Review: When They Call You a Terrorist

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Review for "When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir" by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (2018)
Review: 4 out of 5 stars

Ahhh, this is a good book. Even though it is about the life of one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, there is sooooo much more than just BLM rhetoric here. It begins with Cullors’ childhood in Los Angeles, growing up poor and constantly harassed by law enforcement. Her single mother works multiple jobs and never quite gets by, and without much adult supervision, both of her brothers eventually end up in the prison system. One of her brothers, whom she spends multiple chapters describing the plight of, was severely mentally ill and systematically abused by the prison system. It is tragic and harrowing, anyone who reads this book will come away with a detailed understanding of Cullors’ rage at law enforcement, the justice system, corrections, and pretty much every institutional system in America.

The author herself is bisexual (she describes herself as queer). She spends a lot of time discussing the fact that Black Lives Matter was founded by three queer women and is a mostly women and LGBTQ-headed movement–though the way it is conveyed in the press, you would not know this. There is also a discussion of the full agenda of the movement, which encompasses far more than just an end to police violence against people of color. In addition to the rights of Black citizens, Black Lives Matter stands for economic justice, health insurance, prison reform, educational reform, ending domestic violence, an end to the abuse of immigrants and unfair deportation, and so on.

Regrettably, much of what Cullors and the Black Lives Matter movement has worked for in the last few years has been undone in the past few months by the current president and his administration. This is lamented in the last part of the book. It’s not an ending, however, but a call to action, hope for the future.

Once again, this is a timely read and great book.

[A digital copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

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Review: Mean

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Review for "Mean" by Myriam Gurba (2017)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is a doozy of a book. It’s a non-linear narrative, opening with a violent account of a woman being raped and murdered in a park. Gurba then switches to a host of different topics that are seemingly unrelated to the first but yet still interesting: growing up as a mixed race Chicana, having a family member with mental illness, discovering her identity as a lesbian. Later in the book we discover that the attacker referenced in the first part is the same that would go on to sexually assault Gurba as a college student.

There’s a lot of wordplay in this book, particularly around the occurrence of rape. I don’t like it.

God is like rape. Rape is everywhere too. Rape is in the air. Rape is in the sky… p.98

Gurba writes about ‘meanness’ as a kind of armor worn by women of color out of necessity. She isn’t trying to censor herself or make the reader comfortable with her descriptions and I get it, I really do. But it’s still unsettling nonetheless.

The writing’s decent here. Three and a half stars.

Review: The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir

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Review for "The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir" by Ariel Levy (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Much-hyped memoir of Ariel Levy, a NYC-based nonfiction writer who, like most of us gals, has been inundated with the feminist mantra that she can have it all–a happy marriage, a career, a family, success. By her late thirties she’s married and accomplished most of what she wants career-wise, but remains childless. Then surprisingly, she finds herself pregnant at 38. However, on a trip to Mongolia in her second trimester, she loses her baby in a devastating miscarriage. Later on when she returns home, she loses her marriage as well.

The writing here is good but I admit that my review is tainted because I didn’t care too much for Ms. Levy. For the insightful feminist that she claims to be, she came off as superficial and just plain selfish in the last half of the book. She readily admits that she cheated during her marriage, yet she’s awfully cold and unforgiving toward her wife, who she discovers was lying to conceal her alcoholism. She also writes with disdain toward people with money, but reminds us several times that her ‘baby daddy’ (her words, btw) is a wealthy man who takes care of her. And Levy’s final meditation behind the whole “you can have it all” premise of the book? We don’t always get what we want, and we’re all going to die someday.

*slaps forehead*

Isn’t this something you learn as a child?

Levy is damn near 40 years old when she finally figures out that the Universe is no respecter of persons and she cannot die with all the toys that she wants. I am certainly sorry for the loss of her baby, but her sense of entitlement to a illusory world of privilege is one that I simply could not relate to.

I had not heard of the author before this book. Honestly, I don’t think I would be upset if I did not hear from her again after this. The story was all over the place and as I said before, the writing was good but there are better memoirs out there. Read at your own risk.

Review: Eat the Apple

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Review for "Eat the Apple" by Matt Young (to be published on 27 February 2018)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

“It’s important to understand bullets don’t stop just because they hit something.”

Matt Young enlists in the Marines in the early 00’s and eventually lives through three deployments to Iraq. It’s a very dark war story with all of the typical ‘no atheists in foxholes’ kind of nihilism, but this is definitely not your typical memoir. There are medical diagnosis charts, screenplay scripts, second person narration, drawings, letters, and other formats that made this book darkly funny, and at times, extremely serious.

I don’t know, though. Even though I liked this memoir, the variety of formats presented weren’t enough to keep me from skimming through multiple sections that held little interest to me. Perhaps because I am not well-schooled in the ways of combat, deployment, the Marines, or any branch of the Armed Services, for that matter.

I give this book 3.5 stars for originality.

[Note: A free digital copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: A Beautiful, Terrible Thing

Behold! A negative review. I’m sorry.

For those who read me often, you’ll know that you don’t see bad reviews often on 29chapters. But yes…occasionally I do encounter a book that for whatever reason, did not offer me a pleasurable nor informative reading experience.

Perhaps you will read it and completely disagree. In the meantime…

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Review for "A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal" by Jen Waite (2017)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

After reading the description, I took the last word in the title, betrayal, and expected something mind-bending and completely unbelievable to compel me to read all 258 pages of this work. This book was neither of those things. Sure, Ms. Waite’s husband is guilty of being a cheating and lying jerk, but how is this different from thousands of other women and men whose lives are ruined by a partner’s infidelity? I also understand that she was deeply hurt by his actions (as I would be), but what is so remarkable here? Why is this a memoir? Who published this drivel?

Most of the first half of this book is made up of adolescent-ish, ‘dear diary’ prose, with “Before” and “After” scenes documenting the beginning, middle, and end of her marriage to Marco, an Argentinian bar tender, serial liar and cheater. Somewhere in all of this she discovers her husband is having an affair and we’re forced to watch as she goes back and forth with omg why omg why omg why this happened. We watch as she scours her husband and his mistress’ social media, phone records, an Uber account. It’s exhausting. It’s obsessive. It’s creepy. And after pages and pages of this, we also don’t care.

I also take issue with her use of ‘psychopathic’ to describe her husband’s behavior. Yes, he cheated on her and lied to her–but does this really make him a psychopath? What medical expertise does the author have to make such a diagnosis? Of course, we’ve all called at least one person we know ‘crazy,’ but the author spends a great deal of time in this book, with no medical expertise at all, utilizing Google searches, internet message boards, and a Wikipedia page to self-diagnose her husband’s mental condition and actions. Well alrighty then.

I don’t recommend this–no way, no how. Sorry.

Review: Boy Erased

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Review for "Boy Erased" by Garrard Conley (2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Just finished this book. Wiping away the tears. Whew…my allergies.

This is a beautifully written book. From the first couple of pages I was completely enthralled, not wanting to do anything but turn to the next page. Garrard Conley certainly has a way with words, his beautiful sentences coming from a place of so much pain and isolation, sadness that I did not have to be an LGBTQ individual to understand, to feel in the very depths of my soul.

This story is all about Garrard, a boy growing up in a super religious Missionary Baptist family in Arkansas, the son of a pastor. From the time he is an adolescent, he knows he is gay. He tries to pray it away, to talk to God about it, all to no avail. When he is ‘outed’ to his parents by a phone call while at college, his parents suggest a ‘cure’ for his ‘problem.’ With nowhere else to turn, he attends several sessions of Love in Action, a “sexual re-orientation” program that uses ‘conversation therapy’ to change gays and lesbians to back to straight people.

This book is not a linear narrative. Scenes from Conley’s life are interpersed with his memories of ex-gay therapy, and a couple of times I found myself putting the book down and thinking to myself: do people really believe this shit? According to LIA, homosexuality is a sickness, a result of the past sins of our family members, sexual abuse, a lack of sports participation, subconscious effeminizing influences, and too much of our mother’s meddling. It’s crazy. But at no time does Conley demonize the people who clearly wronged him, he simply tells the story in a way that leaves you no choice but to listen and feel. I loved that about this book.

I’d recommend this book to people who are interested in a narrative of the intersectionality of LGBTQ identity and religion. I am a Christian, and even though I am of a progressive and inclusive mindset, I gained a much deeper understanding for LGBTQ individuals who grew up in deeply religious communities.

Review: Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked

Hey there, folks!!

The semester is kicking my arse. I’ve been reading though. I’ll be back with my feature on Monday. Till then…

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Review for “Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked” by James Lasdun (2013)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

This book is so bad it’s laughable.

Being the curious person I am, the title drew me in. Stalking has always been a subject that’s received considerable attention, so I read it.

Man, I am SORRY I read this.

It’s supposed to be a true story. Sadly, I don’t believe much of it.

Mr. Lasdun is a creative writing professor at some college in NYC when he meets Nasreen, an Iranian student in his class who he believes shows talent in her writing. She asks him to look over her manuscript, and after several refusals, he eventually agrees to, as well as introduce her to his agent. Around this time they begin (in his words, of course) a “friendly” correspondence through email. At some point, Mr. Lasdun feels their conversation has gone too far and he reminds her he is happily married. This is the point where, according to him, all hell breaks loose. Nasreen begins a complicated campaign of online harassment, spreading accusations of plagiarism and rape among his colleagues, threatening him and his family, making anti-Semitic statements, etc.

But all that’s not my beef with this book. Although I do not feel like Lasdun is being completely honest (I do believe a little more happened between him and this student that he is not telling us), that’s not why this book got 1 star from me. You see, I don’t care about the drama. On page 30 I wondered aloud why this so-called ‘intelligent’ man didn’t just change his email and move the hell on with his life. It’s the execution of the story that fails miserably here. Mr. Lasdun tells you the stalking story, along with pages upon pages on extraneous information: musings on architecture, the writings of D.H. Lawrence, a 37 page train ride that had ZERO to do with the story. Oh God, and the last 55 pages of this had almost nothing to do with anything at all, the content is so far afield it’s almost like another book entirely.

I almost DNF’d this sucker had it not been for my extraordinary power of skimming to get to the end.

Don’t read this book. If you do decide to take the plunge, for God’s sake, don’t buy it. Get it from the library. Stand in Barnes and Noble and sip a latte and skim it. Read parts 1 and 3, skip 2 and 4. You’ll have the whole story right there. Guaranteed.