Category Archives: memoir

Eat Up: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want by Ruby Tandoh

image1 (6)I’ve gotta be upfront: I love Ruby Tandoh, the author of Eat Up. She was one of my favorite contestants on reality show Great British Bake Off and the co-editor of a lil zine that I adored (click for review). In this book and in all things, Tandoh has an approach to talking about the human relationship with food that I instantly devoured and wish more people were shouting about from the rooftops.

While Tandoh is more explicit about her personal relationship with food in Do What You Want and vocal about her condemnation of “clean eating” in interviews, the basics of these pieces are wrapped up in Eat Up too. “Clean eating” and other diets often lead to regimented eating patterns that very closely resemble (and/or are the same depending on your viewpoint) eating disorders. This approach clearly shapes the contents of Eat Up because Tandoh isn’t here to tell you how or what to eat. She wants to eat what you want and to quit being so judgmental about your own eating habits and others.

Along with this, Tandoh also comments on foodie culture and the class implications that are so often tied up with food: Who gets to spend hours making food without worrying about other time demands? Who gets to experiment with flavors and go to expensive restaurants? Who gets to spend time imagining experimenting with flavors and recipes? Why are some foods traditionally made by certain groups of people dismissed from popular consumption? These are important things to consider, especially as food experiences become one of the clearest markers of class in today’s world. This is an important read, and one I’m happy to have gobbled up before going to visit my family where I’m always annoying about my preference for fresh over canned vegetables. It’s completely fine for me to have that preference, but who am I to judge others for preferring the purchase price and ease of preparation of the other? Eat Up influenced me to take a step back and I’m thankful for that.

Publication Date: 1 February 2018 (U.K.) by Serpent’s TailFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Ruby Tandoh blog/@instagram

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

IMG_8187I received Scaachi Koul’s debut in my great Christmas book haul of 2017 and I adored it! Koul is a news reporter at Buzzfeed and wrote an excellent essay about A Series of Unfortunate Events that put her on my radar (please read it here or this magnificent piece about Sufjan Stevens that I only found today if you want to get a taste of her style and the things that interest her). The point of view that shines through in her Buzzfeed essays is cranked up to 1000 in One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, a memoir of personal essays about the experiences she’s had so far. She sprinkles in some stories about growing up in Canada with Indian parents, going back to India and being othered because she’s “western”, but also not exactly fitting in within all western contexts either, a few college stories, and a gloss over adulthood and relationships. It was a quick read and gives a reader a glimpse into lots of different territories without wading in any of them too long. My favorite essay is titled “Aus-piss-ee-ous” and covers attending a cousin’s wedding ceremony in India and feeling out of place with the traditions and realizing that even her Indian relatives aren’t quite comfortable with the traditions either, but go along with it anyway. Koul’s book is excellent, very entertaining, and tonally felt like catching up with a friend over beers. I recommend!

Publication Date: 7 March 2017 by Picador. Format: Paperback.

Author: Scaachi Koul @twitter/@instagram/facebook

Mini Review: I’ve Got This Round by Mamrie Hart

IMG_8213Having never watched Mamrie Hart’s YouTube show or read her first book, You Deserve a Drink, you’d think that her second book about her adventures, I’ve Got This Round, might be a slog for me. It was anything but! I eagerly devoured this book from start to finish and giggled frequently while reading. At the h(e)art of it, Hart is a comedy writer and that really shines through while she’s recounting the last few years of her life jaunting around the world with her friends, weeping, swimming in tubs shaped like champagne, and drinking. The comedy is tight within in her book of personal essays and Hart references lil throwaway jokes from previous chapters that make the reader feel like they’re in on some fun inside jokes. This book is truly a hoot and I’ll be snapping up Hart’s debut soon. Hart made me want to travel travel travel and get into some hijinks with my friends and wish that she was one of them.

This book comes out TOMORROW!! Tuesday, 6 February 2018, and you should bring it into your life immediately!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Plume via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Plume or NetGalley.

Publication Date: 6 February 2018 by PlumeFormat: E-book ARC.

Author: Mamrie Hart @twitter/YouTube/@instagram/facebook

Mini Review: We are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

IMG_8203I read this collection of personal essays while I was visiting family for the holidays and IT WAS A TREAT and welcome reprieve from family drama. The author, Samantha Irby, is fed up with a lot of things, and if you, too, are feeling disgruntled with everyone around you and obligations forcing you to be a human with workplace duties, etc., when you just want to lay in bed and eat chips, this is the book for you. Irby’s tales are punchy and delightful and I loved reading her point of view. Plus it takes place in Evanston, my current locale, so I found myself cackling at some of the location specific digs and jokes, especially because my friend’s dog’s vet is the office where Irby used to work. If you want a lil’ taste of Irby’s work, check out her blog, bitches gotta eat, where she posts essays. You don’t have to be a frequenter of her blog to enjoy her humorous tales though.

Publication Date: 30 May 2017 by VintageFormat: Paperback.

Author: Samantha Irby blog/@twitter

Mini Review: You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

youcanttouchmyhairIf you’re not familiar with Phoebe Robinson yet, she’s a comedian and hilarious person who is one of 2 Dope Queens, Black Daria (Blaria), and as she refers to herself in this book, a cross between Miss J from America’s Next Top Model with a dash of Ta-Nahesi Coates. A lot of Robinson’s essays spend time discussing black hair, her own historically, and through memorable pop culture moments. The Not So Guilty Pleasures section of the book had the most laughs from me, along with her repeated references to some of the nonsense of Carrie Bradshaw and Sex and the City, whilst loving the show and constantly making fun of it simultaneously. I listened to You Can’t Touch My Hair as an audiobook, which was very entertaining because Robinson is great at using her voice to tell a good story; I’m not sure her written words would have jumped off the page in the same way her voice jumped through my ears and mind.

Here’s a lil’ snippet from the book, regarding Robinson wanting to f*ck Bono from U2.

“I have issues. We all have issues. We’re all like a year subscription to Vogue magazine. We’ve got twelve issues each. It’s fine.”

Publication Date: 4 October 2016 by Plume Books. Format: Audiobook.

Author: Phoebe Robinson web/@twitter/@instagram/facebook

 

Educated by Tara Westover

educatedThis memoir had an effect on me and I want to recommend it to everyone. Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir about family obligations, systems of control, and the power of education. It was a hard, but good read. 

Westover grew up in a strict, Mormon household in rural middle America with parents who had their own interpretation of Mormonism that they proselytized to their children and used to condemn others’ interpretations of divine faith, including other Mormons. The parents did not trust the government, which extended to not birthing most of their children in hospitals because they were part of the evil “medical establishment”,  not legally recording most of their children’s births until many years later, not immunizing their children or permitting them to visit doctors for care in favor of homeopathy, and not enrolling their children in schools for fear the schools would brainwash their children with nonsense. The denial of all of these things to their children, particularly access to an education as the children weren’t really schooled at home either, was a way to indoctrinate the children into the parents’ belief system, bound the children to their parents’ sphere of control so that the children may never leave, and limit the children from access to other ways of thinking that would allow the children to be able to question their family’s way of life. 

Westover’s tale highlights how important access to an education is as she details the life circumstances of her siblings — those who managed to be admitted to college, after secretly studying for standardized testing, went on to receive doctorates, whereas the others never received high school diplomas or GEDs and subsequently had limited job options and continued to be employees of their parents’ businesses as they had been since they were children. The memoir is broken into three parts, beginning with Westover’s childhood, transitioning into Westover’s teen years when she enrolls in an undergraduate program, and the last pieces include her venturing to another part of the world for education purposes and having her worldview expanded even more than her undergraduate experiences initially opened. While education definitely plays a central role in this memoir, a large part of Westover’s story involves controlling family dynamics, the emotional abuse that often rains down from the controlling heads of household, unfettered physical abuse that family members conveniently ignore or outright deny because acknowledgement of its actuality could challenge their pleasant forms of reality, and outright misogyny about a women’s place in the family and in the world that is shielded from question by religious morales. 

While Westover’s education granted her access to many things, it also created many conflicts with her family and led to estrangements from certain members. Becoming “educated” isn’t always cost-free and Westover’s story illuminates some of the challenges that can be associated with advancing oneself, whilst one’s family tries to hold them back. This was a book that I needed to read and I hope that it is enlightening for others. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Random House via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Random House or NetGalley.

 

Publication Date: 20 Feburary 2018 by Random HouseFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Tara Westover web/facebook/@twitter

Hunger by Roxane Gay

hungerLike much of the literary world, I am obsessed with Roxane Gay and I LOVED her collection of essays that blended memoir, popular culture, and commentary on society, Bad FeministHunger: A Memoir of (My) Body dives more deeply into some of the pieces of Gay’s story that she alluded to within Bad Feminist.

The composition of this collection was different than a memoir I’ve read before: the chapters vary in length, some only a page long, as if they’re all of the thoughts Gay had while conceiving this book, some jotted in the notes app on her phone so as not to forget and then left in their brief form. Other short pieces signify emotions that simply have too much underneath them to be explored further.

This book is heavy and you should take your time with reading it and give yourself the space to unpack the things that have happened and persisted in Gay’s life. Her story will likely make you reflect upon your own life stories and you should give yourself the time to do so. Within Hunger, Gay details her trauma associated with a gang rape, which had been lightly brushed upon in Bad Feminist, how fat bodies often have trauma and stories underneath that people dismiss or assume the bodies are just in poor health out of choice, her challenges with romantic and sexual relationships post-trauma, with her body, and with her geographic location, and the ways that people assume large bodies are always indicative of poor health.

Hunger forced me to challenge some assumptions I didn’t even know I had about how people move through the world and some of the things people who are large are forced to consider that I simply take for granted (i.e., will the chairs at this restaurant be compatible and provide necessary support to my body?). While Hunger definitely made me aware of things I had previously been oblivious to, it’s also important to remember that the book is an account of one person’s experiences with a large, fat body and it shouldn’t be taken as how everyone with these bodies feels or what they want, an important point that Gay emphasizes throughout her work.

Speaking of her work, I haven’t read any of Gay’s fiction pieces yet, but maybe I should add Difficult Women to my 2018 reading list? Hunger makes me want to be a Roxane Gay completionist, something that I feel like is rarer and rarer for me to even consider pursuing while staring at my ever mounting To Read pile, but Gay’s writing encourages me to do so. If you haven’t read one of her works yet, pick up Hunger or Bad Feminist the next time you see them at a store or your local library!

As an aside, this anecdote is tangentially related to the book Hunger, but I’m going to share anyway. Last year, I was inspired by the podcast The Cooler to start a “long-distance book club” with a bestie. The idea revolves around you reading a book on your own, underlining your favorite bits that resonate with you, and then passing along the book to a friend who can reflect on your bits, add their own bits, and give you specific things to talk about when you catch up on the phone since sometimes long distance besties can get in the rut of not really talking about their lives. While I do this with my faraway friends, I also do it with two of my nearby friends wherein we read the book back-to-back and then have a coffee/beer date where we talk about the book, like a two person book club where you only have to buy one copy of the book. There’s something so intimate in seeing what lines specifically connect with a friend and it can be very revealing, especially with a book like Hunger. My friend and I shared Hunger and it ended up being a nice way to talk about very sensitive and personal topics without having to put all of the cards on the table. I do this with a lot of books, but the experience of sharing Hunger will always be a poignant memory for me. 

Not Quite a Genius by Nate Dern

notquiteageniusNate Dern, a comedian who has spent time at UCB and Funny or Die, wrote this compilation that is a blend of memoir and fictional, sometimes absurdist, pieces. I’m not gonna lie, it took me a while to warm up to this collection, in the same way it takes an audience member to warm up to a stand up comedian spewing jokes on a stage. Before stumbling across this book, I had never heard of Nate Dern and wasn’t familiar with any of his comedy bits. This also meant that his humor wasn’t easy for me to access initially because I was completely unfamiliar with his style. Reading Not Quite a Genius was the opposite of my experience reading Simon Rich’s The Last Girlfriend on Earth, a collection that is somewhat similar in style, but from a writer I was familiar with and thus was more easily able to dive into his kookier bits that may have been inaccessible otherwise. In the same way that an audience member must be warmed up at a comedy gig, it took me a few chapters to habituate to the writer’s humor and style, but once I did, I laughed to myself multiple times.  

For me, the collection picked up about a third of the way through… or that was how many pages it took to successfully warm me up to Dern’s humor. I thought the funniest bits were when Dern shifted more into humorous memoir territory (the first chapter is brilliant as he details his gawky young adult years). While the fictional bits were less my speed, I giggled several times while reading the “Bruce Lee Novelty Plate” and “How Many Farts Measure a Life” chapters.

That said, some of the funny bits just didn’t come across for me in print at all. In my head, I could imagine the fictional scenarios having more ~umph~ if I were hearing them performed live, but I experienced a disconnect while I was reading (specifically the chapter “I Like All Types of Music and My Sense of Humor Is So Random”). That’s the thing about these types of compilations: while this chapter was a swing and a miss in print for me, it might be a grand slam for a different reader. For any reader seeking a comedic collection, there will be a piece in Not Quite a Genius that is a grand slam for you. If you’re already a fan of Dern’s comedy, you’ll probably witness several grand slams. 

Not Quite a Genius will be released at physical and digital U.S. bookstores on August 8, 2017! 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Simon & Schuster or NetGalley.

How to Fall in Love with Anyone by Mandy Len Catron

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 10.12.50 AMI had this book for a week and recommended it to more than 10 people before I had even finished it, which I think should be enough to convince you to add it to your To-Read list immediately! I knew about Mandy Len Catron from her 2015 viral piece in the “Modern Love” section of The New York Times. I loved the article — I forced my friends to do the first chunk of the 36 questions with each other during the first night of a trip when they all met for the first time. While Catron’s pieces for the Times are fantastic, this book is something else. It’s a better version of Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance and a more personal version of Moira Weigel’s Labor of Love
How to Fall in Love with Anyone details how the author has mythologized her parents’ and grandparents’ love stories and the effect that has had upon her own conceptualization and approaches to romantic love. She spends a chapter detailing the cultural scripts that Western culture passes down about love through romantic comedies or through what we’re told embodies a “good relationship”, who even “deserves” a “good relationship,” and discusses that while we’re told what the best end product is, we aren’t often taught about how to love others well. In fact, I think this book could be more aptly titled How to Love Better, in order to better convey its contents and to be more alluring than the current title. The book made me think a lot about how we could all be better to each other, if we all decided to value loving better more often. 
The author devotes multiple chapters to the love stories of her family, all situated within Appalachia, and details how the relationships allowed individuals to move beyond the circumstances they inherited. She contrasts these love stories with her own ten year relationship, which made me feel kind of queasy, simply because I identified with spending too much time in a relationship that slowly fizzled, unbeknownst to the couple, until its pulse flatlined.
Eventually the book shifts into describing the relationships Catron enters after her first big relationship, including the one detailed in her viral Modern Romance piece. This reminds me of something I made my boyfriend do on one of our first dates, where we played a question asking game that encourage medium-to-deep conversations instead of the polite, small talk that often occurs. I don’t remember the questions or the answers now, but I do remember the feeling of sharing a deeper version of myself than is traditionally expected on these early dates when I would try to present the shiniest version of myself. This book magically captures all of those feelings that I’ve felt and I loved LOVED loved reading while Catron ruminated on love. 
That was easy to do because Catron spins many pretty phrases, as you’ll see in the quotes that I’ve included at the end of my post. While I’m loaning this book out to a few friends (to underline their own favorite quotes), I’ve told them all that I want this book to be on my forever bookshelf (aka the highest honor I can bestow upon a book) so it absolutely must be returned to me.
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t include Catron’s latest piece for “Modern Love,” though she alludes to some of the content in the book. I’ve linked to it because I feel like it’s worth reading too. Read all of her things — each of them are special and wonderful and will sift through your mind for days. 
“I think of the four of us as subject to the same flash flood, all senselessly bailing water into our own boats in hopes the others might end up on dry land.” (p. 122)
“Our views of love — what we want from it, what we think it should feel like — are rooted in the context of our lives.” (p. 72)
“But now I understand that there are always two breakups: the public one and the private one. Both are real, but one is sensible and the other is ugly. Too ugly to share in cafés. Too ugly, I sometimes think, to even write.” (p. 134)
“I didn’t know what was real and what was scripted.” (p. 16)
“Nothing was funny, really, but we couldn’t stop laughing the manic laughter of people who know it will be a while before they hear themselves laugh again.” (p. 40)
Disclaimer: I was provided with physical and digital copies of this book for free from Simon & Schuster. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Simon & Schuster.

The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich

lastgirlfriendThis was my first dive into the words of Simon Rich, despite consistently ranking the show he created (that is based on this collection), Man Seeking Woman, as one of my top five favorite TV shows. This is a collection of humorous, laugh-out-loud stories that largely revolve around heterosexual relationships from the perspective of a dorky man in his 20s/30s.

Because I knew I loved the tone of Man Seeking Woman, the absurdist comedy featured in this book was something I was familiar with and enjoyed. A lot of the storylines for the show were lifted from this collection, which makes some of the particularly absurd examples easier to visualize in my brain since I had already seen them depicted in the show.

Within the first 6 pages of the collection, I had already laughed out loud three times. The jokes I laughed the most at were New York situational humor though, so they may not be as funny to someone who hasn’t spent a lot of time in the city, but oof did I love them.