I’m making a final push to wrap up CBR13 with my non-fiction review dump. I read more non-fiction this year than I thought I did, and I was never able to sum up my thoughts properly. I’m trying here, with just moments left!
Food | Jim Gaffigan
Although I disagree with Mr. Gaffigan’s take on mustard, I still enjoyed reading Food. It’s a simple take on food — the good, the not so good, how it shapes us and our culture. It was extra light reading at a time when I needed something extra light.
There is truly nothing offensive about Jim Gaffigan’s humor in this book. I was even prepared to be a bit on the comedy defensive about how women often have to bring out their trauma and life stories and justify their existence for laughs when all men have to do is talk about food. But actually I just enjoyed Jim Gaffigan’s take on food and I wasn’t distracted by how unnecessary it might have been in today’s comedy landscape. In fact, it is necessary. It’s a bit of escapism comedy in a very nice, gentle package. Also, I love food. The book is good, and eating food is also good. It’s not the greatest comedy book ever written, but it’s fun and jaunty. Wheee.
How To | Randall Monroe
This book is so fun. It’s a how to guide for things you would never actually do, for things that can really not be done, but Mr. Monroe applies a “yeah, but could we do it?” and then explains in hilarious and accurate detail how you might just move your entire house. Plus, there are pictures. This book exists as an audiobook also, but I recommend the pictures.
There is a section about how property lines are pretty much constantly shifting and how oddly complicated the results are if you need to dispute your property lines after an earthquake or another plate tectonic event. The chapter about jumping from an airplane is worth reading through twice just for the joy of experiencing it twice.
I really loved this book. It might seem like a silly coffee table book, but so be it. It’s also damn delightful and people aren’t coming over to look at your coffee table anytime soon, so it’s better to have a delightful book atop it to read.
The Sixth Extinction | Elizabeth Kolbert
Spoiler Alert: things are not going well for Earth right now. Also, it’s our fault. I found this book to be really compelling and actually one I discussed with others on walks. Frogs are disappearing! They’re just vanishing and we have no idea what to do about it. Humans are causing the sixth extinction, and there is a bit of a will-they-won’t-they element to it. We can’t just do nothing, right? If our existence caused this, shouldn’t humanity rise up to stop it? But also, eeeek, what if this is what is supposed to happen because after all, this is not the first extinction.
But again, there are frogs that are just disappearing! There are pieces of evolution we can actually see happening and, to me, that is fascinating. Evolution is often framed as this idea for how we got here, but then what? It is an ongoing process, but its process is long and dare I say sometimes so undetectable we forget it exists. But those damn frogs man. Evolution happens before our eyes, or at least before a few generations of people who have been writing things down and can notice such things.
The sixth extinction also touches upon a fun existential crisis question: should we be here? I guess it’s our planet to destroy and that’s what we’ve decided to do with it. That’s a shame. Something will find our bones in millions of years and wonder how we ruined something so nice and also why there were so many chickens.
Daring Greatly | Brené Brown
I read this book twice because I thought I needed it. It turns out upon the second reading, I didn’t need it as much. I was less enchanted by the stories and words of wisdom the second time through. It was recommended to me by a therapist and I guess sure, I can make the connection between my particular troubles and needing to hear some encouraging words. Maybe I was a little too bitter going tinto this. It read like a but of bragging about how well Ms. Brown had things going and the rest of us could be going just as well if we did things in a very vague way that involved “daring greatly.”
Also, I just hate the word greatly. It sounds fake. I know it’s not, but there is an air of pretension that makes it sound like it’s coming from a 19th-century memoir or something. I’m getting annoyed just remembering reading it and thinking “what do you mean dare greatly” and the answer would be some bullshit like “don’t just take a chance, but take a chance greatly.” What? The whole book can be summed up with “hey, if you’re feeling a little stuck, take a huge swing.” Ok fine. But do we need 7800 pages of cute swimming anecdotes to go along with that? No, we don’t. Also, we just can’t always take those swings and I guess I needed more help than Ms. Brown could offer me at the time. I think she was a phenomenon who has run out of time.
meaty | Samantha Irby
Samantha Irby is a goddamn delight. This is her first collection of essays that I read after reading her later works. Reading them in the “wrong” order there are a few spoilers, but the ride is well worth it. Her style is delightful and is like just listening to your funniest friend tell crazy stories over a couple bottles of wine. Everyone should read all of Samantha Irby.
If you didn’t already know, Ms. Irby is a writer and co-producer on And Just Like That…, the new Sex and the City show. Personally I think Ms. Irby herself is more entertaining than the show, but if you like the show definitely give meaty a read, along with all other Samantha Irby essay collections. It’s hilarious and sometimes gross but only because honestly, the human body is gross, and refreshing and juicy and oh yeah, funny and honest. 10/10 would recommend.
Fed Up | Gemma Hartley
Fed Up had a really strong start. I was on board with all the fed-upness. Then the end took a drastic turn I was unprepared for and with which I frankly disagree. I’m going to do my own research before I just decide we can let men do the things and pretend they’re good at it.
The gist of Fed Up is all about mental load and emotional labor and how women tend to take on a lot more of it than men do. Ms. Hartley makes solid arguments throughout the book. However, every once in a while those arguments seem to get undercut with a “but if a man wants to try, let him because it might be ok.” It’s also hard to ignore how very heteronormative the perspective of this book is. There is a brief explanation and it’s simply that there aren’t enough studies done on couples who would be considered non-heteronormative. Ugh. Fine. But still it sucks to hear that even though we’re probably right and we can probably (definitely) do things in a better, more efficient way, we have to let things go so men don’t feel bad. That wasn’t the whole point—I am boiling this down beyond the nuance that did actually exist—but as a cis-woman with a cis-man roommate who can’t empty the dishwasher for some reason, it was of no help to me.
The thesis seemed to boil down to yeah, your feelings are right and valid, but also, be nice. And that’s what I’m fed about it. The book affirmed all of those fed up feelings, backed it up with research, and then pulled the rug right out from under itself at the end and said “let men help, they mean well.”
Rage Becomes Her | Soraya Chemaly
Yes. This is the book I was hoping Fed Up would be. Sometimes you’re angry and you don’t know why, and then Soraya Chemaly comes along and says “here, this is why, I wrote it all down for you.” Rage Becomes Her is all about how angry women are all the time and why. It’s been happening for years, since the beginning of time really. We never know who we’re supposed to be except that whoever we are isn’t right. It takes a toll.
There are so many reasons to be angry and we might not even realize that the low rumble we walk around with all the time is actually generational rage. Rage Becomes Her covers mental load and emotional labor. One of the most impactful chapters for me, that I read over a few times, is all about women’s pain and how easily it’s ignored. It is horrifying. I think about these facts all the time: women feel pain more often and more acutely than men. Which means the real pain women are experiencing is ignored because men can’t wrap their minds around the idea that a woman would be in constant and consistent pain. The pain is just ignored. I know this is true from first-hand experience and yet it still sits me back in my chair because eff you for not believing my pain.
That is just one small sample of everything that adds to women’s rage. Ms. Chemaly believes our rage can be good for us, and it’s about time we use it to create change. I agree. Everyone should read this book.
Real Queer America | Samantha Allen
This is a delightful book that is about both travel and the queer experience. It’s also very eye-opening about the whole of America, how it’s a lot of messed up but how there are real good decent people everywhere. Ms. Allen describes the queer communities in smaller cities as being closer together than those of the big cities, which can be counter to initial impressions. But the reasoning behind that makes so much sense, it made me want to find the deepest red county I could and set up my tent as the old bi-lady in town. The specificity of large city queerness if often underplayed but is oh so pervasive. Instead, throughout the rest of the country—outside of the major metropolises of NYC, LA, San Fran, Chicago, and Seattle just a bit—all queers sort of look out for each other. So at least there’s that.
It’s also a great reminder that the individuals of counties and states are not cookie-cutter versions of the stereotypes created in our minds based on elected officials and the colors in the electoral maps. Everyone is everywhere and it can be fun to drive across the actual beautiful landscape of the country and visit. This book made me want to take another road trip with those fun stops along the way.
Why We Swim | Bonnie Tsui
Phenomenal. If you’re a swimmer, you must read this book. It is so incredibly good. We swim to get back to the water. That sounds so simple, but there is so much to it. I want to read it again. From the evolution of humans to come from the water and then attempt to go back to the evolution of various strokes to increase efficiency and speed. Ms. Tsui discusses the cultural impact of swimming and the heartbreaking—racist— turn of public pools. She discusses competitive swimming and very non-competitive swimming.
We have to be taught to swim, and there is something inherently dangerous about it at first. Here, get in the water and move around and put your head under but don’t breathe in, only breathe out. It’s a bit unnatural, except then it becomes the most natural thing. The rhythm of swimming is what gets a lot of us to stick to it. It’s a meditative act along with a physical activity that helps your heart and your lungs and your bones. There are so many reasons Why We Swim and Ms. Tsui writes beautifully about most of them.
I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are | Rachel Bloom
I expected a 200 page memoir of fluff about musical theater. What I got was a 288-page exploration of mental health and the things people will do to protect themselves before confronting the problem and then all the things a person will do to face the problem. This was a great book. There are, of course, stories about musical theater and creating a musical television program. But Ms. Bloom includes all the rough stuff that she went through while trying to have all of these things. She talks about musical theater as an escape and how her obsession with it was perhaps a little bit dangerous at times. Musical theater itself isn’t actually dangerous, but obsessions can be. And when obsessions look like musical theater, the huge red flags of obsession aren’t there and poor mental health can persist even longer.
If you really despised Ms. Bloom’s show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend then perhaps this book isn’t for you. But if you watched it even a little bit or can just appreciate that it was unique and this one person had a lot to do with it, this book is worth the read. It goes pretty deep in a short amount of time, and unlike a lot of other people who end up “having it all” you finish the book glad that Rachel got through to the other side to admit it was hard.