Book 49: Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is a household name; her company, Shondaland, is responsible for hit shows like Grey’s Anatomy (my personal favorite), as well as Private Practice, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder. Rhimes is an incredible writer, one who has captivated huge audiences, and jokes (rightly) that she “owns Thursday nights.”

Rhimes is also very human; this work is very raw and emotional, despite the constant onslaught of jokes and the nature of her self-deprecating humor. Underneath it all, we see Rhimes as someone who had become complacent living a very boring, yet famous life.

Year of Yes is listed as both a memoir/autobiography and a self help book – Rhimes successfully encompassed both genres by writing honestly while using herself as an example. The joy that comes with saying Yes and growing is very apparent on the page; it’s a self-help book not because Rhimes provides a step-by-step method, but because she explains that chapter in her life so well that readers have the ability to take what she learned and run with it.

Rhimes also shows us the struggles of being a working mother. She lays into concepts that feminist women deal with, ie. marriage and child-rearing, and she does wonders with them. She also shows us how it feels to succeed even when the recognition and the honor don’t feel quite like you’d expected. Overall, Rhimes writes herself and she does it well.

Some interesting aspects of the book were the interpersonal interactions and losses that Rhimes experiences as a result of her challenge; losing people because of becoming a more whole and strong version of yourself is a pain that she has laid bare on the page, all the while maintaining that strength and grace. I identified with Rhimes in those moments, I remembered friends lost in periods of joy or strength or assertion, and I loved reading what Rhimes had to say about it.

Year of Yes is definitely a feminist read; Rhimes mentions feminism in many instances, as well as concepts like the necessity of diversity (though she hates the word) on tv. She writes on life from the perspective of a single mother and a successful businesswoman who has built an empire.

I give the book a 9/10.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

Happy reading,
Scarlett

Book 48: The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace

I picked up this collection of poetry on my Kindle for a few bucks and decided to give it a go. The dedication is to Harry Potter, so I figured it’d be a pretty interesting work.

Lovelace writes quite a lot about reading, and quite a lot about writing as well. I for one am not a huge fan of poems about poetry, so I didn’t connect well with a good chunk of the book. Her writing on her mother and their relationship was good, but I still didn’t find myself very immersed for the most part. Her writing is very good, it’s just not much to my taste.

I did, however, really like what Lovelace did with form. There’s some concrete poetry as well as some interesting spacing tricks going on that pull the reader’s eye to the page in a nice, not overbearing way. It’s really refreshing to see formatting played with once in awhile.

A few of my favorite poems were; “did it really happen if i can’t remember it?” “my dragons,” “over before it began,” “& it’s okay not to know,” and “the sign you’ve been waiting for.”

The title in and of itself has a very feminist vibe – I immediately saw Megara (the Disney version), and I was pretty down for an independent damsel. I saw the theme of independence in a few places, but Lovelace didn’t push it through quite enough to meet my expectations. Themes of abuse and violence against women are definitely present, as well as mention of mental illness, rape culture, and other feminist issues.

Overall, I think that theming the whole collection hurt Lovelace in the long run. There were too many cliches present, and too much going on for it to work for me as a whole. Lovelace went for the modern, super minimalist form and qualities that I think work very well for writers like Nayyirah Waheed, though I didn’t feel that Lovelace herself achieved the same power in her writing.

My Kindle notes are available here if you’re interested.

I give the book a 7/10.

the princess saves herself in this one

Happy reading,
Scarlett

Book 47: All-American Poem by Matthew Dickman

A friend in the program sent me a few of Dickman’s poems in August and I promptly fell in love with his style. Poetry is such a significantly sized genre – there are hundreds or thousands of us, each with different strengths; Dickman’s strength is deeply rooted in his absurdity and originality.

Dickman’s style is incredibly unique; one minute he’s being completely absurd (in an all too admirable way), the next he’s making a profound statement. Every poem reads casually and organically, like a stream of consciousness in some places, but with more focus than I can muster in my own mind. He uses simile and metaphor to conjure surreal images in every poem.

The collection is broken up into 3 parts, unnamed and unspecified as far as subject matter goes. It’s a fairly short book, just 85 pages, but packed with long and thought-provoking poetry.  

The title stands out to me quite a bit with this work; All-American Poem evokes such a unique and fitting image. Multiple poems draw on the concept of America, and I quite like the many facets that Dickman pulls into play.

My favorites in the collection were “Love,” “The Black Album,” “Byron Loves Me,” “Thanksgiving Poem,” “Country Music,” Grief,” “Trouble,” “American Standard,” “American Studies,” “Lucky Number,” and “The World is Too Huge to Grasp.” I had an issue with the use of a transphobic slur in the title poem, though it was good as a whole; it also encompassed a few lines from other poems, which I thought was an interesting nod to poets that Dickman liked. “American Studies” contains a racial slur.

I give the book a 9/10.

All-American Poem (APR Honickman 1st Book Prize)

Happy reading,
Scarlett

Book 46: Kinky by Denise Duhamel

This is a collection of poetry written about and to theoretical Barbies. A friend in the program lent me this book, and I was quite flattered after reading it; the pros to being obnoxiously outspoken continue to outweigh the cons.

I flipped through the book before I was ready to sit down and read it – just among some friends and professors – and stumbled upon what might be the most witty piece in the book; “Native American Barbie,” which is comprised of one line – “There’s only one left.” From that point on I knew I was holding a collection that would address some powerful issues and do so in a very comedic yet honest way.

The social commentary here’s intense – Duhamel touches on gender roles, sexuality, hypersexualization, empowerment, and so much more. It gets trippy – she writes about marriage and incest (“Tragedy” was quite a strong little poem) in very interesting ways. Duhamel also drops in the names of many powerful women (ie. “She preferred glamour to Ginsberg” 55).

The book had a distinctly feminist overtone; Duhamel is clearly challenging beauty standards here, but she’s also commenting on ability, on race, and more. Most frequently, Duhamel focuses on the body of the American woman as a whole; how society asks us to shape it, how we as women are expected to fit the Barbie mold. Her commentary on race, ability, and size make it a very compelling collection of poems while still maintaining a frivolity that is incredibly appealing.

Duhamel writes a good deal on sex here, as well as molestation, objectification, and the ever-shamed menstruation. I admired her constant reflections on bodily autonomy, on the nature of the female (not so trans-inclusive) body. Duhamel also reverses the male gaze in multiple instances, portraying Ken as the object, with Barbie fulfilling the role of the complex and superior being.

The division of the book into four sections (Lipstick, Powder Blush, Mascara, and Eye-Shadow) was interesting. I didn’t really feel like it needed to be split into sections, but that may just be a personal preference. I assume it’s meant to tie-in to Barbie’s made-up face and the societal pressure on women to present themselves, down to the color of their cheeks and eyelids, as perfect beings.

I took a bit of issue with Duhamel’s bits on religion, specifically Buddhism and the Mormon faith, for the simple fact that her poems contained religious stereotypes. Painting all Mormon women as sister wives is inaccurate, as is her use of the image of a fat  Buddha – the fat Buddha that we see so frequently is a more Americanized version of the Buddha, who represents moderation more traditionally. It’s a bit blatant here that Duhamel is a white woman writing on a religion she’s not affiliated with, which is an issue I have with some of her writing on race in earlier sections of the collection. I feel that her intention with “Buddhist Barbie” in relations to fatness were good, though flawed on the whole.

This collection was published in the early 1990’s. It could have been written yesterday and still be on the nose (aside from some slight terminology shifts, which did not detract from the whole).

I give it an 8/10.

Kinky

Happy reading,
Scarlett

Book 45: Blood Don’t Lie by Aaron Levy 

This book is a little outside of my typical reading set, but I certainly enjoyed it. I’ve been meaning to read more YA Fiction, and Blood Don’t Lie falls into that category. 
Dr. Levy was one of my undergrad professors; I had him for playwriting, a course that I quite enjoyed. He was (and is) a very enthusiastic professor, one who challenged his students and wrote alongside us, sharing bits of his works in progress with us in class on occasion. 

You can listen to Levy read the first chapter of Blood Don’t Lie on his Soundcloud. His blog outlines ways to teach the novel in the classroom, as well as providing links to his other publications. 

The opening line for Levy’s blog post reads; “Thirteen-year old Larry Ratner wouldn’t mind starting an after-school club; one of those twelve-step programs, only for short people; but he’s worried he’ll be the shortest person in the Short Person’s Club.”

Larry is certainly a funny kid – Levy writes a convincing thirteen year old, a young man who has to deal with growing up short, Jewish, and unpopular. He’s such a witty character, you can’t help but love him throughout the story.

Larry also deals with a ton of tough situations; bullying, abuse, death of friends, and more. This book isn’t one to beat around the bush where touchy subjects go, and it’s written in a way that tackles them all beautifully. 

The “Tattoo Show-N-Tell” installments are one of my favorite small details in the book – Larry mentions the bus driver multiple times, and I really enjoyed seeing his character progress. 

I didn’t take as many notes here as I typically do, but you can see mine through Goodreads here. 

I give it a 9/10.

You can find the Kindle edition here. 

Levy’s blog also says to be on the lookout for the book release, in case you’re not down with the eReader lifestyle. 

Happy reading!