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review 2018-06-25 10:35
Boy Erased - not really a Memoir by Garrard Conley
Boy Erased: A Memoir - Garrard Conley

This memoir should have started at least ten years later and told us how the young man who once signed himself up for "ex-gay therapy" (which we all know is pure bullshit) turned into a person who at least calls himself a gay man. His epilogue and bits of the memoir proper hint at the real story, but sadly it's just a sketch. I understand being so traumatized that you can't hold memories or be sure what is your memory and what is your intellect saying "this must be the way it happened," but I'm not entirely sure that's why this memoir is sketchy.


Ten years after an 8-day outpatient visit to Love In Action, the author hears his one-time group leader on a book/apology tour admitting that the therapy was nonsense. This, understandably, raises real anger. How can this guy with his vanity press book be on NPR and so cavalier about the lives he played havoc with? And this brings an aspiring novelist to write a "memoir" about those eight outpatient days. One gets the slight feeling, after reading the book, that part of the anger was that this guy was able to hawk his book on NPR while Conley was still struggling in various ways with no book or tour, but that's not the whole story, just a thought.


As someone who has done many outpatient stays (and several inpatient, locked ward ones too,) honestly, I doubt I could write a book about any of those visits. Now, my stays were overall more of a plus than a minus, and only rarely were they more traumatic than what brought me in. They also weren't trying to erase my person or self. Could any of us write a memoir about eight days? Maybe. There's just very little to recommend this book because nothing much happens and the author does very little to help us understand what exactly, beyond the horrific idea of conversion therapy -- which we already get -- what exactly traumatized him.


He makes a point in the epilogue that liberal America may not understand what would push someone to deny their sexuality just to "fit in." (He doesn't say that, but that's the truth I think he was pushing toward.) Many liberal lgbtq people have just as much trouble coming out. They don't typically seek this particular type of therapy, but many a liberal kid has gone into therapy at least to work through the fear and other emotions involved in coming out. Many kids are dead today rather than face up to our cultural disdain of anything less than toxic masculinity. You don't have to be an Evangelical to understand this is a tough time for many people, and only in recent years has coming out become slightly less than terrifying and often traumatizing.


As trite as this sounds to me: change is tough. When we finally allow our "outsides" to match our inner selves, to become more authentic, that can be excruciating even while it's healthy and holds the promise of a much better life - eventually. And that's true for anyone. It inevitably involves losing people and places that were comfortable and often affirming in other ways, not to mention our homes. Very often it involves estrangement of sorts with at least some, if not all, family members. I wanted to hear about the growth, or if not that, at least understand what created a traumatic reaction so bad that he's blocked it out. What I read was a family based in love. If they didn't express it fine, but they were there -- before, during and after (the final sentence in the epilogue is wonderful in showing this purely,) for this young man. When he finally left mid-eighth day, his mother didn't question him, she simply drove the two of them away. (She'd been staying with him in a hotel during the outpatient assessment.) That's a serious blessing, having your family stick by you, especially when their religion, culture, job (his father is a pastor) and upbringing tell them to do something very different.


My impression was that a lot of the trauma involved expectations -- both perceived and real -- that he'd internalized and struggled coming to terms with. That anger was displaced onto the therapy he sought out and willingly subjected himself to. He wanted to be someone other than who he was/is. THAT is the trauma. And that would make a much better memoir than incredibly florid, rambling prose and unstructured random memories (not about the therapy) ostensibly about an 8-day outpatient assessment. Also a serious thanks to his God that he was strong enough to see through the bullshit and walk out before someone compelled other drastic and inhumane measures we've now learned happened in many of these places.


One final thought, Love In Action and its parent corporation is, thankfully, now gone and very few similar programs exist in the US, but worryingly, they've taken their circus on the road to other countries (notably Uganda, complete with laws and real danger for lgbtq people)  - something the author mentions in one sentence and doesn't seem to see as a problem. "At least it's not me anymore" is not a pleasant trait in anyone, no matter their story.


I believe Garrard Conley has a real story to tell, about how he started hating himself, how he couldn't see a way for his authentic self to fit with his family and community, the fear and existential dread that must have accompanied many days, how fundamental Christian beliefs offer no room for difference or questions of any kind, how the fear of ruining his "eternal soul" has haunted him long past his heroic walk out of the treatment center's doors, how his family managed to overcome pressure from their church and community and whole lives to come to a place where this book could be written with his parents' blessing, how he functions as a gay man in the world when he was a kid from a very restrictive and fundamentalist background, etc etc: both the logistics and the emotional sides are interesting and important -- these are the types of stories that save lives. While I think the promise of a horror-show called "ex-gay therapy" is probably what gave this book the juice to get published, the real story still hasn't been told. 


I really wish this man well. I know he's lived through some very tough things, but I don't know any of that from reading this book, and there's the rub. We shouldn't require people to morph bad moments into freak shows for them to tell their stories. He will write another book. I'm betting my life on that one. I'm sure he's writing as I type. He's wanted to be a writer and has an MFA in creative writing. I just want him to write from a more fearless place next time. 



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review 2018-06-23 05:54
Dear Committee Members - awesome chocolate disguised as Hershey's
Dear Committee Members - Julie Schumacher

I'm stuck in this weird position where I can't move for the last 12 hours. I can basically use the computer and reach the giant stack of books my friend dragged into the room when she set me up (and thankfully fed the cat - who has knocked over the books...) Anyway, I finished Owen Meany which is a nice thick book and wanted a little diversion, but I keep falling asleep to TV, and it was too early for sleep, lest I wake up at 3 am.


This seemed like the ticket: an epistolary novel set in academia at the mediocre "Payne U", featuring the hapless-but-tenured Professor Jason Fitger. The building is crumbling and all the other departments have been evacuated, but English is staying while the unnamed "particulate matter" covers the place. Prof Fitger is sick of writing LORs and really wishes people like me would be more careful with apostrophes. (Time out: sometimes, despite knowing the rule since maybe birth, I find myself making that mistake anyway, Jason, and I still have to recite "i before e except after c or in sounding like ay as in neighbor or weigh" because nobody told me that if I studied German their completely conflicting rules would mix me up forever. And yes, I know I could just think German and do the opposite for English, but English was supposedly my first language and it gets to be a bit much when google insists my profession doesn't exist - at least the way we spell it -and that I MUST put an apostrophe in precisely the wrong place all the time. All this backwards thinking has ruined finely worn neural paths, creating chaos! OK back to the quick funny book where I can laugh at neurotic academia......)


So yeah, funny novel, takes maybe an hour to read -- laughter and joy will abound. Prof Fitger will make punny jokes and quotable quotes about college and students (oh, students *shaking my head*), repeatedly relive his tangled love life (about which he wrote at least one poorly concealed novel) and unfortunate reply all situations, apologize to everyone as he sends out constant LORs, and try to keep the creative writing/English department alive by getting his advisee's novel published -- or at least getting said advisee to finish the novel so it can be published, preferably in one of those nice writer-spending-money-to-write retreat sorts of places (known as rehab to those of us who aren't writers) and maybe he can get some prestigious grants for the unfinished advisee in the meantime, which will bring fame (or at least continued existence) to Jason's department. (Google really wants me to change nearly every apostrophe, but NO google - Jason just straightened my spine on this issue for at least the next eight hours until I'm too lazy to reject your horrific spelling and grammar advice.)


The LORs are priceless. I really hope that Ms. Schumacher (or is it professor?) has used these in her real life. The one for the plagiarist made my year. The "I'm writing this letter of rec b/c I was asked to" letters are real art.


And all the while, the advisee is not getting responses from the most prized literary residency, but Jay/Jason never gives up, working his way down the literary line to the bitter end and moving on to...I can't spoil it. You can read this novel - it's 53 minutes of belly-laughing funny.


Then Julie Schumacher tricked me for the last 7, maybe 8, minutes. I wanted to laugh raucously at you silly English professor types with your wit and sharp knives for anyone who crosses you, but this novel -- specifically Professor Jason Fitger -- got really serious and full of heart and even honest (not extremely honest, but much more honest than I expected.) This novel is like a perfect dark chocolate truffle wrapped in a Hershey's label. You think it's going to be just sweet, but there's a richness that you never could have expected given the wrapping.

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review 2018-06-15 04:03
1968: Today's Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change - Susan Campbell Bartoletti,Marc Aronson

I received this book for free through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers. 


1968 was a fascinating year. This book was not. 


I was really looking forward to reading this book because I wanted to learn more about this pivotal year in history. So many important events happened in that year and I was hoping to find some interesting insight into them. Unfortunately, the book left much to be desired.


The book consists of essays from different authors. None of the essays resonated with me. I kept waiting for one to really hit me, but it never happened. Even the ones about the topics I was especially interested in (ex. Kennedy assassination and Mexico City Olympics), didn’t leave much of an impression on me. 


There were a few things I liked. One was that the last essay did provide a conclusion to the book. Sometimes with nonfiction books, there’s no wrap up at the end when I feel like there should be one. Luckily, this book did provide some closure.


I also liked the Nightly News segment at the beginning of each section. Those were one of the more interesting pieces to read. 


Lastly, the parallels the book made comparing 1968 to 2018 were very interesting and thought provoking.


Overall, the book provides a good baseline to the events of 1968, but ultimately did not manage to do it in an engaging way. 

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review 2018-06-06 01:55
The Oracle Year by Charle Soule
The Oracle Year : A Novel - Charles Soule

Will Dando is an accomplished bassist making ends meet at various gigs and studio sessions, heck he's even working on some original material that goes over well at the open mic! Yeah! Then he wakes up after a vivid dream and writes down 108 predictions spaced out over a year.

Those predictions range from seemingly inconsequential to life-changing, and they're all coming true. Will sets out to release some of these predictions while protecting his identity, enlisting his friend Hamza to find out how to create a secure website and make a ton of money.

Dando cannot escape the conviction that there is some kind of logic behind these predictions, some kind of higher plan that was set in motion the moment the first prophecy was released into the world. Dando finds he's made powerful enemies, and that events are spinning beyond his control.

This was a great slice of sf and techno-thriller. I read it as pure entertainment, the satire not really cutting deep enough to work on that level. There was some good characterization here, but the ultimate depth of their relationships left something to be desired. Very much worth checking out though.

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review 2018-05-14 14:25
Review: Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Next Year in Havana - Chanel Cleeton

Reviewed for Wit and Sin


Next Year in Havana is a gorgeous book. Chanel Cleeton’s writing is lush and lyrical and her love of Cuba and its people shines through on every page.

Next Year in Havana travels back and forth between past and present, the story told through the eyes of Elisa and her granddaughter Marisol. In 1958 Elisa is part of the Havana elite, the daughter of a wealthy sugar baron. She’s kind, smart, and far stronger than many would give her credit for. Elisa isn’t flawless; she’s young, passionate, and makes mistakes, but she’s got a good heart. Through her eyes we see the multiple sides of a Cuba rapidly being torn apart. Not only is Elisa’s brother, Alejandro, part of a student revolutionary group working for a democratic Cuba, Elisa falls in love with Pablo, a revolutionary with close ties to Castro. As her world begins to crumble around her, Elisa’s eyes are opened and she begins to question everything. Her journey is beautiful and sad, but also hopeful. I admit I only have a passing knowledge of Cuban history and politics, and I really enjoyed learning more (and being lead to research more) as I read this story. Ms. Cleeton does a fantastic job of weaving fact and fiction.

In 2017, Elisa’s granddaughter Marisol travels to Cuba to spread her grandmother’s ashes. Marisol’s journey is both similar and different to Elisa’s and I was equally captivated by both. Marisol is a journalist who is eager to see the Cuba she’s heard of in her grandmother’s tales. Life in post-revolutionary Cuba is a culture shock for the Florida-raised Marisol. She learns what Cuban life is really like for everyday people and I enjoyed watching her start to question her own beliefs and become invested in the welfare of Cuban people as she never had been before. Marisol is a genuinely lovely heroine and a great stand-in for an American reader. The revolution, its aftermath, and the effects both positive and negative politics has had on the Cuban people is an important subject and it’s important to note that Ms. Cleeton treats these real-life matters with the weight and respect they deserve.

Internal and external conflicts abound in Next Year in Havana, but the book has a smooth, lovely flow to it. The characters are all well-developed and I cared about Elisa and Marisol’s friends and loved ones. It would be remiss of me not to mention the love stories, because the Elisa/Pablo and Marisol/Luis romances were captivating. All in all, I highly recommend this book. Chanel Cleeton’s writing is phenomenal and I cannot wait to read about Elisa’s sister, Beatriz, in When We Left Cuba.

FTC Disclosure: I received the ebook/paperback editions of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Source: witandsin.blogspot.com/2018/05/review-next-year-in-havana-by-chanel.html
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