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review 2018-06-19 18:47
Friendly advice
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar - Cheryl Strayed

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed is a collection of the letters and responses that were printed in the advice column, "Dear Sugar", from The Rumpus. The topics range from love and marriage, cheating, identity (sexual and otherwise), parenting, relationships with parents/children, grief, and abuse. Strayed does not pull her punches and she doesn't apologize for it either. She somewhat softens the blows of her blunt advice and observations with endearments like 'sweet pea' and 'honey bun' but instead of sounding condescending it feels like it could be delivered by a trusted confidant. Lest you think that she gives this advice from a rather standoffish perspective it is often conveyed through her own personal experiences and struggles. When the column was originally written her identity was unknown which makes the intimacy and the rawness of the letter writers and her response to them such a unique and wonderful thing. If you've ever experienced turmoil in any area of your life (and you'd have to because that's just a natural part of things) then reading such real, honest advice delivered with love and respect is a welcome breath of fresh air. I laughed, cried, and goggled with incredulity while reading this book. It's an excellent palate cleanser if you're in a book reading rut or a great way to kick start your summer reading adventure. ;-) 10/10

 

The inner flap contains some great quotes. [Source: Cook, Wine, & Thinker!]

 

What's Up Next: The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Condoleezza Rice: A memoir of my extraordinary, ordinary family and me by Condoleezza Rice

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-06-15 21:58
Difficult, but very well worth the read. Read in small does to appreciate each essay more fully.
Feel Free: Essays - Zadie Smith

Feel Free, Zadie Smith, author; Nikki Amuka-Bird, narrator

To be honest, I wanted to stop listening to this book on many occasions because, at times, it was over my head. However, the spectacular quality of the narrator’s reading voice and accent coupled with the magnificent prose of the author kept making me return, even when I could not quite understand the essay, because I could always understand the narrator’s interpretation, and therefore, get some message from the piece.

This admittedly left-leaning author admits that she wrote these essays during the time of Obama’s reign. She adores him and views Trump as a harbinger of disaster. Now, a year and a half into his Presidency, I do not know if her view has changed, but as a committed Liberal, I doubt it. Whether or not it has changed, had no bearing on my appreciation of her essays. I found, though, that she introduces race, and her own view of it, very often. During Obama’s term, I believe the public became more willing to hear alternate views, even when they conflicted with their own, opening a window that seemed, previously, to be kept purposely opaque.

Although I did not find this discussed in reviews, which surprised me, her analysis of race and racial issues, especially as someone who is biracial, is far different than my own, as a white person, on many levels, which leads me to believe that the divide between the the races when interpreting life situations, is far broader and wider than generally understood. As a person of the Jewish faith, as well, I can understand suspicion, fear and even animosity toward some, but I don’t find the negative perceptions and perhaps grudges that are held against some who represent past heinous behavior, as pervasive in my life, as it seemed to come across with regard to her perceptions in her life and the life of others of color. Still, I found many of her arguments had merit and were worthy of further thought and introspection. Overall, I found, for me, the point is to get each party to come to the middle, to try and understand the divide and bridge the gap. I am hoping that I will better understand her views and be able to reconcile them with my own.

Smith writes on a variety of topics. I don’t even pretend to understand all of her ideas or her philosophy or even her selection of subject matter, at times, but I admired the power of her words, so expressive and analytical were they. The words just seemed to naturally come forth from this author’s hand, in spite of the fact that she disparages her lack of education and laments the fact that so many others with far greater degrees have achieved far less than she has. Yet, so many of the better educated can’t seem to put two intelligent words together to make a sentence that paints any image and she paints masterpieces with her vocabulary.

Some of the topics she discusses are libraries and what they represent to her and the world, socialism and how it served her needs when she was growing up without having everything she wanted or needed, climate change and the perception of some she views as less than bright, the insect world and our perception of it. She analyzes films and comedy skits, art and artists, different forms of music and composers, writers and their intentions, dancers and their identities, realism vs. idealism, the gap that exists between classes, the current immigration policy compared with how it used to be, relationships in families and with friends, suicides, illness, Brexit, Comedy Central and the stars it created, compassion, the internet and its pitfalls, being biracial in a white world, the injustice of the justice system and more.

Her book sometimes reads like a who’s who with so many names dropped, some familiar, some less so, like Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Philip Roth, Jay Z, Beyonce, Sorkin, Zuckerberg, Schopenhauer, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Hurston, Nabokov, Emmett Till, Baryshnikov, Marquez, Astaire, Bojangles, Kelly, Nureyev, Prince, Murdock, Nigel Farage, and Michael Jackson, to name just some of the myriad personalities that appear in her essays and run the gamut of subject matter. She dissects each subject with a fine tooth comb and makes the reader really think about her message.

At one point, I felt like I was part of the narrative. She brought up the Marcy Housing Project, in Brooklyn, where Jay Z grew up, because as a young teacher, of 20 years, when I thought I could change the world and make it a better place, I taught the children that lived there. It was not an easy lifestyle to survive or a very nice place to live, even decades ago.

There is something for everyone in this book, but not everyone will be able to understand all of the essays. Truthfully, I am not a genius, but I consider myself fairly well educated, and I had trouble deciphering some. That is why I highly recommend it in print version, so it can be read in small doses and delved into more deeply. Each essay imparts an important message. The author’s choice of subject matter, diverse as it is, is very intriguing; the reader will be inspired and encouraged to seek more information to better understand Zadie Smith’s philosophy on each subject.

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review 2018-06-15 06:35
Moan: Anonymous Essays on Female Orgasm
Moan: Anonymous Essays on Female Orgasm - Emma Koenig

Was this book occasionally repetitive? Sure. Did I find it fascinating anyway? Absolutely.

 

As with any essay collection there are going to be some pieces that are better than others (and this is no exception), but what makes this collection so interesting to me is the sheer volume and the way the voices both echo and contradict one another. With each essay around two to three pages in length (a few are longer, but this was pretty consistent average) there are a lot of perspectives in here. I find it interesting getting to hear women speak anonymously, and thus totally honestly, about their sexual experiences. There are plenty of pieces in here that are basically just women relating what works for them in the bedroom, but there are plenty more about what *doesn't* work, first experiences, ruminations on femininity, how things have changed for them, how they feel different, or just how they feel in general. These aren't stories you often get to hear, and even when I couldn't relate (although there were a few where I very much could) I was interested.

 

My biggest critique would be the apparent lack of variety in the essayists. Its hard to be sure, since it is anonymous, but the contributors did seem to come from fairly uniform backgrounds, which could have been improved. I'd have liked to have read more essays from queer women, assault survivors, and various age groups. There are essays from all of those groups, but not nearly as many as there are from 20-something college educated women. I suspect this is because many essays were collected online.

 

The foreword talks about how sexuality is part of what makes us human, and by denying women their sexuality we deny them the ability to be fully human. I truly believe this, and this book put a very human voice to the varied world of women's sexual experiences. A great book for anyone interested in sexuality, regardless of gender.

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review 2018-06-03 18:06
Absolutely On Music - Conversations between Seiji Ozawa & Haruki Murakami
Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa - Haruki Murakami,Jay Rubin,Seiji Ozawa

As Duke Ellington once said, “There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind.” In that sense, jazz and classical music are fundamentally the same. The pure joy one experiences listening to “good” music transcends questions of genre.

 

I studied at Tanglewood during summers as a teenager when Seiji Ozawa was conductor of the BSO. The amazing thing about him was that he had no real requirement to deal with Tanglewood kids, yet he did. It didn't surprise me at all many years later when he started both an orchestra and a school for the younger musicians of the world. He is brilliant, patient and an excellent teacher. I enjoy reading or listening to conversations between smart people in general, and this book hits on many cylinders. 

 

While Murakami says he's an amateur, his words often feel like music (even in translation.)

Haruki Murakami is well known for his love of music. He sticks a Beatles reference in nearly every book and there are always myriad musical references. So it wasn't that shocking to learn that he and the Maestro are fast friends.

 

One thing I learned early in my own mostly amateur musical life is that music happens and it's gone instantly - you have to experience it all in the moment and find an effective way to communicate about it. This is often why teachers and students have their own special language. My teacher used to tell me to sing like green velvet. Why? Because I told him I thought a certain singer sang like green velvet. That's fine, but what about when you want others to understand? This is the magic Murakami and Ozawa make.

 

It's hard for me to point out how very high the wall is that separates the pro from the amateur, the music maker from the listener. The wall is especially high and thick when that music maker is a world-class professional. But still, that fact doesn't have to hamper our ability to have an honest, direct conversation. At least that's how I feel about it, because music itself is a thing of such breadth and generosity. Our most important task is to search for an effective passageway through the wall - and two people who share a natural affinity for an art, any art, will be sure to find that passageway. 

 

It's unsurprising when the "interlude" about music and writing comes early in the book and Murakami explains patiently to Ozawa about rhythm in writing. It sort of shocked me that Ozawa hadn't noticed this on his own. He reads a ton of scores, and he works very hard, so maybe he just hadn't thought about it? He readily admits to being a horrible student, and I doubt he reads much beyond scores when he's working.

 

It's a series of conversations between the two masters - complete with markers for which one is talking. (Audio book would be great, but I don't know if one exists.) They talk about a few pieces in deep detail and the range of music covers everything from the blues to opera and Japanese music. They also talk about record collecting and teaching in lovely chapters. I'm pretty sure my enjoyment had to do with the fact that I knew the music they discussed well, and I'm not sure whether others would like it as much if they didn't have a familiarity and curiosity about both the men and the subject. Their fun and mutual respect nearly shines off the page, and I enjoyed it a lot.

 

Chapter Titles:

Mostly on the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto 
On manic record collectors 
Brahms at Carnegie Hall 
The relationship of writing to music 
What happened in the 1960s 
Eugene Ormandy's baton 
On the music of Gustav Mahler 
From Chicago blues to Shin'ichi Mori 
The joys of opera 
In a little Swiss town 
"There's no single way to teach. You make it up as you go along."

 

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review 2018-06-03 16:20
The Displaced - Excellent Anthology of Refugee Writers
The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives - Aleksandar Hemon,Marina Lewycka,Ariel Dorfman,Viet Thanh Nguyen,Fatima Bhutto,David Bezmozgis,Porochista Khakpour,Vu Tran,Joseph Kertes,Kao Kalia Yang,Dina Nayeri,Maaza Mengiste,Reyna Grande,Novuyo Rosa Tshuma,Lev Golinkin,Joseph Azam,Thi Bui,Meron Hader

Viet Thanh Nguyen serves as editor for a short but impactful collection of essays about refugees and the refugee experience. I read a lot about immigration. I'm not entirely unaware that many of these stories are actually about refugees, but it's interesting that people often morph themselves into "immigrants," when in fact most of our families came from a refugee experience at some point. My father's family came in dribs and drabs to both coasts (and ended up with numerous spellings of our last name) because of the potato famine in Ireland. Nobody calls our family "refugees" but they were. It was just an easier time to be that when they showed up and pretended to have degrees in things like medicine... (true, but much too long a, story) So, given all of that, it's a willful political act for these writers to reclaim the identity of refugee -- especially given their successes and acceptance now in their new homes.

The tragedy is how these new homes forced people in a variety of ways to deny their original national identities. Some are more obvious than others, but all carry an almost unexplainable burden to the individuals, and I'm pretty sure to their new countries as well. 

Many, but not all, of the writers are now living in the US, and all of them are successful, educated, prize-winning, feted authors. Interesting how willing countries are to claim these refugees now that they have proven their worth. They've come from all over the world and they have personal experiences that frequently left me tearing up. The overall effect is rather devastating. I'm not going to review each piece, because they are all worth reading more than once.

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