Orange is the New Black first caught my eye a few years ago when it first came out. I kept going back and forth on it. It looked intriguing, but I was also wary of the whole prison-as-told-through-the-eyes-of-a-privileged-white-lady thing. And ultimately, that’s why I put the book on the back burner for so long.
Fast-forward a few years, and we all know that turned out. OITNB was helmed by Jenji Kohan, picked up by Netflix, and shot into fawning fandom. I, like many others, ended up marathoning Season 1 in like two days. And all the while? I was going, “ARGH, WHY DIDN’T I READ THE DAMN BOOK BACK IN THE DAY?!!” (At which point it was too late because the waiting list at all of the libraries was insane.)
Anyway. I finally got a hold of the audiobook through the library, and predictably, I really enjoyed it. The book is about Piper Kerman, a responsible woman with a job and a fiance…and an almost-ten-year-old felony drug case hanging over her head and threatening to send her to prison for an undetermined amount of time. Years ago, when Kerman was a carefree college grad, she started a relationship with a woman also happened to organize drug smugglers. Kerman was lured by the seeming glamour of it all, traveling around the world with her well-to-do girlfriend, but then it became a little too real: she was pressured into smuggling drug money. She didn’t get caught, but it freaked her out and she left that part of her life behind her. Or so she thought. Almost ten years later, Kerman was named in an investigation to bring down said drug smuggling ring. It’s how she found herself eventually doing time in a federal women’s prison.
When people think of Japan and World War II, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are probably what come to mind. For some reason, people seem to forget the firebombing of Tokyo in March of 1945, but it claimed more lives than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, left millions homeless, and burned down half of Tokyo. Jennifer Cody Epstein’s The Gods of Heavenly Punishment revisits these attacks through the eyes of multiple narrators: Cam, a pilot who participated in the Doolittle Raid; his wife, Lacy; Anton, an architect who helped build some of the great buildings in Tokyo and who was then hired by the government to figure out the best way to burn Tokyo down; his son Billy, a soldier in the army who is sent to Tokyo during the Occupation; and a fifteen-year-old Japanese girl named Yoshi, who serves as the thread that holds all of the stories together.
The book moves forward chronologically, but each chapter alternates to a different point of view. As a result, readers get to imagine World War II from different perspectives: that of the anxious wife awaiting the return of her husband; of the soldiers (on both sides) who signed up for service for a variety of reasons and must bear witness to the aftermath of war; of the architects of all of the destruction, and most importantly, of the survivors.
Growing up, Nicole Georges had always believed that her father was dead. Then at the age of twenty-three, Nicole’s friend took her to a psychic, who informed her that her father wasn’t dead. It’s a secret Nicole sits on for a long time, until finally broaches the subject and her sister spills the beans: no, Nicole’s father never died of colon cancer.
Nicole Georges’s graphic memoir is part coming-of-age, part unlocking-family secrets story about growing up in a stressful household. Her mother dated a lot and was occasionally in abusive relationships, and the stress manifested itself in Nicole in different ways She also grew up in hippie vegan Portland, raised chickens, and refined her art. By the time she was twenty-three, she was keeping a lot of her life compartmentalized: she was still in the closet where her mother was concerned, didn’t know how to broach the subject of her father with the rest of her family, and was trying to navigate the tricky waters of her relationship (which involved living with lots of dogs and traveling with her girlfriend on their band’s tour). The questions about what really happened to her father start to eat at her, and the confusion finally culminates with a desperate phone call to ultra-conservative call-in advice show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, whom Nicole occasionally hate-listens to.
Alex Carter has worked hard to build her career, and she has her dream two-story home to prove it. All of a sudden, it looks like it might come crashing down: her company is facing a massive restructuring and her job might be on the line, and she and her boyfriend finally decide to call it quits. She’s thirty-five years old and is starting to hear the ticking of her biological clock, so it’s not an ideal situation for her. While friends and family are pressuring her to get a man and settle down, she’s getting desperate enough to toy with the idea of getting a sperm donor.
Then she runs into her old flame, Nathan. She can’t deny that the chemistry is still there, but because of the way their relationship ended, she can’t fully trust him even though he seems to have matured into a thoughtful adult. As a control freak, Alex always has it in the back of her mind that she can do everything herself. She likes the idea of settling down, but when it comes to actually handing over the reigns and letting someone else take care of her for a while, she can’t bring herself to fully make that leap.
As someone who has always loved the promise contained in a pen and a blank sheet of paper and whose doodles to this day regularly consist of experimenting with my signature, I was immediately drawn to Kitty Burns Florey’s Script and Scribble. Florey went to school under the strict gaze of nuns, and her handwriting reflects that. It’s the complete opposite of current times, where children are taught how to write, of course, but are no longer taught to truly master handwriting. These days, typing skills reign supreme, and beautiful handwriting is becoming a lost art.
Script and Scribble is a short book — less than 200 pages — that takes readers through a brief history of writing. As people’s needs changed, so did the prevailing handwriting of the time. Burns Florey focuses quite a bit on Spencerian script, which dominated the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the standard style for business and official documents (and which is still used in the Ford and Coca Cola logos). Spencerian script, though beautiful was eventually fazed out in favor of the less flowery Palmer Method, which was dominated US schools until around the 1950s. (Side note: I always wondered why my grandparents and others of their generation had similar handwriting styles. And there you have it…the Palmer Method.) Many other methods have come and gone since then, and these days there isn’t really a standard. Children in primary schools are probably learning from a mix of different styles, and those styles are all fairly similar. Burns Florey argues that children and teachers are so bogged down by things like standardized testing, handwriting is the least of their concerns. When she was younger, good handwriting was always stressed. These days, once children get the grasp of it, that’s it — it’s not something teachers continue to instruct their students on.