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.

Asylum-True Tales of Madness from a Life in Fashion by Simon Doonan*

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“Ah! Fashion. A nuthouse? A refuge? Or maybe both. Yes, an asylum in both senses of the word. A place where unemployable crazy people are always welcome.

Every seasoned personage has his or her favorite stories of folly, aberration, derangement, kookiness and excess.”-Part of a quote of Simon’s author quote in his book Asylum: True Tales of Madness a collection of madcap essays about what Doonan has witnessed during his life in the fashion biz.

Among them include peers that peanut gallery of nuttiness, models who fancy themselves as spiritual advisers and who are also total cheapskates, Anna Wintour barely blinking, let alone freaking out, when a ceiling fell at a runway show during fashion week, the dating habits of the fashion elite, which include affairs with hustlers, porn stars, gangsters, and jailbirds, fabulous fashion femmes like Diana Vreeland, Polly Mellen, Suzy Menkes among them, and so much more sordid stylish and fashionable fables that will entertain both fashionistas and people who can’t tell the difference between a Jimmy Choo and a Jimmy John’s.

And of course, Doonan can’t help drop names, names, names when it comes to the factory of fashion, including Chanel, Rei Kawakubo from Commes des Garcons, Lagerfeld, Balenciaga, Tom Ford, Thierry Mugler, and so much more!!!

But there is essays that reflect on more serious topics, like how AIDs impacted the fashion industry, taking the lives of creative visionaries like Perry Ellis, Tina Chow, Willi Smith, Halston, Patrick Kelly, and Juan Ramos.

Smart, sassy and wonderfully written, you will find a sensitive man of true compassion and fashion. I have no doubt Mr. Doonan would give you one of his technicolor shirts off his back when you’re in the depths of despair while also filling you in on the a la mode of all the people, places and things of fashion.

*I also reviewed Doonan’s book Wacky Chicks.

 

 

 

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: The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kedzior

When not being ignored by the two coasts, flyover country is being celebrated as where the “real Americans” live, usually by conservative pundits. And to these pundits, real Americans are defined as white and for the most part living in the suburbs or rural areas who define themselves as conservative Christians.

But not so fast, living in flyover country, I know we are a much more diverse bunch and so does Sarah Kedzior, which she sums up in her collection of essays The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America.

A reporter for Al Jazeera America and residing in St. Louis, Missouri, Kedzior’s essays focus on such thorny topics as race, income inequality, the friction among generations, education, foreign policy, the media, women’s issues and so much more.

Kedzior starts off The View from Flyover Country with an introduction rolling out what her collection of essays is all about, giving the reader a clear idea on what to expect among its six parts.

In Part One, Flyover Country, Kedzior defines flyover country and topics such as how expensive cities are killing creatives and hipster economics.

Part Two, Post-Employments, explains issues of survival, how workers are paying a steep price, zilch opportunities and how sometimes these issues make people do extreme things like lighting themselves on fire.

Race and religion define Part Three, where Kedzior writes about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder, Black Lives Matter, and what happened in Ferguson in the wake of Mike Brown being gunned down by police.

In Part Four Kedzior examines the broken promise of a higher education, and how school debt has crippled countless smart, hard-working and talented graduates. She also decries the deplorable pay of adjunct professors who work tirelessly to educate our students.

Part Five is a careful examination of our media and how gaining access seems to be only available to the well-connected elite (don’t I know it!) and the problem of fringe media in the Internet age.

Foreign policy makes up Part Six when it comes to gender, Edward Snowden, the situation in Iraq and basic human rights.

Finally, Kedzior sums things up with a standout essay on the importance of complaining. If people didn’t complain, women wouldn’t have the right to vote, black people would still be at the back of the bus, and gay people wouldn’t be able to marry those they love.

While reading The View Flyover Country, I marked several pages with post-it notes and wrote down some key quotes and passages in my well-worn notebook. Kedzior writes in a down-to-earth way with smarts and clarity. She truly cares about these issues and implores us to also care about them.

The View from Flyover Country is a treasure of a book and is ideal for both the college classroom and book discussion groups everywhere.

Book Report

In the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay is very timely.

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Being a fan of Gay’s I knew Not That Bad would be a compelling and upsetting read about society’s deplorable rape culture. Gay is a survivor of a gang rape.  Rape culture includes sexual violence of all kinds, incest, molestation, sexual harassment in the streets, the schools and workplace, and one’s worthiness based solely on one’s perceived sexuality and sexiness. And this rape culture affects women, men and children from all backgrounds.

Written by well-known (and should be well-known) writers these essays are painful not only for the sexual violence these writers suffered but also for the vile ways they were treated once they spoke out.

Grade A

Book Review: You Play the Girl-On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks & Other Mixed Messages by Carina Chocano

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Is there a book you wish you had written? Is there a book you would have written if you had the ambition? Well, thank goodness Carina Chocano had both the desire and motivation to write a book and that book is her collection of essays, You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks & Other Mixed Messages.

I love pop culture, and I’ve been studying and writing about pop culture since I was in high school. But despite my mad love for film, TV shows, music, and obviously books, I’ve often been dismayed (if not downright pissed off) by how girls and women are portrayed in these various works, and how they affect society and those we care about.

Chocano shares this loathing,  wonders these same issues, and writes about them in this dazzling collection of essays (which also acts as a caring and concerned love letter to her daughter, Kira).

After a brief introduction, You Play the Girl is divided into four distinctive parts:

Part One: Down the Rabbit Hole covers topics like Playboy bunnies, the classic Good Housekeeping column, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” and MTV-inspired movie Flashdance.

Part Two: The Pool of Tears muses on the concepts such topics like ingénues and bad girls.

Part Three: In You Wouldn’t Have Come Here, Chocano writes about the surrealism of the “Real Housewives,” awkward men who choose “Real Girls” over real-live women, and the singular, life-changing journey of redemption of eating, praying and loving.

Part Four: In Mad Tea Party, Chocano acknowledges that girls love math even if Barbie claims, “Math is hard,” women as a trainwreck, the phenomenon of the Disney movie Frozen, and wraps up things with her desire for a feminist dance number (personally, I suggest bellydancing).

There are several reasons why I Iove You Play the Girl. First, Chocano is an excellent writer. Sure, she’s technically proficient but most importantly she has a distinctive voice, down to earth, wise, but also funny and charming. Plus, she just makes you think. Her essays are deeply researched and make you reflect on how pop culture affects you in ways you never thought possible, whether it comes to classic sitcoms like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie to the current day of reality television with its collection of real housewives, bachelors and bachelorettes.

Chocano also has interesting opinions when it comes to classic movies like The Philadelphia Story and a movie I hope is never considered a classic, Pretty Woman. And when it comes to how boys and girls are portrayed coming-of-age books, films and TV shows, Chocano sums things up with this passage:

“In the male coming-of-age story, the boy creates himself. In the female coming-of-age story, the girl is created by forces around her.”

She questions why in an age of diversity and women making strides in business, academia, politics, technology, activism, arts and entertainment, and business our definition of what makes a woman attractive and sexy grows more and more narrow.

Chocano likewise has a very interesting take on women’s magazines and how they prey upon women’s insecurities and perceived failings as wives, mothers, workers, and just human beings as a whole even in this age of “You go, girl!”

Throughout You Play the Girl, Chocano looks at the details but also gives us the big picture on so many attention-grabbing topics. Simply put, You Play the Girl is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

 

Book Review: Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

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I’ve been a feminist since a tender age and not ashamed to admit it. And in the age of Trump bragging about grabbing pussy to the importance of the #MeToo movement, not to mention the Kavanaugh hearings, feminism is more important than ever.

Though some anti-feminist naysayers are still stereotyping feminists as man-hating, pussy hat wearing, slutwalking dykes (or whatever), I know feminists (and feminism itself) are women and men with varying ideas, opinions, and lives who continue to shape and inspire me.

One of these feminists is writer Rebecca Solnit and her book of essays, Men Explain Things to Me. If the title seems familiar it is because Solnit wrote an essay of the same name in 2008 and it hit a nerve with every woman who has to put up with some man who wrongly assume her lady brain didn’t understand certain things, in other words, “mansplaining.”

Starting with her book with the title essay, Solnit’s collection of keenly-observed and passionately-written essays focuses on issues like rape and other sexual violence, global injustice, the meaning of marriage equality and so much more. Most essays are brief, but pack a wallop of thoughts that at are turns funny and tragic. And Solnit is smart enough to back up her essays with references and facts.

While reading Men Explain Things to Me I found myself nodding my head in agreement with Solnit’s evocative and intelligent musings, thinking to myself, “Yes, I’ve felt this way, too. I’m not the only one.” Or I found myself shaking my head, as if to say, “Damn, things are still messed up. What can we possibly do?”

Fortunately, in the final chapter, Solnit provides guidance on how we can join forces to make things better for women in our communities and throughout the globe.

Men Explain Things to Me is a slim volume but packs a meaty punch to feminism and is food for thought for feminists of all kinds.