• Book Reviews,  Bookish,  mental health,  Writing

    Wednesday Words: trigger warnings

    Can we all take a moment to agree that saying “I am triggered” as a joke is actually not something that is funny?

    We don’t do this with physical illness and if you do well…. that’s not funny either.

    Because this is something I am intimately familiar with, let me explain what it’s like as someone who can be triggered; as well as a caregiver of someone of the like.

    You are going about your day. Maybe you are in Anthropologie, your favorite store. Or maybe you’re in the library. 

    A person walks past and you catch a whiff of their cologne that most love.

    You break out into a cold sweat. Tunnel vision sets in and the exits disappear. You are transported back to “that place” where the worst thing happened to you. Your heart is racing and you can’t breathe. 

    Now you’re making a self-perceived spectacle of yourself in one of your favorite stores or places. 

    If you are lucky you have someone with you who can remind you to breathe. They see what is happening. There’s the five-finger trick where you have something associated with each finger that grounds you. You use your hands to feel the floor, the chair, the person you are with and you are slowly transported out of your worst nightmare and back to current reality.

    But you still feel like shit and the public embarrassment isn’t even part of that. A surge of adrenaline does incredible and also devastating things to your entire body. An occurrence like this can render one worthless for the rest of the day.

    But what happens when you are alone, reading a book at home that everyone has raved about – or even worse, a public place?

    The same thing.

    There are movies and TV shows my family and I avoid because they have content warnings. We know the triggers and take the warnings seriously. Some rated R movies are fine while others are not because the details for the rating are listed below the “R”.

    Ninth House is a wildly popular book that is shown all over Instagram. I saw it in countless top lists of 2019 – which is fine – but I never saw a single mention of a warning about the content that quite frankly, would have upset people who don’t even have PTSD. Instagram is huge so it is always possible I missed a mention of this but it’s not just this book.

    I don’t know why books don’t carry warnings. It would take up so little space to include: child r@pe, extreme hazing, violence against women including drugging and assault… you get the point. And all of these and a few more should have been included in a blurb for Ninth House. Not to mention, the author of Ninth House is a popular young adult author. She has made it clear that this book does not fit that genre but I have seen this very book in the young adult section at multiple bookstores.

    Back to ratings: it’s not that difficult. But that may mean that a group of people don’t buy a particular book. I would hope the publishing industry isn’t as calculating as this seems but one has to wonder when all other forms of media carry warnings.

    With a warning, some may skip the book entirely. However, I would argue that a simple trigger warning would allow a reader to chose to buy the book and then come back to it when they are in a good mental place. Everyone wins – the reader is respected and the author is read.

    The last thing I will mention is context. Because as a writer that is something to be considered. Does the graphic description do something to advance the plot? Is it integral to the character and their personality? Is it being used as a message to be shared? I will still argue that graphic content may not be necessary – we leave readers to their own imaginations all the time with far more innocent plot lines.

    I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t know how this changes unless more readers speak up. But until then, my reviews will include trigger warnings. Because I know from personal experience that a praised book can take me to a dark place fast and that is certainly not the point of reading and I never want to be responsible for transporting a fellow book lover back to their worst moment.

    The world is scary enough already.

  • ARC's,  Book Reviews,  Writing

    The Heap: a book review

    As intellectually playful as the best of Thomas Pynchon and as sardonically warm as the best of Kurt Vonnegut, The Heap is both a hilarious send-up of life under late capitalism and a moving exploration of the peculiar loneliness of the early 21st century. A masterful and humane gem of a novel.” —Shaun Hamill, author of A Cosmology of Monsters

    You had me at Pynchon and Vonnegut. But this also left huge shoes to fill for a debut novel. I inhaled this book in a day so it’s safe to say, those shoes were a perfect fit.

    Synopsis:

    Standing nearly five hundred stories tall, Los Verticalés once bustled with life and excitement. Now this marvel of modern architecture and nontraditional urban planning has collapsed into a pile of rubble known as the Heap. In exchange for digging gear, a rehabilitated bicycle, and a small living stipend, a vast community of Dig Hands removes debris, trash, and bodies from the building’s mountainous remains, which span twenty acres of unincorporated desert land.

    Orville Anders burrows into the bowels of the Heap to find his brother Bernard, the beloved radio DJ of Los Verticalés, who is alive and miraculously broadcasting somewhere under the massive rubble. For months, Orville has lived in a sea of campers that surrounds the Heap, working tirelessly to free Bernard—the only known survivor of the imploded city—whom he speaks to every evening, calling into his radio show.

    The brothers’ conversations are a ratings bonanza, and the station’s parent company, Sundial Media, wants to boost its profits by having Orville slyly drop brand names into his nightly talks with Bernard. When Orville refuses, his access to Bernard is suddenly cut off, but strangely, he continues to hear his own voice over the airwaves, casually shilling products as “he” converses with Bernard.

    What follows is an imaginative and darkly hilarious story of conspiracy, revenge, and the strange life and death of Los Verticalés that both captures the wonderful weirdness of community and the bonds that tie us together.

    Review:

    A smartly written and original dysptopian novel for adults is not an easy book to find. Because we are adults, we have already sussed out every worst case scenario.

    Or at least I have because I worry about everything. But one thing I did not have to worry about in this book was the trope of hurting children found in so many dystopian plots.

    However, I now have something new to worry about because I never imagined living in a 500 story condominium-type building that would collapse. Where, not even a class system of outer units (with a view) and inner units (no view) could prevent the ultimate collapse of this 500 story society.

    Or that it would be the middle class – the Dig Hands – that literally pulled the upper class out of a heap of trash.

    The plot was sharp, the characters darkly witty, and each time I thought the author would take the easy allegorical way out, he leaned on satire instead; like The Making of The Mole People newsletter. This was published, prior to the collapse, when two much hated time zones were created to cut down on hallway and elevator traffic.

    We all made it clear that we expected a reverse of the policy as quickly as possible. Instead, Mitner doubled down. He began to isolate groups of inner units throughout the Vert, reversing some delays, adding to others. Soon, the outer units – there were fewer of them than the inner units – all ran on “true time” while an inner unit might be in any number of different time zones. The result was not a population divided in half; rather, Mitner, whether he meant to or not, had developed and entirely unique twenty-four-hour culture.

    I think that’s actually called Facebook.

    But eventually, like us, the characters in the book liked these time changes and the 24 hour access to an impersonal life, right outside their doors.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpses into a prior life – provided by residents called “displaced travelers” who were away when the building collapsed. I would love to see a second book just on life prior to the collapse. And the survival, connection and disconnection between the two brothers would make a fantastic follow-up as well.

    Or perhaps we are already all too familiar with that disconnected life – we just don’t live in a 500 story building with residents divided by the haves – the 1% – and the have nots.

    Either way, it was fascinating to watch a society on the brink.

    In addition to the societal and economic paralells, there were little points for the reader to pick up on, the veiled Tower of Babel reference in particular, that truly made this book unique. And please do not forget about the snakes: can they go backwards?

    Can they?

    My few issues: the author built an incredible world in a relatively low number of pages. I wished there had been a bit more detail and a few more characters developed. However, this did not detract from the overall experience and is my personal opinion.

    If you are a fan of Kurt Vonnegut and/or Thomas Pynchon, then this book is for you. If you enjoy satire and dark humor, you will also enjoy this book. And if you are up for a truly unique dystopian book then give this gem of a book a go.

    This was a fantastic debut novel and I cannot wait to read more from Sean Adams. This book is available in stores today!

    Thank you to the publisher, William Morrow, and TLC Book tours for providing me a copy of this book to promote. This review is made up of purely my own thoughts, observations, and opinions. 

  • Book Reviews,  Bookish,  Writing

    Fleishman Is In Trouble: a book review and the lies we believe

    There was no way for her to voice an opinion without being accused of anger. Everywhere she turned in her own home, there was a new insult. She would wake up in the morning and walk out the door with Toby and the kids and before she headed in the direction away from the school, she would hear the doorman talk about what a hero Toby was for taking his own children to school.

    ✂️✂️✂️✂️✂️/5

    Rachel is a wildly successful agent. Toby is a respected doctor. They are getting a divorce and one morning Rachel drops their kids, Solly (9) and Hannah (11), off at Toby’s apartment at 4 am.

    Then Rachel disappears from their lives and her voice from the book.

    Toby is a good dad, there’s no doubt about that. But how good of a parent are you when you hold open contempt for the other parent and question their love for their children?

    Toby scrambles for childcare and is met with sympathy and accommodating help. And against the backdrop of Rachel’s disappearance, she is left without perspective during the pages upon pages airing Toby’s grievances against her, far beyond her disappearance.

    The entire story is told through the eyes of Libby, a longtime friend with struggles and frustrations of her own. From a literary standpoint, the use of her as a narrator was both fascinating and creative.

    And it drove a subtle point home as she is also largely quiet for long portions of the book. The women in Toby’s life don’t have the opportunity to say much.

    Fleishman Is In Trouble… but which Fleishman?

    Toby does his own investigative work and determines that Rachel is having an affair on top of abandoning their children. Double standard: they are technically still married but his extensive use of dating apps and hook-ups are treated as nothing short of normal.

    It was so interesting to me the amount of sympathy, help, support, and passes that Toby received while his wife was torn apart for her career, her drive, and the role reversal within the marriage – that he benefitted from, all while complaining about it at the same time.

    We don’t hear from Rachel until the latter part of the book and while some suspicions were confirmed, what we really found was a woman broken by the belief that women can have it all.

    The writing, the narrator, the stories told within the story, and the subtle way that the author created appeal to almost any adult reader made this a five star book for me.

    There were parts of this book that struck incredibly loud chords with me. Yes, this book may appear to be about divorce – but only on the surface. Sex is a prevailing storyline so no, this book is not for everyone. But if you were taught the lie that a woman or a man could “have it all”, this book is well worth a read.

    Much like Rachel, I spent 20 years in a male dominated industry. Locker room talk, harassment, and all the other fun things that come with the territory were the norm. I believed that I could have it all but it never happened – something always had to give.

    That something was everything from respect from colleagues to the death of a certification I wanted and studied out my guts for.

    That’s where this book really began to resonate with me. I’ve been there and have fought the stress and untimely pause or death of a dream. Sure, I could have gone in the direction of Rachel but we would have ended in the same place.

    Angry and insulted no matter our achievements.

    Women are tired. Men are frustrated. The lies are everywhere. In the book, Toby was free to exhibit little drive by keeping the same job, even when given opportunities for advancement, while he watched Rachel climb the endless corporate ladder which benefited the entire family.

    A fancy apartment in the city, a house in the Hamptons, the best schools – all things Toby begrudged while blaming Rachel for everything. Decisions made jointly were suddenly Rachel’s ideas and Rachel’s career help Toby’s back,  and of course the kids, they preferred Toby over their mother.

    Rachel couldn’t have it all. But neither could Toby. And it broke them.

    Because Fleishman was in trouble.

  • Audiobooks,  Book Club For Introverts,  Book Reviews,  Himalayas of Literature,  Lists,  Recommendations,  Writing

    Top Books of 2019

    When you read 153 books in one year, narrowing it down to a top list is so difficult. I am a firm believer in the DNF so if I finish a book, there is some value to be found in the writing. I picked these books based on what the book did for me. Did it change me as a person? As a reader? Did it change my world view? Did it bolster a current belief?

    I attempted a top 10 and couldn’t narrow it down by a single book more so here are my Top 11 Books for 2019:

    1. Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk – this book won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It’s dark, but not too dark. It was thought provoking and expertly captured the human condition and our roles in society. This is my top book of 2019 – the rest are in no particular order.
    2. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – A tough read but one that should be filed under “books everyone should read.” This book not only delved into the Underground Railroad but also what happened after “freedom” was achieved. It was an eye opener and a gut punch done so well because the author was not only well-researched but also an incredibly talented writer.
    3. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi – Theatre kids are ________. Kidding, of course. But as the parent of a theatre kid, I throughly enjoyed this non-linear story that explored power, consent, revenge, and emotion. This was a challenging read but well worth it.
    4. The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall – This book. It’s probably the one I can’t stop talking about. It’s also one I can recommend to almost anyone… for those who are religious, those who have been hurt by religion, those who doubt and question, those who enjoy historical fiction… I could go on and on. This book changed me as a person.
    5. A Prayer for Travelers by Ruchika Tomar – What a wild ride! Told in a completely non-linear format – even the chapters were numbered out of order – this book explores what it is to be marginalized, forgotten, and what it takes for a teen to pull herself out of that life. This book stuck with me for quite some time.
    6. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – Meet my new favorite author. This character driven story covers what it is to be a member in an imperfect family – so basically all of us. And extra stars for the audiobook, narrated by America’s favorite uncle, Tom Hanks. I listened to this book and loved every minute of it.
    7. There There by Tommy Orange – This book is an experience. It follows over a dozen Native American characters headed to the same event. Another non-linear format that flashed back to explain each character and the person they are in the present. If you want to understand more about the plight of the Native American, this would be great book to start with.
    8. Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner – I finished this book yesterday and cannot stop thinking about it. On the surface it seemed to be a book about divorce. Except it wasn’t. Gender roles, parenting, career sacrifices, marriage, and the old adage that “women can have it all” are what this book was really about. Definitely a book that I identified with and I cannot wait to post my full review of this one.
    9. Naamah by Sarah Blake – Magical realism is my favorite genre. Magical realism that takes place on Noah’s ark told through the eyes of Noah’s wife, Naamah? This was probably the most original book I read this year. It is not for everyone though – if you prefer the original version of Noah and his ark, you probably want to stick with that one.
    10. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – This year’s A Little Life for me. This was an epic book of loss, love, deceit, and redemption. And yes, the book was better than the movie.
    11. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – This book changed me as a reader. I read this book with my Book Oblivion group and it was the beginning of a shift in focus for me. It’s a beast and not to be read alone. My Book Club for Introverts is tackling this book in January and February. Check us out on Goodreads if you’d like to join the fun! We are also reading another book during those months if Infinite Jest isn’t for you.

    Thanks for talking books with me this year!

  • Feminism,  Wit,  Writing

    Wednesday Words: a barbaric yawp

    After spending over a month with contractors, tradespeople, and even a random mother-in-law – who does not belong to us – in our home, I think it’s safe to say that we have seen it all in our dusty house.

    ALL. Remember the mother-in-law.

    Steve and I built this house together thirteen years ago. Neither of us can think of a single disagreement we had over anything. We were also newlyweds so perhaps that had something do with it.

    Thirteen years later we were three weeks into a renovation that he was largely absent for – I’m at home during the day, he’s at work. Fair enough.

    Except it is not fair. During the construction of our home I dealt with no one other than the builder on very rare occasions. But this time around it was me dealing with the contractor, the trades, and the mother-in-law.

    I might be a tad bitter about her. More on that later.

    Why isn’t it fair? Because women are not treated the same. The same contractor would question and discount my input just to turn around and call Steve – who we explicitly instructed was not to be called because his days are busy enough already; oh, and because I’m a capable adult who takes care of a house, often on my own.

    Because I was a woman alone in a home with bunch of guys, I set out to be nice and establish myself as the owner present in the house. I learned their names. I told them good morning and good bye in the evenings. I commented on their work. I smiled. 

    That last one was my big misstep.

    We all know the anecdotes of men asking women to smile for their Diet Coke as they pay at the gas station. Or the rise in popularity and criticism of RBF – resting bitch* face.

    I wish I had more RBF – I shall speak with my Botox lady next time – and less southern politeness. Sadly, being polite gets you run over more than it makes a friend – especially in these situations.

    We had a terrible tile crew and even after it was fixed, it wasn’t. That was my breaking point. This is our last house and I’ll be damned if I’m going to have a backsplash that is two shades of grey. 

    Steve emailed his concerns to the owner and received a response full of excuses. I also sent a separate email detailing the unfinished work that was part of the contract and had been paid for.

    Guess who didn’t get a response to their email?

    Here’s where things really went sideways.

    But first: Steve is a wonderful man. He is progressive, supports my attempts to smash the patriarchy, and he is right along side me in raising a strong, capable, questioning, and independent 16 year old daughter. We don’t have defined gender roles in our home – it’s more about me being short and him being tall. He takes care of the tall things; I take care of the short things. And even better, we enjoy doing projects together. 

    But he is a fixer and after me trying to explain just how bad it had been to be treated like this in my own home, he offered up this solution:

    I could email the contractor from Steve’s email address telling him all the things that were horribly wrong with the situation. Such as: the attitudes toward me, trying at every turn to pull something over on me, the intimidating and pushy behavior, and the mother in law.

    Holy hell, if I owned a sword it would have be out and I would have been standing on a rooftop for all to hear:

    I refuse to only be heard by a man because he thinks another man is behind the words. I sound my barbaric yawp! – Walt Whitman 

    Ok, I didn’t say that last part. But you get the point. So did Steve. 

    He sat down and calmly composed an email, never to receive a response. But the words were out there in the universe and for the first time I think he got how I was feeling. 

    We have since had more issues and this morning we had a leak from the stone in the fireplace after it rained. I texted the contractor and I kid you not, I received a thorough mainsplaining on how a leak is water escaping from a crack.

    Astounding.

    So here I am today and I have a lot of questions and misgivings about society. We treat genders, races, and religions with disdain for not being like us. We take advantage of situations, intimidate, demand, and tell females to smile for a stupid Diet Coke. 

    We adapt and develop RBF. We learn that politeness is often dangerous. And we yawp until men see our perspective from the rooftop. 

    Why? Here’s a hint: it’s not to be heard. That’s not the problem because believe me, they hear us. It’s because men taking on badly behaving men is the springboard to change.

    They listen to each other when it comes to certain issues. But very few will tackle this one. And before men get scared, this doesn’t have to involve protests and signs. Simply calling out the bad behavior would go such a long way. 

    Not immediate change but if enough say something, enough will pay attention.

    So… the mother-in-law. This is the part that actually grieves me. She was downright nasty to me. She lied to the owner, her son-in-law, took a check we left in good faith – because we had to leave – without completing the work and called me a liar over something so stupid. She was by far the most defensive, the most deceitful, the most vicious, and the one looking to get away with the least amount of quality work for the money paid.

    When women turn on women, we take a years of steps backwards. We un-do efforts by men to treat us with respect and their efforts stop. And when men say nothing to their male counterparts, women just become shrill and difficult. It’s a circuitous mess.

    Steve tells me every night that I’m his favorite sound in the world. I have questioned that of late but he swears it’s still true. But until people start treating people with respect, I’ll continue with my occasional yawp but far away from remodeling projects.

    The painters are here next week and hopefully I’m not continuing with a part three but instead telling you about the time this week that my rabbits turned themselves blue.

    Oh, and by the way, I hope the mother-in-law, her son-in-law, and family had a wonderful Thanksgiving together last week. 

    * I strongly dislike the word “bitch”. It’s demeaning but that’s what the face is called – for now. 

     

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