The Yellow Envelope

1487481832850

 

Thank You to Sourcebooks for providing me with an advanced copy of Kim Dinan’s memoir, The Yellow Envelope, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – On paper, Kim Dinan’s life looked great. She lived in Portland, Oregon. and had a loving husband, a stable career, and was a homeowner. Essentially, Kim and her husband, Brian, were building a very good life. However, Kim longed for a different type of life. Kim convinced Brian that they needed to travel the world. He agreed to sell their home, car, and possessions to fund their travels, as long as they took a year leave of absence from work, rather than flat out quitting their jobs.

A few days before heading out on their adventure, Kim and Brian are given are surprise by their close friends, Michelle and Glenn. They are presented with a yellow envelope containing a thousand dollars, and instructions to give the money away as they see fit. They are not to stress over it, or over-think these acts of generosity, only to follow their hearts and spread a little kindness during their travels. How will the yellow envelope impact their trip? How will travel shape their lives and change their marriage?

LIKE– The concept of The Yellow Envelope is beautiful. I love the idea of how little random acts of kindness can make a big difference. Late in her memoir, Dinan tells a story about when she was in her early 20’s and working for AmeriCorps, picking up used furniture for minimum wage. She was poor and just scraping by financially, when at one of the jobs, Dinan was tipped ten dollars. The act of kindness, specifically that she was appreciated, is what stuck with Dinan. It’s in this spirit that she hopes, the yellow envelope money was received. The thousand dollars was spread out among many people, organizations, even to help feed starving animals, so none of it was an earth shattering amount given at one time, however, maybe these small acts were enough to affect change. Perhaps the intent and act of spreading kindness is enough? I’d like to think so. I’d like to think that I live in a world where people would feel inspired to commit small acts of kindness, and not feel that they couldn’t give, because it wouldn’t be “enough.”

I like that Dinan didn’t edit out her discomfort. There were many times, especially early in her travels, that she did not give away money, because of her own discomfort. For example, they meet an elderly couple who do not speak English, but who are in desperate need for new shoes. They contemplate giving money or leaving shoes at the couple’s house, even anonymously, but ultimately they cave to their own feelings of this being an awkward situation. Dinan and her husband often worry about how their gift will be perceived, although as they grow more accustomed to travel and foreign situations, this fear lessens. They focus more on their intent and less on how it could be misconstrued.

Dinan speaks about her own issues with accepting kindness. In India, she enters a rickshaw competition with two other women, and they find that their rickshaw, affectionally named “Sunny,” has a lot of mechanical problems. At one point, they ended up needing shelter late at night, in a remote area, and a man takes them in. He gives them shelter and food, even though he is clearly very poor and his sharing is taking away from his family. At another point, a man goes out of his way to get a much needed part for their rickshaw. These are strangers, and although Dinan is unfamiliar with their culture’s customs, she must accept the help. She must accept the idea that generosity between strangers can exist, and that kindness is a cross-cultural concept.

The Yellow Envelope is the right mix of travelogue and personal introspective. Beyond the cultural discomforts involved with travel and the addition of the yellow envelope, Dinan also speaks to her personal problems, including a crisis in her marriage. Through much of her memoir, I wasn’t sure if her marriage would survive the year of travel. Was getting out of their element a good idea? Dinan’s memoir is beautifully written and deeply affecting.

DISLIKE– Nothing. The Yellow Envelope is a fabulous read.

RECOMMEND- Yes! If you have wanderlust, or are feeling like you need to make a dramatic change to your life, The Yellow Envelope is a must read. My heart felt warmer from having this reading experience, which with the current political climate, is a feeling that I think a lot of people could use right now. The Yellow Envelope is a reminder that kindness is still in abundance in the world and that different cultures have different concepts of what should be valued. It’s an eye opening read.

Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian’s Tour of Not-Quite-the-Biggest-Cities in the World

1482189255509

 

Thank You to Gallery Books for providing me with an advanced copy of Todd Barry’s, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian’s Tour of Not-Quite-The-Biggest Cities in the World, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Comedian Todd Barry shares travel notes from his experiences playing secondary markets ( smaller cities/venues), during 2015/2016.

LIKE– Previous to reading, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, I had not heard of Todd Barry. I requested a review copy of his book, because I liked the concept. I like off-the-beaten-path travel logs. I was a clueless about his sense of humor, so I went in with no expectations. I read, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, last night, during my flight from California to Oregon. Would Barry be my ideal travel companion?

Yes. Todd Barry made my two hour flight seem like seconds.

It was a risk going in without a familiarity with Barry’s comedy, but I quickly discovered that we have a similar sense of humor. Barry’s quirks and annoyances, like his self-diagnosed Misophonia, had me laughing. As I was currently dealing with air travel, I commiserated with his travel issues, such as a woman trying to guilt him into giving up his aisle seat. The nerve! I enjoyed his behind the scenes perspective of being a traveling comedian, the pains and joys of being on the road. What I most loved about his travel diary, was his recommendations. Hell yes, I’m going to visit the “railroad car/ future home of a corn dog restaurant” in Oklahoma. Cape Fear Serpentarium in North Carolina, I’m coming! Barry’s love of local coffee houses and sightseeing is right up my alley.

Barry’s witty observations reminded me of one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, who always makes me laugh until I cry, when he reads from his travel diary during his live shows. The funniest stuff comes from observing other people, things too bizarre to make up.

DISLIKE– Not so much a dislike, but a suggestion; although, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, is a quick read, don’t do it in one sitting. If I had parsed it out, I would have found it more enjoyable. I felt like I rushed it. Don’t rush Barry, he deserves better.

RECOMMEND– Yes. I’m sure his fans will be delighted, but even as someone with zero familiarity with Barry, I found, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, to be a highly entertaining read.

 

The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches From the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA

1484863049372-1

 

Thank You to W.W. Norton & Company for providing me with an advanced copy of Doug Mack’s The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Doug Mack’s The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA, is part travelogue and part history lesson. Mack travels to Puerto Rico, The U.S. Virgin Islands, America Samoa, The Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam, to meet the people who inhabit these lands that are “not-quite part of America,” and to better understand their history and culture.

LIKE– I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to US History, but Mack has opened my eyes. I had no idea that the United States still has so many territories or that it is so darn muddled regarding the rights of the people living in these areas. I felt a little relieved, when early in his book, Mack, a travel writer, admitted to also being unaware of the full extent of these territories. This made me feel less clueless and in good company. I enjoyed tagging along with Mack, as he visits these islands. Mack’s sense of humor and his interactions with the locals, blends well with the history and politics of each island.

Admittedly, some of the politics and legal talk of territories can get a little dry and very confusing, however, Mack puts it out in layman terms, so if I read it carefully, I felt like I was gaining an understanding. My overall impression of the situation is that it is complicated and there is no one solution. I was surprised by the high number of people from the territories serving in the US armed forces, yet depending on where they live, they may not have very many rights. I was shocked by how the rights can vary dramatically from each territory, depending on status ( incorporated/ unincorporated, commonwealth, organized/ unorganized). Seeing how messy this all is, coupled with a general lack of interest or knowledge that most US Citizens have towards the territories, I doubt we will be adding any new states in the near future. It’s even presumptuous to think that people in the territories necessarily want statehood. Mack is perceptive with his noting how the idea of colonization is very distasteful and not politically correct, yet colonies are essentially what America still has, even if we call them territories and try to play “out of sight, out of mind.”

Some of the history, for example the connection between World War 2 and Guam, was familiar. Currently, with North Korea ramping up its nuclear capabilities, and other nations in the Pacific, feeling on edge, these small islands are becoming more valuable for their strategic positioning in future wars. Each country wants to grab what they can in the Pacific for their own security. Mack speaks of this towards the end of his book and it gave me the chills. Speaking of chills, I was gutted when I read about the thousands of Japanese citizens, including families with small children, committing suicide off of a cliff in Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands) after learning that they had lost WW2. I’m sure that story will forever stick with me.

DISLIKE– Nothing. The Not-Quite States of America has left me a better informed citizen, it has given me a new perspective.

RECOMMEND- If you’re an American citizen, you should definitely add The Not-Quite States of America, to your reading list. Mack is an entertaining writer and his book is important.