Book Report: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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I remember reading this in college and not liking it. This time around, I savored thhe delicious language and diction and descriptions. It’s like a beautiful but ominous watercolor. Offred’s world is so full of longing and loneliness that everything -because it’s unavailable to her- becomes a vivid romanticized version in her mind.

Synopsis: Faced by an infertility epidemic and plummeting birthrate, the government is overthrown by a (violently) orthodox religious sect where the patriarchy rules and traditional gender roles are strictly enforced. Fertile women become reproductive servants for high-ranking men and their barren wives. Other women become econo-wives issued to lower ranking men, and some become household servants or work the fields. Every woman wears a colored uniform to denote her position.

Characters: It’s hard to talk about the characters when individuality is strictly forbidden. The story is told through June, who is taken from her husband and daughter and processed as a Handmaid. Issued to Commander Fred Waterford and his wife Serena Joy, June is renamed Offred (Of Fred) to honor the patriarch of her post. She tells her story of her old life and her current life with The Waterfords to remind herself she is a person, or at least, she was. She speaks to an unnamed “you.” She says this makes her real, like writing in a diary. There must always be an audience for a story to be told. Her strength is almost unbearable as she holds onto hope and sanity, as she endures constant trauma and fear in her environment. Offred made me wonder what I would do in her situations. I wanted to be different. I want to be able to say I’d never be her, but… she wanted to say that too. That’s what makes it such a disturbing read.

Themes
Purpose as Identity
In The Handmaid’s Tale, women are defined by their ability (or inability) to produce children. That’s it. Women who can’t produce are sent to “the colonies” where they perform hard labor. Some lucky ones become housekeepers for the families in power. Everyone is issues a purpose and a uniform that decides who and what they become. Individuality is a risk. Anyone who doesn’t fit the mold is killed as a warning to all others.

Survival
Ruled by fear and violence, society submits to survive. How much is Offred… are women willing to give up to live in this new society? And is the life they’re living worth the sacrifice? What if they organized and fought back?

Questions to consider:
Who would you be if your life were reduced to one true purpose?
If things are better for some, but worse for others, are things really better?
What would you do if you witnessed gender or racial discrimination?

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Favorite Places – 📖 The Strand Book Store 📚

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Even before I lived in NYC, The Strand was a mandatory stop on every trip. Now I’m lucky enough to live and work close enough to make this place and its 18 miles of books a regular hangout. When work is slow, I like to walk the single avenue that separates us and spend an hour surrounded by the smell of books, flipping through poems and letting the winding aisles draw me further into the paperback fantasyland.

Aside from any book you can imagine, The Strand carries tons of badass little tchotchkes. I love perusing the wall of pins, stickers and socks (I got my famous velociraptor socks there!). When I need a birthday card or thank you note, I’ve stopped going the generic Hallmark route because the selection of adorable indie-made greeting cards makes for a much more unique and thoughtful sentiment. My bullet journal is full of funky stickers. And you’re not a New Yorker unless you have at least one of their iconic tote bags.

Unfortunately, I can’t go in without spending at least $50. There are Moleskines as far as the eye can see! New poetry! I almost always end up picking up a staff recommendation. There’s a center cube of shelves full of staff picks, each with a photo of the employee and a handwritten reason why they love the book. They’re always an irresistible sell.

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It’s a great spot for celebrity sightings. They almost always have brilliant speakers, signings and events. Since April is National Poetry Month, they created the Poet-a-day Project. They build a little booth and have a new poet, every day of April in a “micro-residency” to get inspiration from the stacks and maybe write poems for passersby. This is one of my life goals!

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Fortunately, you can also sell your books back for some lunch money. Since my love of books is huge and my physical space is limited, I have a rule that for every book I buy, I have to sell or give one away. AND since I live and work so close, this cycle is endless.

If you want a random book from my collection sent to you, leave a comment or shoot me a DM.

 

 

Book Report: Whiskey Sea

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Synopsis: The Whiskey Sea is the prohibition-era story of Frieda Hope, the eldest daughter of a deceased whore who lives in a small shore town with her little sister, Bea, and Silver, a clammer/fisherman who took the girls in and raised them. Frieda grows up on the sea and falls in love with the ocean and their fishing boat. Desperate to escape the fate that befell her late mother, Frieda breaks with traditional gender roles of the time to become a boat mechanic so she can support her sister’s academic endeavors. When she’s offered an incredibly lucrative job on a rum-running boat, the rewards (and romance?) far outweigh the risks.

Characters: I really identified with Frieda. We’re both tough as nails badass bitches from small seaside towns who are majorly protective of our perfect, gradeful little sisters. Neither of us are traditional women. We’re tomboys, outliers, and dreamers. We both want to escape a small shore town past.

On the other hand, I really despised Bea. She seemed so aloof and ungrateful, lost in her fashion magazines and daydreams without doing a thing to help herself OR her sister. She provided a stark contrast to Frieda- perfectly feminine and diligently fulfilling gender roles around the house. I pictured her singing to the birds and mice like a Disney princess as she went about her chores.

Hawkeye, an older fisherman who skulks around the local bars and docks, presents Frieda with a nemesis, but this relationship is never fully developed or concluded. It’s inferred that he’s Frieda’s biological father, but she never suspects or accepts this possibility.

Themes:
Class tourism.
The focus of the story centers on Frieda’s unexpected feelings and relationship with Charles (aka Princeton)- a well-educated, wealthy do-nothing spending the summer at his parents’ beach house. Bored little rich boy craves excitement and so volunteers to help out on the rum-running boat Frieda works on. Against the core of her beliefs, Frieda falls for him knowing his intention to leave at the end of the summer and return to his richboy life in Manhattan. Princeton just wants to live dangerously, rum-running for fun, where Frieda and crew risk their lives almost nightly for a chance to escape poverty. This dichotomy creates most of the tension in the book.

Rebellion
Set in the prohibition era, rebellion presents as a major theme across all classes, from the rum-running boats in poor fishing towns to the speakeasies popping up around Manhattan. The country at large was rebelling against what they saw as an illegitimate law. Frieda, triggered by her own insecurities about her mother’s past, rebels against femininity, balking tradition and working hard to become the best, most respected boat mechanic around. She rebels against Silver’s desires for her future and Bea’s hopes for her as well. Her brand of rebellion ends up alienating her from most of society, just like her mother was. And good ole Princeton rebels against the “restraints” placed upon him by the expectations of upper class society.

Questions to think about.
What drew Silver, who was 25 at the time, to take the girls? He spent his life and resources on them and never married. Was he happy with his choice?

Who is Frieda’s father? Presumably Hawkeye as he’s the one who leaves flowers on her mother’s grave. How would that realization impact Frieda? Does she know and choose to ignore it to protect her heart and her hatred?

Book Report: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Memoir is an incredibly difficult genre to write well. It requires a certain level of narcissism mixed with transcendent wisdom that must be shared with the world. Because Tina Fey lacks both of these qualities, Bossypants is a hilarious, relatable look into the unlikely success of one of the funniest women on the planet.

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The self-depreciating tone of the book told with Tina Fey’s signature sarcastic wit struck a chord with the insecure middle school nerd of my past. As a (kind of) successful (though far less famous) woman myself, I realized how important that nerd and all of her embarrassing, awkward moments were in forming who I am now. To look back on our past selves and be able to endearingly chide ourselves instead of reliving that embarrassment is an important step in loving yourself. Forgiving our child selves, and acknowledging the strength that pushed us through the mess of adolescence is an indicator of growth. Tina Fey recounts an awkward time in her life where she used her gay friends as props, but selfishly wanted them to stay “half in the closet.” This analysis of her past was no doubt a huge epiphany for her that helped her form stronger relationships and become a better person.

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” ― Tina Fey, Bossypants

Tina Fey also failed a lot. Sometimes her sketches fell flat. Sometimes she didn’t feel like her work was complete when the SNL deadline hit and she had to forge ahead anyway. Her insight on the myth of doneness resonated. There will occasionally be times when the goal changes from finishing to fighting through it and moving on to the next thing. There’s no time to beat yourself up over failures, but there’s immense value in learning from them and applying them to the next sketch.

“Don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions; go over, under, through, and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.”
― Tina Fey, Bossypants

I also appreciate her openness about doubt and anxiety. No successful woman achieved her dreams without doubting herself along the way. Staving off the “what ifs” that anxiety chronically throws at me is one of my biggest challenges. Tina Fey laid bare all of her doubts about motherhood, comedy, cruises, fame, even her writing and acting abilities. But she never questioned the talent of her team.

I’m sure each of her peers have felt the same doubts, but there was a huge lesson here, especially for women: Others see us much differently than we see ourselves. It’s important to share our perspective with the women in our lives. Fey is hyper-aware of the pressure on women to not only succeed, but “do it all.” I was nodding my head in agreement with her thoughts on older women (especially those who speak their minds) being referred to as “crazy.” Where age = wisdom for men, as women we lose our credibility and relevancy when we’re no longer “hot.” Amy Schumer actually did a hysterical sketch with Tina Fey on this phenomenon:

Reading about the hilarious behind-the-scenes work on SNL and 30 Rock makes me want to watch all of 30 Rock. I think I fell off somewhere around the time the latest season of Shameless appeared on Netflix. Putting together a tv show seems unimaginably stressful, triple that for a live show! My admiration for Tina Fey has grown exponentially.

Her appreciation and gratitude for the people in her life, especially Amy Poehler, inspired me to write love letters to my friends.

Do you want a love letter? DM me your address on Instagram or Twitter and I’ll send you a handwritten note about how much ass you kick.

Book Report: Fire and Fury

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I’ll be honest. There were only two factors that drove me to purchase this book.
1) The hype surrounding what was seemingly a damning, spare-no-soul expose on the Trump administration.
2) Trump tried to stop the book’s release, so buying it felt like a small, personal protest.

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It was sold out all over the city. No one had it. As much as I hate to buy books from ANYWHERE over The Strand, I had to turn to Amazon. Even that took weeks, but at least I could read the first chapter online.

This was probably the most intriguing part. Bannon is painted as a comical, hog-like bureaucratic villain, a puppetmaster pulling all the strings behind Trump’s back who doesn’t realize he’s on strings as well. He’s instantly love/hateable and becomes the key figure throughout the book. Yes. It’s more about Bannon than it is about Trump.

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Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House is like Mean Girls with politicians. It’s by far the cattiest snarkfest I’ve ever forged through in my life. I want to believe the accounts detailed in the book are true, but the tone and overwhelming hearsay undermine the credibility of the story and make me seriously incredulous. This is not to say I have an inkling of fondness or support for Trump. His presence actually nauseates me.

Wolff counters Trump’s simple-mindedness and lack of intellect with dense prose and winding sentence structures almost as difficult to untangle as the incompetence of this administration. I have an MFA in poetry writing, a medium in which you can pretty much make up whatever grammar rules you please, and I was shocked by Wolff’s comma fetish. He sometimes employed them to draw out sentences for than a third of the page long. Needless to say, it’s a taxing read that requires long stretches of silence and concentration.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear litany. Chapters are more episodic; each one attacks a different person or situation. The most often chided scapegoats are Kushner and Bannon. Wolff skirts around Ivanka. She is given nearly no autonomy or agency, almost always referred to as “daughter” or “wife,” despite Wolff’s suggestions that she is the strongest not-so-secret influence on her father. It seems like there’s a much more interesting story behind Ivanka than any of the other crew, but we never find out what’s lurking behind her polished facade.

Fire and Fury

It’s not so much that damning expose I was promised as much as it is a comedy of errors chronicling one circus’ sheer incompetency. You could probably get the same tired gossip from Stephen Colbert’s Our Cartoon President. Overall, there was short-lived satisfaction in purchasing the book in protest, but actually reading it is just more cruel subjection to the same exhausting punishments we’re living every day. You’re not going to learn anything new and you’re just going to end up frustrated, bored and depressed.