Growing up and figuring out who you are

Guy Branum’s My Life as a Goddess was funny and charming and wonderful. It’s his memoir about how his childhood was awful, how it screwed him up, how depression probably runs in his family, and how he eventually became happy. Or at least happy-adjacent.

To a degree, growing up is about figuring out who you are and how you fit into the world. His story is that, but on steroids. He extra doesn’t fit in and takes an extra long time to figure out that he’s gay (or at least that’s the impression you get reading the book) and it resonates. I mean, it’s his story and it’s specific, but it’s specific in that way that makes it also feel very relatable and like everyone goes through something similar, if not this specific story.

And since I like a good YA story – also about growing up and figuring out who you are – this one is also good. Very funny and highly recommended.

Knowledge is power

Educated was not an easy read. It’s the memoir of a woman who was raised in a strict Mormon household, the kind that is convinced the government is after them. Her mother was a midwife at first, and then a healer later. Suffice it to say, there was no going to see doctors. There was no school. She didn’t even have a birth certificate until she was 9. The home environment was not healthy, to say the least.

But she ends up at BYU as a 16 or 17 year old (it wasn’t exactly clear from her writing), where she starts learning both about the world and how to learn. She ends up at Cambridge and then Harvard and estranged from her family and parents.

Educated was a powerful read – you feel her emotions, the highs and the lows. The desire to run away, the need to fit in, and all the therapy in between.

Highly recommended.

Can Florida really be that weird?

Honestly? I wanted This Is Not My Beautiful Life to be weirder. The pitch was: a woman, pregnant with her first child, opens up the door at her parents’ house to a police raid because they’re being charged with stock fraud, with possible drug charges. Did I mention this all happens in Florida? Because it all happens in Florida.

It was still a lovely story of a woman handling first her pregnancy, then life with a small child, coming to the realization that she has postpartum depression, trying to deal with the fact that her parents and their weird, weird friends are probably all hustling just on the other side of the law. It’s a situation that would drive anyone to distraction. She handles it sometimes poorly and sometimes well, like anyone would.

But with that pitch on the back of the book? It should have been crazier and weirder. I’m sure if it gets optioned for a TV show (and it would be a great mini-series) they will contrast her parents’ weird life with her much more normal family life.

Recommended for your late-summer reading needs.

Joie de vivre

I had not heard of the Mitford sisters until I read The Sisters, a joint biography of the six girls, brought up just in time to become adults around/during WWII. I found that book fascinating, not knowing anything about any of them.

Hons and Rebels is the memoir of one of those sisters, Jessica Mitford. She was one of the younger three, and the only one who became a communist. The girls were raised in the 1930s, when Hitler was on the rise, and there was a debate in the house about fascism vs communism, with at least one sister going heavily for each side.

What I liked most about Hons and Rebels is the sense of life and vitality that comes through it. Jessica is not one to do anything halfway. She cares, she is passionate, and she truly sucked the marrow from life (to quote Dead Poets Society for a second). It was the joie de vivre that made me love this book, and her.

Ambitious women are awesome

My Paris Dream

I first learned about Kate Betts from Marketplace. She’s the person they call whenever there’s business news in the fashion world. She always seems very practical, and I enjoy that in my fashion types.

She is a strong, ambitious woman who gets shit done, and My Paris Dream is her memoir chronicling her post-college formative years in Paris, working for W. I need more stories like this one in my life – I admire women like her, who know exactly what they want and go after it. Though her descriptions of the office politics… Oy. W in the late 1980s/early 1990s is not a place I could have worked.

And I like fashion and the odd lifestyles and quirks around it – the weird, small stories that make people in the industry larger-than-life. Kate Betts delivers on those things: a French hunt, the bows in her friend’s hair, and more.

I liked it.

A real unreliable narrator

Oh the glory of it all

What’s it about?
Oh, The Glory of It All is a memoir about growing up in one of San Francisco’s elite families. There is a headline-grabbing messy divorce, a possibly narcissistic mother, a father who cares far too much about his position in society, a step-mother who may or may not be evil, and the son (the author) who fell through the parenting cracks. He does not hide how messed up he was, and a good chunk of the book is him figuring out how to become a normal person. How much blame to put on everyone… that’s an open question.

Why should you read it?
I read it because I have an idea for a character for a NaNoWriMo book, and she needs to be both a) messed up and b) from an elite San Francisco family. So this was great research for that.

You should read it if you like Vanity Fair articles about society people and their weird, weird lives. Or if you enjoy books like Crazy Rich Asians, which poke fun at Society and show how money can distort otherwise normal people. It’s also a portrait of San Francisco before the tech boom of the late 1990s started to change the entire SF Bay Area. If you’re interested in any of those things? This is the book for you.

Funny Women are Funny

yes please

What’s it about? 
Yes Please is Amy Poehler’s memoir. She is a workaholic of a person, but she loves it. She is also funny and warm and this made me want to watch Parks & Recreation. (I had a small child when it aired. I wasn’t watching anything at that point.)

Why should you read it?
It’s another entry in the smart, funny women memoirs that I like to think of as a series: Bossypants, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, Yes Please. These are great books for a teenaged girl (or an adult woman!) to read because these women are amazing role models. Plus, it made me laugh. What more could I ask for?

Kim Gordon is cooler than you

Girl in a Band


What’s it about?
Girl in a Band is about Kim Gordon’s life. Who’s Kim Gordon? She was the bassist for Sonic Youth, but the book doesn’t talk a huge amount about Sonic Youth. It’s about her childhood in Los Angeles; her years as a visual artist in 1980s NYC; it covers a bit about her marriage and the band and how some of the main albums were created.

Why should you read it?
Because Kim Gordon has her shit together. She is cooler than you because she has lived and spent time figuring things out: what kind of artist she wanted to be, what kind of parent she wanted to be, what was best for her. Reflecting on the book, I also think writing this might have been a way for her to define herself outside Sonic Youth and her marriage (since she is recently divorced). Who is Kim Gordon if she isn’t Sonic Youth? To clarify: the first draft might have been uncertain. The version that I read wasn’t. She has a clear sense of who she is and what she thinks and she is communicating that to you.

I want to be Kim Gordon. At least a little bit.

What’s your purpose?

man's search for meaning


What’s it about?
Viktor Frankl spent World War II in a concentration camp. He was a therapist before he was imprisoned, and he used his time in the camps to better understand himself and humanity. It’s not a long overview of his time in the camps – maybe 100 pages? – but it’s powerful stuff. The upshot is that the people whose lives had meaning, who had something to live for, those people were the ones who survived. If you believed that you were going to be free by Christmas and then Christmas came and went, well, it was highly likely that you were going to die shortly thereafter. There’s a short appendix talking about his therapeutic philosophy – that everyone who believes their life has a purpose is happier and healthier. So why are you here?

Why should you read it?
The week I read this was a hard one. I was having a small bout of depression; my husband was out of town, so I was single-parenting; and I got insomnia. Reading Man’s Search for Meaning helped, a lot. It set my brain thinking about why I do what I do. I won’t go into detail (this blog post isn’t a therapy session!), but it gave me the headspace and strength to make it through. And I needed that. I know this book has helped other people figure out what they want to do with their lives. But for me it was simpler, more a confirmation that I’m ok with where I am. Sometimes, that’s all you need.