On the Shelf: L’Abri Reading List

With three hours of study time a day at L’Abri, I did a lot of reading.  From serious Christian texts to murder mysteries to memoirs to classics, I covered a wide variety of books.  I feel head over heels in love with Dorothy Sayers, Anne Lamott, and C.S. Lewis–to name a few.

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On the Shelf: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

A few weeks ago, I had scheduled a meet-up with a friend in a nearby town.  I left early to make time for shopping (because Target is a beautiful, beautiful place) only to receive a text pushing back our meeting time.  Of course, when I get stuck with half an hour of extra time is the ONE TIME I FORGET TO BRING A BOOK.

I remedied this by spending a long time shopping and picked up a book that’s been waiting patiently on my “To-Read” list for quite a while.  That, friends, is how I ended up with Mindy Kaling’s first memoir on my shelf.

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Summary from GoodreadsMindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?”   Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you’ve come to the right book, mostly!  In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls. Mindy Kaling really is just a Girl Next Door—not so much literally anywhere in the continental United States, but definitely if you live in India or Sri Lanka.

My Thoughts:

This book has zero substance, but is absolutely delightful.  I found myself unable to put it down.  During the three days it took to finish, I felt like Mindy Kaling was my best friend.  Which is a bit odd because we have next to nothing in common and I’m not really a comedy fan.

I suppose I enjoyed this book for the same reasons people like magazines and celebrity gossip: It gives me insight into a world completely removed from everything I know.  I’m not obsessed with fashion trends and the Hollywood lifestyle, but reading this was just interesting!  My favorite part is that Kaling’s stories lack the glitz and glamor of tabloids.  They’re honest, imperfect tales of how to make a name for yourself in a highly competitive career.

Most of these chapters are stories and Kaling is good at telling them.   She talks about her childhood, her body image, her college life, early career, and her big break writing for The Office.  Some chapters are just lists, like “Types of Women in Romantic Comedies That Are Not Real”, “Non-Traumatic Things That Have Made Me Cry”, and “Revenge Fantasies While Jogging”.  There’s even a whole chapter of narcissistic photos from her phone, which made me laugh.

Kaling is relatable.  We’re completely different in background, trade, and personality, but I still felt connected.  She isn’t afraid to point out her flaws or make fun of herself.  I feel like most girls, including myself, struggle occasionally (sometimes more than that) with body image and reading Kaling’s tales of being an average-sized women in Hollywood were really encouraging.

She’s also got some great words on high school popularity:

“Teenage girls, please don’t worry about being super popular in high school, or being the best actress in high school, or the best athlete. Not only do people not care about any of that the second you graduate, but when you get older, if you reference your successes in high school too much, it actually makes you look kind of pitiful, like some babbling old Tennessee Williams character with nothing else going on in her current life. What I’ve noticed is that almost no one who was a big star in high school is also big star later in life. For us overlooked kids, it’s so wonderfully fair.”

What a wonderful pat-on-the-back for nerdy kids like me.

This is a fun read.  It doesn’t make you think very hard, but made me laugh and gave me a glimpse into a life very different than my own.

Check out my On the Shelf page for more reviews!

On the Shelf: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

This book was a lucky find and Goodwill.  Normally when I buy books secondhand, they sit on my shelf for years waiting to be read.  I picked this one up right away and am very glad I did!

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

My Thoughts:

This is not a perfect book.  The cover says it’s a collection of essays and, in a way, it is.  Each chapter gives Gay’s thoughts on different subjects.  If you’re looking defining essays by formal, academic standards however… this book falls short.  But falling short of academia does not mean that it has no value.

I loved this book.  My time within its pages felt less like reading a book and more like having a conversation with Gay over a cup of tea.  Her voice is informal and engaging.  She covers a wide variety of topics in this book, some relating to feminism and others not relating to it at all.

“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.” Roxane Gay

I love the honesty of this book.  Gay openly acknowledges her contradictions because that’s part of being human.   She’s not consistent at many points, loving aspects of pop culture that directly oppose everything feminists stand for.  But she doesn’t shy away from her contradictions.  She embraces them.

I didn’t always agree with everything Gay said.  At times, she even had me squirming in my seat with discomfort.  But this isn’t a bad thing.  I’ve learned to see challenges to my opinion as extremely valuable.  They teach me to see things from a perspective may not be my own, but is still valid.

Many of the chapters in this book are dedicated to culturally relevant topics like race and privilege.  As a protestant white woman, I’m privy to all kinds of cultural privileges that, most of the time, I’m completely blind to.  Reading Gay’s words about her life, her various experiences, and her responses to certain pop-cultural icons, it hit me for the first time just how deeply the issues of race go.  Which is ridiculous because I’m not uninformed about the shootings in Ferguson, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Charleston shooting, or the Confederate flag debates.  I gave my senior seminar presentation about racial issues regarding the figure of the artist in Barbara Chaise-Riboud’s Sally Hemmings.  But what I’ve got is all head knowledge.  Gay’s words pushed through whatever barrier exists within my consciousness between what’s in my head and what I feel.  I know that I will never truly understand these issues because of my privilege, but this book brought me closer.  Gay writes:

“You don’t necessarily have to do anything once you acknowledge your privilege. You don’t have to apologize for it. You need to understand the extent of your privilege, the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about.”

This is what this book did for me.

This book was, at points, incredibly serious.  But, at other points, it was fun.  I appreciated the chapter about Gay’s time playing competitive Scrabble.  I also liked her discussion of The Hunger Games, even if it was relatively shallow.

All in all, I really enjoyed Bad Feminist.  It took several weeks to read, but was well worth the time.  This book challenged and pushed me to see the world from an individual who is very different from myself.  But it also had me nodding, agreeing, and even laughing at points.

You Will Like If You Enjoy: cultural discussions, racial issues, feminism, women’s rights, gender equality, GLBT rights