I’m starting a new monthly series. As a bibliovore who adores peaking into other blogger’s “bookshelves,” I’ve been wanting to create a similar experience for my readers. Each month I will go over the books I’ve read and tell you what I think of them. Disclaimer: I’m not a critic. I’m simply a nerdy booklover who spends a disproportionate amount of income on reading materials. Welcome to “Book Talk.”
I didn’t get a chance to read as much as I wanted to this month since I was busy working and getting ready for Costa Rica! But here are the few books I did read!
Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
The first chapter of this book is one of the best first chapters I’ve ever read. In fact, the first sentence is pretty dang captivating too: “Lydia is dead.”
Ng manages to shift from one character’s perspective to another character’s perspective in the same exact paragraph without losing the reader. It’s masterful, and I’m jealous of her abilities.
Everything I Never Told You delves into the lives of a Chinese/American family. It doesn’t hold back. This is a raw and honest portrayal of what it looks like when you really love your family, but life is so complicated and messy and sometimes love doesn’t feel like love.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – Mindy Kaling
I really love Mindy Kaling. I loved her on The Office, I especially loved the episodes she wrote on The Office. Including “The Dundies” – classic Michael Scott. I love things she’s said about women and creativity. Such high hopes……
But I didn’t love this book.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is written in essay format. I love that style and especially appreciated it in Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. A few of the essays were really great, and I even did the literal LOL, but the rest fell flat. Disappointingly flat.
I don’t know if I would have even given it 3 stars if I wasn’t such an Office fanatic. Sad face.
All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
All The Light We Cannon See won the last Pulitzer Prize. Of course I had insanely high expectations. It’s almost unfair to novels to put such a prestigious label on a book.
It didn’t quite meet my expectations. Don’t get me wrong! This is a seriously well-written book. That’s the reason I gave it four stars. If it hadn’t been so masterfully written, I might only give it three.
I wasn’t in love with the plot line. I feel like I’ve heard WWII narratives frequently, and this one didn’t keep me super engaged. But there was no doubt about it, Doerr is a magnificent writer. I learned a lot as a writer by reading this novel.
“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”
I first read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz over a year ago. My life was changing in ways that ended up for the better, but I felt crappy at the time. I knew I needed a new perspective on life, many of the old ways I’d been living just weren’t working out very well. Been there? Me too.
I saw lots of bloggers and writers talking about these four agreements, so I decided to read the book. Life changer, guys, life changer. It attacks common hangups in a simple way. I re-read this book in between finishing my degree and starting my new career. I wanted a reminder, and I’m so glad I did. Without remembering these truths, the insecure, controlling Taylor might suffocate the creative, inspired Taylor.
Without further ado, The Four Agreements:
1. Be Impeccable with Your Word
I’ve always understood the importance of not lying, but I never fully grasped the idea of only saying what you actually mean. I have discovered over the years that I am the queen of saying things I don’t really mean, or saying things passive-aggressively instead of intentionally. This has gotten me in trouble, and has led me to being the doormat in many situations. Being impeccable with my word means when I want to say “yes,” I say “yes” – when I want to say “no,” I say “no.”
Ruiz talks about how much power is held in words (The Bible has a lot to say on this matter too). I love this fact as a writer, but I’m humbled by this fact as a human. Hitler was good at using words, but he used them for lies and hate. Being impeccable with your word means you use your words for truth and love, something I try to remember since my job is using words.
Favorite Quote from book: “Use the word to share your love…beginning with yourself. Tell yourself how wonderful you are, how great you are…Use the word to break all those teeny, tiny agreements that make you suffer.”
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
This truth takes the cake for me, it’s the foundation of so many of my struggles. Taking nothing personally is not only about ignoring a bad joke aimed at you. Taking nothing personally means you realize that people live in their own worlds, or as Ruiz calls them, “dreams.” What they think and say about you really has nothing to do with you. It’s a projection of their own reality.
I have received such negative, hurtful feedback for years for being a more liberal, “opened-minded” Christian. To the point of people thinking there’s no way I could be a Christian if I support gay marriage(aka “marriage”) or read teachings of Buddha. I took that all personally for so long – “they think I’m going to hell!” But that’s a reflection of what they believe about their religion, not a direct attack on me.
Favorite quote from book: “Whatever you think, whatever you feel, I know is your problem and not my problem. It is the way you see the world. It is nothing personal, because you are dealing with yourself, not with me.”
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
We make assumptions all the time, don’t we? I don’t think I realized how common this phenomenon was until I read this book. From the tiniest things to the largest things, we assume all the time. (My mama always told me “You know what happens when you assume? You make an ass out of u and me. Love her for that!) Ruiz warns that assumptions are what kills relationships.
I felt the true sting of assumptions when I went through my divorce. Because I believe in being brave enough to share my own story, but kind enough not to share anyone else’s – I haven’t written about the details. Still, I’d get email after email when it first happened with people assuming lots. That frustration encouraged me to ask people more questions so I’m not the assumer.
Favorite quote from book: “Making assumptions in our relationships is really asking for problems. Often we make the assumption that our partners know what we think and that we don’t have to say what we want. We assume they are going to do what we want, because they know us so well. If they don’t do what we assume they should do, we feel hurt.”
4. Always Do Your Best
As a perfectionist with a mad case of people-pleasing, this one is important in my life. We hear “always do your best” a lot in life, but typically it means you have to crack your back to achieve everything we expect of you. That’s not what it means in this book. Doing your best means doing no less than your best, but also NO MORE than your best. All while knowing your best will change from day to day and year to year as circumstances change.
Favorite quote: “If you try too hard to do more than your best, you will spend more energy than is needed and in the end your best will not be enough. When you overdo, you deplete your body and go aginast yourself.”
Ruiz develops these four agreements even more deeply and profoundly. He also discusses “domestication,” the process where we start making agreements with ourselves as children, and not all of them healthy. Ruiz bases most of his work in the Toltec tradition. Know that I highly recommend The Four Agreements; it’s made a huge difference in my life. It can in yours too, I’m sure.
Before I talk about her book Yes Please, I must confess I am a true blue Amy Poehler fangirl. Girl crush. If I were to receive the opportunity to have lunch with any celebrity I would choose Amy Poehler. If the world was ending and I got to choose one thing to take with me, I would save Amy Poehler. Sorry, family and dear friends.
Amy (we are on a first name basis) made a name for herself on Saturday Night Live, but found her way into my heart through her character on Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope. Knope is smart, quirky, ambitious, silly, loving, lively – but mostly funny. Those sad folks saying women aren’t funny, simply aren’t paying attention. Poehler plays a humble Parks department director who is a true feminist – with no bitchiness and plenty of humor. A rare, but terrific female character to find on TV.
There is no show on TV written more perfectly suited for my liking, which I’m sure they were considering while producing it. All this to say, Amy P and I are really the greatest of chums in my head.
Then she went about writing a book. And it was exactly as great as I wanted it to be.
In Yes Please, Poehler is quirky, charming, hilarious and smart. She discusses her adventure into the world of comedy and improv and her time on Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation. She also throws in her thoughts on topics from pregnancy to divorce to drugs to parents and how women hate their bodies. All of this is done candidly and hysterically with just enough cuss words and sex jokes to make it only the best book since Anna Karenina.
There’s also a silly amount of true wisdom and insight. One of my favorite moments is when Amy shares her motto: “Good for her! Not for me. That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.” As women we often think we have got it figured out and sometimes feel that we need to share how awesomely figured-out we really got it with everyone who OBVIOUSLY didn’t figure it out yet. This leads to a lot of shaming, fighting, and competition. Instead, I love the idea of celebrating what works for other women (Good for her) and also knowing what works for our own lives (not for me).
As a young women entering the world in creative self-employed fields, I also valued her thoughts on careers and creativity: “You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look.“
I can’t recommend this book more highly to my lady friends, whether or not your BFFs with Amy Poehler like I am. Her thoughts on body image and children and love and career are important, but also fun. You will laugh and feel empowered. It’s good to do both frequently. I can also recommend it to my guy friends with the warning that the word “vagina” comes up regularly, and it’s not in the sexy way you’d be hoping for: “Trying to get pregnant is the most vulnerable thing in the world. You have to openly decide you are ready and then you have to put sperm in your vagina and elevate your legs like you are an upside-down coffee table. It’s all ridiculous and incredibly sci-fi.”
Love me some Amy Poehler…and Yes Please truly delivered
Let me begin by stating: I have read the book Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James in its entirety. I have seen far too many “reviews” or opinion pieces from bloggers who refused to “touch that filth, much less read it” and still proceeded to discuss it. I decided to be responsible and read it for myself before I condemned or supported a viewpoint, and especially before I made one of my own. My opinion – if you , if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the “Red Room of Pain”!
Fifty Shades of Grey, the #1 New York Times Bestseller and raging (no pun intended) phenomenon, has managed to reignite the fervor of Americans’ gossip with the release (alright, ALL my puns are intended!) of the highly anticipated movie trailer.
People are in a hullabaloo over this trailer from one side of the spectrum to the other. Some are over the moon and cannot wait until their fantasy plays out on the big screen. Some are upset over the choice in casting. Others are distressed because they viewed this book as disastrous, threatening pornography for women, and the movie will be no less menacing to female society.
Well let me tell you, I am in a hullabaloo myself! I have two major issues with Fifty Shades of Grey and don’t know if they can be resolved in the film adaptation. Surprisingly, neither of them has to do with the overt sexual content. It always surprises me that sex is handled with two extremes. It is either bad, evil, should be hidden. Or it is beyond great, euphoric, should be everywhere. One of the best explanations I’ve found of this phenomenon comes from the interesting indie flick Daydream Nation:
“You’ve been brainwashed by puritanical a**holes who think sex is a sin. But then again, your little gerbil-sized brain has been reprogrammed by the media to believe that sex is the be-all, end-all. So now you’re stuck, right? ‘Cause on the one hand you love to f**k, but afterwards you feel overwhelmed by guilt & you’re not sure why. Maybe it’s because sex is neither as good or as evil as you’ve built it up to be.” (emphasis added)
Sex is neither as good or as evil as we have built it up to be. Nearly all of us have sex. Hopefully, nearly all of us enjoy sex. Some of us have sex frequently, some of us not so frequently. It is a thing we do. It feels good. Then we move on in our lives and cook and clean and work and raise children or write blogs.
Writing about sex is not new. As an English major, I would like to say my research for this article was more steamy than I’m used to, but sex permeates literature of all time periods (even the Bible!). I have no problem with those who write about or read about sex. Sex is a part of our lives, so it makes sense that sex is a part of our art forms. Therefore, when I see conservative bloggers throw out Bible verses about how we should protect ourselves from being “like the world, and not like Christ,” I must wonder if they don’t have sex. Why must this one common facet of human life be left out of art or literature? I watch movies and read books containing drug use and don’t scurry over to the nearest street corner to buy crack. I watch movies and read books that contain theft, yet I don’t steal. Just because I read a book that has alternative sexual behaviors, does not mean I must engage in bondage with a rich, powerful CEO named Christian Grey.
So if it’s not sex, what then is my Fifty Shades of Frenzied Blogging really about, you ask.
1. Is this actually a book? A book people read?
Anybody else who has read the book now knows that my poor eyes have viewed the phrases “yes, sir,” “holy crap,” “holy cow,” “my inner goddess,” and “stop biting your lip” approximately 52,384 times. The author of this wild hit managed to create all this fuss and STILL regurgitate the same five or six phrases throughout twenty-six chapters. It is stunning, truly, just how often “holy cow” can be used in and outside of the bedroom.
I am saddened that a poorly written, poorly constructed book with immature character development and little to no description (beyond the size of Christian Grey’s…bank account) has stayed on top of charts for so long. By no means am I a girl all about hoity-toity literature. However, this book is nothing more than a glorified erotic story fit for an amateur forum board on a porn site. It’s trash. And I don’t mean hot “trashy.” I mean the writing and storyline are subpar at best.
Read better art, please. Read better fiction. Sex is beautiful and it can be written about beautifully. This is not beautiful, it’s inadequate.
2. I personally cannot and will not accept man’s domination of women.
The fair Miss Anastasia Steele and I have much in common: we are English majors, we love the American Northwest, and we are quite skeptical of domination. Sorrowfully, we must separate over the mere fact that a man ordering my meal and demanding that I eat all of it is a deal breaker for me. As is stalking. As is flogging. Girlfriend can order her own dinner, and girlfriend can be entertained in the bedroom sans flogging – and please don’t have me followed! Christian Grey’s domination over Anastasia Steele OUTSIDE of the bedroom, or “The Red Room of Pain,” leaves my stomach in knots:
Christian is still nowhere to be seen, and Mrs. Jones is checking the contents of the pantry.
“Tea now, Miss Steele?” she asks.
“Please.” I smile at her. I feel slightly more confident now that I’m dressed.
“Would you like something to eat?”
“No, thank you.”
“Of course you’ll have something to eat,” Christian snaps, glowering. “She likes pancakes, bacon, and eggs, Mrs. Jones.”
“Yes, Mr. Grey. What would you like, sir?”
“Omelet, please, and some fruit.” He doesn’t take his eyes off me, his expression unfathomable. “Sit,” he orders, pointing to one of the barstools. (1)
I will be the first to admit that I know little about the culture of sadomasochism. I always try to be very open minded to different people, tastes, and lifestyles. However, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the concept of a man telling a woman that she cannot look him in the eye, that she must go to sleep, that she cannot touch him, that she must finish food she does not want to consume, that she cannot masturbate and that she cannot roll her eyes – ESPECIALLY when he does not have to abide by the same rules. Women (and men!) have fought for centuries to give women equality and the right not to be dominated or treated like scum. Still, writing like this is a sensation:
“How did you feel while I was hitting you and after?”
“I didn’t like it. I’d rather you didn’t do it again.”
“You weren’t meant to like it.”
“Why do you like it?” I stare up at him.
My question surprises him.
“You really want to know?”
“Oh, trust me, I’m fascinated.” And I can’t quite keep the sarcasm out of my voice.
He narrows his eyes again.
“Careful,” he warns.
I blanch. “Are you going to hit me again?”
“No, not tonight.”
Phew … my subconscious and I both breathe a silent sigh of relief.
“So,” I prompt.
“I like the control it gives me, Anastasia. I want you to behave in a particular way, and if you don’t, I shall punish you, and you will learn to behave the way I desire. I enjoy punishing you. I’ve wanted to spank you since you asked me if I was gay.” (2)
(Sidenote: Hopefully this passage kills two birds with one stone and proves the woeful state of writing quality)
This dialogue does not turn me on, it makes me angry. I’m not talking about a spank on the butt during a rowdy sex session or fuzzy handcuffs. I’m talking about Mr. Grey’s loves: flogging, caning, painful beating. Men still punish women all over this globe. Pictures of battered women still flood the news. Men rape women and then lock away or kill them. And the whole “Wounded Bird,” damaged man storyline is a sad attempt to turn Christian Grey into a hero, and Anastasia Steele into his dutiful caretaker who nurses him back to his humanity. This is not a novel concept, it is a common one, especially in abusive/codependent relationships.
Now, I do realize this is a fictional book. If women enjoy this book, I know it does not mean they want to be abused or support abuse of any kind. Simply, it is a poorly written story. If somebody finds it interesting or entertaining, have at it! Equality has allowed women sexual freedom as well. I could almost go as far as saying that part of me is happy the economy is being boosted by the sale of sexual product marketed toward women for a change. But I can’t quite say that. Why? Because an impressionable, young, pretty virgin is seduced by a powerful, sadistic man who likes to use her inside and outside of the bedroom for his pleasure. Sounds to me like a typical fantasy geared toward men.
Fifty Shades of Grey did not do it for me. It was not sexually stimulating, and it was certainly not mentally stimulating. It was a waste of $4.99 for the Kindle edition. With an overflowing abundance of literature at my fingertips, I would rather spend my time reading something else. Something well-written and creative. Some story in which beautiful love and even wild sex is mutually respectful and beneficial. Some story in which a woman is strong, interesting, sexual and not swayed by the obsessive desires of man, because I’ve heard that story too many times. I’ve seen that story in the lives of too many women. It’s old news.
What are your thoughts on Fifty Shades? Please leave a comment below.
(1)James, E L (2011-05-25). Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy (p. 375). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
(2) James, E L (2011-05-25). Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy (p. 287). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.