TLC Book Tour: The Bitch is Back, ed. Cathi Hanauer

tlc1I’m glad I had the opportunity to read The Bitch is Back, edited by Cathi Hanauer for TLC Book Tours. First, I wanted to share my own thoughts about the book, and what follows is more information provided by the publishers.

I have not read The Bitch is in the House, to which The Bitch is Back is a sequel, but my understanding is that it, like The Bitch is Back, is a collection of essays written by women about “the face of womanhood at the beginning of a new millennium.” Some of the original writers returned for The Bitch is Back, and a few of these returned to their original essays and reflected on the women they once were and the changes over the last 15 years.

If I had to guess, I’d say the audience for this book is women in their late thirties through their late sixties, and I fall in that bracket. As such, I felt like this book spoke to me in a way it might not speak to younger millennial women or older women. The essays in this book treat on subjects as diverse as marriage and parenting, divorce and adultery, transsexualism, homosexuality, domestic abuse, child abuse, arranged marriage, romance, aging, and sex. I found myself underlining lines and dogearing pages that spoke to me, both of which I rarely do when reading for pleasure. These bitches have a lot to say! They have many of the same fears and questions I do:

  • What, exactly, is menopause going to do to my body? And what about sex?
  • How do you keep a marriage going past its twentieth year?
  • What about aging? What can I expect?

They discuss these and other issues candidly in the essays. Some standouts for me included “Vagina Notwithstanding” by Jennifer Finney Boylan, in which Boylan discusses her transition from male to female and its impact on her marriage to a woman; “Coming of Age: Sex 102” by Sarah Crichton (and Sarah, if you see this, THANK YOU for the shopping recommendation—she, and anyone else who reads the essay, will get it), in which Crichton discusses sex after menopause and a long dry spell; “Living Alone: A Fantasy” by Sandra Tsing Loh, in which Loh discusses the end of her marriage and living with her boyfriend Charlie; and “Second Time Around” by Kate Christensen, in which Christensen discusses advocating for what you need out of marriage. I found nuggets of wisdom in most of the essays, however.

One criticism I have read of The Bitch in the House is that all of the writers were white women who wrote for a living and as such, the collective experience of womanhood wasn’t represented. In The Bitch is Back, Cathi Hanauer appears to have attempted to answer that criticism with the inclusion of more women of color (though the bulk of the women seem to be white) and women in lower classes. As a result, the essays feel a bit uneven, but I think trying for diversity, even if it results in a bit of unevenness, is a worthy goal. It struck me that most of the women seemed to live in the northeast, and in New York and New England in particular, but I also live in New England—another area in which I related with the writers. I found the book to be enlightening and enjoyable. And I definitely wanted to go out for drinks with some of these ladies.

Read on to learn more about the book from TLC Book Tours and the publisher.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Tour Schedule

tlc2Tuesday, September 27th: Dwell in Possibility
Wednesday, September 28th: G. Jacks Writes
Thursday, September 29th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense
Friday, September 30th: Doing Dewey
Monday, October 3rd: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Tuesday, October 4th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, October 5th: Book Hooked Blog
Thursday, October 6th: In Bed with Books
Monday, October 10th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Tuesday, October 11th: Stranded in Chaos
Thursday, October 13th: West Metro Mommy

the-bitch-is-back-coverAbout The Bitch is Back

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (September 27, 2016)

More than a decade after the New York Times bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House spoke up loud and clear for a generation of young women, nine of the original contributors are back—along with sixteen captivating new voices—sharing their ruminations from an older, stronger, and wiser perspective about love, sex, work, family, independence, body-image, health, and aging: the critical flash points of women’s lives today.

“Born out of anger,” the essays in The Bitch in the House chronicled the face of womanhood at the beginning of a new millennium. Now those funny, smart, passionate contributors—today less bitter and resentful, and more confident, competent, and content—capture the spirit of post-feminism in this equally provocative, illuminating, and compelling companion anthology.

Having aged into their forties, fifties, and sixties, these “bitches”—bestselling authors, renowned journalists, and critically acclaimed novelists—are back . . . and better than ever. In The Bitch Is Back, Cathi Hanauer, Kate Christensen, Sarah Crichton, Debora Spar, Ann Hood, Veronica Chambers, and nineteen other women offer unique views on womanhood and feminism today. Some of the “original bitches” (OBs) revisit their earlier essays to reflect on their previous selves. All reveal how their lives have changed in the intervening years—whether they stayed coupled, left marriages, or had affairs; developed cancer or other physical challenges; coped with partners who strayed, died, or remained faithful; became full-time wage earners or homemakers; opened up their marriages; remained childless or became parents; or experienced other meaningful life transitions.

As a “new wave” of feminists begins to take center stage, this powerful, timely collection sheds a much-needed light on both past and present, offering understanding, compassion, and wisdom for modern women’s lives, all the while pointing toward the exciting possibilities of tomorrow.

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Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

cathi-hanauer-apAbout Cathi Hanauer

Cathi Hanauer is the author of three novels—My Sister’s Bones, Sweet Ruin, and Gone—and is the editor of the New York Times bestselling essay collection The Bitch in the House. A former columnist for Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen, she has written for The New York Times, Elle, Self, Real Simple, and other magazines. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with her husband, New York Times “Modern Love” editor Daniel Jones, and their daughter and son.

Find out more about Cathi and her books at her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @cathihanauer.

Harper Collins was kind enough to send me an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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My First Cozy Reader Box!

September Cozy Reader Box

I received my first Cozy Reader Box in the mail this week. My husband is a little worried about the boxes, but I promise there aren’t any more, my dear! I really loved this box. Take a peek inside.

Gayle Forman's Leave Me

First up, a hardcover of Gayle Forman’s Leave Me. I have read both If I Stay and Where She Went, Forman’s YA books, and loved them. This is her first novel for adults.

Bracelet

I loved this bracelet from Lily Brooke Vintage. I usually can’t wear bracelets because my wrists are small, and unless I get them sized especially for me or they are adjustable, they just slip off. This bracelet, however, fits just fine. It jingles pleasantly when I wear it, too. I love it.

Cookies

Some yummy-looking gourmet cookies from Lark. I have never seen these before. Coconut Butter and Salted Caramel Almond Chocolate Pearl. They look delicious!

Coffee

A package of whole coffee beans from Big Island Coffee Roasters. I am not the most savvy coffee drinker, but I hear that Hawaiian coffee is supposed to be very good. We tried some for breakfast this morning, and it’s delicious. I cut the flavor out when I took the picture, but it’s Maui Mokka with notes of “chocolate, brown sugar, and the aroma of baking cookies.” Mmm!

They also sent along a coffee lip balm.

Lip Balm

Finally, a therapeutic hot/cold corn bag from the Jack’s Meow.

Therepeutic Corn Bag

I had something like this before that I bought from a craft show, and it was great. You can use it warm—just heat it up in the microwave and put it on whatever spot is sore. You can also use this one cold. Put it in a freezer bag and let it get nice and cold in the freezer.

In addition, most of these folks included discount codes good in their stories for future purchases. The box includes a handy card detailing the contents, including retail price for each. It could be argued that some of the items might be purchased for less than retail (certainly the book could be). Still, the items add up to about $20 more than I paid for the box, and I doubt I would have been able to do better than that, even if I wasn’t paying retail. I liked everything in this box, especially that bracelet. The box is perfectly named, too—just the sort of cozy comforts a book nerd would want, but not necessarily the things you’d think to get for yourself. Love it!

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Review: Hollow City, Ransom Riggs

When Hollow City, the second novel in the Miss Peregrine series, came out a few years ago, I bought it immediately. I also started reading it right away. But for some reason, I set it aside after maybe the first chapter or so, and I didn’t pick it up again until recently. I just can’t imagine now how I ever put it down! The book is nonstop action pretty much from start to finish. One of my students who had read the series last year said that I would want to start the third book immediately after finishing this one, and he was right.

Hollow City picks up right where Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children leaves off, as Jacob and the other peculiars escape their island with the injured and “stuck” Miss Peregrine. Be warned: this book does not fill in the gaps for anyone who hasn’t read the first book. You are going to have to start with the first book if you want to follow the story. I had a bit of trouble because it had been a long time since I read Miss Peregrine. In this second book, the peculiars go in search of an ymbryne who can help Miss Peregrine return to her human form. They search for and find a time loops run by an ymbryne named Miss Wren, but they learn Miss Wren is missing. She is the only known ymbryne who has not been captured by wights, so the peculiars set off to London in search of her.

Riggs writes good dialogue, and his characters are well-drawn, particularly his secondary characters like Olive, Millard, Addison the dog, and Enoch. I admit I found the “romance” between Jacob and Emma to be a bit wooden and pat, but the story itself was interesting, and the ending was an excellent surprise. The images are amazing. Do yourself a favor and read this one on paper and not on an e-reader or audiobook. You will get a lot more out of the images if you can savor them and flip through the book.

In all, I definitely recommend the book. It’s a great choice for the R. I. P. Challenge.

Rating: ★★★★½

Because I’ve had this book on my shelf and TBR (or really, a to-be finished) pile for a long time, I’m glad to be able to count it for my Shelf Love and Mount TBR Challenges. I’m also counting this book for both the Reading England 2016 and R. I. P. Challenges.

RIP Eleven

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Review: March: Book Three, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

John Lewis’s graphic memoir March was released in three parts. You can read my reviews of March: Book One and March: Book Two. March: Book Three was released just last month, and it concludes Lewis’s story of participating in the Civil Rights Movement, culminating in his involvement with the march from Selma to Montgomery, AL. and President Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act. Woven through the story is also an account of John Lewis’s experiences on the day Barack Obama was inaugurated.

March: Book Three picks up Lewis’s story with the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Lewis recounts how violence escalated as the movement drew closer to its goal of achieving voting rights for all. He tells of the murders of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, the subject of the film Mississippi Burning. He recalls visiting Africa and meeting Malcolm X. In addition, he recounts his own beating as he crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma.

One of the things I love about this series is it preserves an important episode in American history, told through the voice of one who lived it, in an accessible and engaging way. I personally think the series is indispensable for teaching the Civil Rights Movement to teenagers. The story is interesting enough on its own, but with the hook of the visuals of Nate Powell, which has almost the same immediacy as film, the story really comes alive. Lewis is often called the Conscience of the House. Few have forgotten how he led a sit-in this past summer to attempt to convince the House to vote on gun safety legislation. I can think of few living people I admire more than John Lewis. At the age of 76, he is still actively working—peacefully—to preserve human life and dignity. He is an amazing human being, and his tireless work on behalf of others—all of his life—is just about unparalleled in public service.

The entire March series is a must-read for everyone, especially in these times when some states are engaged in voter suppression tactics. Alabama, for example, recently began enforcing a voter ID law and promptly closed DMV offices in predominantly black communities, making it difficult for African-Americans to obtain the ID’s they need to vote. It’s amazing to read this memoir and think, “these things really happened.” What’s more amazing is that they still do. Black men still have every legitimate reason to fear they will be killed when they are pulled over for minor infractions. Meanwhile, young white men can be caught in the act of rape and get away with very little in the way of repercussions.

In the spirit of John Lewis’s struggle, you owe it to your country and your community to go vote this November. There is a lot at stake in this election. Maybe your first choice of candidate didn’t make it through the primaries. Go vote anyway. Too many people died for your right to vote and to have a say in the way your country is governed, no matter what your background is.

[rating;5/5]

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Birthday Weekend

Birthday petit-fours from my husband

Birthday petit-fours from my husband

It was my birthday this weekend. I have moved into a new demographic!

I decided I wanted to go to Northampton and Amherst for my birthday. There was a Poetry Festival in Amherst, but unfortunately, most of the events I wanted to go to were on Thursday or Friday before I could get there. Bummer. On Saturday, the Emily Dickinson House was sponsoring a marathon reading of all 1789 of her poems, but I really didn’t want to just dip in and out of that, so I wound up deciding to spend Saturday afternoon in Northampton.

Northampton and Amherst are college towns. Between the two of them, I count U Mass Amherst, Amherst College, Smith College, Mouth Holyoke College, and Hampshire College. I may be forgetting some. At any rate, they are close together, and with all those colleges, you can imagine the college-town vibe is strong. Northampton is definitely fairly funky, at least the downtown area.

We found a wonderful used bookstore. I loved it because the books were mostly in pristine condition. So many used bookstores don’t have really nice books, and most of them certainly don’t have the kind of selection Raven Used Books has. Here is my haul from Saturday.

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We went back today before leaving for home, and I scored two more books: Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations and Elena Mauli Shapiro’s 13 Rue Thérèse. The Club Dumas looks like it might be perfect for the R. I. P. Challenge, and who knew that there was a historical fiction novel about Hildegard von Bingen (Illuminations)? Byatt’s novel doesn’t have great reviews on Amazon, but I’ll give it a go. I loved Possession so much.

For my birthday lunch, we went to a burger place called Local Burger. Back when I was in college, I could get an excellent hamburger for about a buck at the cafeteria on campus. It had a nice charbroiled flavor, and it was juicy without being pink (pink ground beef skeeves me out). I hadn’t had a burger as good as those old cheap cafeteria burgers since. Until this one. And the fries were amazing.

We drove into Amherst and stopped into Amherst Books where I found a remainder of Remembering Shakespeare by David Scott Kastan and Kathryn James and Living with Shakespeare edited by Susannah Carson with essays by so many people—F. Murray Abraham, Isabel Allende, Brian Cox, Ralph Fiennes, James Earl Jones, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jane Smiley, Joyce Carol Oates, and many others.

Last night for dinner, we had some excellent Italian food at Pasta e Basta. I was “that person” and took a picture of my pasta because it was so pretty.

photo-sep-17-7-37-47-pm

I wish I could have brought my leftovers home. There was at least another meal left on that plate. I didn’t think it would travel well, though.

After dinner we picked up some cookies at Insomnia Cookies. Had such a thing existed when I was in college, I have no idea how big I’d be by now. We got four kinds of cookies, and I can definitely recommend the Double Chocolate Mint. I also tried Peanut Butter Chip, but the Chocolate Chunk and M&M cookies were all gone too fast.

This morning, we went to Jake’s for breakfast, and I had some fantastic eggs, potatoes, and toast. We walked around and did some more shopping. I found myself this glorious Brontë sisters mug with quotes from the sisters’ works.

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Northampton and Amherst are nice places to visit, and they’re only a little over an hour away. They have a different feel from other places in Massachusetts—perhaps because they’re college towns, or perhaps because they’re in the western part of the state. We don’t really have indie bookstores in Worcester, either (that I know of)—just B&N, so it was nice to go book shopping in those places and score some deals on some great-looking new and used books. In addition, everything was pretty reasonably priced—another of the virtues of a college town, I suppose.

photo-sep-17-7-08-37-pm

Steve and Dylan at dinner

Maggie and Me

Maggie and Me

Once I was home, Steve presented with two more books: A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century by Jerome Charyn and The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight. He had already given me Emily Dickinson’s Poems: As She Preserved Them. My parents sent me a gift card for more goodies from Amazon, too. I really need to do some reading!

P. S. I have no idea why the last image is upside-down on some devices. I can’t figure out how to fix it without deleting and starting over, though, so I just left it.

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Me

Doesn’t the R. I. P. Challenge make you feel like fall is finally coming? Fall has always been my favorite season, even when I was a girl. Ever since I was girl, it has felt like the real beginning of the year. Perhaps there is something to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah or even Samhain that makes more sense to me than New Years Eve, which is a holiday I have always disliked. Fall really feels like the beginning of the year to me. It could be that I’m a teacher, and I work to the rhythm of the school year. It has always seemed to me that each September brings new opportunities and a clean slate—a chance to start anew.

I don’t think I’m too different from many women in that I spent a great deal of my life worrying about myself, what people think of me, and whether I’m okay. It has taken a long time and a lot of work, as well as questioning a lot of what I was brought up and socialized to think, but I am finally becoming comfortable with myself. I could kick myself over how long it’s taken, or I could just be happy it is happening. I decided to do the latter. After all, I think plenty of people never arrive at that place. I do feel happier and more confident than I have in a long time. Perhaps ever. What a gift.

On the one hand, I wonder if my levothyroxine might have something to do with it. An underactive thyroid can cause depression symptoms (in addition to a whole host of other seemingly unrelated symptoms). I have now been on my medication for a month. I can’t remember the last time I felt so little anxiety. I am not sure I’d be me if I didn’t have some anxiety, but it’s been freeing to worry less.

I was socialized, like a lot of girls, to put others before myself. On some of the occasions when I have not done so, particularly as an adult, the repercussions, particularly from family, have been swift. I have spent a great deal of time—too much time—worrying about what other people think of me. Perhaps it is my approaching 45th birthday, but I just can’t do it anymore. I admit I admire some of these millennial women I see who have such strong ideas of who they are, of what is fair and equal treatment for women, of what they want. Perhaps it’s just a perception, and they feel the same inside as I always felt. It sure seems to me like their demands to be treated with respect are different from what I’ve seen in women of my generation and previous generations. I have come to realize that I really do need to take care of myself and that I need to see my own value. That doesn’t mean I need to be selfish. It means I need to love myself.

It’s hard to say that. That I love myself. It’s a new feeling. I have spent a lot of my life not really sure if I do love myself or if it was appropriate to feel that way about myself. I spent a lot of time doubting and second-guessing and worrying. I just don’t want to do it anymore. And it doesn’t really matter if I do because if I doubt and second-guess and worry, it doesn’t change what other people think about me anyway. So, in the end, there really isn’t much point in all the worrying.

I don’t know how it will change my relationships, or if it will, but I already sense a shift in my marriage. I feel closer to my husband. I’m also sensing a shift at work. Yes, I work hard, and give my job the attention it deserves. But I am trying, and succeeding more all the time, to leave my job at work and be more present at home.

I just feel different. I’m happy. It feels good.

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R. I. P. Challenge XI

RIP Eleven

Yay! The R. I. P. Challenge is back for an 11th year! And it’s back at Carl’s blog after a year at the Estella Society. This is my favorite challenge every single year.

I’m not sure what I am going to read, but I’m considering the following books:

I’m not sure what I will ultimately decide to read, and it may not be any of these, but I am so looking forward to curling up this fall with some great spooky(ish) books. In any case, I am opting to participate in Peril the First, four books.

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Review: Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon

After Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore announced they were divorcing after about 30 years together, I remember reading a great deal of speculation about the subject online. How could this happen? And if Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore divorce, what does that mean for the rest of us? They were supposed to be the great success story, the one that proved a lifelong marriage was possible in rock.

A few years after the divorce, Kim Gordon published her memoir, Girl in a Band. Of course, it was dissected. She was very honest about every aspect of her life. It might be a bit less about being in Sonic Youth for 30 years than the reader might expect, but I actually found I liked that Gordon wrote a true memoir about her entire life, from childhood to the present. If I have one criticism, it’s that she does blow through the band history very fast. I felt as I was reading that perhaps she didn’t really want to write about it at all but had been told to do so by her publisher. She offers only the barest glimpse into the many albums and songs she recorded. As such, the title is a bit misleading as the focus isn’t really on what it was like to be a “girl” in band so much as about the world of music and art she inhabited and her relationships with family and friends.

Gordon is understandably not very charitable toward Thurston Moore, who, as far as I’ve read, hasn’t said anything negative in response (though I admit I didn’t dig very hard). She is equally not very magnanimous toward Courtney Love, but given the very public ways Love has displayed her crazy for everyone to see, I suppose it’s probably accurate. The one thread that runs through the entire book is how true it seems. It can’t have been easy for Gordon to write, to put herself out there in that way. She describes herself as someone who liked to fly under the radar, to keep the peace, to acquiesce. It sounds like she is working on it, from the tone of the memoir, but it struck me as fundamentally honest to share that side of herself.

One might accuse Kim Gordon of name-dropping a bit in the memoir, but the fact is that she did know all these people, and if anything, she downplays her own influence and importance to the Riot Grrl movement, fashion, and Third Wave Feminism. I can’t say I am particularly a fan of Sonic Youth. I have a couple of their songs in my iTunes library. I have always, however, thought that Kim Gordon exuded cool. She always gave off the impression that she was unapologetically being herself. Who knew that she struggled with the same insecurities and worries a lot of women do? And why shouldn’t she? Perhaps the more casual fan of the band—someone like me—might appreciate this memoir more than a super Sonic Youth fan might because they probably won’t get the book they are looking for.

One thing I found as I kept reading the book is that I liked Kim Gordon. I could see hanging out with her outside the guitar classroom, if she had gone to my high school. She seems fairly down-to-earth, no nonsense. She is a good writer, and I actually didn’t know that she had done so much writing prior to this book, either. She discusses some of the rock journalism she has done, as well as her other art, which I didn’t know anything about prior to reading this book.

Perhaps because Gordon was working through a great deal of emotional turmoil as she wrote this book, there is a great deal of distance, even though she strikes me as real and honest, between her and what she writes about in the book. She sounds almost detached. It feels like she is processing a great deal, and because she’s processing it, she is looking at it from arm’s length. It’s not a criticism because memoir is tricky. I would assume if you are writing a memoir, it has to be the memoir you really want to write in that moment. Otherwise, why bother?

Was it healthy to vent so much about Thurston Moore? Maybe, maybe not. It was her truth, though. Her anger is certainly understandable. However, if you plan to read it, you should know going in that this memoir is not so much about what it was like to be in Sonic Youth as what it was and is like to be Kim Gordon. That seems pretty fair to me.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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Review: The Surrender, Toni Bentley

So, I debated with myself for a couple of weeks. Should I review this one on my blog? I pretty much review all the books I read, but should I draw a line with books like Toni Bentley’s memoir, The Surrender? Maybe I should. I read it out of curiosity. I had heard about it, and I can’t remember when or how, but it recently popped back on my radar again, if you will, so I just read it. Bentley is known for writing a more conventional and well-regarded memoir about her time with the New York City Ballet. Who knows? Maybe I will not click the publish button. If you are reading this, then you’ll know I decided to be brave because I’m a grown-ass woman in her mid-forties, and I can read and review whatever strikes my curiosity. I guess if Toni Bentley can tell the world about her sexual escapades, then I can at least have to guts to admit I read the ensuing memoir.

Anyway, if this book isn’t on your radar, and you know nothing about it, let me enlighten you. It is a memoir about Toni Bentley’s sexual relationship with a man who introduced her to anal sex. If that squicks you out, I should mention there is not a great deal of detail in the descriptions. I mean, it’s explicit, but more with language than actual description of sex—of any kind, really. It probably crosses the line for a lot of folks. But, I mean, do you pick up a book like this if you aren’t a bit prepared for what its pages will reveal? I should think most of us would know whether reading this would cross our lines or not. However, I will say I didn’t find it titillating—and not because I’m a prude or closed-minded or anything. It’s more (unintentionally? purposefully?) humorous than anything else, and pretty much not sexy at all. Sort of sad? It is not badly written. The prose is a bit purple here and there, but it might surprise you that it doesn’t entirely suck if you decide to read it yourself. But, I mean, if she can write some of the lines she wrote in that book and take herself seriously still… well, I have to give her props.

I will admit I was curious as to how someone could write a whole memoir about the subject. Well, it sort of isn’t. It’s more about Bentley’s sexual exploration in general. Actually, it’s kind of an interesting psychological self-study at its core. She doesn’t even get to the affair with the man she nicknames A-Man (I know, I positively cringed, too) until halfway through the book. Ultimately, I finished it because I was pretty curious how this whole relationship of hers was going to play out. I found her to be fairly… shall we charitably say inwardly focused? She cops to it—one chapter is about how as a ballet dancer, she focused on the mirror in the studio, albeit as a study of her imperfections. But you can’t help thinking it did something to her psyche to be so focused on herself and her movement in that mirror. I found her to be somewhat passionless. She doesn’t come off as likable. Not that she was trying, I don’t think. I mean, do you write a book like this if you care what people think about you? She’s not a coward, however. No one who would put a memoir like this out there can be accused of cowardice. Insanity? Jury’s out on that one. I’ll spare you the details, but if you read it, you will definitely wonder what the hell is wrong with her at some point. Actually, there are some great reviews on Goodreads that go into more detail than I feel like doing. And some of those reviews are pretty awesome.

By the way, this memoir was made into a one-woman play, and it sounds like it was about like you’d expect. However, award for most hilarious thing I have read in connection to this book goes to Ms. Bentley herself. In an interview with Salon, she is asked the following question:

At the end of your book, you have only had anal sex with one other man. Now, years later, have you had other anal relationships?

Her response is pretty brazen:

I would rather not talk about my personal life.

Oh, honey. It’s too late to close that door now. (I resisted a pun here, unlike Ms. Bentley, so you are welcome.)

Rating: ★★½☆☆

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Review: The Crossover, Kwame Alexander

Our middle school’s summer reading selection this year was Kwame Alexander’s verse novel The Crossover. It’s a book that has been on my radar since an English teacher’s conference I attended last November, but I hadn’t set aside time to read it until this weekend. It’s a very fast read, and I think the students will have enjoyed it. I know I did.

The novel is told from the perspective of middle-school basketball phenom Josh Bell, nicknamed Filthy McNasty by his father, a legendary former basketball player named Chuck Bell. Josh has an equally impressive basketball-playing twin named Jordan, and the two boys attend school where their mother is principal. Things get complicated for Josh when his brother starts dating a girl and his father’s health problems take a serious turn.

When one of my students read this book last year as an independent read, he said it was the best book he had ever read. I’m not going to go that far, but I understand why he said it. This student is not a big reader, and he plays hockey. Finally, he must have thought, here is a book about a boy like me, who loves the game with everything he’s got. I think it also opened up his notion of what poetry could be and do. I always say Kobe Bryant did us English teachers a solid by retiring with a poem. I think what happens too often is that our kids don’t see themselves in the books we select for them, and the boys who passed this book around my classroom last year saw themselves in this book. They also don’t see poetry as something that can be cool or that can speak to them. That’s something to thank Kwame Alexander for.

Some of the poems seem to mimic basketball on the page.

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Other poems are constructed in interesting ways. I am a big fan of poems in two voices. One of my students wrote an excellent one for a multigenre writing project she did on Robin Williams. In one voice, she wrote a monologue he had delivered as part of a comedy routine. In the other voice, she wrote what Williams was thinking as he spoke. When she presented to the class, she asked me to read Williams’s interior monologue while she read the comedy routine. It was an amazing poem, and I think we all felt its power, particularly when read aloud in two voices. Alexander includes a similar kind of poem in this book. It can be read three ways: 1) as one poem, going back and forth; 2) as a second poem on the left, reading vertically; 3) as a third poem on the right, reading vertically. It works each way.

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I can see why this book received so much praise from teachers and librarians as well as winning the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award. Highly recommended to anyone who likes basketball, who likes to dip into children’s books on occasion, or who loves poetry.

Rating: ★★★★★

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