Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (CBR9 #68)

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I read Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist a few months ago and immediately put her next book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body on my library request list. I described the former as unpacking the racist, misogynistic, and otherwise flawed world we live in. This book is that, but turned inward. Gay reckons with the great violence which was a turning point in her life and how it created in her a need to protect herself by becoming ever larger. She also discusses candidly what it is to be aware of the judgments of your body while simultaneously giving into the various hungers you feel. Bad Feminist was complex, empathetic, and rational and if it is possible this book is even more so.

It is difficult to know how to review this book. In ways it was too much: Gay is practicing an emotional honesty in her writing that you do not often come across and it often stopped me dead. In other ways I felt too seen, I recognized the emotions and realities of Gay’s life experience in my own even though so much is different. She writes with such precision and clarity that the shared territory becomes what matters and you are able to immediately extrapolate the rest and find the empathy within.

Reading this book, with its short, crisp chapters, is like watching someone you care deeply for exorcise their demons, and if they cannot exorcise them they will name them and continue the fight. It is witnessing someone’s journey towards healing but more importantly just talking about the things that seemed too large to talk about. We heal by talking about our hurts, our hungers. This is Roxane Gay embarking on that path.

 

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

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Spectacles (CBR9 #23)

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I have a lady crush on Sue Perkins. I do not feel that this is an unheard of situation. I was introduced to her via my friend Ale, who was watching the series Supersizers Go from the BBC all about food history. We LOVE food history. This lead to my comfort television becoming watching Sue and Giles drink their way through terrible food.

The next great epoch in my Sue fandom was a late to the game discovery of the Great British Bake Off and Sue’s cohosting with her comedy partner Mel Giedroyc. I no longer watch many foodie television programs as I struggle with my weight and overeating and have learned over the years that watching someone cook/eat will inevitably lead to me cooking and eating an extra meal or an extra quantity of food that I do not need. Due to those reasons, I had initially avoided this incredibly popular juggernaut. And then someone sold it really hard, promised that it was more soothing than food porn and I gave in.

Just in time to get addicted before the hammer fell, as Sue and Mel announced they would not be following the series to its new home.

In solidarity with Sue, I tracked down her book and purchased it. Her standing up for what she believed in meant that I would absolutely throw a few dollars her way.

And then Ale read it first. Because I’m a slacker.

So, we’ve gotten over 200 words into this review and I haven’t said much about the book. Its really good friends, in the way that well written and thought out memoirs can be. I don’t know if its very Sue-ness would come across to the uninitiated, but if you are a Sue fan and are looking for more stories of her growing up in Croydon, or attending Cambridge, or breaking into the comedy/television presenter world then this is your book. She’s insightful and honest about her own strengths and weaknesses and you will absolutely fall in love with her parents. She uses her wit and comedic skills to unpack the world around her, and the way she sees it, and asks you to do the same with the world around you. Or just think of some really great double entendres.

Sue is very candid, and her emotions are allowed to shine through which I feel is the strength of the memoir genre. I nearly cried at the end of one of the chapters about her relationship with Mel. “But mainly we leave it alone, leave it all unsaid and carry on regardless in a thoroughly British fashion. What I do know is that this kinship will always remain. It is constant. It is a love that cannot be weathered, not by time, not by circumstance. Nothing can alter it.”

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, write about it, and raise money to support the American Cancer Society in the name of our fallen friend, Alabama Pink. 

The Princess Diarist (CBR9 #8)

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It is hard to know how to review this book. I had planned to read this before Ms. Fisher passed away, but following her death it seemed somehow imperative to read it as soon as I could muster my strength to do so. It was time to say goodbye to Carrie, and to the character that defined her career.

However, the very structure of this book limits its possible impact; it exists at all because Fisher discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the original Star Wars. The first third of the book is an introduction to the juggernaut that is Star Wars, the middle is excerpts from Fisher’s diary – specifically the portions about her relationship with Harrison Ford, and the final section is her reckoning with the 40 year effects of Star Wars on her life, and how she is forever linked to Princess Leia, a character who looks quite a bit like her.

The passion of youth is in here, but also the love of wordplay. Fisher was a talented writer, which is never up for debate, but somehow I was left wanting more from the book than she was willing to give us about Leia, and that seems to be by design. Fisher always kept more of herself to herself and most of what the book covers she discussed previously in the interviews leading up to The Force Awakens.

She shares some of her thoughts and memories about the auditions, filming and subsequent fame of the original Star Wars, and it was certainly enjoyable to spend some time with her reminiscing about the experience. However, I was left with the feeling that she was still very carefully curating what she shared of the experience, keeping some things (even after admitting to the Carrison affair) to herself. To which I say, good for her. But maybe not good for the book.

Fisher was also blunt about what she termed “lap dances” the autograph signing events, which she attended later in her career to help with some cash flow issues. On one hand, I grasped entirely her point and have always felt strangely about the expectation of fans that actors/musicians/artists should be put in that position and be expected to enjoy it (says the introvert), but I didn’t like at all how she formulated the chapters. Fisher was one of the all-time best script doctors, and these chapters read more like script treatments than book chapters, and that made it hard for me to focus on the beauty of her word choice and phrasings.

As ArchaeoKelly said “I am so very grateful to her for being my Princess Leia and my General Organa, and my grown-up Carrie Fisher, with all her issues.  She has been so brutally honest.  She is a warrior”. Thank you Carrie, for one more book before you left us.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. We’ve got over 500 reviews in the first month of 2017, certainly there’s a book review for you over on the site?

Talking as Fast as I Can (CBR9 #3)

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We already have a couple of reviews of Lauren Graham’s newest book Talking as Fast as I Can over at Cannonball Read and from the people I’m also friends with on Goodreads I’m sure there will be more. I am going to weigh in now with my review, and it’s this: the book is good, in parts only okay, with moments of great. Three stars.

Wait, you want more? Okay, fine. But, I don’t like coming in with the first meh review on this one.

Graham got her writing deal based on a book she started writing on the set of Parenthood, which as a Graham aficionado I have of course read: Someday, Someday, Maybe. That book was also good, and I rated it three stars as well, but that may have had something to do with the depression I was in during CBR5. Very little got through the malaise in 2013. Her authorial voice in the memoir is different from in the novel, and that was good. Very good news actually. But… I preferred her tone in Someday.

I bet this book works better in audio. The things that bothered me had to do with repetition in the short page count (barely over 200 pages). I love a parenthetical aside, but with books written from first person singular as if in conversation with the reader, the same asides can grow old fast.  Just how many times am I expected to think it’s cute that she’s saying hello to the various hosts of the Today Show as she references the morning show circuit?

The great stuff is that Graham shares her personality with us, and it’s very much what you would expect. It was nice to get an idea of her personal history and I enjoyed the stories about her extra year, undergrad, and eventually graduate school. I loved the chapter where she assesses her career history and the loving way she talks about both Gilmore experiences and Parenthood.

Also, and this really is a nitpick; I did not enjoy reading about what a struggle it was to get this book published on time. I was excited to see where certain projects are in the pipeline (I really am excited for her collaboration with Mae Whitman for The Royal We) but, it was a little off-putting.

Hopefully those of you who are going to read this love it more than me, but know that I really did enjoy my time reading it, and thanks to ellepkay for my book exchange gift!

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

A Life in Parts (CBR8 #83)

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When I found out that Bryan Cranston would be publishing a book in 2016, I was on the lookout. I am a late in the game Cranston fan, but there’s something about the roles he’s chosen, and the way he conducts himself in public that spoke to me, and I thought, I’d really like to know what he has to say. Since I had particularly enjoyed his reading of The Things They Carried I decided to go with the audio version.

Here’s the thing about this book: Cranston has the goods. He’s an introspective writer unpacking the sixty years of his life and his nearly forty-year career with wisdom and clarity. Badkittyuno and Caitlin D have laid out how wonderful this book is and what a good person Bryan Cranston is, not perfect, but lovable.

And here I come in with a three-star review.

I’ve had some ups and downs with memoirs and autobiographies this year. I’ve also had a bunch in the middle. Here’s what I think kept me from loving this book, even though I should have. Other than a gimmick (each chapter is categorized by a role whether as an actor or as a person) there is no real point to how the narrative is broken down. Cranston chronicles his life from beginning until the years following Breaking Bad, but that’s about all. There’s some good soundbite insights that you’ll likely see quoted elsewhere, and cautions about making sure you are making the correct decision for you, and not for someone else, but I felt myself left wanting with this one.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration is open to join us for CBR9 through January 13, 2017. Cannonball Read is an annual, memorial book challenge to read and review 52 books in a year. Or 26. Or 13. Choose your level and read to meet your goal all while fundraising for the American Cancer Society in the memory of AlabamaPink.

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. 

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen (CBR8 #54)

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of food memoirs as their own thing. I’ve read a few, and I have a whole shelf on my Goodreads labeled “food related”, but I just never quite made the connection until Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge included reading one and I had no trouble at all picking a couple to put on my to read list (most were there already). Cannonball Read loves Lucy Knisley, so I decided to start with hers.

Because graphic memoirs and novels aren’t really my cup of tea,I kept forgetting to stop and actually LOOK at the images that Knisley, a trained artist, spent so much time crafting for me to look at. I feel like a bad reader when it comes to this format. And it isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it, I absolutely did (please note 4-star rating), I just knew the entire time that I was probably missing about half the humor, because it’s all in the visuals. Knisley’s art might appear simplistic, but in reality its layered and precise.

Knisley tells us the story of her life, from roughly birth (or actually, from before that) to about 22. She uses food, cooking, eating, and her mother as various framing devices for her narrative. Each chapter is its own story, and probably readable separate from the book as a whole. Each chapter is capped with a recipe, with fun, drawn instructions, that will be sure to make you hungry if the contents of the chapters haven’t already. (Seriously, I was not feeling 100% all weekend and not hungry at all, until reading this book on the couch all afternoon, then I was ravenous. The book may have cured me.)

I found the tone of this work to suit its contents, it’s a book about growing up, and the food memories that link that story together. It was also quietly charming and amusing. I don’[t know if I’ll be picking up more Knisley anytime soon (although her other books look great) but I can say that this one is worth your time.

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