Category Archives: parenting

Mini Review: We are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

IMG_8203I read this collection of personal essays while I was visiting family for the holidays and IT WAS A TREAT and welcome reprieve from family drama. The author, Samantha Irby, is fed up with a lot of things, and if you, too, are feeling disgruntled with everyone around you and obligations forcing you to be a human with workplace duties, etc., when you just want to lay in bed and eat chips, this is the book for you. Irby’s tales are punchy and delightful and I loved reading her point of view. Plus it takes place in Evanston, my current locale, so I found myself cackling at some of the location specific digs and jokes, especially because my friend’s dog’s vet is the office where Irby used to work. If you want a lil’ taste of Irby’s work, check out her blog, bitches gotta eat, where she posts essays. You don’t have to be a frequenter of her blog to enjoy her humorous tales though.

Publication Date: 30 May 2017 by VintageFormat: Paperback.

Author: Samantha Irby blog/@twitter


Educated by Tara Westover

educatedThis memoir had an effect on me and I want to recommend it to everyone. Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir about family obligations, systems of control, and the power of education. It was a hard, but good read. 

Westover grew up in a strict, Mormon household in rural middle America with parents who had their own interpretation of Mormonism that they proselytized to their children and used to condemn others’ interpretations of divine faith, including other Mormons. The parents did not trust the government, which extended to not birthing most of their children in hospitals because they were part of the evil “medical establishment”,  not legally recording most of their children’s births until many years later, not immunizing their children or permitting them to visit doctors for care in favor of homeopathy, and not enrolling their children in schools for fear the schools would brainwash their children with nonsense. The denial of all of these things to their children, particularly access to an education as the children weren’t really schooled at home either, was a way to indoctrinate the children into the parents’ belief system, bound the children to their parents’ sphere of control so that the children may never leave, and limit the children from access to other ways of thinking that would allow the children to be able to question their family’s way of life. 

Westover’s tale highlights how important access to an education is as she details the life circumstances of her siblings — those who managed to be admitted to college, after secretly studying for standardized testing, went on to receive doctorates, whereas the others never received high school diplomas or GEDs and subsequently had limited job options and continued to be employees of their parents’ businesses as they had been since they were children. The memoir is broken into three parts, beginning with Westover’s childhood, transitioning into Westover’s teen years when she enrolls in an undergraduate program, and the last pieces include her venturing to another part of the world for education purposes and having her worldview expanded even more than her undergraduate experiences initially opened. While education definitely plays a central role in this memoir, a large part of Westover’s story involves controlling family dynamics, the emotional abuse that often rains down from the controlling heads of household, unfettered physical abuse that family members conveniently ignore or outright deny because acknowledgement of its actuality could challenge their pleasant forms of reality, and outright misogyny about a women’s place in the family and in the world that is shielded from question by religious morales. 

While Westover’s education granted her access to many things, it also created many conflicts with her family and led to estrangements from certain members. Becoming “educated” isn’t always cost-free and Westover’s story illuminates some of the challenges that can be associated with advancing oneself, whilst one’s family tries to hold them back. This was a book that I needed to read and I hope that it is enlightening for others. 

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


Publication Date: 20 Feburary 2018 by Random HouseFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Tara Westover web/facebook/@twitter

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

evictedEvicted by Matthew Desmond is 100% a must read and hands down one of my favorite books of the year. Don’t just take my word for it though — the book won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction this year which is no small feat!

Sociologist Matthew Desmond spent years immersing himself in the lower end of Milwaukee’s housing market, observing and interviewing those living in poverty and mostly terrible conditions perpetuated by landlords, the local government, and more. He often lived alongside his subjects, experiencing the daily occurrences that happened typically in a trailer park and later in the “ghetto” of Milwaukee. Throughout his work, Desmond mostly follows a small cast of characters, though he interviewed an incredible number of people, to give the reader a very in depth look at the cyclical suffering that many people with unstable and unreliable housing have been forced to accept and expect. 

While this is a necessary read to help people understand how those in control of housing perpetually disadvantage those in poverty, this is also just generally worthwhile reading for anyone who has ever been a tenant (aka someone who has ever rented their housing). While living in New York City, several of my friend’s and my housing frequently had issues that were unacceptable, dangerous, and repeatedly ignored by landlords despite multiple requests for maintenance or assistance. This is an important read to understand what your rights are as a tenant, the systems that make it essentially impossible for tenants to challenge their landlord’s actions, the typical issues that occur for those who are tenants within very in demand housing (either because of limited housing for the number of people in a city or because there is limited housing that will allow you to reside somewhere because of the nature of evictions, etc.), and to try to understand why landlords will choose to repeatedly ignore a problem that impedes a tenant’s standard of living and quality of life. 

From a research perspective, I really enjoyed that Desmond spent time detailing how he gathered his qualitative data and his rumination on the challenges of conducting this type of research. Despite this book being written by an academic, this book is incredibly accessible and is written to be enjoyed by a wide array of readers. 

And here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“For many landlords, it was cheaper to deal with the expense of eviction than to maintain their properties; it was possible to skimp on maintenance if tenants were perpetually behind; and many poor tenants would be perpetually behind because their rent was too high.” (p. 75)

“The techniques landlords used to ‘keep illegal and destructive activity out of rental property’ kept poverty as well.” (p. 89)

On why defending yourself in eviction court is difficult, “but also [she] would have to defend herself against someone who was more educated, more familiar with the law, and more comfortable in court.” (p. 99)

“When we try to understand ourselves, we often begin by considering the kind of home in which we were raised.” (p. 293)

If you want another taste of the topic before committing to the whole book, you can read the excerpts that were published in The New Yorker. Don’t let the page number dissuade you from picking up this book! 100+ pages of this book are notes pertaining to the quotes and observations that Desmond incorporates and are not necessary to reference to understand the story unless you want to dig in deeper to his data. You can read more information about the book from the publisher by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a physical copy of this book for free from Broadway Books via Blogging for Books. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Broadway Books or Blogging for Books

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 12.09.13 PMThis was good and I’ve yet to read something by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I haven’t been impressed by or hasn’t provoked me into thinking about something slightly differently than I did before. This thin, little book is composed as a letter to a friend who was seeking advice on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. Adichie offers 15 suggestions, specifically linking them to Nigerian, Igbo, and western cultures, but even these specific examples are still universal. Adichie admits that these tenants may be hard to accomplish, but we must strive to embody them to create feminists in our children and in ourselves.

A few choice quotes are below:

“Be deliberate about showing her the enduring beauty and resiliences of Africans and of black people. Why? Because of the power dynamics in the world, she will grow up seeing images of white beauty, white ability, and white achievement, no matter where she is in the world. It will be in the TV shows she watches, in the popular culture she consumes, in the books she reads. She will also probably grow up seeing many negative images of blackness and of Africans.” (p. 40)

“We ask of powerful women: Is she humble? Does she smile? Is she grateful enough? Does she have a domestic side? Question we do not ask of powerful men, which shows that our discomfort is not with power itself, but with women.” (p. 24)

“If we stopped conditioning women to see marriage as a prize, then we would have fewer debates about a wife needing to cook in order to earn that prize.” (p. 15)

“Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity.” (p. 43)

“Social norms are created by human beings, and there is no social norm that cannot be changed.” (p. 51)

Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow

sickintheheadI acquired Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow in an incredible deal from Greenlight Bookstore where I was allowed to buy slightly damaged hardcover books for $5 each! This unprecedented deal caused me to overzealously purchase many books that I normally wouldn’t have and subsequently allowed me to spend some time getting to know comedy extraordinaire Judd Apatow. 

This book isn’t a memoir — I had mistakenly assumed the book would be to match the style of the slew of comedy books that have been published in the past few years. The full title of the book, which, again, I picked up on a whim, reinforced my mistake: Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy. Instead of being internal conversations between Judd and himself, this book consists of many interviews with people who dabble or fully embrace comedy. Each chapter consists of a transcript of Apatow interviewing a famous person — the topics vary dramatically from person to person as do the circumstances surrounding the conversations. Apatow first began interviewing comedians for his high school radio show in the 1980s and some of those original transcripts appear within the book, as do more recent interviews Apatow conducted specifically for the book and interviews Apatow either conducted or was the subject of for other publications or projects.

If you’re looking to read a history of stand up comedy, you’ll find that in Sick in the Head. If you enjoy comedians, but are less interested in their actual craft, you can also find that in the book by picking and choosing what interviews to read, as I did. Apatow briefly introduces each of his subjects to the reader to provide context for who they are within the comedy world and his own life which would help me to determine which interviews I should actually digest. That said, I probably only skipped 5 of 30+ interviews.

As with most deep conversations with comedians, interviewees often delved into discussions about their upbringings and childhoods which led me to also be reflective on my own circumstances. At times, the interviews almost felt like a print version of the WTF with Marc Maron podcast (the book has a transcript of Apatow’s appearance on that podcast too!). After the first interview, the subsequent interviews are sorted into alphabetical order by first name. My handpicked favorite interviews featured Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, a Freaks and Geeks Oral History, Jeff Garlin, Louis C. K., Marc Maron, Michal Che, Roseanne Barr, and Steve Martin. I enjoyed the Steve Matin interview which closes out the book so much that I scooped up and quickly devoured his novella Shopgirl, which I’ll be reviewing on the blog soon.

I recommend this book to anyone vaguely interested in comedy + entertainment and especially to those who want to dive into comedy, but don’t have access to the comedy sphere because of their geographic location or available resources.

Publication date: 16 June 2015 by Random House. All profits donated to 826 National, a nonprofit which provides tutoring and writing workshops to under-resourced students.

Author: Judd Apatow @twitter/instagram

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

betweentheworldandmeThis is a book that I instantly wish I owned multiple versions of because I feel like I need to consume it in different ways for the weight of its words to fully sink into my consciousness. I finished the audiobook version of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates a couple of weeks ago and it was MARVELOUS! The book is part memoir, part current American history and is written as a letter directly to the author’s son. Because I knew that the book followed this format, I opted to purchase the audiobook from Downpour (if you like audiobooks and you aren’t a subscriber to Downpour, you need to get on board!!) as the author was the narrator and I wanted to hear the author’s intonations and emotions as he spoke his words.

Coates is both a powerful speaker and writer. While he detailed the lessons that he was forced to learn as a black man growing up in America and contrasted them from the lessons his father had to learn and the lessons his son has already learned or will have to learn was incredibly poignant. The world has shifted significantly since his father was a child, but there is still so much room for the world and America’s culture to grow and improve. While his son currently leads a privileged life because of his father’s wealth and their family’s residence in Paris, France (all privileges Coates acknowledges), this doesn’t eliminate the ways that his son must prepare for how he will doubtlessly be seen as a young black man when he is in America. Regardless of any of his own characteristics or intentions, people will cast stereotypes upon his body and his mind and he will have to know how to evade or protect himself from them; hence, why Coates has chosen to write his son a series of lessons he has learned in his own life.

As a white woman, Between the World and Me truly illuminated the world that black parents must build and teach to their children — something that I never had to be taught by my own family. When I was a child, my innocence and piety were often assumed by strangers, but this isn’t the case for many black children who are often undeservedly assumed to be devious or guilty. One of the vignettes that stuck with me most clearly was when a white adult was extremely rude to Coates’s young son and Coates struggled to contain his anger in the face of assumptions and rights incorrectly projected onto his child. To hear this told from a parent’s perspective was heartbreaking and I admire Coates’s ability to so poignantly and clearly discuss how this affects him and his family on a micro-level, while simultaneously situating his personal experiences within historical and societal contexts. 

Between the World and Me is very of the moment (because of the renewed, necessary spotlight on racial tension and inequality in America) and also of America’s history. I believe this book will be a touchstone that people reference decades from now when trying to convey the state of race in America in the early 2000s and Coates has done a remarkable job creating a piece that will last. 

While I loved listening to this audiobook, I wish I also owned a physical version of this book so that I could highlight and come back to the most touching/provoking pieces with ease. I greatly valued hearing the author beautifully speak his story, something that most authors who aren’t trained entertainers struggle to do well. The audiobook was also quite a quick listening experience and clocked in at about 3.5 hours. My recommendation is to consume this in whatever way that it comes into your life and then consume it again and again. I’ll likely be purchasing a physical copy when I get the chance and will re-read it again in the coming years. Clearly, I profusely recommend. 

Publication date: 14 July 2015 by Spiegel & Grau. Format: Audiobook from Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.

Author/Narrator: Ta-Nehisi Coates @twitter/articles

Tap, Click, Read by Lisa Guernsey and Michael H. Levine

9781119091899.pdfI purchased Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in a World of Screens because it was relevant to my work as an educational media researcher. When I know I’m going to have a lot of travel in my future, I always try to scoop up a work-relevant read to indulge in during spurts of travel. This allows me to feel productive for work things when I’m not able to be online and respond to emails quickly.

This book satisfied my itch to productively read for work! Soon, I’ll be beginning a project that examines how educational programming (including television, apps, websites, and digital games) influences literacy skills so this book was a perfect primer for helping me frame my thinking around literacy and digital screens. In fact, I’ve recommend this book to all of my coworkers who will be embarking upon this project with me.

Tap, Click, Read serves as a great overview of many current research studies which examine the intersection of literacy and emerging technologies. Since I wasn’t familiar with many of the existing literacy studies, the book was immensely helpful in furthering my knowledge base. The book would also be a great read for anyone who works with mediating media or books for young children, educators, librarians, caregivers, and family members so that they can learn ways to encourage positive reading habits and intellectual curiosity within the young children in their lives. While I was highlighting portions of the book that I found particularly interesting, I found half of my highlights to be work-related and the other half to be reading tips that I wanted to relay to my brother, who is the new father of a 3 month old. As far as being a book centered around research, I found it to be very accessible and not daunting or full of academic jargon. 

Though as a researcher, I unfortunately had some pet peeves when it came to reading the print version of this book. I make that distinction because I think the digital version had more features (such as the ability to click on notes in the book and watch videos that tied into certain sections). Instead of traditional footnotes or endnotes to link to citations or clarifications, the book features “Notes” at the end of each chapter that are organized by chunks of words that appear in the chapter. As someone who was very interested in seeing any citations and clarifications, I found this extremely annoying because it would have forced me to constantly toggle between the text and Notes to see if anything was included. This made it extremely difficult for me to be able to follow up independently on any specific studies that were mentioned in order to make my own opinion about their findings, which may have been an intentional choice by the authors or the editor.

I also noted a small error in the description of one of the studies included, which mentioned that Ice Age was a film from Disney: it’s not, it’s from Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century Fox, HIT Entertainment, and 20th Century Fox Animation. While this is a very simple mistake, it made me wonder if other bigger and less obvious mistakes existed within the book that would be difficult to find because of the annoying Notes style.

Despite my pet peeves, I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in thinking about how literacy is evolving for young children due to the emergence of new technologies and how we can continue to continue to prioritize literacy in the home, classroom, community, and digital sphere.

Publication Date: 21 September 2015 by Jossey-Bass. Format: Paperback.

Authors: Lisa Guernsey web/twitter and Michael H. Levine twitter