Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast
(Bloomsbury USA, 2017, 169 pages)
Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York started as a small booklet written by author Chast as a guide to Manhattan for her daughter who was moving there for college. On the first page though, she states, “it’s not really a guide book” because, for example, there’s nothing in it about the Statue of Liberty. She covers the basics, including the layout of Manhattan, from which I learned that avenues run north and south, while streets run east and west, and the distance between avenues is greater than the distance between streets. I also learned that Manhattan is 2.3 miles across, so you could plug in a toaster on one side of the island, run the cord along 14th Street, and have toast on the other side. Chast’s dry wit made me chuckle aloud several times. In addition to the layout of Manhattan, she covers the Subway system, the Met and other museums, parks, food, and apartments. I’m planning to go to New York over the summer and will probably check out this book again before I leave. Even if you’re not going there, it’s a fun, informative read.
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
(Hachette Books, 2016, 260 pages)
Fierce feminist views. Rally call!
What Happened by President Hillary Rodham Clinton
(Simon & Schuster, 2017, 512 pages)
I laughed, I cried, I cursed, but mostly I just shook my head. What Happened has been marketed as the story of the 2016 presidential election, but it’s more than that. The first half of the book is an autobiographical account of Mrs. Clinton’s life and how the events and people close to her helped her get to this point. She also gives insight into her everyday personal habits—her diet, her fashion sense (or lack thereof), and what she watches on tv. In the second half of the book, Mrs. Clinton talks about the policies, spending a lot of time on coal, an issue on which she felt misunderstood. Everything else you would expect to be here is—“those damn emails,” Russian interference, Trump creeping up behind her during debates, etc. She even reads a portion of what would have been her victory speech. Those who should read this won’t, but supporters of Mrs. Clinton will find it bittersweet and lament what could have been.
(aka 5/5 stars)
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
(Grand Central Publishing, 2015, 209 pages)
This memoir about what it’s like to unexpectedly lose your husband was beautifully written, poignant, and heart-breaking. Alexander is a poet and that background shines through in the way she writes this memoir. Much like when you read poetry there would be sections of the book where I would finish and then just have to stop and reflect on what I’d read.
Even though the subject matter is sad it makes you appreciate the people you have in your life and the fact that no day is guaranteed to us. It also shines light on the fact that you WILL survive your grief. Just because someone is no longer physically beside us on this earth doesn’t mean their presence and the impact they had on your life disappears. It’s tragic, yes. But the fact that they have played a role in influencing the person you have become remains a beautiful thing to hold on to.
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
(Random House, 2017, 207 pages)
I was introduced to Ariel Levy through the Longform podcast. That led me to her 2013 essay in The New Yorker, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia.” It’s powerful and devastating. When I started hearing the buzz about The Rules Do Not Apply I immediately added it to my to-read list.
The Rules Do Not Apply is a memoir about Levy’s journey to becoming the woman she is today. In the midst of losing her child, her marriage, and the life she’d previously believed was waiting for her in the future she learns (the hard way) that no one ever really has control over their life. No one knows what might be in store for them. She has to reclaim her sense of self and she takes the reader along with her. You grieve with her for the loss of her marriage and the loss of her child and you end the book wanting to know more about Levy’s life and how things are going for her.
The book ends on a hopeful note, leaving the reader with the notion that her life could have any number of outcomes – who is she to say she knows which one will come to pass?
The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South
by Michael Twitty
(Amistad, 2017, 464 pages)
The premise of Twitty’s book is to explore how African-Americans influenced Southern cooking as we know it today. He uses his own family history to trace this influence. It was interesting to learn about slaves being sent abroad to learn French culinary techniques so they could cook the cuisine their owners wanted. I also appreciated learning a bit about how slaves adapted to their new surroundings by seeing what was comparable to food they had back home or by finding ways to introduce their own culinary traditions to the new world they were a part of.
This book had received such acclaim and it dealt with issues I love reading about (food and race) that I was eager to finally pick it up. But it didn’t deliver for me. There are people that thoroughly enjoyed it, I just think it was billed as a different book than what it actually is. A considerable amount of the book was spent going through Twitty’s genealogy. Unfortunately, it read pretty dry to me and I felt like more time was devoted to figuring out his heritage (valuable, to be sure!) than talking about the culinary component (the whole reason I picked up the book).
Like I said, some people loved this book. I didn’t find the writing particularly compelling. The focus of the book should have been more on the food than on Twitty. I did learn some new things, but it was a slog trying to get through the book.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
(Harper Perennial, 2014, 320 pages)
Memoir blended with educational resources.