Tag Archives: memoir

Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero

cruxJean Guerrero, the author of this memoir, is a journalist documenting her family history as means to try to understand her relationship with and the realities of her father. Guerrero weaves together the narratives of her family members, going back several generations, finding strands to connect their journeys to each other. While she details her maternal side at points, most of the story digs into her paternal side, perhaps because her father was a mystery to her, she knew his pathway was more “interesting,” or because it was geographically closer to the places she wanted to investigate. Guerrero tells her own story, along with the stories of many others either directly from their own mouths or stories that have been passed down for generations. On her father’s side of the family, MexiCali (the area of Mexico and California that are close to each other) plays a central role, with family members traversing back and forth from one country to the other before the border was as strictly enforced as it was now. Guerrero has some reflections on citizenship and identifying with one of the countries or the other when one is going between them frequently. Themes of magic or future telling, ranging from shamanistic to clairvoyance to dabbling in Wicca texts, recur frequently, connecting generations of the family seemingly initially unbeknownst to each who seemed to practice individually. I found Guerrero’s and her family’s tales very intriguing and enjoyed tracing the details as Guerrero attempted to understand the factors that influenced her family members into becoming the people they were and are. If you want a deep dive into a memoir that explores a specific family system, this will be an interesting read for you!

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

Publication Date: 17 July 2018 by One WorldFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Jean Guerrero web/@twitter/@instagram

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Eat Up: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want by Ruby Tandoh

image1 (6)I’ve gotta be upfront: I love Ruby Tandoh, the author of Eat Up. She was one of my favorite contestants on reality show Great British Bake Off and the co-editor of a lil zine that I adored (click for review). In this book and in all things, Tandoh has an approach to talking about the human relationship with food that I instantly devoured and wish more people were shouting about from the rooftops.

While Tandoh is more explicit about her personal relationship with food in Do What You Want and vocal about her condemnation of “clean eating” in interviews, the basics of these pieces are wrapped up in Eat Up too. “Clean eating” and other diets often lead to regimented eating patterns that very closely resemble (and/or are the same depending on your viewpoint) eating disorders. This approach clearly shapes the contents of Eat Up because Tandoh isn’t here to tell you how or what to eat. She wants to eat what you want and to quit being so judgmental about your own eating habits and others.

Along with this, Tandoh also comments on foodie culture and the class implications that are so often tied up with food: Who gets to spend hours making food without worrying about other time demands? Who gets to experiment with flavors and go to expensive restaurants? Who gets to spend time imagining experimenting with flavors and recipes? Why are some foods traditionally made by certain groups of people dismissed from popular consumption? These are important things to consider, especially as food experiences become one of the clearest markers of class in today’s world. This is an important read, and one I’m happy to have gobbled up before going to visit my family where I’m always annoying about my preference for fresh over canned vegetables. It’s completely fine for me to have that preference, but who am I to judge others for preferring the purchase price and ease of preparation of the other? Eat Up influenced me to take a step back and I’m thankful for that.

Publication Date: 1 February 2018 (U.K.) by Serpent’s TailFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Ruby Tandoh blog/@instagram

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

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

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. 

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

eightyearsinpowerI was thrilled when I received an Advance Reader’s Copy of We Were Eight Years in Power from Random House because I love LOVE loved Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and even included it in my list of 5 favorite reads from 2016! Coates has a wonderful style of writing that will leave you breathless (intentionally so as the author mentions in one part of this collection) and I will continue to gobble down his pieces.

We Were Eight Years in Power is a collection of 9 pieces that Coates has written for The Atlantic in the past 9 years, thus if you’ve been following Coates’s online articles, you’ve likely read some or all of these pieces before (they’re all still available online too). Before each piece begins, Coates ties each of the pieces to where he was personally, blending in some of the memoir style exemplified in Between the World and Me, and where America was socially, culturally, economically, and politically. This means that he often connects his pieces to the Obama administration (pre- and post-) and mentions how it influenced his articles, even if not explicitly stated in the features.  I often found the justifications and positioning of when the pieces were written to be more interesting than the earlier pieces in the collection, probably because I found myself more interested in Coates and his reflections than Bill Cosby’s weird and harmful conservatism regarding the black community (something I hadn’t read about before now). It would have been nice if the dates that the pieces were originally published had been included next to their titles, in order to help the reader position when it occurred; this would also help this book stand 20 years from now if something happened that wasn’t common or accepted knowledge at the time of first publication (such as the widespread depths of Cosby’s transgressions, which Coates does acknowledge in the introduction for that piece, but would be missing for things uncovered in the future).

The collection includes pieces about (1) Bill Cosby, (2) Michelle Obama, (3) The Civil War, (4) Malcolm X, (5) Fear of a Black President, which is commentary on how Obama talked about race during his first presidential term, (6) The Case for Reparations, a viral piece that’s widely assigned on my college campus according to my undergrads, (7) Mass Incarceration, (8) My President was Black, a feature on Obama and reflections on his presidency, and (9) White Supremacy and Trump, a piece that serves as the epilogue and also recently went viral under the title The First White President.

The pieces become progressively longer as the reader progresses through the collection, presumably aligning with the growth of Coates’s readership and The Atlantic assuming that their digital readers would stay along for the ride and full length of the pieces. In my opinion, Coates’s writing strengthens throughout the collection, building upon his years of writing experience. In the introductions, Coates also corrects some errors that were in the previous publications of pieces or properly acknowledges sources that were neglected in the original publications.

At times, We Were Eight Years in Power could feel like reading an accessible textbook, but a textbook nevertheless. The readings are dense and cannot be pored over in one sitting. I really liked the collection, but if someone were completely unfamiliar with Coates, this would not be the first piece of his I recommended. Instead, I would thrust Between the World and Me into their hands and emphatically encourage them to read it immediately. It’s a bit more accessible and shorter and, within this collection, Coates perfectly sums up Between the World and Me with this description of his mindset at the time of writing, “I imagined of crafting a singular essay, in the same fashion (as James Baldwin), meant to be read in a few hours but to haunt for years.”

I recommend We Were Eight Years in Power to people already familiar with Coates and who haven’t read each of these pieces online yet. If you’re not familiar with Coates, make Between the World and Me the next book that you read.

We Were Eight Years in Power will be released at physical and digital U.S. bookstores on October 3, 2017! 
Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Random House Publishing Group – Random House One World via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Random House or NetGalley.