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.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book Review: My Lady Jane

Title: My Lady Jane
Authors: Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
Source: Audiobook from Audible

I chose this book for my young adult fiction book club, and I was nervous. I had only listened to the first hour of the audiobook before I introduced it to the group. It was the first time I had chosen a book that I had not already finished and loved, but fortunately, Hand, Ashton, and Meadows did not disappoint.

My Lady Jane is a fun, revisionist history of Lady Jane Grey, niece of King Henry VIII and Queen of England for a whopping 9 days. The real Lady Jane literally loses her head at the end of her short reign, but the authors here decide to change things around a bit to give Jane a happier ending. Instead of the Protestant versus Catholic battles of the real succession crisis of the Tudor crown, here we have a battle between Verities, non-magical people, and EĆ°ians, animal shape-shifters, who are hated and hunted by the Verities. The story is told from three perspectives: first, the sickly, King Edward, who must discover who is trying to murder him and steal his crown; second, Lady Jane Grey, a cousin and close friend of Edward, who must navigate the forces against her as she is named heir to the throne and is forced to marry Gifford; and third, Gifford, or G, son of a top adviser to the King, whose life as a chestnut colored steed during the day is only one of his secret identities.

Written in the satirical style of The Princess Bride, My Lady Jane pulls no pun. It is a fun read with enough adventure, political conspiracy, and romance to make the silliness work.  

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Herstory: Three Books About Women in WWII

“Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.” 
-The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

I could read books and watch movies about World War II  every day for the rest of my life and still only scratch the surface of the human experience.  The depths of some of the greatest evils the world has ever known, the heights of the greatest sacrifices, the horrors of the bombs, the unsung heroes who risked everything to save even one person.  And now, while the United States, Great Britain, France,  Germany and others are seeing a resurgence in nationalism, racism and bigotry, it seems more important than ever to remember what the world went through just over 70 years ago and vow to do better.

There are many excellent books and movies that tell stories of the soldiers who fought in the war, but recently I have read a few books that tell more of the story of what women in Western Europe went through. Though the two novels are of course fiction, a lot of the details ring true to what I have read in non-fiction accounts of the war, and they capture the human experience in a way only art can.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is one of the best books I have read in years. It tells the story of how sisters Viann and Isabelle survive the Nazi occupation of France. Viann's quiet life in the French countryside is turned upside down when the war calls away her husband and sends in her younger, rebellious sister as a refugee fleeing Paris. Viann must learn to survive while hosting a Nazi officer in her home, while the spirited Isabelle takes a more active role in the French resistance. The sisters are tested to their breaking points and learn much about love and courage in the process. This book masterfully tells how French women participated in the war efforts in ways that few history classes in the US ever discuss.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a middle-grade novel that follows the story of nine-year-old Ada, a crippled girl who has never left her London apartment because her mother is ashamed of her disability (a club-foot). However, she manages to escape her mother when she and her younger brother Jamie join the hoards of children being sent out of London to live with families in the countryside to escape the risks posed by the anticipated bombing of London. They move in with Susan Smith, a single woman trapped by grief. Susan opens up the world to Ada as she teaches her to read, ride a horse, and have confidence in herself; the children in turn teach Susan how to love again. But as the war comes to a close, will the children have to go back to their abusive mother? I loved seeing the war from this perspective. The book certainly covers its share of difficult topics, but has a great balance of being appropriate for elementary-aged children while still having interesting social commentary for adults to enjoy. And while thousands of men in England went off to fight, many women and elderly couples in the countryside took in children and participated in the war in other ways.

The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust by Edith Hahn Beer is a fascinating memoir of a Jewish law student in Vienna whose life is shattered by the Nazis. She is denied her law graduation and is first sent to forced labor on a farm.  As more of herself and her family are stripped away, Edith ultimately becomes a U-boat, a Jew living secretly inside Nazi society.  She takes on a stolen identity and marries a Nazi officer (who knows she is a Jew), risking both of their lives were the truth to be discovered by anyone. The story of what she did to survive is both fascinating and heartbreaking. Stories like hers remind me that I cannot just put my head in the sand while hateful rhetoric and policies take shape around me, as the lives of real people hang in the balance.

For different reasons, each of these books is a valuable contribution to the artistic and historic record of the war, and specifically, how women in Western Europe lived through these years. As it is highly unlikely that I will ever be called upon to serve my country in a combat position in war, it was fascinating to read about how women engaged in the war from their respective home fronts.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review: Duskfall (Chaos Queen #1) by Christopher Husberg

Title: Duskfall (Chaos Queen #1)
Author: Christopher Husberg
Enjoyment Rating: 5/5
Source: Audiobook from Audible

Winter, a quiet, seemingly insignificant Tiellan (elvish) woman stands to marry Knot, a mysterious human man her father had pulled from a frozen sea the year before, pierced by arrows and close to death. Their wedding is disrupted by a band of men, and Knot surprises even himself when he kills the men with violent precision.  Knot abandons his new wife in a quest to find out who he is and how he came to possess such deadly skills. Winter is not content to stay behind. She enlists her best friend, Lian, and goes in search of her husband. Winter encounters Kali and Nash who introduce her to Frost, a drug that allows her to access psimantic abilities that give her strength and power to take on the forces that stand in her way. They cross paths with the priestess Cinzia, whose family is caught up in a heretical rebellion that endangers her sister and everyone else in the town they expect to find Knot. Can Winter control her growing addiction to Frost in order to stay focused on her goal? Even after risking everything to find Knot, will he accept her when she finds him?

Duskfall is a dark fantasy novel from debut author Christopher Husberg. Chris is a friend of mine from grad school (plus we attended the same ward! plus our spouses have worked together for many years!). I pre-ordered the paperback, but quickly realized I was too eager to read the book for the short amount of time I have at night to sit down with a hard copy. I bought the audiobook and listened during every spare second I had (walking my dog, washing dishes, folding laundry. . .  you get the idea). Knowing Chris guaranteed I would read the book, but it did not guarantee I would love it, which I did.

I liked the characters and how well their motivations tied in with their actions, but what I especially liked was how gently Chris unfolds the world he built. The trouble I have with some fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian novels is that the authors sometimes leave their readers in the dark, confused about the world or magic system to the point of frustration. Not here. At every turn it was clear there was more to learn, but I felt guided rather than blinded.  If anything, I am frustrated that only the first book of the quintet has been released, but I am confident that the future books will be worth the wait. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book Review: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Title: Tell Me Three Things
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
Source: MP3 audiobook from OverDrive

Jessie's life is turned upside down when her mom dies of ovarian cancer and her dad elopes with a woman he met in an online support group for grieving widows. She is forced to leave her life and home in Chicago and move to Los Angeles, where she attends the intimidating prep school, Wood Valley High. She feels lost and alone until she gets an email from an account named Somebody/Nobody (S/N) who offers to help be her guide at the new school. She isn't sure she can trust S/N, but she takes a leap of faith because she has nothing else to lose. Jessie's story is partly an exploration of grief, partly a coming of age tale, and partly a love story.

Some friends of mine read the book and gave it less enthusiastic reviews, but it really worked for me. It is rare that I find a character in YA lit whose story is so similar to mine. While all of the details are different, I've experienced many of the same major events. I too had a parent elope after meeting someone on the internet (my mom); I too spent time across the country and experienced culture shock (summers in Georgia with my mom and step-dad); I too lost my mom to ovarian/peritoneal cancer (genetically identical cancers). So while it is easy to brush off parts of Jessie's story as far flung or immature (she views everyone in LA as stereotypes at first), her growth through the process felt familiar and authentic. And I love a good YA love story. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Preface

8 1/2 years ago I started a blog using the first names of my husband, Joey, and myself. It seemed like the cool thing for newlyweds to do at the time ̶ start a family blog, post pictures, and write updates about vacations, holidays, and major family events. We were super cute, so obviously the world needed to see us.

It quickly became evident that this was not really a family blog. It was my blog. But the title made me uncomfortable with writing personal essays and publishing them as "joeykatie." While I enjoyed reading the blogs my friends wrote about their families, I did not feel comfortable with the unspoken pressure to write personal details about my children and family events.

Did I really need to post monthly updates about my babies? If I didn't include a picture of every family member present at a reunion, would I hurt someone's feelings?

My anxiety over whether I should be publishing personal thoughts on a family blog and not wanting to overexpose my children on the internet led me to stop blogging 2 1/2 years ago.

That time frame coincides with the time I stopped teaching college writing classes. I finished my last section the week I had my second baby (I had to cancel the last day of class because I went into labor). When I found out I was pregnant with my third baby, I decided to wait longer than I initially had planned to return to teaching. In the meantime, I run a book club with some friends in my neighborhood, I'm making glacially slow progress on writing my first novel, and I use books and audiobooks like oxygen ̶ the key components to keeping my body and mind functioning amidst the madness magic of raising three kids.

Enter Read In, Breathe Out. This is my space to write about books and the issues that matter to me. My husband and children may make guest appearances, but this is my show. I hope you'll come back often.