The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown
Published by Hazeldon Publishing
I’d long heard Brene Brown’s name mentioned as a writer similar to Cheryl Strayed or Elizabeth Gilbert (two of my favorites), so I was excited to pick up my first book by Brown and experience her thoughts for myself. Unfortunately, this book wasn’t quite what I was hoping for and I’m sure that’s the fault of my own and not of the writer, for a few reasons.
It’s funny that at the end of the book Brown explains that this wasn’t meant to be a self-help book in the traditional sense, but for me I found that it was a bit too self-help-y, so I almost laughed out loud when I got to the end of the book and heard that part (I listened to the audio, so yes I actually did “hear” it). The basic idea of the book is to give the reader a set of guideposts to learn how to embrace the idea that perfection is not possible or even ideal, and that we should be looking to embrace our true selves instead of being ashamed of our mistakes and shortcomings. This is something I truly need in my life, as I am guilty of trying to please everyone and being extremely hard on myself in just about every scenario one can dream up. However, I just found the book relatively dry and it didn’t do much to enhance my life or my attitude about myself.
Part of the issue, I think, was that I listened to the audio, and it may have been a combination of not loving the narrator and needing to actually see the words on the page, but I don’t think I absorbed much of the guidance Brown was trying to provide here.
Ultimately I’m still interested in reading more from Brene Brown, as I think there were some nuggets of truth within the book, and a few things that I will take away, but unfortunately this one just didn’t work for me.
The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too) by Gretchen Rubin
Published by Harmony
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before, habits and happiness guru, is back with another book – this time focusing on the framework that she developed called The Four Tendencies. The basic idea is that these four types of people respond to expectations differently, and figuring out your tendency is a key piece in mastering your ability to create new habits and have a happy, productive life.
I’m not sure that writing a whole book about the four tendencies was Rubin’s best idea. I was interested in this subject when I first read about it in Better Than Before, and it certainly explains a lot about people’s behavior and how different people respond differently to expectations, but this book was a bit overkill for me. I’m just not sure that I need to know every single way each tendency can affect every single other tendency, how to “deal” with each tendency in every area of life, or which tendencies pair the best with others in romantic relationships, friendships, or as coworkers.
I listened to the audio of The Four Tendencies and it was pretty good. Rubin narrates it herself, and having listened to some of her podcast episodes I was familiar with her voice. She is a good speaker and I can see why she has been successful at speaking engagements all across the country.
The Four Tendencies would be a good choice for those who are huge fans of Gretchen Rubin’s work in happiness and habits, and I did find parts of it interesting. However, I felt it was a bit TOO much about these tendencies and I am not sure that writing an entire book about this subject was totally necessary. Recommended for fans of Gretchen Rubin; others, not so much.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Published by Penguin Books
Along with just about everyone else in the world, the first time I listened to the musical Hamilton, I was hooked instantly. When I learned that not only was it based on the real story of Alexander Hamilton’s life and career, but that Lin Manuel-Miranda received the inspiration for the musical from this biography, I knew I had to read it. I had to know more about this particular founding father and what exactly in the musical was real and what liberties Manuel-Miranda took with Hamilton’s story. I like nonfiction a lot, but biographies are not usually my thing, and any book that is 700 pages is intimidating in and of itself. So I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this reading experience, even though I was interested in the information within.
I’m happy to say that I definitely did enjoy reading Alexander Hamilton even though it was, as expected, quite a project. I’m not going to pretend it was the easiest read ever, and man was it LONG, but I was impressed by how readable the book really was. It was not dry at all – Hamilton’s life certainly was interesting, and Chernow managed to make even the boring stuff (to me) like battle scenes and military strategy intriguing enough to hold my interest.
This biography is incredibly thorough, full of just about every detail imaginable about Hamilton’s life. As I said earlier, I don’t read many biographies so I am not a good judge of how this one stacks up, but I personally was very impressed by what Chernow did with the story. It had to have taken an incredible amount of research to uncover some of the things he did about Hamilton, his political friends and foes, and his family. I have to say that overall, the book was extremely impressive in that way.
Reading Alexander Hamilton did take me quite a while, but I’m glad I read it. This is an extremely well-researched and well-written book about one of the more overlooked (until the musical!) founding fathers. It also helped me even further appreciate the genius of Lin Manuel-Miranda for creating such an incredible musical based on this book. AND reading it got me even more excited to see Hamilton in Chicago next month!
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published by Vintage
This essay is adapted from the author’s TEDx talk about feminism – put in simple language that makes good sense for the average person who wants to understand what feminism is and why it’s important in today’s world.
We Should All Be Feminists is short but powerful. It packs a ton of arguments into fifty pages. The author highlights how the marginalization of women in the US, Nigeria, and around the world harms both women and men and discusses simple things that can be done to educate ourselves and our children in order to halt misogyny in the near future. She shares personal stories and life experiences, as well as things she’s read and studied over the years that point to factual evidence of discrimination of women throughout the world.
This should be a required primer on feminism for anyone who is even the least bit interested in understanding the subject. Many people may not understand that feminism is simply about the belief that all sexes should be equal, and this essay illustrates that extremely well. I can see why it became such important reading and I highly recommend We Should All Be Feminists to just about everyone.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
Published by Gallery Books
I knew very little about Amy Schumer before listening to this audiobook – I knew she is a comedian, she stars in her own HBO show, and she wrote, produced and starred in the movie Trainwreck. However, I’d never seen her show nor have I watched Trainwreck. I heard she was smart and funny, and I like listening to smart and funny people, so I listened to her memoir. And it was FABULOUS.
Schumer is hilarious, sarcastic, in-your-face and doesn’t shy away from joking about just about anything. She is open and honest about her own personal life, most remarkably some of her sexual experiences and relationships. She is certainly the type of person who doesn’t take herself too seriously. But what I was surprised by was just how serious parts of this book were. Her father has multiple sclerosis, and she discusses what that diagnosis has been like for her father and her family (in some parts, in graphic detail). Her parents divorced when she was young because her mother fell in love with Schumer’s best friend’s father, and she talks the reader through how that entire situation shaped her as a kid. She discusses at length her relationship with her mother, which has changed drastically over the course of her life. And the most serious part of the entire book is when she begins discussing gun violence and how she got interested in the issue itself (a mass shooting at a showing of her movie). She spent a lot of time researching and she shares a lot of what she learned with the reader, including being very specific about her own beliefs around the causes of gun violence and what can be done to prevent it to the degree that we see it here in the US.
I read a few reviews where the reader was less than thrilled with Schumer’s level of seriousness throughout this book, and I have to say that I majorly disagree with that being an issue. To me, the book is such a perfect balance of funny, smart, and serious, and really shows what an interesting person Schumer is. I highly recommend this book and definitely suggest you listen to the audio, if you are so inclined. Schumer reads it herself and does a fantastic job. I always say how much I love memoirs read by the author and this was a perfect example of why I find them to be so successful in that format.
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
Published by Hachette
I hadn’t even heard of Lindy West when her memoir came full-force into the book world, but many of the feminist authors and activists I’ve come to admire over the years were recommending it, so I read a few pieces she’d written online before downloading this audio. I liked the snippets of West’s that I read, so I settled in for what I anticipated to be a smart, funny listen that would hopefully make me think differently about some issues. And I got exactly what I was hoping for.
Lindy West is incredibly smart, darkly funny but also witty and can even be silly funny, and bares all for the reader in her book. She talks about the experience of having an abortion and how it affected her (and, more importantly, the ways in which it did NOT affect her). She talks about having a “debate” on national TV about why it is not okay for comedians to make fun of rape, or more specifically, of women who have been raped. She rails against a societal message that to be fat is to be less than, that we should make judgments about people based on what their bodies look like. There is a LOT packed within these pages and I could have had twice as much, that is how much I enjoyed it.
I listened to the audio of Shrill, which West narrates herself, and it was fantastic. There’s nothing like an intelligent, interesting human telling his/her own story in their own voice, right into your ears.
There’s a lot to discuss within the pages of Shrill, but I’ll leave it short and sweet here. This book is really great, full of anecdotes and opinions, yes, but so much food for thought about topics even I, a self-proclaimed feminist, hadn’t really considered before. Highly recommended.
Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
This book is the most fun example of why book clubs are great. I would never have heard of Get Well Soon if it hadn’t been selected for book club and I absolutely loved it – yay for book clubs! Each chapter in this book discusses one plague Wright highlights – from leprosy to syphilis to Spanish flu to polio, and many others – and the book was so incredibly entertaining as well as informative.
Wright delves deep into each plague and discusses the causes, the missteps, the failed treatments, and eventual cures. She does a thing where she highlights the heroes in each story as well as call attention to those who were less than heroic. She sheds light on how certain diseases could have been prevented, or at least the massive spread of said diseases could have been stopped, and goes into the implications of cures for future potential plagues down the road. She does all of this with the most hilarious, snarky, witty sense of humor and I absolutely LOVED it. Think Mary Roach or Sarah Vowell – Jennifer Wright is doing a similar thing here to what those equally hilarious women do in their books.
There are plenty of serious moments in the midst of the jokes, in addition to the straight up information that Wright provides. She talks a little about autism and the incredibly damaging belief that vaccines have a hand in causing it – she goes into explicit detail about why that theory came to be and dispels it swiftly and with force. It’s pretty awesome. She also discusses polio and how incredible it was that Salk came up with the vaccine he did, and how others were trying to do the same thing but were looking to profit from it, whereas Salk only wanted to cure a disease (which he did) and spread the cure to as many people, no matter their socioeconomic background, as humanly possible (which he did). There’s also a discussion about AIDS and how the initial treatment of AIDS victims in this country was not unlike the abhorrent ways in which people with diseases hundreds of years ago were treated and wow, does she go there. It is smart and effective and she makes some really great points. I love when an author can be this informative, interesting, make you think, AND entertaining all at the same time.
Get Well Soon is a total keeper. I loved it.