Recently Read: Coming Clean … and Thoughts on Memoirs/ Reality TV

A few weeks ago I rediscovered the joy of reading. It’s not that I’d exactly forgotten it. And I certainly hadn’t stopped doing it. But mostly lately I’ve been reading for work or for school so when I was looking to do something “relaxing” as downtime I’d turn on the TV. I got pretty TV-obsessed for awhile there. But then the school semester ended, I didn’t have my new textbooks for the Spring yet and I remembered that I actually really like just taking a few hours, shutting out the world and immersing myself in a book. Since then, I’ve been reading a lot.

coming clean memoir hoarding

One of my recent reads was Coming Clean: A Memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller. It’s the story of a girl who grew up in a home with parents who were hoarders. It’s her story of getting away from that in her own life and yet having it always kind of trail her. It’s the story of having secrets in your family and learning to share those secrets with the world. It’s the story of having fallible parents that you love anyway, parents you learn to set boundaries with and then cross your own boundaries for because life shifts things sometimes. It’s a sad story but a story of strength and a touching story with what basically amounts to a happy ending. I liked it.

I love memoirs. I could read nothing but memoirs for the rest of my life and probably be satisfied with my reading world. Of course I do read other things but there’s something about memoirs that just capture me. I like the first person story. I continue to believe that we each have a really unique experience and perspective of the world. And yet there is also something that ties us each together as humans no matter how disparate our experiences. And so I believe that in the sharing and telling and hearing of stories something magical happens, a sort of growth of the collective unconscious. Through reading memoirs I understand others better and understand myself better as well.

This book did give me some food for thought (don’t they all?) The author notes that people didn’t ever used to know what hoarders were; there wasn’t a recognized name for it. Now we all know and it’s due in part to the popularity of reality TV series like the show Hoarders on AETV. It’s a show I’ve watched a lot; I’m fascinated by the stories of the lives that play out there and how they do and do not relate to my own experience of life. The author at first couldn’t bring herself to watch those shows. Then she sat down and watched them and felt pain, knowing that a lot of the people watching the show were just voyeurs who couldn’t possibly understand. I find that I think about reality TV shows like this the same way that I do about reading memoirs, as a way to get insight into the stories of others to better understand the human world around me. But of course the shows are sensationalized and short and I wonder if there is a large difference between my experience of learning about people through TV vs. learning through memoirs. I’m still gnawing on this thought …

What memoirs have you read and loved? Leave your recommendations in the comments below!


Recently Read: The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door

sweet revenge of celia door

I don’t typically read a lot of teen or Young Adult books but every once in awhile one will catch my eye at the local library and I’ll pick it up. I do love that they are such fast reads and always offer reminders of what it was like to be a teen. Recently I read The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door by Karen FinneyFrock.

The Story

The basic story is that main character Celia Door was horribly bullied by some girls in her school. In reaction she turned “dark”, writing a lot of poetry, hiding behind a goth exterior, pretending not to care what anyone thinks of her. As high school starts she befriends new student Drake. She promptly gets a crush on him but then learns he’s gay … still it’s nice for her to have a friend and especially one that other kids see as cool. A series of things happen and her poetry book gets stolen and a poem about Drake being gay is posted all over the school, effectively outing him. It ultimately doesn’t have the dramatic impact you might think it would and the story kind of ends with quietly shortly after this scene. The title of the book refers to a plan Celia has to get revenge against the girls who bullied her but she basically realizes in the end that developing her own life, creativity and friendships is of more value.

What I Liked

I can’t really say I liked or didn’t like the book. It was just one of those things I sat down and read in a quick sitting to zone out and relax my mind and for that I totally enjoyed it. But if I had to get nitpickier, I’d say here are the reasons I liked it:

  • The author does a good job of revealing little bits of Celia’s story over the course of the whole book.
  • The character of Drake isn’t super stereotypical in what it means to be a gay teen coming out.
  • There are some funny scenes that make fun of the self help reading movement; they aren’t the bulk of the book but they entertained me.
  • The author works in her own poetry through the main character. She’s written two books of poetry previous to this book (her first novel) and from a writer’s perspective it’s interesting to see her write it in.
  • Descriptions of Celia’s encouraging middle school English teacher remind me of a teacher I had when I was in high school.

Recent Books I’ve Enjoyed About Food

It seems like I have drifted towards books about food a lot lately – or more specifically about the food industry. Here are a few that I read and enjoyed:

Gordan Ramsay: The Biography

Over the years I’ve become really interested in this celebrity chef. Of course, I was introduced to him first through Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares and also quickly started following him on MasterChef. At first this was just reality TV to pass the time while multi-tasking other things. However, as time went on and more about his personality was revealed I became intrigued by the many behind this stardom. I’ve since watched many of his different shows, both American and UK, including a recent UK show where he set up a cooking program in a prison.

The prison program was what really got me especially interested in him. He reveals here that his brother was in and out of prison because of drugs. And you can see in the show that despite all of his success in both restaurants and TV over the years he was extremely nervous that this program wouldn’t work out, which is always inspiring to see because we think of celebrities as not having those fears when of course they do.

So anyway, I wanted to learn a little bit more about him and that was what prompted me to read this biography. I thought it was a good overview of his life. It was published a few years ago so the most recent information isn’t in there but it does a good job in general of showing how this guy went from being kid in a troubled home to a star athlete to a top chef to a TV star. It shares some of his personal life with his original family as well as his married life. Basically it’s just about the man behind the food shows. So while it’s not exactly about food, it’s a good book from the food industry and one that I thought was an interesting read. I’d now like to read some of the books he’s actually authored himself.

Sushi Economy

I love reading niche topic books and was super interested in The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy. Basically this is just a book about the history of sushi. It shares how sushi became so popular in recent times. But what I really like is that it gives a lot of insight into how sushi goes from tuna in the ocean to a delicacy on a plate through sharing the personal stories of individual people along the way in that process, such as the buyers of fish at auctions. By putting faces to the process it makes it really easy to understand the in-depth and detailed economics and culture of the sushi history. Fascinating.

I do have to say that it made me disinterested in eating sushi, though. This is probably just me. I used to be vegetarian and I still have a lot of mental issues when it comes to the thought of eating animals. It just grosses me out and seafood grosses me out most of all. The detailed descriptions of how the fish gets shipped and handled really turned me off personally, although they aren’t so gory that I think others would be likely to have this reaction. I should add that I actually don’t really like sushi and always end up with California Rolls anyway since none of the raw fish tastes good to me so it’s not as if I was a huge fan and the book turned me away from that. It just reiterated how I already felt but gave me much more appreciation into the food and industry as a whole.

Waiter Rant

This is a book about waiting tables. It is really insightful about the whole experience of being a 30-something waiter in New York, collecting experiences and stories and money while passing the time until eventually a writing career develops out of it all. You can read here why I think this is a great book about writing, in addition to one about the restaurant life.

Next up on my reading list of books related to food is Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil. I’m a huge fan of olive oil and look forward to learning more about it through this book!


Readings Hits and Misses

I’ve read a few books lately that I really liked. And I’ve started a few others that I couldn’t get into at all.

Books I’ve Liked Lately

The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt

I absolutely loved this memoir by Jon-Jon Goulian. He’s an androgynous male who writes about the experience of figuring out what that meant for him and adjusting to the larger world around himself in the face of it. Although at first glance it might seem like a memoir with a limited niche (how many people truly struggle with sincere androgyny, after all?) it’s actually got a wide appeal in my opinion because ultimately what it’s about is figuring out how to learn who you are and how to fit into the world around you. That’s something that we all have to figure out. The author’s incisive, sometimes self-deprecating, wit actually had me laughing aloud which I can’t say I do often when reading a book at home alone. Loved it.

Luna by Julie Anne Peters

This is another story about finding and defining yourself but this one is a young adult novel. I’m not even really sure why I picked it up but I ended up kind of liking it. It’s about a transgender teenage boy during the stage when he’s beginning to dress as a woman. I think what made me like it, though, is that it’s told from the perspective of his younger sister who is the only one at first to know the boy’s secret. This unique perspective made an otherwise “whatever” book a lot more interesting to me.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

This is another young adult book and to be honest the only reason I picked it up is because I needed something to read while I was at the airport and the selection at the newsstand in my terminal in LA was really limited. I ended up liking it, though. It’s about an era in which all of society is divided into five factions that each values a certain virtue (like amity or candor) and at the age of sixteen the members need to pick the faction that they want to be a part of. It’s the story of one main character who makes that choice. So I guess I’m on a theme these days of reading these “how do I define myself?” books!

I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World

This is a collection of fictional monologues about the fiery passion and difficult lives of teenage girls. It touches on topics both small and large. I didn’t like every single part of it. And it’s something that I think would be a lot more fun to see performed on a stage than read in a book. That said, I liked the gist of it and enjoyed reading pieces of it here and there. It was tough being a teenage girl and this book reminded me to celebrate and honor that toughness.

Books I Couldn’t Get Into

Summer Friends by Holly Chamberlin

I picked up this book because I wanted a light summery novel to read on the plane to LA. I actually did read the entire thing so I can’t say I totally didn’t get into it. But I’m pretty indifferent to it. It’s about two friends who were close in high school and then lost touch for twenty years and now they’re becoming friends again. It’s about their journeys through lives, the differences in the choices they made, etc. It’s not a bad book just not exceptional for me.

Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War by Hal Vaughan

This is the story of Coco Chanel and I really, really want to read it because it covers a “secret” period of Chanel’s during the WWII era. It sounds intriguing. However, I can’t seem to get more than a few pages into it before I get bored. It’s too heavy-handed or dense or something. I may try again. We’ll see.

A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard

This is the true story of someone who underwent the terrible experience of being kidnapped and then held captive for eighteen years. She was treated horrible, had two children in captivity … it’s a powerful story. And I wanted to learn more about it but I just couldn’t get into the writing. I seem to be really restless with reading lately and if something doesn’t capture me immediately then I move on to something else. I think I’d rather see a documentary on this one than read the book.

Worth Fighting For: Love, Loss, and Moving Forward

This is a book by the wife of Patrick Swayze that shares what it was like to spend twenty months with him undergoing intense cancer treatment and passing away. I just tried starting it this morning and I couldn’t get into it. It actually seems like a good book but for some reason I just can’t get the cheesy Dirty Dancing Swayze out of my head and it makes me not like the story that much. I think I’ll try again before returning it to the library, though, because the bias seems weird and sill.

So, that’s what I’m reading. What’s on your nightstand?


The Random 3 Digit Reading Project

To my Twitter friends that know me as CrochetBlogger from Crochet Concupiscence … this is my other blog. :) This project isn’t specifically crochet but is intended to serve as inspiration for crochet, for writing, for life …

I have been struggling this week, lacking inspiration and motivation, getting ideas and then feeling too tired to implement them. I’m not quite sure what is causing it. Maybe it’s because my sister was here for a great visit and then she left and now I’m a little lonely. Maybe it’s because I’m a third of the way through the draft of a book and that’s when I tend to hit a slump and every word becomes a struggle. Maybe it’s the weather or the season or the time of year … I’m not sure. But what I do know is that the usual tricks aren’t working and I am in dire need of a project that can re-inspire me and re-invigorate me and re-focus my attention. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years it’s that if my mind is going crazy reeling around on itself in unhappiness then what it needs is to be occupied with something.

I do have projects going on (like that book, of course) but I needed something new today, something immediate and different and yet easily do-able. Something that would get me out of the house but not require me to spend a lot of money or energy. So I decided to start a project I’d been planning on starting for awhile – the task of reading new books on topics that I normally ignore. I always get the same types of books (memoirs by women going through some type of major life experience, non-fiction about writing and crochet, selective fiction). While this is wonderful, it’s not really broadening my horizons or challenging my mind or inspiring my life to read the same types of things again and again. I need a fresh spark.

So I headed to Twitter and asked my awesome Twitter friends to Tweet me some random 3-digit numbers. Then I took a list of the ten numbers I’d received and headed to the library. The idea was to head to the Dewey decimal numbers with those numbers I got from Twitter and get whatever books I found with those numbers on them, no discriminating. This served the immediate purpose of getting me out of the house and focused on a little adventure to see what I would find at the library. And it serves a longer-term purpose of providing me with new reading and research material to help inspire new things in my thoughts and my life.

Here’s what I came home with:

  1. A book on The Buffalo Soldier Regiment. Thanks @Pomquat for Dewey decimal number 356!
  2. History of Japanese Community Party. Thanks to @nerdJERK for #329.
  3. Reunion: The Girls We Used to Be, the Women We Became. This one is about the women of Brearley School class of 1968 and how they were affected by being born in the 50’s but going through the 60’s/70’s cultural revolution. Thanks @offgridlife for Dewey decimal number 356!
  4. The Gardens of California. Thanks @Lacy61 for #712.
  5. Mind by John R. Searle. Relates to philosophy. Thanks @crochetmomma3 for #128.
  6. Vindication of Love.: Reclaiming Romance in the 21st Century. About how society has a cynical, jaded perspective and how to bring romance back to our view of the world. Also #128 from @crochetmomma3.
  7. Lives of the English Poets. Thanks @jamietoohey for #928.
  8. Stargazing with a Telescope as well as Human Vision and the Night Sky. Thanks @CrochetAllDay for number 522.
  9. A Smithsonian book all about shells as well as a book called Octopus and Squid. Thanks @adanishheart for #594.
Also thanks to @Moriarty1958, @Ronda160 and @mwmyn. I didn’t get a chance to use your numbers this time but they’ll still be part of the project. It’ll definitely be interesting to see what this reading stirs up for me. I’ve already felt inspired by the number part itself. I found it super interesting to see what numbers people picked. For example, most people sent me numbers that started with an odd number. And I found it interesting that out of all the 3 digit numbers, some people sent ones that were really close to each other (like 927 and 928!) Some of the number stuff is stirring in my mind for a freeform crochet project idea. Just glancing through the books, I was surprisingly drawn to the one on shells and started thinking that may inspire a project – a series of crochet shells maybe? A set of poems? We’ll see …
Thanks again all! I really have been spiraling down a bit lately and getting jumpstarted on a new project will hopefully help.

Another Hot Site for Book Lovers

Not too long ago I mentioned a site here on the blog called Book Lovers Never Go To Bed Alone. It’s a photo-rich site of images showing books in various locations. Now I’ve come across another site very similar to this one that I’ll have to add to my RSS feed.

The site I’m loving is very simply called Bookshelf Porn. As the name suggests, it’s a site for people who adore looking at books. It shows images of books on shelves in all kinds of interesting ways. The image above, reposted from the site, is one of my favorites – open a closet door and find stacks and stacks of books!

I’m not sure quite what it is that draws me to these sites. They’re just pretty pictures and take only a moment to look at. I guess it’s that appeal of seeing books out there. You want to know what other people are reading. You want to see if anything in the stack is something that you’ve read before. You want to see what books catch your eye.

Or I do anyway. :)

Do you know of any other book sites like these?


The Internet is Making Readers Out of All of Us

Over the years, we’ve heard so many people complain that the Internet is bad for our children. People aren’t reading enough books anymore, they say. Kids are writing in txt. And I’ve always pretty much thought it was hog wash.

Now there’s some science to back up my feelings. A recent article from LiveScience starts off:

“Widespread Internet use will actually improve the reading and writing skills of the world’s population, most experts agreed in a new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.”

The article goes on to discuss a survey that indicates, among other things, that a lot of people believe that the Internet is actually making people more literate than ever before. And you know what? I buy it.

Has book reading declined over the years? I’m not sure. I think that a case could be made either way. But what I do think is true is that there are more people, especially young people, who are reading a variety of different material on a daily basis thanks to the accessibility of information on the Internet.

We have access to more information than ever before. Kids who would never have watched the news before have a general idea of what’s going on in the world because of updates on various sites including their favorite social networking sites. Kids who never would have written long letters to their friends are constantly articulating things to them online and via text messaging.

Yes, undoubtedly there are some drawbacks (as there would be with anything). Text and IM may hinder spelling abilities. At the same time, you have to admit that the fact that your computer tells you when you’ve spelled something wrong makes it a lot easier to see your errors and learn how to fix them. So, pros and cons, maybe, but I’m in the camp of people who thinks that the more people who are reading – whether they’re reading books or reading Twitter status updates – the better.

What do you think about this issue?


7 Random Blogs a SmartChick Loves to Read

One of the things that I love about writing on this blog is that I don’t limit myself to a specific topic. Diary of a Smart Chick is just about all of the random things that tend to capture my interest. I think that’s how real people are – we get intrigued by tons of different stuff that doesn’t fit neatly into a box. That’s what makes us unique; it’s what makes us who we are.

Because I like so many different things, I tend to read a lot of different blogs. I don’t stick to one topic. I like stuff that’s kind of off the wall. Here’s a glimpse into some of the stuff I read regularly just to keep myself interested in the world around me:

  1. Weburbanist. I love to check out the weird and interesting things that are collected on this blog. This stuff is creative, weird, eye-catching and compiled in a way that makes it even more compelling. This is the site that introduced me to steampunk and to storage container housing. I loved the recent post on patching buildings with Legos.
  2. Live Science Strange News. I love reading about advances that are being made in science. From nanotechnology to crazy medical discoveries, this stuff is interesting. I particularly love the “strange news” channel of this site which gives you all kinds of info on stuff that is almost unbelievable and yet apparently true.
  3. Retro to Go. This great little blog collects information on all stuff retro. I love checking out the furniture, fashion and other fun stuff that they highlight on this blog.
  4. Weird Asia News. This blog shares all of the odd news that is printed in Asian newspaper. I just get a huge kick out of some of the things that are shared here.
  5. SF Girl By Bay. I used to be a big fan of Apartment Therapy until I discovered this San Francisco-based design and style blog. It’s got a funky edge to it that I adore and yet offers info on so much pretty stuff.
  6. Lomography Blog. This is a photo topic that I’ve recently started to take an interest in so I’m enjoying learning more about it from the blog. Cool stuff.
  7. Fail Blog. I’ll admit that I don’t check this site out daily but I always get a kick out of it when I do. I think I love this blog for the same reason that I love typos. I love the mistakes that people make that show off our humanity and provide humor for our lives.
I’m also starting to read tons of fashion blogs now that I’m writing for the Edgi Clothing blog. Anyone have a favorite fashion blog they’d love to share with me?

SmartChick Reads: Cartwheels in a Sari

I just finished reading a memoir that was a quick read but one that was really interesting. I love memoirs because they give you insight into someone else’s way of life but also tend to provide things that you can relate to in order to make the story feel like your own. That’s exactly the case with this memoir which is technically about growing up in the grips of a spiritual cult but ultimately about learning how to figure out who you are outside of the experiences you had growing up.

The woman who wrote the book, Jayanti Tamm, was born into Sri Chinmoy’s spiritual cult. Because procreating was forbidden but she was born anyway, he determined that she was brought into this world as his Chosen One. Growing up, she held a special place in the cult that placed a barrier between her and the rest of the world. She didn’t ask her parents or teachers for advice or material things; she had to ask her Guru.

As you can imagine, she eventually found herself disillusioned with the cult beliefs that she had been brought up to believe. Most of the memoir is about the experience of growing up in the cult and the transition from being an unquestioning child follower to a confused, unsure, questioning young adult.

Towards the end of the memoir, Tamm leaves the cult for a time and ultimately is kicked out of it. What we see here is the inner turmoil that one goes through when leaving behind the ways of childhood. Of course, most of us have not grown up in situations so extreme as cult life. Nevertheless, many struggle in smaller ways to reconcile their adult beliefs with what they were taught as children. That’s how this book manages to be relatable to us even though it’s specifically about cult life.

Interesting read!