The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

30852Admittedly, The Woman Warrior is an odd book. It’s also a book that’s rarely spoken about at least in the various bookish worlds I belong to. And that is a shame. The only reason I know about it is that I had a couple of college professors who adored Kingston’s work and taught this novel. All that aside, I can see how some readers might find it difficult to connect with.

TWW resides in the nonfiction/memoir section of the library, but is told through an nontraditional narrative. It’s more anecdotal than linear – very episodic in nature – and Kingston often derails from reality to explore Chinese myths and legends as metaphorical stand-ins for literal truth. At its foundation, TWW explores Kingston’s childhood as a first generation Chinese-Amercian girl growing up in California. She battles reconciling her parents’ culture with that of the people and the country she actually lives in – particularly as a female.

Told in five or so sections instead of traditional chapters, you’ll enjoy some parts far more than others. This book isn’t something you can read lightly and works best in an academic setting as the writing can be dense in theme, symbolism, and metaphor. So I’d advise reading TWW when you’re in the mood to truly absorb the stories being told.

As a feminist work, TWW is terrific. So interesting to see how women are represented in two cultures and the struggles Kingston must face since she has a foot in each of these worlds. You’ll also learn so much about Chinese culture, history, and perception. I’d have loved to read a novel told through her mother’s eyes in comparison. So fascinating.

What I most appreciate about TWW is Kingston’s brutal honesty about herself and others. She doesn’t romanticize her mother, relatives, Americans, China, or even herself. Sometimes her childhood experiences are hard to read and sometimes they’re funny as hell. So the next time you’re in the mood to learn or explore a unique take on feminism, TWW might definitely be for you!

The Late Bloomer’s Revolution by Amy Cohen

2291194Amy Cohen’s dating memoir languished on my TBR shelf for probably two years before I forced myself to pick it up a couple of weeks ago. I bought the book on a whim because the cover appealed to me. I love the bicycle with the flower wheels despite wondering what a bicycle could possibly have to do with dating in NYC. Turns out – a lot! Anyway, The Late Bloomer’s Revolution managed to surprise me in the best way possible.

From her early twenties to her early forties, Amy Cohen spent a lot of time dating and breaking up. Working from her own experiences, she was a television writer for such shows as Spin City and Caroline in the City before becoming a full-fledged dating columnist similar to Candace Bushnell of Carrie Bradshaw fame. However, I think Cohen’s dating woes are far more down to earth and something the common female can relate to. Her life is far from glamorous and she really shines when interacting with her mother and father.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sold. Her younger misadventures seemed old-hat in the world of woe-is-me ‘I can’t find a husband’ literature. Nothing seemed fresh except those small moments between herself and her parents that were both charming and poignant. Those moments – her mother getting cancer, the growing relationship and understanding between herself and her father – kept me reading. Because what you learn is, Amy Cohen didn’t have things easy. No matter how glamorous a life you think someone who works in television or lives in NYC might have, she proves that the average Manhattan-ite is struggling, learning, and growing from the same trials and tribulations we all deal with on a daily basis. You’re even left feeling weirdly happy that we’ve never had to live through a house imprisoning facial rash!

So, for me, most of the dating sections of the novel were hit and miss. Humorous, but never quite more than that. It wasn’t until the the final chapter that I found pleasure in The Late Bloomer’s Revolution as a dating memoir. And that final chapter satisfied me in a way that no memoir of recent memory has. Instead of meeting the love of her life at 40, settling down, and having children, Cohen meets the love of her life and gets engaged only to eventually break things off with him. Something as banal as – he wants California and she wants New York. And for the first time, in the midst of perhaps her most tragic breakup, Cohen finds a true happiness. The book ends with her single, childless, in her forties, and with the most positive outlook on life she’s ever had. That was inspiring.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I really don’t read many biography/memoir type novels.  Most often I prefer getting lost in a fictional story than reading about some stranger’s life and opinions – no matter how famous they are.  When I saw that Tina Fey had written her own version of these types of books, I decided to give it a read – or rather, listen.  So I downloaded Bossypants from a couple of weeks ago and spent a few evenings getting through the audio book.

Most of you, I’m sure, are familiar with Tina Fey.  She’s a comedic writer, improv artist, and actress.  She toured with Second City in Chicago, wrote and acted on Saturday Night Live, and has had her biggest success with her show 30 Rock which has won one million awards.

If you want to truly experience Bossypants, I highly recommend the audio version as read by Tina Fey.  Comedy is so often about delivery and intonation that hearing her read her own words the way she meant them to be read is invaluable – totally the icing on the cake.  Plus, she includes a pdf with all the pictorial evidence she included in the book, so you won’t miss anything!

Bossypants is by no means a literary masterpiece or the gritty story of some poor lost soul overcoming all the odds to become the most successful person in the world ever.  Instead, Tina’s story is about a young, middle class, ugly duckling, smart, funny girl growing up and going after her dreams of being somebody in the world of comedy.  She shares vignettes from her life that have remained with her and left a lasting impression.  Sometimes these little slices of her life can make the novel feel a bit disjointed or lacking a certain narrative flow – but for Tina Fey, a comedy sketch writer, this style makes total sense.

I found myself smiling a lot and laughing out loud a few times – so it wasn’t quite as funny as I had imagined.  Her fears of being too old to be a mom or not even necessarily wanting another child were great to read as well as the insight into her Sarah Palin impersonations.  You’ll hear her discuss what being a woman amongst men has been like for her and the lessons these experiences have taught her – as well as what it’s like to be a normal, geeky girl in a world of ultra-feminine glamour Hollywood types.

To sum up, Bossypants succeeds as an easy, entertaining listen (very short at 5.5 hours) as long as you don’t expect too much.  A very pleasant way to settle down in the evenings after a stressful day and if you’ve never watched 30 Rock, you’ll probably find yourself Netflixing the first season before the audio book is over (totally did this).  I think reading this book before you’ve watched the show adds to the watching experience as you notice just how much Tina Fey has modeled Liz Lemon after herself (which the tv execs told her to do!).

I’m really enjoying my audio book journey (Bossypants was only my second audio EVER).  Sometimes I still find myself falling asleep to the soothing sounds and cadences of the narrator’s voice, but overall I’m excited to continue exploring.  I’m currently listening to Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare as read by Jennifer Ehle and loving it!

Book Review: My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler

 Beware: Below is a post where I ramble a lot because that is the mental  state the  book left me upon finishing.  I do so very much apologize to all  who may read.

First and foremost, I don’t know much about Chelsea Handler.  After watching a few episodes of Chelsea Lately and reading this book, I can honestly say I still don’t know  much about her.  People rarely baffle me, but this broad knocks me silly.  About halfway through this memoir of sorts, I texted Victoria with this question:  I don’t know whether Chelsea Handler is a liar or just a major train wreck.

 My Horizontal Life is touted as a shock-fest of in-your-face female promiscuity.  I looked forward to Chelsea’s stories of wild one-night stands and tales of feminine individuality and confidence.  I wanted to be offended and live vicariously through her naughtiness.    Unfortunately, the only thing offensive was a surprising lack of the offensive, but a  surplus of far-fetched stories (many that often stopped way short of sex due to abuse of  some narcotic or vodka) which just kind of made me sad for an obviously unadjusted, alcoholic, self-demoralizing woman.

Reading the memoir of someone struggling with alcoholism and being truthful about the hardships that occur during addiction would have been enlightening, informative, and interesting – but the book is supposed to be a comedic look at true-life sex romps – not Intervention.

On the other hand, if you like Chelsea Hander perhaps you will like the book as well.  I think my biggest problem with her is just that I would never be friends with her – and not because I don’t approve of her drinking copious amounts of vodka (what girl doesn’t like a nice glass of top shelf?), doing the occasional drug and having a good night out with friends, or sleeping with whatever lovely stranger happens to cross her path.  Handler writes herself as racist, vapid, and entirely concerned with physical appearance – not only in herself, but in others as well.  If I had to read one more sentence about her being fat I was going to go eat a cheeseburger for her.

Another note – she writes everyone as a complete caricature.  These people do not exist as she writes them.  Actually, I’m fairly certain most of the incidents she writes about are completely untrue or only loosely based on some drunken reality she lives in.  Even comedians can’t get away with such blatant lies.

Also, besides the fact that she has lots of sex, Handler is very chaste when it comes to sexy times.  She struggles even to say the word ‘panties’.

In the book’s defense, it’s easy to read (first half is better than second half) – just a couple of solid hours and you’ve survived.  Exactly two lines in the book made me laugh out loud – which I guess is a small success.

I hate star ratings, but for the sake of argument – 2/5.