Audio book: Becoming

by Michelle Obama
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s some mild swearing. It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

This is your basic memoir: the life of Michelle Robinson Obama, from growing up in the South Side of Chicago to going to college at Princeton and law school at Harvard, to how she met and married Barak Obama, her challenges and successes as a professional woman with two children, and then dealing with a husband who wanted to become (and then became!) president and all the challenges and success with being the first lady of the United States.

First off: yes, it does live up to the hype, especially on audio. Obama is a delightful narrator, and listening to her tell her insightful, funny, interesting story is a treat (whether or not you agree with her husband’s politics, I think). She is a delightful, smart, good human being and I’m glad she chose to tell her story. I do hope it does what I think she hopes it does, and inspires young girls and young women to get involved.

Mostly what it made me do, in the end, was desperately miss having someone in the White House (whether or not you agree with their politics) who took the idea of governing seriously, who did their best to be ethical and honest, and who actually was Presidential. You could argue that Barak Obama wasn’t a great president, but what you can’t say is that he didn’t take the role seriously. Same for Michelle: she took the idea of being First Lady seriously, harnessing her influence for something good, and I miss that terribly.

At any rate, this was an excellent book.

Round Ireland with a Fridge

by Tony Hawks
First sentence: “I’m not, by nature, a betting man.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s sweary, both in English and Iris, and there’s a ton of drinking. It’d be in the creative non-fiction section of the bookstore if we had it.

A while back, I happened to be watching vlogbrothers, and John recommended this one, and I thought to myself “That is the sort of book I need to get me through some dull winter days.”

I was right.

The basic premise is this: Tony got super drunk one night and his friend bet him 100 pounds that Tony couldn’t hitchhike the circumference of Ireland carrying a fridge. (There are Reasons this got bet, but that’s really unimportant.) Tony, for whatever reason that I can’t remember now, decided that it was a good bet to try and accomplish. So, he set out to Ireland, picked himself up a small, white, minifridge and a dolly, and started hitchhiking.

The boon came from when someone (again, I’m not sure who) got him in contact with the Gerry Ryan Show, which was broadcast throughout Ireland on the radio. They were all so mystified by why Tony would do this, so Gerry decided to put out calls to help Tony out. I’m pretty sure without that support, this would have been an entirely different book.

As it is, it’s a delightful (if often stupid) read about a delightful (if often stupid) trip. Tony met lots and lots of people, had a good sense of humor about it all, and in the end realized that humanity (at least humanity 22 years ago) isn’t all that bad. It’s a ridiculous book about a ridiculous endeavor.

Which is to say: I really enjoyed it. Tony had me laughing out loud at parts, and it’s a truly delightful book to tell people about (“No seriously: the fridge went surfing!”). It does have a nice travel element to it, though it’s less about the landscape of Ireland and more about the people Tony meets. At any rate, it was a delightful romp to the Emerald Isle in the middle of a cold winter.

This Place: 150 Years Retold

by Various Authors
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Content: There is violence and racism as well as some mild swearing. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This is one of the reasons why I love the Cybils. I had never heard of this book, or would have ever picked it up, had I not been a judge for the graphic novels panel. And I’m so glad I did!

This is a series of short stories starting in the mid-1800s and going through to present day. Each story is told by an Indigenous people about people in their past or present who have somehow influenced or otherwise impressed them. Obviously, I hadn’t heard of any of them, but I found the stories not only to be interesting but to be important as well. I did feel like I connected with some of the stories more than others and that some of the art was better than others, but overall it’s a fascinating and important book. And one I’m glad I read.

Mooncakes

by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker
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Content: There is some violence and kissing and the characters are out of high school. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Nova Huang is a teenage witch. She works in her grandmothers’ bookstore by day, and is apprenticed to them, mostly because she didn’t want to leave after her parents’ deaths. Tam is a werewolf who moved away years ago. They’re back in town, though, chasing a demon that feeds off of wolf energy. As Tam and Nova rekindle their childhood friendship (which leads to romance!), Tam needs to figure out how to stop the demon. Thankfully, Nova and her grandmothers are willing to help.

This graphic novel is a very cute and charming story. It’s less about the paranormal and witches — that’s just really a backdrop — and more about friendship and trust and creating your own family. Tam identifies using they/them pronouns, and from what I can tell from the story, their mother and stepdad aren’t that thrilled or accepting of Tam, though it may be more about the werewolf than the gender neutral pronouns. Nova, on the other hand, has loving grandparents but is hanging around because…. she misses her parents? Who show up as ghosts on major holidays? I’m not entirely sure.

I liked this one, though I felt it was a bit disjointed. I never really got enough development for Nova and Tam’s relationship, and the twist with the demon kind of came out of nowhere. A good graphic novel, but not a great one.

State of the TBR Pile: March 2020

I am not sure if I read anything last month. I mean, I did, but my TBR pile actually looks bigger this month than it did last month. There’s just too many good books to read!

Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett
Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit
The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper
Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
Fireborne by Rosaria Munda
Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson
A Heart so Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

What’s on your TBR pile?

They Called Us Enemy

by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott and illustrated by Harmony Becker
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is violence, some swearing, and many racist actions. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Everyone knows George Takei as Sulu on Star Trek (and as a side note, Hubby and K and I are working our way through the original series on Netflix — a consolation prize for not paying for CBS all access so we can watch Picard — and are enjoying it immensely). And if you’ve followed Takei on social media at all, you know about his childhood in the Japanese internment camps during World War II. But, since not everyone knows about this (shameful) part of our past, and because his story is relevant today with the ICE camps in California and Texas, he decided to tell it as a graphic novel.

It’s a tough story, but an important one; Takei was about 4 or 5 when his family was shipped off to live in one of the camps in Arkansas. He admits that he doesn’t remember much, and that he is grateful his father was willing to talk about their time in the camps (many of those who were sent felt shame and didn’t talk about it). It reminded me of John Lewis’s March, in that this is framed by a TED talk, by Takei looking back at this time. It’s a mirror to white people, at how harsh and how exclusive and judgmental we can be. And what the government will do — to citizens! — in the name of national security. (War is just awful.) While I’m not entirely sure the storytelling was smooth and the art was good but not brilliant, but the story is important enough to make this one worth reading.

Surviving the City

by Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is tough content about indigenous women who have disappeared. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Miikwan and Dez are best friends. They’ve done everything together from their hanging out after school to their traditional and important Berry Fast. And ever since Miikwan’s mother disappeared, she has needed Dez in her life. But, Dez’s kokum is not doing well, heath-wise, and the state has threatened to put Dez into a group home. Which she doesn’t want, and so she leaves. Which sends Miikwan into a spiral: she can’t lose another woman in her life.

On the one hand, this is an important book: it’s picturing the lives of Native peoples in the city, not on the reservations, showing them balancing the traditional with the contemporary. It highlights the injustices by the government — why should Dez go into a group home because her grandmother’s health is failing? Would that happen if she were white? Or less poor? — and the grave harms done to indigenous women — the book is populated with ghosts of the women murdered and who have disappeared. It’s definitely an important story to tell.

Which is kind of why I wish it were actually told better. Maybe it’s because I am white, but I didn’t feel like the characters were fully developed — Miikwan’s main character trait was that she missed her mother and Dez’s was that she didn’t want to go into a group home. I wanted to know more about their Berry Fast: what was it, why is it important to them? I just wanted more from these characters to balance out the importance of the story they were telling. I also wanted to know more about the ghosts. Could MIikwan see them? Sometimes I felt like she could. I get why they were around, but what was their connection to our characters? And Dez — I just wanted more from her, other than the fact that she was worried about her kokum. What are her interests? She got in trouble in the beginning, was she the one who was always picked on by the teacher? Does she see the school counselor often (I got that impression, but wasn’t sure). There were just so many holes.

That said, I am glad this exists in the world.