get rejected. Get shut down. Get passed over. What the fuck else are you doing with you time?”

As someone who has recently started pitching revised chapters of her books as essays to awesome feminist websites, I can relate to getting rejected. But I’m also not going to quit, because what the fuck else am I going to do? Just stop writing? No way.

The subheading of this book is “and other awesome things they don’t teach you in school.” And it’s true, most of this we didn’t learn in school. But unlike some other good books that offer some perspective on how to be a grown up, this one feels applicable to everyone of any age. She’s not teaching you how to sign a lease (although that’s super important), she’s giving you something more. I highly recommend you head out and get this one.

*Now, for the fangirling, which I proudly claim. I love Ms. Benincasa’s writing. As you can read in my reviews of two of her other books, I first found out about her during the 2008 election season, when she provided some entertaining videos as Sarah Palin. “Agorafabulous!” explores her experience with mental illness. “Great” and “D.C. Trip” are young adult books (the former a reimagining of The Great Gatsby, and it fucking lives up to its name). I also was lucky enough to meet Ms. Benincasa at a talk and signing a couple of years ago, and since I had purchased her book on my e-reader, she signed my (at the time, empty) notebook that would eventually hold my notes for my book. Her words inspire me when I’m frustrated or unsure of how it’s all going to work out.

Monday

25

April 2016

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COMMENTS

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

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Five Stars

I started this yesterday. Read it at the gym. Couldn’t read much more because my in-laws were in town. Read it this morning at the gym, walking to and from an appointment, and then just finished it while eating dinner.

SO GOOD.

This is the second in a series that I happened to start reading about a week ago, not knowing that there would be three total books about these characters. But what’s so fascinating about this one is that the main folks from the first book in the series don’t appear until about 150 pages into this 430-page book. And I didn’t miss them. Didn’t care, because the story Mr. King was telling is masterful.

Basic premise: someone steals something of value, but ends up in prison for another crime and doesn’t get to enjoy that something. 30 years later, a teenager finds that something. It goes from there, taking turns I don’t expect.

I had a bit of a disagreement with my mother-in-law while she was here, because I hadn’t yet really seen how Mr. King’s books were horror as opposed to thriller. Sure, the entire set-up for this trilogy involves someone running a bunch of people down, but I didn’t feel like that was entirely graphically depicted. But who boy do I owe my mother-in-law an apology because holy shit does some truly gruesome stuff go down in this book. So, you know, if you think you have an aversion to the description of someone being run over being likened to the smashing of a gourd, I’m guessing this book isn’t for you.

It was totally for me, though.

Sunday

24

April 2016

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COMMENTS

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

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Three Stars

I originally posted a different review of this book. Two days after finishing it I’m still trying to gather my thoughts into a coherent commentary.

This book includes two separate letters – one to Mr. Baldwin’s nephew. That letter is quite short. The second letter takes up the vast majority of the book, and tells stories of Mr. Baldwin’s experiences in Harlem, in the church, and meeting with the leader of the National of Islam.

A book I read a couple of weeks ago, “Between the World and Me,” has been compared to this, as both authors are black men speaking about their place in the world, their struggles, and the way that people who see themselves as white act. I found myself having a stronger reaction to that book, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the way Mr. Coates writes. Or, perhaps, it’s just not appropriate for anyone – especially me – to consider these books in relation to each other because they come from different times.

I do think it’s a book everyone should read, though. And I’m looking forward to having a discussion about it at book club next month.

Friday

22

April 2016

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COMMENTS

I Know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself by Jen Kirkman

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Three Stars

This is comedian and writer Jen Kirkman’s second book, and it’s quite nice. It’s not a comedy book, but a collection of essays and stories about her life. She’s divorced, she’s childfree, and she has an unconventional job. Hopefully it goes without saying, but you don’t need to be any of those things to find her writing relatable and charming.

If you listen to her podcast “I Seem Fun,” you’ll find that some of the stories are familiar. But definitely not all, or even most. There is plenty here for those who are new to her work and those who have been following her for years. My favorite moments in the book are when she says things that I wish I could say but haven’t yet reached the point where I can. She’s not defensive to or offended by certain comments; she just wants folks to know that they are wrong in their comments about her and her life choices. It’s awesome and freeing.

If you haven’t read her first book, I recommend starting there. Then read this. Then start following her on Instagram and twitter (if you like to see her be brutally honest with condescending anti-feminists), and listen to her podcast. And if you’re really lucky (like I am), you can even catch her on her book tour.

Wednesday

20

April 2016

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COMMENTS

Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt

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Four Stars

I picked this book for my office’s Equity and Social Justice book club this month; my husband got it for Christmas and read it in about a day. Given the shit shows we’ve seen in a few state legislatures this year, it’s extremely relevant.

This book artfully tells the story of how Wyatt’s family supported him on his journey to become Nicole, a transgender girl. Wyatt and Jonas were identical twins assigned the gender male at birth, adopted as babies by Kelly and Wayne Maines. From early on, Wyatt identified with more stereotypically feminine things: he played with dolls and liked the color pink. Both kids had great imaginations and liked to tell stories; when Wyatt would dress up, he would choose to wear things like tutus and sparkles. It was clear before Wyatt even entered preschool that he was gender non-conforming.

From a supportive elementary school to an non-supportive middle school, through a move where they kept Nicole’s history a secret, to a lawsuit about appropriate accommodation. Through Kelly doing most of the heavy lifting of educating community members while Wayne tried to come to terms with the reality that he had a son and a daughter, not two sons, the family pushed on, finding that they at times had to fight just for Nicole to have the same basic access to things that all students have. Like a toilet.

Bathroom access is a very serious issue for transgender individuals. We’re seeing this bullshit in places like North Carolina, where they are couching their bigotry and hatred in the ‘protection of women.’ Those legislators should all have to read this book, which explains in really great detail how gender identity, sexual orientation, and genitals are all different things. Just because most of us find our gender matches the one assigned us at birth doesn’t mean that’s always the case, or that there is anything wrong with those where that isn’t the case. We all just REALLY need to stop being so concerned with what is in peoples’ pants.

 

Monday

18

April 2016

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COMMENTS

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

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Four Stars

I mentioned in my review of Mr. King’s On Writing that I’d never read one of his books. Well, at the Houston airport on Friday night, getting ready for the last leg of travel that would get me home from two weeks on vacation, I picked up Mr. Mercedes.

And so it begins. Because I guarantee that the next thing I’m doing after posting this review is reserving all of his books at the library.

Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Mercedes is the first novel in a trilogy. And thank goodness it’s the first; I’ve accidentally read the second novel in a series first before, and it SUCKS.

You know what doesn’t suck? This book. This book is fun. It’s disturbing (one male character has a VERY close relationship with his mother, for another. Also, you know, mass killing), and the antagonist is certainly unappealing, dropping the n-word fairly regularly. The premise is this: A man drives a car into a crowd, killing eight people, and is not caught. Det. Hodges, now retired, was on the case but wasn’t able to solve it. Six months post-retirement, he gets a letter from the killer. And so it goes.

I appreciated that this case wasn’t one that had been haunting the detective forever; it had really only been maybe a year (two at most) since the original crime was committed. So it was less ‘white whale’ and more ‘the one that got away.” There are interesting supporting characters, and plot twists that I didn’t see coming. Is that because I’m unfamiliar with Mr. King’s writing? Don’t know. Don’t care. I enjoyed the heck out of this book, and am actually pretty excited to pick up the second one from the library this week.

Saturday

16

April 2016

0

COMMENTS

On Writing by Stephen King

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Four Stars

I didn’t realize that Stephen King had written a book on writing until someone in a class mentioned how much she loved it. I picked it up and I definitely enjoyed it, and recommend it to those who are interested in writing.

It focuses mostly on fiction, but I think the tips he offers are relevant to folks like me, who are mostly all about that non-fiction writing. The book starts with a brief memoir of his life in writing, starting as a very young kid. It then moves into more practical suggestions, although it never veers into textbook terriroty. Finally, it ends with a chapter that discusses the time he was nearly killed by a distracted driver, and how he was able to write as he recovered.

I like a lot of his suggestions about time management, and about what it takes to be a competent writer. He’s very realistic in his assessment that you can’t make a good writer great, and you can’t make a bad writer competent, but you can make a competent writer good.

One thing I realized as I finished this book is that it was the first Stephen King book I’d ever read. I’ve seen the Shining and Shawshank Redemption, but never read a word of his fiction. So at the airport yesterday I picked up one of his novels. Guys, I don’t know if you know, but this King guy can write.

Saturday

16

April 2016

0

COMMENTS

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Five Stars

This book was not written for me, or other people that society sees (or who see themselves) as white. This is a letter from a black man in the US to a black son in the US. It is full of harsh truths that a lot of people who aren’t black don’t want to read. It doesn’t end on some false note of hope. It’s one man’s truth that he is choosing to share with another person, a man who is generous enough to allow the rest of us a chance to read it.

Racism is part of the history of the US, but it is also a part of the present in the US. A big part. It’s present in the neighborhoods that are segregated, the neighborhoods that are gentrifying. It’s present in our criminal justice system, and our school systems. It is everywhere. Some of us, however, are at times able to pretend it isn’t present because we aren’t the ones being stopped and frisked, or shot when seeking help after a car accident, or strangled when selling cigarettes.

I don’t think a review of this book – especially by someone who the book is not for – is really appropriate. I think the best I can do is suggest that everyone read it. Then read it again.

Saturday

16

April 2016

0

COMMENTS

All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior

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Five Stars

Parenthood

I’m working on a book right now about how those of us without children can relate to our friends with kids. I don’t have kids and I won’t be having kids, so most of what I know about kids comes from watching my friends raising their own.

But I live in the world, and I see so much out there about the best ways to parent. It seems overwhelming, but it also seems to almost always be focused on what the parents do and how that impacts the children. Other than the occasional “are parents happier than non-parents?” studies, nothing (until now) has focused on what parenting does to the parents.

This book is a fascinating treasure trove for those of us without kids. Ms. Senior (a parent herself) spent time with parents, read loads of studies, and consulted with the experts before putting together this long but extremely quick read. She covers autonomy, marriage, the joys and challenges of raising small children, the (new?) trend of scheduling and planning all of a child’s free time, and the special hell that is adolescence.

One thing I appreciated from this book is that (with one tiny, and likely unintentional exception) Ms. Senior doesn’t spend time comparing parents to non-parents in any way that suggests one life choice is better than the other.  I also liked that Ms. Senior was also very straightforward about the limitations of this book – it does not address very poor or very rich families; it is focused on studying middle class families.

Another great component of this book is Ms. Senior’s way of weaving the history of parenthood into the narrative. So many things that seem ‘common sense’ or ‘parental intuition’ are pretty new to parenthood! But the best parts are the families she interviews and how she includes their stories. She does this seamlessly without interrupting the flow of the book.

 Obviously as someone without kids I can’t speak to whether parents themselves will enjoy this book. They might find it hits way too close to home, they might angrily disagree, or they might find relief in knowing their experiences are not unique. But I’d love to hear a parent’s perspective on this one!

Saturday

16

April 2016

0

COMMENTS

You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Four StarsYouAreHereSo clearly I haven’t totally taken to heart the teachings of this book, as I’m currently writing this review in a loud Starbucks with Grey’s Anatomy playing on Hulu in the background.

This delightful, brief book on how to really be present is written by Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, who you may have heard of before. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive introduction to Buddhism; instead it provides guidance on ways to find the happiness in life. Ways to be more present in our lives.

There are so many parts of this book that really spoke to me, and that I’m trying to take to heart. But I feel like this book can have such individual impacts on folks that pulling out any one quote won’t do it justice. If you’re looking for ways to be more present in your life, and you’re open to a spiritual approach, I think that this could be a good place to start.