Category: memoir

On dating, virginity, and life experience: Never Have I Ever & Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin

Book cover: Never Have I Ever by Katie HeaneyKatie Heaney’s Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date first came on my radar towards the end of 2014; it was a finalist for the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards in the humor category. By the age of 25, Heaney has had a lot of things: college degrees, a social life, general happiness…but no boyfriend. Ever (and not for lack of trying). The book’s subtitle is extremely misleading — she’s gone on plenty of dates, makeout sessions included, and was even in the unfortunate position of having of one potential boyfriend who kept stringing her along without committing — but Heaney has never been serious enough with anyone to consider having sex with them. Hers is a book about social and emotional awkwardness; her friends are always several steps ahead of her. They seem to intuitively know all of the rules.

Book cover: Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin by Nicole HardyAt 35, Nicole Hardy was in a different place entirely. She was raised to be devoutly Mormon, and as a woman who had not yet married, she had also never had sex. Unlike Never Have I Ever, Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin grapples with some of life’s bigger questions, especially those relating to deeply held religious beliefs. Unlike Heaney, Hardy has dated. Quite a bit, in fact. The fact that she had to abstain from sex until marriage was never a question, but she did acknowledge her desires and seek out information. She even dated outside her religion, something that put her partially at odds with her faith (if she wanted to get married in a temple — which she did — she’d have to marry another Mormon). For a long time, especially in her twenties, she thought she could wait. As her twenties became her thirties, her natural sexual desires grew stronger, and she remained unmarried, that religiously-mandated waiting game started to become unbearable.

For all intents and purposes, these are two middle-class white women who both seem to have come from fairly stable middle-class backgrounds. They’re each dealing with different subject matter but are similar in that they’re late bloomers, so to speak, in one area of life that’s important to them.

But oh, what a difference a decade and some actual life experience makes.

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Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher by Mark SchultzSince I seem to have been living under a rock these past few months, I heard about Foxcatcher The Book about a month before I heard about Foxcatcher The Movie. And for some reason, even though I tend to stay far, far away from the true crime genre — I seriously went out on a limb here — the book grabbed my attention. Then I saw the trailer for the movie, which sealed the deal: I was interested.

In January 1996, millionaire John du Pont shot and murdered Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz, who worked and trained at the facilities on du Pont’s family farm, Foxcatcher. Du Pont then holed himself up at the farm held police at bay for two days before surrendering. The book is written by Dave’s brother, Mark, who is also an Olympic gold medal winner who once worked and trained at Foxcatcher; he was there to witness many of du Pont’s dark moods.

According to Schultz, du Pont was “a loser” who was always high and constantly needed people to like him. He had once aspired to be an Olympian himself but didn’t have the talent for it, so he threw his money around to buy recognition in the form of buildings named after him, and eventually, a team of elite athletes of that he could gather at his farm and pretend to be in charge of. Enter Mark Schultz, who, like many champion wrestlers, had plenty of awards but no financial backing. He was living in poverty with no insurance, and when an offer came to coach and train at Foxcatcher — where he was supposed to be left on his own — he couldn’t pass it up.

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Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart

Flirting with French by William AlexanderI took French in high school. I took French in college, and my professor was actually French. I love French movies, I have a Paris-themed umbrella, I have a weakness for memoirs in which women drop everything and move to France — Je suis jaloux! — and I hope to be reincarnated as a classy, scarf-wearing Parisian in my next life. I planned the last part of my trip to Europe this past summer around being in Paris for Bastille Day, and I practiced my rusty French religiously for about an hour each night before jetting off. I knew my French would suck, but I at least figured I’d be able to bust out a few phrases without making a fool of myself.

And what happened?

I spoke English (or, in one instance, I panicked and blurted out Spanish…which, mind you, doesn’t even happen back home).

So I could completely relate to William Alexander’s plight: he fantasizes about moving to France and being accepted as one of them, but he can’t even speak the language. He’s determined to learn it, but there are numerous roadblocks. The biggest one is his age; in his late fifties, his far from the ideal age to be learning a new language (about fifty years too far, according to the experts). He throws himself into the language anyway, completing hours upon hours of Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, language meetups, immersion courses, a French PBS series, and social media encounters with French people, not to mention actual trips to France.

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Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More

Book cover: Redefining Realness by Janet MockJanet Mock had a recognizable presence on social and mainstream media for a few years now. In 2011, Marie Claire published a profile of her, her first major introduction to the public as a trans woman and activist. A lot of people got to know her for the #girlslikeus hashtag on Twitter, which allows trans women to share their experiences, and she continues to speak out about the issues that trans people — especially trans women of color — face.

Redefining Realness is a memoir about coming of age as a young trans woman in Hawaii. She was the firstborn son of a couple whose relationship was doomed from the beginning; they divorced because of her father’s constant philandering. She and her little brother stayed with their mother, but that arrangement was also short-lived. Her mother was someone who always needed to be in a relationship, and with a new man and a new baby on the way, Mock is sent Oakland (and later, Texas) to live with her father and younger brother. By that time, Mock already knew she was different, but she didn’t know exactly how. Her father also knew she was different, and Mock could never seem to fit the role of firstborn son/big brother that was expected of her.

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Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol

Book cover: Drink by Ann Dowsett JohnstonPart memoir, part journalistic exploration, Ann Dowsett Johnston’s new book, Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, looks at the rise of alcoholism in girls and women. Just as women caught up to men’s rates of tobacco use a few decades ago, women’s rates of alcohol abuse have also increased at an alarming rate. And just like it did with tobacco, the epidemic is drastically impacting women’s health.

Johnston is frank about how alcoholism affected her own family. Her mother was an alcoholic, her father became an alcoholic later in life, and Johnston herself — even though she knew the signs and was terrified of going down the same path — became an alcoholic as well. Her story mirrors the story of thousands of other women in the United States, and because of alcohol culture and the alcohol industry itself, the prevalence of alcohol abuse among women shows no signs of stopping.

Alcohol has always had a role in popular culture, but once the alcohol industry realized that women were an untapped market, marketing towards women skyrocketed. Unlike beer, the alcoholic beverages marketed to women — from wine coolers to cocktails — tend to have a higher alcohol content. Add this to places where people are particularly vulnerable (college parties, for instance), and you have a recipe for disaster. Women are physiologically more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, but Johnston considers other risk factors associated with drinking culture as well. Binge drinking is one behavior that by now most people are aware of, but doctors are starting to see the other behaviors at play that come before binge drinking, such as “drunkorexia” (intentionally refraining from eating in order to consume more alcohol) and pre-drinking (getting buzzed or drunk before heading out to the bars, which has the additional effect of people to keeping more alcohol stocked at home).

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