Category Archives: #CBR9

#CBR9 Review #32

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher

On my road trip, The Chancellor and I were able to enjoy a second Carrie Fisher memoir, Shockaholic. We both enjoyed Wishful Drinking so much that we hoped we could attain a similar listening experience with Shockaholic. And while I was disappointed to see some crossover in family stories, I was not disappointed by the overall product.

Fisher delves much more deeply into her mental health problems, her life with her stepdad, and her own father’s brief relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. She discusses Star Wars a bit, and she also explains the story of the time she briefly dated a Senator. Her daughter features in the narrative and seems, for all intents and purposes, like a great kid. It’s quite similar to Wishful Drinking, though the threads of the narrative are not quite as coherent.

I didn’t first know if I’d like this as I was listening to it, particularly because it doesn’t have the same neat trajectory as Wishful Drinking, and it repeats a few of the same stories. However, it does deal quite candidly with mental health issues, and Fisher’s own experience with ECT helps de-stigmatize the treatment, which is also important. Further, her chapter on Michael Jackson gave me a LOT to think about. She delves into her relationship with him and her observations on his parenting and life. It was a poignant chapter, and because she herself had been a celebrity child and young celebrity, I believe she understood more of his experience than other people could. This is also a fantastic listen on audiobook, and while it’s not as neatly written or packaged as Wishful Drinking, it’s highly worth the listen, in my opinion.

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#CBR9 Review #31

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher’s death was a huge blow to me in a year already plagued by so much devastation. I grew up watching Star Wars, and Princess Leia was a hero to me. I admired her grit, sarcasm, and determination. She showed me there were many ways to be a strong and successful woman. Fisher herself was no shrinking violet, either. Up till now, I hadn’t read her personal biographies, but I so admired her candor when dealing with body shamers during the press tour for The Force Awakens that I realized I should *probably* read her books at some point. Last weekend, The Chancellor and I took our annual trip to Louisville, where I go to an annual professional conference in my field. We requested several Carrie Fisher audiobooks (read by her) and had a rollicking good time.

Fisher unpacks her family and history in Wishful Drinking, starting with being the child of celebrities and growing up unusually. She discusses her parents’ divorce and her growing up in the limelight only to get a high-profile role in a film that changed her life young. She also discusses with incredible frankness her struggles with her bipolar disorder, her addictions, and her decision to receive electro-convulsion therapy to deal with her mental illness. Fisher is funny but blunt, and her voice is evocative and unique.

This book had me laughing, but listened to after Fisher’s death is also deeply melancholy. She discusses wanting her eulogy to be read as being strangled to death in moonlight by her own bra, which shows how very much of an offbeat person she was. She deconstructs the idea of celebrity and the glamor of a celebrity lifestyle with levity, which makes for an interesting, thought-provoking, and just plain enjoyable read.

One note: READ THE AUDIOBOOK! She reads it herself, and while it’s melancholy to hear her voice now that she’s gone, it’s totally worth the experience.

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#CBR9 Review #29

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

I never read the Baby-Sitters Club series as a kid (my mom was all about her kids reading classics and not paperbacks), so I missed out on that cultural phenomenon. I did know who Ann M. Martin was, and when I was browsing books at Barnes and Noble, I saw a new book of hers that was not at all Baby-Sitters Club-related. The book jacket description intrigued me, and I put in a hold at the library. I admit that while I have a soft spot for stories about Asperger’s individuals, this is absolutely a must-read for anyone.

Rose Howard has Asperger’s Syndrome. She is obsessed with homonyms (her name is absolutely a homonym), so much so that she gave her dog Rain (Reign, rein) a homonym name. She is not popular at school, but she doesn’t seem to notice that she does not have friends, because of Rain. Her father is trying to succeed, but struggles with her mother having left when she was two. When a huge storm threatens the safety of her town, Rain goes missing. Rose determines to find Rain, but to do so requires a kind of courage she has never known. She must leave the familiar paths of her life and forge into the unknown.

This is a beautiful and deeply moving story. Rose is a powerful protagonist for whom you cheer and wish to see succeed. Her voice is strong, and you can see inside her mind to understand how Asperger’s works. Her courage is remarkable, but it’s of the everyday, ordinary sort which is even more realistic. The quest narrative of searching for Rain is touching, as well, though if you are a weeper, you might want a Kleenex. This is a great story for kids and teens, as well as adults. I highly recommend it.

 

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#CBR9 Review #26-28

#26 In the Red and Brown Water

#27 The Brothers Size

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#28 Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Back in late 2016, The Chancellor and I had heard a growing amount of buzz for indie film Moonlight. We’d always intended to see it at one point or another, but the holidays brought in a rush of cramming in movies with my in-laws. January and early February meant a lot of cramming, too. We saw Hidden Figures when it came out, and then we squeezed in a matinee of Fences on a weeknight (a rare treat when you are a teacher!), and then we found Moonlight playing at the cheap theater several miles away. We decided that since it was a second-run showing, we’d be the only ones in the theater and not have to worry about getting there early to nab good seats. Wrong. Since winning the Golden Globe for Best Drama, that low hum had turned to a loud buzz. That theater was packed with white people who were eager to see what the fuss was about. And while I can’t speak for other people, I can speak for myself: what an incredible film.

It’s rare that a film can be so heartbreaking but affirming, original, and surprising all at the same time. I think the last time a film surprised me this much was Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 Black Swan, which, in my opinion, was a far superior film to either the Pajiba favorite The Social Network (truly one of the smuggest films I’ve seen) or the Oscar winner The King’s Speech (truly delightful and feel-good fare, but not so innovative or artistic). As I fought back tears during the credits (and they were good tears, mind you), I noted that there was a line attributing the film’s story to a play In the Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The minute we got home, I went to the library website to search.

As Wikipedia informed me, the play had been written for a thesis project but was never formally performed. Instead, my library offered me a trio of plays written by McCraney and officially performed. The sequence is known as The Brother/Sister Plays and is separated into three separate plays: In the Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size, and Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet. I read all three in a gallop, and while I don’t typically include all sequels in an umbrella review, I’m going to do so here, because I think it’s almost impossible to talk about one without the other.

In the Red and Brown Water (Book 26 for me) focuses on Oya, a talented track runner with dreams of leaving her Louisiana town and becoming a star. Yet duty calls, and her mother’s health is declining. Oya sacrifices her dream to care for her mother, and at the same time languishes with love of Shango. Ogun Size falls in love with her, though she does not return that love. Ultimately, Shango runs away to war, and Oya is persuaded to try a relationship with Ogun instead, until her love for Shango and her own bodily secrets force a wedge greater than Ogun’s love.

I’ve read quite a few plays, and McCraney’s style is unusual. Instead of writing his stage directions in brackets, he has the characters speak them. It’s bizarre, and it threw me. I’ve never seen that, and I didn’t like it at first. Yet the more I read, the more I became accustomed to his unusual style and found a quiet lyricism in the way his characters spoke their actions. I think that seeing a play like this would be highly intriguing, because then your actors could interpret the stage-directions-as-dialogue any way they want.

This play conveys the conflict of duty versus desire on both a familial and a romantic level. Oya is a compelling and sympathetic character. In the context of the other plays, this play sets the inter-generational conflict that will follow in the sequence. Though just Ogun Size appears now, he will form a major part of the familial conflict in the sequence. This play rates 3.5 stars for me. You can see McCraney’s voice emerging, though his identity as a playwright is not cemented yet.

The Brothers Size (Book 27) is considered to be the pivotal play in the sequence. This time, we focus exclusively on two brothers: Ogun and Oshoosi Size. Ogun is stable—he owns an auto repair shop. His brother Oshoosi has just been released from prison and is seeking a new start. It seems to occur when his ex-cellmate Elegba arrives and gives him a car in need of repair. Oshoosi seems to think that a new start is on its way, but old habits die hard.

This play really shines in its construction of language and setup of storyline. The relationship between Oshoosi and Elegba is somewhat ambiguous, which makes me wonder if they had a romantic attachment at some point. The play highlights the problems of starting over with the stigma of incarceration and shows the effects of imprisonment on the individual. This is a solid 4-star play for me. It builds on the aspects of the first play and expands them into a different personal story.

Finally, Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet (Book 28) focuses on the next generation. Marcus is Elegba’s son, and he is the protagonist of the play. Ogun Size is a mentor to him, and even though Oshoosi appears as a ghost, his presence hovers over the script. Marcus is having to figure out why his father is absent, why he feels only a certain kind of love for his female best friend, and why a young man named Shua enters his world and turns it upside down. To say any more about this play would be to spoil it, and I do not want to do this. It’s a lyrical play about discovering one’s heritage and one’s sexuality at a pivotal moment in adolescence.

This is where McCraney’s lyrical dialogue shines the brightest and becomes the most poignant. This story has a lot of connections to other stories, but it is still original and intelligent. As you can tell, this was absolutely a 5 star play for me, because it took a well-known concept—identity and sexuality—and turned it inwards using dialogue and off-screen revelations to arrive at the denouement. This play has the closest connections to Moonlight, and there are several moments where I could feel Little/Chiron/Black shining through.

McCraney is an immensely talented playwright, and I greatly look forward to seeing what he can do next.

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And I would absolutely be remiss if I didn’t give Moonlight a little moment of love from their Oscar win.

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I really, really wanted this movie to win. I was crushed when La La Land was announced as the winner, and then when I heard about the mistake and Moonlight was rightfully announced, I burst into heaving sobs in front of my party guests. In the words of my beloved Beyoncé, I ain’t sorry.

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[sob]

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#CBR9 Review #25

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Volume 2 by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chris Sprouse, Don McGregor, Rich Buckler, and Brian Stelfreeze

I was highly intrigued by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ take on the Black Panther comics, and now that the first volume is done, he can get to work. I was interested in seeing how Wakanda would get developed as a world and how T’Challa would face the challenges ahead. I believe there is plenty of room to expand and many, many stories to tell from this series, and I hope that Coates continues to write more comics. I think he’s found a groove with the comic genre, and we can see some seriously productive and interesting stories come out from this telling.

T’Challa is in serious trouble now. Wakanda is quickly being torn apart, and the old ways of ruling are just not sufficient any longer. To add to his problems, he has lost the favor of the people, and they have turned on him. Ayo and Anneka are following their own path. Thankfully, T’Challa has some Avenger and Marvel friends (including Luke Cage!) who are willing to come to his aid. But only he can save his sister Shuri who is trapped inside Wakandan memory. This is an interesting examination of how countries function, changes that shift the power dynamic, and the problems of collective memory—or, possibly in this case, collective forgetting.

This is a sharp and finely drawn comic volume. Coates has found a storyline that really, really works, and I am looking forward to following all the threads that he has laid out. I’d like to see more of Shuri and more of the Midnight Angels plot point with Ayo and Anneka. I think Book 3 is supposed to come out later this year. And this definitely has me curious about the Black Panther film that’s supposed to come out later (is it this year or 2018? I can never follow MCU movie releases anymore, as there’s just too many of them).

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#CBR9 Review #24

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My friend M has started a resistance Goodreads group for those of us who want to be better activists and more informed feminists. I’m also realizing that I’m in too many Book Clubs now. We’re trying to read a variety of books about activism and intersectionality, so that we can help inform others in our respective circles of influence. Because this group started in February, M suggested that we start with Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists, which was fine by me, since I haven’t read it yet. Oops.

Adichie is one of the most intelligent people I have ever read or listened to, and her logic is sound. So We Should All Be Feminists follows this logic and breaks down the word “feminist” in a way that anyone can understand. Adichie discusses equality, opportunity (or the lack thereof) and why allyship and representation matter so damn much. This book is based on her highly popular TED Talk, and as such, follows a clear line of argument that anyone can follow—if they choose to open their minds and get rid of the notion that feminists are just man-hating lesbians. This is also a refreshing addition to the feminist canon by women of color. The clear and frank language makes the argument sharp and easy to understand.

I am looking forward to Adichie’s newest book that’s out, which chronicles how to raise a feminist daughter in a letter to a friend. I had read that she recently gave birth, but that she kept it secret because she did not want to “perform” pregnancy. As a thirty-something woman who is deathly afraid of getting turned into a “mommy,” this made SO MUCH sense to me. I’m really looking forward to reading Adichie’s thoughts on parenting feminist children.

In short: this book is an absolute must-read for anyone. We should all be feminists, indeed.

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#CBR9 Review #23

I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi

I don’t’ remember how I heard of Luvvie Ajayi or her Awesomely Luvvie blog, but I need more of her in my life. I’m always looking for insightful feminist commentary, and it delights me to read works by feminists of color. And it doubly delights me when they are young. I think so much of what we define as “feminism” in an academic context stems from the 1960s-1990s, and frankly, the term and its applications have changed so drastically, that we need work to represent women of my generation (born in the 1980s and beyond). I would argue that Ajayi’s work should be placed in hands as a feminist text.

Ajayi writes in several parts: she writes judgy posts about manners and behavior, dress, and pop-culture bits. But she also writes quite seriously as a Christian about being judgmental towards others, being homophobic, and being sex-negative. She writes about Black Lives Matter and representation, intersectionality in feminism, and how to be a better ally. She is whip smart, incisive, and deeply funny in a breath, and her advice is highly relevant for the era of Snapchat and Muslim bans.

While this book was published just before the election, Ajayi senses the shift in tide in American culture, which makes her book a must-read. I’ve read a few of her election posts, and they are a thing of heartbreak and beauty. White Americans, we fucked up big time.

I’d just like to add that the humor and bloggish wit *just* tipped this over Bad Feminist for me, though I deeply appreciate what Roxane Gay writes and does. I just think that Bad Feminist (like Lindy West’s Shrill) was marketed as this rollicking hilarious book about feminism—and it’s really actually quite serious. Ajayi’s is much more lighthearted in nature, which can make it a bit easier to digest at times. I would say, however, do read this and Gay’s work alongside each other.

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