Brief synopsis: The second installment of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series follows many of the characters from the first novel as they navigate the alternative lifestyles and underground culture of San Francisco in the 1970s. There’s Mary Ann Singleton, a new transplant from Cleveland, Ohio, who leaves a sheltered life behind; Michael Tolliver, affectionately known as “Mouse”, looking for prince charming; Mona Ramsey, Mary Ann’s bohemian neighbor; and Anna Madrigal, the motherly landlady of 28 Barbary Lane, the place Mary Ann, Michael, and Mona call home.
Rating: Travel companion
Long story short: Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I simply adore this series. The characters are a diverse set of people and the way their narratives weave in and out is engaging and keeps the reader on her toes. Chapters switch back and forth between different stories, but each is connected to the overall arch of the novel.
My friend Steve invited me to spend Passover with his family in Connecticut, so I’m gonna be away from the Left Coast for a few days. I’m really looking forward to it (it’s my first Passover!), and excited to have another mini-vacation (it’s my third one this year!).
One book I try to have with me whenever I travel is Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. It’s part of a series that takes place in 1970s San Francisco, and it makes my homesickness more bearable. I’m reading the second installment for my reading challenge, so it’s like I’m feeding two birds with one scone!
What’s a book (or an author or a genre) you have to take with you when you travel?
Brief synopsis: Yes Please is a memoir composed of pivotal moments that shaped the life of comedian and actress Amy Poehler. Born from a need to challenge herself, the book becomes more than just an autobiography as Poehler passes on advice that helped her in times of need. In her essays she talks about divorce and being a mother of two, how her time as an improv actor prepared her for the lead role in Parks and Recreation, and why growing older has never felt better.
Rating: Island collection
Long story short: I’m a fan of Poehler’s comedy so naturally Yes Please was high on my TRL, and I’m happy to report it didn’t disappoint. As it is whenever I have a lot to say or feel overwhelmed about a particular subject, I’m going to write up my thoughts in bullet-points:
The book was funny in the right places and at the right times. Poehler is a natural entertainer and I thought the book was well-balanced when it came to humor. Not all of it is ha-ha funny, and it’s not really meant to be. I also liked that while she mentioned the sad or not-so-fun moments in her life, she didn’t dwell on them for too long but used them as learning tools.
I was reading the book in her voice. I know I’m fully immersed in a book when I read words and dialogue in the characters’ voices. When it comes to celebrity memoirs/autobiographies I always wonder how much of the book is actually written by the famous person and how much is filled in by a group of hired guns. Yes Please definitely channels the real-life Poehler.
She acknowledged her privilege. As a heterosexual Indian-American woman born in a middle-class family and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, I see the world through a particular set of lenses. I try my best to recognize my privilege and be an ally for others when I can, so I appreciated that throughout her book Poehler made efforts to do the same.
The book was as much about Poehler as it was about the people who shaped her. She talked a great deal about her coworkers from her time in improv, SNL, and Parks and Recreation. Her praise and love for everyone she connected with both in front of and behind the camera are so genuine that you feel really, really sad that she isn’t your friend too. It was also exciting to read about other celebrities in the context of Poehler’s life, since most of the information we hear about them can be so one-dimensional.
It takes hard work to be famous. While this isn’t necessarily true for all famous people, Poehler had a lot of shitty jobs before her SNL break, something I wouldn’t have known had I not read the book. She lived in a rat-infested basement apartment, was living paycheck-to-paycheck (that’s when she had a stable job), and didn’t get any real recognition for decades. It’s nice to think that meeting the right people is all you need, but you need to have something to show them when the time comes. Louis Pasteur said it best: “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
Whew, that was quite the mini-brain dump. If you’ve read Yes Please, what did you think? If you haven’t, is it on your TRL?
P.S. Shout-out to Sam who let me borrow this book too!
Brief synopsis: In his book Modern Romance, comedian Aziz Ansari studies the advantages and pitfalls of dating and romance in today’s digital world in an attempt to answer questions that humans have been asking for centuries—why does the idea of being with one person for the rest of my life sound scary? and how do I indicate I’m interested in someone without opening myself up to rejection?—as well as others that arose as a result of new technology—with so many options out there, how do I find the best person for me? and I can see you read that message two hours ago Matt, why can’t you text me back a simple “yes” or “no”???
The book incorporates Ansari’s personal anecdotes; hundreds of interviews with strangers; social science research about love, sex, and relationships, including interviews with eminent sociologists; and fieldwork conducted in five countries to present a humorous and honest look at the idea of love and romance in the modern world.
Rating: Travel companion
Long story short: Ansari’s narrative is both humorous and thoughtful. I admit I thought the book was just an excuse for him to share (read: complain) about his dating life, but that’s not it at all. He calls attention to new dating behavior—the generic “hey” text, “ghosting”, hanging out versus dating—and asks regular people from younger and older generations what their experiences have been.
Brief synopsis: “Adult isn’t a noun, it’s a verb”. That’s the mantra of Kelly Brown’s funky self-help guide Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps . From cooking basics to getting a job to coping gracefully with emergencies large and small, this book provides useful advice to those of us struggling with adulthood in the 21st century.
Rating: Travel companion
Long story short: I felt a little self-conscious carrying this book around, but the immense relief I felt when I realized I’m not the only one who doesn’t have her shit together was totally worth the weird stares I got on BART.
Brown’s approach to adulthood is simple:
“It feels like there are all these things that People Should Know, and if you don’t know them, it means you’re stupid. You’re not. Not knowing how to sew on a button isn’t the end of the world. Just figure out how to sew it on rather than obsessing about why you don’t know, then tumbling down into the Why Am I Like This Canyon” (3).
And if you’re trapped in that Canyon, Brown says, “Here is what I’m trying to tell you: Adult isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. It’s the act of making correctly those small decisions that fill our day. It is one that you can practice, and that can be done in concrete steps. And if you slip up and have Diet Coke for breakfast, no one busts in and snatches away your Adult card. Just move forward and have milk tomorrow” (3).
Brown’s advice is practical and the delivery is funny. She makes good use of her personal (sometimes mortifying) experiences, which she augments with informative graphs and doodles (see Steps 18 and 256). Her book covers a wide range of topics—domesticity, financial planning, dealing with friends and neighbors, cooking, work life—and offers suggestions for all sorts of things, no matter how small. She is forgiving of all your past blunders (see Step 7), but will also make sure you learn from them and move on.
While I don’t recommend reading the entire book cover-to-cover (in general, advice is best ingested in small doses), I do think it’s helpful to quickly skim through all the chapters so you’re somewhat familiar with the contents. Then when you’re stumped by something you can use the handy index at the end of the book to search for what you need. Also note that not everything in Adulting is going to apply to you, and that’s okay. The good thing about advice is that you don’t always have to take it.
Continue reading if you’re curious about my take-aways (note: advice spoilers below).
Brief synopsis: In her memoir How to Grow Up, Michelle Tea shares her struggle to understand a world just out of her reach: adulthood. She argues that certain markers of adulthood—living on your own, paying taxes, reproducing—don’t apply to everyone (they certainly didn’t apply to her), and as such are impractical standards when it comes to determining if you’ve got your life all figured out. Tea examines the life she’s lived by trial-and-error, and illustrates that being an adult is really about recognizing and becoming the best version of yourself.
Rating: Left behind
Long story short: For someone whose path to adulthood is on the conventional side (I went to college → I got a job → I eventually want to settle down and start a family), Tea’s non-linear journey feels raw and compelling. At times her (painful) honesty about her past as a junkie and alcoholic is uplifting, because it shows that even your vulnerabilities can unearth certain strengths.
I like the overall message—”being an adult means knowing what you want and letting yourself have it”—but Tea’s narrative voice is a little too preachy for my taste. After a while the memoir starts reading more like a self-help book that’s trying too hard to prove its point. This is not a book I can read over and over again, but do see myself referring back to certain sections on days when I want to compare myself to an ex-alcoholic and know I have my life together.
Continue reading for a more in-depth review (note: spoilers below).