Friday 56 – Seriously…I’m Kidding

seriously i'm kidding

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

Today’s quote is from Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres. This book is hysterical and random!

I once went into work and showed some producers a little bruise I got. The next thing I knew it was like Girls Gone Wild in my office. People were lifting up their shirts, rolling up their pants. Socks were coming off. “you think that’s bad – I walked into a tree yesterday!” “I banged my hip on a car door!” “I sat on a fork!” Don’t need to see it.

This is one of my reads for Pride Month, and the review should be up in a few days!

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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’.

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: The Clothesline Swing

clothesline swingThe Clothesline Swing
Ahmad Danny Ramadan
Fictional Memoir?
288 pages
Published April 2017

I had to force myself to finish this book. It was okay at the beginning – I was hoping it would get better, and it did not. The Clothesline Swing is the the story of two gay Syrian refugees. It’s an interesting framework; the narrator, one of the two, is telling stories to his husband to keep him in the world of the living. (The husband is dying from an unnamed illness.) There’s a catch, though – Death is also with them, as an actual presence that can be talked to and interacted with. He smokes a joint with the narrator at one point, and tells stories of his own – even plans a party – at another point. The story flicks back and forth between their past and their present with some unpredictability as the narrator tells his stories.

Because of the presence of Death, and the kind of hazy, in-between space that the stories reside in (between life and death, between awake and asleep, between fantasy and reality), the entire book is a little dream-like. I don’t particularly enjoy ever-shifting books that don’t have some kind of solid foundation for me to start on.

The book did a good job of showing the dangers of being gay in middle-eastern society, and also showed how hard it is to be a citizen of a country at war with itself. The list of friends who have died in violent ways is threaded through the entire book of stories. She was caught in a crossfire in an alley – he killed himself after being forced to marry a woman – he died when his office was shelled – she died from a car bomb.

I don’t know. It’s a strange book. I’m hesitant to say don’t waste your time, because it covers important topics, but the dreamy quality just ruined it for me.

Ramadan is a Syrian refugee living in British Columbia, making this book part of my Read Canadian Challenge. It’s also my pick for “book about death or mourning” for the Popsugar 2018 challenge, and “unconventional romance” for the Litsy Booked Challenge.

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. this book!
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of The Clothesline Swing:

The Clothesline Swing is a journey through the troublesome aftermath of the Arab Spring. A former Syrian refugee himself, Ramadan unveils an enthralling tale of courage that weaves through the mountains of Syria, the valleys of Lebanon, the encircling seas of Turkey, the heat of Egypt and finally, the hope of a new home in Canada.

Inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, The Clothesline Swing tells the epic story of two lovers anchored to the memory of a dying Syria. One is a Hakawati, a storyteller, keeping life in forward motion by relaying remembered fables to his dying partner. Each night he weaves stories of his childhood in Damascus, of the cruelty he has endured for his sexuality, of leaving home, of war, of his fated meeting with his lover. Meanwhile Death himself, in his dark cloak, shares the house with the two men, eavesdropping on their secrets as he awaits their final undoing.

Book Review: Dust Tracks on a Road

dust tracks on a roadDust Tracks on a Road
by Zora Neale Hurston
Autobiography/Memoir
300 pages
Originally Published 1942 (my copy published in the 90s, with a foreword by Maya Angelou.)

This is my last review specifically for Black History Month, though I still have some African American books to read and review – a book about the African Americans who have served in the White House kitchens, and a book about Southern Food Culture, among others.

Zora Neale Hurston’s most famous work is Their Eyes Were Watching God, which I read in high school – and hated. I also strongly disliked The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, and unfortunately I have blended the two in my mind so much that I can’t remember what I hated about which book. I think it was The Color Purple that was written in a strong vernacular, but I’m not positive of that. It was twenty years ago!

Anyway. So I knew I didn’t like her fiction, but memoirs can be very different from fiction so I thought I’d give this a go. I didn’t hate this. But I didn’t like it, either. Hurston rambles from one subject to the next, going into so much imaginative detail at times that I have to skip back to pick up the line of actual story again. She has some questionable ideas about racial discrimination, seeming to ignore the idea of institutional racism, and dismissing the notion that white people are responsible for what their ancestors did. Or at least that individuals – even individuals as closely related as grandchildren – could be held individually responsible for their slave-owning grandparents. She even trotted out the “I wasn’t even born then, how could I be responsible?” that is the cry of many white people today who deny their privilege.

Maya Angelou, in her foreword, mentions this briefly – that Hurston had lived through race riots, and Jim Crow, but doesn’t mention any unpleasant racial incidents in her book, which is very odd. She does mention one – but it’s perpetrated by a black man, when he comes into the barber shop/salon that Hurston worked at and demanded to be served. (Only white people were served at this particular shop, but the owner had another shop uptown that served black people.) Hurston largely takes a stand against the black customer, complaining that had they served him, the owner (another black man) would have been driven out of business, and all his black employees with him, so how dare the customer value equality over all those jobs? Which is a decent point, but ignores that it’s white people that would have wrongly put them out of business for the so-called crime.

I was very disappointed that Hurston never really talked about the Jim Crow era in her book. I would have liked to see that from her perspective. I do think I’d like to read more memoirs from that era, as Hurston makes it seem largely peaceful and happy. And I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.

It’s an interesting book, but it seems Hurston is at least a slightly unreliable narrator. So take that into account if you read it, and remember it was published in the 1940s, so the way she talks about the “primitive Negro” and the ease with which she tosses around the N word (including from white people) is a product of its time.

This is my PopSugar 2018 Challenge pick for the prompt “an author from a different ethnicity than you.”

From the cover of Dust Tracks on a Road:

First published in 1942 at the crest of her popularity as a writer, this is Zora Neale Hurston’s imaginative and exuberant account of her rise from childhood poverty in the rural South to a prominent place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. The very personal, perhaps larger-than-life portrait that Hurston paints of herself offers a rare, poignant, and often audacious glimpse of the public and private persona of a very public and private artist, writer, anthropologist, and champion of black heritage. Dust Tracks on a Road is a book full of the wit and wisdom of a proud and spirited woman who started off low and climbed high: “I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows with a harp and a sword in my hands.”

Book Review: The Last Black Unicorn

blackunicornThe Last Black Unicorn
by Tiffany Haddish
Comedy/Memoir
276 pages
Published December 2017

I’ve been wanting to read this book ever since I saw Haddish’s interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. This woman is HILARIOUS. Somehow I didn’t realize she was in the movie Girls Night until I read about it in her book – I really do need to see that movie. That aside, this book was pretty great. It’s written in her speaking style, so it’s not technically correct grammar, but it SOUNDS right, which is more important in a memoir, in my opinion. It’s supposed to show the author’s personality, and this does.

I don’t know that I’d put this on quite the same level as Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime, or Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy, but it’s not far behind them. Haddish talks about her childhood in the foster system and then raised by her grandmother, her string of no-good boyfriends, and her abusive marriage. She’s had a rough life, but somehow she’s come out of it with a gift for comedy and a grounded personality.

Her swamp tour with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith is one of the most hilarious stories in the book, and one of the few that is purely funny. Most of them are underscored with a serious issue that make me feel a little bad for laughing at them, but Haddish laughs at them, so how can you not? It’s an interesting conflict that leaves me with slightly mixed feelings about the book.

It’s a pretty quick, easy, fun read, and if you like Tiffany Haddish, it definitely shows what she’s gone through to get where she is now.

From the cover of The Last Black Unicorn:

From stand-up comedian, actress, and breakout star of Girls Trip, Tiffany Haddish, comes The Last Black Unicorn, a sidesplitting, hysterical, edgy, and unflinching collection of (extremely) personal essays, as fearless as the author herself.

Growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, Tiffany learned to survive by making people laugh. If she could do that, then her classmates would let her copy their homework, the other foster kids she lived with wouldn’t beat her up, and she might even get a boyfriend. Or at least she could make enough money—as the paid school mascot and in-demand Bar Mitzvah hype woman—to get her hair and nails done, so then she might get a boyfriend.

None of that worked (and she’s still single), but it allowed Tiffany to imagine a place for herself where she could do something she loved for a living: comedy.

Tiffany can’t avoid being funny—it’s just who she is, whether she’s plotting shocking, jaw-dropping revenge on an ex-boyfriend or learning how to handle her newfound fame despite still having a broke person’s mind-set. Finally poised to become a household name, she recounts with heart and humor how she came from nothing and nowhere to achieve her dreams by owning, sharing, and using her pain to heal others.

By turns hilarious, filthy, and brutally honest, The Last Black Unicorn shows the world who Tiffany Haddish really is—humble, grateful, down-to-earth, and funny as hell. And now, she’s ready to inspire others through the power of laughter.