Unqualified by Anna Faris (2017)

unqualified

In this short, funny memoir, comedic actress Anna Faris details the major life events that led her to Hollywood and to her movie and TV career. These events are all filtered through her romance relationships; starting with her 3rd grade crush right up through her two, unsuccessful marriages.

Faris assumes that missteps and mistakes made in the name of love (or at least lust) are something that all readers have in common and writes her stories through that lens. While she has achieved a high level of success, she points out that fame does not stop her from making terrible mistakes in the name of love and romance.

Light-hearted and, at times, a bit raunchy, Unqualified takes us through bad relationships which supplied Faris with enough anger to propel her on to bigger and better things, and the good ones that helped her move toward her professional goals. She attempts to make sense of her life of celebrity by reframing her experiences through more everyday events.

Fun and funny, although not exactly profound, Faris is an endearing as a writer as she is on the screen.

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Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro (2017)

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.
You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck — there was a forest.
You were in luck — there were no trees.
You were in luck — a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant . . .

From “Could Have” by Wislawa Szymborska (quoted on page 18-19)

This beautiful, brief memoir is about marriage: not the heady reckless days of being newlyweds, nor about looking back from a distance at the long years of children and grandchildren, but rather about the middle years of a marriage. The years of a marriage that are marked by mortgages, teenagers, and adult responsibilities; the years when routines speed up time and parents grow frail, the years when a couple must work to recall the wild love of their early days and work to keep their bond strong so they can reach those golden years. Hourglass — told in a Virginia Woolf-inspired style — a is spectacular exploration of the special, fragile time that marks middle marriage and how rewarding and challenging a time it can be for a couple.

Shapiro examines her own marriage with honesty and courage; displaying the things she gets right and the things that go wrong. A deep, almost desperate, vulnerability is required to make a marriage work. Two people bind themselves together when things are the very best, in the hope that things will always be rosy, always go as well. But then life happens — illnesses, lost jobs, deaths, births, near-misses, and lost chances — and you must hope that the strength of your love and your commitment to one another can weather these storms; that you can go on believing in the happy ending even when the future is a complete unknown.

Shapiro also examines the choices she and her husband did and did not make —  each corner not turned, every job not taken — and wonders, would other choices have led to a different me? a different him? a different us? Marriage, she believes, is living with each and every choice you’ve made and knowing that each step has brought you to where you are right now; marriage is having faith that this place is the right place to be.

Upon finishing the book I am struck by how wildly optimistic getting married really is. Two people make a commitment (that no matter how easily made, one that is very difficult to undo) and set out to build a life with no guarantees, with no safety nets. Your marriage requires that everyday — many times each day — you must look upon your relationship as meaningful and worthwhile, something as important and valuable today as it was on your wedding day.

Middle marriage are the years when you hold on to one another tightly, hoping wildly that the best years are still yet to come, and still believing there is no one else you would want beside you than your partner. What a wild leap of faith to take! What a wonderful treasure when you find yourself alongside someone worth taking that risk with.

— To my Husband, S. who I adore now as much as then

 

The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir by Ariel Levy (2017)

the rules do not apply a levy

When Ariel Levy writes that she has always felt that the “rules do not apply” to her, she truly means that, throughout her life, she has had the passion and granted herself the permission to make her own path. Her non-traditional journey is at times thrilling and at other times heart-breaking; but it is relayed to readers with an unflinching honesty and a surprising lack of melodrama.

Levy decided from an early age that she would not lock herself into any of the traditional roles for women.  She would be sexual adventurous; she would have romantic relationships with both men and women; she would refuse marriage and children; and she would create her own career as a writer. As Levy lived through her twenties, she did reject all of the rules she felt were outdated and punitive to women and forged ahead with her own version of the ideal life.

Then, in her 30s, her life began to change and she had to decide whether to keep resisting “traditional” paths or accept them as she got older. She met and fell in love with an older woman, one who wanted stability and monogamy. She, herself, began to crave financial security and a place to call home. So she relinquished a bit of her wildness to get married and set up a home with her new wife.

However, this conventional path was rockier than she had anticipated and she found herself challenging the very rules she had set for herself when she got married. Soon she and her wife found themselves faced with infidelity, financial hardship, and the ravages of addiction. The two women shouldered on, trying their best to repair their marriage, and deciding that the best course of action to get their lives back on track would be to have a baby together.

However, the pregnancy that resulted drove an even deeper wedge between Levy and her wife. Soon their relationship, which was rocky at best, had to flex to accommodate the man who had fathered their son and all three of their extended families. As her pregnancy progressed, Levy ignored the warning signs that her wife has struggling and felt fiercely proud that she was building a life on her terms…a baby without a husband, a father for her son without the drama of a relationship, a baby with her wife that would bring stability to their home.

The fragile strings that were holding their lives together soon snap and Levy finds herself at rock bottom: suddenly everything she once had is gone and she must decide if she is strong enough to shoulder her grief and rebuild her life.

In The Rules Do Not Apply, Levy shows her successes and her failures, her loves and her heartaches all in equal measure. And she shows readers that all choices have costs, and that whether you follow the rules or you break the rules…there us always a price to be paid.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton (2016)

“I marvel at the honesty and pain. We’ve never brought to each other the heavy things we were meant to help each other carry. We’ve only introduced each other to our representatives, while our real selves tried to live life alone. We thought that was safer. We thought that this way our real selves wouldn’t get hurt. But it is clear that we are all hurting anyway. And we think we are alone. At our cores, we are our tender selves peeking out at the world of shiny representatives, so shame has been layered on top of our pain. We’re suffocating underneath all the layers.”

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A picture of Glennon Doyle Melton at one of her events (from her blog Momastery.)

Wow! This memoir was absolutely stunning. Glennon Doyle Melton has not simply written her story, but rather used her experiences to create a manifesto about feminism, faith, marriage, self-love, forgiveness, and courage. This book is a call to action to men and women of the world: you are important, you are loved, you are worthy of wonderful things and you can choose to live an authentic life without fear.

Glennon’s memoir chronicles her struggles with depression, anxiety, and addiction with aching honesty and a vulnerability that is breath-taking. We are allowed to see inside the mind of a young girl whose disconnection with the world makes her feel, starting at age ten, alone and brokenhearted. Terrified at how different she believes she is, she seeks out first one self-sabotaging behavior (bulimia), after another (promiscuity), after another (drug and alcohol addiction), always searching for a way to be numb to the pain of living.

When an unexpected pregnancy and sudden marriage force her to get sober and adopt a healthier relationship with food, she assumes that she has– in becoming a mother and wife — insulated herself from the loneliness that has plagued her. Of her new marriage and baby she writes, “we are living so close to the surface of ourselves that it seems easy to touch each other. There is so much laughing and crying during the first year of our son’s life. The laughter and tears are each of us bursting through our own skin to get to one another.”

Soon, her self-loathing returns and she becomes disgusted that her new family and sobriety have not delivered her into a perfect life. When her health and then her marriage begin to deteriorate, she and her husband seek out a therapist. Rather than healing their marriage, the therapy session deals it a potential death blow…her husband confesses to decades of infidelity and Glennon throws him out.

In the grief and madness that follows, Glennon faces the darkest days she has ever known. Not only has she lost her husband, now she must make her way as a single mother. Always religious, she finds that her church and its members have turned their back on her for “giving up” on her husband and, as a result, she feels as if her faith has failed her too.

She cannot turn to addiction to numb herself, and so, she turns inward to find a way to heal herself and — perhaps — heal her marriage.  With the help of a cast of mentors: a devoted sister and parents, a yoga instructor, a breathing coach, and a therapist; Glennon digs deep into her mental health issues and searches for ways to find peace with the challenges life has presented her.

What she finds is that she has lived for too long in the roles that others have chosen for her — by religious doctrine, gender norms, anti-woman businesses and marketers, sexual politics — have never been right for her. Now she decides, she will rebuild her entire life and her entire self, into exactly the person she wants to be and then she will seek out people to support rather than challenge her new choices.

The book documents — with gorgeous prose and raw, naked honesty — Glennon’s transformation from a woman controlled by her demons to a woman in charge of her life and her health. Now leading a generation of women in a revolution to discard old rules of who they should be and forge their own path to love, happiness, faith, and family. Stunning and not to be missed!

“We forget that our maker made us human, and so it’s okay — maybe exactly right — to be human. We are ashamed of the design of the one we claim to worship. So we sweep up our messes and hide our doubts, contradictions, anger and fear before showing ourselves to God, which is like putting on a fancy dress and makeup to prepare for an X-ray.”

Read Glennon’s blog and learn more about her and her work here: http://momastery.com/blog/

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore (2015)

“Happiness is a choice; a choice you have to make every single day.”

Drew Barrymore writes an adorable and light-hearted memoir about several pivotal but unconnected moments in her life; beginning with her preschool years and weaving back and forth through various parts of her adult life. Barrymore’s fans have always loved her for the kindness and love she injects into her film roles and the stories she tells in this memoir confirm that she just as kind and loving as we had hoped.

Despite a tumultuous childhood, much of it spent living on her own, and a rocky early film career, she holds no ill-will or hard feelings towards anyone, not even her supremely neglectful parents. She holds up everyone in her life as important even if their contribution was small or conflicted. With a wisdom that few people will ever posses — certainly few people will possess as children — Barrymore learned that that her safety and success depended in large part on being able to seek out safe mentors and humble herself enough to ask for their guidance. These mentors, she tells us, were like hand-picked family members who could take the place of the unstable biological family she was born into.

Barrymore appears to embody the quintessential California free-spirit life views including the idea that all experiences serve to teach her important life lessons, especially the hard ones. She also honestly believes that everyone should be forgiven for their flaws and celebrated for what they had added to her life, even if it is a challenge to define what that addition might be. She faces her life as a businesswoman, actress, and mother with optimism and a conviction that she has (and will continue to) learned from her mistakes — and the mistakes of her parents and peers — and she is determine to apply what she has learned along the way in order to make every day is better than the one before.

This is a book of unflinching positivity which makes it a nice departure from other overly self-important Hollywood memoirs. At the same time, it is much sweeter and less cynical than the the recent best selling memoirs of female comedians such as Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Mindy Kaling (although I loved all of those books, especially Kaling’s second Why Not Me? http://wp.me/p6N6mT-4f)

NOTE: I listened to Barrymore read her e-audio book and found her to be a very silly and dramatic performer. She laughs, cries, shouts, and uses funny voices to great effect and it made for a lively listen.

barrymore pic

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (2015)

I have the opposite of a dry sense of humor. My sense of humor is wet and loud and risque, like topless day at the water park.”

Mindy Kaling’s second book is every bit as charming and enjoyable (and of course, funny) as her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? I spent the better part of my Friday reading and laughing over her hilarious stories. While her books are often compared to the memoirs of Tina Fey (Bossypants) and Amy Poehler (Yes, Please), I much prefer Kaling’s work. I find her sense of humor to be the right balance of insightful and irreverent. She really has perfected the art of laughing at herself without making fun of herself, which I think is critical for female comedians who all too often are overly harsh on themselves in order to get a laugh.

She tells stories about college, work, dating, and show business with her signature style: plenty of pop culture references and unflinching commentaries on how ridiculous we all really are sometimes, herself included. Some of her best stories include glimpses into just how absurd celebrity culture is (and how much celebrities are all lying to us about how effortless their lives are.) She is more than happy to pull back the curtain on all the bullshit and make fun of life in LA, always being certain to laugh at herself as much as she does others. As she points out, we are not that different from movie stars, “most Americans are a treadmill and six laser hair removal sessions away” from looking just like their favorite movie star, only movie stars want you to think it is impossible for you to join their ranks.

Her essays do not skirt around issues of race, class, gender or politics but she always keeps the tone light and the keeps the jokes coming. Her commencement speech to Harvard Law School graduates is absolutely wonderful: poking fun at herself, lawyers, ambitious people looking to get rich, and Harvard University all to great effect. Also a must read is Kaling’s funny but quite insightful essay, “Coming This Fall” which offers readers a funny take into misrepresentations of women and minorities on television. Her essay “A Perfectly Reasonable Request” about what she is looking for in a man is wonderful…one part honest desire for a long-term relationship, one part joke about the absurd number of restrictions we put on who we are willing to date.

There are some more serious moments towards end of the book where she discusses success and confidence without apology. She admits to readers that more than a few people expect her — and all women really — to lack self-confidence and hate herself, an assumption she  she finds outrageous. Her success is due to hard work, persistence, and belief in herself and she refuses to downplay that for anyone. Doing so, she points out, would cheapen all she has done for herself. I applaud her for these sentiments and thank her for giving us such a funny, delightful book to read.