Ten Steps to Nanette (CBR14 #30)

I feel like this is going to be a tough one for me to review, because my relationship with the content that Hannah Gadsby creates is so personal to me and has been frankly crucial to how I am coming to understand myself that it’s a bit difficult to try to take that out of the equation and look at Ten Steps to Nanette on its own. I’ve likely watched Nanette half a dozen times in the past couple of years (and once again in preparing this review) and I have easily watched Douglas, the next special, several dozen times. Partly because its very, very good but also because of how she discusses Autism and neuro-divergency more broadly, both of which are crucial to the story Gadsby writes in Ten Steps to Nanette, and crucial to the knowing of me.

I have been rabid for this book since I discovered it existed. Or would exist. I haunted NetGalley looking for it, put in my request as soon as it was listed, and waited impatiently for the denial I was sure was coming as I heard nothing for nearly three months. And then I got the email, and I did a weird happy dance at work, startling my coworkers. Because my brain works differently.

Which is a very long walk to telling you that there are portions of this book that made me cry, not because of what Gadsby has gone through and survived, but because of the eloquent way she has in describing what can sometimes feel so isolating, and the language she puts to not trusting a diagnosis that feels right because it doesn’t look or feel like you were told it would.  Of not feeling at home in your own skin when out in the world, but when you are in your own quiet home feeling deeply yourself. Of all the times that the world insists on being more than you can process in any given moment, how if you have just the right sorts of presentations or coping mechanisms you will have to fight to be taken seriously that you are not – in fact – doing all that well. That you will have to fight to believe yourself, to not let anyone diminish your own lived experience.

As much as Ten Steps to Nanette is set up in a typical memoir format, it also works differently. Some of it is a bit cheeky, starting with an epilogue and ending with a prologue, but they are also used exactly as they are titled. It isn’t a play on words, Gadsby is intentionally taking the pieces and putting them in the order that best serves her needs. Some chapters (or steps) are very short while others are much longer. Some bounce back and forth from the personal to the national, some are more biographical, others still are written in a more active voice much more like her stage work. But because Gadsby is very good at what she does the tone of this book stays the same: these are the facts, and this is how I felt, but the how of the tone is what changes because each step (and the wilderness years she generally leaves unexplored, this is not tragedy porn) need to be handled in their own way. By allowing her story the space it needs to be told in the manner it needs to be told in she is doing an incredibly important bit of writing as people all over who fall into many of her intersectionalities are struggling to remain safe and seen. She takes her rare bit of luck and her privileges and shines the light where it needs to be shined, without making herself or anyone else the victim of the story. Bad things happen, people are victimized, but that is not where the story ends or lingers.

I tried to take my time, craft an in-depth review as I needed to sit with it a bit longer, give it a good think. Something I think Gadsby would entirely understand as I waited for the words to form, and then come out of my head and into the world. There is so much here, so much truth, so much reflection, so much care spent weaving in actual history with personal history, all leading to something that aims to deliver great meaning (and succeeds). And with legitimately funny footnotes tucked in, a personal favorite (not to diminish the intentionally not funny ones). I’m still not sure I’ve been able to.

I have, for instance, not delved into the structure of Nanette and how it became the thing that Gadsby needed to do, how the renouncement of self-deprecation, the rejection of misogyny, and the moral significance of truth-telling became a thing she could no longer not prioritize for her own well-being. Of how the world in 2017 caught up to her in some ways and the international resurgence of #metoo provided a springboard for Gadsby’s work into a larger sphere. Of how deciding she must be done has meant that she is now continuing in a different but healthier way. Of how so much of this work is about reassessment and reexamination – about queer identity, past trauma, and Autism and of giving the time needed to move away from the mental landscape of “there is something wrong with me and I should feel ashamed” towards “this is how I am made, and that’s enough to be worthy of all the good.”

CW: Assault, molestation, rape, injury, isolation, suicidal ideation, body image or other mental health difficulties (It should be noted that Gadsby put these in the book’s early sections where they belong – and stopped several times in the narrative to level set and remind the reader what they were going to encounter if they kept going. It is the kind of empathy and critical thought which I love and wish more authors did, even while I am putting this near the tail end of my own review.)

5 unabashed neurodivergent stars.

I received an ARC of Ten Steps to Nanette from Ballantine Books via NetGalley. It has not affected the contents of this review, only its timing. The book publishes March 29, 2022.

Fun with Kirk and Spock (CBR8 #68)

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This book would probably make a nice gift for the Trekkie in your life, so if you are the kind of person who starts their holiday shopping already and are in need of fun gift to add to the pile, then go on ahead and get some of these for yourself.  I am not a huge Star Trek fan – a feel like that is a needed reminder of why I’m ranking this three stars – but I did genuinely enjoy my reading experience but it wasn’t at a proselytizing level. For that, please see crystalclear’s awesome review.  I had a couple of out-loud belly-laugh moments, but it was mostly just smiles of thoughts of oh, that’s clever, and general appreciation of the familiarity.

This is a book with a joke in its heart and a loving knowledge of all the camp of the original Star Trek. A parody of the Fun with Dick and Jane children’s books of the 1950s, Robb Pearlman pairs it with a pop culture classic of the 1960s and away we go on an adventure where we learn important things, such as not getting attached to the red shirts since they won’t be beamed back up (but we should remember them fondly) and that Khan is not a morning person (it explains so much!).

The humor here is simultaneously on the nose and subtle, but I feel that the art deserves a shout-out as Pearlman really captures the actors who originated these characters and it adds a lovely warm layer of nostalgia to the experience.

Recommended for the children’s book/Star Trek lover in your life.

Read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Born Standing Up (CBR8 #67)

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I wasn’t planning on listening to this book right now, but then a sale happened and here we are. This book was on my to read list starting years ago, when I put together my Goodreads page at the same time as signing up for my first Cannonball Read (that would be number 4). I love listening to people tell me about their lives, whether it’s a friend or acquaintance on the sofa across from me, or if its someone’s memoir or autobiography.

Steve Martin didn’t disappoint. I can’t say that I’m in any way a huge Martin fan. I remember being aware of him always, by the time my active memory kicks in he was already working in movies. I’ve seen/heard at least portions of his most famous standup routines, but I don’t know that it ever occurred to me to realize that he up and stopped performing that way and embarked on other creative pursuits, let alone why he would have done such.

In this work Martin chronicles his life from birth until he walks away from standup comedy in 1981. This is not a laugh-out-loud book, but there are funny bits in it, but they are almost all about the comedy inherent in the journey he was taking from working at Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland, through being opening acts, to headlining on his own. Martin chronicles the creative life, and his outlet for his immense intellect and creativity changed in the course of the book, and eventually out of standup comedy and into movies, writing, and other pursuits.

In this crisp book (only four hours on audio including banjo interludes written and performed by Martin) and while as usual I feel like I missed something not having the pictures the hard copy includes, there was something gained, a large something gained, by listening to Martin tell me in his own words about his life, and the work he did in researching himself and his experiences in order to bring it to life for us.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Texts from Jane Eyre (CBR7 #34)

I apologize now, but this will not be a long review. If I could get away with saying: “I laughed, a lot, read it now” I would. Because this book really is a very funny, very witty, highly sarcastic look at all of your favorite writings and writers from an absurd angle. And a joy to read. But, that is not enough to qualify as a review so off I go to attempt to explain more.

I bought this book on a lark. I read Narfna’s review, after having read Malin’s and instinctively knew that this was a comfort book for me in the making. I have had a rough week, and the fallout of that week is going to be felt for a while moving forward (nothing truly traumatic, don’t worry) so I knew I needed a fun read. The book is exactly as advertised: text from Jane Eyre and other conversations from literary characters. It runs the gamut from classic Greek heroes to the Babysitter’s Club. There is quite literally something for everyone in these pages.

I’ll admit that the format might take some getting used to, as the entire book appears in the dialogue bubbles we’re familiar with from our phones. But once you’re comfortable with the idea, and the voices of these various characters come alive to you, you’ll be laughing very hard at some of the best literary comedy I’ve seen in quite some time.

Others have mentioned not understanding all the allusions, and I am with them. The depth and breadth of the works that Ortberg chooses will certainly put some of the references outside even the most well-read reader’s purview, so make sure you have google ready to look up some background. I did, and it was definitely worth it.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Girl Walks Into a Bar (CBR6 #30)

Rachel Dratch is not someone who I would normally go running out to buy or read their memoir. I know her from her time on SNL, which coincided with the time in my life that I initially started watching the show live. But, she wasn’t someone I followed, and I didn’t watch 30 Rock, so I was largely unaware of the media firestorm surrounding her replacement by Jane Krakowski.

But after having read Tina Fey and Darrel Hammond’s biographies for previous Cannonball Reads and seeing reviews of her book, I thought that it would be an interesting book to read, and help fulfill my goal of reading autobiographies in the summer (mission accomplished for 2014).

It was an interesting, and insightful read. Often the ‘big’ stars who have come out of the Hollywood machine with big *important* careers are the ones who get book deals to write memoirs. Dratch has not had that kind of career following her time on SNL, which ended in 2006. Not to say she isn’t working, she is, but as she points out early and frequently in Girl Walks Into a Bar… she is offered bit parts which skew heavily towards older, obese lesbians.

So, it’s from this place of being outside the big machine (which puts her in stark contrast to the ever working Judy Greer) that Dratch tells us about her life, mostly post SNL. She spends perhaps the first quarter of her book talking about her big showbiz years, and how she got there in the first place, but the majority of Girl Walks Into a Bar… is about what happens when the life you thought you were going to have doesn’t materialize and you are left with the life you have.

I found Dratch’s authorial voice to be warm and engaging. There were several times I laughed out loud while reading. Not an epic work or defining its genre, it is a lovely read, particularly if you have a fondness for Dratch and would like to know more about her life.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Why We Suck (CBR6 #23)

This is likely going to be a very short review, because I just don’t have much to say about the book. I knew about half way through reading The Night Circus that it was going to be a tough book for anything to live up to, so I decided that my next selection needed to be something very different. For that goal, Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Lazy, and Stupid accomplishes being on the other end of the spectrum from Erin Morgenstern’s work.

I like Denis Leary’s comedy. I’ve seen his specials and loved them and I’ve always laughed uproariously when he is a guest on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. So, this is a humor that I get and which has been proven to work for me.  I did occasionally find myself laughing out loud at the book, but it was inconsistent, and rare.

I’m not sure if I would’ve done better listening to an audio version of this, or perhaps just reading it closer to its actual publication (it was published in 2008, a fact I didn’t realize until I was well in to the first chapter of the book). For whatever reason, the grand majority of the humor fell flat. In the case of many of the chapters it was a slog, not an enjoyment.

Now, there were things that were funny. Particularly the chapter about Oprah, and how Denis fell in love with her and her show while trying to research how there wasn’t room in Oprah’s media empire for men to love Oprah. Priceless. Also, anytime he quoted his mother.  But, there were also many, many things which just didn’t land. Or worse, were offensive. (there was backlash against the portion of the book in which he discusses the rise in Autism diagnosis, and his opinion, that it is over diagnosed to children with parents looking for an ‘excuse’ for their underperforming children. I skipped this section completely when I came across it, and was unaware of its existence before reading).

So, what’s my overall feeling? Skip it. Go back and re-watch one of his specials or television performances. All this book did for me is remind me that I never did get around to watching Rescue Me and should probably add it to the list of shows to catch up on.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.