Book Review: Period

period twelve voices tell the bloody truthPeriod: Twelve Voices Tell The Bloody Truth
Edited by Kate Farrell
Nonfiction
208 pages
Published May 2018

Period consists of twelve essays about periods. The authors are wonderfully diverse, covering intersex, disabled, POC, and trans individuals. There are stories about fibroids, about wishing to have periods, wishing not to have periods, pads vs tampons, having periods at work, dealing with a period while being homeless, running a marathon while menstruating – just an amazing variety of experiences with periods. Some of the essays talk about how menstruation is treated in pop culture, from the famous “blue liquid” of pad commercials to the sitcom trope of “angry woman is irrational because she’s on her period.”

I think this is a book that every parent of a young daughter should read. I say that because it’s a little advanced, so perhaps not a book to hand to every pre-pubescent girl, but there’s a lot in it about what we teach our girls about their periods. Any person who has ever wondered if their period is normal should also read this book. There is SO. MUCH. VARIETY. when it comes to menstruation. But while there is plenty of variety that is normal, there is some that isn’t. The essay about the fibroids is an example of this. That level of bleeding is NOT normal, and it’s dangerous to tell people that it is. But because we don’t TALK about periods, people unfortunately assume things are normal that aren’t.

The book also makes me want to put together some hygiene kits for the homeless women I see in Baltimore. I’d never really thought about how difficult it is to deal with your period while homeless. Some pads/tampons, some hand sanitizer, and some cleaning wipes in a ziploc would go a long way towards making their lives a lot easier. The essay about having periods while homeless includes some ideas for kits to give out.

Overall, this is a very educating (and entertaining!) read. For those with periods AND those without. Menstruation should stop being a shameful topic. It’s a health issue.

From the cover of Period: Twelve Voices Tell The Bloody Truth:

Periods enter the spotlight, raising a diverse group of voices on a topic long shrouded in shame and secrecy.

In this collection, writers of various ages and across racial, cultural, and gender identities share stories about the period. Each of our twelve authors brings an individual perspective and sensibility. They write about homeless periods, nonexistent periods, male periods, political periods, and more. Told with warmth, humor, and purpose, these essays celebrate all kinds of period experiences. 

Periods are a fact of life. It’s time to talk about them. 

Book Review: Well, That Escalated Quickly

well that escalated quicklyWell, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist
by Franchesca Ramsey
Memoir/Comedy
244 pages
Published May 2018

This is the third comedic memoir I’ve read by a black comedian. I don’t really know what to make of that; I’ve certainly read non-comedic memoirs from African Americans, and comedic memoirs from white people, but three comedic memoirs from African-Americans in the last year seems a little surprising. They’re all fairly new, maybe it’s just what’s been getting published recently? Or maybe it’s just a coincidence and not yet a pattern. Or maybe it’s my way of giving my brain a bit of a break from current events while still trying to read inclusively. That last one might be it.

Anyway. While I didn’t like Ramsey’s book as much as I did Trevor Noah’s or Tiffany Haddish’s books, I did really enjoy it. I didn’t really know who Ramsey was before reading her book, and that might be why I didn’t like it quite as much. This book deal with internet culture a lot more than the other two do; and that pertains to my interests. What I really enjoyed is that she talks about her missteps, how she was criticized for them, and admits that she was wrong and much of the criticism was needed. She explains how she corrected her own behavior in response and strove to be better, and that’s something we don’t see a lot of. We see half-hearted apologies and no change in behavior from a lot of internet celebrities, and Ramsey definitely tries her best to rectify her mistakes. I really liked reading about her experiences with that, as it can be such a touchy issue. No one likes to be called out. But sometimes we need to be so we can learn to be better.

I really enjoyed this one. I wouldn’t say it dealt with racism more than Noah or Haddish’s books did, but it definitely dealt with combatting racism more than they did. It talked about the activist aspect of it, and how to help.

This is the third book I’ve read from my Summer TBR list.

From the cover of Well, That Escalated Quickly:

Franchesca Ramsey didn’t set out to be an activist. Or a commentator on identity, race, and culture, really. But then her YouTube video “What White Girls Say . . . to Black Girls” went viral. Twelve million views viral. Faced with an avalanche of media requests, fan letters, and hate mail, she had to make a choice: Go all in or step back and let others frame the conversation. After a crash course in social justice – and more than a few foot-in-mouth moments – she realized she had a passion for breaking down injustice in ways that could make people listen, laugh, and engage.

Ramsey uses her own experiences as an accidental activist to explore the ways we communicate with one another – from the highs of bridging gaps and making connections to the many pitfalls that accompany talking about race, power, sexuality, and gender in an unpredictable public space . . . the internet.

A sharp and timely collection of personal essays, WELL, THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY includes Ramsey’s advice on dealing with internet trolls and low-key racists, confessions about being a former online hater herself, and her personal hits and misses in activist debates with everyone from bigoted Facebook friends and misguided relatives to mainstream celebrities and YouTube influencers. Alongside useful guides to unfriending and a glossary of “not so simple concepts,” Ramsey shows readers that mistakes are inevitable, but what’s important is how we learn from them to make a better world.

Book Review: Invisible

invisibleInvisible: How Young Women With Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine
by Michele Lent Hirsch
Nonfiction – Health
230 pages
Published February 2018

I’ve been reading a lot of fiction lately, so it’s about time to sprinkle in a nonfiction volume! As soon as I learned this book existed, I knew I needed to get my hands on it. I’ve been living with two autoimmune disease most of my adult life, and in the past three or four years their impact on my life has grown quite a lot. I struggle with fatigue, with my weight, with muscle pain, with migraines, with intestinal issues if I eat the wrong thing. Some days it’s just hard to function like a normal person when my brain is full of fog and every movement hurts. So this book? This is my life.

The author of this book did a LOT of research. She’s not only disabled herself, but she interviewed SO MANY PEOPLE, with all kinds of different disabilities, diseases, and experiences. Mostly patients, but she also interviewed a few doctors.

The book is divided into six chapters: “Could Someone Love This Body of Mine,” “The (Foggy) Glass Ceiling and the Wall,” “It’s Cool Guys I’m Totally Fine,” “Why Don’t They Believe Me? or the Case of the Lady Lab Rat,” “To Raise Small Humans – Or Not,” and “Sick Like Miss America.” I really enjoyed her divisions here. The first chapter is about romantic relationships, the second about work, the third about friendships. “Why Don’t They Believe Me” covers women’s relationships with their doctors, the next chapter is obviously about fertility and parenting, and the last chapter is about society’s expectations of beauty and how to be sick.

“Could Someone Love This Body of Mine” touched on some of my personal insecurities, as one of my autoimmune diseases leaves pretty ugly scar tissue on my skin. It talks about how men tend to leave women with disabilities or chronic illness, but women don’t. (The book has extensive footnotes detailing sources and studies to back up claims like this one.)

I think the only chapter in this book that I didn’t really directly relate to was about raising children. I was child-free before being diagnosed, and it hasn’t changed my mind. We don’t want kids.

If you or someone you know has a chronic illness, I’d recommend reading this book. There’s valuable information and insight here, even if all you get out of it is “I’m not alone in this!”

Now I’m off to take a nap.

From the cover of Invisible:

Though young women with serious illness tend to be seen as outliers, young female patients are in fact the primary demographic for many illnesses. They are also one of the most ignored groups in our medical system—a system where young women, especially women of color and trans women, are invisible.

Michele Lent Hirsch knew she couldn’t be the only woman who’s faced serious health issues at a young age, as well as the resulting effects on her career, her relationships, and her sense of self. What she found while researching Invisible was a surprisingly large and overlooked population with important stories to tell. Miriam’s doctor didn’t believe she had breast cancer; she did. Sophie navigates being the only black scientist in her lab while studying the very disease, HIV, that she hides from her coworkers. For Victoria, coming out as a transgender woman was less difficult than coming out as bipolar. 

And because of expectations about gender and age, young women with health issues must often deal with bias in their careers and personal lives. Not only do they feel pressured to seem perfect and youthful, they also find themselves amid labyrinthine obstacles in a culture that has one narrow idea of womanhood.

Lent Hirsch weaves her own harrowing experiences together with stories from other women, perspectives from sociologists on structural inequality, and insights from neuroscientists on misogyny in health research. She shows how health issues and disabilities amplify what women in general already confront: warped beauty standards, workplace sexism, worries about romantic partners, and mistrust of their own bodies. By shining a light on this hidden demographic, Lent Hirsch explores the challenges that all women face.

Book Review: Pretending To Be Normal

pretending to be normal aspergerPretending To Be Normal (Expanded Edition)
by Liane Holliday Willey
Memoir
190 pages
Published 2014

First off, once again this is an older book that uses the term Asperger’s throughout. The book was originally published in 1999, but a few more chapters were added and it was republished in 2014.

Honestly I found it a little hard to get through. Unlike Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, it was pretty much entirely memoir, and didn’t really speak to the reader as if trying to have a conversation at all. It just told Willey’s story. Which is fine, it just wasn’t what I was expecting after reading Nerdy. The appendices are the only place that have tips and tricks for dealing with the neurotypical world as an autistic person, but there wasn’t really anything new or unique there.

I also just don’t think I like her writing style as much as I did the writing style in Nerdy, but that’s such a personal thing. It’s hard to make a recommendation based on that. Autistic people vary so widely in where their strengths and weaknesses are that it’s difficult to say which books will be useful to which people, in general.

So – it’s worth reading for yet another viewpoint on being autistic, and there are several parts on parenting as an autistic woman, so autistic parents might get more use out of the book than I did, as a childless spouse of an autistic man. But I personally did not like it nearly as much as Nerdy or The Journal of Best Practices.

From the cover of Pretending To Be Normal:

Compelling and witty, Liane Holliday Willey’s account of growing to adulthood as an undiagnosed ‘Aspie’ has been read by thousands of people on and off the autism spectrum since it was first published in 1999. Bringing her story up to date, including her diagnosis as an adult, and reflecting on the changes in attitude over 15 years, this expanded edition will continue to entertain (and inform) all those who would like to know a little more about how it feels to spend your life `pretending to be normal’.

Book Review: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

tolstoy purple chairTolstoy and the Purple Chair
by Nina Sankovitch
Memoir
236 pages
Published 2011

So first off, can we talk about this cover? I want this chair so bad. Though the purple chair the author actually sits in to read is nowhere near this pretty, from her description of it. I haven’t got a good reading chair yet; I have one corner of a couch, next to a bookshelf, that is my current favored reading spot (reading lamp, blanket, and end table included). But eventually I will find myself the perfect reading chair and make myself a nook.

That aside. The premise of this book is the author trying to come to terms with the death of her older sister, who she idolized. Her sister died of cancer, so they knew it was happening, but it was still a shock when she passed. For a few years, Nina pushes her grief aside and throws herself into being busy, but she eventually decides to full process she’s going to dedicate a year to reading a book every single day. She reasons that at her reading speed, she can reasonably finish a 300 page-ish book each day, giving herself time before her sons get up, while they’re at school, and after everyone else goes to bed.

I saw one reviewer mention Nina’s unrecognized privilege, and it’s true. Nina is very privileged. She can afford not to work, and not to worry too much about chores, cooking, and the general running of a home. Her sons and husband all seem fairly self-sufficient, and her husband’s job keeps them quite well, it seems. (I don’t even want to think about how much the Christmas tree she describes actually cost, considering it reaches the chandelier hanging from the second-floor ceiling.)

But the book is about the books she reads, not how privileged she is. And in that respect I quite liked it. Her criteria for picking books are that she can’t have read them before, though they can be authors she’s read before, no author could be read more than once, and she had to review every book she read. There’s a list in the back of the book of every book she read during the year. I’ve only read three of the books she read in that year: Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred. All fantasy, of course, and none of which she actually mentioned in the text of the book! (I’ve also read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which she mentions in the beginning of the book, but wasn’t part of her year of reading.)

I love the way she talks about the books she reads. She relates them to her life, or her father’s memories of World War II. She draws lessons from the stories, and does, in time, begin to heal from her sister’s death. The way she talks about reading, and her books, really struck a chord with me, and I think I’m going to buy myself a copy of this book. I want to refer back to it when I’m feeling uninspired with my reviews, and this might be a book I re-read often to encourage me to dive deeper into my books.

This is my pick for PopSugar’s 2018 prompt “favorite color in the title” and I think it’s also going on my personal Best of 2018 list. I just loved it that much. It’s not a “I have to tell everyone about this and encourage everyone to read it!” kind of book. It’s more a “this really touched on a deep passion of mine and has words I’ll carry with me going forward” kind of book. It was just lovely.

From the cover of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair:

Nina Sankovitch has always been a reader. As a child, she discovered that a trip to the local bookmobile with her sisters was more exhilarating than a ride at the carnival. Books were the glue that held her immigrant family together. When Nina’s eldest sister died at the age of forty-six, Nina turned to books for comfort, escape, and introspection. In her beloved purple chair, she rediscovered the magic of such writers as Toni Morrison, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ian McEwan, Edith Wharton, and, of course, Leo Tolstoy. Through the connections Nina made with books and authors (and even other readers), her life changed profoundly, and in unexpected ways. Reading, it turns out, can be the ultimate therapy.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair also tells the story of the Sankovitch family: Nina’s father, who barely escaped death in Belarus during World War II; her four rambunctious children, who offer up their own book recommendations while helping out with the cooking and cleaning; and Anne-Marie, her oldest sister and idol, with whom Nina shared the pleasure of books, even in her last moments of life. In our lightning-paced culture that encourages us to seek more, bigger, and better things, Nina’s daring journey shows how we can deepen the quality of our everyday lives – if we only find the time.

Book Review: Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate

nerdy shy socially inappropriate asperger autismNerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate: A User Guide to an Asperger Life
by Cynthia Kim
Nonfiction
240 pages
Published 2014

I’ve been picking up books on Autism since we realized my husband was on the spectrum, in hopes of finding tools to help us manage daily life. He’s too busy with school and work to do much reading these days, so I’ve been doing the research and bringing it to him to discuss. It’s led to some enlightening conversations and we’ve both learned a lot about each other. Cynthia Kim’s blog was one I pored over and read parts of to him, and I finally got her book from my library.

One of the things I noticed most was she details social rules in ways I never would have thought to do – she has a list of seven very specific rules for eye contact, for example. As an allistic person, most of those rules are things I do instinctively, without even really knowing the reason for them. Like, in conversation, looking up or to the side means you’re thinking, looking down means you’re done talking. I read that to my husband and he jumped in, surprised, with “so THAT’S why I get interrupted so much!” I never would have thought to codify that into words, but it’s something I naturally do.

She talks about meltdowns vs shutdowns, which are things we’ve already learned the difference between with my husband, but we’re both eager for strategies to avoid, mitigate, and recover from them. She gave some strategies as places to start, but that’s hard to give general advice on as every autistic is so very different in that regard.

The chapter on alexithymia was really interesting. Alexithymia being an impairment in identifying and describing emotions. It leads to a lot of “Hey, are you okay?” “I don’t know.” “Well, how do you feel?” “I DON’T KNOW!” We’d already been introduced to this concept through her blog, but she expands on it in the book.

Another interesting (and applicable!) chapter was the one on executive dysfunction. (We joke that I am my husband’s personal assistant – I keep his calendar and remind him of important dates/events/homework due dates, and sometimes nudge him to do things if it seems he’s having trouble getting started.)

Kim uses the term Asperger’s in her writing (as well as autism), but Asperger’s has been rolled into the greater Autism Spectrum Disorder since 2013. Very recently there’s been some debate about the Asperger name, as it’s been revealed that Hans Asperger at least cooperated with the Nazis, and possibly was one himself. It’s still used commonly, though, and there is a large community built around being Aspies. Personally, I think using the Asperger term is a little too divisive – it’s basically the same as “high-functioning.” But. I’m allistic and my opinion on the matter isn’t the important one, so. We use autistic for my husband. (His choice, and when I asked his thoughts, he also thinks the Asperger term is divisive and not useful.) There’s a number of Twitter threads and articles on the subject of using or not using the Asperger term, and what it means to the community.

Overall, this was a really great book for learning about how autism affects day-to-day life, and gave us lots of talking points and words for things we didn’t have the vocabulary for. I’m looking forward to tackling the rest of my Autism Reading List.

From the cover of Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate:

Cynthia Kim explores all the quirkyness of living with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) in this accessible, witty and honest guide looking from an insider perspective at some of the most challenging and intractable aspects of being autistic. Her own life presents many rich examples. From being labelled nerdy and shy as an undiagnosed child to redefining herself when diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome as an adult, she describes how her perspective shifted to understanding a previously confusing world and combines this with the results of extensive research to explore the ‘why’ of ASD traits. She explains how they impact on everything from self-care to holding down a job and offers typically practical and creative strategies to help manage them, including a section on the vestibular, sensory and social benefits of martial arts for people with autism.

Well known in the autism community and beyond for her popular blog, Musings of an Aspie, Cynthia Kim’s book is rich with personal anecdotes and useful advice. This intelligent insider guide will help adults with ASDs and their partners, family members, friends, and colleagues, but it also provides a fresh and witty window onto a different worldview.