The Haters by Jesse Andrews

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 8.11.45 AMMy boyfriend and I recently took a big step… we now share digital libraries! (Just funny to me? Okay…) Anyway, The Haters by Jesse Andrews is a book that I definitely wouldn’t have picked up on my own, but after the boyfriend’s prompting and it sitting in my e-reader waiting for me, it I wound up reading it.

Andrews is the author of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which I enjoyed enough, but liked the movie and the ability to visualize the story quite a bit more. From the two books I’ve read by Andrews, he seems to specialize in books about slightly awkward teenage boys and their tangled webs of friendship. I gotta say, in a world where we often discount boys’ emotions and downplay the meaningfulness in their friendships, I think these are great stories to be represented in today’s YA scene. The Haters is a similar note to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, but in a different key. While the other novel is about friends obsessed with movies and film making, The Haters is about friends obsessed with music and ~jazz~. 

The trio meets at a jazz camp (well… two of them were friends before the camp) and promptly form their friendship and a band. What follows is a very wild and improbable adventure as they escape from band camp, travel around the country, and try to play shows, despite not actually being good performers. I found the novel a bit annoying for the first 30 pages or so, but I enjoyed much more as it progressed. If you’re looking for a quick, funny YA read about the tumultuousness of teenage friendship and the strange path it can take when no adults are present, pick up The Haters by Jesse Andrews. 

Publication Date: 5 April 2016 by Amulet BooksFormat: E-book.

Author: Jesse Andrews web/@twitter

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No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 12.47.31 PMThis slim little collection, by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, gave me plenty to ruminate upon while I was reading. Despite it’s dainty size, this book will take a bit to read because it incites long moments of reflection that I wanted to give myself time to ponder before moving along to another section.

Despite the full title (No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering) conveying that this is a book to read post a major moment of suffering, I picked this book up out of the blue and still benefited from reading it immensely. Much of the book focuses on cultivating happiness and redefining your interpretation of happiness to orient yourself to finding happiness in places you may not have before reading. There are many passages about how many people do not give themselves the time and space to consider their unhappy emotions and what may be at the root of those emotions, followed by suggested strategies for exploring and working through those “hidden” emotions. Some sections detail how our body holds suffering and happiness and I found myself writing a note to myself to “unclench my jaw” every 5 pages or so (something I need to remind myself even when typing up this blog!).

The book closes with a series of breathing exercises and mantras that I wish had been interspersed throughout the rest of No Mud, No Lotus instead of squished together at the end. I think the idea is that the reader is not ready for the exercises without fully understanding the meaning behind the messages, but I think sprinkling them throughout would have elevated the reading experience for me. This will definitely be a book I return to again, especially when I’m struggling to balance finding some bright spots in my life with the monotony of the every day.

Publication Date: December 2014 by Parallax PressFormat: Paperback.

Author: Thich Nhat Hanh @twitter/@facebook/Foundation/Monastic Community

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

leaninAfter learning that I would be dashing to Silicon Valley for the summer, I snatched up Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (and co-writer Nell Scovell) to get a taste of her experience being one of the most powerful people at one of the most powerful companies in the area (she’s the Chief Operation Officer at Facebook).

Lean In is a slight combination of memoir, self help, and description of Silicon Valley. The parts I enjoyed most about the book revolved around Sandberg’s weaving in research findings about the workplace with real anecdotes. As a woman currently in tech, who often doubts herself (hello imposter syndrome, my old friend), reading about these studies were empowering. Many of the studies showed how women repeatedly disadvantage themselves by their mistaken beliefs about their own contributions (aka not believing that your contributions are worthy of a seat at the table) and their colleague’s incorrect beliefs (based on stigma, bias, etc.).

While I did enjoy most of the book, there were some caveats, most of which Sandberg highlights herself. A lot of her advice is specific to women who are 1)  partnered to supportive humans who empower them and share household responsibilities, 2) make an amount of money at their occupations that exceeds the costs of childcare, and 3) are well educated. This book is rooted in an ideology of “this is how I did it and you can too!” which is fundamentally false for many women who are or have been in the “workforce.” While Sandberg easily ties her success to her individual situation, that situation does not apply to everyone and there are many ways to get to a similar position to Sandberg’s other than her exact path described within the book.

All in all, I learned a bit, felt empowered, and wanted to send a hearty thanks to all of the powerful women in my life who have lifted me up in so many ways, all whilst encouraging me to do the same one day. That said, I was very much the target audience for a book like this and I could imagine it not being received as well by other readers.

Publication Date: 11 March 2013 by KnopfFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Sheryl Sandberg Lean In Organization/facebook/instagram

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

image1 (1)For the first 40 pages or so of this novel, I found myself laughing often and thinking “I love this book!” but once I moved deeper into Dear Committee Members, it became increasing redundant. The book is written as a series of letters of recommendation from a tenured professor, sitting in an English department that has lost most of its funding and slowly losing support for most of its students. All of the faculty seem on the cusp of fleeing or trying to seize power. The narrator’s letters are centered around fellow faculty, previous and current students, and other academic staffers, with whom the letter writer has had romantic entanglements that are described with many details in his letters.

This book will probably only be appealing to graduate students and those who work in university systems as it lampoons many of the archaic and slightly toxic rituals and norms within academia. The jokes that made me laugh the most were strongly tied back to academia insider woes, so I don’t think this one-note book will be worth it to those outside of this strange world.

Additionally, the book includes a rather jarring suicide toward the end of the book, which the reader will likely be unprepared for since they’re only reading things from the narrator’s letters of recommendations who is also caught off guard by one of the characters dying by suicide. I did not like the inclusion of this plot point and think it could have been treated more delicately if the author thought it was essential to include.

Overall, I liked this book for 40 pages, then wished it was over, and strongly felt that the ending was unnecessary. Dear Committee Members and the world it represents further contributed to my very messy feelings about academia as a current graduate student and perhaps will be a source of solace for others in this world.

Publiation Date: 19 August 2014 by DoubledayFormat: Paperback.

Author: Julie Schumacher web

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 12.23.34 PMThis book was delightful! I picked up this book with the intention of leveraging it into some conversations with my dear 12 year old cousin. Not only did it successfully allow us to have some really great conversations together (we talked at length about how it’s unfair that straight people don’t have to come out as straight, a topic mentioned throughout the book), it was a fantastic and fun book to read!

Simon, the main character, is comfortable with and certain of his sexuality (a welcome alternanarrative to a lot of YA books; questioning is definitely important to represent, but I liked getting the chance to read something different), but doesn’t feel compelled to share his romantic preference with others. That is, until he’s outed at school. After writing a series of “anonymous” emails to another high schooler who is also attracted to their same sex, his identity is leaked after someone stumbles upon his emails via an unlocked public computer disaster. Simon navigates being thrust into being out, whilst dealing with other typical teenage problems. 

While the main story is a great read, the backdrop is also fantastic. Simon and his friends quirkily quip amongst each other, leading to many laughs from me. His friends also spend ample time in a Waffle House, one of my favorite hangs while a high schooler, so I found those bits particularly enjoyable.

If you’re looking for a quick, enjoyable read full of interesting and fun characters, this book is for you! It’s also a great way touchstone to use when talking to young people about certain experiences and I thoroughly recommend it for those purposes too! I still haven’t seen the movie that is based upon the book (and has received many glowing reviews), but it’s on my to do list!

Publication Date: 7 April 2015 by Penguin. Format: Paperback.

Author: Becky Albertalli web/@twitter/@instagram/@facebook

Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang

IMG_8788A lovely friend mailed me this book when she found out that I would be moving to and working in Silicon Valley — and Brotopia (justifiably) terrified me. Emily Chang, a journalist and newscaster for Bloomberg, dives into the murky waters that is the oft-times described “boys’ clubs” of Silicon Valley. Chang brilliantly uses her connections as a reporter to land interviews (both on the record and off) with lots of powerful people within Silicon Valley. The author presents a history of Silicon Valley and the many ways that sexism and misogyny have been steeped into its being since its creation. By weaving together research, articles, and interviews with those involved, the reader will feel better able to understand the reality of the tech industry’s home. Not only does Chang deftly describe the history and current state of Silicon Valley (including its e(xc)lusive sex parties), she offers solutions for change, based on research and her impressions as someone who has been thoroughly immersed in exploring these issues for years. While pieces of Brotopia left me feeling disheartened, Chang’s final tone made me feel hopeful for change. 

This was an essential read for me, coming into Silicon Valley without knowing much about its roots, and also motivated me to prepare myself with resources and knowledge that would hopefully help me succeed in this environment. The book is accessible, well researched, and offers actionable suggestions for change. If you’re interested in understanding the context of Silicon Valley, I absolutely recommend this book. 

Publication Date: 6 February 2018 by PortfolioFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Emily Chang @twitter/web/TV show/Bloomberg

Nobody Cares by Anne T. Donahue

IMG_8739After subscribing to and thoroughly enjoying Anne T. Donahue’s newsletter That’s What She Said for the past couple of years, I was eager to get my hands on an ARC of her debut collection Nobody Cares. The book, which is a collection of her essays, reads like a series of her funny and heartfelt newsletters one after the other. Donahue’s newsletter typically covers navigating her own life and pop culture moments in today’s world as a young 30-something, but her essays in Nobody Cares primarily discuss her earlier years. Her early years are rife with being a moody adolescent and stories of her 20s where she cared a lot about appearances and who was “cool” and who was definitely not. While I really enjoy reading Donahue’s perspective now, I wasn’t as keen on stories from previous stages of her life. That said, some of the essays were perfection; the ones I enjoyed most were entitled “Anxiety, You Lying Bitch,” “The Least Interesting Thing,” and “While in the Awful.” If you wants some bite sized chunks of Donahue to get a flavor of her style before her books is released, check out her newsletter now!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from ECW Press via email. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by ECW Press.

Publication Date: 18 September 2018 by ECW PressFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Anne T. Donahue web/@twitter/@instagram/newsletter