Category Archives: memoir

Hunger by Roxane Gay

hungerLike much of the literary world, I am obsessed with Roxane Gay and I LOVED her collection of essays that blended memoir, popular culture, and commentary on society, Bad FeministHunger: A Memoir of (My) Body dives more deeply into some of the pieces of Gay’s story that she alluded to within Bad Feminist.

The composition of this collection was different than a memoir I’ve read before: the chapters vary in length, some only a page long, as if they’re all of the thoughts Gay had while conceiving this book, some jotted in the notes app on her phone so as not to forget and then left in their brief form. Other short pieces signify emotions that simply have too much underneath them to be explored further.

This book is heavy and you should take your time with reading it and give yourself the space to unpack the things that have happened and persisted in Gay’s life. Her story will likely make you reflect upon your own life stories and you should give yourself the time to do so. Within Hunger, Gay details her trauma associated with a gang rape, which had been lightly brushed upon in Bad Feminist, how fat bodies often have trauma and stories underneath that people dismiss or assume the bodies are just in poor health out of choice, her challenges with romantic and sexual relationships post-trauma, with her body, and with her geographic location, and the ways that people assume large bodies are always indicative of poor health.

Hunger forced me to challenge some assumptions I didn’t even know I had about how people move through the world and some of the things people who are large are forced to consider that I simply take for granted (i.e., will the chairs at this restaurant be compatible and provide necessary support to my body?). While Hunger definitely made me aware of things I had previously been oblivious to, it’s also important to remember that the book is an account of one person’s experiences with a large, fat body and it shouldn’t be taken as how everyone with these bodies feels or what they want, an important point that Gay emphasizes throughout her work.

Speaking of her work, I haven’t read any of Gay’s fiction pieces yet, but maybe I should add Difficult Women to my 2018 reading list? Hunger makes me want to be a Roxane Gay completionist, something that I feel like is rarer and rarer for me to even consider pursuing while staring at my ever mounting To Read pile, but Gay’s writing encourages me to do so. If you haven’t read one of her works yet, pick up Hunger or Bad Feminist the next time you see them at a store or your local library!

As an aside, this anecdote is tangentially related to the book Hunger, but I’m going to share anyway. Last year, I was inspired by the podcast The Cooler to start a “long-distance book club” with a bestie. The idea revolves around you reading a book on your own, underlining your favorite bits that resonate with you, and then passing along the book to a friend who can reflect on your bits, add their own bits, and give you specific things to talk about when you catch up on the phone since sometimes long distance besties can get in the rut of not really talking about their lives. While I do this with my faraway friends, I also do it with two of my nearby friends wherein we read the book back-to-back and then have a coffee/beer date where we talk about the book, like a two person book club where you only have to buy one copy of the book. There’s something so intimate in seeing what lines specifically connect with a friend and it can be very revealing, especially with a book like Hunger. My friend and I shared Hunger and it ended up being a nice way to talk about very sensitive and personal topics without having to put all of the cards on the table. I do this with a lot of books, but the experience of sharing Hunger will always be a poignant memory for me. 

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Not Quite a Genius by Nate Dern

notquiteageniusNate Dern, a comedian who has spent time at UCB and Funny or Die, wrote this compilation that is a blend of memoir and fictional, sometimes absurdist, pieces. I’m not gonna lie, it took me a while to warm up to this collection, in the same way it takes an audience member to warm up to a stand up comedian spewing jokes on a stage. Before stumbling across this book, I had never heard of Nate Dern and wasn’t familiar with any of his comedy bits. This also meant that his humor wasn’t easy for me to access initially because I was completely unfamiliar with his style. Reading Not Quite a Genius was the opposite of my experience reading Simon Rich’s The Last Girlfriend on Earth, a collection that is somewhat similar in style, but from a writer I was familiar with and thus was more easily able to dive into his kookier bits that may have been inaccessible otherwise. In the same way that an audience member must be warmed up at a comedy gig, it took me a few chapters to habituate to the writer’s humor and style, but once I did, I laughed to myself multiple times.  

For me, the collection picked up about a third of the way through… or that was how many pages it took to successfully warm me up to Dern’s humor. I thought the funniest bits were when Dern shifted more into humorous memoir territory (the first chapter is brilliant as he details his gawky young adult years). While the fictional bits were less my speed, I giggled several times while reading the “Bruce Lee Novelty Plate” and “How Many Farts Measure a Life” chapters.

That said, some of the funny bits just didn’t come across for me in print at all. In my head, I could imagine the fictional scenarios having more ~umph~ if I were hearing them performed live, but I experienced a disconnect while I was reading (specifically the chapter “I Like All Types of Music and My Sense of Humor Is So Random”). That’s the thing about these types of compilations: while this chapter was a swing and a miss in print for me, it might be a grand slam for a different reader. For any reader seeking a comedic collection, there will be a piece in Not Quite a Genius that is a grand slam for you. If you’re already a fan of Dern’s comedy, you’ll probably witness several grand slams. 

Not Quite a Genius will be released at physical and digital U.S. bookstores on August 8, 2017! 

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

How to Fall in Love with Anyone by Mandy Len Catron

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 10.12.50 AMI had this book for a week and recommended it to more than 10 people before I had even finished it, which I think should be enough to convince you to add it to your To-Read list immediately! I knew about Mandy Len Catron from her 2015 viral piece in the “Modern Love” section of The New York Times. I loved the article — I forced my friends to do the first chunk of the 36 questions with each other during the first night of a trip when they all met for the first time. While Catron’s pieces for the Times are fantastic, this book is something else. It’s a better version of Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance and a more personal version of Moira Weigel’s Labor of Love
How to Fall in Love with Anyone details how the author has mythologized her parents’ and grandparents’ love stories and the effect that has had upon her own conceptualization and approaches to romantic love. She spends a chapter detailing the cultural scripts that Western culture passes down about love through romantic comedies or through what we’re told embodies a “good relationship”, who even “deserves” a “good relationship,” and discusses that while we’re told what the best end product is, we aren’t often taught about how to love others well. In fact, I think this book could be more aptly titled How to Love Better, in order to better convey its contents and to be more alluring than the current title. The book made me think a lot about how we could all be better to each other, if we all decided to value loving better more often. 
The author devotes multiple chapters to the love stories of her family, all situated within Appalachia, and details how the relationships allowed individuals to move beyond the circumstances they inherited. She contrasts these love stories with her own ten year relationship, which made me feel kind of queasy, simply because I identified with spending too much time in a relationship that slowly fizzled, unbeknownst to the couple, until its pulse flatlined.
Eventually the book shifts into describing the relationships Catron enters after her first big relationship, including the one detailed in her viral Modern Romance piece. This reminds me of something I made my boyfriend do on one of our first dates, where we played a question asking game that encourage medium-to-deep conversations instead of the polite, small talk that often occurs. I don’t remember the questions or the answers now, but I do remember the feeling of sharing a deeper version of myself than is traditionally expected on these early dates when I would try to present the shiniest version of myself. This book magically captures all of those feelings that I’ve felt and I loved LOVED loved reading while Catron ruminated on love. 
That was easy to do because Catron spins many pretty phrases, as you’ll see in the quotes that I’ve included at the end of my post. While I’m loaning this book out to a few friends (to underline their own favorite quotes), I’ve told them all that I want this book to be on my forever bookshelf (aka the highest honor I can bestow upon a book) so it absolutely must be returned to me.
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t include Catron’s latest piece for “Modern Love,” though she alludes to some of the content in the book. I’ve linked to it because I feel like it’s worth reading too. Read all of her things — each of them are special and wonderful and will sift through your mind for days. 
“I think of the four of us as subject to the same flash flood, all senselessly bailing water into our own boats in hopes the others might end up on dry land.” (p. 122)
“Our views of love — what we want from it, what we think it should feel like — are rooted in the context of our lives.” (p. 72)
“But now I understand that there are always two breakups: the public one and the private one. Both are real, but one is sensible and the other is ugly. Too ugly to share in cafés. Too ugly, I sometimes think, to even write.” (p. 134)
“I didn’t know what was real and what was scripted.” (p. 16)
“Nothing was funny, really, but we couldn’t stop laughing the manic laughter of people who know it will be a while before they hear themselves laugh again.” (p. 40)
Disclaimer: I was provided with physical and digital copies of this book for free from Simon & Schuster. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Simon & Schuster.

The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich

lastgirlfriendThis was my first dive into the words of Simon Rich, despite consistently ranking the show he created (that is based on this collection), Man Seeking Woman, as one of my top five favorite TV shows. This is a collection of humorous, laugh-out-loud stories that largely revolve around heterosexual relationships from the perspective of a dorky man in his 20s/30s.

Because I knew I loved the tone of Man Seeking Woman, the absurdist comedy featured in this book was something I was familiar with and enjoyed. A lot of the storylines for the show were lifted from this collection, which makes some of the particularly absurd examples easier to visualize in my brain since I had already seen them depicted in the show.

Within the first 6 pages of the collection, I had already laughed out loud three times. The jokes I laughed the most at were New York situational humor though, so they may not be as funny to someone who hasn’t spent a lot of time in the city, but oof did I love them.

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro

imjustaperson

I love Tig Notaro, which might just be because her mom died and she talks about it all of the time. It greatly influenced who she is and I relate to that. I always wonder if my obsession with my own mother’s death is because I was so young when it happened, but I don’t think that’s the case after reading Notaro’s account of losing her mother during middle adulthood. Loss of loved ones will always profoundly affect me because I love so much and I am a culmination of those I love and who love me, something that Notaro shares in her memoir about her own life. 

Notaro had a hell of a two years: she got diagnosed with a rare, potentially fatal infection, her mother died suddenly, she and her girlfriend broke up, she learned she had breast cancer, she experienced fertility issues, and so much more. This book details those experiences and expounds upon Tig’s wonderings about life, ties to family and friendship, and her place in the comedy and general world. It’s a pretty quick read, but I found myself pausing and ruminating frequently while reading. One memorable reflection was inspired by this quote,

“So my answer is no, I don’t have a need for my mother to ‘see me now.’ I just have the desire to see my mother again.” 

If you’re already a Tig Notaro fan, you won’t find much new about the life stories detailed in her memoir. The memoir is essentially written accounts of what is detailed in her stand up specials and documentary. Some readers might find this annoying and repetitive, but I didn’t mind it at all since I read I’m Just a Person about a year after watching her documentary. However, if you’re jumping into a Tig binge, I advise you to space out your consumption since it is pretty much a regurgitation of the same story in different formats. 

This was the first book that I’ve read in a long time that encouraged so many strangers to talk to me about it — someone sitting next to me on a train platform, the manager at a pie shop, any friend who saw me lugging it around. I was surprised at the great general interest in the book from passersby, but perhaps that speaks to the universal appeal of the fantastic Tig Notaro. 

I Know What I’m Doing by Jen Kirkman

iknowwhatimdoingBefore reading this book, I had never heard of Jen Kirkman, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying her memoir that largely details navigating a tricky break up (is there ever one that isn’t tricky?), the pressure to get married, the related pressure to stay married, the peer pressure to have certain feelings about divorce, and living life in your late 30s/early 40s as a single lady.

Kirkman is serious about her career and she doesn’t apologize for it, despite the many pleas that others have for her to focus more on being in a serious relationship regardless of her emotional state or physical state (as in is she in a single place long enough to see someone regularly?). Despite all of her experiences not overlapping with my current pursuits, I found her insights and stories comforting to read, highlighting a few lines here and there that resonate with an icky feeling I’ve previously experienced.

This is an easy, funny read that you’ll probably gobble up after two lounge sessions by a pool/body of water/large bath tub over the summer. I found myself laughing out loud a few times, which may be because all of Kirkman’s material was brand new to me. Another review stated that many of the jokes and stories were duplicates of her stand up jokes, but I wouldn’t have been able to notice that and I found them enjoyable.

I have to share my favorite piece of advice from Kirkman’s book that anyone dating someone seriously absolutely needs to know: if you question why you’re in a specific relationship multiple times or if you can’t actually see a future with someone, END THE RELATIONSHIP!! Now!! Do not keep coasting along until you continue your questioning as you make out with your partner in front of all of your loved ones on your wedding day! END THE RELATIONSHIP! Save yourself, your partner, and pretty much everyone who interacts with you the meaningless pain by getting out of that thing quickly and moving onto something that you’re sure about doing, whether that be another human, your career, or literally anything else that might excite you.

The only part that I really didn’t like about the book was the essay where Kirkman details when she believed that she may have contracted Hepatitis C (Chapter 14, “Doctors without Boundaries”). It felt shame-y toward people who actually have STIs and the whole chapter should’ve been edited out of the memoir.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a physical copy of this book for free from Simon & Schuster in advance of the paperback release. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Simon & Schuster.

Mini Review: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

scrappylittlenobodyThis audiobook memoir narrated by actress/author Anna Kendrick was… fine? Maybe I would’ve found it more endearing if I had been a bigger fan of Anna Kendrick. As it stands, I tend to enjoy her in movies and find her Twitter feed humorous, but I’m less invested or interested in what makes her tick and what her experiences are outside of the roles she portrays. So why did I even listen to this audiobook you ask? I honestly thought I would’ve become more interested as I listened along, but it never happened. I frequently forgot I was even reading this book until I would sign onto GoodReads and see that it was still on my currently reading shelf while I was eating lunch before my weekly therapy appointment… and then I would listen for an hour while I ate lunch alone and forget about the audiobook until the next week. This is an audiobook best enjoyed by people who already adore the actress.