book review, memoirs/biographies, reading recommendations

Review: Persepolis part one

The revolution is like a bicycle. When the wheels don’t turn, it falls.

Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

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Click image to purchase on Amazon. 

Okay, I don’t read graphic novels. Like, ever. But when I was required to read this book for English class, I basically fell in love. I am not saying that I will continue to read graphic novels in the future, but I might make an exception for Persepolis’ sequel.

AUTHOR: Marjane Satrapi

GENRE: Coming-of-Age, Autobiography, Graphic Novel

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: Amazon

RATING: 5/5

THOUGHTS: So Persepolis is a novel about Marjane Satrapi’s early life growing up in Iran; this is an autobiography, but it is written from the perspective of someone who is both Western-educated but also deeply familiar with the culture of Iran. When Marjane, or as she is referred to in the book, Marji, encounters the Islamic Revolution during her childhood, she is forced to reconcile some adult themes with her young and inexperienced age. Marji’s parents are quite liberal and quietly stand up against the Revolution in their own way. Marji herself takes after her parents, reading radical doctrines such as Marx’s Dialectical Materialism and staging government coups in her backyard with her friends.

However, Marji also encounters the horrors of war and revolution in her daily life. She loses friends, whether to distance or to death, she watches family friends get arrested, tortured, and sometimes killed, etc. She tries to grasp a lot of it but often the events around her become filtered through her childlike worldview. Persepolis is ultimately a deeply moving, honest, and enlightening look at what a typical Iranian’s life might have looked like during the Revolution, and perhaps what it would look like now.

Satrapi does an excellent job of making this book accessible to a Western audience by incorporating Western motifs such as citing Michael Jackson and jean jackets. She also destroys many Western stereotypical assumptions about Iranians, which is quite useful especially when relations between the West and Iran are tense.

As much as the plot and the dialogue are skillful, what is more important to me is the way that Satrapi’s art can evoke emotion and move a story along so that sometimes no words are needed. She draws minimally, so as not to overwhelm the reader, and she draws with purpose. Most of her illustrations are beautiful, and those that lean to the abstract side and are probably of the same caliber as your run-of-the-mill metaphors and similes are some of my personal favorites. The layout is aesthetically pleasing as well.

Maybe the best part about this book is that it can be accessible at any age and isn’t necessarily directed towards one audience; adults and children alike can devour Persepolis, momentarily step into a world that is not their own, and leave with a better understanding of Iranians, Iranian culture, and the Iranian revolution. I would highly recommend this book.

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book review, memoirs/biographies, nonfiction

Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

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Click on the image above to purchase the book on Amazon.

I picked this book up at a book sale not knowing much about it other than knowing it was one of the books on Rory Gilmore’s Reading Challenge list, but I was pleasantly surprised.

AUTHOR: Joan Didion

GENRE: nonfiction, memoir

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: at a book sale

RATING: 5/5 stars

BACKGROUND: Joan Didion is a writer, and so was her husband, John. Her memoir A Year of Magical Thinking takes us through the year immediately following the passing of her husband, John. There are many personal reflections on the significance of her grief, memories described that detail moments the writer lived through with her family and her husband, and there are even clinical and scientific considerations of what grief is or what it does to the human psyche.

THOUGHTS: I believe that anyone who has had to go through the painful experience of losing someone that is close to them can understand and take something away from this memoir. Since I personally had a bad experience with trying to understand my grief, I found this book to be intriguing, educating, but ultimately I found that I could relate to what Didion’s descriptions of her grief portrayed.

Didion’s writing is clear, succinct, and engaging. I flew through this book in the span of less than a day; it is easy to read, and it gripped me in every page. Didion has all the tricks and marks of an experienced writer, but it also felt like she did not hold much back in this memoir. I could not think of much criticism to lend this book, so I gave it the 5/5 stars that it deserves.

For those of us who would rather read a book that is more lighthearted or would like to stray from the emotionally heavy -this book may not be for you. Of course, reading about darker matters in fiction books is significantly different than reading about the same subjects in a nonfiction book. The stakes are real, and the descriptions that Didion offers in this book are quite hard to forget, or at least they are for me.

However, if you have had a personal struggle with grief- with dealing with it, with defining it, with reigning it in and letting it breathe, then I would highly recommend this book to you. Didion is almost everyman in this book, besides her glamorous lifestyle as a successful and career writer, but I almost assure you that you have something to gain from the details of her pain and the journey she went through. Additionally, she did all of the research on grief, so you don’t have to. The humanity of this memoir is probably its best quality, however- everyone, no matter their life experiences, can take solace from this book about how those who remain living, even when their loved ones pass, can engage in magical thinking until they are ready to return to a world that is not dominated and defined by loss.

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memoirs/biographies, nonfiction, Uncategorized

Review: Between the World and Me

I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Click on the image above to purchase on Amazon.

I was given this book by my University last year; it was assigned to all First Years as a “Common Book”, or a book that would help us in culminating an accepting and diverse campus. And let me tell you- it’s one of the most valuable books I’ve been given. Valuable, I mean, in terms of the potential it has to enlighten readers.

AUTHOR: Ta-Nehisi Coates

GENRE: Non-fiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: my university gifted it to me

RATING: 5/5 stars

BACKGROUND: Ta-Nehesi Coates writes this book in the format of a letter to his young son, and with it comes advice for how to navigate through the modern American society as a black man. Coates touches on his own experiences, and those of his friends, to piece a picture of what the black experience in America was, and what it might be in the future. Coates employs self-introspection, evidence from the world around him, and past and contemporary events in order to define what really stands between the world and himself, in the hopes that his son will be able to understand where he is coming from and understand what his father is pushing him to do in order to protect himself in a society that values black bodies less than most other bodies.

THOUGHTS: There is not a whole lot of criticism aimed at this book, but I remember discussing it with a friend whose political views differ from my own. I remember that he told me that he didn’t agree with what the book was saying, and that it was written from a skewed perspective (I’m paraphrasing). However, I do not know if this is a valid criticism of the book because a) my friend is not a black American, so why did he think that his view of how African-Americans experience the world is more valuable than that of an African American’s and b) even if you disagree with the conclusions that Coates come to, it doesn’t mean you can invalidate his feelings and his experiences because they are uniquely his own.

With that out of the way, I thoroughly enjoyed this read because I realized that this is the closest that I will ever get to understanding what it is like to grow up as a black person in America, and that is a valuable thing to obtain. I am not an African American, but I am still a racial minority in this country that is definitely more socially privileged than African Americans are. Reading through Coates’ experiences, takes on the world, and advice to his son, I encountered, figuratively, many aspects of racial discrimination that I had not previously been exposed to in my personal experiences. I learned, not only the why and how things were, but more importantly, I could see how Coates’ experiences tied into his conclusions and his worldview. Although it is different than my own, I was grateful for further understanding why someone with remarkably different experiences than me would view American society in such a way as Coates does.

There are also aspects of this book that are universal, or at least more identifiable- the worry a father has for his son, the despair of a person who watched his friends suffer invisible tragedies, and the struggle of a community who has every odd against them. There is also the celebration of the value that community can bring, and the liberty that one or two books can provide. There is the questioning of the world around one’s person- and more importantly, the question Why? is echoed over and over.

Most of all, I appreciate the book’s acknowledgement of reality and it’s realistic approach to the subject- yes, there is hope, but more importantly, there is skepticism. After all, the history between American society and African Americans is brutal and horrific, and there is nothing that indicates that the future of their relationship will be drastically better. But it is not overly pessimistic either; Coates has not given up hope for his son, for the future of his race and his people. And that, to me, is the most important part of this book- acknowledging the mountain that lies ahead of you, and attempting to climb it anyways, driven by the slight hope that this time, you might make it to the top, because it will be worth it when you do reach it.

Even if this book does not sound like your cup of tea, I’d recommend it to you. I promise you will gain something valuable from it, even if it is only the perspective of someone that differs from you.

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book review, memoirs/biographies, nonfiction, reading recommendations

Review: Bossypants

Some people say, “Never let them see you cry.” I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.

Bossypants, Tina Fey

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Click the image above to purchase the book on Amazon.

I love Tina Fey. I have seen Mean Girls more times than I can count and I have seen every episode of 30 Rock. Also, how can I forget her unforgettable performances and writing on Saturday Night Live? If something has Tina Fey involved, I will probably be there.

AUTHOR: Tina Fey

GENRE: Memoir, Humor

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK: local library

RATING: 4.5/5 stars

BACKGROUND: Tina Fey: writer, actress, humorist. This is her memoir, which follows her from an awkward high schooler to the comedian trying to make it in Chicago to the female head writer at SNL and beyond. Always witty, and always funny, she relays the events in her life and her thoughts on feminist topics, such as the use of Photoshop, the morality of abortions, and more, but always maintains a lighthearted tone. Quirky, humorous, and honest, this memoir offers a deeper insight into the events of Fey’s career and the thoughts that occupy Fey’s mind.

THOUGHTS: I think Tina Fey has a very specific kind of humor in her command. It is the same kind that branded 30 Rock. It is a kind of humor that speaks to me and entertains me, but of course, it is not for everyone. 30 Rock, while critically acclaimed, never caught on to mass popularity with the general public. So, this book may or may not tickle your funny bone, but I thoroughly enjoyed the humor of it.

It was cool to gain the insider’s perspective of all the media that I had been a fan of for so long- Mean Girls, 30 Rock, working with Tracy Jordan and Alec Baldwin, and how she was introduced to Amy Poehler. I also liked learning about what Tina Fey, who has stood up for women in the entertainment industry multiple times, thought about the certain debates in feminist thinking as well. However she didn’t lecture on the morality or the rightness or wrongness of certain feminist perspectives, which I appreciated.

Fey’s writing is captivating, as as quirky as her own personality. Many of her insecurities throughout the year are more relatable to me than would be most actress’ memoirs; Fey is a comedian, is not classically attractive, and was somewhat socially awkward in her early twenties. All of these qualities, and the experiences that accompany them makes Fey much more relatable to the average reader than other actresses or celebrities that may write memoirs.

If you are a fan of Tina Fey and her work, and if you enjoy a good laugh, I would highly recommend this read!

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book review, memoirs/biographies, nonfiction

Review: Dreams From My Father

My identity might begin with the fact of my race, but it didn’t, couldn’t end there.
At least that’s what I would choose to believe.

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Barack Obama

AUTHOR: Barack Obama

GENRE: Memoir

RATING: 4/5 stars

BACKGROUND: This book was published in 1995, way before Obama stepped onto the federal stage as the senator from Illinois and before he was President of the United States. This does not concern any of Obama’s public life, but instead his background and his family’s background. This seems to be before he was acknowledging a career in politics, as he does not mention it. The main focus of this book is rather Barry Obama’s quest in finding his own identity: his racial identity and his identity outside of his race.

THOUGHTS: I thought that this story was intriguing, not just because it is the story of our former president but rather it is a story of someone who is caught in between cultures and races. Barack Obama was brought up by his white mother and his white grandmothers, in the absence of his father who spent most of his time in Kenya, but was treated by everyone else that he knew as what he appeared: a black boy.

Obama’s writing was clear, succinct, and admirable for someone who is not a writer by profession. His capacity to relate emotions in a particular moment and his ability in describing events or landscapes took me by surprise, though anyone who has listened to any of his speeches is probably less surprised to hear what a good writer Obama is.

I think the honesty of the book is also refreshing. In a world of turbulent politics dominated by twistings of the truth and fake news, this brief, honest look into Obama’s early life and his early mistakes was intriguing. His struggles in becoming the best brother, the best son, and the best black advocate he could be struck a cord with me; even though the man is intelligent and successful beyond belief, he struggles with the same idealistic struggles that most young people go through.

Anyways, I can fully recommend this read for anyone who wants to know a little more about our former president. It is pretty clear of our typical political debates, besides a couple of chapters about his advocating in Chicago. But even that does not sound like the pushing of an agenda…just a description of the feelings that he went through at a particular moment in his life. This book is truly a memoir, and not of the same stock as those books published after a politician’s term, or before a politician’s election. If you enjoy memoirs in general, you should definitely check this one out!

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book review, memoirs/biographies, nonfiction

Review: Lighter than My Shadow

I held on, waiting to be recovered, wondering how long it would last. How would I know when I get there?

Lighter than My Shadow, Katie Green

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AUTHOR: Katie Green

GENRE: Memoir, Graphic Novel

RATING: 5/5 stars

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

SUMMARY: In this hand-drawn autobiography/memoir, Katie Green investigates her personal battles in her relationship with food and how her eating disorders triggered other events in her life, including one in which she was abused by someone she trusted. Green starts in the early stages of her childhood and ends at her current state, and details the process of how she became ill, but also details the process of her recovery.  Trigger warnings (because if you have dealt with an eating disorder or are a survivor, then I certainly don’t want you to endanger your mental health): anorexia, binge eating, images of both unhealthy and healthy sexuality.

THOUGHTS: This was the kind of book that I could not put down. I initially picked it up, thinking I’d get through the first hundred pages or so just to start it, but by the time I bothered to look at the clock again, I had gone through all 500 pages and it was way later than when I had hoped to go to sleep.

You remember that kind of feeling you got as a bookish child when you read under the covers with a lightbulb because you had to keep reading even though it was past your bedtime? This book made me feel like that, and that is not a feeling I can say I always get now, even though I remain a very bookish person.

Katie Green does a magnificent job at illustrating her eating disorder, whether it was the literal shadow following around, or the melting of her body “into oblivion”. At times, the imagery was so powerful and stark, and sometimes it was more subtle and suggestive. I have not read many graphic novels, but the images that Green provides played out her story beautifully. I especially admired how she managed to convey metaphors in her illustration.

I also have to commend Green for the kinds of details that she chose to include in her novel focusing on eating disorders. There are so many important aspects included in this book that can really speak to and enlighten those who have not gone through eating disorders, such as myself. Details like the loss of her menstrual cycle, how eating disorders are not simply just a desire to not eat, how her eating disorder ruined her image of her own body and therefore her connection to the healthy aspects of her sexuality, and how progress and recovery is not a straightforward, easy process are all things that I adored about this book.

Additionally, I feel as though many books about eating disorders do not really focus on the process of recovery as Lighter than My Shadow does. Recovery is probably the most important part of this story, which I find so admirable, and while I have a limited perspective on this subject because of my own personal experiences, I believe this book has something important to those who are in recovery or are suffering from eating disorders, as well as to those who have no personal experience with eating disorders.

I cried, I definitely cried. It was that good, y’all. Go pick up this book when it is published on October 3rd!!

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book review, memoirs/biographies, nonfiction

Review: Sounds Like Me

Things evolve into other things. Emotions do the same. Forever. Your best ally in all of these shifting seas is your faith in the fact that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) In Song, Sara Bareilles

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In which I have checked off another book from my insanely long TBR list. It’s slowly but surely getting smaller…

AUTHOR: Sara Bareilles

GENRE: Memoir, Nonfiction

WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK / WHAT FORMAT: local library / audiobook

RATING: 4/5 stars

BACKGROUND: Sara Bareilles, the songstress/mastermind behind pop classics like “Brave” and “Love Song”, has poured her heart out on the page in eight beautiful and poignant essays. These essays mostly touch on certain periods or instances that occurred in her life, but they are really about different lessons she has learned growing up, stepping into the music industry, and having several new experiences. Bareilles gives readers and fans a exclusive look into her private life in a way that most celebrity memoirs tend not to.

THOUGHTS: Okay first of all, I must recommend the audiobook of this book over the physical copy simply because each of Sara’s essays is based off one of the songs she has written, and she sings each song a capella at the beginning of each chapter AND ITS REALLY BEAUTIFUL OKAY.

I have only read two other memoirs by famous people, (those two people being Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) and I was ready for Sara’s memoir to be spunky, funny, and a look into the unseen glamour of the scenes of pop-star life. I was ready to learn some more interesting factoids about a woman who I consider to be one of the cooler alumni from my own alma mater. I was not prepared for a frankly honest look at several events in her life, in which she dealt with fright, trauma, heartbreak and the like. However, if anything, that just makes the book that much more endearing to me.

Sara talks about a lot of things that have nothing to do with her life as a pop star, as well as several things that has to do with her life as a pop star. She discusses mental health issues, crying in front of strangers, how fake and twisted the music industry can be, how the right band members can make all the difference, how writing a musical was easier for her to do than writing a book (any other fellow Waitress the Musical fans out there?), how a first heartbreak can really be a metaphor for all heartbreaks, how she navigated her parents’ divorce, and so much more. There was no unifying theme of the book, just the feeling that Sara felt that readers could actually take something a little more real and more substantial than entertainment from the stories that she chose to tell.

Sara had something she wanted to say with her book and she made that clear from the start. However, it wasn’t forced or fake; it was genuine. Sara talks a lot about struggling with her self-image, with her weight, with her appearance, and with her overall image as an artist and a celebrity. But more importantly, she talks about how she navigated through some of those tough areas and has progressed in building up her confidence and convincing herself that she is beautiful no matter what the world might say. Additionally, she desperately wants her fans to know that they are beautiful too, and so loved. And I could honestly hear how much she meant it as she read the words aloud, it was so honest and real.

Sara is not a “writer” so I am not going to comment on the prose or most of the mechanics of her writing. But I will comment on the voice of her novel (the actual voice of her words, not the one I heard on the audiobook). It is unique, and it is all her. It was refreshing to hear a celebrity ready to be so vulnerable and down-to-earth with her audience, with the knowledge that it will not benefit her professionally but rather she is writing with the purpose of gracing her fans with her love and her personality. And that, to me, was the best thing about Sara’s memoir: that it was all her, and that she gave it all.

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