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.

Series Review: The Memoirs of Lady Trent

a natural history of dragons lady trentA Natural History of Dragons / The Tropic of Serpents / Voyage of the Basilisk / In The Labyrinth of Drakes / Within the Sanctuary of Wings
by Marie Brennan
Fictional Memoirs
300-350 pages each
Published 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017

I had been drooling over this series for quite some time. Every time I went to my local game store, I’d paw through their small fiction bookshelf, and these were always on it. I finally found the first four all at once at the library, and seized the chance. (I had to request the fifth.) I did not regret it. These are fantastic.

tropic of serpents lady trentThe Memoirs of Lady Trent, as one can expect, are told from the viewpoint of Isabella Camherst, who becomes Lady Trent partway through the books. (But since they are written as her memoirs, she is “remembering” back to her adventures before she became part of the peerage.) Lady Trent’s world is analogous to our own Victorian age, except they have dragons, and she is fascinated by them. In the first book, she maneuvers her husband, also an amateur scholar of dragons, into joining an expedition to go study mountain drakes, and manages to get herself brought along. That begins her career.

The representation in these books is excellent for the time period they are based on! In the second book we get an asexual character, who turns into a side character for much of the rest of the series. (In figuring herself out, she mentions she had also tried the affections of women before realizing she didn’t want that, either.) In the third we get a culture with a third gender, and mention from Lady Trent of men who love men back home.

lady trent voyage of the basiliskI actually quite enjoyed how these books treated other cultures. We see a lot of effects from Scirling (British) colonialism, but Lady Trent herself sees other cultures as interesting things to study and become part of temporarily, not as “savages” that need to be “civilized” (or just used) as so many Victorian-age naturalists did. (And, indeed, how the Scirling military sees them.) Her ultimate goal is always the dragons, but if that means becoming part of a jungle or island tribe, and tending camp and hunting and traveling as the villagers do, then that is what she does. I could see the argument for painting Lady Trent as a white savior figure, but if she wasn’t part of one of the dominant cultures in this world, she wouldn’t have the means or access for all the different adventures described in the books. I suppose she could have been Akhian or Yengalese. (Arabian or Chinese, respectively, the other two dominant cultures.) She also forms genuine friendships with the people she lives among, and tries to do her best by them.

I enjoyed the introduction of the Akhian archeologist, and how that helped pull the focus of the books a little bit more onto the ancient culture of Draconeans, who Lady Trent had been largely uninterested in before. He soon became one of my favorite characters, so I was quite happy to see the events of the fourth book take Lady Trent to Akhia.

The fifth book unveiled quite a few surprises. We get to learn a lot more about the Draconeans, which was really cool. They also presented a culture with allowance for group marriage; at one point a villager asks Lady Trent if all four men she’s travelling with are her husbands!

The five books altogether were a really interesting progression in the history of the study of dragons, and I quite enjoyed them. They were definitely unique.

From the cover of A Natural History of Dragons:

Marie Brennan begins a thrilling new fantasy series in A Natural History of Dragons, combining adventure with the inquisitive spirit of the Victorian Age.

“You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .”

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

Book Review: Seriously…I’m Kidding

seriously i'm kiddingSeriously…I’m Kidding
by Ellen DeGeneres
Memoir/Comedy
241 pages
Published 2011

As part of Pride Month, I’m spotlighting books by or about GLBTQIA+ people. Ellen is one of the most prominent lesbians here in the US, between coming out on a sitcom, having her own daytime talk show, and her judging stint on American Idol. This is her third book, but the first one I’ve read. If the other two are like this one, I need to read them!

Seriously…I’m Kidding is a really funny book. It reads a little bit like an ADHD squirrel, but that’s part of its charm. I read the print version, but this is one book I might have to get the audio version of, mostly because of the one chapter she wrote specifically for the audio version:

“Anyway, since you have the benefit of being able to hear this, I thought I would include some bonus material of me making strange noises. For those of you who are reading this the old-fashioned way and can’t hear me, I’ve printed the noises below and I encourage you to use your imagination to think of what they might sound like coming out of my mouth.

Meeeeee
Faaaaaa
Cooooo
Gooooood Morning
Bowwwww
Babowwwww
Yelowwwww
(more strange noises listed)”

The book covers a lot of ground, from producing her show to judging on American Idol to coming out as lesbian to hosting dinner parties. It also varies wildly chapter to chapter, from brief short stories (less than a page) to haiku, to coloring book pages of odd things like toasters, to prose, wandering chapters that are an interesting look at Ellen’s thought process.

I really enjoyed this book, and it’s definitely worth reading because it’s just FUN.

You can find all my Pride Month reads listed here.

From the cover of Seriously…I’m Kidding:

Welcome to my third book. Inside this book you will find an assortment of wonderful things – words, pictures, advice, tidbits, morsels, shenanigans, and in some copies, four hundred dollars cash. So you might want to buy a few.

I’m so happy you’re holding this book in your hands right now and reading its jacket or flap or whatever you want to call this little extra part of the book. Jackap or Flacket or Flapjacket. Whatever, really.

I don’t have enough room on this flapjacket to tell you all the reasons why you should buy this book, but I can tell you this and it’s a guarantee: If you buy it, you will feel better, look better, be happier, grow taller, lose weight, get a promotion at work, have shinier hair, and fall madly, deeply in love.

And as an added bonus feature I’d like to point out that this flapjacket doubles as a bookmark. So you’re paying for a book and you’re getting a bookmark absolutely free. Where else are you going to find that kind of deal?

Now, before you begin reading, if you’d like to learn more about me please turn to the back flap. (Back flap sounds weird, doesn’t it? The more you say it the more it sounds like something you try to get rid of through exercise and eating right. Anyway, please read on.)

Friday 56 – Seriously…I’m Kidding

seriously i'm kidding

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

Today’s quote is from Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres. This book is hysterical and random!

I once went into work and showed some producers a little bruise I got. The next thing I knew it was like Girls Gone Wild in my office. People were lifting up their shirts, rolling up their pants. Socks were coming off. “you think that’s bad – I walked into a tree yesterday!” “I banged my hip on a car door!” “I sat on a fork!” Don’t need to see it.

This is one of my reads for Pride Month, and the review should be up in a few days!

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: Tomboy Survival Guide

tomboy survival guideTomboy Survival Guide
by Ivan Coyote
Memoir
208 pages
Published 2016

This is the second book I read for my personal 24 in 48 challenge, and it was excellent. Ivan is a natural storyteller – each chapter flows seamlessly into the next, even though each is a separate vignette from their life, and they aren’t chronological. I was never confused about where in the timeline we were; it was just like they were sitting down telling stories about their life, and that naturally ebbs and flows as people are reminded of different things that have happened to them.

It’s not really fully clear whether Ivan is a transman, or simply non-binary, not that it should matter. They use they/them pronouns, and straddle the androgynous line enough that bathrooms and dressing rooms are a constant issue for them, one they touch on repeatedly through the book. Maybe if our bathrooms weren’t so binary-focused, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue when someone is gender-nonconforming!

The book moves between stories of Ivan’s childhood in small-town Canada, their realization they are attracted to women, their experiences in largely male-dominated career fields, and their actual career as an author and public speaker. They talk about how their own family has been supportive of their transition (mostly) and how other parents have written them letters asking how to be supportive of their non-cisgender children. There are scenes of strangers being supportive, and scenes of shocking discrimination and transphobia.

The book is, overall, excellent, and a good introductory look at the life of a non-binary person. Ivan has written several other books, and I definitely want to track down Gender Failure, which they co-wrote with another non-binary person about, well, gender failure!

Ivan Coyote is Canadian, making this one of my Read Canadian Challenge books.

My other Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. this book!
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of Tomboy Survival Guide:

Ivan Coyote is a celebrated storyteller and the author of ten previous books, including Gender Failure(with Rae Spoon) and One in Every Crowd, a collection for LGBT youth. Tomboy Survival Guide is a funny and moving memoir told in stories, in which Ivan recounts the pleasures and difficulties of growing up a tomboy in Canada’s Yukon, and how they learned to embrace their tomboy past while carving out a space for those of us who don’t fit neatly into boxes or identities or labels.

Ivan writes movingly about many firsts: the first time they were mistaken for a boy; the first time they purposely discarded their bikini top so they could join the boys at the local swimming pool; and the first time they were chastised for using the women’s washroom. Ivan also explores their years as a young butch, dealing with new infatuations and old baggage, and life as a gender-box-defying adult, in which they offer advice to young people while seeking guidance from others. (And for tomboys in training, there are even directions on building your very own unicorn trap.)

Tomboy Survival Guide warmly recounts Ivan’s adventures and mishaps as a diffident yet free-spirited tomboy, and maps their journey through treacherous gender landscapes and a maze of labels that don’t quite stick, to a place of self-acceptance and an authentic and personal strength. These heartfelt, funny, and moving stories are about the culture of difference—a “guide” to being true to one’s self.