We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
(Vintage, 2017, 288 pages)
So many people highlighted this collection of essays as one of their top humorous reads that I gravitated toward it after realizing I needed a break from all the negativity in the news. Irby is a talented essayist who is able to tackle topics you wouldn’t expect with an openness and sense of humor you have to appreciate. We explore her romantic history, her family life, job performance, her “hate” relationship with her cat, her physical limitations… there’s a lot of sass in this book and there is a bitter edge to her humor that you need to kind of gird yourself for.
It wasn’t the laugh-out-loud book I was hoping for, but I certainly had more than a few audible chuckles while reading. Irby doesn’t keep much back so if you decide to grab this well-blurbed book (praise from the likes of: Roxane Gay, Lindy West, Jenny Lawson, Rainbow Rowell) know that the content and language is in R-rated territory 😉
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
(Graywolf Press, 2015, 160 pages)
This unique “memoir” focusing on the relationship between Nelson and her partner was beautifully written. This is so much more than a memoir because Nelson is also deconstructing things like gender, love, family, and identity. Interspersed throughout her own story Nelson refers to and quotes a number of other intellectuals. The breadth of her knowledge is impressive and when she references these thinkers she does so by utilizing the margins of the book. Initially I was confused by this formatting, but then I acclimated and appreciated the fact that it helped keep the body of the text clean.
The Argonauts isn’t the kind of book you can just breeze through because there is so much to unpack but it’s well worth your time to pick it up.
Practical Houseplant Book by Fran Bailey and Zia Allaway
(DK Publishing, 2018, 224 pages)
I’m always looking for ways to give my house a homier feel. Since I managed to kill the last houseplant I had this seemed like a book that was right up my alley. Things are broken down into sections so you get a feel for how to organize plants, what plants are best suited for different environments, tools you’ll need, and crafty things you can do yourself. It was helpful that this was such a visual book (you can always count on DK for that). I think I got the most mileage out of the section that breaks plants down based on type and highlights the level of difficulty for their care. I now have an incredibly long list of plants I would love to nurture in my house!
I wasn’t a huge fan of the craft section BUT it did help me to see that some of the looks I might go for are things I can try and do on my own. If you’re a houseplant novice this is a great introductory text for you. I’m excited for my next visit to Fahr Greenhouse to see what catches my eye… if you see more houseplant books on the blog in the near future you’ll know I’ve been moderately successful 😉
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee
(Mariner Books, 2018, 288 pages)
I grabbed this book as soon as I saw it sitting on the “New Books” shelf at my public library. I feel like there was so much buzz about this book prior to its publication that I couldn’t not pick it up. This collection of essays reads as more of a memoir since it essentially chronicles Chee’s path to becoming a writer. The essays are beautifully written and I fully understand why there was so much pre-pub buzz.
The end of the Goodreads summary reads, “By turns commanding, heartbreaking, and wry, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel asks questions about how we create ourselves in life and in art, and how to fight when our dearest truths are under attack.” I’d definitely recommend this, especially for those who love literary fiction and enjoy reading memoirs by writers.
Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman
by Anne Helen Petersen
(Plume Books, 2017, 234 pages)
I know Anne Helen Petersen from her pieces on Buzzfeed. I follow her on Twitter. I subscribe to her newsletter. I knew I would be picking up this book I’m just surprised it took me so long. This book is comprised of 10 essays, each focusing on famous woman who is considered “too” something; meaning she has taken it upon herself to exist outside the boundaries of what society views as the appropriate way for a woman to behave. Petersen covers women from Serena Williams and Lena Dunham to Caitlyn Jenner and Hillary Clinton. She is deconstructing what it is about these women that makes people simultaneously love them and love to hate them. Petersen deep dives into how these women refuse to limit themselves by the societal norms so many people want to force upon them.
This is definitely a book I’d recommend.
Madison Park: A Place of Hope by Eric L. Motley
(Zondervan, 2017, 304 pages)
Madison Park: A Place of Hope is a memoir written by Eric L. Motley. I really enjoyed learning about the author’s life. He grew up in Madison Park in Alabama. Madison Park is a rural southern community whose founding father and namesake is Eli Madison. Eric came from humble beginnings and was raised by his grandparents.
Eric’s grandparents and some of the residents of the community did everything possible so that he could get a college education. From Eric’s grandparents buying books for him to learn from to neighbors dropping off classical music records for him to listen to, Eric had many people in the community, church, and school impart many lessons and wisdom. Below is the description from Goodreads:
Welcome to Madison Park, a small community in Alabama founded by freed slaves in 1880. And meet Eric Motley, a native son who came of age in this remarkable place where constant lessons in self-determination, hope, and unceasing belief in the American dream taught him everything he needed for his journey to the Oval Office as a Special Assistant to President George W. Bush.
Eric grew up among people whose belief was to “give” and never turn away from your neighbor’s need. There was Aunt Shine, the goodly matriarch who cared so much about young Motley’s schooling that she would stand up in a crowded church and announce Eric’s progress or his shortcomings. There was Old Man Salery, who secretly siphoned gasoline from his beat-up car into the Motley’s tank at night. There were Motley’s grandparents, who bought books for Eric they couldn’t afford, spending the last of their seed money. And there was Reverend Brinkley, a man of enormous faith and simple living. It was said that whenever the Reverend came your way, light abounded. Life in Madison Park wasn’t always easy or fair, and Motley reveals personal and heartbreaking stories of racial injustice and segregation. But Eric shows how the community taught him everything he needed to know about love and faith.
This charming, engaging, and deeply inspiring memoir will help you remember that we can create a world of shared values based on love and hope. It is a story that reveals the amazing power of faith in God and each other. If you’re in search of hope during troubled times, look no further than Madison Park.
Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson
(Front Street, 2001, 112 pages)
The Nelson kick continues…
I loved this George Washington Carver biography told through poems. I feel like he’s a figure people think they know but he’s done so much more than many realize. I had no idea what his backstory was or all the things that he did. His story is inspiring – this quiet, religious, nature-loving intellectual was dedicated to doing what he could to help improve the lives of farmers through his research. He was also committed to the students at Tuskegee University and worked diligently to see them succeed.
This is a beautiful portrayal of his life that will only encourage you to learn more about him. Not to mention it will inspire you to continue reading the fabulous work of Marilyn Nelson 🙂
Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me by Sarah Leavitt
(Skyhorse, 2012, 127 pages)
When I first opened the book and saw the very simplistic drawings, I was afraid that I would be let down by this story. I decided to read it at a slow pace and really study the pictures. I was in awe of how much raw emotion could be shown in the simple black and white drawings.
I applaud Sarah Leavitt for having the courage to write something so incredibly personal. It had to be an incredible undertaking to be able to open up and tell her life’s story of those few short years after her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She did not live close to her parents and she goes into so much detail about how she handled the stress of staying in touch and the traveling back and forth. Each family member is clearly presented along with the relationships she has with her aunts, sister, dad, and especially her mother. It is very inspiring to see a family through the eyes of the daughter (who is going through some extremely tough situations); for them to know that it’s okay to be able to laugh, get angry, cry, but above all else, love unconditionally.
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
(Dial Books, 2014, 112 pages)
I grabbed How I Discovered Poetry after reading A Wreath for Emmett Till. I was hoping to get more insight into Nelson as a poet and this book seemed like it would offer that. The book is slim and is comprised of 50 poems. We see Nelson progress to young adulthood as the United States is gradually progressing toward racial “equality.”
Born in the 1950s Nelson was the daughter of a military man and her family moved often so not only did she see a lot of the United States, she was regularly the new girl and often one of very few black faces in her classrooms. This memoir in poetry was well done but I came to it expecting a little more depth and detail about her life. I’d eagerly read a prose memoir if she ever chose to write one. I think it’s clear I think she has a way with words 🙂
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson
(HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005, 48 pages)
This was the book that introduced me to the work of Marilyn Nelson. I was doing some research on the Coretta Scott King Awards and that is how I discovered this title which received an “Award for Author” Honor in 2006. Something about the way it was described compelled me to request it and I found it so incredibly heartbreaking and moving. The art that accompanies the piece was also very well done. At the end of the book there is an explanation of the poems (something Nelson does regularly and which is a feature I love) in addition to an explanation of the art.
This poem tells the story of Emmett Till’s murder while also reminding the reader of his humanity – it’s so easy to just hear the name, remember the story, and not think about him as a boy living in the world, as a son, as a man who didn’t get the chance to grow up. A Wreath for Emmett Till is aimed at younger readers and I think it powerfully combines history and poetry in a way that quickly captures the reader’s attention. This is one of those books that will find its way to my permanent book collection so I have it on hand when my daughter is old enough to read it. It’s hard to say I “enjoyed” it given the subject matter, but it was beautifully done and led me down a Marilyn Nelson path for which I am so grateful.