Essays, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Maeve in America by Maeve Higgins

In preparing for a weekday drive to my father’s place two hours away, I went searching for a fairly short and entertaining book to listen to on the drive – enter Maeve in America!

Synopsis

From the Back Cover:
Maeve Higgins was a bestselling memoirist and comedian in her native Ireland when, at the grand old age of thirty-one, she left in search of something more. Like many people in their early thirties, she both was and absolutely was not the adult she wanted to be. At once smart, curious, and humane, Maeve in America is the story of how Maeve found herself, literally and figuratively, in New York City.

These essays – of not being able to afford a dress for the ball, of learning to live with yourself while you’re still figuring out how to love yourself, of finally realizing what sort of shelter dog you would be – will make you laugh out loud as they reveal a woman who shoots for the stars and hits the ceiling, but always finds the words to make sense of it all.

Review

Maeve Higgins is one of my new favorite people. Ten years ago (I can’t believe it’s been that long) I traveled to Ireland for a study abroad opportunity. While certain circumstances led to the trip being an absolutely disaster, the vast majority of the people I met were wonderful, warm, gracious and welcoming. I was a young girl, traveling the country because my step-father’s ancestors hailed from the Emerald Isle (and my German was shaky, so English seemed the better bet). And one of the fascinating things I learned while there that has stuck with me ever since is this: pre-famine, Ireland’s population was nearly 9 million. Afterwards, it was 4.5 million. It is still roughly 4.5 million, though slowly growing. So why, after the famine, did it take 150 years for the population to start to recover?

Emigration. For the most part. And when someone emigrates from one location, they become an immigrant in another. Enter Maeve, Irish emigrant, US immigrant. Maeve arrived in the US shortly before the changing of the guard at the big house in D.C. And while the bulk of her book is about her experiences in NYC as an (elder*) millennial (*Iliza’s term) and details her struggles with her finances and dating (the two things that plague millennials most), she diverges to a few political and social justice oriented topics.

Maeve travels to Iraq with two other comedy writers/performers to do workshops with Iraqi and Kurdish comedians and she hosts an important podcast focused on immigration and the stories of those who have immigrated to America. Importantly, she addresses her privilege as an immigrant, being a native English speaking white female. But she is using the privilege to bring to the forefront voices of those far less fortunate immigrants, often to the chagrin of her podcast producer. Maeve Higgins is doing amazing things for the US and the world.

Yesterday, I got really angry. I was reading a Buzzfeed article, as I am wont to do when bored, and it was about Mike Pence and the Irish PM. It was a important story, well written, and made its point eloquently. However, the same picture is used twice, and the third person in the picture, the only woman, is Maeve Higgins. And her presence is not acknowledged. AT ALL. While she is not the focus of the article, due to lack of acknowledgement, readers have assumed a number of things about her role and reason for being in the picture. This article PERFECTLY highlights how often women (and immigrants) are completely overlooked by the media. All it would have taken was a quick caption: “Irish PM, VP, Irish writer Maeve Higgins and Irish PM’s Partner” (but instead of titles, put names, because all names are important).

Maeve has done tremendous things to advocate for a forcibly silent majority of immigrants. And when her visage is featured in a nationwide, widely read, publication, her presence is completely ignored–and, as a result, her accomplishments.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780143130161 • 256 pages • published August 2018 • by Penguin Books • average Goodreads rating 3.57 out of 5 stars • read March 2019

Maeve

Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein

I’ve slowly but surely been making my way through the four major Obama White House Staffer memoirs – first was Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, followed by this one, next will be Thanks, Obama (my coworker Su’s favorite), and last The World as It Is

Synopsis

In 2012, Beck Dorey-Stein is working five part-time jobs and just scraping by when a posting on Craigslist lands her, improbably, in the Oval Office as one of Barack Obama’s stenographers. The ultimate D. C. outsider, she joins the elite team who accompany the president wherever he goes, recorder and mic in hand. On whirlwind trips across time zones, Beck forges friendship with a dynamic group of fellow travelers – young men and women who, like her, leave their real lives behind to hop aboard Air Force One in service of the president.

As she learns to navigate White House protocols and more than once runs afoul of the hierarchy, Beck becomes romantically entangled with a consummate D.C. insider, and suddenly the political becomes all too personal.

Against the backdrop of glamour, drama, and intrigue, this is the story of a young woman making unlikely friendships, getting her heart broken, learning what truly matters, and, in the process, discovering her voice.

Review

Beck is a Philly suburb-raised elder millennial like me. I was so excited about her memoir of her years in the White House, maybe more so than Alyssa Mastromonaco’s, which I adored. The four names of Alyssa, Beck, David Litt & Ben Rhodes are inextricably linked in my mind as the authors of the collective “Obama White House Memoirs.” I’ve even tried to arrange displays so that I can feature all four together without anyone really noticing that that was my primary objective. Alyssa, whose was published first, even references her fellow staffers literary endeavors in her own. But onto Beck.

As a White House stenographer, a person who records all of the president’s conversations and then transposes them later for memos, briefings, and posterity, Beck had incredible insider access to the Obama White House. She kept extensive journals during her years there and her memoir reflects her attention to detail. The details of her personal life.

Beck traveled all over the world, met countless interesting people, and experienced many once-in-a-lifetime adventures alongside the leader of the free world. But what makes up the bulk of her memoir? Her affair with a fellow White House staffer. Each of the magnificent locales she travels to is given a cursory description, and then we endure Beck’s exposition of her affair. We get a more in depth description of the White House staff parking lot than the whole of southeast Asia.

I get it – it’s her memoir, she can write about whatever she wants. And Beck is a marvelous writer, I finished the whole of From the Corner of the White House because her writing is so strong. And yes, she obviously talks about friendships and travels and what is going on in our country and parts of her life other than the affair, but its dominating force in her life also makes it a dominating force in the book. And I felt significantly misled. Based on the publisher synopsis above, I thought I was going to get an insider glimpse into life inside the White House, The West Wing in book form so to speak (without any confidential details of course), but instead, I got an insider glimpse to Beck’s personal life, not exactly what I was expecting.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $28.00 • 9780525509127 • 352 pages • published July 2018 by Spiegel & Grau • average Goodreads rating 3.85 out of 5 • read October 2018

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From the Corner of the Oval

Non-Fiction, Photography/Art, Sociology

Pantsuit Nation by Libby Chamberlain

I requested a copy of Pantsuit Nation from one of the publisher reps who visit the bookstore that I work at. Often times, if a book is not released as an ARC, or Advanced Reader Copy, it is unlikely for a publisher to just send a free copy of a finished book… but this time, I got lucky and the finished copy of Pantsuit Nation was happily awaiting me in my cubby one morning at work!

Synopsis

Pantsuit Nation celebrates the power of collective storytelling. We amplify the voices of those who have been historically underrepresented, excluded, and marginalized. We listen. We are strong in our diversity. We invite conversation – true conversation – about the issues that are most fundamental to us and to our identities.

We believe that feminism is intersectional. We believe the “women’s rights are human rights.” WE believe that progress around racial justice, LGBTQIA+ rights, rights for people with disabilities, religious freedom, and the first to combat hatred and bigotry in all forms is most effective when emboldened and humanized through first-person narrative. We believe that politics is personal, and that progressive movement happens when the empathetic potential of a story is unleashed.

Stories spark change. Taken individually, a story can create a tiny opening in a once-closed space. It is a glimmer. As Pantsuit Nation, millions of glimmers combine to create the kind of bright light that can’t be ignored or overshadowed.

Review

Shortly before the election last November, my mother, who is far more present on Facebook than her two twenty-something daughters, shared with us that she had recently joined a Facebook group called Pantsuit Nation. Needless to say, Laura and I were most intrigued – we had all become a bit “news obsessed,” watching the media circus known as Decision 2016 and knew of both our mom’s, and Hillary Clinton’s, obsession with pantsuits.

My mother has worn her power suit for pretty much my entire life as she worked in just about every facet of public education, first for the state of Pennsylvania, and now on a national level. The idea of standing with Hillary in a pantsuit, appealed greatly to our mother’s sensibilities, it was a natural thing for her to do anyway, but for Laura and me, we didn’t usually dress in the power suit vein. But Mom invited Laura and me to the private Facebook group anyway, knowing there was little chance we’d don the garb, but we would enjoy the stories.

And the stories, oh the stories shared in that Facebook group that are now published in print in Pantsuit Nation. They made us smile, they made us cry, they made us angry, and they made us realize that we are not alone. And most importantly, the stories, coming from people off absolutely all walks of life, made us realize that voting for Hillary went so much deeper than wanting a woman in office. Voting for Hillary meant exercising our human right to vote, our human right to stand up to oppression, and our human right to be heard together as one voice, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, etc.

So, should you pick up a copy of Pantsuit Nation? Well, let’s see: Do you feel lost and hopeless in America’s current political climate? Do you need some inspiration and hope? Do you appreciate the power of collective story telling? Is your heart open to change and being inspired by the unexpected? Then yes. Yes, you should.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $27.99 • 9781250153326 • 288 pages • published May 2017 by Flatiron Books • average Goodreads rating 4.6 out of 5 • read in May 2017

Pantsuit Nation Website

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Pantsuit Power Flash Mob for Hillary

Pantsuit Nation