Book Lists for All Humans #3

BookListsforAllHumans

Today’s list comes in reaction to this list on Publishers Weekly: The 10 Funniest Books, only two of which are written but women and none by writers of colour. Note to us all: only  white men are funny.

Or not. I’m struggling a little with this one as funny isn’t my go-to so please add your suggestions, especially books by women of colour from beyond the UK and USA.

Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth
friends, booze, debauchery

What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day – Pearl Cleage
HIV, religion, love

Love, Nina – Nina Stibbe
nannying, working class nanny meets the literati

Is Everyone Hanging Out with Me? – Mindy Kaling
memoir

Crooked Heart – Lissa Evans
war, evacuees, survival

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo
homosexuality, London, family, Caribbean

The Table of Less Valued Knights – Marie Phillips
quests, feminism, sexuality

Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu – Yi Shun Lai
dating, mothers, following your dreams

Yes, Please – Amy Poehler
memoir, feminism

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik
hijabs, dating, writing

Links are to my reviews

In the Media, May 2016, Part Two

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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It seems there’s been a return to traditional topics this fortnight. Having children (or not) and body image are back at the top of the agenda. On the former, Daisy Buchanan wrote, ‘I’m economically infertile, and I’ve made peace with that‘ on The Pool; Stephanie Merritt, ‘Sheryl Sandberg admits she did not get how hard it is to be a single mother‘ on The Pool; Ashley Patronyak, ‘A Slight Risk‘ in Guernica; Jordan Rosenfeld, ‘On Discovering Real Mothers on the Page‘ on Literary Hub; Diana Abu-Jaber, ‘Motherhood vs. Art: There Is No Wrong Choice‘ on Literary Hub; Rivka Galchin, ‘Why Does Literature Hate Babies‘ on Literary Hub; Willa Paskin, ‘Speak, Motherhood‘ on Slate; Jennifer Gilmore,’I’m Glad My Mother Worked‘ on The Cut, and Louise O’Neill, ‘I think I would be a good mother; I just don’t want to be one‘ in The Irish Examiner.

Discussions about body image seems to be around the publication of two new books: Shrill by Lindy West and Dietland by Sarai Walker. West wrote, ‘The ‘perfect body’ is a lie. I believed it for a long time and let it shrink my life‘ in The Guardian. Walker was interviewed in The Bookseller and The Pool. And Mallory Ortberg wrote, ‘“We would have paid her the same if she weighed 500 pounds”: Publishing, Weight, and Writers Who Are “Hard To Look At”‘ in The Toast

And then there was this: the men-only bookclub who only read books about men. LV Anderson at Slate decided to tell us all off for being outraged about it, ‘Feminists Shouldn’t Roll Our Eyes at Men-Only Books Clubs. We Should Applaud Them‘.

This fortnight saw the deaths of Sally Brampton and Geek Love author, Katherine Dunn. Kathryn Flett wrote, ‘Sally Brampton – the woman who made ‘Elle girls’ the new normal‘ in The Guardian and Daisy Buchanan wrote, ‘Depression is not a battle that can be won or lost‘ on The Pool.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

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Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu – Yi Shun Lai

Marty Wu lives in NYC and works in advertising at Retirees’ Review. This is not, however, her dream job.

Halloween is our one night a year to dress up and feel okay doing it. What if my shop, my little storefront, became the place where people came to see what it was like to slip into another skin. What if we made costuming something that people did, a leisure activity, just like we go out to dinner? What if masquerade balls weren’t something only the one-percenters did? Wouldn’t that be fun, to let people try on someone else’s life? Wouldn’t it be awesome, to let people imagine themselves as someone else, more than once a year?

The problem is that Marty doesn’t have the finances to realise her dream. In order to get them, she needs to land the big advertising deal with Irving Liquors and use the commission to open a costume shop. It’s clear from the beginning of the book though, when Marty is late to her meeting after a lengthy phone call from her mother and then spilling coffee over herself and her boss/ex-boyfriend, Stafford, that this is not going to go smoothly. It doesn’t go smoothly at a Las Vegas subscribers’ expo in a very big way.

To avoid the subsequent fall-out, Marty goes to Taiwan with her mother to stay with family for a while, including her brother who remained there to be brought up by his aunt when Marty and their parents moved to New York.

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Marty’s mother is overbearing and over critical of her daughter:

Everything you do is a waste of time, everything, everything! I so ashamed of you. Did you know, whenever my friends ask what you do for living, I must say I don’t know? You buy friends, you know, that’s what people who work in advertising do. On television, they never talk about people in advertising. They talk about editors and writers. Why can’t you be one of those? At least then I hold my head up high.

Whilst Marty spends time in Taiwan whether pursuing her dream is a viable option, she also begins to see the extent of her mother’s control on her life. This revelation partly comes courtesy of her best friend and her family who guide her to see when her mother’s behaviour is unreasonable. Through them Marty is able to wear her mother as a costume, beginning to understand her mother’s psyche and how that affects them both, and also a new costume for herself, one which might help her achieve her ambitions.

Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu makes an interesting comparison to Not Working by Lisa Owens. Both protagonists are about the same age and are faced with similar issues but while Not Working is fragmented in structure and doesn’t really come to a clear resolution, Not a Self-Help Book is more linear and there are a number of resolutions for Marty and her family.

I found Marty’s voice incredibly irritating at the beginning of the novel: I suspect I’m too old for the verbal tics of the Millennials which Lai accurately conveys here. However, by the end of the book I’d warmed to Marty and her clumsy progress through life.

The mother/daughter relationship was the most interesting strand of the book, exploring the tensions between the two characters, revealing where the issues between them stemmed from and reaching a somewhat unexpected, but rather interesting, conclusion. Perhaps life is better if sometimes you can try on someone else’s skin and occasionally see it all from a different perspective.

 

Thanks to Shade Mountain Press for the review copy.