Book Review: Shrill by Lindy West

shrill by lindy westTitle: Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman
Author: Lindy West
Publisher: Hachette
Hardcover: 272 pages
Source: BookCon 2016
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Coming of age in a culture that demands women be as small, quiet, and compliant as possible–like a porcelain dove that will also have sex with you–writer and humorist Lindy West quickly discovered that she was anything but.

From a painfully shy childhood in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her big body and even bigger opinions; to her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes; to her struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value; to her accidental activism and never-ending battle royale with Internet trolls, Lindy narrates her life with a blend of humor and pathos that manages to make a trip to the abortion clinic funny and wring tears out of a story about diarrhea.

With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss–and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Andrew and I came across this book at BookCon Chicago this year. We were both already weighed down with dozens of pounds of books, but Andrew insisted that it looked good (and thought he remembered good things being said about it) and we should pick up a copy. It’s really never hard to convince me to pick up a book, so we did and I am so glad we did, because this is one of my all-time favorite reads this year. Shrill is Lindy West’s memoir, told in a collection of short essays/stories that are somewhat linked, but are easily taken a piece at a time. She writes about big events in her life, especially focusing on the way she’s been treated because she’s an overweight female. It’s a feminist masterpiece.

What I love about this collection is that Lindy puts herself out there and shares the reality of what she faces as an overweight woman in society, and then goes on to explain how our current societal outlook and culture is to blame for the shitty behavior of people. I feel like we see a lot of theories behind why women are treated so poorly by men (e.g. they are seen as objects rather than people, so they are catcalled more often, etc.), but what we need are brave women to be like: this happened to me, this is how it made me feel, and this is why it needs to change. I think a lot of people reading this book are going to realize that they have experienced similar situations and are going to better understand how we can go about dealing with those situations in order to affect change in our culture. And what’s wonderful about this book is that Lindy calls people out in such a way that left me both angry and ready to take action, yet also amused and laughing at the ridiculous situations life puts us in. I don’t know how she does it, but she does, and it is inspiring.

I devoured this book. I love how it’s written in short chapters that I can very much put down when I need to get to work or help make dinner, but it’s a joy to pick back up again and read more about what Lindy has to say. I’ve already recommended it to pretty much everyone I know (I keep begging Andrew to read it NOW), so I’ll recommend it to anyone who’s reading this right now. It’s intelligent, funny, thought-provoking, and simply wonderful. Read it. Now. And then we can talk about it. 🙂

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Book Review: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David SedarisTitle: Me Talk Pretty One Day
Author: David Sedaris
Publisher: LittleBrown and Company
Paperback: 272 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

David Sedaris’ move to Paris from New York inspired these hilarious pieces, including the title essay, about his attempts to learn French from a sadistic teacher who declares that “every day spent with you is like having a caesarean section”.

His family is another inspiration. You Can’t Kill the Rooster is a portrait of his brother, who talks incessant hip-hop slang to his bewildered father. And no one hones a finer fury in response to such modern annoyances as restaurant meals presented in ludicrous towers of food and cashiers with six-inch fingernails.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This has been on my to-read list for way too  long, and I’ve been trying to wait until the audiobook’s availability on OverDrive and my available free time to listen to an audiobook reached a happy meeting point, but it never did. So, I checked out a printed version of this collection, and I have to admit I regret it just a little bit.

There is nothing like hearing David Sedaris read his own essays — the intonation and life he gives to them is astounding, and I live for listening to his audiobooks. I think this is the first time I’ve actually ever read his essays in print, and to be fair, it wasn’t as disappointing as I thought it would be. Even without his voice to clue me in on his sarcasm, his essays were still pretty funny.

With that said, I think this collection is sadder than most. My favorite collection of his is still When You Are Engulfed in Flames. While this one has funny moments, I found a lot of it to be depressing, hence my rating. But, the ones I did enjoy, I really enjoyed. The speech therapy story is ridiculous and perfect and has everything about school that I hated. There are also a few stories about him trying to acclimate himself to France and learn the French language. His essays about living in France from When You Are Engulfed in Flames are among my favorite from that collection, and it’s no different from this collection. There’s just something wonderfully hysterical about how Sedaris looks at his own experiences of adapting to a new culture and new language.

Overall, I enjoyed myself. If you’re at all into humorous creative non-fiction essays, then I’d say you should give these a shot. I think I’m going to put a hold on the audiobook for Me Talk Pretty One Day to see if I enjoy it anymore. I particularly want to hear Sedaris read his speech therapy story.

Book Review: A Slip of the Keyboard – Collected Nonfiction by Terry Pratchett

slip of the keyboardTitle: A Slip of the Keyboard – Collected Nonfiction
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Doubleday
Hardcover: 323 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Terry Pratchett has earned a place in the hearts of readers the world over with his bestselling Discworld series — but in recent years he has become equally well-known and respected as an outspoken campaigner for causes including Alzheimer’s research and animal rights. A Slip of the Keyboard brings together for the first time the finest examples of Pratchett’s non fiction writing, both serious and surreal: from musings on mushrooms to what it means to be a writer (and why banana daiquiris are so important); from memories of Granny Pratchett to speculation about Gandalf’s love life, and passionate defences of the causes dear to him.

With all the humour and humanity that have made his novels so enduringly popular, this collection brings Pratchett out from behind the scenes of the Discworld to speak for himself — man and boy, bibliophile and computer geek, champion of hats, orangutans and Dignity in Dying.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I’ve unfortunately read too little of Terry Pratchett in the past years, and the only excuse for it is that I’ve been reading so much of everything else, which isn’t much of an excuse, I’ll admit. Luckily, my fiancé, Andrew, is a fan of his, so I’ve been delving a bit more into his work. (I’m currently reading Good Omens, which is turning out to be fantastic.)

I started this book for a few reasons:

  1. I have a bad habit of reading at work during the dead time in between appointments, and it’s better if I’m reading a collection of short stories or essays, because once I finish a short story, I’ve gotten my fix and I’m back to being productive and doing what I’m getting paid to do.
  2. It was available on OverDrive at my library.
  3. Andrew loves non-fiction, so I thought I’d read this to see if I thought he’d be interested in adding this to his to-read list, though I know that being with me has probably added a few too many books to that list. (Even though they are really just so good.)
  4. I think it’s interesting to know the person behind the writing, either before or after I’ve met that person through their stories. It’s a bit backwards from what traditionally happens in this case, but I think that I’ll be able to better appreciate his work now knowing some of his thoughts behind life, living, and stories.

I truly enjoyed this book. I agree with Pratchett on many things and reading the words of someone who loves words and stories so much is deeply gratifying. Some of these stories were sad, as he talks about his struggle with Alzheimer’s and his thoughts about assisted death, but I think he offers useful insights from his experiences. For those of us who have studied writing or write in some way, he puts a humorous viewpoint on how we get our work done and how we feel about it before, during, and afterwards, which I truly enjoy. I think that writing is at once a unique and universal thing — we all, after all, tell stories. Getting someone else’s viewpoint on the process is at once relieving and fascinating, as there are often so many similarities to my own experience with it.

Besides the similarities, though, I loved learning fun new facts about Pratchett and his life. Reading about his hat collection, adventures (or non-adventures) on book tours, and getting to know him a little bit better was a wonderful experience that I greatly appreciated.

The only complaint I had is that because of the way the book is set up, some of his thoughts and arguments become repetitive. In real life, nobody would have noticed, because he wrote these essays years, even decades apart, but having them collected together, sorted by theme, I felt like some of the essays were almost the same as the others. Not his fault, of course, and I didn’t enjoy the book any less, but if you’re going to read this, I do recommend taking your time through it so that you don’t feel frustrated with the repetition.

I recommend this to all writers, readers, and fans of Terry Pratchett. It’s a solid collection, and I can’t imagine there being anyone who wouldn’t enjoy at least two works from this book.

Favorite Quotes:

“Keep an eye on the trade press. When an editor moves on, immediately send your precious MS to his or her office, with a covering letter addressed to said departed editor. Say, in the tones of one engaged in a cooperative effort, something like this: ‘Dear X, I was very pleased to receive your encouraging letter indicating your interest in my book, and I have made all the changes you asked for.…’ Of course they won’t find the letter. Publishers can never find anything. But at least someone might panic enough to read the MS.”

“The first thing I do when I finish writing a book is start a new one. This was a course of action suggested, I believe, by the late Douglas Adams, although regrettably he famously failed to follow his own advice.

“People are magnificent research, almost the best there is. An old copper will tell you more about policing than a textbook ever will. An old lady is happy to talk about life as a midwife in the 1930s, a long way from any doctor, while your blood runs cold.”

Audiobook Review: When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

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Title: When You Are Engulfed in Flames
Author: David Sedaris
Narrator: David Sedaris
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Length: ~ 9 hours
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

Trying to make coffee when the water is shut off, David considers using the water in a vase of flowers and his chain of associations takes him from the French countryside to a hilariously uncomfortable memory of buying drugs in a mobile home in rural North Carolina. In essay after essay, Sedaris proceeds from bizarre conundrums of daily life-having a lozenge fall from your mouth into the lap of a fellow passenger on a plane or armoring the windows with LP covers to protect the house from neurotic songbirds-to the most deeply resonant human truths. Culminating in a brilliant account of his venture to Tokyo in order to quit smoking, David Sedaris’s sixth essay collection is a new masterpiece of comic writing from “a writer worth treasuring” (Seattle Times)

My Review:

I have never laughed so hard in my life than when I listened to this.  Seriously, whenever I’m having a bad day or I know something stressful is coming up, I listen to these essays. Sedaris takes weird stuff that happens in life and turns them into hilarious and insightful pieces that entertain and give a whole new look at the absurd situations life frequently contains.

It’s hard to give a long review of this, because they’re composed of non-fiction essays, so there isn’t really a long plot line to critique or character development to discuss. I will just say that this collection will have you laughing out loud and will make you look differently at weird situations that arise in your own life.

Note: The reason why I put the audiobook information down is because I highly recommend listening to his essays rather than just reading them. Hearing them in Sedaris’s own voice with his intonations really sets the tone and adds to the comedy.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5