Tag Archives: books

I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux

image1 (9)I really thought I was going to go through all of 2018 only reading books written by women, but Michael Arcenaux’s debut I Can’t Date Jesus sounded too intriguing to ignore. Despite not reading any of Arceneaux’s work before, I really enjoyed reading his memoir essays. He’s a big shot in the journalism world, particularly known for writing from the gay and black POV, but you don’t need to know his previous work to dive into this! Arceneaux brilliantly writes about the tensions between his family, religion, sexuality, professional goals, Beyoncé, and beyond. I dug all of the Texas references (some of my favorites were deep cuts that people outside of Texas might not understand… but people read that kind of stuff all of the time about NYC, so don’t let that dissuade you) and enjoyed reading about his reflections upon how his experiences, both during youth and more recently, have greatly shaped the man Arceneaux is today.

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

Publication Date: 24 July 2018 by Atria BooksFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Michael Arceneaux web/@twitter/@instagram

Advertisements

Chemistry by Weike Wang

image1 (4)As someone currently stumbling through a PhD program, I was delighted to read a book about a character tripping, falling, and removing themselves from similar circumstances. PhD programs are super weird and demanding in different ways that are hard to explain to people who haven’t pursued one so I gobble up opportunities to hear about experiences, even fictional, navigating the strange world of PhDs. 

Chemistry by Weike Wang is almost like a diary/stream of consciousness of the main, unnamed character. She’s in a Chemistry PhD program, which are known to be notoriously demanding because of time required to be physically present in a lab to run experiments, and she’s completely flailing. Some of the “chapters” are simply written with thoughts that sometimes seem half-formed, as if they are the real thoughts of someone who is feeling quite a bit lost and not sure of where to turn next. 

The main character has Chinese parents who are no longer in the U.S. and their extreme expectations for the main character highlight her struggle between the “American dream” and her parents’ evaluation of what it means to succeed in America. This is juxtaposed with her white, American boyfriend’s comparatively easy experience of success because he isn’t simultaneously struggling to barely meet his parents’ expectations of all of the things they perceive he should also be accomplishing.  Most of the struggle in this book is related to the main character’s  parents’ expectations and demands not aligning with what would ultimately help her reach personal and professional happiness and the juxtaposition of the ease of her boyfriend to excel through the same program. 

Some readers may wish that this had more depth, but I enjoyed the brevity! There are some beautiful little bits (the deer metaphor was my favorite!) that are sandwiched in here that would be easy to miss if you were speed reading. I suspect that enjoyment of this book might be limited to those familiar with PhD programs or those interested in the family dynamics. If either of those sound like stories you want to read, scoop this up!

Publication Date: 23 May 2017 by Knopf PublishingFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Weike Wang bio

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

IMG_8187I received Scaachi Koul’s debut in my great Christmas book haul of 2017 and I adored it! Koul is a news reporter at Buzzfeed and wrote an excellent essay about A Series of Unfortunate Events that put her on my radar (please read it here or this magnificent piece about Sufjan Stevens that I only found today if you want to get a taste of her style and the things that interest her). The point of view that shines through in her Buzzfeed essays is cranked up to 1000 in One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, a memoir of personal essays about the experiences she’s had so far. She sprinkles in some stories about growing up in Canada with Indian parents, going back to India and being othered because she’s “western”, but also not exactly fitting in within all western contexts either, a few college stories, and a gloss over adulthood and relationships. It was a quick read and gives a reader a glimpse into lots of different territories without wading in any of them too long. My favorite essay is titled “Aus-piss-ee-ous” and covers attending a cousin’s wedding ceremony in India and feeling out of place with the traditions and realizing that even her Indian relatives aren’t quite comfortable with the traditions either, but go along with it anyway. Koul’s book is excellent, very entertaining, and tonally felt like catching up with a friend over beers. I recommend!

Publication Date: 7 March 2017 by Picador. Format: Paperback.

Author: Scaachi Koul @twitter/@instagram/facebook

beyond belief: my secret life inside scientology and my harrowing escape by jenna miscavige hill and lisa pulitzer

beyondbeliefEver since I was a little kid, I’ve always been interested in different religious practices and the rituals associated with holding certain beliefs. I grew up (and still continue) going to my friends’ places of worship and observing how everyone chooses to practice. It’s always nice to see how openly people display and explain their religious practices when you tell them that you’re curious about their faith. There was one belief system that I knew absolutely nothing about, partly because I don’t think I have any friends who practice it, but mostly because information about the religion is heavily shielded on the internet. Scientology, ever alluring and mysterious as the “religion of members of Hollywood’s elite,” is the latest religion to intrigue me and thus when I learned of Beyond Belief, I immediately requested it from my library.

This memoir, written by Jenna Miscavige Hill and co-written by Lisa Pulitzer, details Miscavige Hill’s experiences being raised within the Church of Scientology. Miscavige Hill’s parents met while they were teenagers in the Church of Scientology and chose to raise their children within the church. Scientologist children are frequently separated from their families for long periods of time and Miscavige Hill details that she was often required to work grueling hours, frequently perform manual labor when she was very young, and act as doctor to all sick children when she was also a child. Miscavige Hill was prevented from seeing her family on a regular basis, initially because her parents were sent on missions that kept them away from the family home and then eventually because her parents left the Church of Scientology when their daughter was a teenager and Miscavige Hill chose to continue being a member of the church. Because of the strict rules related to excommunication of former members, Miscavige Hill didn’t see her family members who had left the church for years. Miscavige Hill, while still a member of the church, was in contact with her aunt, Michele Miscavige, and uncle, David Miscavige, who is the current leader of the Church of Scientology, and this makes Miscavige Hill’s shared insight even more intriguing.

Overall, Beyond Belief is likely a good representation of what it was like to grow up within the Church of Scientology at the time that Miscavige Hill did so. The church seems to be constantly making changes regarding their treatment of children (at one point, Miscavige Hill says that the church discouraged all church members from reproducing) so I’m not certain how generalizable Miscavige Hill’s experiences are to the experiences of the greater Scientology community. Miscavige Hill also states that her experiences differ dramatically from celebrity members of the church as they are treated like royalty, as most celebrities generally are by the public. If you are interested in learning more about Scientology, this first person account places the rules and beliefs of Scientology into a context that I wasn’t able to find from reading extensive articles about the religion online. However, if you’re not curious, this book likely isn’t for you.

Publication Date: 5 February 2013 by William Morrow. Format: Digital Audiobook from HarperAudio.

Author: Jenna Miscavige Hill blog/@twitter/instagram/web

Narrator: Sandy Rustin web/@twitter

Off the Page Event presented by Random House

I just returned from Random House’s Off the Page Event that took place today in New York’s Hudson Valley. A few weeks ago, I won tickets to the event for me + a friend through an Instagram contest which was very exciting! Enter those digital book contests — one day you might be the lucky winner!

I had never been to upstate New York before so I was very excited to visit the rolling hills of Hudson Valley and to escape the hubbub of the city life for a weekend. Sam, one of my college friends, was game to go with me and I’m so happy she agreed! We made our way up to Hudson on Friday night and stayed with some of her family friends before departing for the event bright and early on Saturday morning.

The morning started off with a conversation between Dana Bowen, the editor of Every Day with Rachel Ray, and Ruth Reichl, the author of many fantastic food memoirs and cookbooks.

Dana Bowen, left, interviews Ruth Reichl, right, at Random House's Off the Page Event

Dana Bowen, left, interviews Ruth Reichl, right, at Random House’s Off the Page Event

The conversation was quite lovely and Ms. Reichl was extremely charming as she discussed the creation of her upcoming cookbook to be released this fall. Reichl moved to Hudson after falling upon some hard times in the city and cooked her way back to happiness, all the while tweeting about her experiences along the way. The book covers the foods that helped her find her happiness again.

After listening to that exciting conversation, Sam and I attended some of the classes they offered as part of the event. We learned different ways to brew coffee from Toby’s Estate and how to make flower arrangements! We also tried savory yogurt, courtesy of Blue Hill Yogurt, which we’d never done before! Fun photos of all of these things are at the end of the post.

We were also given a swag bag that included a summer issue of Every Day with Rachel RayTop Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich, The One that Got Away by Bethany Chase, and Lucky Us by Amy Bloom.

Off the Page Swag

Off the Page Swag

Thanks for the fun event, Random House! Here’s to hoping I can win tickets to more cool events in the future! Click through for more photos from the day!

Continue reading

yes means yes! by jaclyn friedman & jessica valenti

yes means yes! by jaclyn friedman & jessica valenti

I received this wonderful book for free — not because I am a special snowflake and received an Advanced Reader’s Copy, but because the health center at my university gave it to me during a sexual health course because the course creators viewed Yes! as essential reading. Why oh why didn’t I listen to them when they said that this book would literally change the way that I thought about sexual assault and the way we talk about sexual health in America?

Instead of reading this book in its entirety when I was first given it by the sexual health goddesses at my university (because completing additional reading while poring through pile after pile of required reading is h-a-r-d), I read a few selected passages that were recommended by the coordinators of the course. I really enjoyed that the first chapter recommended to the course entitled “Hooking Up with Healthy Sexuality: The Lessons Boys Learn (and Don’t Learn) About Sexuality, and Why a Sex-Positive Rape Prevention Paradigm Can Benefit Everyone Involved” by Brad Perry as it really challenged me to view sexual health through a different lens other than the one I was born with (aka white and female-bodied). As someone who had never taken any sort of gender studies or sexual health courses before, this chapter was a huge eye-opener for me in terms of seeing how some different people interact with and understand rape culture within American society. I thoroughly recommend reading this chapter first to anyone who undertakes sexual health & assault as new reading territory.

Despite connecting with the chapter, I wasn’t able to set aside time to read the entire book while a student. Thus, it was one of the books I put into a pile of things that absolutely needed to be properly read whenever I finished my time as an undergraduate student and would hopefully possess eager eyes and a less stressed brain. I’m so glad that day finally came and I was able to give these essays a shot and read them altogether.

The book is compiled of essays written by different people who have had different experiences. The editors of the book, Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti — who also contribute their own chapters, tagged all of the essays with different themes such as Consent, Race, Sexual Healing, Media, Survival, Queerness, and Gender, though with much cooler names than I’ve simplified them to here. This allows a reader to jump around to specific issues that they’re curious about or to immediately look up similar chapters if they find an essay that really connects with them. For my first thorough read, I decided to read completely through and dive into the essays in the order that they were compiled by the editors. The order flows very smoothly despite covering a range of topics which may or may not seem related on the surface.

After reading this book, I feel like a more well-rounded individual who holds a more nuanced view on sexual health issues in America. I definitely recommend this book to anyone curious about different opinions and viewpoints on sexual health and assault, no matter what level of understanding and background you already have. New terms that you may not be familiar with are well explained, but also won’t feel like you’re being talked down to if you’re already cool with the lingo. Enjoy!

Publication date: 2 December 2008 by Seal Press Format: Paperback

Authors: Jaclyn Friedman web/@twitter/podcast & Jessica Valenti web/@twitter/column

On a blog-related note: Woohoo for finally publishing my first book review here! Though it’s clearly delayed (finished the book in January, posting the review in April), I’m excited to jump into action with publishing reviews of my backlogged reads (complete list can be found here) and to eventually be posting at the same rate that I’m reading books. Thank you for reading this first blog and joining me on this journey!