South and West by Joan Didion

I love Joan Didion’s writing style.

I’m going to preface this by saying non-fiction is not usually my jam unless it is a memoir written by a hilarious women (Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Anna Kendrick, etc..). Reality is pretty bleak most of the time so I prefer to escape into a book that stretches my imagination and pushes me out of the normal day to day. But, I made an exception because Joan Didion is a literary goddess.

If you have not had the pleasure of reading one of Didion’s novels I’ll give you the cliff notes intro to Joan. She writes in a direct yet lyrical manner. She can make the mundane sound beautiful without removing the fact that it is still mundane. I’ll give you a little excerpt from the West section of the book:

“I am at home in the West. The hills of the coastal ranges look “right” to me, the particular flat expanse of the Central Valley comforts my eye. The place names have the ring of real places to me. I can pronounce the names of the rivers, and recognize the common trees and snakes. I am easy here in a way that I am not easy in other places.”

How gorgeous is that prose? It gives me chills and makes me feel at home at the same time.

Now that we are all caught up let’s dig into the book. South and West is a collection of journal entries from when Joan traveled to the Gulf Coast in 1970 and to San Francisco in 1976. The portion on the South is well over ⅔ of the book and it is mesmerizing. As a rebel by nature she commentates from the perspective of a baffled but genuinely curious Californian. Her commentary on the Gulf is heart wrenching, upsetting and wildly uncomfortable for me to read because there’s a level of acceptance at cultural stagnation.

What I loved about the South section was that she was able to observe the culture and people of this new geographic location while being true to herself. She does not give into the patriarchal society that constantly asks about her husband. Her husband is rarely mentioned in these notes; she aims her focus at the places they travel and conversations she overhears. At the end of South she has painted the picture that the Gulf is a tragic marshland, filled with creatures that would terrify tourists if they weren’t on display and with people who hold tightly to their status quo even if it is to their detriment.

The portion on the West is much shorter. It’s like a love letter to the state Didion called home for her formative years. Didion’s notes are speckled with self-awareness. She includes details on what her normal was as a child which juxtaposes the idyllic childhood of the South through access to cultures alone. California is painted as a place deep with history but without the same reverence behind it. Cultural trends come and go without much consideration for who they leave behind.

I absolutely loved reading through these notes for two pieces she never wrote. Her succinct tone in combination with her ability to identify the toxic symptoms of two cultures without coming off as callous is pure magic. The sections unintentionally explain America as a whole. The South is tied so deeply to their roots they are willing to sink in to the marsh with them and the West is untethered, willing to float off with the next exciting idea. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys stories from the view of an observer with heavy social commentary.

Have you ready any Didion? If so, what do you think of her style?

But Really Though Reads- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Have you read a book as an adult that you wish you had read as a child? The Golden Compass made me envious of anyone under 12 picking it up for the first time. I distinctly remember wanting to see the movie after seeing the preview in theaters but luckily, from the looks of its 42% on Rotten Tomatoes, I never did.

Oddly enough, after loving that preview this bookworm never picked up the trilogy. I must have written it off as a children’s series in my HS days and stuck to rereading the Harry Potter series until the books began falling apart. I honestly never thought about the series again.

Recently Brenton and I were in one of our favorite bookstores and he picked up the first book. The moment he finished the book he looked at me and asked if we could go buy him the next one; it was a book emergency. The next day we bought him the rest of the series. Once we got him settled in the second book I decided to pick up the first one to see how valid his book emergency was.

IT WAS VERY VALID.

I’ve had friends refer to the trilogy as the atheist kid’s Narnia or a girl centric Harry Potter but after reading the first book I think what makes it special is that the first novel is a girls journey to independence. Harry and Lucy et al survive with the help of their friends and family. For Lyra, our heroine, all she can trust is herself and her daemon (physical form of soul/conscience), Pantamilion.

Another factor that differentiates this series from others is that there is an immediate rejection of the church and religion. Lyra learns rather quickly that almost everyone under the guise of being part of the church has an ulterior motive. Lyra has a fairly accurate bullshit meter from the beginning of the novel and it only gets stronger as she acquires more skills and tools throughout her semi-solo travels.

A fault of the series is that it is a novel about a wild girl that was obviously written by a man. The way Lyra rejects all things feminine is written as a differentiator instead of a casual personality trait. It comes off tone deaf in our current culture. 

In an attempt to not give anything else away, and also because I immediately want to start book two after finishing this one, I am going to wrap this up here. Sound off in the comments if you have read the series and what your thoughts are! I’ll be back with feedback on the rest of the series soon.

But Really Though Reads – Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

I’ve been in a  ~ sp0oKy~ fantasy reading mood lately and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books are hitting the spot.

None of the Discworld books are even remotely close to horror but they scratch the itch of light and dark magic emotions that come up during autumn (aka spook season). I picked Wyrd Sisters as my introduction to Discworld on a whim. I’m under the impression that the characters overlap but it is not necessary to read the history of the planet that travels on the back of the sky turtle in order.

Wyrd Sisters is the story of three witches and how willing they are to break their own rules of magic to help their kingdom. The three witches are only a coven by definition; they have more differences in agreement than their alignment to each other. Our three leading ladies are Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat. Granny is the eldest witch and the least willing to participate in anything showy or fluffy. Nanny is promiscuous and life of the party. Magrat is the youngest and an idealist about the state of her coven.

The three women venture through time and space, which is much out of Granny’s comfort zone, to assist the Kingdom (personified not as individuals) in removing an awful king from power. The story is witty, hilarious and alludes to the showy witches of fairytales (Cinderella’s fairy godmother makes a cameo).

I highly recommend Wyrd Sisters to anyone who loves a magical world with a sarcastic twist. I will definitely be visiting Discworld again.  

But Really Though Reads – The Female Persuasion

I finished another book and I can’t stop thinking about it. I gobbled through Meg Wolitzer’s newest book The Female Persuasion over the last two weeks and it has left me in the strangest emotional place.

If you have not read anything by Wolitzer please do yourself a favor and pick up one of her novels now. Her stories are what I imagine we would have gotten if Sylvia Plath had access to Prozac (and her YA novel Belzhar is proof). Wolitzer creates her characters from all angles meaning that the reader gets to see them through multiple perspectives (themselves and others) in the book. Just like in reality, the character has no idea and no control over what others think of them. The feelings are raw and the strings don’t tie up neatly, but her writing encompasses the human emotional scale.

With this prior experience in Wolitzer’s worlds I picked up The Female Persuasion thinking I was prepared for the uncomfortable moments and the characters that make me squirm. I was not ready for the journey we take through Greer Kadesky and Faith Frank’s lives. Greer meets Frank when Frank speaks at Greer’s college. Wolitzer carries us lovingly through the beginning of the professional relationship between the second and third wave feminist duo. The novel touches on intersectionality, the recognition of privilege and the importance of a feminist boyfriend. Wolitzer also highlights where the animosity between second and third wave feminism stems from through anecdotes from Faith and Greer’s lives.

I’m going to stop here before I ruin the novel for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Wolitzer’s novel is filled with triumph, heartbreak, deceit, confusion, tragedy and ends on the importance of everyone using their power for good until they cannot anymore.

Have you read The Female Persuasion yet? If so, what did you think of it?

But Really Though Reads – Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Maybe I’m spoiled from reading Harry Potter as a kid but it takes a special writer to get me to buy in to a fictional world. I love the world of fantasy but a magical universe has to be not only well thought out, but descriptive and vivid as well. Neil Gaiman is a master of fantasy. He is able to describe locations with enough detail to set the stage but with enough blanks to let the reader’s imagination run wild.

Neil Gaiman created a fantastical world right on the edge of reality. Well, actually he put it in the world beneath us. Neverwhere is a story about people who fall through the cracks. The novel takes place in the London Underground (literally). The characters in this story live in the subways and sewers as either invisible creatures or the people none of us want to make eye contact with on the street. The description of London underground is so realistic it has me looking in doorways and down drain pipes for a gateway to the world of forgotten people.

Our heroine is not a femme fatale – she unlocks the mysteries to the magic. The point that she is the key to everything is made painfully obvious by two things: 1. Her magical ability to unlock doors and puzzles, 2. Her name is Door.

Not only did the heroine entice me – Gaiman’s ability to make London seem magical yet identical to any major city is magical. I’ll give you a little taste of his magic.

“It was a city in which the very old and the awkwardly new jostled each other, not uncomfortably, but without respect; a city of shops and offices and restaurants and homes, of parks and churches, of ignored monuments and remarkably unpalatial palaces; a city of hundreds of districts with strange names…and oddly distinct identities; a noisy, dirty, cheerful, troubled city, which fed on tourists, needed them as it despised them, in which the average speed of transportation through the city had not increased in three hundred years” 

Neverwhere has opened my eyes to the underground in my own city, the people who have slipped through the cracks. It can be a heartbreaking concept to think about (homelessness, poverty, etc) but it reminded me to keep looking for the deeper meaning in each person and interaction.

Reading about the fantastical lives of the people living in the subway told me to look for magic every doorway and reminded me that I have the key.

Please please please read this book and talk to me about it. I’m obsessed with Gaiman’s magic and the characters of London Underground.

F Free February

Sober January move over, I’m ready for fuck free February. As an early birthday present to myself I bought Sarah Knight’s book The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck. Subsequently, I have dedicated the month of February to reducing the amount of fucks I give.

Knight translates the Marie Kondo concept of item minimalism into fucks given. It’s magical, life changing and really fun. She has the reader divide their fucks into four categories: things, work, people and family. Once the fucks are divided, Knight dictates that you, the reader, sit with them and write them all down. After they are written and concrete you determine how many fucks you can alot in your fuck budget and you let the rest go. It sounds so simple; I assure you it’s not. But it is the most blissful feeling to just let shit go.

Letting shit go is not only an amazing feeling but it’s also super important for mental health. It is impossible to always care what everyone thinks. Giving too many fucks is horrible for our brains..so I’m just not going to.

Carrie Fisher
My fuck free idol <3

Because of this I am working on letting as many fucks as possible go in February. In her book Knight provides guidelines for giving less fucks without being an asshole and I am taking them to heart this month. I’m saying goodbye to shame for saying no to an event I don’t want to attend, toodles to pointless conversations with mansplainers and see you never to after work happy hours.

I’m excited to see where this takes me. Hopefully I will find some free time to do more of the things I do give a fuck about like reading, writing, meditating and working out. Maybe with this extra free time I’ll finally learn how to double dutch but for now I’m just going to work on dropping the extra fucks.

If you know me, please keep me accountable and call me out if you see me giving too many fucks. If you want to participate in fuck free February feel free to join me, or not, I don’t really give a fuck.

But Really Though Reads – Sex Object by Jessica Valenti

B and I went out for a walk in SF today and we magically ended up near a bookstore. Being the bibliophile that I am we had to take a “quick look around”. My quick look turned into a $30 purchase of two books – one of which I promptly went home and read cover to cover today. The book I chose to spend my Sunday with is Sex Object by Jessica Valenti.

Funnily enough, I have put Sex Object in my Amazon shopping cart upwards of 12 times only to then decide to purchase another work of fiction or a collection of essays instead (I apologize to my past self- I don’t know what I was thinking). I have failed myself by delaying the delivery of this book into my hands – it is amazing.

Valenti doesn’t reclaim the title of sex object, but instead provides anecdotes on how she has come to accept this as part of her identity; not because of anything she has done but because society, specifically through the male gaze, has told her this about herself. Valenti provides powerful truths about being a woman in a world that hates women and she doesn’t leave room for the fluff. Sex Object is neither a fight call or a pity party, it is the truth and that is what makes it so powerful.

Valenti and I share many differences but I could relate to her in every story she told. She explained the guilt we feel as women for telling men no. How, even as a published author and feminist, she can still be made to feel small by comments by men. She explains how easy and common it is for us to not react to someone treating us poorly because we like them or their nice or we don’t want to blow up our friendships. She puts into words the emotions we are forced to carry from all the misogyny and blatantly shitty things men (or women –  anyone can be a sexist) do to women.

Thank you, Jessica Valenti for creating something that felt cathartic to read. Thank you for not forcing a silver lining into every story. It was beautiful and painful and still managed to be humorous.

If you want to buy the book I’ve included a link here.

But Really Though Reads: Normal by Warren Ellis

Lately I have been reading more to write more (or at least that’s the lie I’ve been telling myself to set aside time to read more).

My most recent read was Normal by Warren Ellis. Normal is a dystopian tech-thriller. This niche category of science fiction includes works like Blade Runner and 1984.

StockSnap_RTLG8SWO9F.jpg

The succinct novel takes place in a surveillance society not too different from our own. It begins with Adam arriving to Normal Head a mental health hospital for those who have been driven insane by their jobs of “staring into the abyss”. The patients of Normal Head divide themselves by their careers from the outside world; big business paid v nonprofit workers. Adam has played both sides which makes him a slightly more reliable narrator than any other patient at Normal Head; but as the doctor at Normal Head tells Adam “Everyone here is batshit.”

Normal is puzzling, uncannily too close to our current surveillance culture and highly engaging. It has stuck with me days after finishing the novel. The paranoia is palpable from the first page and builds until the last. Every character represents a different approach to dealing with a reality that encourages paranoia, much like our current world. The smokescreen of the pro’s of the surveillance society is lifted and what is left is chilling.  

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who wants to knock a book out in one sitting (I read it in an evening because I could NOT put it down). It’s also great for those of us who love a good conspiracy theory or for those who still recall the uncanny feeling they got while reading Orwell’s 1984.

Leave a comment if you’ve read Normal and let me know your thoughts!

 

*SPOILER* 

 

Did anyone else get Kafka’s Metamorphosis vibes while reading this book?

But Really Though Reads – Break in Case of Emergency by Jessica Winter

Break in Case of Emergency is the best satirical takedown of celebrity philanthropy.

This novel balances, as Mike Schur put it “the moment in your life when you go from ‘young’ to ‘no longer young’”. It presents the stage where you are no longer the youngest person in the office but you don’t feel old enough to be making the decisions presented to you.

Winter’s work handles current global topics such as female friendships, pseudo-feminism, mental health, fertility and the monetary class divide. Jen, the main character, struggles with the absurdity of celebrity charities, the heart wrenching jealousy of the wealthy and the anxiety of having talent with no outlet for it.

Winter’s characters are lovable, multi-faceted and believably human. Jen has talent but lacks the privilege to live the life of her dreams, while it seems like everyone else around her has the monetary support to follow their artistic endeavours and take advantage of her on the way. Something that really resonated with me was her unwillingness to accuse her friends of taking advantage of her. Jen also refuses to let them help her out, not because of her pride but because she would never ask for what she couldn’t return. Women must help other women on the climb to the top without squashing anyone else on the way.

The character development and plot of this novel is what stood out the most to me. I would highly recommend this book to anyone in an in between phase looking for a humorous approach to dealing with the realities of the world we live in.

 

 

 

 

But Really Though Reads—You’ll Grow Out Of It by Jessi Klein

For Christmas I received so many beautiful books! One of these was Jessi Klein’s autobiography, “You’ll Grow Out Of It” and this writer/comedian did not disappoint.

img_6469

Klein is a writer for Inside Amy Schumer, SNL, Transparent amongst many other works. Not only is she insanely talented with the pen, she is also captivating in conversation (she often appears in NPR’s radio show “Wait..Wait..Don’t Tell Me”). Jessi identifies as a “tom man” meaning she is a tomboy who never “grew out of it”

Jessi Klein is so hilarious and captivating that I finished this book in one sitting. I have not been actively engaged in someone’s story like this since I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Klein is a comedic genius and her staccato comedic timing translates perfectly on the page. Reading this memoir felt like a conversation. Klein’s perspective on everything stereotypically feminine, from weddings to the television show The Bachelor, is relatable and refreshing. Klein identifies as female and heterosexual but still finds that she never fits in the feminine box. She is the comedic queen of the not so feminine female.

Without giving away too many of the book’s comedic secrets, my favorite analogy of hers is the Poodle v Wolf. According to Klein, women are categorized as either poodles or wolves and while both are from the same species, they have very different defining characteristics. A poodle is in sync with her feminine side and a wolf is more masculine. Being pretty is not the dividing line between poodles and wolves, poodles are more yin and wolves are more yang. For example, Sofia Vergara would be defined as a poodle while Jennifer Aniston is a wolf. While both are beautiful, it is their personality characteristics that place them in their category. I love that Jessi differentiates between the two without belittling either category. You trot on you beautiful poodle or wolf!

Klein is a genious, a goddess and a wonderful soul. This book is a must read for any misfit with a love for wit.

I’m always on the hunt for new books, leave me some suggestions for my reading list!