Book – It’s pretty much a guarantee; if you put a kitten on a book’s cover I’m at least going to pick it up for a closer look. And although Samantha Irby’s cat (Helen Keller, the world’s angriest rescue) is largely a secondary character in We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, I was definitely not disappointed.
Irby’s writing is in turn hilarious, sexually explicit, vulgar, moving, emotional, and definitely not for the faint of heart. Irby, who also blogs under the title ‘bitches gotta eat’ explores both the anecdotal and the deeply personal, always with refreshing candor and wit. Essays in her second book cover everything from her Bachelorette application (she’s 35 but could pass for 60 if she stays up all night) to growing up with an alcoholic parent (who once punched her in the face for doing the dishes wrong). It’s also wryly—and sometimes laugh out loud—funny and feels more like conversing with a dear friend than reading a stranger’s inner thoughts.
Irby grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, so local readers will find much of her experiences familiar and relatable. Her essays are loosely interconnected, making this an easy book to pick up and put down at your leisure. Anyone looking for a funny and emotional memoir that is nevertheless easy to read should look no further.
Book – If you are a person who lives on the Internet, you probably know who Zoë Quinn is – or at least you know the movement that sprung up after her ex-boyfriend posted a long, defamatory screed about her online, and then grew into an online harassment machine. Even if you don’t, though, you’ve seen some of its effects in the rise of online hatred, the never-ending stream of YouTube-star scandals, and the recent death of a man in Kansas by “swatting” – the practice of calling in a fake report to a police department that will result in a SWAT team being sent out.
Quinn’s book is part memoir, part guide to this environment of a new kind of harassment, one that disproportionately targets women, people of color, and other minorities, and which police and the legal system are woefully unprepared to cope with. She describes how she survived the initial onslaught, and the barrage of harassment and privacy violations she continues to struggle with, and how she founded an organization to help other victims do the same. She also offers some valuable information on how to protect yourself from a similar harassment campaign (without “just getting offline”). But even if you’re not concerned about attacks from the Internet, this is a valuable book to read. Internet culture is a part of our culture now, and we all should be aware of the ways it can go horribly wrong. (Also, Quinn has a great sense of humor. Seriously, just read the chapter titles.)
Book – Sh*t My Dad Says is the hilarious, wonderful memoir detailing the quirky relationship between author Justin Halpern and his father. As the title implies, readers will quickly discover the foul mouth of Justin’s always blunt, yet caring dad. The memoir began online as a Twitter page titled “Sh*t My Dad Says,” which featured all the many quotes of Justin’s beloved dad. All of Justin’s friends that his Dad’s quotes were hilarious and it soon became clear that the internet loved him too. The Twitter account quickly accrued a mass following with news stations requesting interviews with the writer and the man of the hour himself.
Justin is a very relatable narrator, chronicling life after college, moving back home, and trying to survive in the chaos of adultdom. The introduction starts with Justin’s longtime girlfriend breaking up with him, the catalyst that causes him to seek refuge at home while searching for new life prospects. The life lessons his father instills upon him as a child, adolescent, and adult are often filled with-tough love, and are downright brutal.
Each chapter is titled with a different theme/life lesson and relevant Dad quote.
Justin traces stories of his childhood with his family and details the lessons he learned from his father. Many of these stories are experiences that everyone shares, though of course with the special touch of Justin’s father.
The humor reminded me of author Jack Gantos, specifically his series featuring a young man named Jack Henry. Gantos’ writing is full of crude, weird humor, very similar to Justin’s novel.
Book – It started with a bed bug infestation. Susannah Cahalan was convinced that they had overtaken her apartment, even though the exterminator could not confirm a single insect. Otherwise, things were going well. At just 24, her career as a reporter was advancing at the New York Post, she had a great boyfriend, and supportive parents. But suddenly, she began developing mysterious symptoms and started letting things slip at her job. She started experiencing memory loss, paranoia, and catatonia. She was hospitalized for a month at a great expense, seeing numerous specialists, going through a barrage of tests, and given inconclusive diagnoses.
She recounts all of this for us in this fascinating memoir. Her skill as a journalist is apparent in her writing, because she has almost no recollection at all what she experienced right before and during her hospitalization. She compiled her engaging account of events from stories from her colleagues, friends, family, and medical records. Her severe psychosis was also documented in a journal that her parents kept.
One extraordinary doctor, Souhel Najjar finally determined that she had a very rare autoimmune disease called anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis. Her brain was on fire. Luckily, it was treatable and Susannah slowly recovered and was back at work within a year.
The author compares her symptoms to what must have appeared through history as demonic possession and wonders how many suffered and were persecuted for the same disease.
A great page turning medical thriller.
Book–Fans of the hit HGTV show Fixer Upper, which focuses on quickly renovating beat-up homes in Waco, Texas to turn a profit and give families their dream home, will be no stranger to Chip and Joanna Gaines, the down-to-earth husband and wife team at the heart of the show. The Magnolia Story traces Chip and Jo’s origins from their parents’ childhoods all the way to the present at their iconic farmhouse, dwelling on their great rapport with and respect for one another along the way. The Gaines come off as truly humble and grateful for the chance to improve Waco and help their family and employees through the opportunities afforded by the show.
I’m by no means a Fixer Upper superfan myself, so I can attest that there is plenty to enjoy here even for those who have seen only a few episodes of the show. I highly recommend the audio book version narrated by Chip and Joanna, which feels like a folksy conversation between the two and showcases their different versions of their shared story. While occasionally a little repetitive and with abrupt jumps in chronology, this fun, squeaky-clean, and meandering memoir will keep you entertained (and make you wish the show was still on Netflix).
Book–Dr. Tweedy, currently an assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University, shares his experiences in this roughly chronological memoir that explores his identity as a black man and how it intersects with his identity as a doctor. He explores his discomfort with the fact that, for so many illnesses, simply being black is a major risk factor, and he is one of only a handful of black students in his medical program. He observes half-seriously that “being black can be bad for your health.” To me, the most interesting parts of the book are in the middle, where he tells various anecdotes about his patients’ reactions to him as a doctor during his residency and observes the inequalities in care received by the rich and the poor, who are disproportionately black. During his education, Tweedy briefly serves as a doctor at a pop-up clinic in a poor, rural area, prescribing whatever medicines his patients can afford and doing his best to make notes for whichever doctor will see them next time. He contrasts this type of patient-doctor relationship to that of his more affluent patients with health insurance, who are able to see the same primary care doctor each visit and receive drugs based on efficacy rather than affordability.
Tweedy makes for an engaging and thoughtful narrator. His account is modest and he remains cognizant of his own biases, having grown up in a middle class household shielded from the disadvantages suffered by many of his patients. If you enjoy Black Man in a White Coat, try Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, another examination of what it means to be a black man in America.
Book – Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a 911 operator, to be on the receiving end of any number of emergencies and daily life struggles, never quite knowing what that next phone call will bring? Needing to respond clearly, quickly, without hesitation. I can’t imagine the pressure and anxiety of worrying whether you helped someone, and especially if your help came too late.
Caroline Burau shares her experiences working as an emergency dispatch operator in Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat. While weaving in details from her past and personal life, Caroline composes a relatively chronological account of her work as a 911 dispatcher. Reading the memoir, it feels as if we the readers are actually shadowing the author through her daily work. Because of this writing approach, it’s easy to picture the dispatch center’s environment. We see the inner workings of the center, and watch Caroline’s as she first becomes an operator through her decision to leave the job. I appreciated that the author doesn’t try to romanticize her career as a dispatcher. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about this job is “Wow! That must be really exciting and she must have a lot of crazy stories!” Which isn’t true, as Caroline points out. More often than not it is not emergencies that come through the phones, but day to day struggles, claims of stolen items, neighbor complaints…etc.
Caroline is honest and to the point, detailing the highs and lows of the job, it’s impact on her life, and through it all, her desire to help people. Her writing style is informative, but not really humorous as most memoirists I tend to read. When we are not learning about her career, readers gain insight into Caroline’s own personal thoughts/mind, encountering her inner demons, self-doubt, and desire to make a difference.
Book – Hi Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves by Kat Kinsman is an exploration of anxiety and its effect on one woman’s life. In 2014, Kat went public about having General Anxiety Disorder, publishing a blog post on CNN.com titled “Living With Anxiety, Searching For Joy“. The reception following the publication was incredible; she received an overwhelming response from readers overjoyed to hear a voice that resonated so much with their own lives.
I have to mention first how much I love the cover art of this book; I’m always a sucker for cute animals, (especially bunnies) and I snatched this off the shelf without a second thought. It also seems appropriate given the subject matter–rabbits are by nature skittish, nervous bundles of fluff, in my opinion a perfect mascot for anxiety.
Kat Kinsman is a funny, relatable author who does an amazing job showing what life is like for someone living with anxiety. She delves into all aspects of her life in a format that switches between chronological chapters, and sections titled irrational fear. The irrational fear segments detail specific activities and instances that incite anxiety in Kat, including but not limited to: “Seeing the doctor,” “Having No way Out,” and “Driving”. My favorite thing about this book is Kat’s focus on personal relationships–the role anxiety plays in her relationships with others, and specifically its impact on the pursuance of romantic relationships. Embarking on romantic endeavors is difficult enough without anxiety and I found that Kat’s personal narrative of love and loss really resonated with me.
It’s easy to feel a connection to Kat’s words thanks to the intimate and honest nature of her writing. Whether or not a reader struggles with a mental disorder, I think anyone can find a connection with some aspect of Kat’s experiences.
Book – Before reading this memoir, I was only vaguely aware of the existence of Jazz Jennings. I remembered a picture book titled I Am Jazz, featuring a transgender young girl and was intrigued to read a more in depth story of that little girls’ life and experiences growing up.
Being Jazz: My Life As a (Transgender) Teen chronicles author Jazz Jennings experiences growing up as a transgender girl. Jazz’s story was initially featured on 20/20 with Barbara Walters at a time when there was little information or public support for transgender individuals. She would continue to shine in the public spotlight throughout her youth through countless interviews, her personal youtube channel, a reality television show on TLC, a documentary, and a children’s picture book. One of the youngest and most prominent voices in the discussion of gender identity, Jazz shares her trials and tribulations from childhood to young adult in this coming of age memoir about growing up transgender.
Many reviewers were dissatisfied with the writing in this memoir–wanting a more detailed, mature, and eloquent writing style, rather than the words of a fifteen year old teenager. For the most part, I actually found Jazz’s voice to be surprisingly refreshing and well-worded. I felt that her writing was very easy to read, and understandable, especially for the targeted audience: teens and young adults.
As a whole, I really enjoyed this memoir. It was easy to follow, intriguing, and has a unique perspective. It’s remarkable that Jazz was aware of being transgender–before even fully realizing what that word meant–at such a young age and her memoir makes me curious to read the stories of other transgender youth.
To learn more about the experiences of other transgender youth, check out: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin.
Books – It’s summertime, and what better time to read about people dying alone in the wilderness. Right? No? Just me then. I’m not a camping person, and maybe that’s why I’ve always been fascinated by stories of outdoors adventures going horribly wrong. It’s safely scary: while it’s real, I can be comfortably certain that I will never starve to death in the Alaskan wilderness, because there is no way I would be there in the first place.
But somehow I’d never read Jon Krakauer’s classic Into the Wild, about Chris McCandless, a young man who trekked across the country alone, then survived more than a hundred days in central Alaska, on his own with virtually no supplies other than what he could hunt or gather, before succumbing to the elements (and, Krakauer argues, some toxic potato seeds). I knew I had to read it, though, when I saw that Chris’s sister, Carine McCandless, had written her own memoir, The Wild Truth.
A lot of people, after reading Into the Wild or seeing the movie based on the book, thought of Chris as an irresponsible, immature kid, who never thought about what his disappearance would do to his family. Really, Carine says, their parents were physically and emotionally abusive, and Chris had tried over and over again to reconcile with them before cutting them out of his life completely just before embarking on his fatal trip – a hard, painful separation that Carine herself took decades later. She’d asked Krakauer not to write the truth about their parents in his book, hoping then that her relationship with them could still be saved. The two books together are a powerful story about how our families shape our relationships with ourselves and the rest of the world, and the lengths people will go to when they need to escape that influence.