Tag Archives: memoir

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.

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.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

hillbillyelegyI began reading this book for fun and then found that it was relevant to some of the work I’m doing so yay — a very pleasant surprise! A lot of people have chosen to read this book to understand the “hidden right” post-election cycle. I chose to read it to see how the author’s experience lined up with my own background. Despite not growing up in Appalachia, many of the situations that the author described were extremely familiar to me. I grew up in a working-class family and spent 5 years of my childhood in a rural town, population: 800. While the author categorizes his experiences as being particular to Appalachia, I would say they also extend to rural southern living conditions, including my area of Northeast Texas.

I related a lot to Vance’s description of trying to learn how to portray himself as being of a different social class than the one he was born into — like Vance, I was the first in my immediate family to go to college, becoming upwardly mobile, and I found myself struggling to fit in when ‘everything from your old life becomes unfashionable at best or unhealthy at worst.’ (p. 207)

He also spends time detailing Christianity in Appalachia and how he (at one point) and many of the churchgoing people have (either at one time or persistently) felt like persecuted minorities by ‘elite liberals’ who some believe are making the world a scary and foreign place. His commentary on Christianity and many of the contradictions present in Appalachia were revealing in that many of the residents don’t belong to a church, but vastly report high church attendance because of perceived social pressures. His own experience emphasized that the persecuted minority feelings are salient in the churches, but less so in how individuals believe and practice faith in their own homes.

Chapters 14 (particularly) and 15 were most relevant to the work that I do, but the links from the previous chapters are needed to feel the full heft of the messages in those later chapters. These chapters discuss the traumas that working-class children regularly experience because of a myriad of factors: unreliable income, inconsistent parental support, violence in the home, etc. and the massive effect they have on child outcomes and development of mental and physical health conditions later in life. I also found the writer’s description of his limited relationship with his parents for survival purposes particularly refreshing — it’s something I have also adopted for my own self-preservation purposes, but haven’t read detailed in another work so precisely.

I’ve read many similar books that attempt to describe the plight and lives of America’s working-class through studies and home observation vignettes, but I found this memoir to be the most revealing and authentic… perhaps because it was written by someone who experienced this lifestyle rather than being written by a researcher looking in and trying to understand class and lifestyle differences. While the author doesn’t push for specific policy changes, he does admit that we collectively need to strive to make things better, particularly for working-class youth while their worlds and expectations for themselves are still malleable.

fun home by alison bechdel

funhomeatthebeachAs someone who hasn’t read many graphic novels (aka I’ve only read Persepolis prior to this), I wasn’t sure if I would like Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I brought this book along with me to a weekend getaway at my friend’s earlier this month and it was the perfect beach read. By that, I mean, I was able to finish the novel after devoting a single day to reading it at the beach and it was absolutely lovely! If you’re looking for a book to read for a few hours on a getaway, plane, or train, I definitely recommend taking this along with you.

Fun Home is a graphic novel written by the oh-so-talented Alison Bechdel. Before reading her graphic novel, I wasn’t familiar with any of Bechdel’s illustrated works. I knew of Bechdel because of the now legendary “Bechdel Test” though Bechdel has since said she doesn’t actually deserve recognition for the creation of the test (she does deserve recognition for it becoming more known). I knew of the title because of the Broadway musical adaptation’s successful Tony award wins and decided to purchase this book to find out if I wanted to see the musical performed.

The novel is autobiographical and details Bechdel’s childhood growing up in rural Pennsylvania and details her exploration of self, sexuality, and gender identity from childhood through her early college years. The novel mainly focuses on her relationship with and interpretation of her father and concludes with her assessment of her father’s death and impact upon her life. While this book is autobiographical, I felt like it spent more time devoted to exploring her father as a character than detailing her own life and, at times, felt more like an exercise for Bechdel to explore how she actually felt about her relationship with her father. I found myself annoyed at the lack of exploration of Bechdel’s mother’s role in her life, who seemed like she often received the short end of the stick, but, as I’m writing this entry, I found out that Bechdel wrote a companion graphic novel entitled Are You My Mother? which I look forward to reading soon.

As someone with a complicated relationship with my parents who is seemingly constantly analyzing the impact of my parents upon who I am as a person today, I greatly enjoyed reading Bechdel analyze her father’s impact and her attempts to separate who he was as a person from who he was as a father. While I enjoyed the parental exploration, my favorite parts of the novel involved Bechdel’s exploration of sexual identity and gender exploration, which I think particularly lends itself to being told through illustrations. Bechdel perfectly describes the process of how she came to understand a piece of who she was sexually and that was the highlight of the reading process for me.

This book is dark and explores some heavy things that you might not expect from a graphic novel – “fun home” is short for funeral home, after all. If you’re okay with authentic storylines that are brushed with grimness and are at all interested in a young person’s exploration of sexual and gender identity, I recommend reading this book.

Do you have any recommendations for other graphic novels that I should try out? I just put a hold on Are You My Mother? from my local library and am interested in exploring other graphic novels if they come with a good recommendation!

Publication Date: 8 June 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Format: Paperback.

Author: Alison Bechdel web/@twitter/facebook

i don’t know what you know me from: confessions of a co-star by judy greer

idontknowwhatyouknowmefromUpon finishing the incredibly enjoyable first season of Married, a show on FX starring Judy Greer, I remembered that I had placed her memoir on my TBR list a few weeks ago and decided to move it to the top. I checked out the audiobook from my local library and finished listening in a day. I was able to finish it so quickly partly because it was fairly short for an audiobook, stretching a little bit longer than five hours, and partly because listening felt like an extended catch up conversation with one of my friends.

Judy Greer narrates her memoir which alternates between mainly describing her early days growing up as an only child outside of Detroit, Michigan, and her current life as an actress, dog owner, wife, and stepmother in Los Angeles, California, while also briefly covering her time as a theatre undergrad in Chicago. Her tales of her life aren’t in chronological order and you weave between Greer’s current life to things that happened when she was a wee one. Because of the briefness of the book, I felt like the deviation from a linear storyline spiced the book up a bit.

Even though it seems most other readers enjoyed her recounting her place as an actress in Hollywood the most within the memoir, my favorite sections of the book were listening to Greer describe her love for Detroit and her heartbreak at how much Detroit is currently struggling as a city. It was in these moments that I feel like Greer was exposing me to something completely new, as I’ve never read someone describing Detroit, a city I’ve never visited, in such an authentic and touching way.

However, if you’re more interested in hearing about Greer’s time as an actress who’s actively working, but isn’t on the A-list, you won’t be disappointed in this book. If you recognize the author’s face from the cover art of the book, but can’t quite place her, you’re not alone. In fact, Greer devotes quite a bit of time in her memoir to explaining the phenomenon of having been in so many projects and being approached by people who can’t place her or requesting for her to help them deduce where they know her from. (Side note: if you recognize a celebrity and feel the need to approach them, try to make sure you actually know who they are. Bigger side note: if you recognize a celebrity and they are in public, but not in a place where it’s encouraged to talk to them such as a book signing, meet and greet, etc., maybe don’t approach them – celebrities need to buy milk at the grocery store, too, and they also have bad days when they don’t want to talk to anyone, especially a stranger.) Greer details life as a working actress, but doesn’t conflate it with this sparkly world that is so much better than the world of the normal plebeians – she still has to make food for her children that they hate and pick up her dog’s poop at the end of the day!

Greer’s down-to-earthness makes her so likable and this book so accessible. This book is not a tell-all revealing some deep, dark secrets like some celebrities release or a memoir bragging about the glamor of being a celebrity, but is a book about a normal person who happens to act as their profession. True to many of the characters that Greer is cast to play, she seems like one of your friends who also happens to be a successful, but not too successful, actress! My partner and I have been fans of Judy Greer for quite a while as she pops up in so many of the things that we love, and we frequently recount how we loved her in Love Monkey, a short lived and unpopular comedy from 2006. This book definitely gave me another layer of appreciation for Judy Greer, but probably isn’t a good read for someone who isn’t already a fan of Greer’s (like me) or doesn’t want to act professionally.

If you’re interested in checking out Judy Greer’s work as an actress and not as an author, you should definitely watch Married! The first season can be found on Hulu and the second season is currently in the process of airing on FX.

Unrelated to this book review, I wrote this while watching the newly released Kacey Musgraves Tiny Desk concert. It’s amazing and had many tambourine beats that frequently woke up my aunt’s dog as he snoozed on my lap. Check out the Tiny Desk concert here and look up her tour dates here! I’ll be heading to the New York tour stop in October and I can’t wait!

Publication Date: 8 April 2014 by Doubleday Publishing. Format: Digital Audiobook from Books on Tape.

Author & Narrator: Judy Greer @twitter/instagram/facebook