City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Another title from the “just caught my attention” collection. This book caught my eye last year when I attended my second Mama Gena’s weekend in the Ziegfeld Ballroom. That site isn’t actually the building where the Follies were performed, but it still had a potent resonance, walking in the spiritual footprints of the Ziegfeld Girls while doing Mama G’s program, and then learning about this novel about 1940s New York showgirls all at the same time.

Full disclosure: I’ve never read anything by Gilbert before. I know Eat, Pray, Love was a huge phenomenon, and that Gilbert followed it up with another memoir (or two or three) as her life took additional twists and turns. It wasn’t ever a definitive decision I made against reading her stuff, I just never got around to it. (So many books, so little time…)

Still, knowing what little I know about the whole Eat, Pray, Love thing, I was truly puzzled about what type of “New York showgirl” story this particular author might want to tell. Would it completely eschew her introspective memoir thing to go all the way into glitz and escapism? Would it tell an anachronistic story of female sexual liberation and expression? What exactly would I find behind this pink feathered cover?*

A closeup of the book cover for City of Girls, showing the title in front of a picture of pink feathers.

The answer? A little bit of all of the above.

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Beauty Mark by Carole Boston Weatherford

Unsurprisingly for me with a few days off, I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading. This latest book steps outside of my two main categories for 2020* to be part of the “books that randomly caught my eye” category that is always in play for me, year in and year out.

I stumbled across this book in a newsletter (weekly? monthly?) about new titles sent by a local indy bookstore. It may seem hyberbole to say I “stumbled across” something in a newsletter that I’m actively subscribed to, but I stand by my sense of fortunate chance here. Frankly, y’all, I hardly ever open those emails, so let’s just ponder the odds of me just randomly opening this middle-of-the-pandemic issue to see something so patently designed to catch my eye: a YA verse novel about Marilyn Monroe.

A close-up of Marilyn Monroe's face in full glamour mode, but with the black & white tonailty overlaid with bright, bold, unrealistic colors (blue lips, rainbow hair, pitch black and red diagonal neck)

I prefer to think of it as a small, blessed piece of good fortune.

The title stayed on my mind until things with COVID settled down to the point where books could once again travel on interlibrary loan**, whereupon I put in a request for it, and then happily picked it up.

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The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris

Contextual set-up: aside from Shakespeare Project the Second, my 2020 reading has been deeply preoccupied with sociopolitical analysis—both anti-racist texts, and exposes of the Cheeto POTUS’s administration. This book doesn’t fit clearly in either of those sub-categories, but it’s definitely part of the same reading family that has been so front-and-center for me since I emerged from my first bout of “pandemic brain” and started actively reading again.

An screencap from MezzoSherri's Libby shelf, showing the thumbnail for Kamala Harris's book The Truths We Hold.
Thank you, Libby!

It wasn’t till I started writing this post that I realized The Truths We Hold is a campaign book.* But of course it is. Released about a week or two before Harris launched her Presidential campaign in January 2019, and with the flag-waving subtitle An American Journey, it has all the hallmarks of the genre.

And no shame on that. This sort of book has a long and respectable lineage, from JFK’s Profiles in Courage to Obama’s Audacity of Hope to Warren’s This Fight is Our Fight.** Good on Harris for writing her own, and I hope she continues to earn healthy royalty checks throughout the remainder of her long career in public service.

Still, I think I’m glad I read the memoir when I did rather than during the heat of the primaries.

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Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper

This was a slight deviation from my post-pre-diabetes-diagnosis plan to focus on reading only those challenge books that were already in my possession. When I made that course correction, I’d forgotten that right at the start of 2019 I’d put my name on the waiting list for the library’s e-book copy of this title.

So, when my name finally reached the top of the list a couple weeks ago, I decided just to roll with destiny and give myself the pleasure of reading this. (A bird in the hand and all that…)

I’d already had Cooper’s memoir/social analysis on my reading wish list since mid-2018, on the basis of the good press and positive reviews the work was getting. In complete candor, for all that I went into my 2019 planning with the supposed goal of drawing primarily from my own library, this was a title I wanted to shoehorn onto my 2019 list, come hell or high water.

Lucky for me, it wasn’t all that hard to find a place for Cooper’s book. Between the callout to the New York Public Library staff picks and the invocation of celebrity recommendations, I was golden.(1)

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The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor

We had one main project for the holiday weekend, but we were able to wrap it up so quickly yesterday that I’ve had some extra-luxurious reading time on my Saturday and Sunday. Which means that after a long dry spell, I’ve finished yet another book—this one, the latest choice from my fat activist/HAES/body love reading list.

Sonya Renee Taylor and her radical self-love/liberationist platform, The Body is Not an Apology, has been on my radar for some years now. I think it was my friend Alice who first brought Sonya into my awareness. Even if I’m misremembering this detail, I am going to stand by this poetic retelling for the rest of my days. There is something so just and sacred and fitting in a poet of Alice’s caliber bringing me to learn about a poet of Sonya’s caliber.

So as soon as Sonya’s book was released last year, I bought myself a copy. And then I let it sit on my bookshelves with all the other body love/goddess power books I’ve been ignoring in my quest to be super smart and fulfill all these reading challenges.

My decision to abandon reading challenge perfection in 2019 to make more room for actively self-nurturing titles put Sonya’s book back on the priority list, and then a guest teacher call with Sonya as part of the Mastery curriculum put this at the very top of that list.

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Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Golly! It has been a year and a day since I last posted here.

Well, I suppose that’s a bit hyperbolic(1): it’s been closer to two weeks. Still, that’s a long darn time to be inactive, especially when compared to the rest of 2019.

What can I say? Travel kicked my ass, the weekend workshop kicked my ass(2), re-entry kicked my ass. I have been seriously crawling into bed as early as I can every evening since I got home. Tonight is the first night I feel remotely awake enough at 20:15 to put hands to keyboard.

At least I did have some time to finish one of my challenge books during these days away from JALC: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

This book also continues my unintentional tour of Man Booker prize books—although Cloud Atlas was only a finalist for the prize, as compared to the two prizewinners (Wolf Hall and Luminaries) I read earlier this year. Still kind of funny, how I keep choosing books for other reasons and still keep tripping over this particular group of prize-winners.

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Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Well this book was less of a tome than my previous two, so I was able to finish it more quickly than my last read. It was also a bit breezier in content and tone. Don’t get me wrong: my snooty ex-academic cred is still maintained insofar as the book was tagged as a “must read of the week” by good old NPR.

This is yet another one of my impulse discount e-book purchases, but this one from long enough ago that I actually have it as a iBook rather than a Kindle file.(1) It’s a cinematic novel about cinema and Hollywood, but its opening—and most thematically important—setting of a fictional Cinque Terre village in Italy allows me to check off the latter criterion for this challenge category.

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Close-up on the book cover of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

So although it’s a day later than initially planned, I did finish the big tome I’ve been working through for the last month. And, of course, this post is a day later still.(1)

Considering how far off-schedule I am for these reading challenges, it almost seems futile to list what categories different books cover. Almost.

I’m not gonna beat myself up for how far off the mark I end up being come December 31, and I’m not gonna try crazy book bingo stuff to check off more categories. Despite that new “lazy gal’s” approach to reading challenges, I still want to be able to go back at the end of the year and see which categories I covered and which I didn’t.

So, in that spirit:

  • Around the Year #14: Title, cover, or subtitle related to an astronomical term.
  • PopSugar #33: With a zodiac sign or astrology term in the title.

I’m also amused to note that this is the second Booker prize-winner I’ve read in a row. Aren’t I so very cultured?

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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Okay, obviously I have a little explaining to do on that first category match, since wolves are not actually one of the animals associated with the Chinese Zodiac.(1) In all honesty, this was perhaps my least favorite of all the Around the Year categories, given my suspicions of colonialist baggage. around it all. So initially, I wasn’t sure whether to play along or break away entirely.

As I was mulling over that decision, I was also pondering the extreme degree of difficulty that would be invoked if I tried to find a book connected to the animal from my birth year—the rooster. Then, in a Goodreads discussion board about that exact conundrum, someone shared information about a Tournament of Books that’s affectionately known as “the Rooster.” There’s even a list collecting the titles of the books that have won the Rooster since the contest began.(2)

And there on that winners list was a title I’d already slotted into PopSugar’s category for books I’d meant to read in 2018 but hadn’t. (I originally had it slotted for 2018’s “animal name in title” category, but I decided to read Six of Crows instead.) Since I’m always looking for twofers, I threw Mantel into the rooster category and called it a win.

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You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar

I was a little strategic (and/or sneaky) in choosing the first entry in my HAES/prediabetes/whatever-the-fuck-I-have reading list. I chose something short, something I could read quickly. Something in the memoir/manifesto vein that wouldn’t demand much of me. Either in the sense of nutritional guidance I expect from future books, or in the sense of digesting lots of footnotes—which I also expect from future books.

And this slim volume fit the bill.

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