Book Review: Shrill-Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West

I’ve been a fan of writer Lindy West since her Jezebel.com days. Whether she was writing about pop culture or social issues, I found her writing voice to witty and wise,  a welcome relief from tiresome clickbait and lazy listicles.

So it was a thrill to read West’s memoir Shrill: Notes From a Loud woman.

Growing up,  West was nerdy, shy and fat, not exactly a recipe for success. Yet, she was able to find success, both professionally and personally, once she became an adult and found her voice.

And though her voice brought her admirers it also brought her haters,  mostly obnoxious trolls.

You see West is a woman with an opinion. She’s also fat. How dare she!

Through her feature articles and opinion pieces, West expressed her disdain for rape jokes and the struggles with body shaming. In response, she often faced horrific comments telling her she should be raped and ripped her apart for not being a tiny size two.

West fully describes in Shrill what it was like to be caught up in hail storm of hatred. It was a time of loneliness and tears,  vulnerability and anger, but it was also a time where West found support, decency, empathy and a the will to go on as a writer and just person trying to live her life

But in the end West triumphed. She triumphed so much a troll even reached out to her to apologize.

Today, West is having the last laugh. Shrill is gaining lots of praise, including praise from two of my faves, Caitlin Moran and Samantha Irby. Now based in Seattle West now writes for GQ,  The Guardian,, and other assorted highly respected publications. She founded the advice blog for teenagers called I Believe You/It’s Not Your Fault. West is also blessed with a loving family and a happy marriage. Hmm, maybe being shrill isn’t such a bad thing.

Though Shrill is West’s story, it’s also the story of every woman with an opinion and  one who doesn’t fit into our society’s slender notion on how to behave…and look like. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: Voices From the Rust Belt – Edited by Anne Trubek

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Just what is the Rust Belt? In simple terms it stretches from Milwaukee to Buffalo with cities like Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh inbetween, cities that were once known as vibrant communities of manufacturing that have fallen on hard times but are trying to recapture their former glory. The Rust Belt is also a place I call home.

Sometimes romanticized,sometimes looked down upon, and often ignored, the Rust Belt is a place rich in history and tales so I was only to happy to find Voices from the Rust Belt, a collection of essays by people of all kinds who deftly write about what it is like to live in the Rust Belt.

After a brief introduction, which describes what is the Rust Belt and why it matters, Voices from the Rust Belt is divided into four parts.

1. Growing Up
2. Day to Day in the Rust Belt
3. Geography of the Heartland
4. Leaving and Staying

I pretty much loved all the essays written by talented women and men of all kinds. Some stories I could relate and others opened my eyes to experiences completely foreign to me. These stories are written by journalists, immigrants, students, artists, business owners, activists and working stiffs of all kinds who call the Rust Belt home. Nearly every one of theses writers impressed me and I was thrilled to find brief bios of the writers, which gave me further insight to these people beyond their written words. I also pondered what it would be like to see a well-made documentary on the Rust Belt – Ken Burns, I’m looking in your direction.

If I have any quibbles with Voices from the Rust Belt it is there is no voice from Milwaukee. Hmm, maybe in the sequel.

Book Review: The Common Good by Robert B. Reich

Considering I gave Robert B. Reich’s Saving Capitalism a rave review, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of the former secretary of Labor under President Clinton. So I am thrilled to give Reich’s latest book, The Common Good, another rave review.

The Common Good is a call to arms to anyone who cares about the state of our country and all of its citizens.

And when I mention a call to arms I don’t mean guns and ammunition. This book is a call for us to bring a sense of empathy, sensibility and basic human decency when it comes to politics, business, religion, education, media, activism, and our communities as a whole. And The Common Good is written in an enthusiastic and perceptive manner that will connect with a wide audience.

The Common Good is divided into three distinct parts:

1. What Is the Common Good?

2. What Happened to the Common Good?

3. Can the Common Good By Restored?

Part one is a primer on the common good. It starts out using the sheer awfulness of Martin Shrekeli and how he fully encompasses what is not the common good.

As part one moves on Reich explains both the common good most of us share and origins of the common good.

In part two Reich examines what exactly happened to our nation’s common good through a 3-prong dismantling of the common good’s structure. Believe me, it’s not pretty.

But before readers gnash their teeth in despair, Reich wraps things up with a manifesto on how we can restore the common good, which includes leadership we can trust, the use of honor and shame, resurrecting truth and finally but most importantly reviving civic education for all citizens starting in grade school and high school.

Some of ideas may be a bit difficult to implement and others will be quite simple. But all are vital.

The Common Good is written in an audience-friendly style that instructs and inspires and will hold your interest long after you are done reading it.  I can’t recommend it enough. The Common Good is both timely and timeless.

Book Review: Startup-A Novel by Doree Shafrir

The workplace always has a way to inspire a good book, and it definitely inspires author Doree Shafrir in her spot-on satirical release Start Up: A Novel.

Startup is about a collection of driven and talented millennials and how they are making their way in the world of social media, work culture, and high tech in the world of startups in New York City, a culture where often you’re only as good as your last tweet and a text read by the wrong person can ruin people’s careers. However, it is also a novel that examines the complex relationships between men and women, both professionally and personally, and all too relatable no matter what generation you got slid into (FYI-I’m a card-carrying member of Generation X).

The world of startups is one that both baffles me and intrigues me even though I’ve spent some time in newly formed entrepreneurial organizations. Sometimes I hear the word “startup” and I feel my blood turn into icy cold rivers. A lot of the startup culture seems to be about making something out of nothing valuable or meaningful to our society. Yet, at the same time one of my favorite shows is Startup on PBS, which examines new companies and entrepreneurs who are creating products and/or services that are creative, useful, and add value to their communities.

Sadly, the latter doesn’t seem to be the startup in Shafrir’s novel, but does it make for a fun and witty read.

Startup focuses on several characters, who are both infuriating and intriguing. There is Mack McAllister, the CEO of the startup Slack who is having an affair with Isabel Taylor, one of his employees. There is Katya Pasternack, a tough reporter for a high tech media publication and her boss, managing editor Dan Blum. And then there is Dan’s wife, Sabrina Choe Blum, back to work at the startup, trying to fit in and get back to speed after several years as a stay at home mom.

Mack may seem to be on the top of the world as CEO, but in reality he is lonely so he hooks up with Isabel. Isabel is initially fine with the casual hook ups she has with Mack but is now at the point where she wants their sexy time to stop and get back on track to focusing on her career.

Katya, sees several texts sent from Mack to Isabel on Isabel’s phone at a networking party. Three of these texts feature Mack’s fully-engorged member saying, “don’t tell me u don’t miss this.” Katya wonders if she should she ignore the texts or should she publish the photos and write an exposé that could blow up the entire world of Slack, not to mention the careers of both Mack and Isabel. Gee, which option do you think she’ll pick? I bet you can figure that out.

Meanwhile, Dan is at this tether at both the tech magazine and with his marriage and home life. He just figures he is worth of more respect by both his colleagues, especially Katya and his wife Sabrina.

And poor Sabrina feels in over her head at her new job; she feels a bit out of the loop when it comes to her tech savvy, eternally smart phone watching and social media updating co-workers and questions how she measures up.

Furthermore, she’s got a shopping addiction and the credit card bills to show for it. She tries to hide this addiction (not to mention the bills) from her hubby Dan. To pay for her bills, Sabrina starts selling her dirty undies on-line and actually gets a nice cash flow coming in. Yes, it sounds disgusting but everybody has their kinks and Sabrina is just providing a product some people are willing to buy.

From the opening line of Startup to the last closing line, I found myself caught up in the whirlwind of these characters’ lives both professionally and personally. Though a lot of them made some bad decisions, I truly had their best interests at heart. I wanted things to work out for all involved, and I could relate to a lot of their problems. Yes, even Sabrina selling her unmentionables. Nope, I’m not going to sell my dirty dainties on Craigslist, but I have been told more than once I should make extra money via phone sex due to having a “hot and sexy” speaking voice.

But I digress…

In the hands of a lesser writer, these characters could be written in broad non-dimensional strokes, the men all douchebro cads, the women all overly ambitious shrews or weak milquetoasts. But all are fully-dimensional. You both root for them while at the same time shake your head in disgust.

Plus, I could totally relate to this novel even though I’m a generation older than the characters and live in Milwaukee, not the Big Apple. I’ve worked in the world of media and newly formed organizations. But I also dealt with these issues while working in older companies and retail establishments. It seems like the more things change , the more they stay the same. From Mad Men to the mad world of startups, Startup: A Novel is both timely and timeless.

Book Review: Love is a Mix Tape-Life and Loss, One Song at a Time

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Just what is love? Philosophers, poets and song writers have been asking that question since the beginning of time. To music journalist Rob Sheffield, love is a mix tape. The author has chronicled the cross section of music and love in debut book called Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.

Long before people downloaded music into their smart phones or other hand-held listening devices with their favorite music, they made mix tapes. Mix tapes were very personal. Not only did they reveal some of our favorite songs, they also revealed our hopes, desires and thoughts. Mix tapes were therapy on a magnetic strip.

Rob Sheffield is no different from every music obsessed Generation X-er. A total music geek, he found solace and a reason for being through his love of music. Starting as a young child, he DJ-ed at school dances, collected albums and tapes like baseball cards and debated the merits of different bands with his friends.

In the late 1980s, Sheffield met Renee. Renee couldn’t have been more different from Rob. He was tall; she was short. He was a shy geek from Boston. Renee was an extroverted Southerner. The only thing these two seemed to have in common was an intense love of music, and it seemed music was all they needed. The two soon fell in love and were married until Renee’s untimely death from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 31.

Sheffield deftly writes about his all too brief marriage to Renee and he does this with a catalog of different mix tapes he made. Each chapter starts with a different mix tape, complete with the names of songs and artists. Some tapes are for making out, some for dancing and some for falling asleep. Sheffield proves to be no music snob, mixing top-40 guilty pleasure pop with the alternative music of the 1980s and 1990s. Each lovingly crafted mix tape conveys an intricate detail of the sometimes loving, sometimes rocky, and all-too-human relationship between two very interesting and complex souls.

Love is a Mix Tape had me riveted. Sheffield is an amazing writer, handling his love of music and his love of Renee with tender loving care. He gives an intimate glimpse into his marriage without revealing too many intimate details. The marriage of Rob and Renee is never conveyed in a way that is too saccharine or maudlin. These are two very real people who seemed to leap off the page. Often when men write about the women in their lives they do it more as a reflection of their own egos rather than writing about these women as three-dimensional human beings. Sheffield does not fall into this trap. I really felt I knew Renee. In fact, I wish I knew Renee. She was an Appalachian Auntie Mame who told her husband to “Live, live, live!” and tells the reader to do the same.

And even though I began reading Love is a Mix Tape knowing of Renee’s death, I was still very shocked when it happened. How could this ebullient soul not be cavorting somewhere on the planet? And Sheffield’s grief was so palpable I felt a dull ache in my heart as he described existing as a young widower.

I highly recommend Love is Mix Tape to anyone who considers music as vital as breathing and knows only too well the ecstasy and heartbreak true love can bring. Rob Sheffield has written an amazing book. I hope he has more books in him.

To learn more about Rob’s affiliation to write about love and music please check out my review of his book Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke.

Book Review: No More Work-Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea by James Livingston

For ages, work equaled having a job so you could put a roof over your head, keep your belly full, clothe your back and pay your bills, taxes, mortgage, insurance, car note and other life essentials. And if you had some of your hard-earned paycheck left over you might treat yourself to a day at the spa, a night out on the town or attend a concert or sporting event.

But work doesn’t just mean money. Work also conveys discipline, education, skills, talent, passion, and making contribution to society and culture as a whole. Work is the solution to society’s ills, after all, idle hands are the devil’s workshop, right?

According to James Livingston maybe we need to take a look at our age-old idea of work and turn this idea on its head. And he goes into this further in his thought provoking book No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea.

According to Livingston, professor of history at Rutgers University, gainful employment is seen by Americans, of all political leanings, as a proper goal for all of us instead of a problem that needs to some serious overview and overhaul, both morally and economically. We need to examine why we go to work and how it is affecting us as human beings and as a nation.

There are several problems with gainful employment for your average American worker. One includes technology and automation are replacing humans for various business transaction. We do are banking on-line, use the self-checkout at the grocery store, and check out various travel websites rather than talk about our vacation plans with a travel agent.

Another factor Livingston examines in No More Work is how we have reached peak productivity levels that do nothing more than provide a cushion of leisure for most of us. Yet it is mostly the one percent among us who truly benefit primarily due to the how both wealth and work are dispersed. We have far too many workers make less than a truly life sustaining wage, often using public assistance just to make it. And it’s not just people working at Wal-Mart. Even people who are college educated and working white collar professions rely on food stamps and other “entitlements.” Meanwhile, some CEOs make huge sums of money in both income and assets even as they make decisions that can sink a company.

And there is this idea of the “romance of work,” the age old Protestant work ethic most Americans swear by even though it doesn’t always benefit us financially, mentally, emotionally and so on.

So what is the solution according to Mr. Livingston? One solution is taxing corporate profits, which often aren’t used to fully invest in ways that benefit most of us. By now I think most of us realize “trickle-down economics” is a complete myth.

What else does Livingston suggest? Livingston also suggests implementing a guaranteed minimum basic income. This may sound familiar to many of my readers when I debunked Miriam Weaver and Amy Jo Clark’s badly researched take on this concept in my review of their book Right for a Reason.

A basic guaranteed income for all citizens is being examined again and is supported by both those on the left and the right. Personally, I think the idea is very intriguing, and even with this type of income, most of us will seek some type extra of employment to make more money and to get benefits, especially health insurance.

No doubt No More Work is brings up several controversial issues, but I do hope it’s used as a springboard when it comes to the concepts of full employment, corporate America, guaranteed basic income, raising the minimum wage, income inequality, our current tax system, entitlements, and our concepts of work, leisure, life, and money that are deeply etched into our country’s psyche.

Book Review: So Sad Today by Melissa Broder

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I initially picked up Melissa Broder’s book So Sad Today because like me, Ms.  Broder suffers from depression, and I’m always interested in how other people with depression deal with this very misunderstood ailment. Even further, Roxane “Bad Feminist” Gay gave So Sad Today a very positive review. I value Gay’s judgment so I started this book with a great deal of enthusiasm.

And this enthusiasm quickly evaporated from the moment I read the first chapter of So Sad Today, “How to Never Be Enough,” in which New York-based Broder, went into great length her mother’s difficulty in breastfeeding Broder to Broder’s fondness of eating her boogers.

And from there So Sad Today became a den of shock and vulgarity detailing every stomach-turning aspects of Broder’s life (like her mad fetish for vomit) from her childhood turmoil to her very open marriage, and then some. Clearly other people’s struggles with depression are vastly different than mine and everybody has their freaky-deaky kinks and quirks. I’m not completely without empathy and I’m certainly not close-minded when it comes to other people’s idiosyncrasies. We all have them…

Furthermore, I’m now questioning Gay’s particular taste in literature.

But let us proceed further into the madcap adventures of Melissa…

In another chapter, named “Love Like You Are Trying to Fill an Insatiable Spiritual Hole with Another Person Who Will Suffocate in There”-or as I like to call it “Sexting for Crummies,” Broder shares sexually-graphic texts between herself and a total stranger that are so horrific my eyes nearly fell out of their sockets. I am no prude; I have read my share of erotica and once wrote an article about sex toys. But these sexts had all the erotic lure of a Donald Trump, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich gang bang. Sorry, but I just have to share a few of sexts between Broder and this up-standing feller:

Him: “I want to fuck you in an air duct, flattened out with our whole bodies touching, at first slow and careful, then really hard until I come in you and the bottom of the duct falls out and we into a boardroom meeting at Walmart, like into a bucket of fondue.”

Broder later sexts to this charming lad: “I want u to take a picture of yr cum on the screenshot of ‘Melissa Broder likes this’ and send it to me, and I want it signed by the cummer.”

Hmm, who says romance is dead?

But wait! There’s more! In chapter, Broder tells you about every dimension of her lady parts, including one labia is slightly longer than the other. Hmm, you don’t say? After reading this I do believe I could pick out Melissa’s yoni out of a line up (hmm, that’s a sentence I never thought I would write).

Throughout the book Melissa waxes on about eating disorders, suffering from anxiety, musings on gender differences like men want sex and women want love, more bodily function gross-outs and a very graphic exchange about getting a “vaginal massage” from an older man. Of her bat mitzvah, Broder muses, “I had this weird intuition that if I could just make it to my Bat Mitzvah I could both prevent the Holocaust from happening again and also get all my friends back.”

Gee, during my first communion I mused, “I wish I could dip this bland Body of Christ into some guacamole and end the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.”

But just as I was getting ready to toss this book, Broder gets very real and touched me as a reader that made me feel tender towards her, not tetchy. In the chapter, “I Told You Not to Get the Knish: Thoughts on Open Marriage and Illness,” Broder discusses her open marriage with her husband (who she refers to as Ron Jeremy). In their open marriage, Broder and Mr. Ron Jeremy agree they may have sex with other partners as long as they remain casual and don’t turn these encounters into full-fledged affairs, and for the most part, an open marriage works for both of them.

And in this chapter, also Broder discusses in heartbreaking detail Mr. Ron Jeremy’s very serious and debilitating disease and how it affects their marriage. Broder’s commitment to her husband is both challenging and proves she is capable of deep caring and compassion. I really wish she would have devoted her memoir on this aspect of her life and her fierce love and commitment to her husband.

Broder is a fairly decent writer and possibly a very nice person in real life. Apparently So Sad Today started out as an anonymous Twitter feed, which later turned into this very book. Broder claims to be very self-conscious, riddled with anxiety and constantly wonders what people think of her, so it’s baffling why she’d be so open to such extremes via her book. But then again, in a world where people get famous by doing a sex tape, opine about the most private moments in their social media and Instagram their butts, I should probably not be surprised Broder probably thought TMI was the quickest way to get published. Sure, more may be less, but in 2016 more is MORE and the fast track to fame and notoriety.