Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

So, Star Wars has always played a huge role in my life.  Episode 4 - the original Star Wars for those of you that don't know anything about the Star Wars universe - came out two years before I was born. One of my earliest memories of movies was eagerly awaiting that opening credit with the theme music and the scrolling words.  Also, pretending to be Han Solo shooting TIE fighters as the Millenium Falcon blasts out of the Death Star.  AWESOME. And honestly, the Princess Leia character was the first legitimately tough, commanding, badass woman that I saw - she in some ways was a feminist role model to me before I was conscious of what feminism and its role models were (followed ten years later by Ellen Ripley of Alien fame, but that's another story for another time), so when I learned that Carrie Fisher wrote a memoir about her time on set at Star Wars, I was super excited.  This was compounded by the fact that Ms. Fisher passed away Christmas week, devastating me in the process.

Carrie Fisher, for those of you who live under a rock, is the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. She literally grew up in the spotlight - she was a toddler when her father left her mother for Liz Taylor, so there was never really a time when Carrie Fisher wasn't in the spotlight.  That type of associative fame - fame that was derived by being associated with someone else famous - was completely different from being famous in her own right and she was thoroughly unprepared for it. This memoir looks at how, at 19, she dealt with being thrust into the spotlight as an overnight hit and with sex and intimacy.

I loved Carrie's voice in this memoir. She was sardonic and witty when it came to her fame and amused when it comes to her love life.  Her big secret was that during the filming of the Star Wars movie, she had an affair with Harrison Ford, who was then a married father of two. We learn that the 33-year old Harrison Ford seduced Carrie in the back of a cab while she was seriously inebriated and after having rescued her from the clutches of some really drunk crew members at George Lucas' birthday party.  My eyebrows were certainly going up at that point. She includes excerpts from the diaries themselves, which I wasn't all too fond of. I skimmed through them. They were boring quite frankly and very "woe is me."  I wish that she had just stuck to telling the story because she is smart and funny. Generally a good read. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I'll be honest - this wasn't the first time that I had read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The last time I read it was 9 years ago, right after my son was born - I can't believe that it has been out for that long. I'm glad that I re-read it now, because I found myself in a place where I could relate more to Ms. Gilbert and her experiences.

At the start of this book, we learn that the author is not in a good place. It's the middle of the night, she's on her bathroom floor sobbing and her marriage is literally going down the toilet. She enters quickly into another relationship that is very stressful for her and ultimately very heartbreaking. She was hurt, depressed and anxious. In order to heal, she decided to spend one year of her life traveling in order to get to know herself.  For the first third of the year, Ms. Gilbert spent time in Italy. For the middle third, Ms. Gilbert spent her time in India and in the last third, she went to Bali.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  Ms. Gilbert is self-effacing, humble and quite frankly, funny and relatable. Books like this can go so wrong so quickly - it's a good thing that she was brutally honest.  I was also very impressed that she set boundaries and stuck to them. For instance, she was honest about having marital problems and the divorce but she was very up front and clear about not wanting to get into the reasons and the fights and I really respected that. There were parts of this book that also really led me to re-evaluate my own life and what was going on in it.  I couldn't have read this book at a better time- without getting too much into it, it reaffirmed my drive to really learn more about who I am as a person now and alone.  I felt like I learned something from this book and it let me do a ton of soul searching (and led to a few journal entries) that would not have occurred had I not read this book.

Definitely read it. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Book 1: Superficial by Andy Cohen

I have to be honest - I started this book in 2016 but completed it in 2017.  I still feel like I can totally count it towards my total in 2017 though since I didn't actually finish it in 2016.

This is the "sequel" to The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Superficial Year. Thanks to my sister, I now am the proud of owner of Superficial as well. For those of you that don't know who Andy Cohen is, he is an executive producer at Bravo TV best known for his role in the "Real Housewives" franchise - he is their executive producer and hosts the infamous reunion shows. He began his career in 1989 at CBS and also hosts his own late night TV show - "Watch What Happens Live."

I have to say that this was one of the most annoying books that I had ever read.  It was totally superficial - which I should have figured from the title. Ha!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection by Debra Spar

Debra Spar was raised in the wake of the 60's, when the feminist movement was in full swing and never really considered herself a feminist or a beneficiary of the feminist movement.  Her life, though, demonstrates that it was - she is currently the President of Barnard College and was one of the few first female professors at Harvard Business School. Her argument is that in spite of women having made a number of different strides forward, they still can't have it all. Her book also serves as a call to all women to dispel and kill the myths that make them feel so woefully inadequate.

What I really liked about this book were the coherency of the arguments and the accessibility of source material - it was easily and fully annotated and easy to understand.  What I also really enjoyed was that it got me thinking about my own assumptions about why I did some of the things that I did and why I felt some of the things that I felt.

What I didn't like was that it seemed to repackage a tired, old argument that everyone knows about:  Women have struggled with the assumptions placed on them for decades (maybe even centuries).  It was repackaged to the well educated professional woman and excludes addressing issues of class, race and sexuality.  It doesn't address populations that work minimum wage jobs or who are lesbians, bisexual or transgendered.  It doesn't address women in the military.  The fact that it left out whole swathes of populations really was disappointing to me because this book could have done so much to forward the "why do I need to have it all?" sort of argument.

Generally an interesting read, but don't expect it to solve the world's problems.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

REVIEW: If You Feel Too Much by Jamie Tworkoski

There's nothing that I like better than books written by fellow Poles and especially one that was begin as the result of a short non-fiction piece called "To Write Love on Her Arms" that was written by the author in 2006.  That story literally blossomed, seemingly overnight, into a non-profit organization that helps with depression and suicide. The passages are everything from notes and emails to prose and span the period in between 2006 and 2015. It felt at times, like I was reading someone's personal diary or journal - that's how personal the material was.

This book is a collection of Jaime's short stories and provides insight into both his own humanity and mind but also the minds and humanity of the people that he surrounds himself with. It's no surprise that it's insightful, particularly if you've read his material before or if you've had the pleasure of seeing him speak. It opens a dialogue up about topics that would otherwise be insurmountable. They aren't scripted and remind us that it's truly ok to not be ok.

What I really appreciated about this book is that Jamie didn't try to present as if he were wiser than anyone else or that he was actively trying to farm out his advice to other people, which would have been really easy to do under the circumstances. He was REAL - and presented his TRUE self to people. If he was saying he was struggling, he was struggling. You could take that to the bank. The diary style sometimes made it feel disjointed, but that didn't necessarily detract from what was going on in the stories.

This was a tremendously wonderful and inspiring book that you should all read. Follow this link to his website.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste NG

For a debut novel, this was fantastic with a hook right from the start: a teenage girl is missing and her family doesn't know about it, there's a lake involved and a bad boy neighbor. And it's 1977, and the girl is biracial - her father is Japanese and her mother is white - which adds an element to the whole thing.

Lydia Lee is the missing girl and the middle child - what is unusual is that she's the favorite and a biracial Asian/white girl with Asian features and blue eyes. She seems so driven that she's the least likely of the three children in her family to go missing. The police are called and ask questions of Lydia's parents - how was she doing at school, who were her friends, was she depressed - and her parents find themselves unable to answer with any degree of certainty or honesty. The question in this novel is why are they unable to answer the questions.

Marilyn, Lydia's mother, has her own demons - she's estranged from her mother.  James, a Japanese man that became a citizen, hasn't ever felt that he has belonged anywhere. He was the only Asian student at a private boarding school and one of the first Asians to attend Harvard in the 1960's. He's grown up and is growing old with a sense of loneliness that can't be shaken. While Marilyn and James aren't cruel to their children, it is painfully obvious that they are living their dreams through their children and, by extension, putting a lot of pressure on their children to do what they always wanted to do.

While Ng did a masterful job in addressing the issues that arise with racial issues and family issues, she was less sure on police procedural issues. She could do to brush up on those. The scenes of mourning aren't the best either but hey, if these are the only complaints that I have about a first novel, then I'll take it.  Ng is a wonderful storyteller whose powerful message is conveyed in brilliantly simple text. Definitely a must read.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

I'm generally not a reader of celebrity memoirs.  I find that generally, celebrities don't write very well and don't necessarily have a voice that I want to hear, which is fine because their skill set may be elsewhere - acting, singing, whatever. But I heard positive things about this particular memoir so I picked it up.

For those of you that don't know, Carrie Brownstein was one of the founders of Sleater-Kinney, a Riot Grrl band in the early to mid nineties. That's not how I first became familiar with her - I became familiar with her through her absolutely brilliant and funny performances with Fred Armisen in Portlandia, on IFC. This book talks about Brownstein's life and her desire to be noticed and held in high esteem for her first love: music. She and her family lived in Redmond, WA and her proximity to Olympia and Seattle - the state's music centers - definitely had an impact on her. Music, after all, became her escape when her mother was hospitalized for struggles with anorexia and her father came out to her as homosexual.

The funnier, more endearing, and for me, more interesting moments, were at the beginning part of the book when I learned a lot about Brownstein's life growing up.  I live for and love those moments in books because I firmly believe that those moments give you insight into the type of person the narrator is NOW. One of my most favorite moments is when Carrie is doing a mock trial in school and she is assigned the role of the suspect's mother. Instead of sticking to script, Brownstein admits to being the killer in a moment of absolute drama that upsets both the teacher and the other players in the class, but which now gives me understanding as to how and why she's so wonderful in Portlandia.

I liked learning about the band but it wasn't the most interesting part of the book. It was interesting to learn how the band's main topic for their music was sexism - raising awareness of it and fighting it. She, for example, talked a lot about the double standards that existed in being covered by reporters - how they consistently asked about what it was like to be a female rock star band or what they were wearing on stage at a concert as opposed to the content of their music.  I respect that because those are still conversations that exist today - people talk more about Hilary's pantsuits then they do about Donald's suits (even though his suits are more of a political topic, considering that they were made overseas by people in jobs that were sent overseas by Mr. Trump himself).

Generally, a decent read especially if you are interested in the Riot Grrl movement.