One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays

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Thank You to Macmillan- Picador for providing me with an advanced copy of Scaachi Koul’s, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– In her essay collection, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Koul explores growing up in Canada as a child of Indian immigrants. She write about her culture, dating, and dealing with sexism and racism, both stemming from societal biases or the kind that is overt, and from a place of hate. Her writing is both funny and gut-wrenching.

LIKE- I immediately fell in love with Koul’s voice. She’s witty, razor sharp, and insightful. She writes with an openness that is rare: sharing with readers intimate details of her life. For example, she writes about body issues as a child, like worrying over her body hair with an obsession that would never have occurred to her fairer, white classmates. The pain of this is acute, when she recalls a male classmate pointing out the hair on her arms. As a woman, thinking back to that age, my heart broke for her. She writes about being roofied in her twenties, and the way young women have mixed messages drilled into them: Drink to be fun, but don’t get sloppy drunk. Drink to be flirtatious, but be on guard that you’re not a tease. Go out and enjoy yourself, but predators are lurking everywhere. Koul nails the frustrations of being a woman.

I was most disturbed regarding a chapter when explained how she was cyber attacked for voicing a controversial opinion. It wasn’t so much that people disagreed, but it was the way in which they disagreed: through hate. She received messages attacking her sex, her race, her body; truly vile messages. It was shocking and stomach churning.

The chapters where she wrote about her family and traveling to India, were my favorite. The title of her collection actually comes from her cousin, who was getting married in India. It is in reference to the arduous and tedious week-long marriage celebration, which includes elaborate ceremonies, strict traditions, and many changes in outfits. Koul explains how no one who has actually attended an Indian wedding, would want to attend an Indian wedding. I enjoyed this glimpse into another culture and hearing about her family. Just like any family, there is a lot of affection and frustration.

DISLIKE– Nothing. This is an poignant, thought-provoking, and frequently humorous collection.

RECOMMEND– Yes!!! Koul has a unique and appealing writer’s voice. I finished, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, and was left wanting more. She’s a great writer!

The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness

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Thank You to Perseus Books Group, PublicAffairs Books, and Nation Books; for providing me with an advanced copy of Jill Filipovic’s The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Can American women truly find happiness? Jill Filipovic explores the issue of happiness and feminism, looking at the history of the United States, statistics, and personal stories.

LIKE– I was raised by a strong, single mom, and from birth, I was always told that I can do/be anything I want. I never felt like being female limited my possibilities. That said, I’m not blind to the fact that things are not equal. I guess I chalked things up to we’ve come a long way, but there is still further to go and it takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, et… I’m an optimist. However reading The H-Spot was eye-opening. Filipovic made me realize that maybe I should reconsider my optimism, by showing me ways that the system has been stacked against women.

For example, Filipovic talks about the expectation that women will give up their last names when they marry. I’ve been married twice. The first time, I kept my maiden name and it bothered family members/friends: I got heat for my decision. The second time, I took my husband’s name. I’m proud to have my husband’s last name, but it’s the societal expectation that is troublesome. She explains that the burden is on women alone, and when surveyed, it became clear that most men, would not even entertain the idea of taking their wives last name, and many would be upset if she didn’t take his. To take this further, Filipovic links the last name to identity and power, something that a woman is pressured to give up. This idea of a lost identity is something that I had never given much thought, but in retrospect, I believe it is why I was reluctant to change my name in my first marriage.

Filipovic put it in terms of a power play, men get to keep the power, while women are expected to sacrifice. The same thing happens when it comes to careers and children. Yes, there are stay-at-home dads, but more frequently, the woman is expected to give up her career or take the time away to be at home. The worst of the situation is when there is a lack of support from the community, including other women. The decisions that women make, often pit them against other women: working mothers vs stay at home moms, those who breastfeed and those who don’t, mom’s vs childless women, et…the support system is flawed, making security and happiness hard to come by.

I liked how Filipovic balanced the content of her book, not just relying on history or personal stories, but blending the two. This made her exploration feel more comprehensive. I was most interested in the latter chapters, those dealing with subjects like fertility and body image. I wish that she had included even more interviews and personal stories. As she mentions, it’s impossible to write a book that is exhaustive on this subject, but Filipovic does a solid job at hitting the main points.

DISLIKE– I was unevenly interested in the chapters, especially the early chapters. I’ve taken several college level women’s history courses, so the history was very familiar: I wasn’t learning anything new, it was more of a refresher. However, to someone who hasn’t had the exposure, the history should be enlightening and interesting.

RECOMMEND– Yes. The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness is a must-read for women. Filipovic’s honest exploration of modern feminism is a worthy read.

All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen To Be Famous Strangers

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Thank You to Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a copy of Alana Massey’s,  All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen To Be Famous Strangers, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- In her essay collection, All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers, Alana Massey explores female icons, and their role in popular culture. She looks at how these celebrities influence us, and how society molds them, making the idea of celebrity a process of compartmentalizing and dehumanizing. She also explores how celebrities have impacted her own life.

LIKE– I like Massey’s concept for All The Lives I Want, how she doesn’t simply explore the idea of celebrity, but chooses celebrities that have made a direct impact on her. It’s often seen as bad taste to admit that you’ve been influenced, or even take an interest in celebrities, but whether people admit it or not, I find it to be a rare thing that a person is not at least a little affected or interested in celebrity culture. I find Massey’s willingness to admit this about herself and explore it, to be refreshing.

The last essay in the book, On Joan Didion and Personal Mythology as Survival, had my full attention. This essay is by far Massey’s most personal, as she recalls her love of Didion ( who doesn’t love Didion?), to a time in her life where she was in a toxic relationship with a drug addict. Massey also eloquently writes about Los Angeles and New York. Sure, some of the things she says about my beloved Los Angeles are not the most flattering, and I don’t agree with her assessment of it being a fake city. When I hear someone refer to Los Angeles as a false place, I know in my heart that they don’t understand my hometown. This aside, Massey writes poetically about the desert landscape of Southern California and juxtaposes it with the pulsing city of Manhattan. It’s beautifully written and made me slow down to fully absorb the impact of her rich descriptions.

When writing about female celebrity bodies, Massey does not hold back from sharing her own anorexia. Her descriptions of her obsession with thinness are grotesque, yet she does not make apologies for feeling this way. She owns her obsession. I was repulsed and saddened by her confession, yet at the same time, I admire the brazen quality of her writing. For better or worse, this is how pop culture has made an impact on her, and there is no need to apologize or feel shame.

DISLIKE– When I requested All The Lives I Want, on Netgalley, I requested it for the premise alone. I was completely unfamiliar with Massey and to be honest, even after reading her book and doing a Google search, I’m not sure that I know a lot about her. To this end, her collection read as if I should have prior knowledge of her, as if she is a well-know celebrity. She drops bits of information about herself, such as being a former stripper, her battle with anorexia, or that she went to seminary school; but none of this adds up for me to really understand who she is or why I should care about her essays. Either this collection needs context or perhaps I’m just out of the loop. The essays are uneven in regard to those that have a personal vibe, and those that are more academic in tone. All The Lives I Want would have been much stronger, if the essays had all been more personal.

All of the celebrities that Massey profiles are ones that will be well known to most readers, which works as it makes All The Lives I Want, accessible, however, it’s also material that has been done to death. Do we need another essay about Scarlett Johansson’s sex-symbol status, or another one explaining the mistake in vilifying Courtney Love? Massey adds little to the conversation. Again, if she had gone a more personal route, I think I would have found relevance, but her often academic approach was dull and off-putting.

RECOMMEND– No. I loved the concept of, All The Lives I Want, but I found it to be a tedious read. Massey didn’t leave me with a different perspective, and there isn’t enough personal content to make me interested in her as a narrator. All The Lives I Want, could have been a much more engaging read, if she had placed herself at the center of exploring her interest in celebrities.