All his life, Max has struggled to piece together what little he knows of his mother. Shortly after he was born, his mother and all of his extended family were killed amidst political turmoil in Beirut, Lebanon. His father, Rasheed, managed to find a way to flee the country with his infant son and rebuild a life in the United States. Rasheed — now Reed — was determined to become a fully assimilated American and give his son everything he needed to be happy and successful. Since Max was too young to remember his mother, he clings to any bit of information Reed proffers; as Max grows more curious about his heritage, Reed remained steadfastly evasive.
Max and his father are best friends — try as they might, neither of them quite fit in — and Max often cares for his father when his debilitating bouts of depression hit. But as Max grows older, their friendship becomes strained, and once Max reaches his teenage years, their relationship is almost nonexistent. Then, when Max turns seventeen, everything changes: he discovers that his father has been lying to him about their past for his entire life. The repercussions of this revelation are shattering for both father and son.
When does this story begin? Elizabeth Alexander muses in the opening of her memoir. She and Ficre Ghebreyesus were the great loves of each other’s lives but all of that was one in an instant when Ficre suddenly died of massive heart failure. And so, she wonders, does this story begin when they met? When they married? When he died?
Alexander — perhaps most famous for writing “Praise Song for the Day” for President Obama’s first inauguration — contemplates all of these different beginnings. More a celebration of Ficre’s life than an elegy, each chapter feels like a vignette focused on important scenes from their lives. The two met in New York City and had a passionate romance that quickly led to marriage and the birth of their first son; they eventually grew into a family of four. Alexander is originally from Harlem, while Ghebreyesus fled his native home of Eritrea amidst violent upheaval and eventually settled in the United States; they found what they needed — culturally, emotionally, and artistically — in each other. She made her mark as a poet, playwright, and academic, while Ghebreyesus was a well-loved artist (that’s his work on the book cover) and a chef. The loss felt by all who knew him is palpable and acute.
In The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, Sam Maggs offers burgeoning fangirls lots of practical advice on locating “their people,” navigating cons, participating in geek fandoms, and finding their feminist voice. In between chapters are interviews with successful women whose fangirl backgrounds have now turned into geek-oriented careers. It’s a book that skews towards the younger crowd: though Maggs and her interviewees are clear that a fangirl can be any age, a lot of the book is intro-level basic and is probably best suited for tweens and the younger end of the young adult spectrum.
The good thing about this book is that one can skip around to suit their needs. The beginning of the book talks about different fandoms and the labels for their geeky devotees; there are the big ones that people are already probably familiar with — Star Trek, Dr. Who, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter — but the list of fandoms goes on and on (yet is by no means exhaustive). Most people could probably read through it and find something that relates to them. (Apparently, I’ve been a devout member of The Unsullied — Game of Thrones — all this time without even realizing it. Don’t even get me started on social media during/after the Red Wedding.)
During Nonfiction November, I came across a recommendation of David Sax’s last book, The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue on Paper Breathers‘s blog. It had all the markers of something I thought I’d like, so I decided to listen to it on audiobook during a recent road trip. As I suspected, I ended up loving the book.
The Tastemakers explores food trends of the last few decades. David Sax begins the book by exploring the recent cupcake trend. It seems that everywhere you look there’s a cupcake store, even where I live in South Texas. Gone are the days of the humble cupcake. Gourmet cupcakes, cupcake bakeries, cupcake blogs, and cupcake cookbooks now abound, and we have Sex and the City to thank (see also: Manolo Blahniks, rabbit vibrators, and Cosmos). It’s an intriguing and accessible way to open the book; you’d have to be living under a rock to not know how popular cupcakes are.
Let me just preface this by saying that I am a legit Morrison stan. (For real: I met her in New York years ago with two other Morrison stans I’d just met. We were geeking out and she laughed at us and said, “Y’all are crazy.” Best moment ever.) I was so, so, so excited when I heard that she was releasing God Help the Child, her latest novel. I pre-ordered the book months ahead of time. I love her. She kind of reminds me of my grandma.
So I feel terrible for saying this, but y’all: this book is a hot mess.
God Help the Child is about childhood trauma and how it can shape a person’s life. It’s told from different perspectives, but at the center of it all is a woman named Bride. She’s been paying for the sin of being born with blue-black skin her entire life: both of her parents have lighter skin, and Bride’s father left shortly after Bride was born, convinced his wife had cheated on him. Her mother resented her and always treated her harshly, trying to toughen Bride up for a world that was sure to be unkind to her. (In the book’s opening, her mother even admits, “I even thought of giving her away to an orphanage someplace.”) Bride grew up desperately wanting her mother’s love, and although she’s now a successful, beautiful woman who has found a way to use her skin color to her advantage, she’s haunted by something she did as a child in her need for her mother’s affection.