Category: nonfiction

Sex Object

Book cover: Sex Object by Jessica ValentiIn her latest book, Jessica Valenti recounts the numerous ways that she has been sexually objectified throughout her life. Encounters with frotteurs on the subway, inappropriate overtures from teachers, and abusive/predatory behaviors from boyfriends are just a few of the experiences that have shaped her life. From being a young girl in Queens who developed early to becoming a high profile, oft-trolled feminist, Valenti continues to deal with a lot.

In her introduction, Valenti writes, “Being a sex object is not special. This particular experience of sexism — the way women are treated like objects, the way we sometimes make ourselves into objects, and how the daily sloughing away of our humanity impacts not just our lives and experiences but our very sense of self — is not an unusual one…The individual experiences are easy enough to name, but their cumulative impact feels slippery.” She tries, though, compiling her lived experiences into the testimony that is this book.

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The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race

Book cover: The Fire This Time ed. by Jesmyn WardIn 1963, James Baldwin published The Fire Next Time, a book about race in America. More than half a century later, Jesmyn Ward soberly reflects in her introduction, “It is as if we have reentered the past and are living in a second Nadir: It seems the rate of police killings now surpasses the rate of lynchings during the worst decades of the Jim Crow era. There was a lynching every four days in the early decades of the twentieth century. It’s been estimated that an African American is now killed by police every two to three days.”

In The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, contributors including Edwidge Danticat, Kiese Laymon, Daniel José Older, Claudia Rankine, and Isabel Wilkerson pick up where Baldwin’s book left off. Most of the essays look to the past, several consider the present, and a couple look to the future. Considering we’re living in a period where it’s still considered radical to insist that black lives matter, the publication of this collection couldn’t be more timely.

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Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary

Book cover: Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary ed. by Susan MorrisonThirty Ways of Looking at Hillary was published eight years ago, back when Hillary Clinton was first running for president. I’d wanted to read it at the time, but then election fatigue took its toll and down the TBR list it went. But now here we are again: Hillary Clinton is running for president and new election dramas are unfolding. Even with people still feeling the Bern, she’s the formidable front runner this time around. And though you still can’t exactly call her “cool,” she managed to pick up some more social currency during her stint as Secretary of State. It is with this hindsight that I dove into this book.

I’d been hoping for a more elevated conversation about Hillary. With thirty women, many of whom probably identify as feminist, you’d think that the conversation would move beyond aesthetics and wrestle with Hillary’s ideology, place in pop culture, etc. And some authors did. But mostly, the writers took the title a little too literally: Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary mostly busies itself by looking at Hillary.

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Love, Loss, and What We Ate

Greetings from Chennai, formerly Madras, where today’s author was partly raised. My friend and I have been here for a few days and are heading out tomorrow. It’s safe to say that the highlight of my stop in Chennai happened last night. My friends and I had a chance to take a private South Indian cooking class in a lovely Brahmin woman’s home, so we got to learn a little more about Tamil culture on a personal level. It was amazing: great food, great spices, great coffee — OMG for real, the coffee — and great conversation! To be honest, it’s been one of the highlights of my entire stay in India! I didn’t want the night to end.

Book cover: Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma LakshmiI came to know Padma Lakshmi the way a lot of people did. Lakshmi started her career as a model, has some acting and cookbook credits under her belt, and was once married to Salman Rushdie, but most people probably recognize her as the host of Top Chef on Bravo. Back then, I sometimes wondered about her connection to food, something that she admits to having second-guessed herself about as well. Any doubts about her “food cred” are put to rest in this memoir.

Lakshmi’s mother comes from a conservative Tamil culture, but after failed relationships, including the one with Padma’s father, she moved to New York to start over. Padma was left in India in the care of her grandparents, and once her mother had a stable income, Padma immigrated to the United States as well. She writes of all the new foods she was exposed to, including some interesting concoctions she and her mother came up with since they were Brahmin vegetarians in an area that was decidedly less vegetarian friendly back then.

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A Long Way Home

Greetings from Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta! I’m actually not staying here long at all because my travel plans changed recently; I’m just here on a short layover, and I’ll probably be gone by the time you see this post. I read this book in advance of my trip, though. As you’ll see, this Saroo Brierley’s Calcutta story is so mind-boggling and extraordinary that it’s hard to believe it’s all real!

A Long Way Home by Saroo BrierleyWhen he was five years old, Saroo Brierley snuck out with his brother to tag along while his brother cleaned the local rural train station. His brother told him to stay put and wait for him to return, and Saroo fell asleep on a bench. It was night when he awoke, and here was no sign of his brother. Scared and disoriented, Saroo got on a train and fell asleep. When he woke up again, he got off the train, and not recognizing anything, jumped on the next train thinking it would take him back home.

Instead, he arrived in Calcutta and became one of the thousands of children who live on the street. He cried for help, but he didn’t know his full name or the name of his village, so there was little anyone could do to help him. He was more fortunate than most to be taken into an orphanage, and even more fortunate still to be adopted by a loving Australian couple. Still, his past and the questions about what happened to his family haunted him, and with the advent of technology, he got the idea to scour Google Earth to look for landmarks he remembered to track down his village.

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