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. ūüôā

Advertisements

Book Review: Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby.jpgTitle: Fever Pitch
Author: Nick Hornby
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Paperback: 272 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

In America, it is soccer. But in Great Britain, it is the real football. No pads, no prayers, no prisoners. And that’s before the players even take the field.

Nick Hornby has been a football fan since the moment he was conceived. Call it predestiny. Or call it preschool. Fever Pitch is his tribute to a lifelong obsession. Part autobiography, part comedy, part incisive analysis of insanity, Hornby’s award-winning memoir captures the fever pitch of fandom ‚ÄĒ its agony and ecstasy, its community, its defining role in thousands of young mens’ coming-of-age stories. Fever Pitch is one for the home team. But above all, it is one for everyone who knows what it really means to have a losing season.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I have a lot of feelings about this book. ¬†I am pretty fanatical about my alma mater’s American football team and as a direct result, parts of this book felt a bit too real. ¬†The way that Hornby is able to describe the relationship one has with a team is truly beautiful. ¬†In the intro alone (which I forwarded to several of my friends who are not huge readers) he really delves into the emotions involved with a crushing defeat. ¬†He goes in with the opinion that to a degree, to be this big of a fan you have to be somewhat depraved and then goes on to show how this fandom is both the largest blessing and curse of his life.

First of all, his point about being somewhat literary and therefore often times making metaphorical connections between his team’s performance and his life rang incredibly true to me. ¬†Much like Hornby, I can often times take what I see from a performance of my team as grand analogy to my own life at the time. ¬†We are losing every game despite looking like a good team in the preseason? ¬†That’s my senior year where I was poised to glide through the last semester and finish early, but for whatever various outside reasons was a non-starter. ¬†We pull together an amazing season despite having no reason to do so? ¬†It’s the year I am living with my wife for the first time, I’m beginning to feel comfortable at my job, and just generally feel like I can deal with the things life throws my way. ¬†Hornby points all this out and does so through some comic, some serious, and some heart-wrenching examples from his own life.

The other thing I think this book does incredibly well is give a glimpse into football (soccer) culture in England particularly in the 70s and 80s when the majority of these events take place.  I do also quite enjoy soccer and the English Premier League is my league of choice so being able to learn a bit more about the atmosphere in grounds at this time was fascinating.  Besides that, it is wonderful to get the perspective of someone who had some of the traits that often lead to hooliganism, but for a variety of reasons was not a hooligan himself, and his reflection on these rougher fans as he grew older and distanced himself from them entirely.  There is a lot of interesting commentary on class and race, which was a pleasant surprise for me.  Finally, being able to hear about a football nuts opinions on Heysel and Hillsborough thinking back to when they happened was absolutely incredible and a perspective that has been missing from most of the other coverage I have seen on these tragedies.

My only issue with this book at all is that it was occasionally a slog to get through.  The format of each section being a game was really cool in terms of driving home just how obsessed he is, but it made it a bit daunting and disorienting at times when reading.

Fair warning: If you expect this book to be anything like the films by the same name prepare to be disappointed.

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 fianc√©, 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:

‚ÄúKeep 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: ‚ÄėDear 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.‚Ķ‚Äô Of course they won‚Äôt find the letter. Publishers can never find anything. But at least someone might panic enough to read the MS.‚ÄĚ

“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.”

Book Review: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.jpgTitle: Into Thin Air
Author: Jon Krakauer
Publisher: Anchor Books
Paperback: 333 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that “suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down.” He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more–including Krakauer’s–in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer’s epic account of the May 1996 disaster.

My Review:

Again, I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Either I need to stop listening what my friends say about required reading, or I should raise my expectations of “classics.” (Or both.)

Into Thin Air¬†is both thrilling and terrifying. Not that I was considering it, but I will now never take mountain climbing as a hobby — especially mountains where high-altitude sickness is a problem. Krakauer includes the history of Mount Everest along with the day-to-day events of his expedition, which added an interesting, enjoyable element to the novel. Not only was I reading a great story, I felt like I was learning a lot too.

Into Thin Air is a tragic story that is wonderfully told. The level of detail included in the descriptions is remarkable. I felt like I was climbing Everest with the author, going through the same psychological and physical torture. I also got to know those who climbed with him, sharing in their successes and failures. I want to note that there is a controversy as to whether the events happened like Krakauer said they happened; I am sure, with all that was going on at the time, that there are discrepancies with events, but I doubt that they are serious since he also interviewed multiple people who were there as well.

I would recommend this book for anyone who is at all interested in adventure or memoirs. If you’re squeamish, you should maybe stay away, since there are descriptions of some pretty awful sights and diseases (I got queasy more than a few times). However, I think that Into Thin Air is a novel most people will find a worthwhile read.

Overall Rating: 4/5