Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Review: Born a Crime

Title: Born a Crime
Author: Trevor Noah
Enjoyment Rating: 5/5
Source: Audiobook from Audible

This book is not just another celebrity memoir. I did not know what to expect when I bought Trevor Noah's book. I knew he was from South Africa, that he is the current host of The Daily Show, and that I had enjoyed many clips from his show during the election, but that's about it. The book is billed as a "coming of age story during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa," and since in 2016 I read Nelson Mandela's autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom, my interest was piqued. Trevor's story is far more complicated and eye-opening than I ever would have imagined. Through Trevor's humor in the face of incredible hardship and his masterful storytelling, I will never think about apartheid, race, or crime the same way again.

Trevor was born to an unmarried black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father in a time when the laws of apartheid made sexual relations between the races a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Simply being a mixed race, or "colored" boy (a separate legal and cultural classification than white or black), he was evidence of his mother's crime. When he was a young boy staying at his grandmother's house, his cousins would go out to play all day, while he was forced to stay inside or risk being taken by the police. Even as apartheid fell and the laws began to change, Trevor struggled to navigate the codes of race in a country with eleven official languages and many social and political efforts to separate groups and prevent unity. English is his first language, but he speaks several other South African languages and found that shared language defines who you are to people more than color or any other characteristic. Talking the same language says "we are the same."

Trevor's mother is a fascinating woman who flouted social norms of race and gender, and yet still had to live in a country where her son was born a crime and where the police did not even pretend to care about wife battery and issues of domestic violence. Even when she was shot through the head by her ex-husband, the criminal justice system failed to give her attempted murderer even a slap on the wrist.

I wish I could retell here all of the stories in this book, but instead, I will just say, go read it. And if you have any recommendations of books written by women about apartheid, please share.  All I have read and watched so far about apartheid has been largely through a male perspective.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Top 12 Books of 2016

Top 12 Books of 2016

Here are 12 of my favorite books from 2016. Why 12? Because I couldn't make myself stop at 10, and my self-imposed time limit for this post kept me from selecting more. I read or listened to 53 books in 2016. The number seems low compared to my super-reader friends, but I was pleased with managing to average one book per week in a year that started with having my third baby. Thank you audiobooks!

In no particular order:

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell - YA fiction, love story, amazing writing (but heads up for frequent swearing).

Rising Strong by Brene Brown - Non-fiction. How to live vulnerably and bravely and rise after a fall. I love everything Brene Brown and I read this twice.

Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski Non-fiction. Reviewed this one here. Every woman should read this book.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. Non-fiction. I reviewed this one here.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Fiction, classic. Amazing writing, fascinating story, but people, this is NOT A LOVE STORY. Mr. Rochester is not a romantic hero, unless you like the secretive, abusive, controlling, brooding type.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. Non-fiction. I love GDM from Momastery. This is her story about battling bulimia and addiction earlier in her life and fighting for her marriage after learning of her husband's infidelity.

Wish You Happy Forever: What China's Orphans Taught Me About Moving Mountains by Jenny Bowen. Non-fiction. Real, normal people can change the world. Jenny Bowen revolutionized the orphanage system in China and improved the lives of countless orphans and families.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand. YA fiction. Super fun book. I reviewed it here.

Duskfall (Chaos Queen #1) by Christopher B. Husberg. Adult fiction, dark fantasy. I reviewed it here.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. Because I had heard his name so many times, read quotes from him, seen his pictures, and watched the movie Invictus, I thought I knew a little about Mandela. I knew next to nothing. His life is incredible and he made great personal sacrifices to bring freedom to his people in apartheid South Africa.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. Middle-grade fiction. This is a companion book, not technically a sequel, of The Wednesday Wars, which was also a great book. Schmidt writes fascinating stories with pitch-perfect tone.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Non-fiction. I listened to this book for a second time this year and enjoyed it as much as the first. A must read (or listen!) fir anyone interested in writing, whether or not you have any interest in horror stories. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy

Title: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Author: J. D. Vance
Enjoyment Rating: 5/5
Source: Audiobook from OverDrive

To kick off 2017, I want to review Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance, which I listened to last month. I liked it enough to buy a copy for one of my brothers and recommend it to several people.

Vance writes honestly and movingly about growing up poor in the rustbelt. His grandparents were Appalachian hillbillies who moved from Kentucky to Ohio with the hope of providing a better future for their children. Vance's grandparents were able to achieve a certain amount of financial success compared to the severe poverty they came from, but Vance's mother and uncle struggled in the dueling cultures of hillbilly violence and secrecy (you don't talk about domestic violence to anyone) and the pressures of middle class life. Vance's mother moved from man to man and struggled to hold down jobs while fighting drug addictions. Due in large part to the loving (if still somewhat chaotic) influence of his grandparents and his decision to join the Marines after high school, Vance made it out of Middletown, Ohio and ultimately graduated from Yale Law School. He writes about the challenges facing poor whites in the rustbelt; towns built up around mills and manufacturing plants that provided upward mobility and stability for one or two generations, but when the mill closes the town dies, and even where they remain open, opportunity for upward mobility becomes scarce. Faced with few achievable options, too many individuals bounce around low-paying jobs and struggle with issues of multi-generational violence and addiction.

Though all of the details of Vance's life are different than mine, I felt it resonate on an emotional level. I grew up as a poor white in a small, agricultural producing town in the Central Valley of California. A lot of the families I knew likewise struggled with issues of domestic violence and/or divorce, drug abuse (prescription pain pills or alcohol most common), and the challenges of a lack of opportunity and upward mobility in a town that sends too few away for higher education and has too few good-paying jobs for them to return to. Vance does not advocate for Donald Trump, and I struggle to see how even a single individual was willing to vote for that man, but I think Hillbilly Elegy is an interesting perspective into the lives of poor whites who see little opportunity or reason for optimism in an economy where manufacturing and mining jobs are shrinking and where they see special interest groups advocating for everyone except for them.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Book Review: Come As You Are

Title: Come As You Are: the surprising new science that will transform your sex life
Authors: Emily Nagoski, PhD
Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Source: Audiobook from Audible

We live in a sex-negative culture. As prevalent as sex seems to be (advertisements! TV! porn! magazine covers!), the culture ties sex to shame, especially for women. It is the reason you can go through years of sex education in the public school system, learn about conception, protection, and STDs, but never hear the word "clitoris." It is the reason you can grow up in a religious culture that holds marriage as the most important human relationship, but sends a steady message of shame about any sexual feelings that might lead to that relationship (every kiss you give is like printing a dollar bill, the more you kiss the less your kiss is worth! If you have sex, you are a chewed piece of gum no one will ever want!).

It was so refreshing to listen to a book that was so body-positive and sex-positive. I picked up Emily Nagoski's book, Come As You Are: the surprising new science that will transform your sex life, after a couple of friends of mine read and reviewed the book. Nagoski has a PhD in Health Behavior and a MA in Counseling. Stealing from her website here, "Emily's mission in life is to teach women to live with confidence and joy inside their bodies."  This book is not a "how-to" manual with instructions on positions or methods of sex. This book, which uses a lot of helpful metaphors, is about pulling out the weeds of misinformation and shame that crowd the garden of sexual health and learning how to tend the garden with the right balance of factors to nurture it to its full potential.

Nagoski uses a combination of scientific research and the experiences of the many women and couples she has met with to explain how our brains and bodies respond to sex. Her primary message to women is that you are normal and beautiful just the way you are. When we are born, our bodies are loved and celebrated, and any shame or disgust or distrust is learned. Sexual response is context specific, and our response to a sexual situation will differ according to that context (status and health of a relationship, stress level, and how we feel about ourselves and our bodies are a few factors). The context determines whether  our brain hits the accelerators towards arousal/pleasure, or the brakes. Some people have more sensitive accelerators, some have more sensitive brakes, and everyone differs. It is all normal. What matters is understanding how you respond to sexually relevant content and creating the context that is best for you.

My biggest criticism is how the book is organized. Nagoski frequently raises an issue and says, "more on this in chapter 5," or "find the answer to this in chapter 7." I found it frustrating to hear that so often, and it made me think that if the questions and answers to certain issues are so fragmented, the book should have been organized differently.  But despite that issue, I found it a very worthwhile book.

 Since most of my blog readers are Mormon women, I'll give a content advisory for this one. The book is intended for adult women engaging in consensual sex, but otherwise, Nagoski withholds judgment for how people choose to seek sexual pleasure. She does not encourage the use of porn or multiple partners, but she does not condemn it either. Read the book with an open mind, and apply whatever limits or morals you want to your own sex life. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mindy Kaling is Stalking Me

This evening I got a notification on my phone that The Mindy Project followed me on Twitter (@katierich87). As in, "the official Twitter profile for #MindyOnHulu." As in, the show written, produced, and starred in by the inimitable Mindy Kaling. Considering that I have not seen any episodes of the show, do not follow The Mindy Project on Twitter, and have a total of 36 followers, this was a surprise. And very suspicious.

The only possible explanation why I am one of the 180K people that The Mindy Project follows is that Mindy Kaling is personally stalking me.

A couple of weekends ago, I listened to not one, but both of Mindy's books.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)  is a collection of essays spanning topics like being the chubby daughter of hard-working Indian immigrants, dumping her Dartmouth sorority sisters, breaking her best friend's nose on stage in their off-Broadway production of Matt & Ben, and writing for The Office (wherein she confirms what we all knew--Rainn Wilson is the worst).
I felt a certain affinity for Mindy in this book. Like Shonda Rhimes discusses in her book Year of Yes, there is a sisterhood in Hollywood for Dartmouth grads. Meredith Grey is my spirit animal, and she is a Dartmouth grad. Never mind that she is a fictional character of Shonda's creation--she is real enough for me.

CONSPIRACY THEORY 1: Mindy knows that BYU is just the Dartmouth of the West and followed me on Twitter as the first step to inviting me to brunch with her and Shonda.

I paused the book at one point to text my friend Brooke and tell her she needs to stop everything she is doing and start. reading. this. book. right. now.

CONSPIRACY THEORY 2: Mindy has her friends at Google searching all Android devices for any individual's mention of her name so she can then follow them on Twitter.

Because the audio version of her book is only about five hours long and I listened to it at 1.4x speed, it went by too quickly. I had a lot of cleaning/dog walking/cooking while I ignored my boys let my boys play outside that weekend, so I immediately downloaded her second book, Why Not Me?

Mindy says that if her first book was wanting everyone to like her, this one is wanting everyone to really know her. It covers more about how awful Rainn Wilson is, how she and BJ Novak are soup snakes/soul mates, starting The Mindy Project, and a hilarious side essay about her life as a high school teacher were she to have never made it to Hollywood.

CONSPIRACY THEORY 3: Mindy somehow knows that I bought a second copy of BJ Novak's book The Book With No Pictures  from the elementary school book fair to donate to my son's class. The first copy was a gift to Brooke's son (not one, but two mentions, Brooke!) and I promised my son I would buy him a (third!) copy at a later time. Mindy follows anyone who buys more than one copy of BJ's books.

I frequently laughed out loud while listening to Mindy and I was inspired to work harder and write more.  I rated each book a 4/5 on Goodreads, which for me is in the "I solidly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to friends" category.

CONSPIRACY THEORY 4: Mindy closely tracks anyone who rates her books on Goodreads and follows them on Twitter to draw them in closer so she can invite them to join her secret cult.

Like Donald Trump, I do not believe in or support conspiracy theories. Ultimately, I have no idea why The Mindy Project followed me when I so rarely even open Twitter on my phone. I watch very little TV, but I may just put down a book for a minute and start watching The Mindy Show.

Well played, Mindy Kaling. Well played.