Book Review: Pretending To Be Normal

pretending to be normal aspergerPretending To Be Normal (Expanded Edition)
by Liane Holliday Willey
Memoir
190 pages
Published 2014

First off, once again this is an older book that uses the term Asperger’s throughout. The book was originally published in 1999, but a few more chapters were added and it was republished in 2014.

Honestly I found it a little hard to get through. Unlike Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, it was pretty much entirely memoir, and didn’t really speak to the reader as if trying to have a conversation at all. It just told Willey’s story. Which is fine, it just wasn’t what I was expecting after reading Nerdy. The appendices are the only place that have tips and tricks for dealing with the neurotypical world as an autistic person, but there wasn’t really anything new or unique there.

I also just don’t think I like her writing style as much as I did the writing style in Nerdy, but that’s such a personal thing. It’s hard to make a recommendation based on that. Autistic people vary so widely in where their strengths and weaknesses are that it’s difficult to say which books will be useful to which people, in general.

So – it’s worth reading for yet another viewpoint on being autistic, and there are several parts on parenting as an autistic woman, so autistic parents might get more use out of the book than I did, as a childless spouse of an autistic man. But I did not like it nearly as much as Nerdy or The Journal of Best Practices.

From the cover of Pretending To Be Normal:

Compelling and witty, Liane Holliday Willey’s account of growing to adulthood as an undiagnosed ‘Aspie’ has been read by thousands of people on and off the autism spectrum since it was first published in 1999. Bringing her story up to date, including her diagnosis as an adult, and reflecting on the changes in attitude over 15 years, this expanded edition will continue to entertain (and inform) all those who would like to know a little more about how it feels to spend your life `pretending to be normal’.

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Book Review: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

tolstoy purple chairTolstoy and the Purple Chair
by Nina Sankovitch
Memoir
236 pages
Published 2011

So first off, can we talk about this cover? I want this chair so bad. Though the purple chair the author actually sits in to read is nowhere near this pretty, from her description of it. I haven’t got a good reading chair yet; I have one corner of a couch, next to a bookshelf, that is my current favored reading spot (reading lamp, blanket, and end table included). But eventually I will find myself the perfect reading chair and make myself a nook.

That aside. The premise of this book is the author trying to come to terms with the death of her older sister, who she idolized. Her sister died of cancer, so they knew it was happening, but it was still a shock when she passed. For a few years, Nina pushes her grief aside and throws herself into being busy, but she eventually decides to full process she’s going to dedicate a year to reading a book every single day. She reasons that at her reading speed, she can reasonably finish a 300 page-ish book each day, giving herself time before her sons get up, while they’re at school, and after everyone else goes to bed.

I saw one reviewer mention Nina’s unrecognized privilege, and it’s true. Nina is very privileged. She can afford not to work, and not to worry too much about chores, cooking, and the general running of a home. Her sons and husband all seem fairly self-sufficient, and her husband’s job keeps them quite well, it seems. (I don’t even want to think about how much the Christmas tree she describes actually cost, considering it reaches the chandelier hanging from the second-floor ceiling.)

But the book is about the books she reads, not how privileged she is. And in that respect I quite liked it. Her criteria for picking books are that she can’t have read them before, though they can be authors she’s read before, no author could be read more than once, and she had to review every book she read. There’s a list in the back of the book of every book she read during the year. I’ve only read three of the books she read in that year: Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred. All fantasy, of course, and none of which she actually mentioned in the text of the book! (I’ve also read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which she mentions in the beginning of the book, but wasn’t part of her year of reading.)

I love the way she talks about the books she reads. She relates them to her life, or her father’s memories of World War II. She draws lessons from the stories, and does, in time, begin to heal from her sister’s death. The way she talks about reading, and her books, really struck a chord with me, and I think I’m going to buy myself a copy of this book. I want to refer back to it when I’m feeling uninspired with my reviews, and this might be a book I re-read often to encourage me to dive deeper into my books.

This is my pick for PopSugar’s 2018 prompt “favorite color in the title” and I think it’s also going on my personal Best of 2018 list. I just loved it that much. It’s not a “I have to tell everyone about this and encourage everyone to read it!” kind of book. It’s more a “this really touched on a deep passion of mine and has words I’ll carry with me going forward” kind of book. It was just lovely.

From the cover of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair:

Nina Sankovitch has always been a reader. As a child, she discovered that a trip to the local bookmobile with her sisters was more exhilarating than a ride at the carnival. Books were the glue that held her immigrant family together. When Nina’s eldest sister died at the age of forty-six, Nina turned to books for comfort, escape, and introspection. In her beloved purple chair, she rediscovered the magic of such writers as Toni Morrison, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ian McEwan, Edith Wharton, and, of course, Leo Tolstoy. Through the connections Nina made with books and authors (and even other readers), her life changed profoundly, and in unexpected ways. Reading, it turns out, can be the ultimate therapy.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair also tells the story of the Sankovitch family: Nina’s father, who barely escaped death in Belarus during World War II; her four rambunctious children, who offer up their own book recommendations while helping out with the cooking and cleaning; and Anne-Marie, her oldest sister and idol, with whom Nina shared the pleasure of books, even in her last moments of life. In our lightning-paced culture that encourages us to seek more, bigger, and better things, Nina’s daring journey shows how we can deepen the quality of our everyday lives – if we only find the time.

Book Review: Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate

nerdy shy socially inappropriate asperger autismNerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate: A User Guide to an Asperger Life
by Cynthia Kim
Nonfiction
240 pages
Published 2014

I’ve been picking up books on Autism since we realized my husband was on the spectrum, in hopes of finding tools to help us manage daily life. He’s too busy with school and work to do much reading these days, so I’ve been doing the research and bringing it to him to discuss. It’s led to some enlightening conversations and we’ve both learned a lot about each other. Cynthia Kim’s blog was one I pored over and read parts of to him, and I finally got her book from my library.

One of the things I noticed most was she details social rules in ways I never would have thought to do – she has a list of seven very specific rules for eye contact, for example. As an allistic person, most of those rules are things I do instinctively, without even really knowing the reason for them. Like, in conversation, looking up or to the side means you’re thinking, looking down means you’re done talking. I read that to my husband and he jumped in, surprised, with “so THAT’S why I get interrupted so much!” I never would have thought to codify that into words, but it’s something I naturally do.

She talks about meltdowns vs shutdowns, which are things we’ve already learned the difference between with my husband, but we’re both eager for strategies to avoid, mitigate, and recover from them. She gave some strategies as places to start, but that’s hard to give general advice on as every autistic is so very different in that regard.

The chapter on alexithymia was really interesting. Alexithymia being an impairment in identifying and describing emotions. It leads to a lot of “Hey, are you okay?” “I don’t know.” “Well, how do you feel?” “I DON’T KNOW!” We’d already been introduced to this concept through her blog, but she expands on it in the book.

Another interesting (and applicable!) chapter was the one on executive dysfunction. (We joke that I am my husband’s personal assistant – I keep his calendar and remind him of important dates/events/homework due dates, and sometimes nudge him to do things if it seems he’s having trouble getting started.)

Kim uses the term Asperger’s in her writing (as well as autism), but Asperger’s has been rolled into the greater Autism Spectrum Disorder since 2013. Very recently there’s been some debate about the Asperger name, as it’s been revealed that Hans Asperger at least cooperated with the Nazis, and possibly was one himself. It’s still used commonly, though, and there is a large community built around being Aspies. Personally, I think using the Asperger term is a little too divisive – it’s basically the same as “high-functioning.” But. I’m allistic and my opinion on the matter isn’t the important one, so. We use autistic for my husband. (His choice, and when I asked his thoughts, he also thinks the Asperger term is divisive and not useful.) There’s a number of Twitter threads and articles on the subject of using or not using the Asperger term, and what it means to the community.

Overall, this was a really great book for learning about how autism affects day-to-day life, and gave us lots of talking points and words for things we didn’t have the vocabulary for. I’m looking forward to tackling the rest of my Autism Reading List.

From the cover of Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate:

Cynthia Kim explores all the quirkyness of living with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) in this accessible, witty and honest guide looking from an insider perspective at some of the most challenging and intractable aspects of being autistic. Her own life presents many rich examples. From being labelled nerdy and shy as an undiagnosed child to redefining herself when diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome as an adult, she describes how her perspective shifted to understanding a previously confusing world and combines this with the results of extensive research to explore the ‘why’ of ASD traits. She explains how they impact on everything from self-care to holding down a job and offers typically practical and creative strategies to help manage them, including a section on the vestibular, sensory and social benefits of martial arts for people with autism.

Well known in the autism community and beyond for her popular blog, Musings of an Aspie, Cynthia Kim’s book is rich with personal anecdotes and useful advice. This intelligent insider guide will help adults with ASDs and their partners, family members, friends, and colleagues, but it also provides a fresh and witty window onto a different worldview.

Book Review: The Notorious R.B.G.

notorious rbgNotorious R.B.G.
by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
Biography
195 pages
Published 2015

This was EXCELLENT. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of my feminist heroes (I have a long list, with biographies I should read!) and this book is great. It’s VERY easy to read, and was never less than fascinating. It includes some of her dissents, with commentary for the layperson written by various lawyers. There are photos of her at various points in her life; her face now is so familiar that seeing pictures of her as a young lawyer was really neat.

The only thing I didn’t like was that it’s not completely linear; there’s a chapter about her 56-year-long marriage to Marty Ginsburg, ending with his death, and then the next chapter starts talking about Marty’s reaction to something! So that was slightly odd and I had to flip back a few pages to find the actual dates for what I was reading about now.

Other than that, though, the book was really interesting, and talks about the cases she argued before the Supreme Court before becoming a justice, her nomination and senate confirmation to the Court, and the cases she’s seen since becoming a justice. It talks about how Ruth and Marty balanced their work and home lives, in a way that was definitely not normal at the time; Marty was a full partner in parenting and housework, taking over all of the cooking and the 2 am infant feedings because it was easier for him to get back to sleep!

Overall, this was a really neat look into the life of one of the U.S.’s most prominent female figures right now. Justice Ginsburg has been a tireless fighter for equality for her entire career, and this book reveals some of her motivations and thought processes. I loved it.

(This is also my PopSugar 2018 selection for “Book by two authors.”)

From the cover of Notorious RBG:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame—she has only tried to make the world a little better and a little freer.

But nearly a half-century into her career, something funny happened to the octogenarian: she won the internet. Across America, people who weren’t even born when Ginsburg first made her name as a feminist pioneer are tattooing themselves with her face, setting her famously searing dissents to music, and making viral videos in tribute.

Notorious RBG, inspired by the Tumblr that amused the Justice herself and brought to you by its founder and an award-winning feminist journalist, is more than just a love letter. It draws on intimate access to Ginsburg’s family members, close friends, colleagues, and clerks, as well an interview with the Justice herself. An original hybrid of reported narrative, annotated dissents, rare archival photos and documents, and illustrations, the book tells a never-before-told story of an unusual and transformative woman who transcends generational divides. As the country struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stands as a testament to how far we can come with a little chutzpah.

Book Review: Tomboy Survival Guide

tomboy survival guideTomboy Survival Guide
by Ivan Coyote
Memoir
208 pages
Published 2016

This is the second book I read for my personal 24 in 48 challenge, and it was excellent. Ivan is a natural storyteller – each chapter flows seamlessly into the next, even though each is a separate vignette from their life, and they aren’t chronological. I was never confused about where in the timeline we were; it was just like they were sitting down telling stories about their life, and that naturally ebbs and flows as people are reminded of different things that have happened to them.

It’s not really fully clear whether Ivan is a transman, or simply non-binary, not that it should matter. They use they/them pronouns, and straddle the androgynous line enough that bathrooms and dressing rooms are a constant issue for them, one they touch on repeatedly through the book. Maybe if our bathrooms weren’t so binary-focused, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue when someone is gender-nonconforming!

The book moves between stories of Ivan’s childhood in small-town Canada, their realization they are attracted to women, their experiences in largely male-dominated career fields, and their actual career as an author and public speaker. They talk about how their own family has been supportive of their transition (mostly) and how other parents have written them letters asking how to be supportive of their non-cisgender children. There are scenes of strangers being supportive, and scenes of shocking discrimination and transphobia.

The book is, overall, excellent, and a good introductory look at the life of a non-binary person. Ivan has written several other books, and I definitely want to track down Gender Failure, which they co-wrote with another non-binary person about, well, gender failure!

Ivan Coyote is Canadian, making this one of my Read Canadian Challenge books.

My other Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. this book!
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of Tomboy Survival Guide:

Ivan Coyote is a celebrated storyteller and the author of ten previous books, including Gender Failure(with Rae Spoon) and One in Every Crowd, a collection for LGBT youth. Tomboy Survival Guide is a funny and moving memoir told in stories, in which Ivan recounts the pleasures and difficulties of growing up a tomboy in Canada’s Yukon, and how they learned to embrace their tomboy past while carving out a space for those of us who don’t fit neatly into boxes or identities or labels.

Ivan writes movingly about many firsts: the first time they were mistaken for a boy; the first time they purposely discarded their bikini top so they could join the boys at the local swimming pool; and the first time they were chastised for using the women’s washroom. Ivan also explores their years as a young butch, dealing with new infatuations and old baggage, and life as a gender-box-defying adult, in which they offer advice to young people while seeking guidance from others. (And for tomboys in training, there are even directions on building your very own unicorn trap.)

Tomboy Survival Guide warmly recounts Ivan’s adventures and mishaps as a diffident yet free-spirited tomboy, and maps their journey through treacherous gender landscapes and a maze of labels that don’t quite stick, to a place of self-acceptance and an authentic and personal strength. These heartfelt, funny, and moving stories are about the culture of difference—a “guide” to being true to one’s self.

Book Review: Fire and Fury

fireandfuryFire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
Michael Wolff
Political Documentary/Tell-All
310 pages
Published January 2018

It took me a while to get my hands on this one – I was watching the scandal around its release, and laughed my butt off when the publisher scorned Trump’s threats and published it early instead. My copy finally came in at the library, and I’ve been reading it off and on for the last couple of weeks. I normally read books far faster than that, and it’s not a long book, but I kept having to set it aside for numerous reasons.

It could have benefited from more thorough editing – between a couple of typos, some odd grammar, and a phrase being repeated twice in the same sentence (I think the sentence may have originally been broken across two pages, so no one realized, and then in the final formatting it was all together) – it definitely had some technical problems.

It was also just infuriating. Especially the beginning, where so many of the campaign staffers don’t think Trump SHOULD be president, but still campaign for him because it’s impossible that he could win, so what does it matter if they don’t think he should? That was incredibly frustrating to read.

Honestly there wasn’t a lot in this book that I didn’t already know, but I’ve been following politics pretty closely since early 2016. If you haven’t, and you’re looking for a good way to get up to date on current American politics, this could be a pretty good place to start. (Don’t stop at this book, though, there’s a lot that it doesn’t cover.)

I can’t say that anything really surprised me. Everything sounds like what I’ve come to expect from this administration. The book is decent, but anything terribly salacious from it has been pulled out and splashed across the news at this point, so if you’ve been paying attention, I don’t actually think it’s worth spending your time on. It’s certainly not the groundbreaking INSIDE LOOK THAT NO ONE’S SEEN HURRY AND READ IT that it was advertised as.

Incidentally, this works as a book title with alliteration for my PopSugar 2018 Reading Challenge.

From the cover of Fire and Fury:

With extraordinary access to the West Wing, Michael Wolff reveals what happened behind-the-scenes in the first nine months of the most controversial presidency of our time in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

Since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, the country―and the world―has witnessed a stormy, outrageous, and absolutely mesmerizing presidential term that reflects the volatility and fierceness of the man elected Commander-in-Chief.

This riveting and explosive account of Trump’s administration provides a wealth of new details about the chaos in the Oval Office, including:
— What President Trump’s staff really thinks of him
— What inspired Trump to claim he was wire-tapped by President Obama
— Why FBI director James Comey was really fired
— Why chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner couldn’t be in the same room
— Who is really directing the Trump administration’s strategy in the wake of Bannon’s firing
— What the secret to communicating with Trump is
— What the Trump administration has in common with the movie The Producers

Never before in history has a presidency so divided the American people. Brilliantly reported and astoundingly fresh, Fire and Fury shows us how and why Donald Trump has become the king of discord and disunion.