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Posts tagged “memoir

Book Review: A Year Without Made in China by Sara Bongiorni

A year without

So as my financial state has shifted from being broke as a joke (full-time student with a no-benefits “perma-temp” job that barely covered rent, food, and utilities) to having things like stable income, health insurance, and enough excess money to contribute to both a savings account and my student loan debt– I think a lot more about buying things. I do, in fact, buy a lot more things. I also read fashion industry blogs, and contribute to clothes-related Kickstarter campaigns. A higher influx of cash has even increased my time in thrift stores: reading all those fashion industry blogs helps me learn which clothes at the Goodwill are fancy, and that makes me want them (it’s a strange thing! I didn’t plan on getting materialistic in this way!).  So as a result, I sometimes wear $300 jeans (that I got for $8.49 thank you very much), I have a $7 organic cotton coat made by some small designer (that apparently retails for a price even higher than the jeans), and I have a few $2.49 t-shirts from the local company that sells them for $40 apiece. As a person who generally thinks that capitalism and materialism are kind of evil, I definitely have some mixed feelings about this new interest. However, there has been a positive development from all of this. I’ve started reading clothes labels.

As a vegan, I’ve been reading food labels for 15 years– but it hadn’t occurred to me to look at clothes labels until more recently. There’s the care instructions (which I don’t really care about), the fabric content (which can tell you a lot about a garment’s quality), and, of course, the “Made In _________” section. Since having more money, I’ve started reading clothes labels, and have become increasingly interested in where items are made. Sure, this can often predict quality. But in addition, now that I have more resources (a.k.a. $$$$), I can afford to try to acquire “stuff” that was maybe more ethically and locally made. I don’t have to go for the cheapest or easiest garments right now in my life.

This brought me to “A year without “made in China” : one family’s true life adventure in the global economy” by Sara Bongiorni. I ordered this book from the library because I’m so curious about other peoples’ paths in similar pursuits/interests. In the same vein of so many other socially-slanted memoirs, the author does an experiment that takes place over the span of a year in effort to draw some big conclusions about the society we live in. In the case of Bongiorni, she noticed that it seemed like everything in her house was made in China these days– and so much of it was bad quality and/or taking up space.
We’ll start with the good: The book is very readable. I’m always impressed when nonfiction has a fiction-esque narrative. I also want to give major props for writing a book on the topic– I’m sure it’s scary to attack mainstream consumerist habits in a public forum. Also, she did it. With a spouse, kids, and a lifestyle in suburbia. That’s big. I read it in about a day, which was nice because I had a bunch of books in my “to read” stack.

There were some parts that I wasn’t super thrilled about. I didn’t really like the author’s voice that came through– the way she regarded her spouse, how she seemed to interact with others. We probably wouldn’t be pals IRL. Also, sourcing. There was a serious lack of internet in this book (even though it’s from 2007, when e-commerce definitely existed), which meant there were lots of paragraphs devoted to driving around and looking for non-China products in stores. For example, at one point her kid needs new shoes, and it turns out that lots of kid shoes are made in China. So she goes to all the shoe stores, like ever, and reads tons of labels until she finally finds one pair that were made elsewhere. She spends weeks doing this. I would just go online and either search for “made in usa shoes” (they do exist, barely), or browse a shoe store website for non-China countries of origin (in this book, the author was OK with Taiwan and other countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, etc). Same with the coffee maker. It seems that they bitterly abstained from coffee for the year when their coffee maker broke and everything at the store was made in China. They could have bought an Aeropress or gotten theirs repaired…

I could nitpick a little more, but I don’t want to spent forever whining about what was an interesting project. I think other authors could probably expand on this project (e.g. only buy “made in USA for 1 year), and I would be thrilled to read their books.

Find a copy here

Book Review: How to Grow Up: A Memoir by Michelle Tea

How to grow up : a memoir

I’ve been thinking a lot about growing up lately. My 30’s have been entered. My mindset and lifestyle might be a figurative punk house, but I have the kind of jobs that grownups get, there’s some money in my savings account, and my hair is dyed a single color and cut relatively symmetrically. I shop from the grownups section of the thrift store and I own practical “work” shoes that had triple-digit price tags (before I got them on sale! ha!)

My late teens and early and mid-twenties were speckled with Michelle Tea’s plethora of writing and literary events around San Francisco. She was writing about lives like mine ( but in a really smart and creative way that made things like being dead broke or having mice seem a little romantic even when it was the worst), and was also cultivating this crazy extensive movement of writers in similar boats in the turbulent waters of unlikely to be published in the mainstream. I learned about so many awesome artists and writers! Thanks dude! My life is so much richer with all your work!

So I was really excited when I learned that How to Grow Up was coming out. It’s her first on a mainstream publisher, so I was really interested to see what this meant for an otherwise mostly indie and small press kind of author. I went to the book release event, bought the book, read it. Some of the chapters are ridiculously awesomely written! They are hilarious and relevant and poignant and all that. The book it “worth” the $ for those alone. My impression is that other chapters (none are bad, but some I wouldn’t consider “required reading”) might be a result of some weird thing with the publisher or the editor or something who was like “write me a whole chapter about XXXXXX” (even if there maybe needn’t be a whole chapter). Or “give me X more pages in this section!” There was also a weird inconsistency between the chapters re: how openly queer they were. It’s hard not to see everyone’s business in a small place like San Francisco, so I knew who many of her pseudonymous characters were standing in for– and Tea has the right to write a memoir however she wants to– but I had the distinct feeling that there may have been some editor action making sections seem way more hetero than they were originally intended to be– in an attempt to make the book more broadly appealing. I’m sure this happens all the time in publishing, but.

But over all, it was good! Check it out!

Book Review: Year of No Sugar: A Memoir by Eve Schaub

Year of no sugar : a memoir

I waited for-ev-er to get this book from the library. There were hundreds of holds, and for some reason our collections people only bought a handful of copies. I read through it in what felt like a matter of minutes, so the people behind me in the library holds line won’t have to wait as long as they thought…

I really, really love sugar. Give me sweet over savory or salty any day. I occasionally wonder if this is a bad thing, but then I reach for my daily dessert and all is forgotten… But really, as a person who’s now been vegan for half my life (and a picky eater my entire life), I’m all for reading about other people’s weird and nit-picky adventures with food.

The writing in this book is really quite good– Schaub is excellent with humor and sentence architecture. There were more than a few instances where I had to re-read sentences because I was so impressed with what she did with language. This surprised me. The story is decent– I’d hoped for a little more juicy personal information since the book has “Memoir” in the title, but I’ll live.

Was it worth the wait?  The book is an account of something that actually happened, so it’s not like Schaub can go back in time and change history to make a more compelling story with sharper ups and downs or a rock-solid conclusion. As a reader, you get some research, some anecdotes, some justifications, and some moments of realization. I never read the blog, but I felt like the book form was a little anti-climactic. But I guess life can be that way. Sigh.

I’ve read a number of memoirs of authors’ year-long special projects. What I can say, is that this one didn’t seem to get more tired as the months progressed. And that’s a plus, I guess. And it gets a gold star for not being a creepy weight-loss diet book.

get a copy here

Book Review: Not That Kind Of Girl by Lena Dunham

Not that kind of girl : a young woman tells you what she's

When I learned a couple months ago that Lena Dunham was doing a speaking engagement in my city, I went straight to the “buy tickets now” page. The seats cost around $40 (+ fees, if I recall), so I wavered for a couple hours. I really don’t typically spend a lot of money on entertainment, so it seemed kind of expensive. But, I was feeling a little lonely and reasoned, I really don’t typically spend a lot of money on entertainment & a copy of the book is part of the ticket fee, so maybe I should do it! I turned on my computer, clicked the “buy tickets now” button, and found that within a couple hours, the other half of the theater had completely sold out. bummer.

So I waited in line for a library copy of the book, and just got it the other day. I like Dunham’s humor and work, and I liked the book too. Nothing in it really surprised me, but that’s ok. It’s a well-written collection of self-themed essays that will certainly amuse you for a couple of hours if you like the style of her work. The art by Payton Cosell Turner on the inside of the covers is pretty fantastic; In fact, the entire book is a pretty cute, kitschy design.

I don’t think I necessary relate to Dunham’s privileged life experience– I think my fondness is  more based in the idea that I think her candid style is important and kind of revolutionary. She’s made a career out of personal TMI’s, which I’m all for. Get a copy of the book here.

Book reviews: Travelly comics

So I read a bunch of stuff, then got really distracted. Here’s  a couple of the graphic novels.

RED EYE, BLACK EYE by K. Thor Jensen

Red eye, black eye

Grabbed this one from the library on a lunch break.

It’s the travelogue of a guy who gets dumped/fired/evicted, so he buys the legendary unlimited Greyhound pass and travels around the country. The protagonist seems like a big jerk, and I honestly found myself wondering how he’d ever attained a girlfriend (with his bad attitude and rape threats toward women at the bar) in the first place.  It really wasn’t the travel story that I wanted it to be. Reminded me a little too much of pretentious bro-art snobs living off their parents’ dime. But the whole thing was structured fine, and I liked the art. get a copy if you’re into that.

Truth is Fragmentary by Gabrielle Bell

Truth is fragmentary : travelogues & diaries

I waited for this one for a few months from the library. It’s mostly a travel diary as Bell moves between speaking engagements, readings, and sabbaticals out in the country. Bell has a peculiar knack to write/illustrate a daily diary in the most disconnected of ways. Like, a series of actions but not a chronicle of self. or something. I typically really like her work, but maybe it wasn’t the right time for me to read this one. At times I skipped parts because I felt bored, and at other times I was frustrated that she didn’t seem more excited about getting to travel to different places in the world. Call it envy if you need to. Regardless, much like real life, there were still moments that were delightful to read through. Like too-familiar bouts of awkwardness, for example.

Get one here or here.


Book Review: Over Easy by Mimi Pond

Over easy

Well that was nice!

It’s the late 1970’s and Margaret quits art school (CCA (then CCAC) in Oakland, CA) to be a waitress at the diner by the art school that caters to artists, bohemians, etc. This book is an account of some of the stuff that happens during that time.

The entire book is done in green, black, and white, and the pictures are nice to look at. The stories are amusing, and will resonate with people who have worked in restaurants before. Check it out!

Book Review: Gender Failure by Ivan E Coyote and Rae Spoon

Yay, this book is great. It’s co-authored by two classic contemporary queer writers/performance artists, and just came out this year. It’s based on a live show that the two did together, yet it totally reads like a book (i.e. you won’t be plagued by the persistent feeling that maybe something’s gone wrong and this isn’t supposed to be a book). If you’ve read lots of queer and trans coming-of-age, social critique, and memoir stuff, this book covers familiar ground. Yet it’s still totally fresh in the directions that it takes you. The format it also nice– it’s a vaguely continuous series of vignettes that switches back and forth between the two authors. So Good!

The book itself is 255 pages long, and I read the entire thing in a 30 minute BART ride + a 90 minute plane flight + 20 minutes of the light rail train away from the airport in Seattle. Whoa! Super engaging! The writing ranges from factual to heartbreaking to tender, and is quite good. I don’t really want to give anything away, so just check it out! Or buy it.

Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Hyperbole and a Half.

I learned after the fact that this book is based on a fuckin’ awesome blog. I am so excited to add it to my blog reader! All the Hilarious +(sometimes) Deeeep memoir stuff is right up my alley. The dog drawings are A+.

Get a copy here; read the blog and buy the stuff here!

What Purpose Did I Serve In Your Life by Marie Calloway

What purpose did I serve in your life

Amazon’s recommendation robots were pretty sure that I’d like this one. I had to order it all the way from Washington via InterLibraryLoan, and it wasn’t a loss (of time). The book itself is a combination of fictiony memoir and screen shoots of texts and/or instant messages. The author/narrator is 21-ish at the time of publication, and like many people, is sexual, complicated, flawed, and curious.

I guess Calloway is popular online, and I’m not really going to try to hunt down her blogs or whatever, but I really appreciate the book’s frankness. There are a buttload of sex scenes, and they are equally hot and awkward, but told in what feels like a really level voice. The moments of sadness/uncertainty/embarrassment are inserted so seamlessly that at first you’re not sure if she’s aware of them or not. The writing nicely captures how fucked up we humans are.

Find a copy here

Book Review: Drinking at the Movies by Julia Werta

Drinking at the movies

I really like this graphic memoir by Julia Wertz (of Fart Party, which is not about farts). I’m really tired and I have a headache so I’m not gonna write much– but if you like attractively illustrated creative & cynical misanthropes, awkward bluntness, and truth that is sometimes hilarious and sometimes sad,  Wertz is totally your cartoonist. After finishing this book, I immediately sought out more.

get one at the library, get one from the author.