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Essays

Little Victories by Jason Gay

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Little Victories by Jason Gay

"Perfect rules for imperfect living" is the subtitle of Jason's Gay's book. Gay is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and he has penned a quick read for anyone who needs a little pick me up while going through their daily slog. "Music for weddings and babies and the rest of it" is one good chapter I can recommend. What the heck, I recommend all of the chapters. They encompass such life affirming things as marriage, gym memberships and being cool. I picked it up to peruse it again prior to writing this brief review and couldn't put it down because I find it so entertaining. It's a great combination of silly and serious.

Number of Pages: 
209

Me, My Hair, and I (edited by Elizabeth Benedict)

Me, My Hair, and I  (edited by Elizabeth Benedict)

It may seem excessive to devote an entire book of essays to the subject of hair, but each of these writers proves that there's plenty of ground to cover that goes way beyond appearance.  As Marita Golden says, "hair is not benign, it is important and potent."  Each of these essays illustrate that hair, especially for women, is not just something to be groomed and maintained, it's a signifier of one's history, personality, status, age, taste, health, the list goes on . . .  Although these themes ran through each piece, every story was unique.  Suleika Jaouad, who went through leukemia and chemotherapy at age 22, reveals how losing her hair made her feel like an outcast, and getting a "hair tatoo" made her feel empowered again.  Anne Kreamer decides to "go gray," and experiences a profound shift in her concept of time.  Anne Lamott finally finds her look with dreadlocks, after years of hairstyles that never felt right.  

Several other essays focus on parent/child relationships--one mother's confusion over how to "do" her biracial daughter's hair, a child's struggle with an abusive, Old World father who insists she cannot get a haircut, and other scenarios in which grooming hair is a loving ritual, or a painful argument each time.  Of course politics, social movements, and religion also play a role.  One woman leaves behind her Hasidic Jewish culture in which married women must shave their heads and wear a wig.  And an African American woman adopts a "natural," tired of straightening her hair in a forced attempt to be something she is not.

One essay also pays a much-warranted visit to body hair.  Other writers explore hair as a means of attracting a mate (also satisfying or displeasing a mate), their own hair perceived as a success or failure in their culture, or hair in relation to a sibling--a means of shared experience/closeness, or a source of envy.  This mutable extension of our bodies becomes an expression of independence, beauty, and nonconformity.  And yes, of course, numerous haircut experiences, frustrations, and triumphs are recounted that explore all manner of colors, textures, lengths, and styles.  This made for an enjoyable, diverse read on a subject for which surely everyone has a story to tell.        

Number of Pages: 
316

Count on Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships, edited by Adriana Lopez

Count on Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships, edited by Adriana Lopez

The organization Las Comadres Para Las Americas compiled these twelve essays for Count on Me, celebrating the bonds Latinas (and, in one essay, a Latino) have found with other women. From mentors to childhood friendships, in the kitchen and on the road, this collection looks at the varying ways comadres effect our lives. Each essay resonated with me in its own way--I loved the variety of ages, occasions in which these authors found their kindred spirits, and backgrounds which form their world view. By nature of its format, Count on Me was a terrific read to pick up here and there, read a story in a sitting, and come back later. I was delighted to find entries by two favorite authors, Stephanie Elizondo Griest and Luis Alberto Urrea, and as usually occurs when reading collections such as these, I look forward to exploring the work of other women featured. Best of all, it inspires you to reach out to your own comadres and express your gratitude!

Number of Pages: 
236

Altared: bridezillas, bewilderment, big love, breakups, and what women really think about contemporary weddings edited by Colleen Curran

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Altared: bridezillas, bewilderment, big love, breakups, and what women really think about contemporary weddings edited by Colleen Curran

Altared is a collection of essays written by women on their thoughts on weddings. Not relationships or marriages -- just the weddings. As someone who is (slowly) planning my own wedding without having grown up fantasizing of the day, it is an interesting read. Rather than all the books specifically on wedding planning, this collection gives a variety of opinions, from women who eloped to women who wanted to throw a huge party. The essays are separated into sections based on their main topic: etiquette, the dress, family, etc. Some of the authors are married, speaking from a place of planning their own wedding, while others speak as guests of weddings. In an industry based so much on perfection and pretending your whole life revolves around every detail, it is refreshing to read real women's accounts of what matters to them and remind yourself that it won't be the same for everyone.

Number of Pages: 
368

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I requested Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates after reading Lindsay's review and a few days after finishing it feel like I'm still processing it all. Coates saw his fifteen year old's reaction to officer Darren Wilson not being indicted for the death of Michael Brown and wrote this book as a letter to his son. He traces back through his own history to analyze his changing views on race in America. He also discusses the views of many prominent thinkers and writers on race through time and how they came to shape his own views. His writing has a lyrical quality and I was especially moved by his continuing refrain that to be black in America is to fear for the safety of your body at all times. His insights and deep analysis are powerful and his writing is beautiful.

Number of Pages: 
152

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories, by Marina Keegan

The Opposite of Loneliness:  Essays and Stories, by Marina Keegan

The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of works by Marina Keegan, who tragically died in a car accident only days after her graduation from college.  The title essay went viral, capturing the world's attention in 2012.  Her essays and short stories are simultaneously youthful and wise.  Personally I enjoyed the essays the most, on all matter of subjects--her first car (a hand-me-down from her grandmother), pre-graduation interviews with her fellow classmates on the question of whether to work for a corporation or no, her own experience with Celiac disease and the corresponding tension with her overattentive mother.  Her short stories are varied and imaginative, and in each she effectively captures the tiny details of personal relationships.  She inspires sympathy for a U.S. government worker trying to help reconstruct Baghdad, horror for the 5 person crew of a submarine that has lost power at 36,000 feet below sea level, and relief for a mother getting her footing with her newly adopted daughter.  In the books's final essay, Marina voices this desire, "I want what I think and who I am captured in an anthology of indulgence I can comfortingly tuck into a shelf in some labyrinthine library."  Her surviving friends and family have fulfilled that wish for her with this impressive and inspiring collection. 

Number of Pages: 
208

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Prompted by his son's reaction to the decision to not indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown, Ta-Nehisi Coates decided to pen a letter to his son to say more fully what he could not express in the moment. Here, Coates reflects upon his personal experiences and development to a broader examination of the historical and contemporary implications of racism with the United States, and onto greater discussions of if and how we might transform this violent crisis into one of healing and justice. He postulates different answers (and continuing questions) he's both found and eschewed thus far throughout his life, relating a point-of-view that is at once highly personal and devastatingly universal. This text is conversational in the intimate sharing between father and son, necessary and heartfelt--one that informs, contributes to, and will hopefully change the larger conversation. Highly recommended.

Also available as a downloadable audiobook and e-book through Overdrive, as well as a CD audiobook, with Coates himself as the reader.

Number of Pages: 
152

How to be a Husband by Tim Dowling

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How to be a Husband by Tim Dowling

Do you have to be a husband to read and enjoy this book? My answer is no. But you might need to have one in your home to fully appreciate the humor. Or perhaps an ex-husband would do. Tim Dowling writes a weekly column for The Guardian about his domestic life. In his book, he gives "advice" which is not meant to be followed so much as lessons he has learned from being a father, husband, son and son-in-law. I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion while reading this. And for that, I will recommend this one. It's nice to read a book about domestic life that seems honest. And if your husband doesn't always live up to your expectations, then maybe you will find that you are not alone in this world. And that maybe our expectations are a little high.

Number of Pages: 
274

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

In this collection of essays, Roxane Gay explores what it means to her to be feminist and how the struggle for gender equality is often assigned erroneous--sometimes laughable, sometimes horrific--rules and restrictions. She uses examples from her own experiences as well as popular culture to detail the perils of over-defining feminism and the greater issues concerning civil rights overall.

I absolutely loved this collection. We seem to be on the same page with our social and political outlooks, though Gay contextualizes and expands upon many subjects in ways I may never be able to express. I especially loved her discussions of various literature and movies, as well as her many insights on race. I am in awe of her voracious reading and involvement in social media, her dedication to popular culture and furthering the notion that one can still enjoy a flawed piece of entertainment while still being critical of it, and that she continues to question herself and her beliefs. I am grateful that she is as open and honest as she is to share her experiences and worldview with us.

As if it couldn't get any better, it's available as both an e-book and audiobook on OverDrive, with the incomparable Bahni Turpin--the best of the readers out there in audiobookland.

Number of Pages: 
320

Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things to Me is a small volume of essays by feminist author Rebecca Solnit. The essays begin with the popular one the book is named for, which discusses ideas of power and knowledge in regards to gender. Each essay is about 20 pages long and discusses a different specific topic in modern day feminism across the world, so each stands fine independently. Solnit supports her discussion with lots of facts and explains well how everyday occurances can escalate to support acts of violence against women. While the essays are not fun or necessarily easy to read, they are important, and it's a very good read overall.

Number of Pages: 
160