Non-Fiction, Psychology

You’re Not That Great (But Neither is Anyone Else) by Elan Gale

There are some advance reader copies (ARCs) that, when sitting in a pile of hundreds of other ARCs on our staff lunch table at work, just call out to me. There are fewer that actually make it to my desk, fewer still that make it home with me, and fewer still that I actually read. For working at a bookstore and getting access to literally hundreds of ARCs, I might only read 3 each year. But I’d been in the market for an actually helpful “self-help” book, and the nonstandard approach of You’re Not That Great seemed to demand that I read it.

Synopsis

The self-help industry tells you that if you’re positive, if you put your best foot forward, and if you just believe in yourself, you will find happiness. Let’s be real: You can read all the inspirational quotes you want. You can spend your days giving yourself affirmations in your heart-shaped mirror and trying to learn to love yourself. You can say your mantra over and over again while sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat in a Whole Food parking lot. But the truth is, you’re not a “badass” and you still don’t have the life you want. That’s where this book comes in. This book teaches you how to stop trying to FEEL BETTER, and urges you to BE BETTER. It will help you harness all the negativity in the world and use it to improve your life. Positive thinking is for assholes. Negative thinking is for winners.

Review

Me prior to reading this book : I’m a millennial and I’m special unicorn. Me after reading this book : I might be a millennial and special unicorn, but I’m not really a great person. And being a great person is more important that being a special millennial unicorn.

The last time a read a self-help book (The Fangirl Life), I hated myself more and more after each chapter. In reading You’re Not That Great, a certain amount of self-loathing is a prerequisite. One must accept that they’re not that great in order to become great. Now, I knew absolutely nothing about Elan Gale, I didn’t know he was a producer of The Bachelor (which, oddly enough, I’ve never seen), and I purposefully did not look up any information about him until I was done reading. Primarily because I wanted to believe he is a credible authority on his subject matter.

Now, he is not a psychologist, which is probably why our publisher rep at the store suggested that we shelve this book in humor, but as a real life person, with real life experience (not just the experience of patients and extensive study), I find him to be uniquely qualified to write the anti-self-help self-help book.

You’re Not That Great is, yes, very humorous, but it is also incredibly helpful. For centuries, millennia even, court fools were the only ones allowed to make fun of their lord/king. And in the poking fun, was also at least a morsel of truth. It’s like when someone tells you they have good news and bad news and ask which you’d like to hear first. I’m sure 9 out of 10 people will say the bad news first, because then they get to cheer up, and maybe even laugh a little, when they hear the good news.

It is an age old practice because it is an effective one, one that Elan Gale uses to his great advantage to drive home the purpose of his book, or what I believe should be the second subtitle for the book, “But You Can Be Better.”

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $20.00 • 9781478918295 • 192 pages • published December 2017 by Grand Central Publishing • read November 2017

You’re Not That Great on Goodreads

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You're Not That Great

Non-Fiction, Poetry

Adultolescence by Gabbie Hanna

When this book first showed up at the bookstore on Monday, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. After my less than stellar experience in reading modern poetry last week with Milk and Honey, I didn’t think I would really want to try again. But after all the teenage girls started asking for it on and after its release date Tuesday, I figured I better see if we were going to have another Milk and Honey type of situation on our hands at the store.

Synopsis

In poems ranging from the singsong rhythms of children’s verses to a sophisticated confessional style, Gabbie explores what it means to feel like a kid and an adult all at once, revealing her own longings, obsessions, and insecurities along the way. Adultolescence announces the arrival of a brilliant new voice with a magical ability to connect through alienation, cut to the profound with internet slang, and detonate wickedly funny jokes between moments of existential dread. You’ll turn to the last page because you get her, and you’ll return to the first page because she gets you.

Review

I’m not a big poetry person, but I am a millennial, and the publisher marketing synopsis’ last line is absolutely true. I could launch into a whole big long thing about being a millennial, what that means to me vs. the rest of the world, and how Adultolescence is a perfect example of the millennial mindset, etc. etc. But that would be ranting, and annoying, and I don’t want to be either today.

So let’s start out with why I actually started reading this book – yes, the teenagers at the store did have a little something to do with why I read it so quickly after it’s release date, but I bought it on Monday, before it was technically available to said teenagers for many reasons. There is, though, one that truly sticks out: Gabbie and I both went to Pitt, The University of Pittsburgh, Hail to Pitt! So not only do we have the shared experiences of being part of the same generation, we have four years worth of memories and, I’m sure if ever meet and have a chance to chat, we would be able to go on and on about Oakland (the Pittsburgh neighborhood, not the CA one), the Cathedral of Learning, the Penn State rivalry, the uniqueness of Pittsburgh weather, how awesome it was to be done for the school year before May even started, though we’d probably disagree on sports – I’ll take the Eagles over the Steelers any day.

To say I connected with Gabbie and her poetry is an understatement. I have anxieties, panic attacks, and I have no idea what I want to do with my life, no really. While I love my bookstore job and I one day want to go back into teaching and I’m happily married, I still don’t know what I want my life to look like in five years, ten years, twenty years (other than I would like to be employed and still happily married). My brain is filled with the same doubts and insecurities as Gabbie’s and, while I don’t presently make videos of my life (though I’d like to try at some point), I do have this book blog, so I guess that counts as another similarity.

Adultolescence is the perfect book for anyone who needs to know that they are not alone in the world – their doubts and fears are felt by many others as well. It is the perfect book for my generation – a week into owning it and it already looks well worn and loved because I keep going back to my already favorite poems because I’ve needed a pick me up or some cheering up during the week.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars (I’m still getting used to poetry)

Edition: Paperback • $16.99 • 9781501178320 • 256 pages • published September 2017 by Atria Books • average Goodreads rating 4.32 out of 5 • read in September 2017

Gabbie Hanna’s YouTube Channel

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Adultolescence

Non-Fiction, Poetry

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

I received Milk and Honey as a wedding present over a year ago. Last night I decided I might as well pick it up and see what all the fuss is about. 

Synopsis

this is the journey of
surviving through poetry
this is the blood sweat and tears
of twenty-one years
this is my heart
in your hands
this is
the hurting
the loving
the breaking
the healing

Review

So… I still don’t think I fully understand the obsession. This book has spent over a year as a bestseller at the bookstore, first on the New York Times list, then on the Indie list. Milk and Honey was originally self-published and I will readily admit I am skeptical of anyone who is self-published. Milk and Honey was then picked up by a major publisher, Simon & Schuster, who published the edition that is readily available on the shelves of most bookstores. It’s popularity is even to the point that when people come into the store looking for our poetry section, we immediately ask if they actually want the whole section, or if they’re looking for Milk and Honey.

This is not a book about feminism. This is a book about femininity. There is a HUGE difference between these two terms and one that I think is frequently lost when people start describing this book to each other. One of the few reasons I finally decided to read it after looking at it on the shelf for over a year, was that I had been told yesterday that it was a book that celebrated feminism. While recanting her own experiences with hurt (abuse), love, and heartbreak, Kaur encourages women to love themselves. When, in the last chapter, she attempts to turn to feminism, I take great issue with many of the poems in that chapter, one in particular:

our backs
tell stories
no books have
the spine to
carry

women of color

I’ll let that one sink in for a minute. Rupi Kaur spends pages of poems before that encouraging women to support each other. She looks out for her sisters, her fellow women. And then she includes that poem. Until I read the last line, it was my favorite in the entire book – it was the one that I finally felt I could connect with. Throughout Milk and Honey, Kaur uses that last line (beginning with a hyphen) to indicate the audience of a specific poem, or to guide your thinking towards a particular phrase or point in the poem. And I realized, this particular poem was not for me. I felt like I could not claim to identify with it because I’m a white middle class suburban blonde haired blue eyed young woman.

And then I realized, that yes, this poem must be overwhelmingly true for women of color, particularly in the US and Canada – I cannot begin to understand the differences in their experiences of life here and my own. But I think the power of poetry is for all people, all of Kaur’s “sisters” to find themselves in her words and I believe her last line here is exclusionary. These words rang particularly true of my grandmother, an immigrant from Germany post WWII. These words fit so many immigrants, women who identify as part of the LGBTQI community, victims of abuse, the list can go on and on.

But what it boils down to, is that Rupi Kaur’s poetry made me feel something. It may not have been the feelings she intended – I was angry most of the time I was reading – but the point of poetry is to elicit a feeling, so on that part, well done.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $14.99 • 9781449474256 • 208 pages • published October 2015 by Andrews McMeel Publishing • average Goodreads rating 4.26 out of 5 • read in September 2017

Rupi Kaur’s Website

Milk and Honey on Goodreads

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Non-Fiction, Psychology, Sociology, Young Adult

The Fangirl Life by Kathleen Smith

This book was put in my cubby by one of my coworkers when it was still just an ARC about a year and a half ago, prior to its publication. I’m not sure if they were trying to send me a message, or if it was intended for me to pass along to my fangirl YA book club members, but either way, I’m glad to have been introduced to, and read, The Fangirl Life.

Synopsis

You’d probably know a “fangirl” when you see one, but the majority stay relatively closeted due to the stigma of being obsessed with fictional characters. However, these obsessions are sometimes the fangirl’s solutions for managing stress, anxiety, and even low self-esteem. Fangirling is often branded as behavior young women should outgrow and replace with more adult concerns. Written by a proud fangirl, The Fangirl Life is a witty testament to the belief that honoring your imagination can be congruous with good mental health, and it’s a guide to teach fangirls how to put their passion to use in their own lives.

The Fangirl Life encourages you to use an obsession not as a distraction from the anxieties of your life, but rather as a test lab for your own life story: How can a character girl crush be useful instead of a waste of time? How can writing fan fiction be a launching point for greater endeavors? How do you avoid the myths that fictional romance perpetuates?

By showing you how to translate obsession into personal accomplishment while affirming the quirky, endearing qualities of your fangirl nature, The Fangirl Life will help you become your own ultimate fangirl.

Review

Before starting to read The Fangirl Life, I would have considered myself a mild fangirl – I have my fandoms, I’m a book hoarder, I make everyone I know read Throne of Glass, I love Downton Abbey and the Jazz Age, I adore Hermione Granger, I can quote Gilmore Girls like there’s no tomorrow, I have an extensive collection of Eeyore mugs, and I buy everything I can get my hands on that has to do with Peter Pan. But my fandoms have never gotten in the way of my personal relationships. If anything, they’ve allowed me to bond faster with people when I feel socially awkward or anxious or when trying to make a new friend. I created a book club for the sake of meeting new friends and shamelessly used my obsession with bound tomes to do so.

But as I was reading The Fangirl Life, I began to hate myself and went though a self-doubt crisis – what if everything that I thought was normal and healthy was actually really bad for me? Was I using fandoms as a ways to escape from my friends and family when I just needed some alone time? Was I using my love of Downton Abbey to convince my now husband to have a ’20s themed wedding against his will? Did collecting Eeyore mugs mean deep down I was gloomy and depressed? Was my love of Peter Pan indicative of my inability to mature and act like a responsible adult? Was the article I wrote about how I’m like Paris Geller more accurate than I let myself believe?

I guess that’s the problem with reading Self-Help books – unless you, or someone you love and care about, think you might need help, you don’t. Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken. Thankfully, I realized that Kathleen Smith was not judging me. She was not telling me I had a problem, or problems, as I had myself convinced, but that I should be mindful of when I am using them to escape from reality in an unhealthy way. I also realized, I’d never read a Self-Help book before and that if I really am tearing myself apart over one that doesn’t necessarily apply to me, I could probably do with reading a few to help bolster my self-esteem a bit.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9781101983690 • 240 pages • published July 2016 by Tarcherperigee • average Goodreads rating 3.97 • read in April 2016

Kathleen Smith’s Website

The Fangirl Life on Goodreads

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Fangirl Life