Category: Memoirs

Sep 30

Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?

Memoirs 30

Howdy Bookworms!

If you’re anything like me, you read that title and your mind immediately started thinking of the sociological and cultural reasons behind the racial divide in the reporting of extra-terrestrial encounters. I’ve spent far too much time mulling over this topic. However, if you were a better reader than I am, you would have read the full title right off the bat: Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?: Teaching Lessons from the BronxIt’s a memoir by Ilana Garon discussing her time teaching in inner city schools. That’s right, y’all. Non-fiction. I want a cookie!

*FULL DISCLOSURE* The author of this book offered me a free copy in exchange for an honest review. I was good at school and never so much as got a detention. Given Ms. Garon’s background as a teacher I wouldn’t want to give a dishonest review and land myself in detention at age 30. 

aliensIlana Garon accepted a teaching position in the Bronx fresh out of college. She joined a program that placed energetic new graduates in teaching positions in some of the country’s roughest inner city schools. The program didn’t require education majors either- Garon was not. Her student teaching experience took place during a rushed and sparsely attended summer school session. Unprepared for what awaited her, this Jewish girl from the Virginia suburbs was about to take on an impoverished and violence riddled school district.

Garon is careful to point out that her memoirs are do not fit the mold of the “hero teacher.” We’ve all seen THAT movie, right? The class full of violent misfits who miraculously turn their lives around thanks to one exceptional unorthodox teacher? Yeah. That really isn’t how it works. It does, however, include amusing anecdotes (the title of the book was taken from a student’s research paper thesis), heartbreaking stories of good kids dragged into gang violence, and the occasional story that might just make it into one of those cheeseball “hero teacher” movies.

I really enjoyed this book. I appreciated Garon’s debunking of the “hero teacher” trope. I also liked that though teaching in the Bronx wasn’t a Hollywood caliber experience, you could tell how dedicated Garon was to the students. She doesn’t try to minimalize the problems in inner city schools. She doesn’t claim to offer simple solutions. What she does is tell an honest story of her experiences, making it everything a memoir should be.

If I had one complaint, it’s a small one. I’m so used to reading fiction that I get a little thrown when a story isn’t perfectly chronological. It would have been impossible to hit the chronology perfectly,given the way Garon chose to tell her story, but I found myself occasionally thinking “Wait, didn’t that guy drop out already?” or something similar. That’s not a criticism of Garon’s work so much as my own shortcomings as a reader.

So, Bookworms, tell me. Since we’re on the subject of school and all, I may as well ask. Does anyone out there feel like they actually had a “hero teacher” or do you agree with Garon that the concept is a misguided ideal that doesn’t exist in real life?

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Sep 24

Banned Books Week 2013: Top Ten Tuesday Goes Rogue!

Banned Books, Classics, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Memoirs, Top Ten Tuesday, Young Adult Fiction 49

Howdy Bookworms!

Today is Tuesday and you know how much I love lists. I normally link up with the fantastic ladies at The Broke and the Bookish and participate in their weekly topics, but this week I’m going rogue. In honor of Banned Books Week, I’ve decided to forgo The Broke and Bookish topic this week (although they’re talking about sequels, so I encourage you to take a trip over there and check it out!) Instead, I’m going to continue my celebration of Banned Books Week and list some of my favorite banned books! Ready?!

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1. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. This book has been challenged for its realistic depictions of slavery and the South during the Civil War. There are absolutely elements in this book I can see making people uncomfortable- the attitudes of the characters toward black people are ugly to say the least. HOWEVER, I think it’s important to preserve that history. Understanding how such a hideous institution could have ever been considered acceptable is critical to keeping it from happening again. Sweeping an embarrassing past under the rug doesn’t do anything for anyone. PLUS, this book tells an amazing story. It would be tragic to lose that!

2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Ironic much? The book about the dangers of burning books is banned? Apparently at some point a school in California took offense with the language and issued a version to their students with all the “hells” and “damns” blocked out. Because, really?

3. The Color Purple by Alice Walker. This book is often challenged for a myriad of reasons. Profanity, race depiction, and homosexuality only scratch the surface. Whatever, Book Banners. The Color Purple is all kinds of awesome whether you like it or not!

The color purple is totally a metaphor. It's not like they talk about purple stuff all the time. So, if you're just like a purple enthusiast? This might disappoint you.

The color purple is totally a metaphor. It’s not like they talk about purple stuff all the time. So, if you’re just like a purple enthusiast? This might disappoint you.

4. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The objections to Brave New World are fairly predictable. I mean, okay, so there might be rampant drug usage, casual sex, and the occasional orgy. The thing is, none of those activities are made to sound appealing in the slightest. It’s the ultimate cautionary tale. It’s the stuff dystopian nightmares are made of.

5. Forever by Judy Blume. Oh Judy Blume. How do I love thee? I’ve written before about my unabashed adoration for Are You There God? It’s Me Margaretbut Forever has had it’s share of challenges, too. It’s not surprising, really, this book is about teenagers who have S-E-X. Facts are facts, though. The average person loses his or her virginity at 17. It’s not realistic to pretend that teens in all their hormone riddled glory are all going to remain abstinent. It’s also silly to assume that every kid who reads this sort of book is going to go out and find someone to get naked with. What I love about Forever is that it’s a very realistic story of first love. They talk about the scary stuff- STDs, birth control, emotional investment. It also depicts heartbreak. Honestly, I think this book is more likely to talk teens OUT of having sex than it is to talk them INTO it. 

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6. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. On the off chance you didn’t read my rant on the subject yesterday, please go have a look. Click here!

7. The Giver by Lois Lowry. Seriously, what is there to object to in this one? For heaven’s sake, they all take pills so there’s no sex, no sexual desires, no random make-out sessions- nada. It’s set in a dystopian society in which things are so tightly controlled that even color is forbidden. It’s like Pleasantville. It’s a fabulous book (better than all its sequels) and its a great challenging read for the middle school set.

8. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. Yes, yes. Sexual assault, casual profanity, alcoholism. I know. But really, it’s all about overcoming adversity. It has the added benefit of convincing teenagers that they don’t have it so bad. This realization may be fleeting and replaced quickly by more pressing teenage concerns, but learning to think about things from someone else’s perspective is a part of growing up. If a book can help with that? Heck yes, kids should be reading it!

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9. 1984 by George Orwell. Whaaat? A totalitarian dystopian society raising a ruckus? Why that’s unheard of! Kidding, of course. This book touches on issues of privacy, censorship, sexual repression… It’s sort of the opposite of Brave New World, but terrifying in its own way. I can see why it might freak people out, but censoring a book about censorship? Bad form!

10. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Huck and Jim’s trick down the mighty Mississippi has landed on the banned books list a time or three. Critics cite racist overtones and language as their major objections. Language complaints cause would-be readers to miss out on one of the greatest classics in American literature, and that would be a travesty. Long live Huck Finn!

Have any of your favorites ended up on a banned list? Any of your beloved tomes being challenged? Tell me about it, Bookworms. Let’s get our rebellion on!

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Jul 12

Angela's Ashes and My First World Problems

Coming of Age, Family, Memoirs 31

As I live and breathe, if it isn’t my wee Bookworms!

I hope you read that in an Irish accent, because I just finished reading Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. Angela’s Ashes is the story of Frank McCourt’s childhood, if you can refer to spending your formative years in abject poverty and borderline starvation a “childhood.” This book rates right up there with Jeanette Walls’s Glass Castle for the “I cannot believe anyone could survive that” factor. Of course, McCourt darn near didn’t survive.

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McCourt’s parents are both Irish immigrants. They connect at a party in Brooklyn… In more ways than one. Oh yeah. Frankie was either a miraculously fast growing fetus, or he was conceived well before his parents’s wedding. It’s the dawn of the Great Depression, but the McCourts just keep multiplying. To add to the chaos, Frank’s father Malachy is a raging alcoholic. He cannot keep a job for long, and even when he’s working the wages rarely make it beyond the pub. He regularly lines up his toddler boys to ask them if they’ll be willing to die for Ireland after a bender. I can’t say a whole lot more about this book without spoiling a ton of things, but I will tell you the family ends up moving back to Ireland… And if you thought things were bad in America, Ireland put those struggles to SHAME.

Comic by Roz Chast

Comic by Roz Chast

I ran across this cartoon and it cracked me up because it’s so true. I tend to gravitate toward the “Way Worse Than Your Life” section, so I’m going to list out a few reasons I’m feeling guilty for my first world problems, courtesy of Angela’s Ashes. I’m going to list out some things I ought to remember…

1. The next time I complain about my less than svelte physique, I shall be grateful that I’ve never had to rob an orchard for food, have a pig’s head for Christmas dinner, or give my siblings bottles of sugar and water because milk is too expensive.

2. The next time I complain about having a cold, I shall be grateful that it isn’t typhoid fever.

3. The next time I turn my nose up at cleaning my toilets, I shall be grateful that I HAVE toilets. Private toilets.

4. The next time I am frustrated with a rainy day, I shall be grateful that it does not rain inside my house.

5. The next time I look in my messy closet, I shall be grateful that it is full of clothes that are clean and do not contain parasites.

Have any of you Bookworms read a book that smacked you upside the head with how lucky you are? Do you prefer your memoirs from the “Way Worse Than Your Life” section, too? Tell me about it!

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Jul 01

The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

Coming of Age, Memoirs 34

How Now, Bookworms?

Y’all know how much I love a good humorous memoir. David SedarisJenny LawsonTina FeyRachel Dratch, Mindy Kaling? I love hearing about real people’s lives. I am voyeuristic and nosy. I’ll own up to it. Thus, when I was offered a copy of The World’s Strongest Librarian by Johs Hanagarne, I couldn’t pass it up.

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Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was offered a copy by a literary agent through NetGalley, which made my ego soar because I AM NOT INVISIBLE. That said, the price of my integrity is a lot higher than an unfinished galley copy of a book, so you need not worry about me lying about liking or hating a book. Expensive soul, right here. (It would take like 4 real unicorns, a flock of housebroken penguins, a time machine, and eleventy billion dollars to get me to lie about a book… At that point nobody would believe anything I said anyway though, thanks to the unicorns…) 

Sometimes I think I should write a book about my life. Then I realize it would be like “hey look at me! I’m pretty average! I’m so average it’s actually boring… Sometimes there were tutus?” The trick to writing a great memoir is having a good story, and Josh Hanagarne has lived a fascinating life.

First things first. Josh has Tourette’s Syndrome. There’s a pretty lame stereotype floating around that portrays people with Tourette’s running around spouting outbursts of profanity. It’s so much more than that, and most vocal tics don’t manifest as curse words…  It’s involuntary muscle spasms. Twitches. Vocal tics of nonsense words. Hanagrarne describes the tics as being similar to the buildup of a sneeze. Can you imagine how frustrating that would be? Constant sneeze buildups? Oh my WORD! Despite his struggles with Tourette’s, Hanagarne had a happy childhood. The Hanagarne family ADORES and SUPPORTS Josh. Sure, there was some teasing in school, but the feeling of home as sanctuary was palpable. Now, I’m not saying that EVERYONE has horrifying parents like Jeanette Walls did, but most of the real life parents I’ve read about certainly have some shortcomings. While the Hanagarne parentals did have a few quirks, they all combined to make them fantastic parents. It was sweet, but not in an annoying way. It just made me want to hug them all and want to be invited over for dinner.

The title of this book makes me think of old timey strong men. That is one glorious mustache. Source

The title of this book makes me think of old timey strong men. That is one glorious mustache. Source

Hanagarne was raised in the Mormon church. Like anyone else, I’ve known people of the LDS faith, but I avoid discussing religion as a general rule. Theological debate makes me uncomfortable (only because it tends to make people defensive and/or confrontational, and I don’t like arguing), so I prefer to learn about other faiths from behind the safety of a book.  I got a whole new perspective on what being a Mormon is all about, and how potentially difficult it could be for someone who was experiencing a crisis of faith. Hanagarne showcases the positive and negative aspects of his experience with honesty and balance.

There’s also stuff about weight lifting and exercise and how that helped/hindered the treatment of the Tourette’s. Dude is HUGE! He’s like super tall and trains like a boss with weights and kettlebells. He even does those awesome highland games competitions where they wear kilts and throw giant rocks. It’s kind of awesome.

Finally? LIBRARY LOVE! Hanagarne has a love affair with the library starting from a very young age. He also had a crush on Fern from Charlotte’s Web which is quite possibly the most adorable thing I’ve ever heard. He’s a literature junky his entire life and ends up working in a library! This book contained everything a good memoir should: humor, humility, joy, sadness, frustration, and acceptance. FEELINGS! I’ve got them. So does Josh Hanagarne… Only he is more articulate than I could ever be. Hats off to you, sir. Keep on keeping on.

So, Bookworms, I must know. What would the title of your memoir be?

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May 14

The Tough Stuff: Top Ten Tuesday

Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Frightening, Memoirs, Non Fiction, Psychological, Tear Jerkers, Top Ten Tuesday, Young Adult Fiction 59

Hola Bookworms,

Today is another Tuesday, and another GLORIOUS list, the topic of which was provided by The Broke and The Bookish. Today’s topic is to list out books that deal with difficult subject matter, and the ones I’m choosing are all kind of a downer. That doesn’t mean they aren’t BRILLIANT books, because they are. It just means that they’re emotionally draining, so, you know, don’t read them all in a row.

TTT3W1. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This book is amazing, but such a tough read. Speak is about a girl entering high school. She is date raped at a party, and while she calls the police to break up the party, she can’t bring herself to tell the authorities what happened to her. She starts her high school career as the narc who ruined the best party of the summer all while dealing with the emotional hurricane of attending school with her rapist. It’s a rough read, but really worth it. I highly recommend it.

2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Race and incest and violent relationships and homosexuality and secrets and lies and children and turning gender roles upside down… It’s pretty amazing. It’s exceptionally powerful because it’s written in an epistolary format in a regional dialect. Try to get through it without crying. I dare you.

3. Room by Emma Donoghue. This choice seems even more appropriate now given the news coming out of Cleveland of the three women held captive in a home for a decade. Room is about a young woman who is abducted from her college campus parking lot. She is locked in an inescapable sound-proof shed and regularly raped by her captor. Eventually these systematic rapes result in a successful pregnancy and she raises her little boy, Jack, in this shed. Jack is five and he narrates the book. I think this was a brilliant choice on Donoghue’s part, because hearing this horror story through the eyes of “Ma” would probably have been too much to bear. The innocent goggles of a child make things tragic and yet, in a way, hopeful.

Don't let the colorful cover fool you, this is NOT for the faint of heart.

4. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. Teenagers with cancer! Watching mere children face down their own mortality won’t tear at your very soul or anything. Young love cut tragically short by disease won’t make you bawl your eyes out. Living with a debilitating illness that is slowly eating your body from the inside when you should be out shopping for prom dresses and going through your angsty phase in giant baggy pants won’t mar your psyche! So heartbreaking. So good.

5. Smoke Over Birkenau by Liana Millu. Talk about the tough stuff. It simply does not get any “tougher” than books about the Holocaust. There are a lot of books on the subject, and I’ve read a number of heart wrenching personal accounts. It’s difficult to pick just one, but since I really have to pace myself on reading these (so I don’t get overwhelmed by humanity’s ability to inflict horror on itself for incredibly stupid reasons) I thought it might be overkill to fill this list with Holocaust books.

6. Every Last One by Anna Quindlen. Whooo boy this one’s a doozie. Depressed teenagers. Eating disorders. Young love denied. Unbelievable acts of violence. Dealing with the aftermath. This is a draining read, but it’s really well done. Sure, it feels a bit like you’re being stabbed in the heart with a dull spoon, but it’s a good pain. It’s NOT a true story, thank God. At least you can tell yourself that when you’re sobbing into your pillow…

everylastone

7. Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume. I don’t care how open and honest and cool you are with your kids. It is awkward as heck to discuss periods with your prepubescent daughter (this, coming of course, from a former prepubescent daughter. The thought of having this conversation with my own offspring makes me preemptively uncomfortable.) Thank GOD for Judy Blume. Thank GOD for this book. That GOD it existed when I was 12. Margaret made all the late bloomers out there feel less alone. Thank you, Judy Blume, for being awesome.

8. Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Yeah, it’s tough to be a teenager, Margaret, but it’s even tougher to be an adult with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. As you follow Alice’s mental decline you feel her frustrations and her anguish, as well as her moments of hope and triumph. It’s a beautifully rendered story, and it will make you keenly aware of your own precarious mental state. You may want to order a lot of fish oil caplets or whatever antioxidant thingies they have on the market today that are supposed to help keep your brain going strong to old age and beyond…

still alice

9. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. What would you do if the most basic part of your identity, your biological gender, were called into question? Our protagonist is raised as a female but due to a gene mutation, she’s biologically male… At least, mostly. A coming of age story with the added bonus of some sweet historical fiction elements plus all the psychological turmoil that goes on when a person doesn’t fall neatly into a gender category. Powerful.

10. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. Forget everything you saw in that movie. I don’t care if it won Angelina Jolie an Oscar, the book was MUCH better. It’s Susanna Kaysen’s true life account of her time in a mental hospital. I read this a long time ago, but there was one part that seriously resonated with me. Kaysen described her descent into crippling depression as the world slowing down and time crawling by. She said that there were two ways to go crazy- for everything to slow down or for everything to speed up. I’ve always thought that if I ever needed to be institutionalized, it would be due to the super fast worst-case-scenario in flashes of horror kind of crazy, at which point my brain would completely short circuit and the slow would set it. It probably says a little too much about me and my mental state that I’ve given this so much thought, but you know. I’m bad at lying.

So Bookworms, tell me. What are your top picks for books that deal with the tough stuff? I’m all ears (at least until my psychotic break, but I think we’ve got some time.)

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May 07

Shiny, Happy Bookworms Holding Hands (Top Ten Tuesday)

Chick Lit, Children's Fiction, Classics, Fantasy, Humor, Memoirs 50

Greetings my dear Bookworms!

The lovely ladies of The Broke and The Bookish are hosting yet another fabulous Top Ten Tuesday. This week, they’ve asked us to list books we read when we need something light and fun. I’ve compiled a list of books that satisfy my craving for literary cotton candy. Without further ado…

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1. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisenberger. I love a little chick lit when I’m down and out. This book helps put things in perspective, because there’s basically NO WAY any boss could be this bad in real life. It’s great for the “thank HEAVEN that isn’t me” giggle.

2. The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin. Yes, more chick lit. If you’ve ever babysat in your life (and really, who hasn’t?!) you’ll find the humor in this book. It’s funny and poignant, and it’ll turn your frown upside down. Rich people are so weird, and if you’re the 99 percent, you’ll love it. (If you’re the one percent, you need to explain to me what the deal is with lavender water…)

3. Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard & Florence Atwater. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. How can you not be happy when you read this? It’s joyous and delightful and full of PENGUINS! Now that I’ve met a penguin in real life, I’m concerned about the hygiene aspect of keeping non house-trainable penguins in one’s home, but I’m willing to overlook it. For the sake of FUN, obviously.

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4. Daisy Fay and The Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg. Fannie Flagg is the BEST at heartwarming stories with a southern twang. I will accept all kinds of cheesy if it comes from  Ms. Flagg, she’s a treat. Daisy Fay cracked me up, particularly for a silly scenario involving a beauty pageant. Having once been in a pageant scholarship program, stories like this tickle me. Anyone seen Drop Dead Gorgeous? Hilariousness.

5. Harry Potter by JK Rowling. Very few things are able to cheer me up the way Harry Potter can. Even when things are at their most dire and tragic, Rowling always finds a way to make these stories uplifting and wonderful. Escapism at its finest!

6. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. True story- I loved Bridget so much, that my college roommate (Quirky Chrissy) and I named our houseplants after characters in the book. Bridget is the ultimate every woman. Wine. Chocolate. Humor. Love. Happiness!

7. Bossypants by Tina Fey. I like reading about funny actresses, and Bossypants is one of my favorites. Fey approaches her life story with humor, grace, and humility. I want her to come to my slumber party!

Even the cover is funny. Tina Fey with man hands!

Even the cover is funny. Tina Fey with man hands!

8. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Meby Mindy Kaling. That magical slumber party where Tina Fey is in attendance? So is Mindy Kaling! I love her so much. She’s sort of Bridget Jones if she were Indian, hilarious, and had her life together. Meaning, she’s a cool funny lady who doesn’t wear a size 2 and is likely well versed in the frivolities that make life worth living. (If you’re not watching her new show, The Mindy Project, you’re missing out on some good times.)

9. The Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris. Sexy vampires, sexy werewolves, sexy telepaths, sexy fairies… Fun supernatural times on the bayou (actually, it’s just in Louisiana. I’m not sure that counts as on the bayou because I think that’s a geological swamp thing that probably doesn’t encompass the whole state. However. This is about crazy supernatural fun, not geology. Also, I like saying “bayou.”) New book to finish out the series is on the horizon. Anyone else looking forward to it (and looking past the fact that the last few books have been somewhat lackluster?)

10. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. I can’t help but smile while reading this. It’s the very definition of whimsy! Word play plus nostalgia plus tea equals pure delight.

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Hey shiny, happy Bookworms- what are your top picks for light and fluffy reads?

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May 02

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls (David Sedaris is a Master Conversation Starter)

Humor, Memoirs 50

Bonjour Bookworms,

Today we’re going to explore diabetes with owls. I know that sounds like a kicky conversation starter for a cocktail party, but really. David Sedaris wrote a new book of personal essays (and other fabulous weirdness) called Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. I’ve been a Sedaris fan since my friend Dr. Erin gave me a copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day for my birthday many moons ago. I own just about everything he’s ever published, because, well, I’m a fan. (Side note: I have known Dr. Erin since her birth, essentially, and she just graduated from vet school and I’m extremely proud!)

Funny thing about Sedaris, though. He’s kind of polarizing. I’ve always enjoyed his humor and bizarre anecdotes, which is why I’m always surprised to hear when people don’t care for him. Some friends have told me they just couldn’t get into his work, or that they were annoyed with the casual drug references, or that he’s just kind of mean sometimes. Those are all perfectly valid objections. I’ve been on the other side of the coin, you know? Chelsea Handler and I did not get along very well. That doesn’t make her any less funny to people who like her style, it just means she isn’t my cup of tea (or bottle of vodka. This is Chelsea we’re talking about.) Before I get too far into this, I’ll just go ahead and tell you. If you don’t like Sedaris, this isn’t going to be the book to change your mind. I’ll like you anyway. We can have differing opinions. The world is magical that way. If you’ve never read any of his work, I encourage you to give it a shot! Find out where you fall and if you are so inclined, join me in my fandom!

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This book starts off with a forward by Sedaris mentioning that he included some essays specifically for use in forensics competitions (read: Speech Team. Although I might question a faculty adviser who would allow some of these selections…) They are interspersed between the type of fare I’ve come to expect from my dear David (we can be on a first name basis, right?!) The only problem I had was that he didn’t WARN me when he was playing a character. Without fail, I’d arrive at a forensics chapter and it would take me a few sentences to realize it wasn’t HIS story. I’m a fan, see? I’ve read most of Sedaris’s work, so I KNOW that his mother passed away after a brutal bout with cancer. Therefore, I was terribly confused when in one of these digressions, the narrator of the piece started discussing their mother being in the next room. I’m not always the brightest.

Aside from my minor episodes of confusion, I very much enjoyed this book. Sedaris has spent a big chunk of his adult life living outside the confines of the USA. Me Talk Pretty One Day discussed his time in France at length, but one country was not enough for Sedaris and his life partner Hugh. They’ve traveled extensively and lived in a multitude of places. (Word to the wise- DO NOT get your passport stolen if you have a British “leave to remain” sticker in it.)

Things I learned from this book which are obviously completely scientific and in no way colored by the author’s quirks… The English countryside has a terrible problem with littering. China has a terrible problem with loogie hocking. Japan is extremely clean and full of delightful cuisine. People in the Netherlands think that hanging clear plastic bags of water in front of their doors keep flies away. Kookaburras enjoy eating raw duck meat from the hands of guests at Australian bed and breakfasts (though it leaves the reader to wonder if a bird eating the meat of another bird is cannibalism or if it doesn’t count because they’re a different species… I’m a mammal and I eat mammals… Hmmm…) This book is a whole lot of cultural insensitivity squished in with admiration of global diversity rolled into a nutty coating of taxidermy owls… In short? It’s a rare treat.

Bookworms, if you were to write a collection of essays about your life, what would you focus on? What would you title it? Would it ever include taxidermy and/or kookaburras?

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Apr 09

Once Upon A Time, Before Words For Worms… (Top Ten Tuesday- The Prequel)

Blogging, Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Crime, Dystopian, Family, Friendship, Frightening, Humor, Memoirs, Psychological, Top Ten Tuesday 64

Good Day Bookworms!

It’s Tuesday, which can mean quite a number of things… What it means on this blog, however, is that we make LISTS. That’s right, it’s time for Top Ten Tuesday with The Broke and The Bookish! This week’s topic is the top ten books I read before I was a blogger. Here’s the thing. A lot of stuff I’ve blogged about, I read before I was a blogger. I learned to read when I was like 5 or 6… And I’ve only been blogging since August… That’s a whole LIFE of reading outside of the blogosphere. I’ve tried to narrow today’s list down to ten books that haven’t gotten a whole lot of attention on my blog… I feel like I’m screaming Outlander and Gone With The Wind and Song of Achilles every week, so I’m trying to feature some of the lesser known heroes of my bookshelf.

toptentuesday1. Stones From The River by Ursula Hegi. If you liked The Book Thief, you will love Stones From The River. It’s about a woman named Trudi who has the bad luck to have been born a dwarf in what would become Nazi Germany. Spoiler Alert: Both books involve books, resisting the regime, and hiding Jewish people at great personal risk. It’s a fantastic read and I highly recommend it!

2. Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve. Anita Shreve wrote an entire series of books set at the same beach house throughout different points in history. I don’t know if I should really call them a series, though they are all obviously entwined. The characters and situations are all so different, only the landscape ties them together. Anyway, Fortune’s Rocks is set in the early 1900s (I wanted to say “turn of the century” but the stupid HANDS OF TIME just keep on ticking and that phrase is no longer useful to me!) There’s a young girl, an older man, and the kind of scandal you’d expect from a young girl getting involved with an older man (who happens to be a “fine” “upstanding” married doctor with children.) This is BY FAR my favorite Anita Shreve title, so you should probably read it.

3. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. This book was given to me by one of my dearest friends (who happens to have just recently graduated from veterinary school. Can we all give Dr. Erin a big CONGRATS, Words for Worms Style?) Dr. Erin gave me this book on my 19th or 20th birthday (I cannot remember, I am very, very old.) Sedaris’s humor is quirky and irreverent and bizarre and wonderful. My personal copy may look a wee bit worse for the wear, but it’s one of the books I practically beat people with until they agree to read it. (That may or may not be why it’s a wee bit worse for the wear…)

The Easter Bunny doesn't leave chocolate for French children. Church bells that fly in from Rome do. I know. I KNOW!

The Easter Bunny doesn’t leave chocolate for French children. Church bells that fly in from Rome do. I share David Sedaris’s WTF?! on that one!

4. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan. Okay, maybe I’ve discussed some of these titles before, but dangit, they’re awesome! I read this for a literature class in college and was astounded to find myself with a taste for eel and sticky rice and a host of other Chinese dishes that I’d never eaten nor cared to taste. The mark of badass prose? Making exotic food sound appealing to a girl with a bland palate. High five, Amy Tan!

5. Fall On Your Knees by Anne Marie MacDonald. I know some of you out there shy away from anything bearing an Oprah sticker, but trust me on this one. It’s practically a Greek tragedy, except that the characters are Lebanese and Canadian. Really amazing, disturbing stuff, and it’s stuck with me for years. Side bonus? The title always gets “Oh Holy Night” stuck in my head, which is among the most beautiful Christmas carols (which has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the book, it’s just the way my brain works.)

6. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This is a YA title, but it deals with THE TOUGH STUFF. Basically? The main character is date raped at a party just before she starts high school. She calls the police who come to bust up the party and is treated as a pariah. Everyone knows she was the narc, but nobody knows WHY. She never reports the rape, but has to attend school with her rapist. The emotional aftermath is raw and real and frightening. It’s a great book, but if you’ve got some of your own personal demons on this subject, you may want to skip this one.

Kristin Stewart starred in a movie version, but since brooding an morose is her default expression, it might not be too bad...

Kristin Stewart starred in a movie version, but since brooding an morose is her default expression, it might not be too bad…

7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Awww yeah. Dystopia time. The premise of this book is that society has begun to breed human clones in order to harvest their organs for the greater good of the population. This novel takes you inside the lives of these clones. It’s a little bit science fiction, a little bit dystopian, and a whole lot of ethical conundrum rolled into a tasty little package.

8. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. This book tells the story of an intersex individual from a Greek family that immigrated to the US. Thanks to a genetic mutation, the narrator is raised believing she is a female until hormonal changes at puberty eventually lead to the discovery that she is biologically male… Sort of. It’s a fascinating look at a medical condition I was never aware of, and the impact gender can have on one’s psyche and family unit. If you can read this book without empathizing the crap out of Callie/Cal, I’m concerned about the size of your grinchy heart.

9. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. When Susie Salmon is brutally raped and murdered by her creepy neighbor, she continues to keep track of her family from the “other side.” Yes, this book starts out with a horrific tragedy, and it’s not easy to read. That’s really not a spoiler at all, because it’s at the very beginning of the book. The meat of this book is watching how her family deals with the tragedy. It also goes to show that the BEST murder weapon is, in fact, an icicle (which is NOT, by the way, the weapon that is used on Susie.)

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I wasn’t a huge fan of the movie… I get grouchy when they stray too far from the book. That said, Stanley Tucci is one creepy creepster. ::Shivers::

10. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. This is one of Atwood’s lesser known novels. It never gets the accolades of The Blind Assassin or Alias Grace but I thought it was fantastic. It’s about a psychopathic woman who makes it her life’s mission to destroy all of her “friends'” love lives. It taught me a great many things, not the least of which being that one can give oneself scurvy by being bulimic. As if we needed ANOTHER reason eating disorders are horrible. Now you know you can get swarthy pirate conditions. Not cute, y’all.

So, Bookworms. I know that a lot of you aren’t bloggers, let alone book-specific bloggers, but I like to think that this top ten list is more of a memory lane sort of theme. What are some of the best books you’ve read in the not so recent past?

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Mar 14

The Greatest Thing That Ever Happened To Me… While I Wasn't There

Blogging, Friendship, Humor, Memoirs, Personal 39

How are all the Bookworms out there doing today?

Not so great? Well. I have something wonderful that will be sure to cheer you up. You’ve met my friend Chrissy before, haven’t you? In my more philosophical moments, I like to think that there’s a grand plan behind the way things work. There are people that are meant to be in your life, and it’s weird, because once you meet them, it feels like you’re already acquainted. I like to refer to Chrissy as my “butter churning sister from a past life,” because, you know, if we DID live lives before this one, we probably would have had to churn our own butter. I tell you this so you understand that she’s got a special place in my heart, and she had that WAY PRIOR to this story. (“Can’t Buy Me Love” and all that. The Beatles are always right.)

Remember once upon a time when I reviewed Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, otherwise known as The Great and Powerful Bloggess? If you need to take a break and catch up, I’ll wait. You’re back? Wonderful. Suffice it to say that I’m a fan. I mean, Beyonce the giant metal chicken? The traveling red dress? She is a thousand kinds of awesome plus whipped cream plus a wine slushie and an order of fried pickles on the side.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was released in paperback recently (I own a Kindle copy of the original release) and to celebrate, The Great and Powerful Bloggess went on a book tour. One of the stops on the tour was in Chicagoland, which was fantastic news for Chrissy. It would have been great news for me too, but the event was on a Thursday. I had to work the following Friday, so making a 4 hour round trip journey wasn’t in the cards for me. Chrissy, of course, decided to go, and I was super excited for her and more than a tiny bit jealous. In fact, while she was waiting for the event to start, I did what anyone would do… I took a pathetic selfie and texted it to her so she’d feel guilty that I was missing out on the fun. Oh yeah. I’m THAT friend.

That's my best puppy dog face. I only bust it out for serious guilt trips... And the occasional foot massage.

That’s my best puppy dog face. I only bust it out for serious guilt trips… And the occasional foot massage.

I got home from a ho-hum day to find a surprise package on my doorstep. I was most pleased to see that the return address was from Chrissy. I assumed she’d located a package of deeply discounted penguin greeting cards, or perhaps a thrift store Harlequin romance novel. I was FLABBERGASTED and DELIGHTED and OVERJOYED to find an autographed copy of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (with bonus chapter!) Chrissy used a few moments of her precious Bloggess face time to get ME a birthday gift! (I’m about to turn 30. It’s… Well. It is what it is. Presents take the edge off.)

Now, Chrissy can tell you her version of this story (I highly recommend you click HERE to read it), but the gist of it is this: Chrissy showed the Bloggess my selfie. The Bloggess KNOWS I EXIST! AND! She thinks I’m cute! Just read the inscription!

Can you hear me squealing through the computer?! It's so LOUD!

Can you hear me squealing through the computer?! It’s so LOUD!

Chrissy also inscribed her own message, of course. She likes to prove me wrong, see? I don’t like to write in books I give as gifts just in case the recipient decides to pass it on to someone else one day. (I’m not saying this happened, but MAYBE, just MAYBE at some point in my life I was the owner of a pocket sized illustrated version of the Kama Sutra… And said pocket sized edition would have made an excellent saucy bachelorette party gift, but my re-gifting attempt was THWARTED by a personalized inscription…That COMPLETELY HYPOTHETICAL situation would be totally frustrating, right?) Chrissy’s inscription basically told me that I’d probably hang on to this book. She always has to win, you know?!

Isn’t that the sweetest?! Couldn’t this story have ended RIGHT THERE and been the best thing ever? It could have, but it DIDN’T! Because Jenny Lawson is so super fantastic, she posed for a picture with Chrissy, putting her arm around an invisible ME. And Chrissy, having somehow learned how to photoshop things in a surprisingly respectable manner made me THIS:

Just let the awesomeness sink in for a minute...

Just let the awesomeness sink in for a minute… And do not question why I’m wearing a bridesmaid dress to a book signing.

It’s like I was actually there, only better. It’s better because my friend cared enough about me to blather incoherently to a famous person on my behalf. It’s better because Jenny has an incredible sense of humor and went along with the shenanigans. It’s the BEST because now I have my favorite thing in the world (a book) written by one of the people I admire most (The Bloggess) from one of my favorite people in the universe (including, but not limited to, all potential past lives.) And that, Bookworms, is how a book can be more than just a book.

Anybody out there have a story about a book inscription they’d like to share? I know not everyone’s story will be so full of superlatives and SHOUTY CAPITALS, but I’d love to hear them. Tell me something good, Worms.

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Jan 11

Blogstalker Book Club: Girl Walks Into a Bar… By Rachel Dratch

Blogging, Book Club, Humor, Memoirs 33

Hello Blogstalking Bookworms!

This book club is the brain child of the beautiful and talented Lauren of Filing Jointly…Finally (who Justin Timberlake may or may not have slapped with a restraining order…) Did you read along with us this month? Our selection was Rachel Dratch’s memoir, Girl Walks Into A Bar… Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle. I’ve pretty much decided that the world’s most amazing slumber party would include Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Mindy Kaling. I want them to be my friends! (Lauren, you can totally come to our slumber party, JT won’t be there.)

Hi Rachel!

Hi Rachel! I can french braid!

So. Girl Walks into a Bar… starts out with Rachel’s post Saturday Night Live life. She was a cast member from 1999-2006. These were some of my prime SNL watching years. I really wanted to find a clip of this sketch, but I couldn’t, so I’m just going to describe it and do it no justice whatsoever. Okay? So. Rachel Dratch and Jimmy Fallon played these obnoxious Boston teenagers named Sully and Denise. They were always going to keggers, getting wasted, having loud fights, and making out in the middle of them. Good fun. The sketch that cracked me up was when Ben Affleck hosted. Affleck lost it in a big way and kept saying “Bro…. bro…Bro. Bro! Bro.” Everyone in the scene was cracking up, which somehow makes everything THAT MUCH FUNNIER when you’re watching SNL at home, alone, in your childhood bedroom. Anyway. It was hysterical. Do any of you have a favorite Rachel Dratch SNL story to share? Please tell me I’m not the only person who spent her formative Saturday nights at home alone watching television! 

I found this image at SNL Pictures

I found this image at SNL Pictures

Dratch was on poised for what should have been a brilliant post SNL career. She was even cast as Jenna in the pilot for 30 Rock (her good pal Tina Fey’s brain child.) Only. Well. As Dratch puts it, in real life she’s a decent looking lady. Unfortunately, by Hollywood’s impossible standards, she’s…not. When they tested the pilot for 30 Rock she was replaced with Jane Krakowski (let’s not take anything away from Jane’s work though- her Jenna is fantastically psychotic.) Dratch was all “well, that sucks, but TV is like that. We’re cool, Tina. We’re cool, Jane. I’ll do some weird characters from time to time.” Sadly, it would not go quietly into that good night! The media picked up on the story and it was all “Scandal! Homely Dratch replaced by Bombshell!” To add insult to embarrassment, the only roles Dratch was being offered were for lesbian secretaries. What the what? Reading this portion of Dratch’s memoir made me sad. Then, because I’m terribly self involved, I started to worry about how ugly Hollywood would think I am. Anybody else experience this neurosis? 

Dratch decides to tackle her life with sporadic work by meeting the NYC dating scene head-on. Before Dratch could date effectively, she had to break out of her comfort zone. She had TONS of social engagements… With her gal pals, comedy guys, and gay man friends. Oh Rachel Dratch! This is why I love you! I went to my junior prom with a gal pal (and we bought a couple’s ticket even though we got weird looks from the administration because DAMNIT, if we had to go to prom without dates, we were going to save $10.) I went to two homecoming dances and my senior prom with gay dudes (it wasn’t like a secret or anything, we all knew where we stood. We both got to dance and nobody got to make out with anybody.  The parentals were actually quite pleased with this arrangement.) Even though it’s kind of off-topic, I’d love to hear your weird high school dance stories!

Me and my Junior Prom Date.

Me and my Junior Prom Date.

Me and my Senior Prom date.

Me and my Senior Prom date.

Whenever I read dating horror stories, I’m always shocked that somewhere all these nightmare people likely eventually find someone to put up with their weird crap. How’s about the drunken horse meat guy? He’s everything on paper- good job, speaks foreign language, hungers for equine flesh… Riiight. Eventually she does meet a nice guy. They live on opposite coasts, but that’s not important. They hang out! They drink wine! They eat delicious foods! And then Rachel gets pregnant! By accident! At 43! Oops! This part kind of cracked me up, actually. It’s funny because everyone always thinks unexpected pregnancies happen to under informed teenagers, but some of my favorite people were late in reproductive life woopsies. After Rachel had come to terms with the idea that she’d never have kids BAM! Left hook from a pee stick.

I was more touched by this book that I expected to be. I mean, I expected to laugh, which I did, but I didn’t expect it to be so deeply personal. I love that this ends with Dratch getting a happy ending she never expected. Sure, she’s still only being offered roles for lesbian secretaries, but she found joy in a life she did NOT see coming. I love the message this gives about life’s unpredictability. Sure, things may not go according to plan, but if you find the humor in life and keep your head high, you might end up at a magical slumber party with Rachel Dratch! How did everyone else like the book? Tell me about it!

Next month’s book club selection will be Matched by Ally Condie. It’s YA literature, but everybody’s reading it, so we must too!  (Peer pressure. I’m susceptible.)

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