Non-Fiction Mini-Reviews: The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang and Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

I know I said I was back, properly this time, but then I didn’t post for – let’s just say a few weeks. I am still not back in the groove and my reviews backlog is not helping. So I have decided to just admit to myself that full-length reviews won’t be happening any time soon. So, for the foreseeable future, I’ll only be posting mini-reviews and other bookish content and maybe at some point I will know how to write reviews again.

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

40121993Verdict: Incredible.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Personal Essays.

I absolutely, perfectly loved this book. The first essay took me a while because Wang gets fairly technical in her introduction to her personality disorder in a way that wasn’t easily accessible to me – but this basis is indeed needed. It grounds her book into a reality that helped me to put things into perspective in a way that I found highly effective and helpful. Esmé Weijun Wang has Schizoaffective Disorder and discusses her life and her illness through her own personal lense but always taking the larger picture into account – that she worked in psychology before being diagnosed herself helps ground this memoir. I found her voice incredible – and incredibly needed. Oftentimes we do not hear of those people directly influenced by what Wang calls the “Collected Schizophrenias” but rather of those who are indirectly influenced (family members and other loved ones). Everything about this book worked for me – and most of that is down to Wang’s impeccable command of language and structure. Her essays are not only interesting and needed but also near perfect on a technical level – my favourite type of non-fiction. This is for sure my favourite non-fiction book of the year and one I cannot recommend highly enough.

Content warning: hallucinations, paranoia, involuntary section, discussions about the possibility of passing her illness to her potential children

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

34763824Verdict: The ending alone makes this worth reading.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Memoir

I loved this – but it is also a memoir that needs the reader to trust the author. T Kira Madden’s memoir is impeccably structured in a way that I highly appreciated by the end. She tells of her life in fragments, not always taking time to ground the reader, and some the chapters did not work for me – until the incredible last essay that reframes much of what came before and had me so in awe that I set staring at nothing after finishing the book. For me, the language alone would have been enough to make this a worthwhile read, so much that I didn’t mind when the book still felt a bit aimless to me – but wow, that ending. I am still realing, nearly a month after finishing it. Madden does something clever here that I cannot quite discuss without taking some of the impact away but believe me when I say that I will be reading whatever she puts out next.

Content warning: Sexual assault of a minor, neglect, drug abuse, disordered eating (incl. bulimia), racism, slurs, forced adoption

Review: Trick Mirror – Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

44282599._sy475_Verdict: Sharp, rambling, wonderful.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Essay collection

Published by Fourth Estate, August 6th 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

We are living in the era of the self, in an era of malleable truth and widespread personal and political delusion. In these nine interlinked essays, Jia Tolentino, the New Yorker’s brightest young talent, explores her own coming of age in this warped and confusing landscape.

From the rise of the internet to her own appearance on an early reality TV show; from her experiences of ecstasy – both religious and chemical – to her uneasy engagement with our culture’s endless drive towards ‘self-optimisation’; from the phenomenon of the successful American scammer to her generation’s obsession with extravagant weddings, Jia Tolentino writes with style, humour and a fierce clarity about these strangest of times.

Following in the footsteps of American luminaries such as Susan Sontag, Joan Didion and Rebecca Solnit, yet with a voice and vision all her own, Jia Tolentino writes with a rare gift for elucidating nuance and complexity, coupled with a disarming warmth. This debut collection of her essays announces her exactly the sort of voice we need to hear from right now – and for many years to come.

This is an incredibly strong essay collection, brought down by a first essay that did not work for me and made picking this back up difficult for me. But once I finished that first essay, Jia Tolentino gives the reader an incredibly well-structured and presented collection. I know why this was one of my most anticipated reads for this year.

Jia Tolentino writes about many different things but always through a lense of feminism and internet culture – something I particularly adore as a feminist who is very much online. Her essays have a rambling quality that worked exceedingly well for me because I could trust her to pull her different strands of argument back together by the end of each essay. She combines the personal with the political, always underpinning her arguments with quotes and statistics in a highly effective way. This is the type of essay collection I adore.

My absolute favourite essay of this collection is about ecstacy – both the drug and the concept in religion. Tolentino reflects on her own religious upbringing, her relationship to drugs, her discovery of Houston’s hip hop scene, and her experience with god in a way that should not work for me (I am not particularly interested in any of these topics on their own) but that was just incredible. If you are only going to read one essay from this collection, make sure it is this one.

Content warning: discussions of rape culture and rape, bigotry, misogyny, racism.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Fourth Estate in exchange for an honest review.

Mini-Review: Be With Me Always by Randon Billings Noble

40168047Verdict: Readable, interesting, nothing completely incredible.

My rating: 3,5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Creative Non-Fiction

Published by University of Nebraska Press, March 1st, 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

“Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!” Thus does Heathcliff beg his dead Cathy in Wuthering Heights. He wants to be haunted–he insists on it. Randon Billings Noble does too. Instead of exorcising the ghosts of her past, she hopes for their cold hands to knock at the window and to linger. Be with Me Always is a collection of essays that explore hauntedness by considering how the ghosts of our pasts cling to us.

In a way, all good essays are about the things that haunt us until we have somehow embraced or understood them. Here, Noble considers the ways she has been haunted–by a near-death experience, the gaze of a nude model, thoughts of widowhood, Anne Boleyn’s violent death, a book she can’t stop reading, a past lover who shadows her thoughts–in essays both pleasant and bitter, traditional and lyrical, and persistently evocative and unforgettable.

I’ll be honest here: I requested this solely because of the cover. I am a huge fan of anatomical hearts on covers and something about this cover and the title just spoke to me. Thankfully, this was absolutely worth reading.

The essays in this collection are for the most part wonderfully constructed. The author uses literature and other works of art to draw comparisons to her own life. This is something I particularly enjoy when it is well done and I thought it worked really well here.

The essay that worked best for me is the title essay – drawing on themes of Wuthering Height, a book I personally really appreciate, Noble carefully presents her own thoughts. I appreciated the way she mixes the personal with the literary to form a cohesive whole.

I have to admit that I did not find this collection spectacular and I am not sure it will particularly stick with me, but I will definitely check out whatever the author does next.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and University of Nebraska Press in exchange for an honest review.

 

Mini-Review: The Fire This Time ed. by Jesmyn Ward

32920229Verdict: Uneven

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction

Published by Simon and Schuster, 2016

Find it on Goodreads.

A surprise New York Times bestseller, these groundbreaking essays and poems about race—collected by National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward and written by the most important voices of her generation—are “thoughtful, searing, and at times, hopeful. The Fire This Time is vivid proof that words are important, because of their power to both cleanse and to clarify” (USA TODAY).

In this bestselling, widely lauded collection, Jesmyn Ward gathers our most original thinkers and writers to speak on contemporary racism and race, including Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Kevin Young, Claudia Rankine, and Honoree Jeffers. “An absolutely indispensable anthology” (Booklist, starred review), The Fire This Time shines a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestles with our current predicament, and imagines a better future.

Envisioned as a response to The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin’s groundbreaking 1963 essay collection, these contemporary writers reflect on the past, present, and future of race in America. We’ve made significant progress in the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essays were published, but America is a long and painful distance away from a “post-racial society”—a truth we must confront if we are to continue to work towards change. Baldwin’s “fire next time” is now upon us, and it needs to be talked about; The Fire This Time “seeks to place the shock of our own times into historical context and, most importantly, to move these times forward” (Vogue).

While I loved some of these essays, very many did not work for me all that much. I know I am not the target audience for this, so please do take my rating with a grain of salt. For one thing, I am not American and I do think that quite a bit of the cultural context will have flown over my head, for another thing, I am also not a person of colour. I can appreciate how important this collection of essays is without being blown away myself. I found the vast majority of these essays well-written enough but not particularly brilliant.

My favourite essays from this collection were Lonely in America by Wendy S. Walters and Black and Blue by Garnette Cadogan. These essays were just absolutely stunning and I will have to check out further work by the authors. I found the way Wendy S. Walters used her own research to illustrate her point really well done and wonderfully evocative. Garnette Cadogan juxtaposes his experience of walking in Kingston, Jamaica, with his experience of walking in New Orleans – and it bowled me over. If you only read one essay of this collection, make sure it’s this one.

Review: This Will Be My Undoing – Morgan Jerkins

32326006Verdict: Important, readable, impressive, not always convincing.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Published by Harper.

Genre: Essay collection, political non-fiction, memoir

Find it on Goodreads.

From one of the fiercest critics writing today, Morgan Jerkins’ highly-anticipated collection of linked essays interweaves her incisive commentary on pop culture, feminism, black history, misogyny, and racism with her own experiences to confront the very real challenges of being a black woman today—perfect for fans of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists.

Morgan Jerkins is only in her twenties, but she has already established herself as an insightful, brutally honest writer who isn’t afraid of tackling tough, controversial subjects. In This Will Be My Undoing, she takes on perhaps one of the most provocative contemporary topics: What does it mean to “be”—to live as, to exist as—a black woman today? This is a book about black women, but it’s necessary reading for all Americans.

Doubly disenfranchised by race and gender, often deprived of a place within the mostly white mainstream feminist movement, black women are objectified, silenced, and marginalized with devastating consequences, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are rarely acknowledged in our country’s larger discussion about inequality. In This Will Be My Undoing, Jerkins becomes both narrator and subject to expose the social, cultural, and historical story of black female oppression that influences the black community as well as the white, male-dominated world at large.

I have slightly confused thoughts about this: I thought it was important, well-written, super interesting but at some points not always convincing. I listened to the audiobook read by the author and can only recommend this. You can tell how her confidence in her voice increases and how self-confident she reads her book in the end. I loved that.

I adore how Morgan Jerkins does not write for a white reader but rather other black women. As such it worked wonderfully as an insightful glimpse into a world that is in parts very different than mine (I love that in memoirs). She centers her own experience successfully in making her larger points and thus contructs highly personal essays that still work wonderfully as fully fledged academic essays.

I especially appreciated what she had to say about hair; black hair to be exact. I do love how she uses sources to underscore her points. The rigor of her essay construction works extremely well here.

I do not always agree with her on her analyses but that might be because my academic background is different than hers – and different disciplines always bring with them different ways of looking at the world. I do know that whatever she shall write next, I will be reading it, because I think it will be insightful and exciting. I cannot believe Morgan Jerkins is younger than me.