When family is formed a bridging of stories happens and new ones are created. Religion, geography, economic status and cultural practices are threads woven by generational experience. Moments captured, retold, repressed and remembered are viewed differently by family members. Truth and fiction intermingle in how we see ourselves and others in the family story. This issue of Bookisshh considers works within which family is at play and challenges the idea that family is always a good and cozy sort of thing. For our non-fiction picks, we’re looking at a book about screen addiction and the business of keeping us hooked and a Black Lives Matter memoir from a founding mother of the movement. In a new feature, My Reading Life, I’m sharing my effort toward being an expansive reader. I’m taking on The Reading Women’s reading challenge. Rapping up, we’re unboxing another box subscription, this time exploring a curated reading experience provided by Capsule Books. Enjoy!
The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
En route to becoming an international best seller, The Perfect Nanny” by Leila Slimani delivers to readers a dark and twisted tale during which a seemingly perfect and innocent nanny plagues the very household she so adores. In other words, she loves them to death.
Slimani, a Moroccan/French Muslim woman bears many gifts and talents and endorses the sanctity of family. Within this narrative, the author makes a deep and biting comment regarding outsourcing for child care and other domestic responsibilities and it’s erosive effect on individuals and families. Readers spend their time witnessing the nanny sweep in, take over, create order, and when the parents are away it’s an entirely different story. Readers also witness how awkward the nanny is in the presence of onlookers peeking into the family bubble, and conversely, the contrast of the pathetic existence she lives while off the job–crummy apartment, loss of loved ones, debt beyond payment. The truth is, that the parents don’t ever want to know because the sacrifice affects the status quo too dramatically.
Other considerations made within The Perfect Nanny are race as it relates to the hiring practices of the upwardly mobile as well as the legal and ethical corners they cut. Do people hire their own kind thinking they’d bring needed authenticity due to absent parenting? Or do they avoid their own kind in order to not be judged by tradition or guilted into favors guiltily influenced by abandoning tradition? What tradition weighs more greatly in an era of evolving people? Further, Slimani brings to dichotomy in the necessity for two-income families vs working to be free of childcare and the low status of choosing domestic life. Slimani asks readers to consider accepting the often boring and exhausting aspects of home life. Readers are left wondering if absentee parenting is worth the losses. The takeaway: do background checks and if your eyebrow does lift while reading The Perfect Nanny then stay home and do it yourself.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Marie Machado
Nominated as a National Book Award Finalist is Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Marie Machado a very up and come author! Eight short stories are shared in this collection populated by weird, wild, wily and willful women.
Using lush prose while stabbing readers with impending human doom, lost relationships, personal violations and artistic struggle within stories that twist and writhe until resolved. In terms of character, Machado’s stories all center around different women coping with being big, single, old, faded, solitary, coupled, successful and average.
Machado demonstrates her range of writing style. She rolls her author dice and face up is writing that is a little sci-fi, dystopian and straight ahead literary. Themes she explores are: eating disorders, fashion’s drain on women, corrective surgery and it’s impact, breaking with traditional female roles, colonization and its undermining of freedom, television’s hunger for more, worse and better, a world without men and porn’s role in a person’s life. Machado uses a condensed season of Law and Order to demonstrate to readers how characters have lives beyond the moments we view them and that so too do people that other parts of us act, react and enact trying to win over trauma and control dramas.
My favorite story, Real Women Have Bodies implements some of the most clever narrative devices I have seen. Machado creates the premise that women are disappearing–literally fading away into nothingness and one designer can capture them before they do and sew them into beautiful dresses that make viewers see them as the elegant beauties who formerly donned them. It’s brilliant and some of the most visual writing I’ve ever experienced.
Every role a woman can play in life is shared here. Mother, daughter, sister, lover, friend, wife, designer, risk-taker, decider. Women are gender fluid at times which brings to consideration how women are actually defined and the rigidity this definition may entail for some. Machado is clearly ready for novel length work and I will be ready to crack it open once it becomes available.
Far From The Tree by Robin Benway
There are many ways to create a family and adoption is one of them. For as many ways there are equally as many experiences, opinions and truths on behalf of all family members. Some of them are lovely and sustaining while for others tragic and hopeless and some a little bit of everything.
This is the story of three biological siblings, separated from one another who through the effort of one of them come together and help each other struggle through their hearts and challenging family stories.
Robin Benway goes the distance in exploring the hearts and souls of these three teenagers and their experiences with adoption. Further, the author examines adoption from multiple points of view as adoptive and biological parents in addition to adoptive and biological children. No thought is spared except the graphic content regarding abuse which often occurs in the foster system.
Far From the Tree is slanted toward the positive experience of adoption regardless of the bumps in a child’s life which can occur she confides in limited narration. At times it hinges on ideal but the dialogue between characters is rich and deep and can serve as a good example as kids individuate from their families and begin assembling ones of their own, first through friendship, then relationship and then long term official commitment.
Girls Burn Brighter by Shoba Rao
A searing, electrifying debut novel set in India and America, about a once-in-a-lifetime friendship between two girls who are driven apart but never stop trying to find one another again.
Shoba Rao gracefully narrates the painful stories of Poornima and Savitha, friends, sisters, daughters and women oppressed by atrocious socio-cultural practices within their homeland extending to America which isn’t as free and safe as they hoped yet still worthy of their escape to. The writing is carefully woven with a strong appreciation of landscape description. Characters are complex and reduced to base survival and caste entrapment as sickly behaviors between men and oppressed women result. No one is spared ill behavior—not women, children, elderly, or the affluent. Though there are times when charity is naively issued and in passing fancy. “Girls Burn Brighter” requires brave reading and a willingness to witness shameful truths. It does not guarantee a happy ending but then again neither does life.
Irresistible: The Rise Of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter (Non-Fiction)
Parents look to experts to define and solve problems. A popular concern today is screen behavior–amount of time, quality approach, literacy, and addiction. Alter attempts to do most of these things on this laundry list, but unfortunately is thin on a balanced approach. Taking the book in thirds, the first section which dominates the page count is devoted to heroin addiction. Alter fleshes out heroin addiction and attributes much of it to Vietnam and veterans whose well being was near shattered as employees for their government. He then uses the behavior patterns as a template for understanding addiction itself and transitions to gaming addiction. Too little emphasis on gaming and social media addiction. Theories of causation outweigh solutions and/or treatment. A reference to Louis CK and his view of the problem with social media blunts any credible argument Alter makes and the book’s conclusion counteracts the necessity for writing this book. History doesn’t stop so let’s look to and prepare for the future and have fun while we ruin the planet and ourselves. Technology can and will make us healthy if we program it to. Alter doesn’t explore the unreasonable standards enhanced by social media. He does demonstrate what gaming addiction looks like and where one can go for help. He glosses over shopping and how internet promotes excessive spending and personal inadequacy. More work and distinction is needed in these areas. A good endeavor but a mediocre execution however not a bad place to start to initiate this kind of thinking.
When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullor and Asha Bandele
For this reader this work demonstrates to readers of what it means to assert that Black Lives Matter. It is the portrait of Patrisse’s life as she strives for purpose, survival, love and comfort while helping other Black community members discover, connect and affirm that their lives, their Black lives, matter too. Kahn-Cullors patches together the pieces—people, organizers and organizations which came together to birth, enforce and sustain a movement on behalf of Black lives.
The author provides readers with names, dates, stories, episodes, reactions both individual and collective to startling truths supported by shameful statistics collected and hoarded by US government and institutions. Her writing is peaceful and her recommendations are non-violent. She is NOT anti-white and is deeply committed to inclusion of all Black, LGTBTQ and mentally ill persons in her effort to sustain and advance Black lives.
While a book such as this may potentially disquiet some, it is this reader who witnesses and supports a necessary conversation and even more a necessary change. There are a few structural loose ends and details that could benefit further vetting, but it doesn’t work against her central purpose—showing how Black lives are affected by politics, structural and institutional historic racism, that they matter and how a movement was born in light of this. I look forward to witnessing Khan-Cullors’ voice resound as the fight for equity cycles forward!
New feature alert! My Reading Life
My Reading Life features things I do to enhance my reading experience. This issue of Bookisshh explores a reading challenge, a free traveling library and a seasonal box subscription. Enjoy!
For 2018, I’m experimenting with The Reading Women challenge. The Reading Women is featured on most platforms where people consume media, but I discovered them as a podcast. Their mission is simple: read and discuss books written by or about women. The challenge adds up to 2 books a month plus a bonus of reading a book by the hosts cherished authors, Virginia Woolf and Flannery O’Connor. The challenge featured in this issue of Bookisshh is to read a graphic novel or memoir. The book featured in this challenge is provided by The Book Ship Project, a website and social media based library in which you can sign up, browse, request and for free receive a book in the mail with a few other fun items. Adding a challenge to my reading life has kept me from slumping and inspired me to stay hungry in my search for meaningful stories which explore and express the greater truths in our world.
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
The first graphic novel I’ve read since the Maus series. It’s about a quirky friendship between two young pre-college women who are like shadow versions of Betty and Veronica from the antiquated comic Archie. The friendship is an honest view of what women can share: fashion exploits, reflective talks over diner coffee, lusts and crushes, future planning without apology for a picture that is less than conventional. It is quietly comedic and reminds of the animated series, Daria which brought me back to my earlier years when I was embracing values and creating my own sense of politics. Keener aspects are the surrogate roles women can serve for one another as they rise toward independence: mother, sister, daughter, partner. Neither character is defined as gay but a moment suggests the possibility and it concludes more as an understanding of the emotional depth of their friendship and that crossing over isn’t a necessary requirement to being close. The ending isn’t happy and as I’ve matured as a reader and thinker I find this most interesting and honest in a narrative. Our lives are no less meaningful if the lists aren’t checked, the houses not large and immaculate, our bodies cellulite and wrinkle free, our children en route to Harvard. Our stories whether they be told in graphic novels or plain text should reflect how we get through the complications and keep on going, and Ghost World does just this and I’m glad the generations who read this as a natural consequence of their diet will find comfort in knowing this truth. Who’d a thought a simple challenge could bring me here and I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now and tomorrow.
Read how you feel is a central principle to the curated 3 book reading experience crafted by Capsule Books. Capsule Books runs a seasonal subscription and offers three capsule/box choices for readers. This winter theme options included: Frozen Over, Alone At A Party, and Roar Of The Fire. I purchased the box themed: Alone At A Party. The box came with three books (covers pictured below), a wonderful and thoughtful letter guiding readers to read the books in specific order and the curator’s rationale for selection and takeaway from reading the books. Well, one book into the capsule and they GOT ME! Though I’m friendly, talkative, sensitive and considered funny by some, I am lonely and have struggled with friendship. The first book in this collection brought a joyful experience to reasons why and how to ride the loneliness rollercoaster when confronted by it’s paralyzing effect. I’m savoring this experience and am about to dig into the second book (middle in picture) so follow this feature to see how this capsule has an expansive effect on me. The 3rd book is poetry and in every box one of the three is. The abstract nature of poetry allows us to check in with ourselves and the sense of status quo both within and without. This is like the last moments of yoga, when we rest, breath and commit to being different than when we first walked in to class. What’s an experience without sharing it further. This in mind, the curators provide a post-marked blank envelope and blank card to send a note and quiet advertisement to someone you think can enjoy the experience too. Ask yourself, “Did Betsy send this to me?” The answer might be yes!
While your box works for you it works for others! With each capsule purchase one book is donated to the International Book Bank. So the reciprocity and magic of reading becomes a wider shared and charitable experience. It doesn’t get better than this. My first book review is below!
Haroun And The Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie (1st of 3 Capsule Books)
A timeless tale written by Rushdie for his son on the heels of his exile leaving him behind. It is the story of family breakdown and how it resonates with each member. It’s the story of the journeys we go on literal and metaphorically in order to sustain our comfort and families. Written for younger minds but appropriate for adults, Rushdie builds a world under siege by the looming shadows of silence and depression. At times the book feels like, Where The Wild Things Are, Oh The Places You’ll Go, The Phantom Tollbooth and A Wrinkle In Time. Additionally, there are references to the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour. How this overlaps the theme of being alone at a party is that main character Haroun is in this other world, on a mission and is terribly alone and discovers his tools not to be paralyzed by awareness of his sole presence. The metaphors work on an archetypal level and the amount of visualization folded into them submerges readers and allows them to work in deeper parts of their psyche. Yes a book can do thise. Rushdie wanted his son to read his stories and return to his father and be home with him wherever he may be protecting him and his family by being absent. When I came out the other side of this tale I was invigorated. I look forward to seeing what the next books will illicit. Stay tuned…