My Two Cents on a Political Read

politicalreadDuring this ridiculous political season, I decided I wanted to learn more about Hillary Clinton – but not from the internet. Mainstream media focused so much on the negatives, and I was looking for something different. I wanted a book. Something that an author researched, an editor touched, and a publishing house approved. My library had The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power by Kim Ghattas, so I decided to give it a try. Here’s what the book is about:

For four years, BBC foreign correspondent Kim Ghattas followed Hillary Clinton and her entourage as she traveled the world as secretary of state. Clinton took the job in November of 2008, though she and President Obama were rivals, and she set out to find her own style of diplomacy and repair America’s relationship with foreign nations. Ghattas uses interviews with Clinton, administration officials, and players in Washington and overseas to shape her narrative. Ghattas grew up in Lebanon during the civil war, so she also uses the book as an attempt to get her own questions answered about America’s place in the world and the strength of its power.

The book was incredibly dense. It covered the history of relations with different countries as Ghattas and Clinton traveled there, and then filled readers in on the current situation and what Clinton was up against. For me, it was too much information. I thought I was going to learn more about Hillary and what she’s like – both personally and professionally. But the book only gave tiny snippets of her personality and was more about US foreign policy and the author’s own quest to understand the events of her childhood in Beirut. The book was tough for me to get through and took me two full weeks to read. Even though the book wasn’t quite what I was looking for, I did learn a lot.

Just a few thoughts I had while reading this book:

  • I had no idea how the press worked. It was interesting to hear that reporters work inside the State Department and travel on the plane with Hillary. Sometimes they don’t even know where they’ll be traveling to. I imagine that they must do a lot of sitting around, waiting for something to happen that they can report on. Which leads me to…
  • I’m disappointed by the mainstream media for not providing me with more REAL, IMPORTANT news content. The only thing I knew about Hillary’s trips to other countries was that she wore a scrunchie in her hair. There was no coverage of the town hall style meetings she held about human rights and women’s rights.
  • It makes me angry that people think Hillary couldn’t be president or wouldn’t make a good president. She’s far and above the most qualified and experienced candidate of all the candidates there were this election season. She has been everywhere and met everyone. The book talks about the huge binders and dossiers of information that Clinton would read before traveling anywhere. She knows the background histories between the countries and understands the policies. She has built up relationships with other countries and leaders. On top of that, she lived through many of the job’s demands already as First Lady. She knows how to act appropriately when visiting another country’s leaders. She knows how to be respectful. It’s insulting, really, that people don’t see her as the clear choice.
  • The book made me really grateful that we are able to elect people to our government, as opposed to other countries where there is a fake democracy or military dictatorships. Other countries have constantly changing leaders, or perhaps even worse, are sometimes stuck with the same terrible leader for 20 years. At least we get an opportunity to change the situation every four years.

Why anyone wants to be a politician is beyond me! I wouldn’t want the job. You are under scrutiny all the time. There is very little thanks, and fifty percent of people are always going to hate you, no matter what you do. And there are no fast or easy answer to the problems that plague our country and our world. One thing we can do: educate ourselves and VOTE for the politicians we believe can do the most good.

What’s on my nonfiction bookshelf

nonfictionshelfLess than 5% of the books I read every year are categorized as nonfiction. It’s just not what I’m drawn to when I’m looking for something to read. If I want to learn about a historical event or famous person, I’d rather look up the information online. I want facts fast – I don’t need 300 pages worth of details! I have, however, tried to branch out this year. In fact, depending on how many more books I read in 2016, almost 12% of my books may be nonfiction this year! (My dad would be really impressed with all the math I did here…but probably wouldn’t trust that I did any of it right! ha!)

Here are all the nonfiction titles I read in 2016:

  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
    • A graphic novel, yes, but also a memoir! Bechdel focuses on her father’s closeted sexuality and his death, but also reflects on her childhood and her own sexuality.
  • Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
    • Another graphic novel memoir. In this one, Bechdel focuses on her relationship with her mother. But while she spared no details in her first book, Bechdel seems afraid to say too much about her mother in this one. Bechdel spends a lot of time revealing her own anxious and self-deprecating tendencies through real-life therapy sessions.
  • The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power by Kim Ghattas
    • BBC correspondent Kim Ghattas traveled with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and learned about Clinton as a person and politician, and examines American foreign policy. Dense, but informative, this book showed me how little I know about foreign policy and what it is a Secretary of State does.   
  • Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
    • Readers get more of what they love about Mindy Kaling in this book. She writes about weddings, love, work, what a day in her life looks like, and a little bit of everything. She mainly shows readers that she works really hard to achieve all of her successes. While not rolling-on-the-floor funny, it is quirky and enjoyable and I smiled while I read it.
  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
    • Yes, the television show is based on a book, and the book is about a real person’s life! Kerman committed a crime when she was young, but doesn’t pay for it until later in her life. She enters the criminal justice system and has a lot to say about it. She talks about prison life – both in trying to fit in to protect herself, but also in proving to herself that she’s somehow different or better than everyone else in prison with her – she also reflects on the absurdity of it all and the wastefulness: prison does not equal rehabilitation.
  • The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
    • A concise book full of writerly guidance for people who want to know what it takes for agents and publishers to keep reading your novel. Includes straightforward advice with plenty of examples. Some of it is common sense and things that we’ve all heard before (Show, don’t Tell), but Lukeman gives good reasons and samples to back up his statements. 

What I’m curious about is how many of you readers are into nonfiction? What is the appeal for you? Also, do you have any nonfiction reading recommendations for me?

Nonfiction, Graphic Novel, and Memoir, all Rolled Into One

funhomememoirOne of my goals is to read more nonfiction, and it just so happens that I am reading some nonfiction right now. Or wait, is a graphic novel memoir classified as nonfiction? Hm. Well, at any rate, it is quite a bit different from the YA novels I typically read. After recently finishing up Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, I decided to also pick up her memoir Are You My Mother?

Let’s start with Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic first. Even if you haven’t read Fun Home yet, you’ve probably heard about it. It caused some controversy when college students refused to read it because it went against their beliefs. Despite this, the book went on to achieve critical success and was even listed as one of the best books of 2006 by The New York Times. Later on, Fun Home became a Broadway show. The musical was nominated for twelve Tony awards, and won five of them, including the Tony for Best Musical.

But what you may have missed with all of this news was that the book itself is actually really interesting. I consider my life to be rather average and a bit boring. I thought my life of growing up in a small town with parents who have been married for over 30 years now was typical and normal. But perhaps that life is more abnormal than I realized. Bechdel reveals a lot of private details about her family life, and wow, what a life. Bechdel’s father, Bruce, works as a funeral director and high school English teacher while her mother is an actress. Their house is an old Victorian, which her father is constantly working on. In college, Bechdel comes out as lesbian. She writes a letter to her parents to tell them the news. Whatever reaction she thought she would get flies out the window when her mother tells her that her father is gay. While this may have been something for a father and daughter to bond over, Bechdel’s father unexpectedly passes away after getting hit by a car. Throughout the book, Bechdel reflects on her childhood, seeing the details about her father she had missed the first time around. Bechdel also shares memories from her journals about her own obsessive-compulsion disorder which becomes so bad that her mother transcribes her entries for a while. Along the way, Bechdel also uses well-known works of literature to tie in the artistic and academic natures of both herself and her parents.

While the book took me some time to get into, I eventually became hooked. It was exactly what I wanted a graphic novel to be: smart, fresh, and interesting. It was insightful and clever. While the themes and ideas were not easy to deal with, the line drawings and efficient use of text made the concepts relatable and accessible. The author didn’t seem to hold anything back. I was fascinated by the Bechdel family. I was also fascinated by the idea of memorializing your life in comic book form. I wish I could do that.

After Fun Home, I was pleased to find another book by Bechdel on my local library’s shelf: Are You My Mother? As the title suggests, this book focuses on Bechdel’s mother and the relationship the mother and daughter share. But while I found Fun Home fascinating and unexpectedly good, I struggled to get through Are You My Mother? Instead of classic works of literature, Bechdel uses dreams, her own therapy sessions, and psychoanalysis to link together themes in this book. It was very heavy-handed, and I’m sad to say, boring. I just kept waiting for Bechdel to come out and say what she wanted to say about her mother, and she just felt like she was holding back the entire time. She’d already revealed so many personal details in the first book that I couldn’t quite understand what she was so afraid about with this book. I was really hoping to know more about how her mother felt about being stuck in a small town with a house full of kids when she had originally dreamed of becoming an actress. I wanted to know why she married and stayed with a man who was gay. I wanted to know if she liked being a mother and what her relationships were like with her other kids. Bechdel just beats herself up the whole book, stumbling around and filling up the pages with psychoanalysis rather than content the reader wanted.

What I hope you’ll take away from this (ridiculously long) post is that Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is definitely worth the read. Unless you read a lot of graphic novels, it will be unlike anything you’ve ever read. Bechdel’s family is so unique that you will forget you’re reading a memoir. The work is different. And that’s a good thing.

Current Read: Yes Please

imageI’ve read fifty books so far this year and they all had one thing in common: they were works of fiction. This week’s book, however, breaks the mold. Yes Please by Amy Poehler is my one and only nonfiction title this year.

Goodreads Book Blurb:

In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book full of words to live by.

I enjoyed Poehler on SNL and I think she’s really smart and funny, but this book is a little disappointing. As I read Yes Please on my Kindle Fire, I highlighted some lines I thought were funny. I was going to quote them here for you to show how smart and funny Poehler is, but when I went back to re-read them, they weren’t really that great. The book in general is not all that humorous, but if it wasn’t meant to be, then what was the goal of this book? She whines a lot about how hard it is to write a book and her stories (chapters?) often go in strange directions that leave me wondering what the lesson or the point of it all was. What am I supposed to get out of it?image

Poehler tells a little about growing up in a normal loving family where she had to create her own drama, learning about comedy in Chicago, honing her craft in New York, memories from her days at SNL, being pregnant and giving birth, hints at divorcing Will Arnett, includes tons of name dropping, and drug use. Yes, drugs. Poehler throws it in so casually (and frequently), as if it’s no big deal. I was rather surprised by it and it didn’t sit well with me. Maybe she lives in a world where recreational drug use is common, but that’s not true for my world.

There were some funny lines and anecdotes scattered throughout the book, but I preferred Tina Fey’s Bossypants to Poehler’s book, hands down. In all, it didn’t feel like Poehler wanted to write this book, so it felt forced and perhaps published before it was ready. It lacked some of the lightness, quirkiness, and exuberance I associate with Poehler. Ho hum. Maybe next year I’ll find a nonfiction book I like better!

Have you read Yes Please? What did you think of it?

A Trip to Nonfiction Land

magicroom

A quick search on the library’s card catalog leads me an entire floor away from the Young Adult section I usually select my books from. I follow the book spines until I find 306.874 and pull out The Magic Room: A Story About The Love We Wish For Our Daughters by Jeffrey Zaslow. The book comes as a recommendation, and I’m looking forward to trying something new.

In a small town in Michigan, its 1,100 residents are outnumbered by wedding dresses. That’s right—wedding dresses. The most prominent business is town is Becker’s Bridal. Handed down through several generations of Becker women, the business caters to brides searching for the perfect dress for their wedding day. Since the shop is in an old bank, the vault has been transformed into the Magic Room: a room full of mirrors where brides can envision themselves as beautiful brides. Author Jeffrey Zaslow (best known for co-authoring The Last Lecture with Randy Pausch) explores the inner workings of the business and its history, as well as the lives of the brides who venture into the store. The book shows readers not to judge someone by what they look like on the outside. Someone may appear to be a happy bride on the lookout for a perfect dress, but they may have a back story full of heartache. Death of a parent, divorce, and a terrible car accident are just a few of the tales the brides share with the author. Zaslow also focuses on the love parents and caretakers wish for their daughters. While reality television sometimes only shows an obnoxious view of brides and the bridal industry, Zaslow’s story shares a deeper, more loving side.

After reading the book, I know that nonfiction is still not my favorite genre, but I feel good about stretching my reading limbs. Next, I’m on to Ann Brashares’ The Here and Now…yup, back to Young Adult!

Do you have any nonfiction books to recommend?

Entry#9 – Non-fiction:

bossysassyEntry#9 – Non-fiction:  Usually I get lost in fictional words, but I’ve read some wonderful non-fiction books as well. From travel stories to autobiographies to reference books, which is your pick?

My real love is Young Adult Literature, with Adult Fiction not far behind, so I don’t venture off into non-fiction very often.  But when the opportunity presented itself, I went for Tina Fey’s autobiography, Bossypants.  Now, not gonna lie, I didn’t exactly read the book.  Instead, I listened to it on CD.  I had a forty-five minute commute to work every day, so I listened to a lot of audio books in the course of four years.  What was so great about Bossypants was that it was read by Tina Fey herself.  It even included sound bites from her most memorable SNL skit in which she impersonated Sarah Palin.  Fey is a strong woman in a male-dominated profession, plus she’s super smart and funny, so she offers pearls of wisdom such as

  • “In real life these women experienced different sides of the same sexism coin. People who didn’t like Hillary called her a ballbuster. People who didn’t like Sarah called her Caribou Barbie. People attempted to marginalize these women based on their gender.” 

She’s also motivational and talks about women’s bodies, photoshopping, and being a woman in the entertainment industry.

  • “Now if you’re not hot”, you are expected to work on it until you are. It’s like when you renovate a house and you’re legally required to leave just one of the original walls standing. If you don’t have a good body you have down to a neutral shape, then bolt on some breast implants, replace your teeth, dye you hair, and call yourself the Playmate of the Year. How do we survive this? How do we teach our daughters and our gay sons that they are good enough the way they are? We have to lead by example.”

I also found that I had a few things in common with her, like being kind of geeky and uncool, and not really loving animals.

  • “I have no affinity for animals. I don’t hate animals and I would never hurt an animal; I just don’t actively care about them. When a coworker shows me cute pictures of her dog, I struggle to respond correctly, like an autistic person who has been taught to recognize human emotions from flash cards. In short, I am the worst.”

Thanks to this stroll into Non-fictionLand, I also wandered into Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns).  After these two works, I’m starting to believe that maybe non-fiction isn’t so bad after all.

Does anyone out there have non-fiction recommendations?