Thursday, June 17, 2021

Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market by Eric Schlosser


DNF @ p.30

This book has been sitting in my room unread for years. I bought it because it's written by the same guy who wrote FAST FOOD NATION, a book I read and enjoyed as a teenager and plan on rereading soon as part of my not-so-secret-project. But before I revisited FFN, I wanted to check out this edgy-looking book about the marijuana, illegal immigrant labor, and porn industries.

I ended up really not liking this book. I struggled through the marijuana chapter which was woefully out of date (this book was published in 2003) and skimmed through the other two sections before deciding that this wasn't for me. It was written during a different time, with different rules and different standards, and I could kind of get a glimpse of how well this book had aged from the very intro, where the author refers to illegal immigrants as "illegals" in the text and when several of the top-grossing American companies are listed, Facebook and Google were both glaringly absent (again, 2003).

Maybe this was topical twenty years ago, but it isn't now.

1 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Manic: A Memoir by Terri Cheney


From the first line in this memoir, I knew it was going to be good. As a psychology major, I've been introduced to a lot of memoirs about and written by people with psychiatric disorders. The vast majority of them are really great. I think it takes a certain amount of courage to open up and share such intimate details about one's life, especially if one suffers from a disorder that foments chaotic and dysfunctional behavior. Which bipolar disorder definitely does.

Some of the critical reviews for this book take issue with the fact that Cheney seems full of herself, and while that is true, on the surface, at times, I think it is mostly because she is trying to reflect the self-aggrandizing thoughts that can occur when someone is in the grip of mania. She says at one point herself that she knows how extreme her behavior was, how irrational. In that way, the memoir is almost written as if it were from an unreliable narrator. While writing her book from a stable place, she is trying to accurately reflect both her manic and her depressive states by portraying those thought patterns.

I think Cheney did a really good job on this, to be honest. It's not quite as artistic as Marya Hornbacher's MADNESS, which kind of played with structure and syntax to reflect the breathlessness of mania and the slow plod of depression, but I think that makes sense since Hornbacher was a creative writer/artist type and Cheney, as a lawyer, seems much more practical. Anyone who is interested in learning more about bipolar disorder and what it is like to suffer from it should read this memoir. There are content warnings for virtually everything, including sexual assault, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation, but I thought Cheney handled these subjects with care and open honesty.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger by Nigel Slater


I'm currently doing a project where I'm rereading some of the books I loved as a teenager. The impetus for this project was a long slew of disappointments from new releases I was looking forward to, and the discovery of some of my old books tucked away in my garage. TOAST is especially near and dear to my heart because I used to live in the UK and the copy I found was purchased at a Waterstones. It's an ode to food written by a food critic, but not just the fancy stuff-- here, he sings the praises of things like toast and store-bought trifle, penny candies and cheap gum, Jammie Dodgers, gammon, and all of the food of the working class and how it ties into his memories.

There's a movie based on this memoir and it's really good, but I like the memoir better. It's a lot like Anthony Bourdain's memoirs in how his passion for food and the emotions it stirs tie in to the eating of said food, but Slater is much less pretentious and much more unprepossessing in his tastes. He's not here to impress-- his tongue-in-cheek dry wit really carries the narrative along when he talks about his mother's failed custards and pies, or how marshmallows reminded him of goodnight kisses, or the Brit fascination with food from the South of France.

If you enjoy foodie memoirs, I think you'll really enjoy this memoir. It's so well written and so good. I think I actually enjoyed reading it even more this second time around because a lot of the humor and references went over my head as a teen. There are some trigger warnings for references to grooming and discipline that would probably be considered borderline abusive now (his childhood was in the 60s), and it also deals with the death of a parent as a young age, but it's never too grim and I think there's a real element of hurt/comfort in how Slater writes on all of these topics.

5 out of 5 stars

You're On Mute: 101 ways to add zip to Zoom and not look tragic on Teams by Jo Hoare


I'm actually kind of shocked that YOU'RE ON MUTE has such low ratings on Goodreads because I thought it was a very helpful and humorous introductory guide to using video calls. Maybe that's the problem, though-- it's very introductory. I think the ideal audiences for this book are probably high school and college students who are just entering the work force (and possibly the virtual dating game) and older adults who might not be as used to technology and were able to get around video calls pre-COVID because they worked in industries where tech wasn't exactly a necessity.

This book provides great tips, such as online etiquette, video safety, tips for video dates, and reminders that it isn't okay to take Zoom calls into the bathroom and that you should really mute yourself if you're in a big meeting where lots of people might be making small but cumulative amounts of noise.

YOU'RE ON MUTE *is* basic but I personally found most of the advice incredibly on-point and helpful. The only one I disagreed with is the one about taking video calls outside. I conduct a lot of my meetings from my porch because my house can get noisy and I prefer the natural light. This book says it's unprofessional and hard to see, but I think if you're in a shaded, clean area, it's totally fine.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Craigslist Confessional: A Collection of Secrets from Anonymous Strangers by Helena Dea Bala


I try to read my ARCs right away but sometimes I'm not in the right mental space to read certain things. If I give a book a low rating, I've usually tried and failed to stick with it several times and just didn't see the point in finishing. CRAIGSLIST CONFESSIONAL intrigued me but the reviews warned me that it wasn't the light-hearted collection of anecdotes I'd thought it would be, so I decided to save it for a time when I was feeling pretty positive in life and could stomach it.

CRAIGSLIST CONFESSIONAL is a lot like POST SECRET for adults (if you're familiar with POST SECRET). In this book, Bala has gathered the anonymous confessionals of people talking about their dreams, secrets, hopes, and fears, as they admit to everything from sex addiction to abuse to overcoming loss of loved ones to failing to remove toxic people from their lives. Most of the stories are sad or bittersweet, which is why I wouldn't recommend this if you're already in a bad frame of mind, but there is a hurt/comfort element to some of the stories. My favorite was a woman who was able to find solace in her son's untimely death from finding out the stories of the people who received his donated organs and how he helped further their own lives.

Ultimately, I really liked the stories that were chosen and how they were divided. They are all beautifully written and cohesive (I am unsure if the author perhaps rewrote some of them or tweaked the facts to make them more uniform in format), and I found all of these slices of life fascinating. It's an interesting window into the secret lives of people you might encounter on the street, and a reminder that everyone is engaged in their own private battles. I actually really enjoyed reading these stories and they made me think deeply on some of the details from my own private life.

Definitely recommend this to anyone who is a fan of Frank Warren's POST SECRET project.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 14, 2021

Bluebird by Sharon Cameron


BLUEBIRD was a book that I grabbed purely on impulse. I'm just such a sucker for revenge stories and even though I'm totally fatigued on WWII books, I couldn't resist. This had everything I love-- dangerous boys, dual timelines, family secrets, revenge, and real stakes. From the first chapter, I was sucked in, and I was really impressed at how darkly and deftly the subject matter was handled considering that this is a young adult book and usually the authors tend to write with kid gloves (to the detriment of the plot, sadly).

There are two alternating narratives in this book. One is about Eva, a German girl coming to America with her friend, Annemarie. She has a dark secret and revenge on her mind. The other story is about Inge, another German girl who comes from the ideal German family. Only... her life isn't as perfect as she thinks. And the reason her life isn't perfect is the same reason her mother hates her and her father treats her like a beloved but strictly disciplined dog. The narratives end up intersecting in an unusual and gradual way and while I predicted some of it, there were still plenty of twists that surprised me.

The less you know about BLUEBIRD, the better. I personally thought it was an excellent work of historical fiction. Some of my friends hadn't liked her previous books so I had avoided her other work but after reading this, I'm thinking I seriously need to check out her backlist. The only critiques I really have is that the last half of the book felt a little disorganized compared to the excellent beginning and I don't think the book really needed to be 400+ pages. There were a lot of pieces that felt redundant.

Since this is a book of wartime fiction, the usual trigger warnings apply. Nothing is graphic, but there is a lot of implied abuse and violence, and some references to human experimentation.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster


I'm doing a project where I'm rereading some of my favorite books from adolescence and seeing how they hold up. Some of them are adult books and some of them are children's books. My most recent addition to the project is the delightful middle grade fantasy novel, THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. Including this book on the list might actually be cheating because I read it for the first time elementary school (and also watched the movie, which is supremely creepy in the way that only 1970s movies can be creepy, by which I mean it is basically like a bad acid trip).

THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH is about a boy named Milo who is depressed and jaded and doesn't really take joy in anything. One day, a present shows up in his apartment. It's a cardboard tollbooth. Having nothing better to do, he decides to try it and ends up transported to a very strange world where numbers come out of mines and words can be eaten and demons live in the land of Ignorance.

This is definitely a book for children but it's wonderfully clever and I think one of the things I love most about it is how many layers it has. Like ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Juster loves to play with words and meaning, and it's just so witty. Every time I read it, I pick up more references, and I think that's the mark of a perfect work of children's literature-- something that becomes additive over the years and gains, rather than loses, its value.

3.5 out of 5 stars