From the Shelf
Stay Thirsty, My Friends
How well are we aging, with our Fitbits, paleo diets, hot yoga and kale smoothies? Dr. John Medina has some answers in Brain Rules for Aging Well: 10 Principles for Staying Vital, Happy, and Sharp (Pear Press, $27.99), following his bestselling Brain Rules and Brain Rules for Baby. This is required reading for anyone concerned about mental and physical health--i.e., everyone not in youthful denial. With a conversational tone and infectious wit, Medina explains what happens as we age, the science behind it, and what we can do to improve how our our brains (and bodies) function. We know about exercise and diet, but how about our minds?
First, "We begin, like a Calvinist sermon, with the tough stuff": our brains age, beginning surprisingly early for some functions, like the peak for episodic memory--around age 20. But there is definitely good news: the brain is adaptable, reacting to changes in the environment and within itself, and that compensation can be greatly aided by a number of things. "Aggressive learning" can reduce age-related memory decline: "We can treat the corrosive effects of time with a one-sentence prescription: Go back to school." Reading physical books--at least 3.5 hours a day!--is good for the brain and longevity. Meditation. Wonder. Curiosity. Gratitude. Brain-training games that "have survived the withering fusillades of peer review." Hanging out with good people. Sleep. Exercise. Music. Dance, which combines physical activity and (hopefully) human touch--touch is "wildly important for the elderly." Some tactics are unusual, like listening to the music of your 20s (the research behind this is fascinating, showing your brain favors experiences from your late teens to early 20s).
Brain Rules for Aging Well is a forceful aid in fighting inertia. Dr. Medina's research and engaging manner will have you plotting all sorts of brain- and body-saving strategies--now, instead of "Oh, tomorrow...." --Marilyn Dahl
In this Issue...
Actress Gabrielle Union shares her funny and raw experiences as a black woman.
by Oliver Sacks
A brilliant, beautiful and funny collection of essays on a variety of topics by the famed science writer, memoirist and neurologist Oliver Sacks.
by Tahereh Mafi
In this companion to Furthermore, a girl destined to ease the dead's passage to the afterlife receives help from familiar strangers who reinvigorate her, literally and figuratively.
Review by Subjects:
Harry Potter Thanksgiving Desserts
For Thanksgiving, Bustle featured "how to make 3 Harry Potter desserts, according to food YouTuber Binging With Babish."
For National Novel Writing Month, Quirk Books "searched out past NaNoWriMo Pep Talks and spoke with a couple authors to get their best advice for NaNoWriMo participants."
"My sammelband has frisket-bite: a short glossary of delightful library terms," as curated by Jer Thorp via a Twitter request.
"From Pepys's Diary to Ben Judah's impressionistic survey," the Guardian recommended "the 10 best nonfiction books about London."
"Found: A long-lost copy of John Donne's fart-filled satire," Mental Floss promised (threatened?).
Tomas Bordignon's hammock bookcase "is an armchair in solid ash wood.... The sitting is suspended, to emulate the thrill you get when you relax in a hammock," Bookshelf noted.
The Writer's Life
Nonfiction for Children and Teens: Indigenous Peoples
The following four books highlight historical and contemporary Indigenous figures, shining a light on the heroic actions and important voices of Indigenous peoples today and throughout history. They are delicate and in-depth discussions of a fraught past and present, expressions of individuality and journeys toward reconciliation with the nations of North America.
An illustrated picture book biography for middle grade readers, Red Cloud: A Lakota Story of War and Surrender (Abrams, $19.95) by S.D. Nelson tells the story of Lakota leader Red Cloud, Makhpiya-luta, through a fictionalized first-person account: "My people were battle-hardened warriors. We had to be in order to survive in a world of conflict.... We seven tribes of Lakota shared the same language and customs. But we were not united under one chief or leader." The Lakota people had struggled to gain and keep land for themselves, finally establishing a homeland in the Black Hills. But then, "strange people with pale skin came up the rivers" into their country and built a trading post right at its heart. The Lakota "refused to be pushed aside by the intruders."
Nelson's Chief Red Cloud says, "as the years passed, I honed my fighting instincts and leadership skills. Other Lakota were just as brave in battle, but my decisions often resulted in victory." With direct, factual text and pull-quotes, illustrations and black-and-white photographs interspersed throughout, the plight of the Lakota people and their battles to keep their home and sovereignty is depicted through the fictionalized narrative (and actual biography) of Chief Red Cloud. Beautifully illustrated and impeccably researched, Nelson's third in his picture book biography series of Indigenous leaders is engaging and enlightening.
#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale (Annick Press, $19.95) is an anthology for middle grade and young adult readers that contains poetry, statements of personal experience and art all created by Indigenous women. Lisa Charleyboy (Tsilhqot'in, Tsi Del Del First Nation) gives shape to her desire to create and edit this work in her foreword: "I hadn't yet realized that the key to finding my direction was directly tied to finding my place--and pride--as an Indigenous woman.... This book, co-edited with my longtime peer and mentor Mary Beth Leatherdale, gave me the space to not only write a love letter to all young Indigenous women trying to find their way, but also to help dispel those stereotypes so we can collectively move forward to a brighter future for all."
#NotYourPrincess divides the works in it into four headings: "the ties that bind us," "it could have been me," "I am not your princess" and "pathfinders," giving shape and form to the bold and disparate pieces. Every work of art--whether written, illustrated or photographed--is displayed with the title and the author's name and tribal affiliation. Quotes from leading Indigenous women are sprinkled throughout, as each portrait, illustration, comic, poem or personal narrative builds, creating a beautiful--and holistic--look at Indigenous women.
In Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation (Orca, $29.95), Monique Gray Smith speaks to elementary and middle grade readers about Canada's long history with Indigenous peoples. "In this book," she begins, "we are embarking on a journey of reconciliation. This isn't a read-and-do-nothing kind of book. It is an active exploration of Canada's collective history, our present and our future. It's about how we grow as individuals, families, communities and as a country." While specific to Canada, the point of this work--to open dialogue--travels across borders.
Beginning with the "Seven Sacred Teachings" of honesty, respect, love, courage/bravery, truth, humility and wisdom, Smith shares her "own understanding of a complex and painful history." Traveling back to 1763 and the British, Smith takes the reader through the complex history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, going into detail to explain the history of treaties, the Indian Act, the Department of Indian Affairs, the Sixties Scoop ("a period in the 1960s when Indigenous children were removed from their families by child-welfare authorities who deemed the children's parents unfit to raise them"), residential schools and more. With a related website and interactive sections throughout, Speaking Our Truth lays the foundations for further discussion and encourages readers to take an emotional and intellectual journey.
The creation of Andrea Page's Sioux Code Talkers of World War II (Pelican, $14.95) began with her family receiving a newspaper article accompanied by a "World War II-era photo" depicting her "mother's uncle John Bear King and five other men who, according to the article, served in the First Cavalry Division." Reporter Avis Little Eagle had interviewed the last surviving man in the picture, Philip "Stoney" LeBlanc, and "the veteran revealed a secret he had been holding on to for fifty years: those six men and one other who was missing from the photo were Indian Code Talkers." Page and her mother didn't know at the time what code talking was, so Page delved into the history of both the code and her family.
Using facts, firsthand accounts and the National Archive's Incoming and Outgoing Messages file, Page re-creates (with some liberties) the experiences of the Sioux Code Talkers of World War II. It is a vivid history with black-and-white photographs and coded messages sprinkled throughout that teaches about and pays homage to the incredible bravery and intellect of the Indigenous people who helped fight for the United States. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
by Romain Gary , trans. by Miranda Richmond Mouillot
First published in 1980, The Kites is the brilliant final novel from Romain Gary (The Life Before Us), a film director and decorated French aviator in World War II. He was also a popular, prolific author who won the Prix Goncourt in 1956 and 1975.
Ludo, the orphaned narrator and protagonist, lives with his pacifist postmaster uncle in small-town Normandy, France. His uncle is a kite artist who builds fantastical and political figures. Ludo suffers from his family's "excess of memory"; for him, the past is as vivid as the present. As a boy, Ludo meets Lila, an aristocratic Polish girl, and promptly falls in love with her for life. His rivals are her Polish cousin, a German aristocrat and an Italian peasant and pianist; Lila calls them her "four horsemen of the anti-Apocalypse." As his idyllic childhood recedes, Lila vanishes, and the Nazis invade Poland and then France, Ludo and other characters hold firm to their various fantasies and ideals. "You have to watch out for an excess of lucidity and good sense: life has lost some of the prettiest feathers in its cap to them."
Gary pulls off a delicate balancing act in this stubborn comedy of darkest Europe. His humor and optimism are counterweighted by the realities of wartime and by his assertions that inhumanity is all too human. This is a very French novel with international resonance, asserting the persistence of joy in life without letting anyone off the hook for the horrors. --Sara Catterall
Discover: Humor and beauty relieve the darkness in this epic novel of World War II by a beloved French author.
by Greg Kincaid
Over the course of three novels, Greg Kincaid has traced the lives of the McCray family of Crossing Trails, Kan. Beginning with A Dog Named Christmas, Kincaid has focused on the evolution of developmentally disabled Todd McCray. Since childhood, Todd has been a "homing beacon for injured animals." In Noelle, fourth in the series, he is now an adult, working in the local animal shelter training service dogs and successfully pairing them with people. When a puppy with a badly damaged eye arrives at the shelter, Todd instantly takes to the lovable yet willful mixed-breed that, he learns, is a training nightmare. He names the rebellious dog Elle, and her exasperating flair for trouble makes the admonition "No Elle! No Elle!" a regular and fitting refrain for the Christmas season.
The dog poses one of several challenges facing Kincaid's characters. Todd's mother fills in for a local, ailing Santa Claus, but her self-invented role as Mrs. Anna Claus, who teaches children about giving rather than receiving, is met with reluctance. Todd and his girlfriend, who has a physical disability, face uncertainty about their future. And the effects of familial alcoholism beleaguer a young couple and their children. Elle becomes an unexpected force that unites those with personal hardships.
Kincaid's latest deals with contemporary issues and is rendered in a wholesome, heartwarming style that will make readers root for underdogs--in every sense of the word. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A lovable yet rebellious rescue dog changes the lives of many in a rural Midwestern town during the Christmas season.
by Erin Nicholas
Actress Sophie Birch owns a small community theater in Boston and is horrified when it catches fire. But she is rescued from the burning building by sexy cop Finn Kelly, and circumstances start looking better. Finn is immediately very interested in Sophie, but it's complicated. Thanks to her grandmother's will, Sophie co-owns the theater with her deadbeat father, Frank, and his antics (and string of six ex-wives) have left her wary of relationships.
Finn wants to prove to Sophie that he's worth taking a chance on, and that he won't abandon her the way Frank left her or her stepmothers. But Sophie isn't sure if Finn's sweet ways can make up for years of distrust, especially when Frank turns up in Boston and starts to cause trouble over the insurance payout after the fire. Can Sophie save her beloved theater, with or without Frank's interference and Finn's help?
Erin Nicholas (Completely Yours, Forever Mine) has created likable characters in Sophie and Finn, and their slightly knotty relationship adds a nice layer of believability to their strong chemistry. Sophie's trust issues and Finn's save-the-world mentality will keep readers intrigued to see how they work out their feelings for one another. Furthermore, the hilarious antics of the extended members of the huge (and stereotypically Irish) Kelly clan keep matters light and funny. Theater fans and romance readers are sure to enjoy Totally His--a flirty, steamy romance with which to spend an afternoon. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans
Discover: A reluctant actress and a sexy cop have to work through feelings of mistrust that get in the way of their chemistry in this sweet romance.
Verax: The True History of Whistleblowers, Mass Surveillance, and Drone Warfare
by Pratap Chatterjee , Khalil
The graphic novel Verax: The True History of Whistleblowers, Mass Surveillance, and Drone Warfare is terrifying on many levels, and it means to be.
Verax is a collaborative project between investigate journalist Pratap Chatterjee--who's reported on the U.S.'s surveillance and secretive wars for the New Republic, the Guardian and the New York Times--and popular political cartoonist Khalil (Zahra's Paradise). Narrated by Chatterjee, the book chronicles the rise of the country's post-9/11 "military-surveillance-industrial complex"--the unholy alliance of national intelligence agencies, the military and private defense companies, which together have created an unprecedented global surveillance state. This monstrous rise in state power is illuminated here by the stories of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. The novel also shines light on lesser-known whistleblowers in the NSA and other agencies.
Chatterjee's writing is sharp and factual, and Khalil's illustrations are persistently engaging. The surveillance state they describe threatens civil liberties and has engendered the U.S.'s endless drone war, killing scores of innocent civilians with little or no accountability. Verax's most infuriating and heartrending moments focus on the victims of drone strikes: "We had hoped that America would come to the region with educational and development projects and services, but it came instead with aircrafts to kill our children." Furthermore, there are the young drone pilots, many disillusioned and suffering from PTSD.
Verax is a gripping account of abusive power and those who stand up to it. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: An investigative journalist and political cartoonist join forces to expose America's mass surveillance machine.
Food & Wine
The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen
by Sean Sherman , Beth Dooley
Chef Sean Sherman's debut, The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen, written with cookbook veteran Beth Dooley (Savory Sweet), offers a fascinating and delicious foray into foods native to North America.
Born on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation, Sherman has devoted his career to researching the history and traditions of pre-colonial, Indigenous foods. Sherman's recipes omit European dietary staples of dairy, sugar, wheat flour, pork and beef; rather, they rely on hyper-local, seasonal bounty. The results feel at once fresh and timeless. Animal-based meals often include duck, rabbit or bison, or eggs from duck or quail. Spices include smoked salt, sumac and seasonings like cedar, ramps and sage. Many of the recipes can be easily adapted to suit vegan or vegetarian diets, and all are naturally low glycemic, high protein and gluten-free--not to mention beautiful.
Standout starters include Spring Salad with Tamarack Honey Drizzle, Deviled Duck Eggs and Stuffed Squash Blossoms. Stellar larger meals designed for Sherman's food truck include the Tatanka Truck Fried Wild Rice Bowl and Sunflower-Crusted Trout. As for dessert? Sweet Corn Sorbet.
Sherman educates on how to cook, as well as the history of Indigenous cuisine and his connection to it as a member of the Oglala Lakota. For example, he omits fry bread, explaining that its origins reflect displacement and government-issued commodities devoid of nutritional value. He asks readers to try corn cakes instead, noting that "corn cakes are easier to make and far tastier than any fry bread." And, indeed, his are. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen is an education in flavors and culture, history and hominy.
Biography & Memoir
We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories that Are Funny, Complicated, and True
by Gabrielle Union
In the introduction to Gabrielle Union's essay collection, We're Going to Need More Wine, the actress compares her book with a first date, when one is both excited and wary about how it might go wrong. She needn't worry--her first date with readers is a hit.
As the subtitle indicates, these stories are very funny and complicated, spanning from puberty to her current life as a movie star and famous athlete's wife. As a teen, her lack of sex education made her terrified of getting pregnant: "If you were raised Catholic like I was, you already know from Sunday school that... [y]ou could go to sleep and wake up carrying Baby Jesus." She's been guilty of some "light stalking" of an ex, "skulk[ing] my skully-hatted ass into his bushes so I could look in his window." Union isn't shy about making herself look ridiculous--one of the reasons she's so engaging.
But among the laughs are some devastating stories, none more so than the account of her rape at 19. Though she's since become an activist for survivors of sexual assault, the pain is still palpable in her retelling 24 years later. In another chapter, she writes about the time she wore mittens in her Chicago neighborhood to avoid scaring white neighbors, because "thugs don't wear mittens" and maybe mittens "will make my breathing and living on this planet permissible." It's a sobering observation. Union is as thought provoking as she is entertaining, someone with whom readers will want a second date. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Actress Gabrielle Union shares her funny and raw experiences as a black woman.
Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir
by Amy Tan
Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club; The Valley of Amazement) has woven details from her life and family history into her novels, but Where the Past Begins is entirely nonfiction, making the revelations about her and her family's struggles especially heartrending.
Prompted by her editor to write a book between novels, Tan dives into plastic bins in her office containing documents, letters and photos that form "a past that began before my birth." The memorabilia tell stories of sacrifice, hardship and cruelty, suffered most often by Tan's mother and grandmother. The author makes startling discoveries, including the reason her parents played down their education and the truth about a five-year study Tan participated in as a child. Her parents falsely relayed the study's results to her, hoping to create academic motivation but instead creating self-doubt in Tan for more than 50 years. In tracking down the truth, Tan resembles a private detective determined to close a cold case.
Her doggedness is even more impressive considering she still suffers from the ravages of Lyme disease, which has caused, among other symptoms, brain lesions and seizures. Her father, older brother and mother had brain tumors, which killed her father and brother early (her mother's tumor was benign but she died of Azheimer's). Tan wonders if she faces the same fate. She doesn't wallow in self-pity, though, recognizing her life has been both difficult and extremely rewarding. Her tone is one of graceful acceptance, acknowledging that she can be who she is and write her bestselling books only because of her past. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: In a memoir as moving as her novels, Amy Tan shares poignant memories from her family's past.
Psychology & Self-Help
The Misfit's Manifesto
by Lidia Yuknavitch
The author of a deeply affecting memoir and several novels starring strong girls and women, including the recent The Book of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch throws a life raft to struggling, depressed, addicted and broken outcasts everywhere with The Misfit's Manifesto. This slim work of nonfiction picks up where her TED talk, "The Beauty of Being a Misfit," leaves off by first defining misfit not as someone who occasionally feels "like a failure or left out," but as someone who "never found a way to fit in at all, from the get-go."
With unflinching detail and prose so clear it cuts like crystal, Yuknavitch describes the experiences that led to her own misfit-dom: an abusive childhood, the death of her daughter, her subsequent struggle with drug addiction. Between these personal admissions are the stories of friends who also identify as misfits. There's the vet who learned to cope with PTSD by helping others; the transgender parent who asks to be called "dad" though he used to identify as a woman; the half-white, half-American Indian woman whose white family members call her "brainwashed" for caring about the environment.
Each story inspires, but none are treated as two-dimensional hero narratives. "Suffering is not a state of grace," writes Yuknavitch. But it does teach most of us, and misfits especially, how to get creative and survive. That's the take-home message, and it's a gift for anyone who reads it. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Lidia Yuknavitch's beautifully written and compassionate collection of personal essays encourages those struggling to fit in to accept themselves just as they are.
The River of Consciousness
by Oliver Sacks
Two weeks before his death in 2015, author and neurologist Oliver Sacks (On the Move) arranged for the publication of his essay collection The River of Consciousness. Sacks was one of the finest science writers--well read, scientifically exact and literary.
The essays cover topics that include the sentience of worms and plants, the senses of speed and time, Darwin's extensive botanical writings, Freud's early work in neurology and anatomy, and how scientific progress is hampered by cultural expectations and fashions in ideas. The title essay considers the scientific evidence for "the idea that consciousness is composed of discrete moments" just as a film is composed of individual frames. "The Fallibility of Memory" deals with the phenomena of false memories, unconscious plagiarism and mistaken eyewitness testimonies, and how forgetting can allow for creativity, permitting us to "assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences.... Memory is dialogic and arises not only from experience but from the intercourse of many minds."
Sacks's love of the natural world as well as the human one is contagious. The breadth of his interests encourages his readers to expand their own horizons. "I rejoice in the knowledge of my biological uniqueness and my biological antiquity and my biological kinship with all other forms of life. This knowledge roots me, allows me to feel at home in the natural world, to feel that I have my own sense of cultural meaning, whatever my role in the cultural, human world." His curiosity and erudition, and his joy in both intellectual and physical life are in full bloom on these pages. --Sara Catterall
Discover: A brilliant, beautiful and funny collection of essays on a variety of topics by the famed science writer, memoirist and neurologist Oliver Sacks.
Children's & Young Adult
by Tahereh Mafi
As a mordeshoor for the magical village of Whichwood, 13-year-old orphan Laylee is bound by blood "to wash and package the dead destined for the Otherwhere." Thirteen-year-old Alice, from the town of Ferenwood, is tasked through her Surrender ("a magical coming-of-age ceremony") with helping Laylee--and not a second too soon: hard labor and the carelessness of her fellow villagers is draining the life from Laylee.
Whichwood, Tahereh Mafi's companion novel to Furthermore, is as absorbing as (if not more than) its predecessor. A chatty, friendly narrator who knows the characters intimately addresses the reader directly, injecting opinions about what's taking place through informative footnotes, droll asides and cautionary section markers, like "I fear this won't end well." The conversational tone helps ease the darker, more horror-like elements of the book, such as dead spirits wearing the skins of the living, while a dash of humor (said skinsuit "bunched up in all the wrong places") lightens it even more. Mafi's language choices create visually arresting moments, like the beauty of the setting sun: it "stepped down to let the moon slip by." These descriptions further bolster the fanciful setting.
Mafi deftly explores several appealing themes, including the healing power of friendship and the resilience to overcome adversity in her whimsical, Persian-inspired fantasy world. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: In this companion to Furthermore, a girl destined to ease the dead's passage to the afterlife receives help from familiar strangers who reinvigorate her, literally and figuratively.
Through with the Zoo
by Jacob Grant
Goat is unhappy living in the petting zoo where he is constantly touched by "grabby little hands." When he breaks out, heading for a place where he can be alone, he hightails it into the "big zoo," where the animals seem "safe from the wild children." First, he stays in the habitat of a "clingy koala." Then he moves in with a "nosy elephant." All the zoo animals want to be near him: the penguins surround him, the monkeys climb all over him and even the big bear embraces him like a cub. What's a little goat seeking a refuge to do? Then, Goat finds a big tree away from the crowds and the other animals, and, at first, it seems perfect: "No little faces, no little hands, no little hugs." Could Goat be content there? Maybe, but he soon finds out that even he "needs a hug now and then." When Goat realizes that he can enjoy the diverse children at the petting zoo and solitary life in the big tree at different times, his happiness is complete.
With author-illustrator Jacob Grant's succinct text, subdued palette and retro-style digital illustrations, Through with the Zoo's quietly amusing premise will help young children sort out their own responses to crowds, hugs, noise, commotion and restful situations. Goat's face is hilariously expressive, displaying just how he feels about being touched, allowing children to find different ways to identify with him as they think about their own experiences at the playground, in preschool or at home. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Goat searches for a better way to live, sometimes staying with the other animals and zoo visitors, and sometimes enjoying his own company.
Locked Up for Freedom: Civil Rights Protesters at the Leesburg Stockade
by Heather E. Schwartz
Journalist and author Heather E. Schwartz ventures into one of the many dark corners of the U.S. civil rights movement, illuminating the ghastly story of more than 30 African-American preteen and teenage girls from Americus, Ga., who were arrested in the summer of 1963. While young protestors were just as likely as adult protestors to be arrested and mistreated, Americus police did something unusual in this case, moving the group out of the city jail and into an old, Civil War-era prison miles away in Leesburg, Ga. The girls had no idea where they were, and their parents were not informed. Instead, the detainees--the girls were never charged with crimes--were at the mercy of their callous, hate-filled prison guards.
In Locked Up for Freedom, Schwartz explores the nightmare these children experienced. Weaving in background on the civil rights movement, Jim Crow laws and other high-profile events of the period in call-out sections, the book has an interactive feel, engaging readers in a physically uncomfortable yet vitally important topic. Focusing on girls similar in age to her target audience, Schwartz allows readers to see themselves in these young heroes.
Events like the Americus girls' experience have quietly remained in the shadows of U.S. history; in this striking exposé for young readers, Schwartz reveals a disgraceful blemish on the nation's past and gives a powerful voice to the victims. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: The miscarriage of justice against more than 30 girls from Americus, Ga., during the civil rights movement comes to light in words and pictures that will infuriate and inspire young readers.
Everything Is Awful: And Other Observations
by Matt Bellassai
"Everything is copy," the late Nora Ephron's screenwriter mother famously told her. Everything Is Awful is the response from social media fixture, comic and Ephron disciple Matt Bellassai.
The 21 autobiographical essays in Bellassai's first book flow roughly chronologically, starting with a harrowing tale of juvenile embarrassment ("I was six years old when I last peed my pants") and never letting up. The first half of the collection focuses on Bellassai's suburban Chicago childhood, spent as a hefty, athletically challenged kid suffering fairly universal middle-class traumas (orthodontia, torturesome family vacations, nerd status). His stories call to mind a millennial's R-rated Wonder Years. Then it's on to first-world adult trials, including fashion woes (Bellassai used to wear cargo jorts--"What did I keep in them? Definitely not my dignity") and the time the cameraman trained his lens on the wrong guy when Bellassai won a People's Choice Award for Favorite Social Media Star.
All this bummer content is indeed good copy because it's filtered through the mind of a natural wit. Especially sturdy are Bellassai's pieces on coming to terms with being gay and, before he comes out, falling in love with his straight best friend. At one point, he's reduced to hiding in the friend's dorm room--"a closeted gay lunatic sitting on the ground of a literal closet." Lest the reader consider taking Bellassai's plight too seriously, he hastens to note, "I was a strange person to begin with, so hiding in a closet, all things considered, didn't register as insane." --Nell Beram, freelance writer and author
Discover: In social media favorite Matt Bellassai's debut essay collection, a bad day means good copy.