Category: Non-Fiction

Review: The Last Black Unicorn


The Last Black Unicorn

That’s why I think my life has turned out as good as it has. Because all the time, I’m just trying to have fun.

You guys. I really liked Tiffany Haddish before this book. Now? I absolutely love her. The Last Black Unicorn is her memoir of how she grew up and into the person she is today, and while she is a funny lady, it is not a funny story. Well, it is Tiffany Haddish, so it’s still pretty funny, while at the same time being gut-wrenching. She has been through the ringer and worked incredibly hard to get to where she is today. If you haven’t seen any of her comedy, Google her IMMEDIATELY.

The thing about very funny people is that a lot of them use difficult situations to joke about. Haddish is no different, and I was shocked by just how difficult her life has been. She doesn’t use it as an excuse, though, and it seems that she’s worked twice as hard to make sure she’s successful. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Haddish had to work hard just to survive, much less work her way out of a situation that would seem impossible for most people. Absent parents, being a foster kid, and problems at school are just a few of the situations that she had to deal with, and comedy, namely making other people laugh, was her way of coping with it all. This book details her childhood and early adulthood, as well as her rise to fame, and it will cause you to have a whole new respect for her and others like her who struggle on the stand up comedy circuit.

The Last Black Unicorn is a shocking, hilarious, at times disturbing memoir written by a brutally honest women who really does feel like someone we could all be friends with. Tiffany Haddish deserves all of the acclaim she’s been getting lately, and then some. She’s not just a funny lady. She is a humble and honest human being who isn’t afraid to talk about the hard parts of life. I found myself laughing and tearing up at the same time during certain chapters, and that is just a testament to how Haddish can turn any terrible situation into a comedic one. She’s the definition of finding the silver lining. If you like memoirs, funny books, or just want to learn about one woman’s rise from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles to the top of the Hollywood food chain, please, please pick up this book!

⭐⭐⭐⭐

EXTRA

I listened to The Last Black Unicorn on audio, and I highly recommend it. Haddish reads it herself, and it truly adds so much to the story!

 

Review: Drama High


Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater

Theater gives them what a computer takes away, what no classroom teacher can teach. They learn to work with other people. They learn patience and tolerance and how to be deferential to each other. They learn to be good citizens. It’s unifying. It has an impact on kids that can’t be quantified. Educators don’t know how to measure it.

If you’ve seen the new TV show Rise, you’re probably familiar with the culture of some high school theatre programs. What you might not know (I didn’t until Kate at Kate Reads Books posted about it) is that the show is based on this book, Drama High by Michael Sokolove. It’s the story of a real theatre group that really struggled with support and budget (as most theatre programs do) that ended up becoming one of the most highly respected drama groups in the country.

Lou Volpe became the theatre director at Truman High School in Levittown in 1970. His first show, Antigone, had no set and the actors wore trash bags and aluminum foil. He had no history in theatre, except for loving it. But he was more than dedicated to the shows he produced and the students who starred in them. He worked just as hard as the students, and in return a deep, mutual respect evolved. Volpe’s students trusted him and his direction outright, and he trusted that they would put all of themselves into every performance. That kind of dedication is what lead Broadway producers to travel to Levittown to watch those high school performance and to test out edited versions of big Broadway shows (such as Les Miserable, Rent, and Spring Awakening) to see if they would work for other high schools. Volpe, who recently retired, left quite a legacy, and this book explores that journey.

So before I give you my thoughts, let me say that I was (and always will be, really) a theatre kid. I was in theatre, choir, and show choir in high school, in a small town, and those places were truly havens for me. I felt at home in the theatre. So when I read Drama High, I had a happy trip down memory lane. This is a really great book. Lou Volpe and his drama department are absolutely worthy subjects for a novel, not to mention Levittown itself. I really enjoyed reading about Volpe’s history, the history of the town, and the students Volpe taught. That being said, some of the town history sections became a bit heavy and repetitive and could have been cut down. (The author is clearly an amazing researcher, and it felt like he wanted every detail included.) In my opinion, cutting 25-50 pages out would have made the book a smoother read, but it’s not a reason to not pick up this book!

If you have any interest in the subject of theatre, if you love theatre, if you want to read about the true story behind Rise, or if, like me, you were a drama geek in high school, I definitely recommend Drama High. It’s a great non-fiction read, and you’ll learn a lot about the culture of high school theatre and what it takes to survive in a small town.

⭐⭐⭐.5

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Review: Educated


Educated: A Memoir

You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them . . . You can miss a person every day, and still be glad that they are no longer in your life.

I have been struggling to write this review, not because I didn’t like the book but because I loved it so much that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I want to get the words exactly right, because I think everyone should read Educated by Tara Westover. And I do mean everyone. This is an extremely powerful, disturbing, and moving memoir about a girl in a situation most of us will never fully be able to understand. It is well-written and captivating, and I could not put it down.

Tara Westover grew up in the mountains of Idaho. Her parents, radical survivalists, kept her and her siblings out of school for most of their lives, did not believe in doctors or modern medicine, and taught their children to prepare for the end of the world. When Tara decides that she does want to be educated, she begins to read as many books as she can in order to prepare for college entrance exams, despite never having attended school. When she gets into and begins classes at Brigham Young University, she is in for a shock when she learns, for the first time, about events such as the Holocaust, civil rights movements, and that Advil will cure a headache, not kill her. Even though she has willingly escaped an isolated and violent life, she struggles with her choices and the choices her parents wish she had made. Tara has to choose what’s best for her and her future, even if it means going against her family.

This book is startlingly personal, and I think it’s because she wrote it very soon after going through all of the events. I could really feel Tara’s struggle with what amounts to choosing between her family and the “real” world. Reading it as someone who has never been in her situation, the choice for me seemed clear (There is a scene in which someone is burned very badly, and they still refuse to go to a doctor. It is truly unbelievable and shocking.), but seeing it through her eyes, I understand why she was in an impossible position. She was choosing to leave her family in order to receive an education, and it was clearly not an easy choice.

Educated is a moving novel about the education and coming-of-age years of a woman who is stronger than most of us even realize. I get the feeling that Tara Westover is probably still not ok, and maybe won’t ever be ok, but this book feels like an attempt to sort everything out in one place. It feels a bit unsettled, probably because she is still in the situation. She is still young and her complete break from most of her family happened recently. I would love to read an essay from her reflecting on everything in 20 or 30 years, when she’s completely come out on the other side. Until then, all I can do is beg you all to read this book!

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

EXTRA!

The Guardian has a great interview with Tara!

Interview with Tara Westover

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Review: Reading People


Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything

My personality traits don’t determine my destiny, they inform it.

If you listen to Anne Bogel’s podcast What Should I Read Next or read her blog Modern Mrs. Darcy, you’re probably aware that she’s more than a little into personality. (And if you don’t know who Anne Bogel is, for shame! Just kidding. But seriously, go check out her blog and podcast. They are very well done!) Before Anne, I wasn’t really aware of all the personality typing books and programs out there, aside from whatever quiz we were made to take in high school that supposedly told us what job we would be good at. Now? I’m fascinated.

Anne’s book, Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, is no boring textbook. It is a primer that covers the basics of the most popular personality typing systems and why they can be helpful. And not just for understanding yourself, but understanding your family and friends, and how to communicate better with them. She has done all the hard work of extensively researching popular personality frameworks (such as the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and the Five Love Languages) and putting the most important information in a book that is, honestly, fun to read. And quite enlightening.

As I read the book, I kept thinking, “yes, yes, yes, this is me, and this explains a lot.” (And in case you’re wondering, I’m an INFJ, enneagram 2.) Anne is a talented writer, and she explains that different personalities, and how we often mis-type ourselves, so well. For example, I’ve been told for most of my life that because I was involved with theatre and choir and wasn’t shy onstage that I was an outgoing extrovert. So I always wondered if something was wrong with me because I really prefer staying home with my family to going out, often have to talk myself into going out with friends (not because I don’t want to see them, but because I would just rather be at home), and have anxiety over making phone calls to strangers. Turns out, I’m not crazy, weird, or an extrovert. I’m an introvert who happens to be comfortable on a stage. (You really can’t see the audience when those blinding lights are on.) If I had realized this earlier, I think it would have helped me make some different decisions, or at least make more informed decisions. I identified with almost zero extroverted traits, and almost all the introverted ones, and that was eye-opening.

In addition to realizing some important things about my own personality, I was able to learn how to better communicate with people who have different personality types than my own. Knowing where I’m coming from, personality wise, and understanding where another person may be coming from, has already helped me become less frustrated. (And I’m sure helped my family become less frustrated with talking to me!)

For me, Reading People was life changing, and I don’t say that about many books. Anne makes all the personality types and research incredibly accessible, when all of that information can be overwhelming due to the sheer volume of it. Her insights in mis-typing yourself because of environment or how other people have typed you are worth their weight in gold alone. If you have always thought of yourself in a certain way, and don’t understand why you don’t quite fit into your environment, or never really connected with the type you thought you were, this book is for you. It will help you understand more about your own personality, as well as those around you.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

EXTRA!

Another thing I love about Reading People is that you don’t have to read straight through. You can pick and choose the chapters that are interesting to you, only read about your specific type, and then go back and read some more if you want more information. It is truly a great resource.

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Review: We Are All Shipwrecks


We Are All Shipwrecks: A Memoir

Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks for providing me with a digital galley of this book – all opinions are my own.

 

I realized that all day I had actually just been lonely. It wasn’t, I realized, that I wanted to get away from people; I just wanted to get away from these people, because as much as I loved them, I didn’t belong to them anymore.

I don’t read a lot of memoirs, but every once in awhile one will grab my attention. Kelly Grey Carlisle’s We Are All Shipwrecks caught my attention and didn’t let go. Carlisle, a professor of English at Trinity University, has been published in prestigious journals such as Ploughshares and The New England Review, but this is her first book, and she had quite a topic to work with: her childhood.

Carlisle grew up on a boat in the L.A. Harbor with her grandfather and his wife, who made their living from the porn store they ran. She never met her mother, who was strangled when Carlisle was a newborn, or her father, who was in jail at the time. But to singularly define her childhood as eccentric (which it most definitely was) would be a disservice. Perhaps her situation was far from what a lot of people have for childhoods, but she also struggled with many of the things we all do: wanting to please her parents but also wanting to be herself, not fitting in at school, and being embarrassed by her parents. However, the overarching mystery of who killed her mom, and the resulting hardship of being forced to take on too much responsibility at a young age, really drive this memoir, and she delves deep into how that affected her childhood and her future.

At one time or another, we’ve all felt like we don’t belong in our family of origin. It’s just natural, and that is at the heart of this memoir. Not knowing your birth parents, much less how your mother was murdered, would only add to the stress of that, and I could feel how desperately she wanted to learn about them, about her own history. Carlisle wanted to fit into her family more than anything, and it took her many years to realize that instead of forcing herself to fit into a place, she needed to find a place where she fit. She says it beautifully:

“Who you are” also happens after you leave home. You are turning into “who you are” your whole life.

Carlisle drew me into her life, broke my heart, and still managed to leave me with a great feeling of hope for what can be accomplished in a lifetime, against all odds. Happiness and belonging can be found in any life situation, and she is living proof of that. I loved We Are All Shipwrecks, and if you enjoy reading memoirs or mysteries, I really think you will too.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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