Book Review: How To Be Black

After reading The Hunger Games in March I got on a large reading kick, so i think I’m going to post a few book reviews in the upcoming days about the books I’ve read recently.

First up, “How To Be Black” by Baratunde Thurston. I decided to read the book after I watched this talk he gave at the Skillshare Penny Conference in April. (watch it!)

Until a few weeks ago Thurston was the director of digital at The Onion, and there definitely a lot of satire to this piece. Obviously no one can actually tell you how to be black but throughout this book you see that is exactally what all people, black/white/other,  do to black people constantly in our society. Thurston himself actually comes from a really interesting background; he grew up in a bad area of DC and his father was murdered when he was young. During middle school his mother decided to move to a nicer area and sent him to the same private school Chelsea Clinton and the Obama girls both attend(ed). His mother also gave him a Nigerian name (he is not Nigerian) and made him go to African Culture classes on the weekends. Finally, he went to Harvard, worked for The Crimson (the collegiate paper at Harvard) and eventually became the director of digital at The Onion and helped start the Jack & Jill Politics blog. He beholds a really nice mix of several different stereotypical qualities  you might attribute to what black people are like (whatever that means).

In the book Thurston also interviews other prominent comedians, authors, and political activists who are black and tend to discuss their race in writings/speaking. While I greatly enjoyed Thurstons personal stories in the book, the anecdotes from other people did nothing for me. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t know who they were so they all kind of jumbled into one or two people for me.  (It’s on my to-do list to look of their work, especially the stand up comedians he interviewed.) Near the end of the book the content focuses a lot more on the people he’s interviewed and less on him, and I guess I just really wanted to read about him most of the time.

This book is funny and honest, a quick read, and for most of the book it is very entertaining. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested. I still struggle with the issues of race and what it means for me, a white middle class girl in this country- I have no answers for you now. But I enjoyed reading about Baratunde’s experiences, and I appreciate him sharing them with us.

The Hunger Games

I caught the bug. I started reading The Hunger Games last Monday. My friends and I were out on St. Patrick’s day and one of them told me she was obsessed with the books. I had little interest in them, I thought they would be like Twilight, which I tried to read a few years back and gave up half way through the first book because I absolutely hated it. But I figured if my friend was obsessed I’d give them a shot.

I started reading the first book on a Monday. I read the second book from Friday-Sunday morning and I read the third book in a single seven hour sitting on Sunday. They really were addicting, really similar to how I felt while reading Harry Potter. I think only Young Adult literature can suck you in like that.

The series is so clever and Suzanne Collins was able to include commentaries on several different aspects of our society in a single story. People have compared it to the Japanese film Battle Royal but from what I’ve heard they only sound slightly similar. (I should watch the film before I say anything.)  There is so much evil and dark in the book but the main characters are very likable and the story is highly engaging. I can’t write book reviews, I don’t know enough about literature, but I know these books are well thought out with amazing characters and a highly engaging plot.

Last night I saw the movie. The beginning of the movie was impressively spot-on in my opinion. But by the end they sped things along and left out a lot of the character development and dialogue that are some of my favorite moments from the book. Books turned into movies rarely work out well for me. From a readers point of view, it is slightly annoying to see them change the dialogue between characters, or leave out key details. But what annoys me even more is my friends and family that only watch the movie and then think they have a valid idea of what the book is about. They don’t fully understand what is happening because the movie had to skim. They root for the wrong characters because they don’t know the important dialogue and actions that happened between characters in the book.

So I haven’t left you with much valuable information, but I would recommend reading the novels if you have the time. (They are quick, highly addicting reads. Great for a vacation or commute.) And if you don’t have the time, check out the movie. But I warn you, you won’t have any idea what is actually going on!

Book Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (and other concerns)

 I am almost done reading the Steve Jobs biography… so close that I’ve already read about the release of the iPad 2. But that book is huge and it added some considerable weight to my commuting bag each morning, so I opted for a lighter choice last week and finished this book in about 4 days.

Mindy Kaling is a writer and an actress (Kelly Kapoor) on the American version of The Office on NBC. The Office is one of my favorite shows on television. I was introduced to the show my freshman year of college and I caught up on the first two seasons. I’ve been watching it pretty consistently since. For a while I thought the show was going downhill but the current season is amazing. My opinion probably differs from many when I admit 1. The American office is 100% funnier to me than the British version and 2. I enjoy the show more without Steve Carel. He’s a great actor and he made the show for a while, but eventual Michael Scott was just too crazy to watch.

Anyway, Mindy is one of the writers and creates a lot of the brilliance I love on the show, so I really wanted to read her book. I read Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” this past June (I’m a huge 30 Rock fan, another one of my favorite shows) and I really enjoyed it, so I thought I would enjoy this book as well.

I did enjoy the book. Mindy comes from Indian parents that raised her in that stereotypical Indian-American way: respect adults, don’t complain, work hard. Her childhood was hilarious and I especially liked reading about the 2 year period of her life right after college where she lived in Brooklyn, struggling to pay rent with jobs that had nothing to do with comedy writing/acting. She also writes many funny essays about a variety of topics from movies they are creating now in Hollywood (she claims board game themes are in-demand) to narcissistic  photos she took of herself on her Blackberry. One criticism I have is that she spent so much time talking in great detail about her childhood and life after college, but the book fast-forwards and all of a sudden she has a writing job at The Office and its present day. The Office has been on for almost a decade, so that is quite a considerable amount of time in her 20-something year old life, but she only devotes perhaps a 3 page chapter plus some random bits here and there on her experiences working at The Office.

All in all the book was a great quick read for my commute. However, I don’t believe the book would be nearly as funny for people who do not watch The Office and don’t know her character Kelly. If you do like the show I would definitely recommend this book as a quick laugh and enjoyable read.

Book Review: Unbearable Lightness

I had no idea who Portia de Rossi was until she started dating and eventually marrying Ellen Degeneres. I had never watched Ally McBeal (I’m a little young for that) and I never watched Arrested Development until a couple weeks ago (all the episodes are on Netflix  on demand if you are interested)

Anyway, I saw an interview Ellen had on her show with Portia from last year as Portia discussed her new book. Unbearable Lightness is the story of Portia’s struggle with weight and eating disorders that she faced throughout most of her life. Portia began modeling at age 12, and shortly after began to worry so much about her weight gain that she became bulimic. This continued until her mid-twenties when Portia became part of the cast of Ally McBeal. The fame and publicity that came with the show forced her to feel even more pressure to become thin. She eventually became so obsessed with diet and exercise that she suffered from anorexia and eventually was hospitalized.

I have never suffered from an eating disorder, but I can easily see how some girls have.  At 130 pounds, a very healthy and thin weight for someone of Portia’s height, she felt much too large for the acting/ modeling industry. The sad part was she actually experienced several situations where people did make her feel as though she was too heavy for her career. At one clothing fitting Portia was unable to fit into a sample size pant suit. After an hour of trying on sizes the stylist finally shouted out in a disgusted tone, “Nobody told me she was a size 8!” As Portia began to diet uncontrollably, instead of voicing concern about Portia’s health, models and stylists praised her for her impressive devotion to dieting. It wasn’t until her family and friends began to see her that she started to hear negative feedback from dieting, and by that point she was unwilling to listen to anyone who told her to gain more weight.

Ten years later Portia lives a healthy lifestyle and has conquered her eating disorders. However I can tell, even by the ending of the novel, that Portia still struggles with her self-confidence and appreciation for her body. I assume that is something most eating disorder victims will always suffer from. A great thing about this book is that Portia is likable and easy to relate to throughout the entire story, even when she is discussing some of her darkest and most terrible moments.  Often times books that have to do with a destructive lifestyle bother me because I just don’t understand why these people decide to make such poor life decisions. Because Portia was so genuine in the novel, it actually helped me understand eating disorders more clearly. These disorders really do take over your mind and lifestyle and you have such a warped sense of body image and what a healthy person (specifically women) is supposed to look like.

If this story sounds interesting to you I would recommend this book. It is an easy read and very engaging.