Books

Books Read in August 2017

I read ten books in August (four were audiobooks), which brings my 2017 total to 83.

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

Recommended

1) The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, Jill Filipovic

Description: For women, pursuing happiness is a complicated endeavor, and if you head out into America and talk to women one-on-one, you see that happiness is indelibly shaped by the constraints of gender, the expectations of feminine sacrifice, and the myriad ways that womanhood itself differs along lines of race, class, location, and identity. Filipovic provides an outline for a feminist movement we all need and a blueprint for how policy, laws, and society can deliver on the promise of the pursuit of happiness for all.

There’s a wide range of topics here, but I was able to find value in each one. In the chapter on marriage, Filipovic asks “Does marriage actually make women happy or does it, by its very nature, subsume women into their male partners?” (The author is in a long-term relationship but doesn’t know if she’ll ever get married.) You don’t have to agree with her views but she brings up a lot of interesting points.

I also liked the chapter on parenting, because she covers women who have kids along those who don’t…that topic always interests me. Other topics: female friendships, sex, women in the workplace, food and eating disorders, and women who change their last names when they get married (she doesn’t approve).

2) Almost Interesting: The Memoir, David Spade

Description: Spade takes fans back to his childhood as a wannabe cool younger brother and recounts his excruciating road-tour to fame, when he was regularly mistaken for a 14-year-old. He dishes about his time on SNL during the beloved Rock/Sandler/Farley era of the 1990s, and brags about the ridiculous perks that fame has brought into his life, including a crazy assistant who attacked him while he was sleeping, and being threatened on the street in Beverly Hills by Eddie Murphy.

I’m as surprised about this one as you are. I didn’t have high expectations for this at all, but I found it very amusing. One caveat: I listened to it on audio, which greatly enhanced the experience. I don’t think I would have liked it nearly as much without David Spade reading it. He knows how to make his stories entertaining. He even entertains himself, laughing on multiple occasions when he reads a particular passage.

3) We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays, Samantha Irby

Description: Sometimes you just have to laugh, even when life is a dumpster fire. Whether talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making “adult” budgets, detailing a disastrous pilgrimage to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes, sharing awkward sexual encounters, or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms, Irby is as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.

There were a few essays I didn’t like (I have no interest or patience in shows like The Bachelor / Bachelorette, and her very first essay details how she would answer questions if she were filling out an application to be on the show). Also, while I mostly enjoyed her honest, straight talk, the description of being afflicted with diarrhea during a long car ride and crapping on the side of the road, while her car-mates and people in other cars looked on…well, that one was a bit much.

Having said that, the majority of the essays were winners, and I enjoyed this perspective from a (self-described) overweight, antisocial, black female lesbian.

4) How to Be Married: What I Learned from Real Women on Five Continents about Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage, Jo Piazza

Description: Everyone tells you marriage is hard, but no one tells you what to do about it. A travel editor constantly on the move, Jo journeys to twenty countries on five continents to figure out what modern marriage means. Throughout personal narrative, she gleans wisdom from matrilineal tribeswomen, French ladies who lunch, Orthodox Jewish moms, Swedish stay-at-home dads, and polygamous warriors.

There’s some marriage advice in here, but I didn’t read it for that (the advice is all straightforward stuff that people should know anyway). I liked that she traveled around to different countries and told us about other ways of life. I recommend it for the adventure part and not so much the “how do I have a good marriage?” part.

5) Year of No Clutter: A Memoir, Eve Schaub

Description: Eve has a problem with clutter. Too much stuff and too easily acquired, it confronts her in every corner and on every surface in her house. What Eve discovers isn’t just old CDs and outdated clothing, but a fierce desire to hold on to her identity. Our things represent our memories, our history, a million tiny reference points in our lives. If we throw our stuff in the trash, where does that leave us?

My problem with this book is the same I had with Schaub’s first memoir, Year of No Sugar: if you’re going to give up something for a year (in the case of sugar), or take on a year-long project (like she does in this book), and someone is paying you to write about it…then do it. Don’t half-ass your no-sugar year by making concessions all the time, and don’t say you’re going to clean up this super cluttered room in your house if you aren’t going to do it 100%. Schaub said she’s pleased with the outcome, and she did make a lot of progress, but if you watch this video taken after the book was written, you can see everything still remaining to do.

Having said that, this book was entertaining to listen to on audio, and I liked hearing her thoughts on hoarders and how she recognizes some of those tendencies in herself and close family members. If you read this book for entertainment, and don’t focus so much on her lack of goal-accomplishment, it’s worth reading.

6) But Enough About Me: A Jersey Girl’s Unlikely Adventures Among the Absurdly Famous, Jancee Dunn

Description: New Jersey in the 1980s had everything Jancee wanted, and New York City was a foreign country. So it was with bleak expectations she submitted her résumé to Rolling Stone magazine. Before she knew it, she was backstage and behind the scenes with the most famous people in the world, trading her good-girl suburban past for late nights, hipster guys, and the booze-soaked rock ‘n’ roll life. This is the true story of an outsider who couldn’t quite bring herself to become an insider.

Since I enjoyed Jancee’s recent book, How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, I looked her up and discovered she published two previous memoirs. This was her first, published in 2006. It covers her early life growing up in New Jersey with two younger sisters, how she got a job at Rolling Stone, later adding gigs as a VJ on MTV2 and even a correspondent on Good Morning America. She shares interesting celebrity interviews she’s done, revealing details that she didn’t at the time, like when she met Brad Pitt, Madonna, and Dolly Parton. Fun read.

Okay

7) Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?: And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask, Jancee Dunn

Description: Despite her forty years and a successful career as a rock journalist, Dunn still feels like a teenager, especially around her parents and sisters. Looking around, Dunn realizes she’s not alone in this regression: Her friends, all with successful jobs, marriages, and families of their own, still feel like kids around their parents, too. That gets Dunn to thinking: Do we ever really grow up?

I liked and recommended Jancee’s first and third memoirs, but I wasn’t a big fan of this, her second. There were a few enjoyable essays, but multiple chapters were simply the text of phone conversations with a girlfriend (did not enjoy), visiting a gay friend to watch movies (dull), or taking her mom on a weekend trip to Savannah (nothing interesting happened). I would pass on this one.

Not Recommended

8) Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, Steve Martin

Description: In the midseventies, Steve Martin exploded onto the comedy scene. By 1978 he was the biggest concert draw in the history of stand-up. In 1981 he quit forever. This book is, in his own words, the story of “why I did stand-up and why I walked away.”

I expected Steve Martin (I listened to it on audio) to tell me a little about his early life and then get into the more interesting show business stuff, but it turned out to be the opposite — there’s a LOT about his early life and only a short section after he got famous. This may be interesting to big Steve Martin fans but I found it boring. David Spade (see above) was way funnier.

9) All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers, Alana Massey

Description: Mixing Didion’s affected cool with moments of giddy celebrity worship, Massey examines the lives of the women who reflect our greatest aspirations and darkest fears back onto us. A cultural critique and a finely wrought fan letter, interwoven with stories that are achingly personal, this is also an exploration of mental illness, the sex industry, and the dangers of loving too hard.

I wanted to like this book and I had to wait a long time for it to be available at the library, but it wasn’t what I expected and I just didn’t enjoy it. I felt the author’s personal anecdotes were strong, and I kept hoping for more of those. What I didn’t like was most of the book reading like a string of movie and music reviews, due to the inclusion of long dissections of movie plots and song lyrics. A lot of it just didn’t make sense to me; I didn’t understand why the author chose to include what she did or ultimately why I should care.

10) You Don’t Look Your Age…and Other Fairy Tales, Sheila Nevins

Description: A famed documentary producer (she was President of HBO Documentary Films for over 30 years), Nevins steps out from behind the camera and takes her place front and center.

This book was made up of short, random essays, conversations with no context, and other erratic content. It was not coherent nor interesting. Sometimes she would write a story in third person and you were supposed to guess if she was talking about herself or not (she said as much in the introduction). Lady, if this is supposed to be a memoir, don’t make me guess if this is your real life or not. I l only finished this book because it was short.

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