Tag Archives: memoir

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 8.00.09 PMI snatched up Wild at a resell shop after loving every word of Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, a compilation of bits of her advice column for Dear Sugar. I love the way that Strayed weaves a sentence and a feeling, so I knew that I would probably greatly enjoy her famous memoir about a very specific period of her life.

At 26, Strayed is newly divorced, reeling and grieving from the sudden death of her mother a few years ago, and feeling unattached to anything in the world. She sets forth to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT as it more regularly called, alone and entirely unprepared. What follows are her musings of her life up until 26 and all of the moving pieces that came together for her to feel compelled to tackle an incredibly difficult hike, despite lacking any hiking experience or training. Strayed felt like she had mountains to climb, both physical and mental, and that she needed to be alone to do it.

I found Wild to be entirely captivating, as I read through someone recounting the mistakes they made, acknowledging the harm they caused others, and descriptions of wading through grief. All by happenstance of when I stumbled upon this book, I ended up taking Wild to four different state parks in California which felt perfect and majestic and left me thinking that maybe I, too, could trek across the PCT. (Spoiler: I can’t and I won’t because Strayed is extremely lucky nothing very terrible happened to her on her hike; and because I quite enjoyed driving to the parks, getting lost in nature for a few hours, then piling back into a car and driving back to my quiet, air conditioning lodging).

Beyond inciting a need to place myself into nature, Wild moved me in other ways. Every time I read a piece from Strayed about losing her mother (see here for a post I share nearly every Mother’s Day), I feel suddenly seen, in a way that is striking and comfortable simultaneously. These were the parts of her memoir that bubbled within my chest for several days at a time. I loved reading about Strayed’s journey and all of the messy bits along the way. I hope to keep reading her words for years to come.

Publication Date: 20 March 2012 by KnopfFormat: Paperback.

Author: Cheryl Strayed web/twitter/instagram/facebook

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Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

leaninAfter learning that I would be dashing to Silicon Valley for the summer, I snatched up Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (and co-writer Nell Scovell) to get a taste of her experience being one of the most powerful people at one of the most powerful companies in the area (she’s the Chief Operation Officer at Facebook).

Lean In is a slight combination of memoir, self help, and description of Silicon Valley. The parts I enjoyed most about the book revolved around Sandberg’s weaving in research findings about the workplace with real anecdotes. As a woman currently in tech, who often doubts herself (hello imposter syndrome, my old friend), reading about these studies were empowering. Many of the studies showed how women repeatedly disadvantage themselves by their mistaken beliefs about their own contributions (aka not believing that your contributions are worthy of a seat at the table) and their colleague’s incorrect beliefs (based on stigma, bias, etc.).

While I did enjoy most of the book, there were some caveats, most of which Sandberg highlights herself. A lot of her advice is specific to women who are 1)  partnered to supportive humans who empower them and share household responsibilities, 2) make an amount of money at their occupations that exceeds the costs of childcare, and 3) are well educated. This book is rooted in an ideology of “this is how I did it and you can too!” which is fundamentally false for many women who are or have been in the “workforce.” While Sandberg easily ties her success to her individual situation, that situation does not apply to everyone and there are many ways to get to a similar position to Sandberg’s other than her exact path described within the book.

All in all, I learned a bit, felt empowered, and wanted to send a hearty thanks to all of the powerful women in my life who have lifted me up in so many ways, all whilst encouraging me to do the same one day. That said, I was very much the target audience for a book like this and I could imagine it not being received as well by other readers.

Publication Date: 11 March 2013 by KnopfFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Sheryl Sandberg Lean In Organization/facebook/instagram

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

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