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Book Review 36: I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

17 Jun

If you love Nora Ephron, for her movies, or her advice, or her everything, you will love this book. Ephron was a wildly successful writer and director. And her personal life was fascinating as well – married to Bernstein, writing Heartburn about the dissolution of her marriage, and finding stability and an actual partner in her subsequent person.

The book is a series of short stories. They are odes to the things that Eprhon, 65 at the time she authored the book, loves, hates, and wonders about. Much of the book is very focused on New York, as Eprhon lived there most of her life, in an apartment she was deeply attached to, fostering her intense New Yorkness. New York seemed as much of a presence in her life as most of her friends, and lovers, and family, and I always find it fascinating when “place” overtakes “people” in terms of priority in someone’s live.

The title stems from her chapter about aging, and how unless surgery is involved, your neck always shows how old you are. She aged only somewhat gracefully. There was something refreshing in her frankness about how aging terrified her. Continue reading

Review 25: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

14 Apr

A million blog posts and articles have been written about this book, that discuss the underlying issues of gender and women in the workplace, that address those issues that I ever could.  As young female at the beginning of her career, this is one of the better career advice books I’ve read. To begin, this book is not: (1) written to represent All Women (2) a memoir (3) an inside look at Facebook.

So, with that out of the way, what I liked about this book is that Sandberg did two things.  First, she acknowledged the subtle gender biases against women in the workplace, and discussed how they need to change. But then, she did something more important. She acknowledged that these are not things that change over night, or within 5 years – they’ll change over the course of 50 years. It’s difficult to implement an overnight change that alters the way both men and women are socialized to expect women to behave. So, secondly, she gives concrete examples of subtle bias women might face in the workplace, and how you can use that information to your advantage to get ahead.

Advocating for change in the workplace once you have the power is important. Sandberg herself has done it. But to get power at all, you have to work within the system you choose to work in, slowly subverting people’s expectations and using those expectations to your advantage. And if you’re interested in learning strategic tips for how to navigate a male dominated working environment (which I am), this book is extremely useful.

Book Review 20: MWF Seeking BFF: My Year Long Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche

7 Mar

So this book was kind of an awesome read. There is so much advice out there about all the crap you deal with in your twenties – starting a career, finding a life partner, getting married, having kids, etc. There is almost no advice about what, at least for me, is arguably the hardest – making friends. In high school and college, you’re forced to spend time with (or live with) people, and all that forced togetherness usually breeds friendships. As an adult, outside of work, there’s no forced togetherness. I’m on my own, and at a bar or happy hour, I’m much more likely to be approached by a guy than a girl looking for a friend.

The hardest part about graduating college for me was the crushing loneliness I felt when my friends scattered across the country.  Bertsche felt the same thing when she moved to Chicago with her husband. She had close girlfriends from high school and college, but they didn’t live in her city. She needed friends she could physically hang out with on the weekends, not friends who were a gHangout or phone call away.

This book doesn’t provide you with a novel blueprint for making friends. Bertsche basically repeats the same advice that I’ve heard over and over. That advice is fairly simple:

  • Ask your friends who don’t live in your city to set you up on friend dates with their friends who do.
  • Say yes to everything when people invite you, even if you don’t want to go. You never know who you’ll meet.
  • When you meet someone you think is fun, or friendly, ask for their number and offer to hang out sometime. They will NOT be weirded out, they will most likely be happy that they’ve made a new friend.
  • Follow up with people if you want to keep hanging out with them. Many people will not follow up with you, even if they want to hang out. Following up 1-2 times is to be expected, you won’t come off as creepy.
  • Join an activity, or club, or sport, or something that you like, and go alone. It forces you to talk to new people.

But this book does something that is novel. What Bertsche does is  write about all the awkwardness and weirdness that comes from executing that advice. She writes about how terrified she was to strike up a conversation with someone at a party where she knew no one. She writes about how she goes on dud friend dates, where they have nothing in common and thus have long periods of awkward silence. She writes about how you feel like a failure, and kind of lame, when you ask people to set you up on friend dates – because it’s like an admission no one wants to be your friend. She writes about the insecurity that many women feel – “why would she want to be my friend, she probably already has friends.”  Continue reading

Book Review 14: Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me by Chelsea Handler & Friends

18 Feb

Chelsea Handler tends to be divisive. People either obsess over her or vigorously hate her for little to no reason. I guess she’s like most comedians that way – you either get them or you don’t, and if you don’t, you’re not interested. I like Chelsea Handler, and I like her assorted cast of friends/comedians on Chelsea Lately.

This book, written by her friends, with responses from Chelsea, didn’t appeal to me as much as My Horizontal Life, the only other book of her’s that I’ve read. First, it’s actually kind of a weird idea. I have a hard time thinking about asking my friends or colleagues to write a book of stories about me. It feels a little…self involved somehow. Just when you start to get into the story and start feeling like it’s an honest, funny, relatively unbiased account, there’s the obligatory praise of “Chelsea is fabulous!” at the end of each chapter which makes it feel less like a collection of funny stories and more like a sales pitch for Chelsea’s human side. Which could be the point of the book, as her public persona is fairly abrasive and you get a more well rounded picture of her from the book.

Also, the premise got stretched a little thing. I think if each person had free reign to just write what they wanted about Chelsea, and make it funny, it would have been consistently funny. But each chapter was shoehorned into telling a story (or two or three) about an actual lie she told, and it got repetitive. I get it, she plays a lot of lie-based pranks. I think there would have been a lot more humor if some of the writers were allowed to break that mold.

This was not my favorite Chelsea Handler experience, for reasons explained below. What is my favorite Chelsea Handler experience?  Continue reading

Book Review 10: Live from New York by Tom Shales & Andrew James Miller

12 Feb

After reading The Revolution Was Televised, I realized that a whole genre of books about my absolute favorite pastime, television, existed and I was missing out. Live from New York, a 600 page oral history of Saturday Night Live, was published in 2002 and hit exactly the right notes. The book is just the right mix of old school celebrity gossip, logistical industry insight, social context and fond  (and bitter) cast and crew memories. Most importantly, it’s an incredible look at what has gone wrong with SNL periodically, and the various views (writer, cast, Lorne Michaels) on why there were some troubled periods.

Most fascinating were how the relationships between cast members and writers really drive the quality of the show. The first five years were built on the strength of the cast, their devotion to each other in and out of the office, the crazy amount of drugs and alcohol they consumed, and their individual relationships with the writers.  And the Tina Fey years were almost the inverse – they thrived on the respect, professionalism, and clean living that they all prided themselves on. It really pinpoints why transition years are difficult – when you have a group  like Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, etc. giving way to youngsters like Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, and Chris Farley, factions occur, conflicts arise and work gets less productive.

Surprising to me was how the way prior cast members or writers talked about the show could dramatically change my opinion of them.  For example, I’m now totally obsessed with Jane Curtain who’s smart, funny, blunt, pithy and amazing and I want to go back to 1975 and be her best friend. I’m a firm believer that you should never trash your former employers – something about that job gave you the skills, experience or wisdom to help you get where you are today. And there were a wide variety of past cast and crew members lobbing some hard hitting criticism at SNL – Julia Louis Dreyfus, Janeane Garofolo, Chris Rock, Victoria Jackson, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, etc. Some of them came off as whiny and unappreciative, while some of them managed to convey what it was about SNL that wasn’t right for them, and critique some of the show’s longstanding perceived faults (particularly re: gender, race) intelligently and graciously. Honestly, I actually loved some of the people who complained about the show more after reading this book (I’m looking at you, Julia Louis Dreyfus).

Is SNL still relevant?

Continue reading

Book Review 8: The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

8 Feb

So, I was halfway through this book when Lollygagger posted this fabulous review on the CBR blog, which was then featured on Pajiba. I really don’t have that much to add. That review is a great summary of the book, it’s thesis, and why it’s important for both men and women to think about this topic. I’m going to address two things that jumped out at me.

First, how difficult is still can be for women to get access to contraception, abortion and needed healthcare.  Valenti’s stories about women being denied Plan B by pharmacists who have taken matters into their own hands, of women jailed after giving birth to still born babies, about proposals for miscarriage laws that require reporting a miscarriage so the state can determine if you endangered your unborn child, scared me. Valenti made the point that if a woman is considered mature enough by the state to carry a child to term and raise a child, the state should consider a woman mature enough to choose whether she wants to have that child at all (whether this be by accessing Plan B after a birth control lapse, or through abortion). The rhetoric most states use to limit access to birth control and abortion is that of the woman as a victim, as immature, as unable to make these decisions herself. I find that kind of rhetoric incredibly disturbing. Roe v. Wade was a huge victory, but things like Mississippi are still happening.

Second, the idea of women as gatekeepers is antiquated, and dangerous, for both men and women.  The gatekeeper model promotes the idea that women are exclusively in control of whether they have sex, and the idea that men can’t control themselves. This is the ideology that wrongfully places the blame on women for things that are frankly, not their fault. This ideology leads to the legitimatization and social acceptance of street harassment – it says that if the woman doesn’t want attention from male friends/colleagues/strangers, she should dress modestly.  It’s the ideology that leads to things like creepshots, because it justifies men taking lewd photographs of women without their consent – if she didn’t want to be photographed, why would she dress like that? And most critically, it’s the same ideology, found all over our criminal rape laws (which still boggles my mind) that if a man tries to rape a woman, it’s her job to fight him off. And if she doesn’t, well, it might not be rape.

And this justification of these types of behaviors makes me feel unsafe.

It’s what makes me button my coat up all the way when I ride public transit and keep my eyes down, hoping no one is photographing me or staring at me. It’s what makes me walk faster when I pass men on the street, because I’m afraid that walking home in my gym clothes might be an invitation to all kinds of lewd comments. It’s what makes me feel unsafe at bars, because it leads some men to believe that they are entitled to grab me, talk to me, corner me at the bar.

So, like Lollygagger, I think everyone should read this book. Frankly, it’s important.

Book Review 7: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

5 Feb
The cover of the 1994 novel

The cover of the 1994 novel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perusing CannonballRead while in a book rut, I saw faintingviolet’s review of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and couldn’t believe I’d never read it. It’s right up my alley – salacious gossip, Southern setting, murder mystery, small town style drama unfolding in the middle of an almost unbelievable set of trials.

Part I of the novel introduces the reader to the city of Savannah. Savannah is a character of its own in the book, and the city surpasses the sum of its very quirky inhabitants. You meet Joe Odom, a broke ex-lawyer running some kind of trashy piano bar salon where ever he’s currently squatting. And Lady Chablis, the gorgeous transvestite who tricks the author into being her chauffeur  And of course Jim Williams, he of the antiques and fabulous, prestigious part fame.

Part II is what happens after the murder. The most fun part of this book is that it’s not a whodunit, it’s a whydunit. We know Jim Williams pulled the trigger.  Self defense or cold blooded murder? This is not the typical crime novel trope with the angelic, innocent victim who was clearly wronged.  This is real life; murder is messy; Williams’s victim Hansford was a male hustler with a violent temper. It depends on what evidence you believe. It depends on who you’re friends with in the town. It depends on who you like the best. Continue reading

Book Review 6: Homicide: A Year of Killing on the Streets by David Simon

5 Feb

Before David Simon was writing and producing the Wire, the show frequently described as the great American novel of television, he was writing Edgar Award winning actual novels like Homicide.  In 1987, Simon  took a leave of absence from the Baltimore Sun to shadow and write about the Baltimore Police Department’s homicide division during 1988.  For reference, in 2011, the homicide rate came in at 196, the first time in three decades Baltimore’s homicide rate came in at under 200.

1988 was relatively early in the rise of Baltimore’s homicide rate.  And Simon, without even being aware of it, shows you how the BPD began to sag under the growing weight of the number of murders and how the detectives grew cynical. Because these  increasing murders were basically unsolvable, occurring in neighborhoods with no witnesses at all, where were citizens rightfully skeptical of the police, where no evidence was left.  The detectives solve just enough murders that they still incredibly hold on to a handful of hope, but the

There is not neat wrap up of the outstanding plot lines at the end of Homicide. The most politically intriguing murder and the most gruesome, devastating murder remain unsolved. And you feel the pain of the detectives at the fact those murders are still on the board, waiting. You feel the remorse seeping from the pages, you think back on the mistakes that were made by detectives, lab techs, filing clerks, and so forth, and you know that crime will probably be left unsolved. You feel the  adrenaline when an anonymous tip comes in months after the crime or a new piece of evidence seems certain to lead to a suspect. It doesn’t. The detectives catch just enough breaks to hold on hope. But they also watch the cases that they eat, sleep and breathe go unsolved enough that hope seems…imaginary.

Aside from how engrossed I was, this novel had two of the best passages on crime I’ve ever read and if I ever in my post-law school career teach a class on criminal law (unlikely) they will be included.  The first passage contrasts the legal provisions giving police officer’s discretion to shoot and kill a suspect they believe will cause them harm, with the shockingly (to me) minimal gun training police officers received at the time.  The second is ten pages of straight dialogue between hypothetical detectives and hypothetical suspects that show just how meaningful the supposed legal victory of the Miranda rights really was in the 1980s (and probably today).  A third passage on the autopsy process, and how the detective and medical examiner work together, was also particularly fascinating.

If you like the Wire, if you like mysteries, if you like thrillers, if you like true crime novels or if you have ever watched an episode of CSI or Law and Order and mildly enjoyed it – you will enjoy this book.

*Homicide  spawned the similarly named groundbreaking television show.  Simons joined the Homicide writing staff for four seasons. Ultimately, Simons partnered with former BPD detective Ed Burns to write another true crime novel The Corner, which HBO turned into a miniseries.

And then HBO gave them the chance to create The Wire, and the rest was history.

Book Review #59: Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres

10 Sep

I like reading books by female comedians. I’d probably like reading books by male comedians, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve recently enjoyed Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and Chelsea Handler’s My Horizontal Life. Unfortunately, Ellen’s Seriously…I’m Kidding was the worst of the bunch. Through no fault of her own, really.

Ellen’s book was what you expect from a female comedian: a series of essays that feels like a long comedy set. The short essays ranged from 1 to 5 or 6 pages, and they were structured like traditional stand up. She even warmed up the audience in the introduction. And the book was hilarious. Honestly, truly, laugh out loud funny. It was like hanging out with Ellen for an hour. And I love Ellen. Continue reading

Book Review #43: Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth

9 Jul

I don’t read very many self help books, because I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person. However, like many women my age, I’ve been fighting my own personal battles with food for many years now. There’s no magic bullet for compulsive eating, but Geneen Roth is one of the only experts who’s books really focus on binge eating, rather than anorexia or bulemia. This book is not a magic cure for your eating problems, or self esteem problems or anxiety, or loneliness, or whatever troubles you.

But it is the first book or essay I’ve read where I thought “she gets it.” She doesn’t make working through your issues sound easy like many other sources – because it’s not. She recognizes it’s exhausting and tricky and you have to be willing to spend a lot of time feeling uncomfortable things which you might not like.

And her descriptions of what it feels like to feel so powerless over your eating habits is scarily accurate. It’s a beautifully written book, and it really gets at the core of what it feels like to stress out about eating in public, or what it feels like to binge alone, or that rush when you finally break your latest ludicrous diet.  Continue reading

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