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It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability by Kelly Davio

Source: purchased
Paperback; 144 pgs.
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It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability by Kelly Davio, on tour with Poetic Book Tours, is a candid collection of essays and vignettes that illustrate how having an autoimmune disease not only affects how you live, but also sharpens your perspective on pop culture, healthcare systems, advertising, trite statements from well-meaning people, and much more.  Her writing is precise and sharp, forcing readers to reassess their views on disability and how to engage with those whose bodies are not “healthy.”  Even the term “healthy” takes on new meaning in these essays.

Davio is serious and funny, and what she has to say is something that we all need to listen to.  All people deserve respect and compassion, and no one should be made to feel like they are worthless or not who they once were should disease strike.  Compassion is a tough business, but we have a duty to defend it and to engage with it head on.  Stories like hers will make you yelp in shock, and make you angry that others treated her as they did.  But what’s even more telling is how Davio views herself.  Has society played a role in how we view ourselves and aren’t those lenses just a little bit too cloudy with other people’s judgments?  I think so.

It’s time to be real with one another and with ourselves.  Davio does nothing less in this essay collection. A stunning read and one you won’t want to put down once you get started. I know I didn’t. I read it in one sitting. It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability by Kelly Davio is a memoir and essay collection in one.

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RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Kelly Davio is the author of Burn This House (Red Hen Press, 2013) and the forthcoming The Book of the Unreal Woman. She is the founding editor of Tahoma Literary Review and the former Managing Editor of The Los Angeles Review. While in England, she served as the Senior Editor of Eyewear Publishing. Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Verse Daily, The Rumpus, and others. She earned her MFA in poetry from Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Today, she works as a medical editor in New Jersey.

Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage by Caroline Jane Knight (Audio)

Source: publicist
Audible; 8+ hrs.
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Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage by Caroline Jane Knight, narrated by Alison Larkin, is a memoir of one of the last people to live in Chawton House — the home of Jane Austen — as part of a family.  Knight peppers her family stories with historical notes from the ancestors, the letters, and the stories she heard as a child, but she also incorporates the words of Jane Austen from her novels at the most opportune moments.  Readers will be delighted to learn how elements from her books were taken straight from her family’s experiences.

From the beginning readers know that Knight was forced from her home at age 17 due to financial distress.  You can imagine how being forced from an ancestral home would be disconcerting and lead her to distance herself from Jane Austen. But readers will want to learn how her life comes full circle and leads to the creation of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation.

Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage by Caroline Jane Knight, narrated by Alison Larkin, provides a unique look at Jane Austen’s ancestors and explores how family members many years removed can carry some of the same traits and interests.  Knight is a curious woman who loves to weave stories about her family members with those of Austen’s novels and real life.  She mirrors Jane’s streak of independence, which readers have found so compelling about Elizabeth Bennet.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Caroline Jane Knight shares more than Jane Austen’s name and DNA. As a direct descendant of Jane’s brother, Edward Knight, Caroline is the last of the Austen Knight family to grow up at Chawton House on the estate where her fifth great-aunt Jane Austen lived and enjoyed the most productive period of her writing career. Caroline explored the same places around Chawton House and its grounds as Jane did, dined at the same table in the same dining room, read in the same library and shared the same dream of independence.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 8+ hrs.
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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is narrated by the author and is a look back at his childhood in South Africa while it was under apartheid and after.  He is the child of a black mother and a white father, and under apartheid he was classified as colored alongside the Indians, Chinese, and others that were neither black nor white.  Being born colored was a crime because white and black people were not supposed to procreate.  But beyond only the complex and illogical thinking that is apartheid and racism, in general, Noah’s life was anything but plush.  His mother loved him and he loved his mother, but tough love was the order of the day given the fact that his parents had broken the law to have him in the first place. I knew little about this nation other than Nelson Mandela was there in jail for a long time and that whites somehow controlled an entire country of black people (I really couldn’t wrap my head around it as a child or even now).

Noah’s religious mother believed that Jesus could cure any ill and help her through any challenge, but he did not.  Many stories involve them arguing about the role of Jesus and God like lawyers.  At one point, they were arguing in a series of letters.  Despite the tough love and the arguments about religion, Noah seems to have reconciled those actions with her good intentions.  Many of these stories help to establish a line he has drawn between the tough love she showed him and the beatings he received from his step-father later in life.  Readers looking for information on South Africa and apartheid will find some of that here, but this is a memoir about how that regime and its consequences not only shaped the lives of others, but also that of Noah (as well as how he was treated by others).  His adaptability to certain situations and cultures is a credit to his own ability to puzzle out how best to survive in this barbed world.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is funny, heart-warming, sad, and infuriating.  Like many young men, he chooses the wrong path to make money and get ahead, but he also learns a great deal from his own mistakes. One tragedy clearly shaped the narrative of this letter; it is like a love letter to his mother and how they grew together as a family despite the external challenges they faced.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Trevor Noah is a South African comedian, television and radio host and actor. He currently hosts The Daily Show, a late-night television talk show on Comedy Central.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Source: Public Library
Audio, 3 CDs
Hardcover, 152 pgs.
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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which was our May book club selection, is a no-holds-barred look at the construct of race in America.  Through letters to his 15-year-old son, Coates attempts to demonstrate how his views on race changed over time, from the hard streets of Baltimore where posturing and violence against other blacks was expected to the intellectual and spiritual questioning he experienced at Howard University.

I first listened to the audio as read by Coates, but it became clear to me that I was missing some of what he was saying.  My second read in print was much more in-depth, allowing me the additional time to reflect on what I had read as I went along and re-read certain passages.

This is not a book providing solutions to a son or the world, but it is a call to action.  It’s a plea for everyone to be more mindful of our actions and the societal norms that allow certain people to do even the most mundane things without fear, such as listening to their music loud.  What’s most prominent here is the failure of our education system to help those who need it most and to raise up those heroes in all communities, regardless of the violence they met or didn’t meet head on.  While we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., there is often little talk about the violence endured by those in the civil rights movement and the perpetrators of that violence who were allowed to get away with it.

“America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization.”

Like Coates discusses, the American myth of exceptionalism does not allow for mistakes, though many were made in the birth of this nation, from the reliance and continued use of slaves to the ravaging of entire Native American populations in the name of progress.  Becoming successful through struggle, however, should not be taken so far as to mean we purposefully make it harder for certain groups to achieve success of any kind and that we have the right to bulldoze others in order to achieve a goal.

While Coates is very negative toward the world (and has a right to be), this book should probably be read in spurts so readers have time to sit with what each letter is and how it plays out on the whole.  Reading it in one sitting without time for reflection can become a heavy endeavor, as any great work that requires empathy can do.  Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates explores one man’s individual struggle growing up black in America against the backdrop of an America that continues to bury its dark past and make excuses for the perpetual prioritization of perceived “safety” above justice in which all are held to the same standards.

**My one qualm with the style is that it seems very academic, which may limit its audience and that would be sad because more ‘Dreamers’ need to wake up.**

RATING: Quatrain

What the book club thought:

Most of the book club found the biographical parts of the book the most interesting.  Some suggested that his arguments vacillated from one side to the other over the course of the book, and often got muddled with internal arguments that he seemed to have with himself.  There was a debate about the point of the book and whether it was supposed to be solutions provided by the end.  There didn’t seem to be any solutions presented.  There were debates about whether he focused too much of the text on anger toward the police and whites, while others thought some of the examples may not have been the best ones to prove his points about racism.  Many agreed that the book was eye-opening if not well organized.

About the Author:

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor for The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues for TheAtlantic.com and the magazine. He is the author of the 2008 memoir The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. His book Between the World and Me, released in 2015, won the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Coates received the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” in 2015.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 341 pgs.
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The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a black-and-white comic strip-like memoir of the author’s childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, her time in Austria as a student, as well as her return to Iran following a disastrous time in Europe. Her panels are nuanced and the dialogue is fantastic, depicting the emotion of her as a child during a tumultuous time in her country’s history. While the political climate is frightening, her parents attempt to shelter her as much as they can, but the revolution comes and hits close to home. Her more liberal upbringing has provided her with a divergent outlook from those imposing Islamic law on the people of Iran, and she struggles to feel at home in her own country.

Beyond the political and religious climate, Satrapi depicts a typical childhood of teasing other kids in class and trying to fit in with others, as well as the transition to adolescence and the rebellion that comes with it. Her graphics are done in a monochrome style, but emotion is clear in the nuanced work from the use of darker backgrounds for angry mobs to the lighter backgrounds for loving moments with friends and family. As an adolescent she wants to spread her wings and explore new things, but when her parents call and check on her, it’s clear that even the things she’s exploring don’t seem right to her, as guilt washes over her joy at hearing from them.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a multi-layered look at immigration, politics, religion, and identity. As Satrapi struggled to hide her heritage and her culture in Europe, she found that she also tried to hide her beliefs and convictions when back home in Iran. In many ways, she was unsure of her own identity and where she belonged. The struggle is beyond the simple right and wrong of a given regime or interference from other nations, it is a struggle of finding oneself amidst the chaos that is often beyond our control.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian-born French contemporary graphic novellist, illustrator, animated film director, and children’s book author. Apart from her native tongue Persian, she speaks English, Swedish, German, French and Italian.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 153 pgs.
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Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, which was our February book club selection, takes its name from an old Persian city, also called Pārsa, that was destroyed by Alexander the Great around 330 BC and is located in present day Iran. Because of the nation’s geographic location and, later, its oil riches, Iran became a prime target for invaders of all types, including Iraq and the West.

In these pages, Satrapi recounts her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in which the Shah who supported the United States was overthrown by student, fundamentalist, and Islamic groups and replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini and later created the Islamic Republic.  As a child, Satrapi is quick to passionate responses and, yet, is confused about what it means to be a revolutionary.  She tries to outdo her classmates with her own stories of family heroism, but she soon realizes that it is not the kind of competition you want to win, even on just the school yard.  There are dire consequences to opposing a fundamentalist regime.

This memoir, however, focuses less on the politics and more on the human aspects of this revolution.  The confusion of coups and the realization that war is devastating can touch each person in unexpected ways.  Whether it is an elevation in status, fear of being singled out by others who are afraid, or even the death of loved ones, neighbors, and friends.  Satrapi was a young girl who loved school, found reading to be a solace, and strove to fit in.  These are individuals, their country’s policies and actions may not reflect each person’s desires.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi should serve as a reminder of what revolution can lead to, how it affects everyone differently, and how the consequences cannot be ignored.  It must have been unimaginably hard to raise a young girl at this time, especially one as outspoken as Satrapi was.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Marjane Satrapi was born in 1969 in Rasht, Iran. She grew up in Tehran, where she studied at the French school, before leaving for Vienna and Strasbourg to study decorative arts. She currently lives in Paris, where she is at work on the sequel to Persepolis. She is also the author of several children’s books.

What the Book Club Said:

The book club all seemed to have enjoyed this graphic memoir. And the discussion was rather animated about the politics of the time and the religious fanaticism that took over Iran’s government. There were also interesting discussions about how her parents allowed her certain liberties even when they knew that neighbors informed on others and some were even in charge of ensuring women dressed and acted according to the new laws of the land. This was probably the most animated discussion in a long while, and some of us cannot wait to read the rest of the series.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible: 5+hrs.
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The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher, read by herself and her daughter Billie Lourd, is a memoir about her time during the filming of the first Star Wars movie and her rise to fame.  Based upon the diaries she found of her time on the set and during her tryst with her co-star (the Nerf herder), Fisher looks back on her teen self, who dropped out of drama school in London to be in the film, and how her time on the set revealed her insecurities.

Of the three memoirs I’ve read by Fisher, this is the best told by her with the fewest digressions and haphazard comments.  Like the previous two, there is a rehashing of information about her parents and their celebrity, etc., but it is not as bothersome as it may be reading the other two because the focus here is more on Fisher herself and her own experiences as a young actress on a movie set.  She was clearly young, and despite her celebrity family, had very little set experience and it showed.

Including her actual diary entries read by her daughter and Fisher’s recounting of her fan experiences, the memoir is funnier because it is closer to her real life experiences and less like a comedic sketch she created from her experiences.  The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher was fun, introspective, and endearing.  Readers will love that she keeps some things private and that she can find connections with complete strangers in autograph lines.  She was a woman who had deep empathy for others, which likely stems from her family and life experiences after her iconic performance.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Carrie Fisher (1956 – 2016) was an American actress, screenwriter and novelist, most famous for her portrayal of Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 4+ hrs.
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Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher, which she narrates, is a much more linear memoir than Wishful Drinking, which was narrated more like a series of comedic sketches. Fisher has turned more introspective about her life, her memory, and the relationship to her parents, particularly her father and her one-time step-mother Elizabeth Taylor.

Some of these stories are similar to ones that she told in her previous memoir, but there are new anecdotes about Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor. In many ways, the two books could have been combined. What is new here is her reflections on her life, shock therapy, and her parents. Fisher has given a great deal of thought to her escapades and how she, like her father, is happy and loves to live life. She lives and loves hard, like he did. There is a sense that laughter is important to her and how she deals with the not-so-pleasant events in her life.

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher is a much more measured examination of her past addictions, her Electroconvulsive Therapy, and the side-effects of parental abandonment and fame. She does a lot less woe-is-me type stories in here and focuses on her learning experiences and her own examinations of her life and how she has lived it.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Carrie Fisher (1956 – 2016) was an American actress, screenwriter and novelist, most famous for her portrayal of Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 3+ hrs.
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Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher, who narrates, is an entertaining listen even as the story is no where near linear and Fisher often takes detours to tell her tales. In some ways, this memoir is more like a comedic routine, leaving readers wondering if the events are true or merely anecdotes she tells to make her readers pay attention. From the marriage scorecard to the chart of Hollywood inbreeding, Fisher has a unique way of examining her life as a child of Hollywood stars. In midst of her wacky examinations, it is clear this would work wonderfully on stage as a show, which is how writing the book began (in her words) — it also works well on audio.

What shines in this audio are her one-liners and her jabs at Star Wars, but it also is clear that she loves her mother and her daughter. She has a deep love for her family, but she also sees them as part of how she became who she is. And while she does see genetics as part of the problem with her addiction and mental illness, she also indicates that it also is how she chose to cope with those issues. There is a lot about addiction and mental illness, but it is treated with the distance of wit and comedy, leaving the memoir lighter than readers may expect.

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher is short and in may ways a bit too light. However, listening to the audio, readers will get a clear sense that she has learned to let go of her tragedies and to move forward even though the road has been rough.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Carrie Fisher (1956 – 2016) was an American actress, screenwriter and novelist, most famous for her portrayal of Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 18+ hours
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Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen is probably best told by its author. Springsteen is never afraid to speak his truth about his upbringing in New Jersey, the hard relationship with his father, and his incredible drive to become the musician he heard and envisioned in his own mind. Fans of Springsteen will be more aware of the bands he speaks of and the people in the music business than I am, but this did not detract from my enjoyment in his story. In some places the names and bands slow the pace a little, but that might be more of an issue in a print copy than in the audio.

Springsteen is the perfect narrator for his life, and it is clear that as he reads he is taken back in time to those early days as a musician playing in clubs and being told he is no singer. In many ways, this memoir is not about the past and what happened, but about how each experience helped him grow and learn — to be a good father, to be a better musician than even he dreamed, and to reach out to the working class homes of his past. He strove to become as successful as he could, focusing on his guitar skills and his songwriting at first before eventually using his voice to tell the stories in his songs.

He’s always been a storyteller, and he’s telling this story as part of the legacy for his own children. He wants them to know their roots, where they come from … but he also wants to provide them with a sketch of his mind and how he handled things, even when he made mistakes. Readers will love how he praises those who were patient with him, and they will see how he’s not afraid to hold a mirror up to his faults.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen is a memoir that gives an inside look into one of the longest surviving bands, the music industry, and one of the most memorable songwriters of all time. The thought he put into each song’s lyrics and atmosphere, and staging, etc., is nothing short of inspiring. It is clear that his early determination to make music served him well.

RATING: Quatrain

***Please visit The 3Rs Blog: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness for an even better review. Seriously!***

About the Author:

Bruce Springsteen is an American songwriter, singer and guitarist. He has frequently recorded and toured with the E Street Band. Springsteen is most widely known for his brand of heartland rock infused with pop hooks, poetic lyrics, and Americana sentiments centered around his native New Jersey. His eloquence in expressing ordinary, everyday problems has earned him numerous awards, including twenty Grammy Awards and an Academy Award, along with an international fan base. His most famous albums, Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A., epitomize his penchant for finding grandeur in the struggles of daily life. He has sold over 64 million albums in the U.S. alone.

March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 246 pgs.
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March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell is the third graphic memoir in the trilogy of John Lewis’ time in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Lewis has had a number of close calls throughout the movement, and he has lost a number of friends and colleagues to the violence. And although he does have moments in which he breaks down emotionally, his faith in a nonviolent movement remains strong and propels him through some tough times and disagreements with his fellow Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) members and leaders.

One of the most ironic parts of the book recounts events at the 1964 Republican National Conventions in which Nelson Rockefeller warned the party of Lincoln that it needed to stand up against a growing subversive influence of conservative extremists, who were becoming a “radical, well-financed, and highly disciplined minority” within the party. Given the current state of our government and the path it is headed toward, these statements seem to have been ignored by the Republican party as far back as 1964.

The final book concludes with the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., and the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Lewis and many of those in the movement, young and old, knew that there were different tactics that could have been used to achieve their goals, but they strove to maintain respect and work within the confines of the system to have their voices heard. There were others who did other things, but the focus of these books has been on the power of a people standing together no matter their personal differences or their different philosophies to achieve something for the greater good. In many ways, the movement itself symbolizes the freedom America stands for.

March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell is gripping, emotional, and inspiring. It should broaden the appeal of history to younger generations — those who have not had to march in the streets. It stands as a testament to all the lives lost during the movement and the good that came be achieved when we come together as a people — as Americans — no matter our color, religion, or beliefs. Struggle continues, but together we can overcome anything.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

John Robert Lewis is the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, serving since 1987 and is the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. He was a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), playing a key role in the struggle to end segregation. He is a member of the Democratic Party and is one of the most liberal legislators.

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 189 pgs.
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***If you missed my review for March: Book One, this review could contain spoilers.***

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell is the second part of John Lewis’ graphic memoir that shifts from the Civil Rights movement in 1960-63 to 2009 when President Barack Obama is inaugurated — the first black President of the United States. The backdrop helps to frame the entire movement and its struggle — a struggle that continues to this day as discrimination continues, though in more camouflaged ways.

Lewis pulls no punches in this one, and as part of a civil disobedience movement that adheres to a philosophy of nonviolence in protest, he faces beatings, arrests, and more. One stroke of luck most likely saved his very life, though many of his other colleagues were either killed or harmed most profoundly. Powell’s artistry is sharp and detailed. This only adds to the dark events that face these young black men and women, and their white colleagues. Espousing love in the midst of violent actions by others takes great resolve and will power, though there are some who falter.

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and illustrated by Nate Powell would complement any course on the civil rights movement, offering a first-hand account of the violence and hatred that permeated much of the south. It also stands as a testament to the power of love and peaceful protect in large numbers. Lewis’ books could make excellent book club selections.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

March: Book One

About the Author

John Robert Lewis is the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, serving since 1987 and is the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. He was a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), playing a key role in the struggle to end segregation. He is a member of the Democratic Party and is one of the most liberal legislators.