Hi all! I don’t have much of a preamble this week, other than to once again shamelessly promote Pop Culture Pen Pals, which is coming out this weekend and contains Hannah and I getting very hyped about many things, but primarily One Day At a Time, Captain Marvel, and Good Girls, and Hannah uses the phrase “sexy marshmallow peep” and it’s pretty great.
So You Want to Talk About Race? – Ijeoma Oluo
What is intersectionality and why do I need it? How can I talk about affirmative action? What are microaggressions? These are just a few of the chapter titles in Oluo’s debut book, a thorough and succinct primer outlining a better path to talking about race. If my first sentence sounds a bit like a book report, that’s at least partly because this book is likely on a whole bunch of “required reading for white people” lists–and rightfully so! Not that I’m the person able to make that kind of designation–but I do know that I certainly learned and grew from Oluo’s extremely helpful metaphors and expansiveness.
Like Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (discussed here) was largely situated in a British experience and history, this book specifically tackles these topics as they relate to an American audience. (Though, again, the principles can be applied anywhere!) Oluo is fairly straightforward from the start that her book is mostly directed towards white people, hoping to explain enough to us so that we don’t go pestering the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] in our lives for information we could very easily find ourselves. Again, I can’t speak to what the reading experience might be for someone who’s not white, but Oluo does state repeatedly that she hopes it’s a validating one. Oluo also has a fantastic sense of humor and accessible style that kept me thinking “okay, just one more chapter and then I’ll wrap up my lunch break…okay one more…one more.”
Then She Was Gone – Lisa Jewell
Oh psychological thrillers. I always want so much from you and am so frequently disappointed. Tale as old as time, white teenage girl goes missing, her family is shattered, then years later some twisty events happen and some other twisty events are revealed. Sorry, that was a bit crass, but all these things are such intense genre tropes that when I tried to type them out sincerely it came out quite silly. Anyway, I don’t have a problem with genre tropes! I love it when genre tropes can be used to do something interesting and/or unexpected, when they expose or examine why those tropes are so effective or the toll they take, or just, at bottom, when they create an exciting story.
Unfortunately, I found this book to be…none of those things. Many of the plot points are telegraphed quite clearly from the beginning, and while I thought at first there was going to be an interesting way the pieces all fit together, I found myself saying “wait…why though…?” throughout most of the final third. The final third also makes some narrative voice choices that it didn’t…quite…deliver on. I will say for it that it kept me turning pages, which is honestly a pretty big deal when it’s a book I’ve borrowed from an actual person and not the library. Plus, I’m an absolute sucker for lines like “something flickered across her memory but was gone before she could grasp it” (this is a paraphrase). Even when they’re completely overused, my brain goes, “oh damn, I’ve gotta know what it was!!!” I read a large chunk of this book on an airplane and another large chunk at the DMV and it was pretty well suited for both of those spaces.
If you’re looking for a book in this vein, might I direct you towards He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly, which I talked more about here, and which does all of that interesting and unexpected examining and is a damn compelling story.
[cw: Then She Was Gone contains quite a bit of violence and depictions of suicidal ideation]
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid
WHEW THIS BOOK! THIS WHOLE BOOK!! It’s been getting a whole lotta hype since it came out in 2017, and finally getting around to it this week was a good, good idea.
The premise: reclusive Old Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo has decided to finally give an interview, but only to Monique–a lowlevel staff writer at a style magazine (think Vogue). And when Monique arrives, Evelyn reveals that what she really wants is to tell her life story, no holds barred, every one of her seven marriages present and accounted for. As the glitzy, powerful tale unfolds, Monique learns that Evelyn is even more complicated than she once thought, and starts to re-examine her own life in light of what she’s learning.
This book is addictive and delicious and may also wreck you as deeply as it did me. I was a bit nervous in the first few chapters, because the style when Evelyn was telling her story felt a bit stilted, but I quickly fell in love with the book and its characters. And looking back, it actually makes sense that those first few chapters were a bit off–a big part of the narrative is Evelyn learning how to open up in a way that was very difficult for her for most of her life, both because of her public life and who she was as a person.
Also I desperately want this to be a miniseries and I desperately want them to CAST RITA MORENO YOU COWARDS.
[cw: this book contains depictions of domestic violence and discussions of doctor-assisted suicide]
Though Evelyn Hugo was fictional, this book actually made me hungry to read a whole bunch of other Old Hollywood bios, most of which, of course, I’ll probably get to in about three years, but a few weeks ago I checked out the book Furious Love, which is about the whole Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton shenanigan, on the recommendation of Rachel Syme, and I’m even more excited to get to it now!
In the spirit of the Evelyn Hugo book, I thought I’d close out with some celebrity profiles I’ve really enjoyed recently. I’m a fairly recent convert to the celebrity profile, but I now firmly believe it’s an art form. Also in the spirit of the book, I chose 7!
- This profile of Christine Baranski, movie and TV icon, by Kara Brown
- Obviously I swooned the entire time I read this Chris Evans profile by Alex Pappademas
- This profile of Jennie Snyder Urman, creator of Jane the Virgin, by Kathryn VanArendonk
- This profile of Stacey Abrams, Georgia politician, by Rebecca Traister
- This Brendan Fraser profile has been around for over a year, but I remember being very moved by it [cw: the piece includes discussions of Fraser as a survivor of sexual assault], by Zach Baron
- “Celebrity” might be a bit of a stretch here, but I found this interview with the cat trainer from Captain Marvel very fun and touching, by April Wolfe
- This profile about Cathy Guisewite, the creator of the famous ‘Cathy’ comics, by the very same Rachel Syme mentioned above.