Essays, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Short Stories

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Last Christmas, I asked my coworkers for a book recommendation for my sister and I for the holidays. Jennifer suggested David Sedaris, and while I didn’t get around to reading it last year, I did this year, and, well, you’ll see…

Synopsis

David Sedaris’s beloved holiday collection is new again with six more pieces, including a never before published story. Along with such favorites as the diaries of a Macy’s elf and the annals of two very competitive families, are Sedaris’s tales of tardy trick-or-treaters; the difficulties of explaining the Easter Bunny to the French; what to do when you’ve been locked out in a snowstorm; the puzzling Christmas traditions of other nations; what Halloween at the medical examiner’s looks like; and a barnyard secret Santa scheme gone awry.

Review

Thirty pages into the first story of Holidays on Ice and I had started a post-it note list of all the things I didn’t like. And then, for better or worse, I had to remind myself that this book was originally published just over 20 years ago in a less politically correct time. Swearing and such I can tolerate. Calling people with special needs retards? Not so much. Praising little girls’ looks and little boys’ brains? Further proof of what a systemic problem sexism is in our society.

And then I reminded myself that while reading this with a 2010s state of mind, in the 1990s, people would have thought twice about comments such as this. Which, while problematic, meant that I could put down my angry post-its and enjoy the humor of David Sedaris because, hopefully, we’ve reached the point this year, where everyone knows how problematic such language is. If you’re still unsure, I’ll give you a full lesson, but this is not the place for it.

I laughed my way through most of Sedaris’ stories, not all of which are specifically Christmas themed, but holiday themed which was a pleasant mix. At times it was difficult to decipher which entries were stories and which were essays, but all were entertaining in their own right. At less than 200 pages, Holidays on Ice is a quick and (mostly) enjoyable read, and I would pick up one of Sedaris’s other works to further explore his writing, though I would definitely pick a more recent publication.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $12.99 • 9780316078917 • 176 pages • first published October 1997, this edition published October 2010 by Back Bay Books • average Goodreads rating 3.95 out of 5 • read in December 2017

David Sedaris’s Website

Holidays on Ice on Goodreads

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Holidays on Ice

Essays, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Short Stories

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Fantasy author Brian Staveley once told me he was haunted by the yellow coat on the cover of The Opposite of Loneliness, and for good reason – he was one of Marina Keegan’s high school teachers. He knew her before the rest of the world knew her. The Opposite of Loneliness would never had been published had Marina Keegan not been killed in a car accident shortly after her college graduation. But because she did, we, the world, and specifically millennials, have a tome of her works to pour over and continually hypothesize about what could have been.

Synopsis

An affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented Yale graduate whose title essay captured the worlds’ attention in 2012 and turned her into an icon for her generation.

Review

The Opposite of Loneliness is a book that should not exist. The Opposite of Loneliness is the book that I’m glad I didn’t write. These two statements may sound contradictory and my logic and reasoning are complex and circular to say the least. But most importantly, damn can Marina Keegan write. Could. Marina Keegan could write.

Marina Keegan is the new enigma and “could have, would have, should have world of possibilities” now haunting my mind. Her fiction is the writing of a slightly angsty, yearning-to-be-edgy college student exploring the themes of young love, changing families and drug use. She explores complex themes and extended metaphors that a fellow millennial can relate to. Her work, though, sadly leaves so much room for more. There is always room for more to the story. Her work doesn’t end neatly and cleanly wrapped up with a bow on top but open-ended and messy. By all accounts, her life was stereotypical in many ways, her experiences perfectly relatable which leads her fiction into a trap. She doesn’t have the life experience to make it credible.

Following the dozen or so fiction stories come some hard hitting and brainy non-fiction works, including the one about the artichokes that set Wall Street and the world of post-graduate consulting firms and hedge funds on edge. But my favorite, is “Stability in Motion,” Marina Keegan’s ode to her car. There’s a special bond that a teenage girl forges with her car and everything Marina said rang true of my experience as well. I think it’s funny that of all the pieces included, it was that one that stood out to me most. Marina’s writing is sarcastic and sharp, a literature or English professor’s dream. Unfortunately, she’ll never have the chance to grow, to evolve. She will always be a good college writer but held to the standards of what she could have been. The Opposite of Loneliness is worth a read for millennials, but I fear others just might not “get it.”

Marina Keegan, author of The Opposite of Loneliness, and I were born 39 days and 400 miles apart (I was first and further south). By a stroke of luck and the persistence of my mother, I wound up in the graduating college class of 2011 and Marina in the class of 2012. I went to the University of Pittsburgh, Marina to Yale (though I applied, I didn’t have the necessary background and stature required for admission as Marina did). I moved to southeastern Pennsylvania 5 days after my college graduation on May 1, 2011. A year later, five days after her own graduation, Marina died in a car accident.

I don’t know what I was doing on May 26, 2012 – it was the Saturday before Memorial Day, odds are I was shopping or possibly helping my grandmother get ready for her annual picnic to be held that Monday. I didn’t feel any great cosmic shift in the universe, I just went about my business on a typical, hopefully warm, May Saturday. But on that day, Marina Keegan died. And my millennial generation lost a giant that we weren’t even aware of, a literary giant who had spent the last two years of her life sitting in the hallowed halls of my dream school, doing what I love to do more than anything – writing. Writing stories, essays, everything. Marina put a voice to the generation who isn’t sure what they want to do with their lives but is sure of one thing – we wish to make a difference.

I’m heartbroken that Marina’s death is what brought her work to the masses, I’m heartbroken that I can never stand in line at Book Con or an NYC Barnes & Noble hopping up and down excitedly on the balls of my feet, anxiously waiting to meet her and ask her to sign my book. Anxiously waiting to tell her how much I identify with her writing and then getting tongue tied when the moment arrives (invariably this happens to me anytime I meet anyone I really respect in the literary world).

I flew through The Opposite of Loneliness and it was like reading a letter from a long-distance friend. I realized, while reading, that Marina said all the things I was never brave enough to say in college and that the way her professors described her is probably very similar to how mine would have described me. Would Marina and I have been friends if I went to Yale? Probably not – we seem to be too similar – but we would have respected each other, of this I am certain.

Marina’s path represents, to me, one of my many paths not taken. I’ve been writing like a fiend since I was 12, but never thought to do so as a career except for a marvelous three months while studying film at Pitt and indulging in my screenwriting passion and then realizing that I’d never take a screenwriting class at Pitt (long story…) – I wasn’t heartbroken, I moved on to history and theater and political science and studio arts – my interests were (and still are) quite varied. But there is always a thought that strikes me every time I start teaching a new writing class – I absolutely cannot imagine a world without writing. I cannot imagine not having the opportunity to put pen to paper and tell a story or share my thoughts. Such a world is incomprehensible and I’d rather, well, I don’t know what I’d rather, but I refuse to bear witness to such an atrocity as the world without writing.

And that brings me to my ever-eventual point of tying everything in my life back to education. Without writing, without a strong literary culture, the world would have never cultivated the great mind and talent of Marina Keegan. So, I plead with schools, never forsake the written word. Never give up on teaching 2nd graders the importance of writing.

Rating: Essays 8 out of 10 stars, Short Stories 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.00 • 9781476753911 • 256 pages • first published April 2014, this edition published April 2015 by Scribner Book Company • average Goodreads rating 3.82 • read in May 2015

The Opposite of Loneliness Website

The Opposite of Loneliness on Goodreads

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Opposite of Loneliness

Essays, Non-Fiction, Sociology

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed edited by Meghan Daum

For some reason, the government feels the need to weigh in on a woman’s right to have, or refrain from having, children. For some reason, this is a controversial topic, and therefore this, a book of essays from (mostly) women who have chosen not to have children, is a controversial book. As a recently married young woman who is not sure about whether or not she would like to have children, I have found this book speaks to me.

Synopsis

One of the most commonly raised topics of cultural conversation during the last decade was the supposed “fertility crisis,” and whether modern women could figure out a way to have it all – a successful career and the required 2.3 children – before their biological clocks stopped ticking. Now, however, the conversation has turned to whether it’s necessary to have it all or, perhaps more controversial, whether children are really a requirement for a fulfilling life.

Review

I have not been asked why I don’t have children, but it has been mentioned, by people that I don’t know, that I must have children. Because I’ve said something nice to a child, because my “teacher voice” comes out occasionally, even just because I teach. The only people who pester me about when I’m going to have children are people I know. They don’t even ask if, always when, as thought the “if” is a forgone conclusion.

I’ve been making my way through this essay collection for the past year, pretty much since shortly after my husband and I got married. Until that point, everyone asked when we were getting married, so I figured once that happened, people would start asking when we were having children and ding ding ding! I was right! Thankfully, Ben and I are on the same page when it comes to having children or not, we are both in the middle – we haven’t yet decided. But I’d like the world to understand, just as the sixteen writers in this collection outline, it’s our decision.

While the collection claims to examine many different reasons for not having children, none of the authors really touch on anything besides choice. Infertility, fear for the safety of the world and future offspring, etc. are not topics that are covered. Most of the authors discuss simply not feeling the maternal instinct. While I enjoyed reading each of these essays, they do tend towards ranting rather than an actual sociological perspective which would be a helpful addition to society’s debate over women’s reproductive choices.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9781250081643 • 288 pages • originally published March 2015, this edition published April 2016 by Picador USA • average Goodreads rating 3.73 out of 5 • read in October 2017

Meghan Daum’s Website

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed on Goodreads

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Selfish Shallow and Self-Absorbed

Essays, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

Seven years ago I made a remarkable discovery – Anthony Bourdain. I was, by America’s standards, ten years late to the Bourdain party, but at least I got there eventually. I have now obsessively watched just about every episode of No ReservationsThe Layover, and Parts Unknown and most of them repeatedly. In circumstances in which my sister and I would watch MK&A movies about a locale before visiting, we now watch Anthony Bourdain. So needless to say when I wanted something new and different for my vacation last week, I turned to my favorite celeb chef for inspiration.

Synopsis

In the ten years since Anthony Bourdain’s classic Kitchen Confidential first alerted us to the idiosyncrasies and lurking perils of eating out, much has changed for the subculture of chefs and cooks, for the restaurant business – and for Anthony Bourdain.

Medium Raw tracks Bourdain’s unexpected voyage from journeyman cook to globe-traveling professional eater and drinker, and even to father hood, in a series of take-no-prisoners confessions, rants, investigations, and interrogations of some of the most controversial figures in food.

Beginning with a secret, highly illegal after-hours gathering of powerful chefs that he compares to a mafia summit, Bourdain pulls back the curtain – but never pulls punches – on the modern gastronomical revolution. Cutting right to the bone, Bourdain sets his sights on some of the biggest names in the foodie world, including David Chang, the young superstar chef; the revered Alice Waters; the Top Chef contestants; and many more.

Review

First things first, if you are new to the Cult of Bourdain, I strongly suggest watching an episode of one of his many television programs before committing to reading Medium Raw or any of his other books.

Moving on. When I am considering reading a book that is more than two or three years old (which admittedly doesn’t happen often), I, like most readers, investigate the reviews on Goodreads and other blogs, and then choose whether to listen to, or disregard, their sentiments. I also hope that is what you, dear readers, do with my book review entries here – please don’t take what I have to say be the end-all-be-all of your decision whether or not to read a book. That being said, I am always surprised when reviews or reviewers write a review that seems to indicate they had absolutely no background knowledge of the book or author they are reviewing.

It amazed me how many people gave Medium Raw less than stellar reviews because it somehow wasn’t what they were expecting. Medium Raw is exactly what I expected – 110% Anthony Bourdain, but you are also now knowingly reading a review by an avid Bourdainite. If you’ve ever listened to the man for five minutes, you would know exactly what he writes about, and the synopsis is fair warning enough if you are not familiar with his extensive body of television and written work. The man behind the writing and in front of the camera swears like a sailor, is occasionally crude, and is absolutely hysterical.

The collection of essays in Medium Raw runs the gamut from rant to informal interview and his admiration for the chefs he respects is very evident. He will be the first to point out how lucky he is to be living the life he now lives, and also to admit that he wouldn’t be able to make the cut in the great kitchens of American today. His arguments against particular eaters (vegetarians) and other chefs are well reasoned, and definitely well seasoned. While I agree with him most readily on just about every position he takes, I can only hope that those who disagree don’t write off his opinions without taking a moment to thoroughly understand them.

While he may be crass and admittedly, a bit harsh on certain others in the food world, he is a talented writer and his prose reads like he speaks – I even heard his voice in my head while reading and realized that I might as well listen to the audiobook for the last few essays, which he reads himself. I highly recommend both book and audiobook, and I hope that if you do decide to read his work, you’ll take it all with a pinch of salt.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.99 • 9780061718953 • 281 pages • first published in June 2010, this edition published May 2011 by Ecco Press • average Goodreads rating 3.73 out of 5 • read in August 2017

Parts Unknown Website

Medium Raw on Goodreads

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