Books

Books Read in July 2017

I read 11 books in July (six were audiobooks), which brings my 2017 total to 73.

These are the books I started in July but decided not to finish:

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Highly Recommended

1) Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Roxane Gay

Description: From the author of “Bad Feminist,” a long-awaited memoir about her struggles with weight and childhood traumas.

Roxane’s story is powerful and deeply personal, but she is quick to point out that she’s not special or especially strong; what happened to her was horrific but worse things happen to men and women every day. She does acknowledge, with many years of hindsight, that she was wrong to keep her assault a secret for 25 years, and had she sought help she likely wouldn’t be in the situation she is now with her weight.

One factor which had never occurred to me was how she goes to great lengths to make sure venues and restaurants can accommodate her size. She searches in advance for photos of a restaurant’s interior to see if the chairs look large enough. She’s been stuck (literally) too many times in too-small chairs that leave bruises on her hips and thighs.

She hits many weight-related topics: the problem with reality shows that focus on quick weight loss; how she longs for nice clothes in her size, but even when she finds them they languish in her closet while she continues to wear denim and dark shirts; her parents telling her that her weight is a “family problem.” The chapter where she talks about googling the boy (now grown man) responsible for her assault was particularly moving.

You can read an excerpt here, and I enjoyed this review and this review.

Recommended

2) Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food, Megan Kimble

Description: Megan was living in a small apartment without a garden plot to her name, but she cared about where food came from, how it was made, and what it did to her body — so she decided to go an entire year without eating processed foods. This is the narrative of Megan’s extraordinary year, in which she milled wheat, extracted salt from the sea, milked a goat, slaughtered a sheep, and more — all while earning an income that fell well below the federal poverty line.

I liked this book a lot; Megan is a good writer. She uses vivid details which make it easy to picture what she’s describing. I like that she incorporated a lot of research into her year of eating unprocessed foods (but not so much that the reading was dry), along with sharing her personal experiences — it was a good mix.

Megan makes eating unprocessed seem doable, and even fun (or at least it can be fun to read about, if you’re not motivated to do the same). No matter where you fall on the processed/unprocessed spectrum, Megan’s experience will make you question your current habits, which is always a good thing. If you want to know more, this is a piece Megan wrote for the Washington Post.

Okay

3) Nevertheless: A Memoir, Alec Baldwin

Description: Baldwin introduces us to the Long Island child who felt burdened by his family’s financial strains and his parents’ unhappy marriage; the Washington, DC, college student gearing up for a career in politics; the young soap actor learning from giants of the theatre; the addict drawn to drugs and alcohol; the husband and father who acknowledges his failings and battles to overcome them; and the consummate professional for whom the work is everything.

I thought I would like this more than I did, but Alec’s story didn’t draw me in. I did listen to this on audio though, and Alec has a nice voice, so that was a plus.

He talks about his childhood, the loss of his father, how he got involved in acting, and his early roles in theater and movies. I thought that would be more entertaining, but he focuses a lot on the directors and producers (more so than his fellow stars), and I didn’t recognize a lot of the names, so I just didn’t really care.

He does go into his relationship and marriage to Kim Basinger, and also the infamous voicemail he left for his daughter Ireland back in 2007. For someone who was made out to be a monster in the press, it was refreshing to read his perspective.

Two things I enjoyed: 1) every single night since Ireland was born (21 years and counting) he’s either lit a candle – or a match, if that’s all he has – to thank God for his daughter; 2) he’s been involved in political advocacy for many decades, none of which has been for personal gain.

4) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Mindy Kaling

Description: Mindy has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck-impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress. She invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood.

This memoir is far from deep, and I found the structure to be a bit scattered (Mindy jumps between subjects at random, even within the same chapter). However, I listened to it on audio, which is read by the author, so if you’re looking for something mindless and sufficiently entertaining to listen to, this will do the trick.

5) Why Not Me?: A Memoir, Mindy Kaling

Description: Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it’s falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you’re constantly reminded that no one looks like you.

Just like with Mindy’s first book, there were certain essays I enjoyed while others were “let’s skim this as quickly as possible” dumb. Examples of essays I hated: 1) fake emails she might have sent in an alternate life as a high school Latin teacher; 2) the speech she gave to Harvard Law School graduates; 3) things she worries about when she wakes up at 4am.

6) No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage, Then I Tried To Make It Better, Elizabeth Weil

Description: Weil believes you don’t get married in a white dress, in front of all your future in-laws and ex-boyfriends but gradually, over time, through all the road rage incidents, good and bad dinners, and all the small moments you never expected to happen. Weil examines the major universal marriage issues—sex, money, mental health, in-laws, children—through recounting her own hilarious, messy, and sometimes difficult relationship.

This book was shorter than I expected (the hardback was only 174 pages), and I wanted some things to be more fleshed out while other topics she focused on were poorly chosen. I thought it was interesting that she started out by telling us how fantastic her marriage is, but as the chapters unfold it becomes clear that they’ve had more issues than she initially disclosed. At the end, I felt like I didn’t learn much and it didn’t seem like she did either.

7) Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between, Lauren Graham

Description: In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood.

Graham has a chatty, breezy way of speaking (I listened to this on audio), but the commentary mainly flowed in one ear and out the other – I made barely any notes on it. The book isn’t bad, but I’ve never watched Gilmore Girls or Parenthood (which she spent a lot of time talking about), so I had no recognition of – or interest in – the characters or plotlines.

8) WTF: What the French?!, Olivier Magny

Description: In France, the simple act of eating bread is an exercise in creative problem solving and attempting to spell requires a degree of masochism. In this book, Magny reveals the France only the French know. From the latest trends in baby names, to the religiously observed division of church and state, prepare yourself for an insider’s look at French culture that is surprising, insightful, and chock full of bons mots.

This book is a bunch of short chapters on a wide variety of topics. I would have liked for certain chapters to be longer, but that was balanced by drier subjects which were also short (like taxes, government bureaucracy, and how high-ranking officials get and keep their jobs). I listened to this on audio, and it was nice to hear the narrator switch back and forth between English and French.

9) Priestdaddy: A Memoir, Patricia Lockwood

Description: Lockwood interweaves emblematic moments from her childhood and adolescence with scenes that chronicle the eight-month adventure she and her husband had in her parents’ household after a decade of living on their own. She details her education of a seminarian who is also living at the rectory, and tries to explain Catholicism to her husband, who is mystified by its bloodthirstiness and arcane laws. She pivots from the raunchy to the sublime, from the comic to the deeply serious, exploring issues of belief, belonging, and personhood.

Patricia grew up in a household with oddball parents, one of which was a Catholic priest (married Catholic priests are rare, but it happens sometimes when men start off in another religious denomination and later convert to Catholicism).

Her “priest daddy” is a strange character (definitely makes you question the mental health of other priests as well), but I felt like this book focused more on Patricia – how messed up she is due to her childhood, and her relationship with her mother – than it does on her father. Her father is just a side character, and I was left wondering why we didn’t get more details.

My biggest problem was that I didn’t like Patricia’s writing style. She’s received attention for her poetry, she’s received attention for this book…so obviously not everyone shares my opinion. I found a number of chapters simply boring, and I disliked that she seemed proud of never holding down a “real job.” She preferred to be a broke writer, relying on her husband’s low income – and for the purposes of this book in particular, she’d rather move in with her parents for nine months while her husband was unable to work – instead of getting a job to pay the bills. It’s nice that her book-writing gamble seems to have worked out for her.

10) Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path, Erin Loechner

Description: Before turning 30, Erin had built a fan base of women worldwide and was praised for her authentic voice and effortless style. The New York Times applauded her, her friends and church admired her, and her husband and baby adored her. So why did she feel so lost? Erin turned away from fast and fame and frenzy. Through a series of steep climbs — her husband’s brain tumor, bankruptcy, family loss, and public criticism — Erin learns just how much strength it takes to surrender it all, and to veer right into grace.

I’ve read Erin’s blog off and on over the years. It’s always been hit or miss with me; I really like some of her posts but a majority of them I could do without.

Erin employs a cerebral tone in her writing that I find grating, which I noticed in her book as well (even more so in the second half). She does this thing where she asks a bunch of questions in a row, followed by a lot of short sentences. I have no interest in knowing which questions are running through her brain all the time; I want stories and observations.

She interjects religion in here, too, with the inclusion of Bible verses. If a book is going to have religious undertones I prefer for there to be an indication in the description so I can decide if I want to read it or not (I looked at some reviews on Goodreads after I finished the book and I’m not the only person who feels this way).

11) Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, Linda Tirado

Description: Americans have certain ideas of what it means to be poor. Tirado takes these preconceived notions and smashes them to bits. She articulates not only what it is to be working poor, but what poverty is truly like. Tirado discusses how she went from lower-middle class, to sometimes middle class, to poor and everything in between, and in doing so reveals why “poor people don’t always behave the way middle-class America thinks they should.”

On one hand, I think this book could introduce a valuable perspective on poverty, especially to people who have never experienced poverty firsthand. However, it’s really difficult to read a book (or in this case, listen to a book, since I had it on audio) that is one long, unending stream of complaints. I kept thinking there must be more constructive ways to share one’s experience than the approach Linda took.

It doesn’t help that she portrays herself in an unlikeable manner, constantly justifying her right to be a smoker and admitting that she’s been fired multiple times due to her temper. The final chapter was the worst – a rant against rich people and all the things they do to piss her off. I understand where her anger comes from, but the way she chose to put it out there is really hurting her cause.

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