Reading Rainbow

This post isn’t about Reading Rainbow, but do you remember that show? I loved the shit out of some Reading Rainbow. LaVar Burton was an actual celebrity at my house, in my school. In fact, every week my teacher would wheel in one of the tv’s and pop a VHS tape in and we would get to watch a Reading Rainbow. It was usually Friday afternoons, right after lunch and recess. Right about the time we would want to fall asleep, but shit nah, man, ain’t nobody sleeping when Reading Rainbow is on! For those of you who have absolutely no idea what I am talking about, please Google it! And also look at this sexy MFer:

Whew! Let’s all take a minute to compose ourselves. My fifth-grade ass was certainly in love with LaVar. Anyway, like I said that is not what this post is about. It’s about reading in general, but more specifically what I am reading.

People text me, inbox me, call me, and DM me and ask shit like, “Whatchu reading, Missy?” And I’m usually not reading some shit other people want to read. I’m all, “Oh, I just finished The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats,” or I’ll be all, “Omigod, have you even read The Sacred Wisdom of the Native Americans” or “Oh, I’m just re-reading Joan Didion.” And they are like, “Oh, okay.” Then under their breath they are like what the hell is her problem? But turns out when we started a book club a couple months ago (that is now disbanded because of Covid-19) I made a list of more “popular” books to read, and I’ve been sticking pretty closely to that list while in quarantine. So I thought I’d share some thoughts on what I’m reading, what I plan to read, and what I have read. Ready? Here goes!

I read Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby. I like Irby. I like her style, her sense of humor, I like her balls to the wall attitude. I like that she shares it all, puts it all out there. She’s kind of like me in that way, but of course much funnier and her stories are way ‘mo better. Mine are always sad and shit. Gotta work on being less sad. Anyway, I was introduced to Irby when I downloaded her audiobook We are Never Meeting in Real Life a couple years back when I started walking my senior dog to try to help her shed some pounds (and me too). Turns out it was HILARIOUS, and I would actually laugh-out-loud on my walks around the ‘hood in Charlotte and my neighbors thought I was crazy. So I ran and grabbed her book, Meaty and that cemented my love for her. I anxiously awaited for the release of Wow, No Thank You which happened since we’ve been in quarantine, and I ordered a copy from an independent book store in Chicago (that’s where she is from, and I had stopped into a shop that sells her books while I was there, so I ordered it from them) and had it shipped to me. Hilarity ensured. Listen, Irby is crass, sure. She’s a little too open for some people, and she sometimes make you think, like for real? Did that really happen? And yeah, it did. But mostly she’s just funny. Her books are all collections of essays about her own life, and she’s like the kind of person you want to be friends with, but neither of you ever make meeting up a priority cause you’re a little nervous around each other, and also you’re both introverts and really don’t like to leave your house, so you just admire each other from afar. Yes, that’s it. I’m an Irby admirer. Also, look at these covers!

I read Crossing to Safety back in March, because I had already started it for Book Club before we had to cancel. Crossing to Safety legit made me say aloud, “It’s kind of like Seinfeld.” Because it was kind of like Seinfeld. It’s a book that seems to be about a lot of nothing, just a pair of couples who “grow up” together in a sense, have careers, children, stresses, fun, highs, lows, and all the in between. So it seems, on the surface to be about nothing, but it’s actually about a lot of things. Really, really, real things. It’s about love. About that sort of intimate love that comes along with friendship. It’s about growing up, into ourselves, into our relationships, into the people we are supposed to be. It was released in 1987 and written by Wallace Stegner. It’s semi-autobiographical, and it defiantly feels like you could be reading creative non-fiction. It also had an Olive Kitteridge vibe to it for me, because it was so inside these relationships, and these people. It was sad, it was happy, it was funny, it was all the things. I definitely recommend it. Jerimiah read it with me (Book Club and all) and he liked it too. Though he did note some slow parts, and there are some parts where you are like, wait that has to be important, and it is, so pay attention!

In between Crossing to Safety and deciding what book we were going to read together next, I made Jerimiah read one of my favorite short stories from George Saunders so we would have something to talk about. I have only read a few of Saunders stories, even though I bought 10th of December a couple years ago in hopes to read it all quickly. Haha. I have a lot of hopes. Anyway, the story The Semplica Girl Diaries is one of my favorites because the first time I read it I was so throughly confused by it, that I had to read it again, and now every year I read it just to be like, what they hell? And also, how can people write like this? It’s one of those stories that keeps my faith in writers alive. Anyway, Jerimiah read it, then when I asked him about it, he was like, “Oh no, I have to read it again before I can talk about it.” So yeah, there’s that. Read The Semplica Girl Diaries and also if you have time My Chivalric Fiasco.

When Jerimiah and I actually decided on a new book, it was Little Fires Everywhere, because it had been suggested in Book Club. The television version had just released on Hulu, so we thought it would be fun to read the book (another I bought eons ago in hopes to read one day) and then watch the series. I mean, we have the time… Anywho we were wrong. The show is so totally different than the book that I am now mad and a little pissed off at Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. Misdirected anger, I know, but come on people! I get that there are certain things that have to be changed to catch the attention of television watchers, but I’m just, well maybe I’m not mad, just disappointed. To be fair we are only on episode three, so it might get better, but so far we don’t like it. We were a fan of the book though. We had only heard good things, then when I said I was reading it people came out of the woodwork to tell me they thought it sucked. And I could see why some people would not like it. First, it’s a short read. We did it in a weekend. Not too much “thinking” happening, unless you let it take you there, but there are really A LOT of things to dissect in that book. Race and class are the most evident, of course, but the idea and the topic of motherhood really took my breath away. I think maybe people who identify with Elena Richardson might not like it as much as us Mia’s out in the world, ya dig? Either way, I’d say give it a shot. Don’t be a Mrs. Richardson about it, assholes.

That brings me to what we are reading now and what we are planning to read. We just started one of Jerimiah’s picks, The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers Game by Bridgett M. Davis, and I am smitten! I had no idea what to expect from this book. Jerimiah heard about it on one of his “numbers” podcasts and suggested it knowing that I like creative non-fiction and he likes numbers. I’m only on chapter five, but I think Davis does a great job explaining her mom, the Numbers (which is not a thing I had any idea about) and Detroit in the 1960s, particularly Black Detroit, another topic I have no idea about. I’m laughing, learning, and thoroughly enjoying this book.

Now my To Read list is nuts you guys. I finally ordered Untamed by Glennon Doyle, I know you guys are tired of hearing me talk about this book, but I think I was sort of putting it off because I know it’s going to be a hard read for me. A lot of truths I don’t want to deal with. But I ordered it (from an Indie Bookstore, duh). Then there is The Gum Thief which was another Book Club pick that I had already bought and readied myself to read (and I think Jerimiah might like). Then there is Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng who several people have told me is better than Little Fires Everywhere, then there is Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore, which I think is gonna be hella sad, so I keep putting it back on my shelf, then there is Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, and D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose. Lastly, there is Biloxi by Mary Miller, who is teaching one of my classes in the fall so I’m kinda scoping her out before I scope her out. You know how it goes. I’m obvi really into female authors and female stories right now. And I won’t apologize for that.

But you guys! This amazing thing happened to me. The other day I was sitting here minding my own business when a package arrived from one of my best friends and it included the following: The recipe to her famous chocolate chip cookies, a letter, two cassette tapes (Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits and a homemade mix tape of Garth Brooks’ Ropin’ the Wind from 1991), AND a signed copy of Objects in the Mirror: Thoughts on a Perfect Life from an Imperfect Person by Stephen Kellogg. I’m not kidding. Phew. I’m booked solid you guys.

Okay, now go read something better than my blog!

Missy

The Year of the Book

Book Club has really helped me engage in reading again. It has prompted me to look at all the Indie Book lists. It has forced me into spending time thinking/writing/planning books to read. Deciding what would be good for the group to read vs. what I should read alone vs. what Jerimiah and I should read together, that sort of thing. But mainly it’s helped me read more. I’m already three books in this year, halfway through number four, and about to start my March Book Club book and it’s only March. That’s good for me because that means I will be at five books at the year by the end of the month, and for someone who averages a book a month it sets me up for success. Yay me! I’m not bragging here. I’m not trying to start a competition. Unless you are into that, then yeah, I’ll compete with you in book reading. Not exercising or tracking our food or anything like that. But I will compete on book reading. And you will lose. Bring it, losers!

Okay, whew, sorry I got off topic. I wanted to tell you about the three books I have already read this year and what I thought about them because I dunno, people who read blogs are usually readers, and if you haven’t read these three, very different books, you might want to. Or you might want to steer clear of them, it all depends on whether you trust me or not. Well, do ya? Do ya trust me? No, you’re right. It’s too soon. Read the reviews I am giving first. Now, it’s important to remember that I am WAY behind in books. Some of these books are “old” in that they came out many moons ago, but I’m playing catch up. And I read one of them because a friend told me about it, and I’m not sure how I missed it all these years ago. Also, I am not, nor have I ever been a good reviewer of books. But let’s not worry about that, and just dig in.

  1. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeny

Jerimiah and I read this book together in January as sort of a precursor to book club. He knew he wanted to be part of my book club, but didn’t feel very confident reading the kind of stuff my friend Julie and I were talking about reading. Julie also has an MA in English, so he was feeling a little worried about fitting in considering an MBA doesn’t really set you up for literary success. So I found a book I thought we both might like that isn’t too “hard” to read. We’d just come back from a whirlwind trip to NYC over the holidays (a place we both love immensely) so I thought what a fun theme this would be.

The Nest is set in NYC, and Sweeney does an amazing job of place here. I mean I don’t want to spoil anything, but there were so many parts of the book that Jerimiah and I were both like, “Oh my gosh, I love that place.” Brooklyn plays a huge part in the book, and there are also some great instances of museums you’ve probably been to, Ground Zero, and Central Park. In a sense, it’s a love letter to the city, while showcasing a wholly dysfunctional family. I mean like, you’re gonna feel better about your family after you read this.

Like I said before this isn’t a “hard” read, which is to say it isn’t so much literary as it is just plain fun. Jerimiah appreciated the constant movement in the book. There weren’t any real “laggy” parts, and it seemed like around every corner there was a new surprise. It’s also told in multiple perspectives, namely the four Plumb siblings, with some you will love more than others. Fucking Leo. Ugh, that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Jerimiah was happy with the end of the book. He liked what he called “a refreshing, unexpected turn.” I was pissed, and Julie (who read it after we did) literally had to skip parts because she was so mad at one of the characters. Two guesses who.

In the end, I’d say read it! It’s fun, and quick, and if you love NYC, or if you want to love NYC or if you have no idea what it’s like to have problems like the wealthy do (raising my hand) it’s like getting a glimpse inside a life you will never know. But again, don’t expect too much. Just fun! (You could argue that the big themes are money and power, but I really, really think there is more to it than that like love, so much love. Good and bad. But you know, you can argue with me if you want to.)

2. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Shit you guys, I’ve been putting this one off. Like I started it a few years back, when it first came out and people we’re talking about it all good and saying things like, “Find out how people really live in the Rust Belt” and that sort of thing. Julie heard about it too, but never read it. We had both opted for Tara Westover’s Educated in lieu of this book, and we were both like, “Yeah, that was a good decision.” But because we wanted a book we all at least knew about to start off book club, we went with Hillbilly Elegy. And it did give us a lot to talk about, namely how it was kinda bad, in the grand scheme of things.

I have to be honest here, when I first read the title, the whole title, I was a little like, hmmm. The claim that he could write a memoir of a whole culture kinda didn’t sit with me well. I’m a CNF writer, y’all know this, and yet I would never claim to write a memoir of an entire culture, because well, I don’t think it can be done. A history, sure. A anthropological examination, yeah. But a memoir? Mmmm. Again, fight me if you want to.

So right away I flipped to the back of the book to see his picture, and I didn’t like him. I know, I know, that’s fucked Missy. But I just got this really uppity vibe from him, and it only got worse. Like in introduction he basically humble brags the whole time. Oh, poor J.D. he joined the Marines and became very successful, then poor J.D. got into Yale Law School. Oh, poor J.D. got out of this cycle of poverty, aggression, and fear, and is now living in San Fran with his wife and two doggies, talking shit on his hometown. Oh, poor J.D. Seriously, I’m maybe not the best person to talk about this book.

BUT the actual memoir part, his life growing up in his family, was pretty compelling. It was more the stereotyping and political shit that I didn’t like. Especially the way he would suggest the problems, but have no solutions to them. Typical Republican, if you ask me. But I’ll let you figure that out on your own.

When I posted this to my FB account on Book Club night, with my beautiful charcuterie board I made to accompany our first meeting, I had some people who actually live in this area, the Kentucky/Ohio/Pennsylvania Rust Belt area, comment to tell me that they HATE him there. So that kinda made me happy. Cause they should. Should you read it? Sure. Yeah. It’s an “important” book, to some people. Or you know, skip. Read Educated instead. Or The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Janesville, maybe, by Amy Goldstein, or even Heartland, by Sarah Smarsh.

Oh, but I did just see that there is a book out tilted: Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy and that book IS on my list.

3. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

I legit just found out this is being made into a movie, or was already made into a movie, or a series, or something. I only found out because when I was looking for this pic to steal from the internet it took me a long time to find the copy I read, because there is a new, fancier one out with the movie people. Then I got sidetracked, but not enough to learn about what is actually happening, just enough to be all, “The hell?! I just read it, give me a few years before I see the movie.” But in reality, I’m actually super pumped about the movie, cause even though I didn’t think I’d like it, I did.

This is a classic detective novel, which if you’re like me, you’re all what? Why? Hear me out, there is a very interesting character, well cast of characters, in this novel, mainly Lionel the “Human freakshow” who is an orphan with Tourettes Syndrome. For real.

This is ANOTHER book set in NYC, around real places that you may recognize, though to be fair, this is a seedier NYC, than what most of us are used to. But it is still really fun, and still the city plays such a lively part that you are sucked into it immediately.

The storyline is just complex enough for you to be all, “Wait, did I miss something?” and then figure out what you missed, then get back on track. It’s fun because Lionel is telling the story, but we are often taken off track into his actual mind, the one riddled with Tourette’s. It takes a few tries before you’re like, oh I get it. At least it did for me. Better readers might not need that extra time. That being said, it isn’t the world’s most complex story (see detective story above) but there are some common themes to work with, and some surprises that will keep you being like, “The hell, man?!” I’d actually be willing to read more from Lethem.

There you have it, my not so helpful review of books. But come on, you guys don’t come here for my real thoughts on literary shit, you come here for the fart jokes and country music references. And that’s why I love you.

On deck for book club this month is Crossing to Safety, another oldie that slipped by me, by all of us actually, and I’m super psyched for it. I’m also reading, How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster, because some of my high school English teacher friends live and die by it, and I wanted to see what it was all about. So far, so good! Not a lot of new stuff, but he’s insightful and funny as hell, and I’m finding that I’m teaching Jackson (and Jerimiah) some of the “tricks of the trade” as it were, by using his examples. I can see why high school teachers (and students) love it!

So I dunno, go forth and read today. And no judging on what you read, as long as you don’t judge me either, assholes.

M.

PS… Book club is on the last Friday of the month, come join us for wine and maybe talking about the book!

It’s Book Club Time!

Oh my goodness, do you guys remember like forever ago when I wrote about my secret desire to be part of a book club, but that I just knew that I would never be invited into one because I suck so hard?! Remember I called it Book Clurb because I was putting extra Rs in words to annoy my husband at the time? Okay, well guess what?! No, I wasn’t invited into a book club. Sad face. I started my own! Eek! Okay now before you are all, “Jesus Missy, this won’t end well.” Listen to what actually, for real happened.

First of all, at the beginning of the school year I met this friend named Julie outside the walker line at Jackson’s school. Not to be confused with THAT Julie. She cray. This Julie is legit, and nice, and totally, usually, up for whatever. So Cool Julie (who also has an MA in English) was all, “I’ve been thinking about trying to start like a book club or something.” And you know I tapped into that shit hard! I played it cool at first, I was all, “Hmm, I book club. I don’t know. I mean, do people read anymore?” And she was all, “I think so. I mean I do.” I looked toward the ground and pretended like I was unimpressed. “Sure, sure,” I countered, “But like what do you read?” And she proceeded to tell me some books and I fell in actual love with her.

Fast forward a couple of months and we have a book picked out, “Hillbilly Elegy” one of those ones we were always meaning to get around to one day, and a couple of people in the club. Full transparency, one of the people is my husband, BUT, he said he wanted to read more this year and in January we read a book together, “The Nest” and had our own mini-book club and it worked well, so there’s that. Also, read “The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, especially if you love New York City, or family dysfunction, or various POVs. Good stuff.

Even fuller transparency, we are holding it at my house mid-month, we have very little rules other than we all have to be reading the same book, and you know I am gonna make a Charcuterie Board (and you know I can!) and have plenty of wine on hand. So if we actually get around to reading and talking about the book, cool. If not, that’s cool too. Either way I will let you know how it goes. And if anyone wants to join now is your chance! There is only one spot left if I stick to my original plan… Five. Five is a good number.

Cheers to reading!

M.