This post contains reviews to the books I read in April through July, 2021. While my previous book recaps contained Am*zon affiliate links, I’ve been making an effort to purchase instead through the following (not affiliate links):
In total, I read 15 books during this time (1 not recapped below).
No One Belongs Here More Than You
by Miranda July
** trigger warning: disturbing sexual encounters, allusions to child abuse and endangerment
No One is a books of disturbing short stories (yep, I’m using the word disturbing multiple times). It speaks to hyper-sexuality, unappropriate sexual relationships, and subversive power dynamics. This book was published in 2007 and I think it really shows the progression we’ve made in society since then in adding terminology to our lexicon that enables us to really explain why we’re feeling icky while reading this.
It’s unfocused, rambly, and those elements are conflated with a type of genius that we assign to people who go to repeatedly distressing places to shock, creep out, and make skin crawl. Shock itself is not a sign of merit-worthy writing. And I think these stories rely purely on shock to dizzy the reader into the illusion of good storytelling.
King Kong Theory
by Virginie Despentes
** trigger warning: SA
While July relies on shock and discomfort to distract us from mediocre storytelling, Despentes uses those same elements to embolden the reader to deep dive with her. This short book is truly infuriating in the best possible way. She takes us through her time as a sex worker in plain language that concretizes why she wants to make more money in less amount of time. She invites us into the interactions she has with men who seek out companionship and sex, and does so with frank observations about innocence in contexts we would not associate with innocence. She flips empowerment on its head and introduces a truth we cannot ignore – as women, we risk rape every time we leave our homes.
King Kong Theory reminds me that I don’t have to be pretty or womanly or whatever the fuck else I’m supposed to be. That’s an essential reminded and actually makes me think of the concept of Compulsory Heterosexuality (Comphet). Comphet (coined by Adrienne Rich in 1980 in an essay discussion the troubling ideas attached to lesbianism like “she just hasn’t met the right man”) is the expectation that heterosexuality is the only valid sexuality. It comes with a list of things women do because they grew up with this ideology – including, feeling that one has to be attractive to men even if one is not a straight cis woman (or even if said straight cis woman is not attracted to the man in question), assuming straightness (creating a false default sexuality), and dating heterosexually just because that’s why you think you’re supposed to do. I highly recommend doing your independent research to learn more.
Tiny Beautiful Things
by Cheryl Strayed
This book contains advice column submissions and responses. As is said in the introduction, Strayed has an interesting and quite effective approach to advice-giving. Sometimes she starts off talking around herself, and we learn a lot more about her as we see her respond to her many submissions. Since she is the consistent voice in all of this, and we get a lot of it, I do read this more as a “getting to know Cheryl through the vessel of other people’s problems”.
I think we live in a world where there’s more than enough advice being given out, and oftentimes, people reach out for advice when they know what they want to do but nobody’s given them permissions. A lot of us have been trained by abusive and neglectful parents to be constantly insecure and seek a stamp of approval on our every action. Sometimes it totally helps to have that validations, but unfortunately, really change comes only when we can validate our choices based on self-trust. And getting advice can convolute the process of standing on our own two feet.
Keeping a Nature Journal
by Clare Walker Leslie
Keeping a Nature Journal is absolutely great for people looking to start a nature journal. It contains concrete information on the tools you’ll need, how to draw, and how your observations can help scientists study climate change.
Codependent No More
by Melody Beattie
This book is an excellent introduction on codependence – how Codependents are made, why it’s so harmful (and hard to break out of), and how to identify and deal with the behaviors that come with it. I would highly recommend it for people who grew up with parents who are abusive, neglectful, alcoholic, drug-addicted, and self-centered. If we don’t identify these behaviors, it keeps us in a cycle of seeking out partners and friends who were like our parents (because we were taught that was love).
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
by Caroline Criado Perez
This was a long, hard read packed full of critical information. Did you know that cars are tested on male “test dummies”? Or that women are disadvantaged even by what part of the street governments decide to plow snow from first? Or that men are associated with “genius” engineers because they tend to show obsessive behavior, rather than women, who tend to distribute their attention span across multiple activities? Invisible Women is maddening and tells you just about everything you’ve suspected but never had to “numbers” to back up.
Initiated: Memoir of a Witch
by Amanda Yates Garcia
Initiated is one woman’s spiritual journey and coming of age. She starts with her childhood, winds through her twenties, and into her Saturn Return. It’s devastating at times reading about her entanglement in a harmful relationship with a drug dealer, her first time performing sex work, and her clinging to the edges of society while conforming just enough to keep herself alive. She has a powerful, poetic, and intelligent voice.
Single. On Purpose.
by John Kim
**trigger warning: pseudo-inspiration and shaming coming from a licensed therapist
This book tidily fits into the “you’re not good enough” subgenre that’s cropped up in self-help books. You’re not exercising enough; you don’t have enough friends; you don’t have enough hobbies. His solution to becoming someone worthy of a relationship is buying a motorcycle and just being hot** (doing crossfit). ** hot to his standards
Do I really have to be “cool” to find a partner? Or can I just be my weird self? Isn’t it okay that I exercise three times a week instead of six to seven? Can’t my hobbies be more home-based – reading and collecting Tarot decks? Or must I absolutely go outside into the world and display myself on the charcuterie board of singles? To be honest, I don’t think I was the intended audience, and this is what I get sometimes when I don’t research a book enough.
by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Lolly Willowes is a fictional novel about a 20th century woman called Lolly who never marries. She’s the semi-weird but endearing aunt. You walk through life with her as she cares for her nieces and nephews, serves as a confidant and companion to her sister-in-law, and rejects suitors by acting strangely. It is very slow-paced, but I figured it would be. Lolly Willowes is considered an early Feminist classic and I can see why. Lolly makes it clear she wants to remain single, and the turning point of the novel is her declaring that she is leaving home life to go live in the countryside. The ending is quite strange and involves the devil. It’s a bit ambiguous and leaves me wanting, but overall, a good classic.
How to be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t
by Lane Moore
While I don’t find the author very funny (she’s a comedian), she writes a damn good book. How to be Alone is a compilation of non-fiction stories about Moore’s life. I could relate to so much of it, and maybe that’s why I’m quick to categorize it as good. But it feels so genuine and urgent (she talks about tough topics including homelessness and really sketchy living situations). It really explains what it’s like to have nobody to rely on and nowhere to go.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown
Could have been an email. It reads like a blog post that is rewritten like 12 times in slightly different language to fill the minimum word requirement for a book.
When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice
by Terry Tempest Williams
This book was a bit difficult to follow along as it talks about things I can’t relate to – like a close relationship between the author and her mother. It is interesting to get that perspective, but I really wasn’t able to get into it as it’s so foreign. The most captivating part of this book is definitely that it has to do with owning your voice through writing. But in the end, there just wasn’t enough common ground to give me even footing as I made my way through it.
Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power
by Pam Grossman
This book was highly-praised but was just okay to me. Like When Women Were Birds, I just didn’t have the common ground to really understand impact of pop culture on the author. It would probably be satisfying to somebody who has a good memory, and a fond remembrance of “formative” films and music and books. I just had not seen or experienced a lot of the media that she spoke about, so I got lost.
Existential Kink: Unmask Your Shadow and Embrace Your Power
by Carolyn Elliott, PhD
I really enjoyed this book because it was quite different from other books I’ve read about difficult thoughts and behaviors. Rather than blame and shame (like we see in the John Kim book), this book says a very real and raw thing about humans – sometimes we get off on suffering, difficulty, and drama. And it’s important for us to acknowledge that so that we can move past it and become more comfortable with quietness, boredom, repetition, ease, safety, and rootedness. When you grow up in a highly volatile environment, you start to think that’s actually reality (but it’s just one example of how people live). And when you’re able to tell yourself that you kind of get off on drama, then you can get on with your life and find peace in being boring as fuck, sitting at home with a cup of coffee and writing a blog post about books you’ve been reading. That’s the life I want.
She says, “Dissolving unconscious patterns by making them conscious (and thereby integrating your being, your will) allows you to wake up out of this powerlessness and become the captain of the ship of your own life.”