Book Reviews: You Are Awesome-9 Secrets to Getting Stronger and Living an Intentional Life by Neil Pasricha

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In this day and age it’s difficult to feel somewhat mediocre let alone awesome. Our country is deeply divided, our global world is spinning out of control, and Mother Nature is a harsh mistress.

On personal level we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us we are never enough. We are told by advertisers and marketers, social media, reality TV, corporate owned news, and celebrity culture. We’re not rich enough, smart enough or just enough.

It’s all enough to make us feel awful. But Neil Pasticha begs to differ in his book You Are Awesome: 9 Secrets to Getting Stronger and Living an Intentional Life.

For the uninitiated Pasricha is a best-selling author, popular public speaker who has given speeches at TED Talks and SXSW, and award-winning podcaster at 3 Books.

I admit I have a love/hate relationship with self help books. Some have all the appetizing quality of a breath mint and others are a delicious feast.

After a brief introduction where Pasricha reminds us to be resilient, he gives us the 9 secrets to claiming his awesomeness.

  1. Add a Dot, Dot, Dot
  2. Shift the Spotlight
  3. See it as a Step
  4. Tell Yourself a Different Story
  5. Lose More to Win More
  6. Reveal to Heal
  7. Find Small Ponds
  8. Go Untouchable
  9. Never, Never Stop

Now my fully competent readers, you can probably figure out a few details of Pasricha’s secrets from the nine titles. But the titles are not sentimental greeting card verse. Pasricha goes very much in depth, using care and craft, the hard work, scientific facts, true stories (including his own) and various resources to achieve transformation. Believe me, you’re not awesome because you are breathing.

In the wise words of one of my favorite  philosophers, RuPaul:

“You better work!”

You’re going to have take an in-depth look at your life, past, present, and and possible future and do a full assessment of your missteps. It won’t be pretty.

But you will also be encouraged to revisit the times where you succeeded and found true joy, professionally and personally.

In the end You Awesome is both a regular book and workbook. While reading it I found myself writing down notes, highlighting passages, and applying Post-it notes to several pages.

Written in voice that is both honest and relatable, Pasricha’s You are Awesome is a good primer on gaining more resilience and living a life of purpose and meaning.

*Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for the advanced copy of You Are Awesome: 9 Secrets to Getting Stronger and Living an Intentional Life. This book will be released this Tuesday, November 5th.

Book Reviews: All the Good Things by Clare Fisher

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Beth has done a bad, bad thing. And while she ruminates about the tragedy she brought on herself while paying the ultimate price, she goes on a journey of healing and redemption.

In Clare Fisher’s novel All the Good Things, Beth is seeing a counselor while serving a prison term. Convinced she is completely worthless, Beth’s counselor, with both compassion and wisdom, tells her to write a list of all the good things that have to her.

This is pretty difficult for Beth. In her young life, Beth has dealt with tragedy, abandonment, and heartbreak. Among these include being deserted by her mother, mental health issues, abusive relationships, one crappy job after another, and a series of dreadful foster homes.

But as she looks back on her life, Beth remembers the things. She’s very creative, she has a network of supportive friends, she’s felt the embrace of true love, and her sweet baby girl who she loves with great intensity.

Beth writes this list in a journal form that comes across like a series of letters to her daughter. And as he writes these letters she comes to terms with the lowest moments in her life, the moments that gave her life purpose, and one horrible mistake that altered her life. Now she’s asking herself is she can be forgiven and can she be redeemed?

All the Good Things kept me riveted, page after page. Beth’s story both broke my heat and uplifted my spirits.

Fisher’s debut novel is written with a great deal of clarity that fulfills all the senses. Beth is written as a fully-dimensional character, as are the tertiary characters.

Obviously I’m not going to reveal why Beth is being punished and in prison. But you just might gasp out loud when she admits her crime…like I did.

Book Review: Edith Head-The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer by Michael Chierichetti

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When you think of Hollywood’s golden age you probably think of the movies, stars, and directors of that glittering era. I know I do. But I also think of Edith Head, costume designer extrodinaire.

Edith Head’s career began in the silent era and ended in the early 1980s.

Some of the movies she worked in include All About Eve, A Place in the Sun, Roman Holiday, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and several films by Alfred Hitchcock.

One of the most Oscar nominated people in show business, she won eight of those golden boys.

Head also designed for television productions, often working with Bob Mackie and Nolan Miller. She even designed costumes for the Muppets!

Head had one heck of a career, which deserves one heck of a biography. Is Michael Chierichetti’s book Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer up to such a daunting task? I should think so considering Chierichetti is a film historian, costumer, and was a confidant of the legendary Head.

After an opening chapter recalling Head’s early life, Chierichetti quickly moves onto Head’s lengthy and impressive career, starting out as a lowly apprenticeship, her commitment to getting costumes just right, her strong work ethic, her talented design staff, and the relationships she had with the stars she fitted with her costumes.

But Chierichetti isn’t shy about revealing low moments in Head’s life and career. He also gossips about some of her unsavory personality quirks.

Head made sure her costume were true to the time period the movies’ reflected. She had a gift for highlighting a star’s figure assets while hiding his or her faults. And like many of the stars she outfitted, Head was often a media sensation.

As a fan of film and fashion, I thought I knew a lot about Head. But my knowledge wouldn’t fill up a thimble. Fortunately Chierichetti’s research and commitment to telling Head’s life story as thoroughly as possible helped me sew up some loose threads. I have to admit I was overwhelmed by the names of film, dates, studios, colleagues, and movie stars named in this book.

Interspersed throughout Edith Head are pictures of her actual sketches, film stills, screen tests, professional and candid photos, and glossies that do a wonderful job illustrating Head’s exemplary career. Chierichetti also divulges some secrets about her creative process.

Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer sews things up for film lovers and fashionistas alike.

 

The New Me by Halle Butler

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Meet 30 year old Millie. Millie works as a temporary receptionist at an interior design firm located in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. She’s addicted to homicide forensic TV shows. Her basic hygiene and housekeeping habits are less than ideal. Her love life is non-existent. Her friend Sarah is more is more frenemy than true blue pal.

Millie is one messed up millennial. She’s pitiful, anti-social, unproductive. But she’s also bright, funny, self-aware.

In otherwords, Millie is absolutely fascinating and she’s portrayed in Halle Butler’s expertly observed and written novel The New Me.

Millie’s job is a complete bore. The phone rarely rings and when she works up a smidge of ambition she asks for additional tasks. She’d given only one, shredding documents, not exactly challenging or exciting.

Millie’s homelife is a treadmill of bingewatching TV and ignoring basic household chores. And her social life consists of mostly dealing with Sarah’s condescending attitude and all-around bitchiness.

Millie is stuck in neutral and it is implied she’s suffering from depression.

Despite all of this Millie is self aware enough to realize she has to make some positive changes in her even though they seem insurmountable. Thus, the title of this book.

A big part of The New Me consists of Millie attempting making these improvements, some that work in her favor and others are utter failures.

I kept cheering Millie on, wanting her to succeed. Sure, she’s completely pathetic but she’s also bright, funny, good-hearted, and completely relatable.

Butler is an innovative writer who has a clever way of unfurling characters and a plot that kept me riveted. I really like how she combined Millie written using first person while two of Millie’s co-workers are written in third person.

Butler is relatively new to the writing, but she’s definitely an author to watch.

Book Review: You Can’t Touch My Hair-And Other Things I Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

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Phoebe Robinson, stand-up comic, one half of the popular podcast “2 Dope Queens” (with Jessica Williams) and all-around funny lady is back with her 2016 release You Can’t Touch My Hair-And Other Things I Have to Explain.*

You Can’t Touch My Hair is a collection of essays written in Robinson’s finely crafted wit and wisdom. She writes eloquently about race, politics, feminism, gender, pop culture and family. She’s not shy about sharing her experience as a black woman in the modern age and the feeling of rage of still having to deal with racism and sexism. But she’s also not afraid to take on white women who claim to be allies but aren’t.

Other topics Robinson writes about include her less than ideal experience in the workplace, her love of Lisa Bonet and the “white people music” of U2 (she has a total lady boner for the Edge), the importance of the Black Lives Matter. She calls out the NFL for their shitty behavior and in one essay she writes about what she expects from the first woman President.

But one of my favorite essays is her letter to her beloved niece Olivia on being biracial and a girl.

You Can’t Touch My Hair is an eye-opener for this white woman, a lesson I needed to learn.

But I never once felt lectured or nagged while reading this book. Reading Robinson’s excellent writing is like connecting with a good friend whether we are sharing our love of U2 or trading stories about our battles with sexism.

Robinson’s writing is heartfelt. smart, bawdy, and hilarious. I wish her nothing but continued success.

*Robinson’s second collection of essays Everything is Trash, but its Okay was published last year, and yes, you better believe it I’m going to read it once I get the chance.

Book Review: Eloquent Rage-A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

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Already a fan of Brittney Cooper’s work at the website Salon I was pretty excited to get my hands on her book of essays Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. I was especially thrilled after I read all the praise this book was garnering from notable women like Joy Reid, Rebecca Traister, and my beloved Roxane Gay, who calls Cooper’s work “provocative and engaging.”

Provocative and engaging? Yes, and so much more.

Cooper is a professor of women and gender studies, and Africana Africana studies at Rutgers University. She is also co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective.

Eloquent Rage focuses on black women and black women’s feminism. Her essays offer commentary on topics like politics, pop culture, relationships, sex, and other things affecting the black community. Much of these topics reflect Cooper’s experience but she invokes the experiences of others.

Cooper’s writing is both academic and accessible. And these essays are a much needed education for this white feminist.

To give you a sneak peek into the pages Eloquent Rage, the essays focus on topics like bothersome sassy black woman stereotype, strong female leads in pop culture, Michelle Obama’s silent defiance of the Trump regime expressed through her hair and body language, and the problem with white feminists.

Eloquent Rage is a treasure of a book and should be used in both the classroom and at book discussion groups.

 

Book Review: Maid-Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

Over the past few years I’ve read several books on what it is like to live in the richest country on low pay, back breaking work, while striving to make a better life for oneself and perhaps one’s family. Some of these books include Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado, We Were Witches by Ariel Gore, The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel, and of course, Barbara Ehrenreich’s classic, Nickel and Dimed.

I didn’t think I could handle reading another one until I came across Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid-Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. (Introduction by Barbara Ehrenreich)

Not quite 30, Land found herself leaving an abusive relationship with a young daughter in tow. What followed her was a nightmare of homelessness, deplorable apartments, low wages working as a housekeeper, and a very unpleasant journey through the so-called safety net when it came to acquiring government assistance. Unlike some fortunate souls Land lacks a supportive family who help her in her time of need.

Land decides to clean houses to support herself and her daughter while also attending college. She works for a local housecleaning company but also takes on freelance gigs. Not surprisingly, housekeeping is truly back breaking, horribly paid, and demoralizing. Some of her clients don’t see her fully human and worthy of respect. And then some of them just don’t see “her.”

Not making enough money to buy even the basic necessities, Land has to go on government assistance, a tangled weave that is often very difficult unravel with its endless paperwork and noxious questioning of Land’s eligibility and worthiness. If one earns a few extra dollars, one can find their benefits slashed or lose them in their entirety.

Keep in mind, not only is Land taking care of her daughter and cleaning houses, she’s also attending college. I just dare any reader to call her a slacker. She is the antithesis of lazy. In fact, due to my research, most people receiving some type of assistance are working and/or going to school. They are not cheating the system and most are not lazy losers.

But back to the book…

Maid is searing with brutal honesty. Land’s love and devotion to her daughter is undeniable as is her willingness to make a better life using various options. Her resourcefulness is both admirable and clever. I couldn’t help but root for her. Does she at times feel sorry for herself? Well, of course. She is human, after all. There certain times in one’s life when you just got to cry over your lot in life, and then you move on.

In the end people who are struggling like Land deserve respect, not empty pity or utter derision lacking any type of empathy.

In the end Maid convinces the reader to look beyond the stereotypes you may have swirling in your brain when it comes to the poor, anyone on benefits or those faceless, nameless heroes and heroines who make our lives much easier through their blood, sweat and tears.

Maid is a treasure of a memoir. Land should be very proud of herself, and I hope she keeps writing. I expect more from her. She’s one to watch.