The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae – Book Review

I’ve put off writing this review for far too long – because I did and didn’t love this book, and I’ve been struggling to put that into words.

I really enjoy reading books/memoirs/essays by funny people, especially women.  I’ve loved Bossypants, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, and Yes, Please!  I read The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Jo-Issa Rae Diop through NetGalley, anticipating that it would be along those lines, and it was.  The tricky part is that I was not previously familiar with Issa Rae’s work, so I didn’t read it to myself in her voice, and I probably missed out for that.  However, now I’ve heard of her, and that’s a good thing.

I was uncomfortable at times, but it felt really good to have my perspective stretched – when I was rendered most awkward (perhaps it was all part of her plan!!) was when I was reading some of her stories that were farthest from my own experiences.  The ABG Guides, especially Types of Black People and Connecting with Other Blacks did not resonate for me and seemed out of place, but I might not be the target audience.

However, awkward crosses those racial lines, and while no one has ever expected me to be a great dancer, I found a lot to identify with and laugh about.  I most enjoyed the stories about her life, and she really captures some of the most awkward phases of growing up very well.  She nails being introverted, female, overweight, and awkward, but she also seems so cool now that I almost have my doubts that she was as awkward as she portrays.  I longed for a more coherent story arc through the book, however, as the essays skip around and don’t build to any real conclusions.  Issa Rae’s writing was conversational and easy to read, but sometimes repetitive and disorganized.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading strong, funny women – I don’t think Issa Rae has as strong a voice yet as Tina Fey or Amy Poehler, but I think she’s on her way.

Book Reviews!

As a librarian, I’m privileged to be a member of NetGalley, which allows me to download and review advanced reader copies of books not yet published. Lucky Me! I’m also starting to get back into reading more frequently, so I just managed to finally read the first two titles I downloaded from NetGalley. They seem to have been already published…but I went ahead and reviewed them anyhow. Better late than never.

Now, it’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a book, so please feel free to point out (in your kindest voice) how I could be doing this better, because while it was really fun to read these books with the knowledge that I’d need to review them at the end, I also feel like there is always room for improvement. Thanks for your help!

Without further ado:
Girls Like Us, by Gail Giles
Regardless of our race, wealth, or intellectual speed, we all sometimes need some help learning how to relate to others. This book offers a special window into the minds of two girls trying to find their way in the world, and turns the mirror on the reader and their assumptions about how others think and feel, and how to relate without being unintentionally hurtful or condescending. This book deals with some truly awful topics with compassion and clarity, and reminds the reader that we all have value in this world, whether we realize it or not.

Percolate: Let Your Best Self Filter Through, by Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino
Percolate is more fun than your average self-help book. With its light, conversational tone and abundant but not overwhelming coffee metaphors, it reads like a good long talk with a friend. Messages of strength, resilience, and positive attitude are powerful for anyone who needs a boost, but those who are going through a serious illness in their family or other domestic trauma will find much here to relate to and draw from.

Avoiding the “Toxic Middle”

I read an article today about librarians (and I’m sure this is not unique to our profession) who are the jaded voice of been-there, done-that pessimism and anti-innovation.  The Toxic Middle by Joseph Janes, a Library Science professor, was an interesting one for me.  I have certainly come up against these “wet blanket” librarians in my short tenure in the profession, and I’d like to think that most of them really truly meant well when they brought their cynical and jaded opinions to the table.  I went to a workshop at the ALA Conference that put a snappy acronym to something that I’ve been working hard to embrace – QTIP: Quit Taking It Personally.  When I meet “wet blankets,” I try to just hear the useful advice buried within their crabby comments, and not take the idea heckling personally.

What got me thinking when I read this article though, is that we all do this.  Here’s the thing: it’s hard to know when your past experience is relevant and useful, and when it’s just coloring your perception to the point that you don’t see possibilities and opportunities.  Sometimes what you know about a situation, a patron, a plan of action is really useful – the way things have been done in the past might really smooth the future path, might help you be more empathetic and accepting of a person’s behavior, or might help you avoid pitfalls, time sucks, and wasted energy.  Sometimes though, the information you have in your head about how it went down last time might stop you from seeing possibilities.  At what point does the past experience you bring to the table shift from being valuable to being a liability?  There isn’t a clear line there, and it’s hard to know when you’ve crossed it.

I don’t think this cautionary tale should be aimed solely at older, established librarians – it’s really just a good reminder to all of us that regardless of where we are in our career, we are all bringing something valuable to the table.  I have been lucky enough to be mentored by some truly inspiring librarians, and I hope to be able to pay that forward at some point in my career.  I’ve also been very lucky to be taken seriously, listened to, and supported quite actively by those around me.  I really can’t complain about toxic middle layers in my personal experience, but it’s worth a reminder that I don’t want to find myself in the position of knocking someone’s experience or ideas just because something in my past experience sours my perception.

Upcoming Reading List

I feel like I take as much pleasure in the anticipation of reading as I do in the finishing of books – which is a good thing because I start more books than I finish, and I bring home more books than I start.  I bring home an awful lot of books.

I’m still reading Inferno, and still feeling more or less the same about it.  However, I’m almost done, and I have some contenders for the sweet spot on my nightstand.

The frontrunner is a fairly new book by a fairly young author: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon.  I read a really great review of the book at some point in the last two months, and promptly misplaced the review.  I don’t want to read too much else about it for fear of changing my mind about reading it, so I think I’m going to just dive right in.  It’s outside of my usual genre, so I’m just going to go for it.

Because I can never be reading just one book (I try and keep it to under 5 – but I’m not big on rules, and I break that one all the time), and I like to simultaneously read both fiction and nonfiction, I just picked up Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton.  People whose taste I admire love Alain de Botton, and I confess to having checked out more books of his than I’ve finished.  The bigger life questions have been at the forefront of my mind these last few months, so this title jumped out at me this morning and I’m going to give it a try.  I don’t read enough essays (unless you count humorous or parenting essays, which seem to be all I read lately).  So, this is my educational/intellectual reading for the month.

I’m also bringing home This I Believe: On Motherhood.  I am working up to gathering my thoughts on being a mother.  It is my favorite thing that I’ve done with my life, a huge challenge, and something that I rarely feel up to.  I love reading about parenting, and mothering, and all the paradoxes that we all feel, but which are very hard to talk about.  It is lovely to read sentiments which I feel but bungle when I try to express them.

What are you reading?  What should I add to my list?

Battling Inertia

I bared my soul about writing just the other day.  Writing is something that I’m trying to build back into my life, for many many reasons, but it’s feeling very hard.  I sit down here, and think “What do I have to say today? Nothing.”  I feel the same blankness that I feel when someone first asks me for a good book recommendation – as though I’ve never read a good book in my life.  But because I get asked all the time for book recommendations, I’ve learned to push past that blank brain and start making connections between the person in front of me and our collection.

I recently read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which was absolutely fascinating, and a must-read if you like having interesting things to tell people that take 10 seconds or less to explain.  One of the (many many many) things that surprised me is that food diaries work in part because they change a habit.  They make a critical change that creates room for new habits, and it’s not necessarily even about not wanting to eat something because you’ll have to write it down and admit to eating it.  It’s about creating a new habit, which creates room for more new habits.  Sometimes the habit change process needs to be sneaky, rather than obvious.

So I’m posting here every day, and it’s a little like that food diary.  What I’m putting in this space is less relevant than that I’m putting that space in my day for writing.  Making room for a new habit that I’d like to stick.  How do you change habits, get out of ruts, and make time in your day for the things that really matter?