Tag Archives: media

Bloggy Lies We Tell Ourselves?

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Bloggy Lies We Tell Ourselves?

After three years at Grab the Lapels, the trend I’m noticing is that book blogs that publish more posts tend to have a lot of likes. Those posts aren’t always reviews; I see memes, tags, updates, book hauls, and reviews of what was on the blog. But are readers actually, you know, reading what you’re posting? Do they want to? Do they have the time?

I recently shared a poll on Twitter asking how many posts per week people wish bloggers would post. The options were 1, 2, 3, and every day.

  • 47% of responders felt that book blogs should only post twice per week.
  • 29% said 3 posts per week
  • 20% said 1 time.
  • Only 4% felt that book bloggers should post every single day.

What conclusions do I draw from this poll?

Well, based only on experiential learning, I would argue that many readers are “liking” our blog posts, but not fully reading them. Have you ever “liked” a post without reading it? How about only after skimming it? Do you feel obligated to “like” someone’s post because you’re worried they won’t do the same for you and your blog?

Now, some book bloggers are very good at posting almost every day and reading everyone else’s blog posts. I am impressed and jealous.

johnny-5

But I get behind on my reading because I refuse to like any post that I haven’t fully and carefully read. I want to keep blogging honest. Thus, I might skip posts, or I might get behind my reading 1-2 weeks at a time.

That being said, I wonder: should we review better, or more? Is it possible to do both? Or, should we produce at a rate our readers can manage and schedule ahead if we’re speedy readers/bloggers?

These are simply my observations. I’d love to have a conversation with you in the comment section below! ❤

I Do It with the Lights On #BookReview #NoBodyShame @WhitneyWay

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I Do It with the Lights On #BookReview #NoBodyShame @WhitneyWay

I Do It with the Lights On by Whitney Way Thore

published by Ballantine Books, 2016

Procured from my local library

Note: I have not watched My Big Fat Fabulous Life starring Whitney Way Thore. I heard about this book in the new FabUplus magazine.


*This book is part of my 2017 search to find positive representations of fat women in fiction or nonfiction, and that positive representation will not hinge on weight loss and falling in love. Thus, books will either meet or not meet my criteria, which will factor overall into my recommendations. I purposely use the word “fat” because it is not a bad word. Using plump, curvy, plus-sized, fluffy, big-boned, shapely, voluptuous, or any other term suggests that fat is bad and thus needs a euphemism.


Thore’s book begins with some context and then heads into her youth. At five years old, her mother is informed that Thore needs to watch what she eats. As evidence, Thore includes photos throughout the book, such as a slender girl in her bathing suit next to the caption, “Rocking my bathing suit during the summer before my first diet.” In elementary school, Thore participates in soccer, dance, and swimming. She is labeled “baby beluga.”

Her photos show a healthy-looking young girl; her analysis demonstrates someone in mental torment:

The consensus was that my body was shame. My body embarrassed me.

Below: two dancing photos, four-year-old Whitney, and prom princess — all labeled fat by schoolmates and her father.

I found the photos particularly effective. Looking at my own photos I realize that when I thought I was fat, I look only slightly larger than everyone else around me. I don’t look at photos now and cringe at the change; I’m sad for the girl who hated herself so deeply, and in that way readers can create a personal connection with Thore.

Thore quickly became bulimic, and though many people know about it, no one does anything. In fact, at a special school all the girls get together and throw up. They celebrate for “a job well done.” Though detailing all the painful memories of youth can seem like a sob story in the wrong hands, Thore demonstrates how an obsession with weight can lead a young girl to a life of shame.

Readers who feel disgust at the fat body may think turning to healthy eating and exercise will fix everything. Thore works with nutritionists and trainers, she dances for hours per week. Unlike math, bodies are unpredictable. You can’t do X and always get Y, which frustrates the young woman. One person always checking in on Thore’s body is her father, whom she looks up to, but who might come off differently to readers:

One day in particular, as I was rushing out of the house for school, I told [my dad] I hadn’t lost any weight the previous day.

“Well, what did you eat yesterday?”

“A sandwich,” I told him.

“Well, tomorrow,” he suggested, “don’t eat a sandwich.”

Though she constantly forgives her father for his abusive remarks, it was hard for me to do so, too. Perhaps she doesn’t fully see how incremental he was to her eating disorder and self-hatred, but I don’t expect writers to fully know their lives by the end of a book. She may still be learning about her dad.

lights-on

I don’t love the full title. The “ten discoveries” part make it sound like a self-help book.

Before she discovers she must love her body to love herself, Thore struggles with chronic depression, polycystic ovarian syndrome, shame, and damaging comments. Thore fails out of college after she suffers depression and gains 50lbs in four months–the result of both inactivity/poor diet and a chronic illness. After she does graduate, Thore travels to South Korea to work as an English teacher. With her more advanced class, she goes over an article about obesity in relation to health problems. To test their comprehension, she asks:

“…what is one side effect of obesity?” A quiet, attentive student who went by the name Kerrick raised his hand.

With stone-cold seriousness he answered, “Suicide.”

His answer caught me so off guard that I laughed inappropriately. “Well, no…” I began. “The article doesn’t mention that. I’m obese, right?”

Twelve blank faces looked back at me, nodding.

“Do you think I will kill myself?”

Kerrick explained, “Teacher, maybe you have some depressions and maybe you want to die.”

This part of the memoir really struck me. It never occurred to me that other people would think fat men and women want to kill themselves.

My criteria for positive representations of fat women in fiction and nonfiction are all met in I Do It With The Lights On. Boyfriends don’t always make Thore happy, so she’s willing to break up with men. She works hard at all of her jobs, putting in more hours and effort than her colleagues (disposing of the “lazy” stereotype). She also details how weight loss takes up most of a woman’s time that could be dedicated elsewhere. For instance, when she returns from Korea after several years, her parents have her move into their house and abstain from employment so she can work on fitness. She’s counting calories and exercising with a personal trainer. Yes, you can lose 100lbs, but changing the body is a full-time job.

Thore is honest, too. Half way through the book she has still not discovered the body positive movement. She’s dedicated all of her hours to food and fitness. She notes:

Once I started to lose weight and saw how difficult it was for me to do so, I lost all sympathy for fat people who said they couldn’t lose weight . . .. I prided myself on being a different kind of fat person.

Here, Thore’s attitude reminded me of the 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl in which the fat characters compare one another. Instead of clinging to her attitude, Thore realizes she is delusional. Even when she is losing weight, society sees a fat women; it doesn’t matter if she’s just come from the gym. Society sees fat as a failure without any context.

Her honesty extends to her sex life. Thore seeks sexual partners for her own pleasure, but she doesn’t sleep with everyone she meets. Several pages are devoted to exploring both the flattery and objectification found in websites full of men seeking fat women to have sex with them, stand on them, or feed. Sexual relationships are presented respectfully, thank goodness. In Mona Awad’s book, you’d think fat people have sex with anyone.

One reason I wanted to find books about fat women is lack of representation. However, my quest is also to teach people of other sizes that they are privileged, not better. Fat people are asked to count calories and exercise daily so they’re better to look at. However, thin people are not questioned about their diets/physical activity, even if they eat poorly and are inactive, because they don’t look fat. Thore acknowledges she’s been on both sides of the aisle:

As a teenager, I wasn’t blind to the systematic sexualization of women . . . but I wasn’t as concerned with it because it was a system that benefited me. A young, privileged girl submits to the system by offering up her appearance as collateral, and she receives positive attention and affirmation in return for her willingness to play the game. As long as she stays obsessed with her appearance, making it a top priority, society will cheer her on for this and dole out validation accordingly.

At 130lbs in high school, Thore was praised when she dropped a few pounds. As a woman nearly 30 years old, at around 330lbs, she must prove every day she is smart, talented, cares, is valued, and deserves love.

Honest, analytical, and carefully constructed, Whitney Way Thore’s memoir is a must-read for those fighting in the #nobodyshame movement.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman #readwomen #bookreview @thelindywest

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Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman #readwomen #bookreview @thelindywest

*Author photo from The Guardian.

Shrill (May 2016, Hachette Books) is a collection of 19 essays from comedian/journalist Lindy West, who writes for The Guardian and has pieces at many websites, such as JezebelNew York TimesGQ, and The Stranger. I heard through a Tweet that her collection was being published, and I was instantly drawn to what I learned: West is smart, precise, funny — and fat. As a fat lady myself, I wanted to know more. Rarely do fat female role models appear in the United States (um, or elsewhere), so I put a hold on a copy at the library.

After I got into the book, I realized that I’ve read some of West’s articles in the above mentioned publications. I don’t often remember a writer’s name when I read an online article, but the piece she wrote that I remembered clearly describes the time a troll created an e-mail address and Twitter account using West’s recently deceased father’s name to humiliate and torment her. And then he later came out and apologized to her, which never, ever happens. The main themes of Shrill are fat shaming, rape culture, comedy, abortion, and trolls, and they’re all examined through a feminist lens.

Anytime I read about feminism, I instantly compare the work to Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. Gay is probably the most notable feminist of our generation. After reading Bad Feminist, I didn’t feel great. I was mostly confused and disappointed. It seemed like she was either telling personal stories, talking about how she likes things that most feminists feel oppress women (like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”), and listing what she likes and hates (movies, books, etc.). I felt like Bad Feminist started as a listicle and ended up a book. Thesis statements? Not really. Organization? More like meandering. A call to action? I have no idea what Gay thinks feminists can do to move forward. I do not write to demean Gay’s book. But I do know that many other readers, according to Goodreads, found the same issues and are perhaps seeking a different contemporary feminist voice.

bad feminist

Yes, West is a white woman and Roxane Gay is Haitian-American, but both women talk about intersectional feminism, so West is a good alternative if you are also an intersectional feminist. Both women included personal essays that appeared to have little to do with feminism. Both are hugely into pop culture (especially Twitter). But I felt West’s writing was clearer, more rhetorically sound, and presented solutions to problems feminists encounter.

Some examples of West’s intersection feminism include the socioeconomic. She talks openly about her abortion (and created #shoutyourabortion to de-stigmatize abortion rights) and how she discovered, “It didn’t occur to me, at the time, that there was anything complicated about obtaining an abortion. This is a trapping of privilege: I grew up middle-class and white in Seattle, I had always had insurance, and, besides, abortion was legal.” Later in the essay, West states what privilege is, referring to the abortion clinic making her promise to pay her bill instead of charging her up front like they’re supposed to: “Privilege means that it’s easy for white women to do each other favors. Privilege means that those of us who need it the least often get the most help.”

West again touches on intersectional feminism when she discusses fat-shaming, which makes fat women feel like they don’t deserve anything. She argues, “Denying people access to value is an incredibly insidious form of emotional violence, one that our culture wields aggressively and liberally to keep marginalized groups small and quiet.” Throughout Shrill, West considers feminism that benefit her more than women of color, with disabilities, etc.

shirll

The best part of Shirll is that West helped me “figure out” my own feminism. While I feel that rape jokes are never, ever funny, I would not have an answer that appeased the folks who shout about freedom of speech, say “you’re just not funny,” or call you “too sensitive” for your claims. But West breaks it down. When she was younger, West constantly went to comedy clubs and saw rising stars (who are now super famous), like Patton Oswalt, Mitch Hedberg, Marc Maron, and Maria Bamford.

One night, a comedian was telling a joke about herpes, and everyone was laughing. Except West. She analyzes why she didn’t laugh. Because the comic wasn’t making fun of his herpes, the joke was designed to shame people who have herpes. Statistically, West points out, many people in the room have herpes. So why are they laughing? They laugh, she argues, because if they don’t, they will be outed for having herpes. The joke works “brilliantly”because there is no chance that people won’t laugh, essentially, because the comic was lazy enough to embarrass everyone into laughing. Those who don’t have herpes are now vindicated in their feelings that people with herpes are gross. This moment changed the way West felt about comedy, which led her into arguing publicly that rape jokes are not funny.

Rape jokes are not funny, West points out, because they come from a person of power profiting on the traumas of people with no power. She compares it to the CEO of a company getting up at the Christmas party and roasting the janitor for barely making enough money to feed his family. Similarly, a white man will most likely never be raped, nor will he fear being raped, nor does he have a game plan for how to avoid being raped and what to do if raped (women like me know these plans in detail). Therefore, the joke is funny to men. West was invited to debate Jim Norton on a TV show over the issue. If you know Norton, you know he’s a bit if a dark comic, and I’m not surprised he’s pro-rape jokes.

west norton.png

What’s interesting is that West’s rhetoric was sound, but she didn’t change Norton’s mind. Off camera, he said he agreed that it’s wrong to take advantage of victims, but he was more concerned about free speech for comics. Norton felt that comedy didn’t translate into real life — that people who believe rape jokes are funny won’t go rape people. West disagreed, and then something happened…

Jim Norton fans bombarded West’s Twitter feed, e-mail, the comment section sof her articles — all over the internet. They wrote things about raping her, thinking she’s too fat to rape, cutting her up with an electric saw, etc. Norton had to admit that his fans were being aggressive and translating the “right” to tell rape jokes into real-life rape threats. He even wrote an article asking his fans to cool it. This was in 2010. West notes that since then, the comedy scene has changed; comedians are changing their tune. Thinking about how speaking up helped, and how using the rape threats to make a point helped, changed the way I thought about treading the internet, and about the maxim “Don’t Feed the Trolls,” with which West disagrees. Why should women be silent?

West also argues that fat is a feminist issue. She notes, “You have to swallow, every day, that you are a secondary being whose worth is measured by an arbitrary, impossible standard, administered by men.” West also describes how as a fat child, she was so ashamed of her body that it kept her silent. Women, both online and in life, are silenced constantly. Heartbreakingly, West explains that as a child, “[she] got good at being early on — socially, if not physically. In public, until [she] was eight, [she] would speak only to [her] mother, and even then, only in whispers, pressing [her] face into her [mother’s] leg.” West doesn’t have these earth-shattering traumas to report (if I compare her to Jessica Valenti, for example, whose new memoir catalogs all the sexual trauma she’s experienced). Yet, she is affected for most of her life by fat-shaming and the way it shuts her down as a woman, helping me to think more about my own silences — and the voices we’re missing from other fat people. There’s no need to compare traumas (sexual, emotional, physical) and decide whose is worse by some made-up standard. Traumas that shut women down are all appalling.

No matter what she’s writing about, West is ridiculously funny. She starts Shrill by describing all the fat female role models from her childhood, a list that included Auntie Shrew, Lady Cluck, The Trunchbull, and Ursula the Sea Witch. There are almost none, is the point. But did you ever wonder why King Triton is so ripped? West writes, “History is written by the victors, so forgive me if I don’t trust some P90X sea king’s smear campaign against the radical fatty in the next grotto.” Oh, man! I almost died!


auntie shrew      lady kluck3      the trunchbull      ursula2


In a nutrition class West signs up for, back when she felt like she needed to lose weight to be somebody, the teacher tells the students that if they get hungry after breakfast at 7Am and before lunch at 1PM, they should have 6 almonds. If they’ve gone over their “almond allotment, try an apple. So crisp. So filling.” West remembers, “Then everyone in nutrition class would nod about how fresh and satisfying it is to just eat an apple.” Lindy West labels this scene…wait for it… “the Apple Appreciation Circle-Jerk Jamboree.” I laughed so hard about this I called my mom and read her the scene! My mom, too had experienced such a class years ago.

Here’s one more great line: West compares her first experience in first-class flying and compares her seat to the ones in coach: “It has succeeded at being a chair instead of a flying social experiment about the limits of human endurance.” I read this passage at work and started cackling, despite the dead silence of the building.

Sometimes I wondered if I found Shrill so terribly funny and relevant because I am a fat woman. I tried reading passages to my husband, who didn’t laugh as much as I did, but he’s also a thoughtful person who may dismiss the humor and feel bad, wondering instead if I’m feeling bad for having read about fat-shaming and rape. My verdict is you must read this book. Lindy West is a feminist who’s doing something; she fought –with results — the fat-shaming that became acceptable around 2005, rape jokes in 2010, and internet trolls who make the internet unsafe for women.

Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary

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Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary

Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary by Monica Nolan

published by Kensington Books, 2007

I picked up this book on a recommendation from Chance Lee, one of my Goodreads buddies whose reviews are funny and insightful. I couldn’t get over the title and so further looked into Monica Nolan’s work. After Lois Lenz comes Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym TeacherMaxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante; and Dolly Dingle, Lesbian Landlandy. There’s also the superbly titled The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories. According to her Goodreads profile, she “has experience in three out of the four careers she’s written about.” Please, please, let Monica Nolan be an ex-gym teacher! I bought all four of the lesbian lady novels.

monica nolan

Monica Nolan

Monica Nolan’s whole “Lesbian Career Girl” series borrows from the old pulp novels, from the writing style (lots of shocked characters yelling with exclamation points) to the cover. According to the NewYorker, Robert de Graff started Pocket Books in 1939 and switched to cheap paper — pulp — to make them affordable and mass-marketable (the first press to do so in America). Finally, feeling that it wasn’t enough to have Americans ordering their books from catalogs because there were so few bookstores (only about 2,800), he decided to cash in on the “more than seven thousand newsstands, eighteen thousand cigar stores, fifty-eight thousand drugstores, and sixty-two thousand lunch counters — not to mention train and bus stations.” According to the author of the article, “People who didn’t have a local bookstore, and even people who would never have ventured into a bookstore, could now browse the racks while filling a prescription or waiting for a train and buy a book on impulse.” (Fun Fact: de Graff felt books should never cost more than a pack of cigarettes).

Suddenly, books with titles like Hitch-Hike Hussy and The Daughter of Fu Manchu were available, along with “whodunit?” novels, hard-boiled detective fiction, and romances. Pulp novels are especially famous for their covers:

lady killer

Image from pulpcovers.com

 

 

blondes

Image from pulpcovers.com. Can you image reading this on your commute to work??

Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary follows in the tradition of having an eye-catch pulp cover (though I must add the quality of paper is very good):

best lois lenz

The novel, I’m pretty sure, is set in the 1950s, when women are starting to do things out of the house, but it’s looked down on as selfish. Lois and her best friend, Faye, are about to graduate high school in Walnut Grove, home of the Nutshells. The plan is for them to go to a junior college together, marry their high school sweethearts, live next door to each other, and have babies!

But something happens when the guidance counselor, a strong women (possibly a lesbian), tells Lois her grades in filing and typing are fantastic and that she should consider going to live in the “big city” to get a job as a secretary. It’s interesting to watch an 18-year-old girl get so excited about being a secretary. Faye is mad and Lois’s mom scoffs, but the guidance counselor says she has a job and a supervised boarding house — the Magdalena Arms — lined up for Lois. Lois is going to miss all the practice kissing she does with Faye, but her boyfriend is no big deal (it turns out he’s using Lois as a cover to date an African American girl…I mean, it’s like having a “beard,” but for race). Lois bucks tradition and goes…to the hot, stinky city to find the Magdalena Arms is pretty dumpy. Her room on the 5th floor is shabby, too.

At lot happens the first night in the Magdalena Arms when the friendly girls of the 5th floor have some drinks in one of the rooms. This book is full of puns. When Lois is asked if she likes girls, the author uses the verb “queried” Get it? Queer-ied? The Magdalena Arms is described as “quite a special atmosphere — so gay, so liberal, yet closely supervised and cared for all the same.” After Lois discovers an older girl, Pamela, who was on her cheerleading squad in Walnut Grove, visiting the Magdalena Arms, the whole 5th floor does a toast to old friends:

“To the Nutshells,” everyone echoed, and drank.

“Pamela had the highest kick in the state!” Lois told them proudly.

“I’m not surprised,” drawled Maxie. “Pamela’s always been very limber.”

Predictably, Lois very quickly gets drunk, for she is not used to alcohol, and Netta puts her to bed. Lois slurs, “You’re not a white slaver, are you?” and Netta — sweet Netta with her hair in a bun and glasses — replies, “No, I’m a school teacher.”

The next morning, Lois goes to her first day on the job. It turns out she will not be working in the typing pool as she thought she would; she’s going to be the personal secretary to the boss, Mrs. Pierson — whose nicknamed the hyena. When she gets home, Lois tells a 5th floor girl, Dolly, about it: “A promotion practically before you started…You’re going straight to the top, kid, straight to the top — even if you have to ride the hyena to get there!” These kinds of sexual puns are everywhere, and they make the story that saucy kind of light-hearted fun you want every so often.

Most of Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary is clear to the reader — namely that Lois is a lesbian, and so is almost every other female in the book. Lois doesn’t recognize what’s going on, so she’s often confused. There are also twists and misleading clues, such as why no one can go in the filing room at work, what happened to a girl who used to live on the 5th floor, where a sexy photo came from, why there was a break in at the Magdalena Arms, and who is a communist.

Yes, Lois is paranoid about communists. Her mother read in the newspaper about communists and “white slavers” in the big city and warned Lois not to take the secretary job. But when the girls of the 5th floor all go out to dinner, they make fun of Lois’s mother for her paranoia. But then things get more serious:

“But honestly, that attitude has ruined thousands of innocent lives,” said Phyllis earnestly, pushing her classes back up on her nose.

“Yes, it is sad,” agreed Netta, twirling her spaghetti expertly around her fork. “One of my professors at Teacher’s College in Minnesota was forced to resign, just because he’d signed some petition about the Scottsboro Boys!”

Lois spoke up. “But Netta, if they asked your professor to leave his position, he was probably much more deeply involved than just signing a petition. Why, he might have been a sleeper agent, teaching you Communist doctrine without you even realizing it!” Lois had read selected chapters from J. Edgar Hoover’s masterly Masters of Deceit her sophomore year and had been vigilant about the Communist conspiracy ever since.

“It was a class called ‘Math Methods for Junior Learners,'”said Netta dryly. “If he could squeeze any Communist doctrine into that, he deserved a prize.”

Lois is so quick to believe anything that she would have been an ideal party member in 1984. Her paranoia, though, is pretty funny. She even believes smoking some weed will land you in the hospital addicted to heroin.

The author doesn’t shy away from Lois getting intimate with many women (while still not realizing she’s a lesbian). The scenes are mostly described as kissing and biting and touching breasts; nothing overly graphic is described in detail. Serious intimacy is loving and sensual. The less serious intimate situations are funny; women try to be super sexy by asking Lois about typing or filing as foreplay. Lois loves secretarial duties more than anyone you’ve ever met; she even files when she’s upset!

Finally, the book does something that caused me to be incapable of putting down any R.L. Stein book ever: it has cliffhanger chapters. Something is always suspicious or surprising in the last line, which made me feel like I was right back to when I was younger and snuggled into books like they were bean bag chairs.

I’m excited to read the next three books in the Lesbian Career Girl series. Both Dolly Dingle and Maxie Mainwaring are characters in Lois Lenz that I liked who will get their own books.

maxiedolly

Hung Up

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Hung Up

Hung Up
by Kristen Tracy
March 2014, Simon Pulse
282 pages

“Once upon a time, last semester, I took a course called International Foods. I did this because I liked the idea of eating at school, and also learning in a room that had ovens. They were electric ovens, so that was a tad disappointing. I like flames. Anyway, while taking this course, I fell madly in love with a girl named Valley. Valley didn’t seem to notice me too much. But I sure noticed Valley. She had long dark hair and she sat in front of me. Each class, I had an urge to reach out and touch her hair. When she leaned forward, her hair rose up her back. And when she sat up straight, it draped longer down her chair. It was like watching a water line climb and fall. I learned a lot that semester.”

Lucy and James are both high schoolers who live in Vermont. They don’t know each other, though, as they go to different schools. The teenagers speak to one another on the phone after Lucy leaves several voicemails for James, thinking he is a salesman who sold her a plaque. Unfortunately for her, James has purchased a recycled phone that used to belong to a scamming salesman, one who has left several unhappy customers in James’s lap. James feels bad that Lucy got screwed out of her money, and they begin a connection based on the fact that they both have midterms at school.

The story of Lucy and James is speedy. The entire thing is written in dialogue over the phone with a few text messages thrown in. Because the book is all dialogue, Kristen Tracy had to know what an enormous task she’d given herself. Many famous authors completely skip dialogue in their novels, for it is a notoriously difficult aspect of fiction writing. However, I grew to like Lucy and James because they said things to one another that were natural and realistic, things that I might have said to my friends over a decade ago. Tracy beautifully avoids the overly the cheesy things — no, flat out garbage — that authors have teenagers say, making both the book and the age group represented therein seem like the important and interesting part of the population that they are. James and Lucy often call each other for help brainstorming on essay subjects or to talk about how school was. The exchange regarding a diorama shows off James’s snarky attitude, but also a caring sensitivity:

James: I want to hear about your diorama. No joking around. I promise.
Lucy: Okay. Mine wasn’t elaborate like CeCe’s.
James: Sounds like hers had structural issues anyway.
Lucy: You said no joking around.
James: I meant about your diorama.
Lucy: Well, I figured you meant all dioramas.
James: Sheesh. I had no idea you had such serious hang-ups regarding craft projects.”

Here, James isn’t above teasing this girl he hasn’t met, one whom he likes, because he’s not willing to change his personality. On the other hand, he does care about Lucy’s life. When Lucy and James have a fight and do not talk, Lucy decides to leave voice messages instead, assuming that James cares enough to listen to them, but has the pride to not answer her immediately. In her message, Lucy’s mind wanders (though the point is that her family is visiting a candidate for her college education), like most of ours do, making her more human:

Lucy: Hi, James, today is Armed Forces Day. I know this because it says so on my calendar. But I don’t know any traditions associated with Armed Forces Day. Do you? Okay, I’ll be away tomorrow. My parents are I are leaving for Maine this afternoon. We’re taking a tour of Bowdoin. I think that’s where they want me to go. Because it’s small. And my parents equate small with safe. Which is stupid, because sometimes bombs are small. And poison capsules. And deadly bacteria. And scorpions. Anyway, I worry that I’m not going to like it there. They keep using the words ‘cozy,’ ‘nourishing,’ and ‘comfortable.’ It sort of sounds like they’re describing how I feel about waffles.”

I really liked the way Lucy’s and James’s thoughts weren’t “cleaned up” to seem cooler, or like they fit into a stereotype, or extra dorky-but-lovable. Both characters had real questions and issues that shaped them, and through the phone they developed a safe space — something not all teens have but need — to communicate.

I was uncertain as to why the characters didn’t text one another. Lucy doesn’t want to, but because James immediately respects her request that they not text (or Lucy’s insistence that she won’t reply), the reasons behind Lucy’s refusal were a bit lost on me. Especially confusing is the cover of the book, which is covered in emoticons (which are only sent through text messages). Of course, authors oftentimes have very little say about the cover art and are at the mercy of a designer who hasn’t read the book, so I tried not to think about it.

The other part of the cover that is misleading is the picture of the two teenagers. Both are sexy, and I doubt either model is actually teen aged. This is problematic because Lucy and James don’t describe what they look like to one another. Since visual media rules (or screws it up by photoshopping models to pieces), I was impressed with and amazed by Kristen Tracy’s choice to leave out looks. James wants to know what Lucy looks like and requests she send a picture, but she refuses on the grounds that he could choose to stop communicating with her based on her looks. After the deep connection formed on the phone, it won’t matter what Lucy or James look like because the feelings come first. The book appears to be marketed as a sexy phone romance, which is a real shame because the author has worked much more conscientiously than that.

I want to thank Kristen Tracy for sending me a reviewer’s copy of her book in exchange for an honest review.

Anonymity

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Anonymity

Anonymity
by Janna McMahan
Koehler Books, 2013
291 pages

“I guess I just never really thought about how they live. I mean I’ve been downtown for years, and I supposed I just sort of think of them as background noise. You know they’re there, but you just tune them out.” These are the words of Emily–a twenty-something who is a bit directionless, single, and worried she isn’t keeping up with the young women with whom she graduated–when she learns more about the homeless youth in Austin. You see, Austin is a place that has a great party scene, and working at a bar and being promiscuous suits her just fine; she doesn’t care that she’s different from her corporate America-loving parents. Really, Emily’s made her own choices, and I say, “more power to her and her happiness.”

But when she’s made aware of the homeless youth population in Austin, she can’t look away ever again. Children who are living on the streets because they are mentally ill and their parents can’t deal with it; kids who aged out of the foster care system; kids who leave home because they have younger siblings and want to be less of a burden on their parents in a down economy. Janna McMahan shows the reader an in-depth look at the homeless youth to give them a better idea of why it happened, why the kids are tattooed, if they use drugs, and how they survive.

McMahan plays off of the reader’s expectations and shows us we’re wrong. Meet Lorelei, a young girl who arrives in Austin. She’s starving; she’s alone. When Austin is flooded and Emily, on her way to her own parents house in a safe area, finds Lorelei, “Emily couldn’t, absolutely wouldn’t take this girl to her parents’ house.” Who knows if Lorelei is a thief, violent, a drug user, “Crazy”…Here, Emily echoes our own thoughts. It’s really impossible to trust Lorelei to the point where she actually began to annoy me. When Emily takes Lorelei in for a few days, when David (the man who runs the homeless youth shelter) tries to give her a place to stay, when she runs away and tells others she doesn’t need them (clearly she does if she’s taking things from them): Lorelei can be completely frustrating and hard to understand. Even worse, she adds that her mother used to take her shopping at the mall and send Lorelei to summer camps, so the reader is left to believe that Lorelei is a selfish, ungrateful girl.

Emily’s mother Barbara serves as a foil to the homeless youth. She acknowledges that she and her husband bought things at a rapid pace, but when the economy collapsed, they were left with debt. In order to survive, she and Gerald must forge ahead, but they don’t do a great job. They’re still trying to pay off three cars, one of which is an enormous SUV. Essentially, because Barbara and Gerald have credit, they are able to remain in a home. Barbara is critical of the “gutter punks” with their facial tattoos, piercings, and bad smells. She tries to be helpful when she launders Lorelei’s clothes after the flood, but for the most part she talks badly abut the girl while she’s not around (what kind of person destroys her whole life by getting a tattoo on her face).

McMahan masterfully leads the reader to this place in order to prove her wrong. It isn’t until near the end of the book that the real reasons for Lorelei’s homelessness emerge, which left me feeling like a bad person, like I am just like everyone else who walks by children without a place to eat, sleep, or be loved. Homelessness continues to be a problem (of course), and Anonymity doesn’t pretend to solve the problems put forth in its pages, which makes this mainstream novel a more challenging read for those who might not have expected to be enriched.

Syllabus

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Syllabus

Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor

written and illustrated by Lynda Barry

published in Oct. 2014 by Drawn & Quarterly

Lynda Barry is best known as an illustrator who created Ernie Pook’s Comeek, a comic strip that ran for decades. It featured Marley, and I typically think of it as the Marley comic. Later, the strip was collected in a book called The! Greatest! of! Marlys!, so it’s easy to see why I think of it as the Marley strip. I was somewhat charmed by the book, but it was when I discovered Lynda Barry’s novel Cruddy that I absolutely fell in love with the author. Cruddy is the darkest yet most beautiful book I’ve ever read. Reading Cruddy is like driving just a bit under the influence and wondering what will happen if you push the accelerator just a bit more and then a little more and then you went off-roading and your car caught fire. I identified with the raggedness of the narrator, the bare-your-teeth-to-show-you’re-crazy nature she possesses. The narrator is a teenage girl unlike any you’ve ever met. Seriously, I would not compare her to anyone.

But I’m here to review Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor. Barry explains that her former teacher, Marilyn Frasca, taught her how to keep a black and white comp book and to use it every single day to explore the world and what an image actually is. These comp books are the “most reliable route to the thing [Barry’s] come to call [her] work….” Barry has been carrying these notebooks for 20 years now. Syllabus is “a collection of bits and pieces from the many notebooks [Barry] kept during [her] first three years of trying to figure out how to teach this practice to [her] students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.” I wanted to see how this innovative woman approached the classroom to perhaps learn something for my own teaching. One main difference I must note is that Lynda Barry is so desired as a professor that students must submit applications to be in her class, and I teach freshmen in college.

Syllabus is a rare book whose physical form matches its content. Barry shares pages from a standard black and white marbled composition book. In pictures, you can’t tell but Syllabus is bound like a comp book, and its pages are thin like a comp book. Here is a large picture so you can see the cover better:

barry cover

However, the book itself feels a bit delicate, and I was worried my new present (I got this gem for Christmas (thanks, Mom!)) would get easily banged up or have pages torn–much like a comp book. I liked that the design made me feel like I was peeking into Barry’s personal unpublished work, but I didn’t like that I fretted over damage.

Upon opening Syllabus, I immediately felt overwhelmed. What had I asked for?? The pages, if you flip through, look chaotic and unorganized, and I was worried that the book would have no direction and would consist only of pages scanned from Barry’s personal comp books. You’ll see things like this:

chaotic page

Whoa! I mean, is she really just going to photocopy things out of her notebook, or will there be more to it? To be honest, I was fairly hesitant to start Syllabus. It is a book that takes a little bit to get into. Even the copyright page is handwritten and disorganized, but I can definitely see how it adds to the aesthetic to make the form and content match.

Syllabus starts with Barry explaining how she wasn’t even sure how to make a syllabus at first. Some of her friends who teach had 30 pages, and others had one sheet of paper with information on the front and back. Barry ended up drawing her syllabus to explain what she expects from her students, which is neat to see.

My fears of unclear messages and images were assuaged when I realized Barry would explain what she was up to in many places. The reason it looks chaotic on the page is because she is a comic artist who isn’t using panels (those nice, neat squares that typically contain images and words). Good comic artists will lead you around the page carefully so that you don’t get lost, and Barry is a master at getting your eye to follow her words and images where she wishes. Panels are cool, but she doesn’t need them.

That Barry is an encouraging instructor comes through clearly. She reassures students that to be in the class they do not need to be able to draw. In fact, when she goes through the applications for her class, she choose a variety of students from the arts and sciences departments so that she doesn’t get a bunch of people who already draw. The best are people who used to draw (like, when they were children) and have not done so in a long time. There are interesting exercises, like spend 60 seconds drawing a robber. The images are all a bit “childish” but interesting, and Barry writes, “In a classroom of students with varying levels of drawing experience, this way of drawing brings us to a common starting place that is like the starting place we all share: our first drawings of people made when we were little.”

bad robbers

My excitement for this book perhaps stems from my background: I had a fantastic art teacher in high school who emphasized history, technique, style, etc. so that students built up a knowledge of art and didn’t just move from one project to the next with no strands to connect them. I also love graphic novels (I’m not as big into comic books because it’s really an endurance game that costs a lot of time and money). I have three degrees in fiction writing, so I am very interested in where ideas come from and why we like some better than others. Barry points out that we made art before we had a word for it, but why? She asks big questions that blew my mind, like is there a biological function of art. So much of my interests in creativity are shallow compared to what Barry poses! Here is an example:

“How do images move and transfer? Something inside one person takes external form–contained by a poem, story, picture, melody, play, etc.–and through a certain kind of engagement, it is transferred to the inside of someone else.”

She also points out what it means to like or not like art (especially in the context of the rudimentary drawings students make):

“Liking and not liking can make us blind to what’s there. In spite of how we feel about it, it is making its way, from the unseen to the visible world, one line after the next, bringing with it a kind of aliveness I live for: right here, right now.”

Barry addresses my question about where creativity comes from. Ever had writer’s block? Barry makes an interesting point:

“We know that athletes, musicians, and actors all have to practice, rehearse, repeat things until it gets into the body, the ‘muscle memory,’ but for some reason, writers and visual artists think they have to be inspired before they make something, not suspecting the physical act of writing or drawing is what brings that inspiration about. Worrying about its worth and value to others before it exists can keep us immobilized forever. Any story we write or picture we make cannot demonstrate its worth until we write it or draw it. The answer can’t come to us any other way.”

Wow. I mean, wow, right? For all those who suffer from not knowing what to write or who lose interest in their art because they don’t know what to make–will it be unique? cool? liked? important? timeless?–these are all questions that hinder us, and until Barry said it in just those words, it didn’t strike me that writing is a physical act. You can say duh, sure, but Barry doesn’t allow tech devices in her class; it’s all pencil, pen, and paper (and crayons, colored pencils, and water color paints). The idea is to get people back to the physical act of writing in a specific way. The more I read Syllabus, the more it made sense, and not in a grumpy “kids and their technology! humph!” sort of way.

The one criticism I have of Syllabus other than the delicate construction of the book is that I wanted much, much more. I wish Barry had added more about her intentions with each assignment. For instance, in the beginning, students must color with crayons on different types of paper, completely filling the whole page. Just… scribbling, not images. Next, students color pages (I think she means pages with images that are on a variety of styles of paper?? The instructions say that students should choose 3 pages from those pinned to the wall. Is Barry bringing the pages in?) and the rule is that no white can show through. The students must use up their crayons. What is the purpose of this? I think part of it is getting students to notice what it means to use (and wear out) their hands, to focus on one task for a long period of time. The students get frustrated, and Barry notes that crayons are a hard medium to work with.

hate crayon

But what is her theory about the value of this exercise? The author does mention several times that certain activities are modified versions of other people’s ideas, and she lists the books so that readers can go find them. Perhaps I’m just greedy and want more Barry.

The one thing I especially wish Barry explained better was the use of the comp book. Sometimes there are what she calls “X” pages. Then there are diary pages. What is the difference? I felt jealous; Barry’s students are ridiculously privileged to be able to work with her, and the rest of us are left trying to figure it out ourselves. I am going to Google around and see if I can find interviews with Barry during which she talks more about the comp books.

Aside from my wishes to know more, I cannot recommend Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry enough. She asks pivotal questions about art and its function for humans and gives enough ideas to get your brain heated up and ready to think differently about your own creativity (and teaching).

Bitch Planet

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Bitch Planet

“Are you non-compliant? Do you fit in your box?

Are you too fat

too thin

too loud

too shy

too religious

too secular

too prudish

too sexual

too queer

too black

too brown

too whatever-it-is-they’ll-judge-you-for?

You may just belong on…

BITCH PLANET”

Bitch Planet Vol 1

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine (Oct 2015, Image Comics) is the trade paperback version of the series by writer Kelly Sue Deconnick. The first book of the graphic novel came out in December of 2014, so this is a relatively new series. The first five books are included in Extraordinary Machine. You’ll get from the beginning of the series to problems that occur before the big upcoming fight.

Bitch Planet is the nickname for a prison that houses “non-compliant” women. Offenses can be anything (see the list above), making this story an obvious look at feminism and the patriarchal system that controls them every day. What is referred to as “The Feed” (a strange-looking pink computer woman) legally must appear on all TV screens on Earth, encouraging women to stop with their gluttony, pride, and wickedness—basically, the biblical stuff.

The Feed

She’s so creepy, like a pink demon.

The men on earth decide who goes to Bitch Planet, and the leaders are called “Father” (also very biblical). Bitch Planet actually is another planet, though, so women have no hope of escape.

One notable prisoner is Penny, a very large black woman in her early twenties, known for fighting in prison. We see she has a tattoo that says, “Born Big.” It seems like a symbol of pride in her size, but we later learn that it was the name of Penny’s bakery on Earth. She grew up with a loving grandmother who taught her how to bake, but was taken away when men show up at the house and her grandma instructs her to “run.” We don’t know what the grandmother’s crimes are (or if the men are coming for young Penny?), but “non-compliance” can mean almost anything. Men decide, women are punished.

Penny’s character is interesting; she represents race, size, and gender issues in contemporary culture. When the guards hook Penny up to a machine that will reveal what Penny actually thinks her ideal self looks like, the guards are surprised. They expected the image to be a “desirable” woman—most likely thinner, lighter, and well-behaved. But Penny’s image comes up looking exactly like her.

Ideal Penny IS Penny

Ideal Penny IS Penny

People tried to fix Penny along the way, before she was put in prison. A white woman attempts to “tame” Penny’s black hair, saying, “You need to learn to see yourself through the Fathers’ eyes. And I will teaching, Penny. I will teach you if it kills us both.” Author Deconnick is obviously packing in as much feminist discourse as she can into this one story.

Then there’s Kam, another black prisoner, who fights in a style that seems very ninja (the images remind me of Riley and Huey in The Boondocks). Because she fights to save the life of another prisoner, the guards view her as “a star,” and she is charged with putting together a team to fight in the Megaton games, which as far as I can tell is a sport for guards vs. prisoners. But prisoners fighting in games has been done many times, from Death Race to The Longest Yard. Megaton seems different, though, because the prisoners are not told they will win their freedom. In fact, Kam is warned that someone will kill her on the field. At first, Kam doesn’t want to lead a team, but it seems like everyone on Bitch Planet has to behave because the Fathers have human collateral. In Kam’s case, there is a sister somewhere.

Bitch Planet Kam

Karate Kam

In each individual book the author includes a page of old-school ads that you would see in magazines or comic books. All of the ads are ironic in a way, such as a “Missed Connection” that has a fact about domestic violence, or a big ad selling parasites that says, “STOP BEING SO FAT AND GROSS YOU BIG FATTY!” Other ads tell you they’re selling bullshit and are disappointed in you for buying it. For example, “MONEY BACK GUARANTEE. If you try to order a diet parasite from us, we will donate your money to the Girls Leadership Institute in the hopes that tomorrow’s generation fares better. And we will be sad for you. GUARANTEED.” Sometimes the ads seem over the top. Yes, I get it—women buy a lot of dumb stuff to adhere to society’s standards of beauty. But, if I really get it, then why do I buy things to help me follow the norm? Just because women understand what’s happening to them doesn’t mean they fully see the asinine nature of their decisions, which Deconnick captures in her ads.

Spicy Cinnamon Taco scented douche

Spicy Cinnamon Taco scented douche

Back on Earth, Roberto Solanza, an “Off-World Overseer” from the “Bureau of Compliancy and Corrections,” is working with one of the Fathers to organize the forthcoming Megaton game. Together, they hire a gentleman who goes by “Mack” to create the arena. Mack, though, has a motive for building an area in an impossible time frame: for a chance to see a specific prisoner. Deconnick suggests, wisely, that though this is a story about woman’s plight, men are caught up in what happens to the female population. The women who “behave” (and have white skin) also serve as enemies to the “non-compliants” on Bitch Planet by serving as representations of “good women.” As a result, the story seems less man vs. woman (though there is plenty of that) and more power structure vs. people being abused by that power. Deconnick can thus appeal to a wider audience, as I am sure Bitch Planet will be labeled a diatribe for “those” feminists.

Since I already closely follow the current feminist movement, Bitch Planet didn’t have quite the effect on me that it will surely have on younger women, perhaps college-aged. It has a positive reception thus far, and I even saw a images of young women with  tattoos of the “NC” (for non-compliant) logo. I was impressed that the message was delivered through a graphic novel medium, which isn’t exactly female-friendly. According to The Atlantic, comic books are still read mostly by men, which is not surprising considering graphic novels are a genre written by, for, and about men, but the numbers for women are rising.

Non-Compliant tattoos

Non-Compliant tattoos

Furiously Happy

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Furiously Happy

furiously-happyLast week, I reviewed Jenny Lawson’s first memoir, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir). Since then, my number of visitors to Grab the Lapels has increased by a lot (though I will admit someone was earnestly looking for “Steven Hawkings Wife” and found me). Like most people, I had to immediately get my hands on Lawson’s brand new memoir, Furiously Happy (Flatiron Books, Sept. 2015). On the cover, we get yet another taxidermied animal, this one named Rory. Some fans have taken to photoshopping Rory around and sharing him at #WheresRory. Honestly, I couldn’t quit calling the book FUR-iously Happy thanks to that thrilled corpse.

Last time, Lawson spent ten years composing a single memoir. This time, she got it down to somewhere around three. As a result, the stories are contemporary and do make reference to current cultural markers. Furiously Happy at times felt like commentary on what’s up with people today while remaining true to the memoir genre. Again, Lawson include fights with head-shaking husband Victor (I’m so glad they didn’t divorce; I was sure they would), and there are mentions of daughter Hailey, but Lawson respects her child’s privacy and mostly leaves Hailey out of it.

In my review of Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, I complained that Lawson mentioned huge topics (like anorexia) and then ran from them, like digging deep into a certain topic was too hard. It’s you’re going to write a memoir, though, readers are asking you to go to those hard places. And, in Furiously Happy, Lawson does. She spends much time talking about mental illness and embracing a diagnosis in a way that allows her to protect and understand herself and reach out to others. Lawson explains medicine:

The side effects and troubles with taking medication are very real and (if you have a chronic mental illness) are something you have to deal with for the rest of your life. Even if a drug is working for a while, it might stop working and you’ll have to start all over again with something new, which can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening.

Lawson also explains how mental illness is one that people don’t take seriously, which is unfair:

Clearly I wasn’t as sick as I said I was if the medication didn’t work for me. And that sort of makes sense, because when you have cancer the doctor gives you the best medicine and if it doesn’t shrink the tumor immediately then that’s a pretty clear sign you were just faking it for attention. I mean, cancer is a serious, often fatal disease we’ve spent billions of dollars studying and treating so obviously a patient would never have to try multiple drugs, surgeries, radiation, etc., to find what will work specifically for them.

By Shawnte Orion @ShawnteOrion

By Shawnte Orion
@ShawnteOrion

This sort of deep exploration of American’s understanding of metal illness and how that definition affects Lawson is a theme throughout the memoir. She brilliantly encourages readers to join the conversation in order to make mental illness less taboo, as many readers have already done at her blog and on Twitter. Lawson herself reaches out for help, sharing one pleading post from her blog as an example.

Even Victor prompts his wife to explore herself more deeply during a mock interview. Lawson admits that there were so many interviews after the success of Let’s Pretend this Never Happened that this time she’ll include interview Q & A in the book so she won’t have to suffer the crippling anxiety. Victor points out, “It seems like by this point in a book about depression you would have explained what depression is.” Lawson replies, “It’s hard to define.” Victor prods, “Well, this is a book, so maybe try.” Here, I applauded Victor for expressing my very thoughts while reading Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, and I was thrilled when Lawson tries again and again to define depression. Meanwhile, Victor says, “Hmm” and “So…?” and “I want to be helpful but I don’t know if that means that I should ask you to elaborate or tell you to stop elaborating.”

Of course, the main feature of Furiously Happy is how funny it is. Lawson combines her self-analysis with humorous storytelling. When it comes to beauty aids, Lawson doesn’t believe in adding to the body, like Botox or augmentations, but instead she is for stripping away. She writes, “Somehow that all seems healthier to me. Or at least more likely to make me less of who I am. Which is probably pretty unhealthy, now that I think about it.”

One of my favorites was when Lawson was missing, sending Victor into a panic. She can only explain how she was at a “surprise funeral”:

In a nutshell, I stopped at a nearby cemetery because I love the quiet, but unfortunately I unwittingly pulled into the cemetery minutes after a funeral procession had pulled in. I would have driven off…but when I turned to reverse I saw a line of cars right behind me and that’s when I realized I was fucked….I wanted to explain that I was just browsing but thought it would sound weird, so I just got out and went to the funeral, which was odd because I avoid most social occasions of people I know and love and here I was, willingly participating in the burial of a dead stranger.

It’s good to read that Jenny Lawson is still taking life one step at a time and promoting the #FuriouslyHappy way of thinking to combat all the assholes and bad days. I’m happy to know that Victor is still there, even when they seem so ill-matched (he has a retirement fund, whereas the author keeps change in a drawer–though not quarters; those are for gum). I was also pleased to see that while not in color, the photos were bigger/clearer this time. Overall, Furiously Happy is a much more introspective book that doesn’t lose the humor, and I recommend you read it.

By Manning The Merciless @pooinanalleyway

By Manning The Merciless
@pooinanalleyway

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

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Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
Hamlet von Schnitzel, actual taxidermy mouse the author owns.

Hamlet von Schnitzel, actual taxidermic mouse the author owns.

Jenny Lawson’s newest memoir, Furiously Happy, was published this past September. I saw the cover with the crazy raccoon all over the advertisements on Goodreads. So, I looked up Lawson, who already has a tremendous following, originally the result of her blog, but also from the success her first memoir, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir). I wanted to read the new raccoon book, but I figured that I had to start at the beginning and picked up Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (2012, Penguin Books).

Lawson grew up in a tiny town in Texas with her younger sister, lunch lady mother, and taxidermist father. Living in relative poverty and having a father who constantly brings home animals, both dead and alive, makes for an influential childhood. Then, Lawson meets a college student in a book store named Victor, who is from a wealthy family, and the two marry. After much heartbreak, Victor and Lawson have a child named Hailey, and they live happily ever after in Texas. The end.

Sort of.

Except that Lawson has this way of exaggerating common situations. Except, she also has experiences that are highly unusual to those who grew up with enough money to not wear bread bags filled with newspaper inside their shoes in the winter. Except, Lawson also has severe anxiety that causes her to ramble, panic, and say exactly what she’s thinking, even if it’s telling her husband’s co-workers that she was stabbed by a chicken. And it’s all these “except”s that make her so damn interesting.

Lawson’s clarifications throughout the book will bother some readers, but I found it spastic and fun. Right away, she starts clarifying what she means:

Also, I just want to clarify that I don’t mean “without my vagina” like I didn’t have it with me at the time. I just meant that I wasn’t, you know … displaying it while I was at Starbuck’s. That’s probably understood, but I should clarify, since it’s the first chapter and you don’t know that much about me. So just to clarify, I always have my vagina with me. It’s like my American Express card. (In that I don’t leave home without it. Not that I use it to buy stuff with.)

The entirety of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened isn’t so circumnavigated, and Lawson’s splashes of silliness make the book light when some stories are terribly serious in content.

There are, however, serious topics that are mentioned and then fade away, and I hope the author addresses these issues in Furiously Happy. Lawson mentions she’s anorexic, but abandons the topic quickly, whereas later she devotes more than a page to a hypothetical huge labia. In the last paragraph of a chapter, Lawson has and then corrects her anorexia. In this scene, Lawson and Victor are newlyweds:

Still, I felt sorry for Victor, because he did know that I was kind of mentally ill, but he also thought I was naturally thin, so he was kind of expecting “crazy,” but I think he was expecting hot, sexy crazy. Then Victor insisted I start seeing the college shrink, who coaxed me away from the anorexia, and I immediately gained thirty pounds, which was very healthy, but which seemed not hot at all. Also, I suddenly stated eating solid food, so I cost a lot more than Victor had originally expected.

Lawson also describes her and Victor’s wedding, which was incredibly cheap, including the Sears wedding photo. The author had previously shared how wealthy Victor’s family was and that an actual wedding (not a court house contract signing), and I wondered why some information is dropped in my lap and left to sit.

The majority of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is humor-driven, though. During a lunch break, Lawson’s co-worker mentions he saw a documentary about a woman whose top half was normal, but her bottom half was “enormous.” Lawson’s train of thought is both funny and creative:

…My God. I bet her labia is huge….If I were her, I’d roll it up with binder clips. Or foam curlers. And then on special occasions she lets it out of the curlers and bingo: spiral perm. Totally ready for prom….If you got attacked you could throw it on someone to swat them back, or you could catch children jumping out of burning buildings….You could put a lantern behind it and make shadow puppets.

Meanwhile, the coworker is getting angry because he’s brought a tuna sandwich to work that day, and Lawson works in Human Resources, adding a new level of inappropriate to the situation.

Some of the stories truly are not remarkable, but it’s all in the telling. The chapter entitled “Stabbed by Chicken” gets your brain thinking the worse, but by the end readers learn that Lawson’s dog accidentally tripped her and she cut herself on the dried chicken jerky she wanted to feed him. In the telling of the story, though, everything is disastrous, life-or-death, and hilarious. In truth, the humor is the build up of each story as opposed to one-liners, and Lawson’s funny bits are pretty much too long to quote to give you a good example. This is why you have to read the book yourself.

Several times, Lawson pins her fears on the zombie apocalypse or chupacabras. I couldn’t tell if the author was genuinely afraid of these fictitious creatures, or if she was using zombies because they’re in vogue. Again, I wanted more conscientious digging into her fears to determine what’s going on with her mentally, and if she truly is terrified of said creatures.

Rory, the taxidermic raccoon, who I am told fell in with a bad crowd. We'll see in book two!

Rory, the taxidermic raccoon, who I am told fell in with a bad crowd. We’ll see in book two!

Lawson does work to make sure you believe her. She has photographic evidence. The photos, however, are pretty small, and all are in shades of grey. In several, I couldn’t distinguish the different parts from lack of color, and I wanted Penguin Group to pony up the dough for color photos. Then again, I can see how that would increase the cost of the book, and most likely the pictures wouldn’t appear in the right places to serve as evidence (most publishers use special shiny paper and put all the color photos somewhere in the middle of the book, which makes no sense when you see people the book hasn’t discussed yet, but also images that would have been relevant 100 pages ago).

In the end, I found myself eager to return to Lawson’s life, and I appreciated that she kept the focus of the book on her. As soon as she had a baby, I worried Let’s Pretend This Never Happened would turn into one of those books about how funny moms think their kids are. It didn’t. *Whew* I caught myself laughing out loud many times, much to my own embarrassment, and became vigilant about reading away from public places. Totally recommend.

This book was procured from the public library. I have zero relationship with the author, and all thoughts are my own. Please keep an eye out for my forthcoming review of Furiously Happy!