This post will include two longer reviews and a third shorter review, and soon I will publish another post with shorter reviews, but more books! I have a lot of reviews to catch up on.
As a reminder, here is how I rate my books:
- (★★★★★): Loved it, won’t shut up about it for the foreseeable future
- (★★★★): Really liked it, enjoyable experience
- (★★★): Liked it enough, no strong opinions
- (★★): Didn’t care for it, would actively discourage people reading it
Another few notes: I will warn if there are any spoilers with (start spoiler) and (end spoiler) so you know when to stop reading and pick up again if you don’t want to ruin the book for yourself. I no longer go out of my way to watch adaptions, but will continue to mention them and their general critiques (from Rotten Tomatoes) in my reviews. Finally, you can always check out my book review index page if you’re looking for my extremely important opinion on any book in particular.
Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir, self-help, feminism
GoodReads rating: 4.04 / 5 (14,800 ratings)
Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library)
Summary: “We live in a world obsessed with drinking. We drink at baby showers and work events, brunch and book club, graduations and funerals. Yet no one ever questions alcohol’s ubiquity—in fact, the only thing ever questioned is why someone doesn’t drink. It is a qualifier for belonging and if you don’t imbibe, you are considered an anomaly. As a society, we are obsessed with health and wellness, yet we uphold alcohol as some kind of magic elixir, though it is anything but. When Holly Whitaker decided to seek help after one too many benders, she embarked on a journey that led not only to her own sobriety, but revealed the insidious role alcohol plays in our society and in the lives of women in particular. What’s more, she could not ignore the ways that alcohol companies were targeting women, just as the tobacco industry had successfully done generations before.”
Warning: This book contains mention of eating disorders, drug use, rape and themes of addiction.
Thoughts: This book gave me a lot to think about. As a frequent drinker who sometimes feel they lose control, although I haven’t considered going sober I wanted to read this to perhaps get some perspective about addiction habits to see if I can help myself. There were a lot of good things about this book so I’ll share some of my favorite points:
- Often when we think we might have a problem with substance abuse, in the case of alcohol we always look for someone in our life that’s worse off or tell ourselves we don’t really have an alcohol problem unless we’re racking up DUIs or pissing the bed…
- … and when we do feel like giving up alcohol or taking it easy for a night, it’s then people decide we have a problem, friends consider what my drinking means about their drinking and end up feeling confused or threatened as if the non-drinker has broken a social contract.
- A lot of the time, drinking in access has diminishing returns: “if you have one drink, you might have about 20 min of feeling “the desired “relaxed” effect before the drug wears off, and you’re left with increased amount of cortisol and adrenaline, which fuels anxiety. This means alcohol causes anxiety; it doesn’t manage it.” So that means when you go without, you’re anxious (go figure)
- If you’re having trouble thinking about how you will have fun without alcohol, think about what your life looked like before you started drinking. For me personally, I have a lot of fond memories of my senior year of high school going over to my friend’s house every Friday night with a Murphy’s pizza and watching Bridesmaids, White Chicks or Pitch Perfect
Now, to some of the things I didn’t like:
- The girl-boss energy title. Very much in the same vein as Girl, Wash Your Face and other “self-help” books, but I’m glad I didn’t judge this book by the title because this had a lot of good and useful information, however…
- The author did give off extremely privileged points of views at times. Her main recommendations are yoga, massages and retreats that start at $1,000. That’s nice you were able to quit your six-figure salary corporate job to get recovery, but not everybody has that kind of time and money
- Speaking of girl bosses, this author referenced You Are a Badass which I haven’t read myself but based on reviews by readers I trust can only assume is filled with meaningless fluff just like 90% of self-help books out there. The part of the book mentioned in this one is about seeing the world through new eyes and just “be happy to be alive” while also failing to mention a proven way to get better perspective and break cycles of addiction is proper therapy with psychoactives. I know fighting alcohol with other “drugs” can be problematic, but there is increasing scientific research and positive personal anecdotes advocating for the use of LSD, MDMA and psilocybin in alcohol therapy that should have been at least mentioned
- I did love some of the points from the feminist perspective (how like Big Tobacco, Big Alcohol is increasingly targeting women, how Alcoholics Anonymous was made by white Christian men, for white Christian men and marginalized groups should consider other ways of treatment, etc.), but it still came off as white feminist-y at times, looking up to the likes of Elon Musk and Gandhi (famously racist), going with the tired “Trump bad” narrative without mentioning how a lot of white women still voted for him and even getting a little victim blame-y as to say “without alcohol, there would be no rapes.” Just yuck.
All in all, if you’re a woman looking to reassess your relationship with alcohol, give this a read but take some of the advice with a grain of salt.
Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service by Tajja Isen
Genre: Non-fiction, essays, race
GoodReads rating: 4.21 / 5 (107 ratings)
Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from library)
Summary: “These nine daring essays explore the sometimes troubling and often awkward nature of that discord. Some of My Best Friends takes on the cartoon industry’s pivot away from colorblind casting, the pursuit of diverse representation in the literary world, the law’s refusal to see inequality, and the cozy fictions of nationalism. Isen deftly examines the quick, cosmetic fixes society makes to address systemic problems, and reveals the unexpected ways they can misfire.”
Warning: This book contains themes of racism and mention of colonial violence.
Thoughts: Everything about this book was an absolute slam dunk. Cover? Check. Audiobook narration by the author who is a literal voice actress? Check. Extremely well-thought out? Check. The sign of a profound non-fiction book for me is when I walk away with more questions than answers, paradoxically.
This book put words to things that rub me the wrong way and I couldn’t quite understand why, especially this uniquely 21st century brand of capitalism-approved “anti-racism” in the era of increased attention to police violence. The very definition of anti-racism has become one of just “being nice and buying things” and one that puts the spotlight only on Black stories about their trauma and struggles rather than elevating stories of Black joy. Even these stories that the white, capitalist market created where POC authors comfort the reader simply for picking up the book and that they’re doing so well are met with criticisms of being too “biased, inflammatory and improbable.” Not to mention the empty and bizarre virtue signaling by corporations, with the one from Gushers (yes, Gushers: the once-beloved sugary snack) being one of the more insane ones claiming that their “words match their actions. More to come”… whatever that means (check it out here). In the same vein, Blackout Tuesday clogged social media feeds of Black Lives Matter with useless black squares rather than constructive information or coalition building: virtue signaling at its finest.
The author had a lot of interesting information and viewpoints to share about the racist origins of cartoons, the realities of being Canadian vs. how the rest of the world sees Canada and the race issues within the publishing industry. Often, she would be the only Black person in the room and when there’s only one person of color in the room, they are often forced into silence because they are made to feel lucky just to be present and their voices are never actually heard. If there’s only one Black person in the room, get another. The section about the publishing industry was especially interesting to me: on how Barnes and Noble made “diverse editions” to classic books before quickly pulling them from shelves and how publishers will sell anti-racist books and perform anti-racist marketing (mostly because that’s what’s “hot” right now) but countless books about a certain fascist president.
This was such a pleasant surprise, the audiobook was especially superb. 10/10.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Genre: Fiction, contemporary, LGBTQIA+
GoodReads rating: 4.33 / 5 (351,000 ratings)
Medium used: Paperback (purchased from Twice Sold Tales in Seattle, WA)
PopSugar prompt: A book by a Pacific Islander author
Summary: “When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.”
Warning: This book contains graphic themes throughout of self-harm (cutting, hitting, burning), ableism, suicide, domestic abuse, abusive ableism, rape and pedophilia
Thoughts: So if you know anything about this book, you know it’s as devastating as it is graphic, namely when it comes to the self-harm aspects. This is not an uplifting story with a happy ending, but the writing is so beautiful. Although it’s a big book of over 800 pages, I’d regularly read 100+ in a single sitting it was so captivating. I never wanted to stop reading about these characters. Some people call this book “torture porn” and while I understand even with the warnings it can be heavy for a lot of people, domestic abuse and exploitations is especially rampant for disabled people and I appreciated the conversations this book could potentially start around that. If I’m being honest, I would wish for more action (for example, I thought the fact that a portrait of Jude as a young boy becoming massively popular, dating someone high-profile and being a litigator himself would all point to some kind of case against his abusers), but the book just kind of fizzled in the end. Regardless, I enjoyed the ride.
Have you read any of these?
Photo by Radu Marcusu.