Hi and how are ya?! I had a lofty goal to blog once a week this year but apparently once a month is more my speed. Oops? I'd love to say I've been off somewhere exotic, but in reality I've been drowning in work, dealing with a frustrating knee injury (long story!), jetting off to Chicago for my brother's wedding, subsequently recovering for 2-6 weeks post my brother's wedding (how long do hangovers usually last? Asking for a friend!), etc. Normal things! I feel like I have one million ideas to write about, my brain is constantly tumbling over thoughts, but whenever I get a spare moment to sit at my computer, they fly away.
I'll capture them someday. Until then you can sit with growing anticipation for what brilliance I shall deliver.
Ok fine, I won't leave you totally hanging. Amid the working and the physical therapy and the peeing in an alleyway in downtown Chicago in a bridesmaid dress (oh like you've never peed in a city alley before), I have managed to find some time to sneak in a book or two. Or four, if I'm being entirely upfront here.
So, without further ado: here are the four books I read in March of 2017. And YES I KNOW it is now essentially May 2017 so I'm falling wildly behind but did I not just list enough excuses for you?
My dog ate my blog. It wasn't my fault!
First up, my March Nonfiction Challenge pick!
I know the term "must-read" gets tossed around pretty fast and loose by certain book publicists (ahem), diluting the meaning, but this one is the real deal! So just in case "must read" isn't powerful enough for ya, I took to the interwebs to come up with a few synonyms c/o thesaurus.com: obligatory, compulsory, binding, required, requisite, necessary, essential, imperative.
JUST MERCY is all of those things and a page turner to boot!
Bryan Stevenson is legit an American hero. After working with death row inmates in law school, Stevenson co-founded the Equal Justice Initiative, fully dedicating his life's work to defending and fighting for wrongfully incarcerated, especially those sent to death row and young children convicted to gruesome life sentences. The narrative arc of the story is one of his first, and most famous cases, representing Walter McMillian, a man sent to death row for a crime he didn't commit. Interwoven with the McMillan case are absolutely harrowing statistics and stories about other clients of the EJI, about kids as young as 12 sentenced to life in solitary confinement for minor infractions, about men wrongfully sent to death row, about people usually too poor, too powerless, and yes, too black, to fight the system that's supposed to protect them. This book is timely and timeless at once and feels especially vital in light of the rush of executions set to roll out in the next few weeks in Arkansas.
The stories he tells are crushing, and yet it's not all bleak, as Stevenson and the people who work with him and in support of him in the EJI are some of the most inspiring, moving, compassionate souls. It's horrific to think of the way that this country treats criminals and continues to perpetuate a mindset of white superiority and yet, knowing that there are people like Bryan Stevenson out there gives me a glimmer of hope. I know several friends - one a badass lady judge from my hometown, another an eager young law student - who consider him a hero and it excites me to think of other brilliant legal minds following in his footsteps moves me to the core.
And just a final note here, in case I haven't heard sold this enough, we all know nearly every book makes me cry at one point or another, but this one made me cry literally every time I opened it so we're talking about a real winner here.
Recommended For: Uh, everyone. What part of "obligatory, compulsory, binding, required, requisite, necessary, esssential, imperative" is unclear?
I love this book so much you guys. So much. Technically a Young Adult novel, The Hate U Give (title pulled from a Tupac song) is the story of 16-year-old Starr who lives in a predominantly black inner-city neighborhood and goes to school at a preppy, predominantly white private school in the 'burbs, making her an expert in the art of code switching. One night she's the only witness as her childhood best friend is killed at the hands of a white police officer and she has to make serious choices and confront harsh realities that threaten to shatter the delicate balance she's created in her worlds.
I don't usually like YA books because I'm an old curmudgeon but every now and again one comes along that I truly think transcends age genres. Starr and her friends and family are - for the most part - fully realized and complex and Thomas does an exceptional job at portraying a teen world that is nuanced and full. For Starr, and most teens in real life, I think (IDK it's been a while since I was a youth), boys and friends and math tests take equal billing in her mind alongside race relations and family strain and money concerns. That said, though the teen themes are universal, Angie Thomas does not whitewash (literally or figuratively!) her heroine, exploring fears and hopes unique to the experience of young Black women, who rarely get to be the stars of blockbuster films or bestselling novels. More of this, entertainment and publishing execs!
Also it's just a good read. Starr is hilarious, the dialogue is flawless, the plot is propulsive, the pop-culture references are spot-on, there's just enough teen romance to make you swoon, but not so much you have to roll your old lady eyes (you're 16, you're going to break up, get over it!), there's family drama, prom, cliquey girl groups, the works.
Also, this book did not make me cry on the subway but DID make me cry on an Amtrak train which is maybe even more powerful? Amtraks are so fancy, who could cry on such a luxurious chariot?
Recommended for: Adult YA fans, parents and/or teachers of teens - I think this would be SUCH a good book to read alongside your t(w)een to help guide a discussion on race and activism, sneakerheads.
Remember my ill-fated charity mingle from earlier this year? Of course you do, how could you forget! Well, my night didn't end when I slunk out the door of the fancy party and by slunk I mean tried to open the door myself, was startled when instead it was opened by a butler standing on the patio outside and suuuuper cooly remarked to him "Oh wow, I usually open my own doors, this is the fanciest place I've ever been."
Anyhoodle I had initially thought the party was much later than it actually was, and Brian had made plans to host a poker night at our house, so I told him I'd make myself scarce so they could really bro out. I'd made plans to have dinner with a friend after the party, but she got held up at work so I figured if I could take myself to a cocktail mingle, I could certainly take myself out for a bite and a drink.
Also, like, how could the night get any worse?
By the grace of all that is holy, the remainder of the evening was a pure delight and I did not make any more scenes. Miracles happen! Instead, I cozied up at the bar at June, a chic little place in Cobble Hill, and ordered a glass of wine and a fancy Brussels sprout dish featuring "Parmesan whip" which turned out to be like, a cloud of Parmesan cheese and butter of some kind? I don't know, but it was magical and delicious, my mouth is watering thinking about it again. And the crown jewel atop this lovely dinner was my companion, Jami Attenberg's charming yet maddening new novel.
All Grown Up is structurally interesting, reading almost like a linked connection of short stories rather than a full novel, all building together to tell the life of a rather ordinary woman, Andrea, and through her story, explore family, addiction, sex, romance, ambition, art, the changing landscape of Brooklyn neighborhoods, friendship. It's slim, easy to read, and I found it wholly affecting.
My friend Angie is very smart and cool and runs a fantastic podcast called the Lit Up Show, which I also cannot recommend enough. She had Jami on the show a few months back and wrote what I thought to be the most accurate and selling description of what make this book resonant: "If you've ever been single, infatuated, partnered up, in a weird, not-right relationship (this excludes no one)... if you love your mom so hard and in the same moment think she might be killing you with her emotions, this fantastic novel is for you."
Yes! This book also reminded me a great deal of one of my all-time favorites, The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Banks. So a real winner here, folks.
And did I cry in public? 3 for 3 baby.
Recommended for: um, what Angie said!
Closing on a slim little volume from one of my favorite writers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who I had the opportunity to see give a talk a few weeks ago. It was an incredibly invigorating discussion on gender, race, pop culture, and literature and Chimamanda and I became instant besties, here is a picture of our budding friendship.
BFF. It's so fun how we're like this classic odd couple, you know? One of us is glamorous and brilliant and the other hasn't washed her hair in four days. And you can barely even tell from this picture which is which!
This book is a reprint of a letter she wrote to a friend, at the birth of her first child, after being asked for advice on raising feminists. Adichie admits she's not an expert on feminism or parenting, but still overs 15 ideas: teach them that gender roles are irrelevant, encourage them to read, teach girls not to worry so much about likeability. Her ideas aren't flawless, I'm sure, but I think she's starting interesting conversations about gender and feminism and as I look ahead to raising children of my own (like, far ahead, as previously stated, I just drank 5078 beers at my brother's wedding, don't get any fun ideas, close-readers in the crowd) I am a sponge for ideas on presenting teaching feminism to kids of both genders. I'm grateful to have this book in my life!
Recommended for: parents of young children (would make an aces baby shower gift!); Chimamanda superfans; a passive-aggressive gift for a friend who thinks feminism doesn't apply to her life.
And that'll be that! I have to admit in advance that there will be no Nonfiction Challenge Hott Read for April because someoneeee who shall not be named can't find her copy ofThe New Jim Crow and also decided that amid her busy schedule she needed to give herself a slight break on the heavy reading and just pick up a fun book or to and she's of course feeling guilty about failing the challenge but also, deep down, knows she made up the challenge and nobody cares so it's all fine, but she will continue to feel guilty nonetheless, because that is who she is.
Ok the end, have a GREAT final week of April and I promise to be back with more enthralling content lickity split. Or not. Who ever knows what I'll do!