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review 2019-08-05 05:54
The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell by W. Kamau Bell
The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6' 4", African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama's Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian - W. Kamau Bell

Date Published: May 2, 2017

Format: Print

Source: Library

Date Read: July 29th - August 3rd

Read for BL-opoly



You may know W. Kamau Bell from his hit show on CNN. Or maybe you've read about him in The New York Times or The New Yorker, about his intersectional progressivism gimmick: he treats racial, gay, and women's issues as inseparable.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell is a humorous, well-informed take on the world today, tackling a wide range of evergreen issues, such as race relations; fatherhood; the state of law enforcement today; comedians and superheroes; right-wing politics; failure; his interracial marriage; his upbringing by very strong-willed, race-conscious, yet ideologically opposite parents; his early days struggling to find his comedic voice, then his later days struggling to find his comedic voice; why he never seemed to fit in with the Black comedy scene . . . or the white comedy scene; how he was a Black nerd way before that became a thing; how it took his wife and an East Bay lesbian to teach him that racism and sexism often walk hand in hand; and much, much more.




I knew of Bell from his FX tv show Totally Biased and his two podcasts (Kamau Now! from a local NPR radio station in the Bay Area and Politically Re-Active). He won an Emmy for his CNN show United Shades of America, which admittedly I have never watched. Side note: Bell and the sci-fi/fantasy author N.K. Jeminson are cousins and have a close relationship both as children growing up in Alabama (for Bell it was half in Alabama, half in a number of major cities) and as adults.


I really enjoyed this memoir, both the personal life as well as his professional trajectory. Bell uses humor to defuse situations in the moment, but afterword he does reflect deeply on the emotions and the sociological aspects of the situations and how we need to do better. My favorite part is his loud love proclamation for Doc McStuffins - my daughter loved Doc too and he hit every point I made to other moms in the hopes they would let their kids watch it too. I wanted him to go into more about the processes and backstage to his now ended podcasts, which is where I think he shines professionally. 


Highly Recommend.

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review 2019-07-24 02:44
Inside Box 1663
Inside Box 1663 - Eleanor Jette

This was another read that was inspired by my recent read of Box 1663 by Alex Sorel. There were so many details in Sorel's book that made it feel real to life, and I was curious how close it would come to someone who actually lived in Los Alamos during the Project years. 


This book is a treasure for those seeking more info on the Manhattan Project. It's a little on the dry side, but it's packed full of day-to-day details that really helped me to understand what these people had to endure, on top of the stress of their very secret mission. There were constant housing shortages, power outages, a serious lack of adequate laundry facilities (eight machines for the whole town!), constant demands to conserve water; the commissary wasn't adequately supplied, there was constant threat of fires to the overheated apartments and in the Tech Area where the final components of the bomb were being tested and assembled; there were rattlesnakes on the trails, bears in the mountains, and hair snakes coming out of the drains and clogging the shower heads!


What really drove home the isolation they felt while living in Los Alamos was the constant use of "Outer World" to describe everywhere outside the base. Their mail was censored, both going out and coming in, they were followed around town by G2 when they left base, and their news came from whatever they could get their hands on.


I don't know if I could have endured those conditions - especially those people unfortunate enough to live in the trailers and share one latrine with eighty other trailers. No thank you! Yet these people did endure, found ways to make life manageable and enjoyable. I have mixed feelings about what these men and women accomplished there, but there's no doubt that they overcame insurmountable obstacles (courtesy mainly of poor government planning; what else is new?) to achieve it.

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review 2019-07-06 13:33
Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart
Summer at Tiffany LP - Marjorie Hart

Do you remember the best summer of your life? New York City, 1945. Marjorie Jacobson and her best friend, Marty Garrett, arrive fresh from the Kappa house at the University of Iowa hoping to find summer positions as shopgirls. Turned away from the top department stores, they miraculously find jobs as pages at Tiffany & Co., becoming the first women to ever work on the sales floor—a diamond-filled day job replete with Tiffany blue shirtwaist dresses from Bonwit Teller's—and the envy of all their friends.Hart takes us back to the magical time when she and Marty rubbed elbows with the rich and famous; pinched pennies to eat at the Automat; experienced nightlife at La Martinique; and danced away their weekends with dashing midshipmen. Between being dazzled by Judy Garland's honeymoon visit to Tiffany, celebrating VJ Day in Times Square, and mingling with Café Society, she fell in love, learned unforgettable lessons, made important decisions that would change her future, and created the remarkable memories she now shares with all of us.






NYC, 1945: Author Marjorie Hart (then Marjorie Jacobson) and friend / sorority sister Martha "Marty" Garrett were just a couple of young Iowa girls who jumped headfirst into life in the Big Apple, hoping to find exciting positions in upscale department stores. They thought they'd be guaranteed work at Lord & Taylor because three other sorority sisters were hired on there, but on arrival Marjorie and Marty were told there would be nothing for them until the fall season. Desparately needing work, they hit the pavement, inquring at a number of other stores, only to be repeatedly turned away. Then that monumental moment came: Marty, feeling bold, suggested they see what Tiffany & Co. department store had to offer...even though at that time, sales floor positions were held exclusively by men. I mean, after being turned down so many times in one day, what's one more no, right?


It turns out the ladies picked a fortuitous time to apply for work there. Because of World War II, the store was short on pages, the guys that ran orders back and forth between the sales floors and the repairs and shipping departments. It was decided by management that day that Marjorie and Marty would become the first women ever to hold sales floor positions with the iconic jewelry and home goods retailer.  


In this memoir, Marjorie recalls all the most memorable scenes of that glorious summer: daily lunches with Marty at the Automat, evenings at the Stork Club, flirting with military men at dances. Hart also shares a couple of her favorite celebrity sightings while working for the store: Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich. Judy Garland popped in while on her honeymoon. Later, when Dietrich came in, Hart mentions feeling a connection to her because of their shared musical background --- Hart being a trained cellist, Dietrich a violinist.


That summer, Hart was also witness to a couple of highly emotionally charged moments, one being her memory of being in Times Square on VJ Day, seeing the announcement that WW2 had officially ended projected onto Times Tower. 


We stayed rooted to our spot with one eye on the Times Tower and the other on the street. Suddenly, at three minutes after seven, the big screen went dark. The crowd seemed to pause momentarily in anticipation. When the lights came on, the screen read:




A thunderous roar rose from the crowd. Church bells pealed, air-raid sirens wailed, cars honked, tugboats tooted, firecrackers exploded, and people cheered as confetti and paper fell from the windows. Near me, an old man threw his cane in the air. An army private kissed every girl he could find. Including me. Streams of tears ran down the cheeks of an elderly woman as she watched the words circling the tower. No one was a stranger in that crowd. 



The other was the day a plane crashed into the Empire State Building. It was not an act of terrorism. Disoriented by the fog that morning of July 28th, pilot William F. Smith flew his B-25 Army bomber into the side of the building. Newspapers later reported that he HAD been advised to land earlier, but decided to disregard. His decision to do so cost the lives of thirteen people (including his own) and injured twenty-six more. 


After that summer, Marjorie left her position at Tiffany's but promised to return one day. She went on to pursue a musical career, joining the San Diego Symphony in 1954. She also played accompaniment to a number of famous acts such as Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis, Jr. , Liberace, and Nat King Cole. In 1965, Marjorie decided to return to school, going on to earn her master's degree in music from San Diego State University. She began teaching music at University of San Diego (yes, they are different schools) in 1967, becoming chair of the Fine Arts Dept in 1978. Marjorie retired as professor emerita in 1993 and retired from performing music professionally in 2004 at the age of 80. It wasn't until 2004 that she finally fulfilled the promise to return to Tiffany's for a visit (cue end of A League of Their Own). 


This was such a lovely, easy breezy read full of wonderful notes of history and nostalgia, so if that's your jam, this is definitely perfect summertime chill-out material for you! It certainly leave the reader thinking on one's own pivotal moments in life, those that feel like basic, everyday moments at the time but turn out to be essential to forming your later self. 


I will say, I was left curious as to what happened to Jim... that part of the story just seemed to go off into the ether... but the way she left it, I imagine it was one of those connections that just seemed to quietly fizzle out after the war. 

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review 2019-06-12 19:57
Loving My Actual Neighbor by Alexandra Kuykendall
Loving My Actual Neighbor: 7 Practices to Treasure the People Right in Front of You - Alexandra Kuykendall

As Christians, we know we are called to love our neighbor. We may even grasp that "neighbor" encompasses more than just the people living next door or down the street. But what we too often don't know is how to begin. How do we love our neighbor? Where do we start? What does this look like in our increasingly isolated world? Following practices outlined in the first chapter of 2 Peter, Alexandra Kuykendall lays out the framework for where to begin. From practicing humility to listening with understanding to being generous in our relationships, Loving My Actual Neighbor offers practical, start-now steps readers can take to love their neighbors. With her approachable, friendly tone and down-to-earth advice, Kuykendall has carved out for herself a place in the hearts of readers, who will be thrilled to extend her commonsense approach into this sphere of their lives.






In this latest installment of her Loving My Actual ______ series, Kuykendall ponders on the question: In an increasingly socially isolating world, how does one go about showing love for one's neighbor. Her use of the word "neighbor", she clarifies, isn't limited to one's literal next door neighbor, but really anyone we come in close proximity to throughout the course of our lives. 


The inspiration for this newest book came to Alexandra through her realization that she knew little to nothing of the woman living across the street from her for several years --- even though they had spoken briefly a number of times. Alexandra knew they had common ground between them, both being mothers of young children, but for the life of her, she could never remember her neighbor's name! Kuykendall compiles stories of not only her own journey to be a better neighbor, but also those of her friends and acquaintances who'd had a similar epiphany and also put themselves on a path toward change. 


Considering all these accounts she gathers together, Kuykendall comes up with a seven step plan on how to better appreciate our fellow humans. Using biblical text, primarily pulling from 2 Peter, Kuykendall's system brings it all back to the basics of just being a good-hearted human being. She encourages readers to pursue strong, nurturing relationships with others on a foundation of humility, empathy, and, ideally, unconditional generosity.  Each chapter closes on prompts for reflection: "Scripture to Digest" (relevant bible passage to think on); "Questions for Reflection"; "Practicing the Practice", which offers Pay It Forward type ideas to engage with others, making extra effort to speak to the lonely or isolated, etc; and "A Call To Saturday Living", a sort of meditative prayer focusing on how to best implement the themes of that chapter. 




1. Holding a posture of humility

2. Asking questions to learn

3. Being quiet to listen

4. Standing in the awkward

5. Accepting what is

6. Lightening up

7. Giving freely


Once you have that foundation down, Kuykendall branches out into more specific suggestions of bonding with your neighbor: 


* Re: Conversations: Use open-ended questions, followed by clarification questions to show you are truly listening to the speaker, as well as follow-up questions for a later meet-up, to show you've been thinking of them. She points out: you never know when you might be the one person who bothered to check in on them when they needed it most! She also reminds readers to be prepared for an honest response to your questions and be empathetic enough to hear the person out! Additionally, take non-verbal cues into consideration (body language, facial expressions) and consider the setting of the conversation. Is the subject matter something that requires privacy? Is the setting generally hospitable?


* Cultural Filters: When interacting with others, consider specifics of the situation that may make their reaction different from what you might expect. Are they in mourning? Otherwise suffered a trauma? Are there cultural differences to take into account --- something that seems fine to you but might be considered offensive to them?


* Disputes: how to best give or receive forgiveness


* Food / Humor: useful in diffusing difficult situations


* Teamwork: tips on how to successfully partner with neighbors on projects



At the end of the book, Kuykendall offers a supplement, several pages long, entitled "More Ways To Connect With Your Neighbor". Within are a few different segments: "Additional Ideas for Practicing the Practice", "10 Ways to Connect with Families Throughout the Year" "10 Ways to Love Your Homebound Neighbor", and "10 Reasons to Have a Block Party".


When taking all this information in, Kuykendall frequently reminds her readers, practice makes perfect. This is not meant to be a one and done process, but an entire reboot in one's social interaction, intended to be carried out (hopefully) for the rest of your days. One of the portions I found most helpful was questions to ask when checking your motives for doing something:


* Am I investing in the outcome or the process?

* Am I expecting something in return?

* What am I willing to give up in order to love my neighbors well? 

* Would I do it anonymously?

* Will there be unintended consequences?


My honest response to this book, having read the previous two? This was my least favorite of the bunch. I got a lot out of the first two, and while there were still some good tips in this third one, and while I love that Kuykendall terms herself a "kitchen anthropologist", this third offering in the series had a few areas I found disturbingly problematic, given the theme of the work.


Yes, it has helpful pointers, but largely the message is one of common sense human decency. I don't know if she ran short on ideas and had to hit word count, but like many a self-help book out there, she establishes a few key points early on and then pretty much just repackages those ideas in numerous different ways throughout the following chapters. 


Beyond the repetitive nature of the text, there was an underlying element to this book that just SCREAMED privilege and bias. She swears she's not a judgmental person, yet some of her actions involving those of a lower income bracket than her family would (at least in part) indicate otherwise. There's even a line where she says (verbatim),"I have relationships with people who live in poverty." Wow. Okay. Way to put yourself out there?


Then there's the weird and frequent focus on the race of her various neighbors, usually closing with a pat on the back for herself for interacting with a minority without making it too awkward. In fact, there's a healthy dose of quiet humble brag throughout the whole book. But at least she does acknowledge that she does see needing to consistently work on her prideful nature. 


It's a worthwhile topic for discussion --- being better people to our fellow man --- and Kuykendall brings up fair suggestions.... but really, it's stuff we should know anyway, if we've been raised right.  Sadly, now, my once happy opinion of her work has been somewhat tainted over the privileged, disconnected tone that came through this latest work. 


FTC Disclaimer: Baker Books kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 



My reviews for the previous two books in this series:










(Scroll down to bottom of page to see video)



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review 2019-05-31 10:40
Are You There Coffee? It's Me, Mom by Kianna Alexander
Are You There Coffee? It's Me, Mom - Kianna Alexander

Date Published: October 9, 2014

Format: Kindle

Source: Own Copy

Date Read: May 11, 2019



With young children in the house, life seldom goes as planned. In this collection of candid essays, Kianna Alexander offers the reader a humorous look at modern motherhood. Navigate through the daily mishaps of a family with two work from home parents and two kids under the age of ten. The children, Scooter and Sweetpea, may have made up nicknames, but they, and their shenanigans, are very real. Tears are commonplace, but so is laughter, and no matter the circumstances, love abounds in this crazy but wonderful household.




This was a fine collection of parenting tips and ancedotes from Alexander, a business owner and romance writer. I like her romance writing, and this was free (its part of Kindle Shorts program), so I picked it up to read for Mother's Day. This book would make a great gift to new parents, but as a seasoned veteran who is done having kids (all hail the elementary-school years!), I found the stories cute but nothing new. But I am glad to read anything by Alexander.

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