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1.31.2020

American Demonizing



I was reading a book called, The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez when the controversy was unfolding following Oprah Winfrey’s announcement that she’d selected American Dirt for her book club.  A lot of The Friend is about authors and writing, and I kept coming across quotes that seemed to describe what was happening to the book’s author, Jeanine Cummins. These two, in particular, stood out:

If reading really does increase empathy, as we are constantly being told that it does, it appears that writing takes some away.

and

“…[B]ut I have noticed that whenever a writer hits it big a lot of effort seems to go into trying to bring that person down.

In June 2015, Donald Trump came down an escalator and announced that he was running for President of the United States.  In his speech, he told us that, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us [sic].  They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.”  As an afterthought he added, “And some, I assume, are good people.” 

American Dirt tells the FICTIONAL story of a mother and her son risking their lives to get to safety in America.  Guess what?  She’s not a drug dealer nor a criminal.  She’s not a rapist.  She’s a middle-class woman who owns a bookstore, who, because of a terrible crime committed against her family, will do anything to keep her son safe.  The book is ultimately about a mother’s love for her son.

American Dirt works to dispel the myth and imagery that Donald Trump created.  I saw Jeanine speak at her event at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC and she said that earlier that day, a woman approached her with tears in her eyes and said, “I am the person who needed to read this book…I am not empathetic by nature.  I don’t care about migrants.  And now I care about migrants.”  Towards the end of the event, someone in the audience asked, “For those of us who feel similarly to the woman you ran into… who have reinvigorated empathy for migrants after reading your book, what ways, tangible ways, do you recommend that they support the migrant community?”  (Jeanine recommended sending money to organizations shown on her website and to volunteer at local organizations that provide services to migrants).

One of the book’s biggest critics, David Bowles, said in an interview with NPR that, “It is a really, really interesting boilerplate thriller, fast paced, well-written, well-constructed.  But at the end of the day, it doesn’t do the kinds of things that Jeanine purports to do.  It does not give a voice or humanity to the ‘faceless brown mass,’ to quote her afterword.” 

I agree with him on it being well-written and well-constructed, but his point, that it doesn’t do what she purports to do, is absolutely wrong.  By making that non-empathetic lady care about migrants now, the book did exactly what Jeanine purported to do.  If this book can reach others and change their hearts and minds  about the people at the border in such a manner, isn’t that a good thing?!  If the book reaches one person who took Donald Trump at his word and it changes his or her mind, and he or she starts seeking out resources and organizations and figuring out how to help, how can that be a bad thing?  That is what this book is trying to do.  That is what Jeanine means by trying to be a bridge.  What difference does it make if an author who can bring about that kind of change is not Mexican or a migrant?  Read through the 5-star reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.  The book moves people.  It gets people to reconsider their thinking and realize that not all people arriving at the border are drug dealers and rapists.  THIS IS A GOOD RESULT.

Another point that is often mentioned in the critique of the book is that Jeanine received a seven-figure advance.  She spent years researching and writing that book and when she learns that publishing houses are in a bidding war over it, and that Flatiron wants to buy it for seven figures, is she suddenly supposed to say, “Oh no, you have to pay me less than that”?  Come on!  Who would do that?!  Maybe Pope Francis, but I can’t think of many others.  It’s ridiculous for people to blame Jeanine for publishing houses being interested in her book.  I do believe that the central issue in all of this controversy is valid and it’s that the publishing industry does not pay attention to or value minority voices.  Perhaps all of this will get them to reconsider their business models and seek out Own Voices in a more determined manner.  One thing the critics and aspiring writers should note, however:  when you write a scathing review that throws around curse words (both in Spanish and English) and hateful, personal attacks against the author, I’m going to stop listening to you.  I’m sure I’m not the only one.

The last thing I want to address here is all of the hatred and vitriol that has saturated social media.  If you scroll through Jeanine’s Twitter or Instagram pages (or #americandirt on Instagram), the curse words fly.  Vomit and poop emojis and trashcans fill the comments.  Commenters go after people who have anything positive to say about the book or about Jeanine, or even Oprah.  People are scorned because, how dare they read the book, let alone, like it?!  How dare they decide to read the book first so they can form their own opinion?  These “critics” have decided that only white women like the book.  Well, I’m black, and I loved it.

On January 27, I was looking through Instagram and someone went to several of Jeanine’s recent posts and cut and pasted the same hateful message to all of them.  Even on posts that had nothing to do with American Dirt.  That is harassment.  (Thankfully, those posts have since been deleted.)  Last week, I reported a post on Instagram that had the undercurrent of a violent threat.  She is being harassed and bullied on social media by people who are piling on and getting in the fray just because they’re happy to “GET” someone, as Jon Ronson describes in his Ted Talk, “How One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life.”  It is painful and ugly to see all of that directed at Jeanine.  People have forgotten that she is a HUMAN BEING.  That she is passionate about this subject and compassionate.  That she is someone’s daughter, wife, mother, sister, and friend.


12.22.2019

The ForgivenThe Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


2.5 stars.

The book jacket says, "David and Jo Henniger...in search of an escape from their less than happy lives in London, accept an invitation to attend a bacchanal at their old friends' home, deep in the Moroccan desert. But as a groggy David navigates the dark desert roads, two young men spring from the roadside, the car swerves...and one boy is left dead."

The story deals with the aftermath of that accident. It sounds like it should be a page turner, right? Alas, it was not. For me anyway.... Instead, I would read a bit and then put it down and not return to it for several days. I didn't look forward to reading it, yet, was determined to finish to see how it turned out.

It's well written but there is too much detail that didn't seem necessary. The story deals with (really) unpleasant people and morality and probably could have been a really good short story if the author edited himself.

p.s.  I didn't appreciate the author's repeated use of the words, "sluts" and "whores," by all of the characters in the book, including the female characters.  What was that about?!

11.16.2019

Do You Mind If I Cancel by Gary Janetti

Do You Mind If I Cancel? (Things That Still Annoy Me)Do You Mind If I Cancel? by Gary Janetti

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Gary Janetti's Instagram page and looked forward to more of his humor in this memoir/collection of essays. The humor carries through and I really enjoyed it. I started out listening to the audio book and do not recommend that. Gary is the narrator and I just couldn't stand his monotone cadence. Halfway through, I switched to the Kindle version and realized I much preferred reading his words myself.

11.08.2019

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect PredatorsCatch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Whoa. I don't even know where to start. This was so illuminating and shocking. Ronan's investigative journalism is top notch and this reads like a spy novel. I listened to the audio version and could have done with out the random music interludes and Ronan's attempts at different accents, but still, it was intriguing and so often, I just couldn't believe what I was hearing. I kept thinking about tangled webs. It's crazy how everything is connected among those in power.

10.25.2019

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives RevealedMaybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


3.5 stars, really. This was an interesting look at therapy and I enjoyed reading about a therapist's own experience with going to a therapist for herself. I was very touched by her sessions with Julie. Thanks to patient/doctor confidentiality requirements, the book says that she got signed permission from patients, masked their identities, and put the characteristics of several different people into one. So, then how real was Julia's storyline? Some parts of the book dragged for me--it's probably a bit longer than it needs to be.

Overall, I enjoyed it, but I didn't LOVE it.

p.s.  For another good look at a therapist talking to a therapist, I recommend Showtime's Couples Therapy.  I'm not sure why people would allow their very personal therapy sessions to be shown on TV, and I often feel like a voyeur watching, but it's really interesting to see the process in progress. 

10.07.2019

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet

Make Your Home Among StrangersMake Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

This is the story about Lizet Ramirez, and young Cuban-American who leaves Miami to attend a prestigious college in the northeast. During her first semester, a young boy, Arial Hernandez, arrives on the shore of Miami in an inner tube after a harrowing trip from Cuba. (Arial is heavily based on Elián Gonzalez.) At the end of the book is an interview with the author and she describes the book as being "about people landing in places and having no clue who they are as a result." That's a good description.

There are parts of the book I really liked a lot...Lizet's fish-out-of-water story and her troubled relationship with her family. There were other parts that left me a little flat, particular that of Lizet's mother, Lourdes, and her obsession with Arial. I wish the author had delved more into where that was coming from, but then that would probably be a completely different book, wouldn't it? I couldn't relate to Lourdes and was left guessing about her motives.

Of course I'll never forget that photo of young Elián with a military rifle in his face.  But I didn't remember a lot of details about the situation.  I did some googling after I finished the book and saw it was a 5-month ordeal.  There are videos of vigils and protests being held outside the home where Elián was staying, and the author did a great job of describing those scenes in the book. 

Ms. Crucet is a good writer and I look forward to more from her.

9.22.2019

Fall TV Schedule - 2019

I'm watching the Emmy awards and realized I hadn't figured out my fall TV schedule yet.  I just finished going through my Entertainment Weekly Fall TV Preview issue, and I gotta say, this issue wasn't very helpful and has really deteriorated from fall TV issues in the past.  They're missing the TV grid for each night.  They didn't discuss all the new shows.  It was quite lacking.  I think I'm going let my subscription run out when that time comes.

Nevertheless...between the magazine and a listing from the Vulture website, here's what I came up with.  New shows are in bold italics.  Some are already in progress.

Sunday
8:00pm - Ray Donovan (starts 11/17), Showtime
8:30pm - God Friended Me (starts 9/29)CBS
8:30pm - Back to Life (10/6), Showtime
9:00pm - Shameless (11/3), Showtime
10:00pm - The Rookie (starts 9/29), ABC
10:00pm - Godfather of Harlem (9/29), Epix
10:00pm - Silicon Valley (10/27), HBO
10:30pm - Mrs. Fletcher (10/27), HBO

  • Godfather of Harlem looks really good and stars Forest Whitaker.  I don't have the Epix channel, though, and I'll decide this week whether to add it to my cable lineup.  I'm reluctant to add anything because my bill is already high enough.
  • Mrs. Fletcher stars Kathryn Hahn, who's always great.

Monday

9:00pm - Prodigal Son (9/23), FOX
9:00pm - The Deuce (started 9/9), HBO
  • Not a whole lot going on on Mondays.  I'm giving the Prodigal Son a try because of Michael Sheen who I loved on Masters of Sex.

Tuesday

8:00pm - The Resident (9/24), FOX
9:00pm - This Is Us (9/24), NBC
9:00pm - Mixed-ish (9/24), ABC
9:30pm - Black-ish (9/24), ABC
10:00pm - New Amsterdam (9/24), NBC
  • Mixed-ish is a spinoff from Black-ish about Rainbow's childhood.  It could be fun.  We'll see.  (I watch the other spin-off, Grown-ish, and it's decent enough.)  (Can you sense that I don't have a whole lot of enthusiasm?  Maybe this one will take me by surprise.)

Wednesday

8:00pm - The Goldbergs (9/25), ABC
8:30pm - Schooled (9/25), ABC
9:00pm - Modern Family (9/25), ABC
9:00pm - Almost Family (10/2), FOX
9:30pm - Single Parents (9/25), ABC
10:00pm - Stumptown (9/25), ABC
  • Looks like it'll be another big ABC night in my household. 
  • Stumptown is the show I'm most looking forward to this season.  It stars Cobie Smulders from How I Met Your Mother, and also stars Jake Johnson from The New Girl and Michael Ealy.  In the commercials, I also saw Camryn Manheim from The Practice.  Seems like a really good cast.
  • I added Almost Family because it's based on an Australian show I watched on Netflix called, Sisters.  I enjoyed Sisters a lot...I'm curious to see how the American version turns out.  I don't have high hopes though.

Thursday

8:00pm - Grey's Anatomy (9/26), ABC
8:00pm - Young Sheldon (9/26), CBS
8:00pm - Superstore (9/26), NBC
8:30pm - Perfect Harmony (9/26), CBS
8:30pm - The Unicorn (9/26), CBS
9:00pm - The Good Place (9/26), NBC
9:00pm - A Million Little Things (9/26), ABC
9:30pm - Carol's Second Act (9/26), CBS
9:30pm - Sunnyside (9/26), NBC
10:00pm - Evil (9/26), CBS
10:00pm - Mr. Inbetween (started 9/12), FX
  • The Unicorn and Evil are on Entertainment Weekly's "must watch" list.  The Unicorn is about a widowed dad getting back into the dating scene.  Evil is about, "Dr. Kristen Bouchard, a lapsed Catholic and financially struggling forensic psychologist who gets hired by a priest-in-training to help investigate alleged religious and supernatural phenomena."  I don't know, we'll see about that one.  Lapsed Catholics are up my alley, but supernatural phenomena, not so much.
  • I only put Carol's Second Act on the list because I love Patricia Heaton.  If I hear a laugh track, I'll probably turn it right off.  CBS comedies and me don't often mix well.  I love Young Sheldon, and guess what?  No laugh track.
  • I don't even know what Sunnyside is about, but it stars Kal Penn, so that's good enough for me.
  • Oh, and I added Perfect Harmony strictly because of Bradley Whitford.
  • I'm so glad Mr. Inbetween is back for another season.  It was my favorite new show last year.

Friday

10:00pm - Couples Therapy (started 9/6), Showtime
10:00pm - Murder in the Bayou (started 9/13), Showtime

  • Couples Therapy is fascinating.  It's a view into real couples' therapy sessions with a marriage counselor.  You also see the marriage counselor's sessions with her therapist. It's really interesting.

Streaming

I just looked at the list of streaming shows I said I was going to watch next year and realize I only watched 1 out of 8 of them, so I don't even know if this is worth it.  But, here's what looks good:
  • Unbelievable (started 9/13), Netflix
  • The Politician (9/27), Netflix
  • Raising Dion (10/4), Netflix
  • Modern Love (10/18), Amazon 
  • Living with Yourself (10/18), Netflix (Paul Rudd!!)
  • The Morning Show (11/1), Apple TV+
I have another decision to make regarding Apple TV+.  Yet another subscription to pay for.  I probably will go for this one because I really want to see The Morning Show with Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon.  We'll see.

So that's it.  Nothing too exciting this year, to be honest.

9.02.2019

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell

PumpkinheadsPumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 rounded to 4 stars.

The best words to describe this graphic novel are: "very cute."

I wouldn't even call it a graphic novel--more like a graphic short story. It's a quick read and the art is great. I didn't get a lot of "the feels" with the story like I usually do with Rainbow Rowell's work but this was still an enjoyable read. It would probably be even more enjoyable to read it while sipping hot apple cider in cooler weather.

8.01.2019

My current obsession

I've been thinking about this for the past few weeks and finally decided to sit down and type it up.  My obsession, right now, is..........


BILLY PORTER!

He stars in a show on FX called POSE.  (Before that, he starred in Kinky Boots on Broadway.)  I remember seeing previews for Pose last year and set a season pass on my Tivo.  Or so I thought.  It wasn't until there were only two episodes left that I realized it hadn't been recording.  Boo.  I was disappointed.

Then Billy showed up to the Oscars in that gorgeous tuxedo gown and that's when I learned that he was on this show.  (I really didn't know much about the show, other than it looked cool and dancing was involved.)

Pose was renewed for a second season and before it started back on FX, they put Season One on Netflix.  I started seeing previews for it while watching Fosse/Verdon and then a friend of mine posted about the show on Facebook, so I decided to dig in.  I now know that the show is about the LGBTQ ball culture in the late 80s/early 90s.  You can do your own research on what "ball culture" is, but just know that it's where Madonna learned how to "Vogue." (This features prominently in Season 2.)  Billy Porter plays Pray Tell, the emcee at the balls, and he is just wonderful.  The show takes place during the rise of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and he handles scenes around that subject with such grace.  He's a fantastic actor.  (Now, sometimes--I admit--the show doesn't have the best acting you've ever seen, BUT, the stories are heartfelt and Billy Porter makes up for it all.  Kudos to the show for hiring transgender actors to play transgender roles.)

Toward the end of the first season, Pray Tell goes to sing at the ward where his boyfriend is dying of AIDS.  I rewound and watched this five times with tears streaming down my face.  The description on the video says, "Set in the 80's, in this scene, Pray Tell (Billy Porter) arranged a cabaret to cheer the patients in the AIDS Ward where his boyfriend is in treatment. His dear friend, Blanca (transgender actress MJ Rodriguez) agrees to sing. Both characters have also recently been diagnosed. This is so beautiful."


Oh man.  That gets me every time.

When I searched for that video, I also came across this fantastic scene that happened during the commercial break at the Tony awards.  This made me a fan forever.



And then just the other day, I caught his serious side in an interview with other Emmy-nominated actors.  He touched my heart.  The interview is long, but here's his response to the question, "I knew I had made it in Hollywood, when.....?" (From YouTube, I can set where the video starts, but I can't set where it stops, so you can hit pause after you see Billy speak.  I do encourage everyone to watch the whole roundtable because it was kind of interesting.  Especially Hugh Grant...I can't tell if he's just self-deprecating, or if he really is a monster to work with.  I'm going with self-deprecation.  I digress.....)


I hate to admit, but that's really when I first noticed him too.  And then it was just like, look at all that fabulousness!  I could just hear Christian Siriano (the gown's designer) saying, "Fierce!"

Here's another moment from the interview that I liked where he's discussing his role on Pose:


I really hope he gets that Emmy award.

So, that's it for my Billy Porter fan post.  I'll leave you with this, Billy Porter, in all his Pray Tell glory!



7.31.2019

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American DirtAmerican Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


It's difficult to put into words how I feel about this book, so I'll start with two cheesy statements--first, believe the hype! It's being called the Most Anticipated Book of 2020, and that is so well deserved. Second, you can judge this book by its cover. Honestly, I think this is the most beautiful cover I've ever seen, and the story inside is equally beautiful. And harrowing, and heartbreaking, and hopeful, and ever-so-timely. It's about a mother and her eight-year-old son who escape to the United States after 16 members of their family are murdered by a cartel. The book details their treacherous journey and helps you understand the utter desperation of people who will risk that trip because their lives at home are even more dangerous. The author's note at the end was also especially poignant. I wish there was a way to make every American read this book. It's so important. Congratulations to Jeanine Cummins for such a wonderful accomplishment.