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  • Book Review #23: From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty (2017)

    Review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death
    Author: Caitlin Doughty
    Published: 2017 (W.W. Norton & Company, New York)
    Pages: 248 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Non-Fiction, History, Sociology, Memoirs, Death Practices
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of From Here to Eternity among my plants

    Hello! The book I read this week was definitely a fascinating and educational one. I first heard of the author, Caitlin Doughty, on the new Netflix animated show The Midnight Gospel, where she was a guest star in episode 7 (this show is pretty good, by the way, it was made by Pendleton Ward, who also created the TV show Adventure Time). Doughty is a mortician who owns/runs a non-profit funeral home in Los Angeles called Undertaking LA. She has written two other books, and has her own web series called Ask a Mortician. She is a researcher and educator of funeral and death care practices.

    *SPOILER ALERT BELOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE HORROR FILM, PSYCHO* –
    …Norman Bates is the American Film Institute’s second scariest movie villain of all time, coming in behind Hannibal Lector and ahead of Darth Vader. He didn’t win that sinister acclaim by murdering innocent hotel guests wearing his mother’s clothing; he won it because Westerners feel there is something profoundly creepy about interacting with the dead over a long period of time” – Caitlin Doughty, From Here to Eternity

    I really enjoyed this book! From Here to Eternity is an investigation by the author into different death practices around the globe from California to Indonesia, to name two. She focuses on a variety of practices people and cultures partake in to care for their dead. Doughty is respectful in her approach, and tells her stories with humor and sensitivity. This book is definitely not for the faint of heart as there are quite a few more gross bodily functions and gory details discussed. Regardless, this book is highly informative and is relative to such a big part of our lives, whether you’re fascinated by, or scared of death.

    When deathcare became an industry in the early twentieth century, there was a seismic shift in who was responsible for the dead. Caring for the corpse went from visceral, primeval work performed by women to a ‘profession’ an ‘art’ and even a ‘science’, performed by well-paid men” – Caitlin Doughty, From Here to Eternity

    I recommend this book if you enjoy learning about other cultures and their death practices, and if you want to learn some new things about the convoluted practice that is the American funeral industry. I was surprised upon learning how America’s way of burying their dead has changed into an insensitive and money-wasting ritual, and how uncommon it is for funeral homes to even consider providing families alternative options for burying their dead. One of my favorite parts of this book was the author’s passion. The reader can tell she is informed, and cares about this topic. Death is often considered a taboo subject, especially in America, and even for someone who is a little freaked out over death (*My hand is raised*), this read was definitely worth it.

    We consider death rituals savage only when they don’t match our own” – Caitlin Doughty, From Here to Eternity

    I have to a admit, I was someone who thought a dead body was unsanitary and strange before reading this book. When my grandma died in January 2019, she was wearing her favorite gold jewelry lying in the casket during her wake. After having the jewelry on her dead body for two days, the funeral home took the jewelry off right before burial and when they gave the jewelry to my family immediately, my aunt gave me one of the bracelets and asked me to wear it, right there and then. This was directly off her corpse, and I remember being so freaked out. I wore it anyways. And don’t worry, I still have that bracelet.

    I give this book a 4 out of 5! ⭐️

    _Elizabeth

  • Book Review #22: Weather by Jenny Offill (2020)

    Review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: Weather: A Novel
    Author: Jenny Offill
    Published: 2020 (Alfred A. Knopf, New York)
    Pages: 207 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Literary, New Releases
    Link Here

    Borrowed copy of Weather held over a sink-full of white peaches

    Hi everyone! Okay. First of all, I loved this book. I really did not think I would, but after I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. It was a small book in general, but I was intrigued from beginning to end. This book is part fictional memoir, literary work, and humor-filled tale. Weather narrates main character and city dweller Lizzie as she navigates her life as a librarian at a university where she once had a lot of promise as a student. She is wife to a content Ben, a mother to young Eli, daughter of her troubled mother, and a sister to her drug addict brother who can’t seem to get his life in order Henry. Lizzie fulfills her roles, while struggling with her own questions, while answering deranged and questioning emails for her former mentor Sylvia’s podcast.

    I’m sorry you’re in so much pain. I am not going to leave you. I am going to take care of myself, so you don’t need to worry that your pain might hurt me” – Jenny Offill, Weather

    I did not find this book depressing like I’ve read some others have thought. But it’s definitely not a joyful read. The writing was full of wit, humor and the book read like poetry in short prose. Lizzie is a complicated character who is waiting for the next disaster and trying not to spiral while taking care of everyone around her. Her monologues about her daily life and consciousness were compelling. Through Lizzie, Weather also addresses current issues such as climate change (partially where the title comes from), government, apocalypse and psychology. I can see why others have complained about Lizzie’s character, but I believe she’s more relatable and like a lot of persons of this time.

    Young person worry: What if nothing I do matters? Old person worry: What if everything I do does?” – Jenny Offill, Weather

    I felt oddly reminiscent by the relationship between Lizzie and her brother Henry. I’ve spoken on here before about how I have a relative who struggles with drug addiction. I can relate to the relationship between Lizzie and Henry. Maybe not entirely the same, but their interactions and dynamic relationship are too familiar. Lizzie apparently would spiral when her brother did, but in her own disastrous way. I cannot relate to Lizzie in that way exactly, but I understand the feeling when one family member spirals the others spend a moment rethinking their position existentially.

    What it means to be a good person, a moral person, is calculated differently in times of crisis than in ordinary circumstances” – Jenny Offill, Weather

    The book was fully human and bitter-sweet. Offill’s writing reminded me of one of my favorite contemporary authors, Ottessa Moshfegh. Both authors have similar cynicism and direct syntax in their writing. I recommend this book if you’re looking for a fictional story among a bustling city that addresses current day issues surrounding a cautious yet semi-hopeful younger woman. The book should also be a fairly quick read, around 200 pages and the pages are not filled with multiple paragraphs.

    ‘Your people have finally fallen into history’, he said, ‘The rest of us are already here’” – Jenny Offill, Weather

    I give this book a 4 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth

  • Short Review #9: The Tenant by Katrine Engberg (2020 English Translation)

    Review: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: The Tenant: A Novel*
    Author: Katrine Engberg (Translated by Tara Chace)
    Published: 2020 (Scout Press, New York; Originally Published 2016 Lindhardt, Denmark)
    Pages: 356 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Mystery, Crime Thriller, Fiction, Nordic Noir, Suspense
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of The Tenant held up against my in-progress inspiration board

    Hello everyone! This week I’m talking about The Tenant by Katrine Engberg. I’ve heard varying opinions about this Nordic thriller. It was originally published in Denmark in 2016, but translated to English and published this year. There are three more books following in the series that have not been translated to English yet. I can say I would definitely give the next one a chance after reading The Tenant.

    He thought he had the situation under control, that he was pulling the strings, but in reality he is sitting in a barrel on his way over Niagara Falls, and he is the only one who hasn’t noticed it yet” – Katrine Engberg, The Tenant

    The Tenant details the lives of Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner, Anette Werner and their team as they investigate the mysterious murder of a young woman named Julie Stender, who was brutally killed in her apartment. The circumstances carefully follow her landlady’s, Esther de Laurenti, unpublished crime novel which details a similar murder to Julie’s. As the detectives look into Julie’s murder and the surrounding circumstances, the sketchy details slowly unravel and of course, reveal a greater conspiracy at hand.

    The first quarter of this novel is fairly slow, but the plot picks up soon after. There was also a large emphasis on Jeppe Korner’s side of the story, and less about Anette Werner’s. At times it felt like Jeppe’s opposite, Anette, was only there to support Jeppe’s character and development. This was especially surprising when the story makes them out to be partners, a team. I’m not sure if I’m a fan of the unequal emphasis on the two main partners, and would like to learn more about Anette’s life and development. Otherwise, I enjoyed this book and thought it was a captivating story. Read this book if you’re looking for a sometimes-graphic, Nordic Noir thriller mystery novel.

    I give this a 3 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth

    *This book contains strong themes such as sexuality, violence against women, and murder*

  • Short Review #8: Funny Girl by Nick Hornby (2015)

    Reivew – 3 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: Funny Girl: A Novel
    Author: Nick Hornby
    Published: 2015 (Riverhead Books, New York. Originally published 2014)
    Pages: 452 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Fiction, Novel, Humor, Historical British Fiction, Adult
    Link Here

    Funny Girl on top of an outdoor coffee table

    It is another week in these strange times! I still can’t get over the fact that I’m writing this review on a late weekday morning while sipping my coffee. I read through the book I’m reviewing this week pretty quickly. The title of this book, Funny Girl, made me think of one thing: the Barbara Streisand film Funny Girl (1968). I saw some reviews draw a parallel between Hornby’s book and the 1968 film, but honestly, I cannot agree. Both books focus on a girl who has a goal to make it in the entertainment industry, which was all I could draw a parallel between the two stories.

    Funny Girl (2015) is written by a fairly popular British author that I have never read before. Hornby has written books that inspired films such as About a Boy, High Fidelity, A Long Way Down and Juliet, Naked. I have heard good things about his books in the past, and this eye-catching cover made it easy to spot in the library (while it was still open…).

    What a terrible thing an education was, he thought, if it produced the kind of mind that despised entertainment and the people who valued it” – Nick Hornby, Funny Girl

    Overall, this book was not bad. Definitely not my favorite, but the story was catching and provocative. Funny Girl was entertaining, insightful and full of dry British humor. The main character Sophie Straw a.k.a Barbara Parker is a woman from Blackpool who dreams of being a comedian in 1960s London, and winds up on a BBC TV comedy series. The story follows her adventures in TV, love and her rising stardom. Young and sometimes naive, Sophie is a simple character who is learning how to navigate her own life through her interactions with eccentric characters. I did not find the book very funny. There were many situational and dry humor moments, but this book is not a laugh-out-loud kind of funny. At first I was surprised that a book called Funny Girl would not be very funny. But funny is potentially used to describe the person Sophie was trying to become. I also wish there were more chapters on her adventures and career than the ones involving her love interests. Sophie is a dynamic and willful character, which I loved, but I also think ‘the naive young girl who tries to make it in the big city only with more intelligent men to navigate her’ trope is getting old for me.

    …writers never felt they belonged anywhere. That was one of the reasons they became writers” – Nick Hornby, Funny Girl

    I recommend Funny Girl if you’re looking for a very dry historical British comedy about the entertainment industry in 1960s London focusing on a female entertainer. This book for what it sounds is not the height of feminism, but the dialogue is intelligent and entertaining, and I very much enjoyed reading this one.

    I give this book a 3 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth

  • Book Review #21: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James (2020)

    Review: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: The Sun Down Motel
    Author: Simone St. James
    Published: 2020 (Berkley, New York)
    Pages: 327 (Hardcover)
    Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Crime Thriller, Horror
    Link Here

    Library copy of The Sun Down Motel next to a bowl of yogurt

    Another week in quarantine and these crazy times! I’m going to be more mindful of my reading choices since I’m alone a lot of the time these days.. And this week I’m talking particularly about a much-anticipated new release, The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James. While I’ve seen so many reviews and posts on social media, I still wanted to discuss and review this book. I was interested in reading this one for a few months, and finally got the chance. Before I picked this one up, I did not hear anything but good things about this novel.

    The Sun Down Motel centers around a woman who goes missing in 1982 named Vivian Delaney, a lonely, beautiful and young night shift clerk at The Sun Down Motel in Fell, NY. The book jumps between Viv’s story, and her future niece, a young and nerdy Carly Kirk, who travels to Fell to figure out what happened to her aunt 35 years ago and find out why she disappeared from The Sun Down. With the help of some new acquaintances, Carly investigates her aunt’s disappearance by imitating her life in Fell, NY and perhaps falls into trouble herself.

    Because if you were a woman, the world was a dangerous place” – Simone St. James, The Sun Down Motel

    To be frank, I did not love this novel as much as I thought I would. It was well-written, mysterious and compelling and the twists were rousing. But I did not think the story and how the mystery played out was amazing. Maybe it’s me, and I do enjoy horror, mystery and suspense books, and watch a lot of horror movies. For others, I imagine it will be more frightening and clever, but it was not for myself. The book gave the impression of a cold case, true-crime mystery than anything else with suspense elements rather than horror, which was minimal. I would elaborate on why I thought the horror was bare, but I don’t want to give away spoilers. I also did not care for some of the characters, they felt lacking in personal depth and background. But maybe that was purposeful, keeping the majority of the book’s focus on the main characters, Viv and Carly.

    I bet you could sleep in the right place…. You can’t spend the rest of your life here. I bet you could sleep if you were in a place that made you happy. Where you knew you’d wake up to something good” – Simone St. James, The Sun Down Motel

    It was certainly a great read, but I do not think it was as amazing as other reviews who rave about this book. I loved the concept, and the plot was entertaining to be certain. Most of all, I admired the continuous commentary from the author on real-life treatment towards women by criminal justice systems and news media. Both groups showcase an attitude towards female victims by classifying, and even profiling the investigation, based on how the women lived while they were alive. Both tend to be more sympathetic towards the middle-class housewife with a child and husband or the good-girl star student virgin, rather than the ‘risky’ sex worker or single, troubled girl who had ‘a lot of boyfriends’. The book’s message that every woman matters and deserves justice was wonderfully communicated.

    “The person who could be truly alone, in the company of no one but oneself and one’s own thoughts—that person was stronger than anyone else” – Simone St. James, The Sun Down Motel

    The Sun Down Motel is fantastic if you’re looking for a light-read, and campy true-crime mystery surrounding a menacing motel in a small town. Be careful and take care of each other. Unfortunately, we live in a society where women need to take almost every precaution before going out alone, even in a harmless seeming situation. Lastly, in my opinion, I can report this book is not too scary to read alone during quarantine!

    I give this book a 3 out of 5 stars.

    _Elizabeth

  • Short Review #7: Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers and the Rise of Contemporary Art by Michael Shnayerson (2019)

    Review – 4 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers and the Rise of Contemporary Art
    Author: Michael Shnayerson
    Published: 2019, 1st Edition (PublicAffairs, New York)
    Pages: 450 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Nonfiction, Art Business, Contemporary Art, Art History, Economics
    Link Here

    Sitting outside reading Boom during the early evening

    I hope everyone is continuing to stay well! This week, I read something very different than what I normally read and write about on the blog. I read Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers and the Rise of Contemporary Art. Based on interviews from over 200 art world persons and research, Boom is a detailed history and evaluation of contemporary art starting in the 1940s to 2019. The author, Shnayerson, is not a typical art market or historical expert who writes books about the art world, like Don Thompson the economist who wrote The $12 Million Stuffed Shark. Shnayerson is a journalist and contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and has written several books about a variety of subjects, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and GM (source). This may explain why Boom gave me a different impression than typical art history and market books with an evaluation and thesis. The style felt more like a very long news article or celebrity biography based on his own research and interviews.

    ‘I mean, nobody really needs a painting… It’s something you kind of create value for in a way that you don’t with a company. It’s an act of collective faith what an object is worth. Maintaining that value system is part of what a dealer does, not just making a transaction, but making sure that important art feels important‘” – Larry Gagosian, Michael Shnayerson, Boom: Mad Money…

    Why was I interested in reading this book, you may ask? My background and how I make a living is actually in art. I don’t reveal a lot of personal stuff about my life on here or social media, but I studied art history in my undergrad and have read extensively about art related subjects, and the art market. When this book was recommended to me, I decided I had to read it.

    Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a little dense at times, but honestly, if you’re looking for a detailed explanation of contemporary art, this is a good start. I took away new information on certain figures and scandals that I had not come across, and discovered more details of certain events that I knew previously. The book is a well-rounded history and explanation of the economics, market, legalities, politics and drama surrounding contemporary art since its beginning. I would not consider this book essential reading as an intro to contemporary art, but it is a valuable perspective and sufficient if you’re looking to expand upon your art knowledge. If you’re not interested in the art world or art, do not read this book. But maybe that’s a given…

    I give this book a 4 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth

  • Book Review #20: She Said by Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey (2019)

    Review – 4 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement
    Authors: Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey
    Published: 2019 (Penguin Press, New York)
    Pages: 310 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Nonfiction, Journalism, Feminism, Social Justice, True Crime
    Link Here

    My borrowed copy of She Said hanging outside on a particular lovely day

    Hey all, this is my 20th Book Review! That is, if my short reviews don’t count… But it is still a milestone to write my 20th. I’ve really enjoyed writing about and sharing what I read so thank you to whoever reads these reviews!

    “’There isn’t ever going to be an end,’ she said. ‘The point is that people have to continue always speaking up and not being afraid’ – Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement

    At first, I was not sure about giving this book a chance. I previously read Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow, which I also wrote a review for here, and I found the content to be strikingly too similar. Both books focus on Harvey Weinstein and his take down, and how powerful men use their power against women from the film industry to the White House. But after reading a few other reviews and comparisons of both books, I decided to read this one with an open mind.

    Jodi cut to the point: The United States had a system for muting sexual harassment claims, which often enabled the harassers instead of stopping them. Women routinely signed away the right to talk about their own experiences. Harassers often continued onward, finding fresh ground on which to commit the same offenses – Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement

    In the end, I really enjoyed this book. Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey are investigative reporters for The New York Times. Their book is about the research and events surrounding their 2017 breaking news story that exposed Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment pattern. She Said is written like a long news report based on their findings and interviews for the article and future articles. This book focuses on specific counts from victims of Harvey Weinstein, and the story of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh of assault after his initial nomination.

    Everyone from corporate boards to friends in bars seemed to be struggling to devise their own new guidelines, which made for fascinating conversation, but also a kind of overall chaos. It was not clear how the country would ever agree on effective new standards (for sexual harassment claims) or resolve the ocean of outstanding complaints. Instead, the feelings of unfairness on both sides just continued to mount – Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement

    Kantor and Twohey broke the story through The New York Times before Farrow did in his New Yorker article, but they both contributed greatly to the conversation of sexual assault. The main difference I found like several others between She Said and Catch and Kill is in their titles. She Said focuses on the specific accounts of women who experienced sexual assault and investigative reporting of all parties involved, while Catch and Kill focuses on corporate espionage and the scandal when it came to Farrow’s reporting and findings on Harvey Weinstein. Both books specify certain assault accounts more than the other. Also, She Said spoke about Christine Blasey Ford in depth, while Catch and Kill focused on Trump’s scandals and Black Cube in depth. Catch and Kill also reads more like a fictional spy novel, while She Said reads more like a newspaper and more matter-of-fact language.

    I honestly recommend reading both as they each have their own merits and cover the topic fairly well. Kantor and Twohey tell the story of women who have experienced sexual assault in an in-depth and sensitive way. They outline the difficult process of their reporting, and how they had to acquire all the facts and make sure every single party involved was on board before anything was published. Overall, if you enjoy factual books outlining controversial issues such as sexual assault covered up by a powerful film producer and executive, then She Said is the book for you.

    I give this book a 4 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth

    *Warning – this book contains sensitive topics such as sexual assault*

  • Book Review #19: Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (2020)

    Review: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: Interior Chinatown
    Author: Charles Yu
    Published: 2020 (Pantheon Books, New York)
    Pages: 266 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Satire, Hollywood, Cultural
    Link Here


    Borrowed copy of Interior Chinatown on my desk next to a cat statue I’ve had longer than I care to admit

    I hope everyone is continuing to stay safe and healthy this week! Pandemic economic issues in the US have finally caught up to me so long story short, I will have more time for reading and posting reviews (yay!). Not the best situation, but I plan to make the most of my time. I have several projects lined up including catching up on reading, and writing reviews.

    They zoned us (Chinese) and kept us roped off from everyone else… Chinatown is and always has been, from the very beginning, a construction, a performance of features, gestures, culture, and exoticism. An invention, a reinvention, a stylization. Figuring out the show, finding our place in it, which was the background, as scenery, as nonspeaking players…. To watch the mainstream, find out what kind of fiction they are telling themselves, find a bit part in it. Be appealing and acceptable, be what they want to see” – Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown

    I loved this sharp and clever story in Charles Yu’s new 2020 release, Interior Chinatown. Yu creates a fantastical studio universe addressing unfairly typecast Chinese stereotypes in U.S. TV shows and film through the story’s protagonist, Willis Wu. Wu’s only dream is to play the role of ‘Kung Fu Guy’ instead of his typical ‘Generic Asian Man’ role. Plus, this book is written like a film script to heighten the studio setting, which to be honest, was creative and I loved it.

    The book’s underlying theme is not a new topic of discussion. Different POC groups have been victims of Hollywood typecasting and lack of leading roles since… pretty much as long as TV shows and films in the U.S. have been made, and it is definitely a problem. Different organizations and figures have been trying to address and promote change on this issue for some time now. But not with a lot of change when it comes to casting Asian/Asian-American persons in the U.S.. This book made me think of a New York Times Style Magazine article by Thessaly La Force about the issue, click the link here to read more. La Force cites “..It is only when we are hidden that we are allowed to succeed. Which leads to a more troubling but inevitable conclusion: that there is something about the very physiognomy of the Asian face that American audiences still cannot or will not accept” (Why Do Asian-Americans Remain Largely Unseen in Film and Television?, 2018, Thessaly La Force, New York Times Style Magazine).

    He is asking to be treated like an American. A real American. Cause honestly, when you think about American, what color do you see? white? black? We (Chinese) have been here 200 years….the German, the Dutch, the Italian, they came here in the turn of century; they are Americans. Why doesn’t this face register as American? Is it because we make the story too complicated?” – Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown

    Overall, I enjoyed this book’s commentary on cultural stereotypes and discussion of race within the TV and film industries in the U.S.. If anything, I believe everyone should read this book only for that. Yu flawlessly uses humorous prose and lines to bring to light issues we should be discussing regarding Asian/Asian-American oversight in the previously mentioned industries. And even if social justice commentary is not your ideal read, the book is well-written, entertaining and contains a cleverness sure to catch the reader’s attention.

    Who gets to be an American? What does an American look like?” – Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown

    I give this book a 4 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth

  • Short Review #6: The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (2016)

    Review – 3 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
    Author: Olivia Laing
    Published: 2016 (Picador, New York)
    Pages: 315 (Paperback)
    Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Autobiography, Art History, Psychology
    Link Here

    Looking over a quiet city with my copy of The Lonely City

    This week I’m here to talk about The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. Is this the perfect book for quarantining and social distancing you may ask? Honestly, as it was a refreshing take on what it means to be alone, my opinion would be no. I found this off-putting to read while trying to isolate myself. And as much as I enjoyed this book for a few reasons, I recommend this book be read when we are able to be social and regroup at our own pace.

    “You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people” – Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

    At first glance, I thought this was going to be a book about being alone. But Laing uses her own experience and research to write about what it means to be alone after moving to New York and experiencing it firsthand. Her book explores different types of loneliness by investigating artists who experienced it or similar feelings in their lives and work in New York. She goes into detail about the lives of Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, Henry Darger and more. Laing uses loneliness to connect and validate the experience. I studied art history in college, and from an art historian standpoint, I enjoyed the perspective of Laing’s research tying the theme of loneliness to the artist’s attitudes and work.

    There are so many things that art can’t do. It can’t bring the dead back to life, it can’t mend arguments between friends, or cure AIDS, or halt the pace of climate change. All the same, it does have some extraordinary functions, some odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich each other’s lives. It does have a capacity to create intimacy; it does have a way of healing wounds, and better yet of making it apparent that not all wounds need healing and not all scars are ugly– Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

    I felt some strange emotions as I read this book. Maybe it was the subject matter, but something about the book struck me during this present time of self isolation. Loneliness means more than being alone, and Laing’s investigation dives into the reasons why. Loneliness stems from not being understood, purposefully isolating, stigma in a community, rejection, experience, etc. Right now, we are all supposed to be socially separating ourselves for health, but the consequences to mental health is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. This book was appropriate for this crazy time and extremely well-written. But at the same time, it did not assist in alleviating what I’m currently feeling, but if anything, made my loneliness feel more poignant and purposeful.

    Overall, I give this book a 3 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth

    *Warning: This book contains sensitive subjects such as AIDS, sexuality, trauma and assault*

  • Book Review #18: The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (2020)

    Review – 4 out of 5 ⭐️
    Title: The Night Watchman: A Novel*
    Author: Louise Erdrich
    Published: 2020 (HarperCollins)
    Pages: 464 (Hardcover)
    Genres: Historical Fiction, Native American, Literary Fiction, Heritage
    Link Here

    Copy of The Night Watchman sitting on my book shelf

    When he needed to calm his mind, he opened a book. Any book. He had never failed to feel refreshed, even if the book was no good” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman

    I hope everyone is staying sane and healthy this week! Honestly, books have been a comfort to me during these uncertain times, and hopefully I keep that viewpoint until the end of this crisis. But for now, stay inside as much as you can, and curl up with a new book.

    The services that the government provides to Indians might be likened to rent. The rent for use of the entire country of the United States” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman

    Back to The Night Watchman, I loved this book! I was really excited to read it when I saw the book was coming out this year. What makes this book truly special is that its based on the story of the author’s grandfather, who fought for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Reservation when US Congress announced the House Concurrent Resolution 108 bill in 1953. This bill would have “terminated” involvement and nation-to-nation treaties with the Reservation, which more or less threatened to break up the tribe and their land. The bill was disguised as a “relocation” program for the tribe, and to help them better themselves by dropping government support. But it really would have broken up the tribe and land for the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) to sell, among other consequences. This novel tells the story of Gourneau’s (or his character’s name, Thomas Wazhashk) involvement in fighting the bill as tribal chairman, and as Erdrich describes, his “extraordinary life”.

    you never really knew a man until you told him you didn’t love him. That’s when his true ugliness, submerged to charm you, might surface” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman

    This novel was compassionately political and human all the way through. The story jumped around to the different character’s struggles and points of view, from members of the Chippewa tribe to Mormon missionaries. The author’s take into the lives of the tribe as a fictional backdrop for what was going on politically was educational and insightful. The characters grapple with growth and all the other problems that come along with life.

    In all, 113 tribal nations suffered the disaster of termination; 1.4 million acres of tribal land was lost. Wealth flowed to private corporations, while many people in terminated tribes died early, in poverty. Not one tribe profited. By the end, 78 tribal nations, including the Menominee, led by Ada Deer, regained federal recognition; 10 gained state but not federal recognition; 31 tribes are landless; 24 are considered extinct” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman


    I appreciated the Afterward and Acknowledgements the author wrote as well. It was wonderful to read about how this book became a tribute to her grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, and to keep the Reservation’s story alive. Native Americans still suffer from the consequences of having their land taken from them. This novel emphasizes what occurred in the 1950s, but Erdrich drives the point home in her Afterward that talking about injustice, even if its in the past, is still important so current and future administrations can bring about change and learn from the past.

    Lastly, if you should ever doubt that a series of dry words in a government document can shatter spirits and demolish lives, let this book erase that doubt. Conversely, if you should be of the conviction that we are powerless to change those dry words, let this book give you heart” – Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman

    Overall, I thought this book was beautiful and elegantly written. I recommend it if you’re looking for a novel surrounding community, politics and love on a struggling and close-knit Native American Reservation.

    I give this book a 4 out of 5!

    _Elizabeth

    *DISCLAIMER: The Night Watchman contains violence, sexuality, alcoholism & sensitive subjects