Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

I’m Afraid of Men [review]

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I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya
Published by Penguin Books Canada on August 28, 2018
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.28 (as of 2021-05-31)
Spoiler-free review

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In I’m Afraid of Men, Vivek Shraya reflects on her experiences from being “sensitive” and feminine boy who learns to perform masculinity through her adulthood as a transgender woman. She explores how her relationships to and perceptions of men have changed with a bluntness that is educational to those who may not have experienced the intersection of misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia that she has faced. This is an incredibly compelling set of essays that force one to examine how they may be complicit in the ongoing oppression of others.

She describes how carefully her life must be navigated, how she often goes out in public dressed as a man to avoid violence, how she will remove her makeup before leaving a show she’s performed at, how her boyfriend sometimes accompanies her as a bodyguard of sorts. She reflects on how this anxiety, this terror, has weathered her body and her mind:

My fear of men… both protects my body… and erodes it… I have been stricken with numerous freak pains… that practitioners are unable to explain or cure. When they suspiciously ask me, ‘Are you sure nothing happened? You didn’t fall somewhere?’ I want to respond, ‘I live in fear.’

As she reflects on her experiences with men, she notes the women in the background. The girlfriend of the classmate who spit on her, who giggled instead of stopping him. A friend at a bar who told her she should be flattered when she was repeatedly groped. Cisgender women who dismiss her stories of transmisogyny, assuming the oppression they face is the same that she faces. Women with internalized misogyny who continue to tear down other women. As she recounts them, she adds “I’m also afraid of women.”

Shraya’s essays provide unique insight into how boys are socialized and how expectations of masculinity can be damaging, both to boys and men and the people they interact with. She also shares how dangerous life can be for men who do not adhere to our expectations for masculinity as well as for transgender women. This was a short, informative read that I highly recommend. I would love to see a full memoir from Shraya someday and will keep my eye out for more of her writing.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

This Common Secret [review]

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This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor by Susan Wicklund
Published by PublicAffairs on December 7, 2007
my rating: ★★★ ★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.28 (as of 2020-04-07)
Spoiler-free review

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“I know exactly what kind of work you do, and it is a good thing. People like you do it safely so that people like me don’t murder their best friends.”

This is an incredibly powerful book that quickly puts to rest the most common misconceptions about abortions. If you believe that life begins at conception and therefore abortion at any stage is murder, this isn’t going to change your mind but then again, nothing is. If you hold any other reservations about abortion regarding the process and its outcomes, I think this would be an interesting read for you. Even as a staunch pro-choice advocate, I learned a lot reading this.

But this is not just about abortion, this is also Dr. Wicklund’s memoir and her experiences with anti-abortion activists are truly harrowing. I did not realize the full extent of harassment and danger that abortion providers face; Dr. Wicklund is stalked, threatened, barricaded in her driveway, and even had her home broken into. She somehow still manages to go in day after day to help her patients. Her philosophy and practice comforted me a lot: she ensures that every patient is positive they want an abortion before she’ll perform one, and she always covers the alternatives available. This should be the case with any elective procedure, but particularly abortion.

My only qualms were that some conversations just didn’t feel real. Perhaps some stories were amalgamations of other stories, but at times they just felt scripted. I guess when you have the same conversations day in and day out, that can be the case though. It’s not that I felt they weren’t real, just a little too polished. But this was really a minor complaint and I’m really glad I finally got around to reading this and would recommend it to pretty much everyone.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Surviving the White Gaze [review]

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Surviving the White Gaze by Rebecca Carroll
Published by Simon Schuster on February 2, 2021
my rating: ★★★ ★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.02 (as of 2020-04-06)
Spoiler-free review

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Rebecca Carroll is a very impressive writer and I found her memoir difficult to put down. As a white person from rural New Hampshire, the complete lack of diversity and the perpetual casual racism became very visible to me once I had moved to more urban areas and began to learn about race. Carroll, the only Black person in her town, didn’t have that luxury. She’s raised by two white adoptive parents and in late childhood meets her white birth mother; she doesn’t meet her Black father until well into adulthood. Her familial relationships are charged and her journey to form her identity is long and eventful. Overall, I found this incredibly powerful and compelling; my only complaint is that it feels a bit jumbled in certain areas and the timeline isn’t always clear. I think this is a really important read, particularly for those from primarily white areas and/or parents who have or plan to adopt a child of another race.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

A Lab of One’s Own [review]

A Lab of One’s Own by Rita Colwell, PhD and Sharon Bertsch McGrayne
To be published by Simon & Schuster on August 4, 2020
my rating: DNF
Goodreads avg: 
3.75 (as of 2020-08-04)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

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i really struggled with the writing in this. i don’t think it was particularly bad, but really felt like it was rushing through things. while the timeline was somewhat linear, following Colwell’s career, it also branched off haphazardly to describe other scientists and events. this might mesh better with someone more strongly interested in the history of the field and who is more familiar with the names mentioned. it also honestly felt more like a summary of Colwell’s resume than anything else, like she was trying to go down a list rather than provide an actual narrative. while easy enough to read, i just didn’t really find it engrossing at all.


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In the Dream House [review]

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Published by Graywolf Press on November 5, 2019
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.61 (as of 2020-02-08)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website


I wish there was a way for me to intellectually discuss In the Dream House but it seems impossible. This is truly one of the most incredible, gut-wrenching books I have ever read. In this memoir, formatted very differently from anything else you have ever read, Carmen Maria Machado details her abusive relationship with another woman. That alone points to why this would be such a difficult review, but Machado’s skill with writing is truly something I have never seen before. I just counted and I’ve tabbed 17 different pages with quotes or scenes that dug deep into me — and that was me trying to restrain myself. 

A reminder, perhaps, that abusers do not need to be, and rarely are, cackling maniacs. They just need to want something, and not care how they get it.

God, even just reading through these tabbed pages to write this review has me on the verge of tears on my couch. There are points at which I merely drew a line down the entire page; there was no way to separate out one meaningful line or set of sentences from their larger context. To me, that’s indicative of an incredible writer. Nothing in this feels extraneous, it all feels essential and imbued with significance.

Even the enduring symbol of queerness–the rainbow–is a promise not to repeat an act of supreme violence by a capricious and rageful god: I won’t flood the whole world again. It was a one-time thing, I swear. Do you trust me? (And, later, a threat: the next time, motherfuckers, it’ll be fire.)

Another impressive aspect is Machado’s ability to set this within its greater context. As a queer woman, it can be so much more difficult to navigate what would already be difficult situations. She speaks to her naievety as a baby gay and the fact that we always see men portrayed as abusers. On top of that, the time period in which this relationship took place was one where lgbtq rights were tenuous and it felt important not to “look bad.” I understand all this, and it feels so important that Machado was able to explain it in such a succinct way.

Do you see now? Do you understand?

In the Dream House will certainly remain one of my favorite books of all-time, I can already tell. I absolutely cannot recommend this enough, but want to emphasize that it is an extremely difficult read and to take care while reading. To me, this book is a place of understanding and a way to process for (particularly queer) survivors of abuse; it is also a place where those who may not have experienced abuse can come to understand it further. I applaud Machado for being able to write this, and cannot wait to see what she puts out next.

You have no reason to believe me.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #5

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Would You Rather?

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me an eARC in exchange for my honest review.

Would You Rather? is a lovely memoir about a woman who grew up in a sheltered, moderately conservative area coming to terms with her sexuality. The reason this is so revolutionary is because, as Katie herself says, there are so few widespread stories about adults realizing they’re gay. So many people say that they always knew, it leaves little room in the narrative for people like Katie, who didn’t always know. Overall, it was an enjoyable read that I’m glad I picked up! My only complaint was that it does meander at times and that the end kind of trails off for me instead of ending strongly.

Rating:⭐⭐⭐.5

34956885

The Body Is Not an Apology

Systems [of oppression] do not maintain themselves; even our lack of intervention is an act of maintenance.

This was a nice read that focused on what Sonya has dubbed “radical self-love.” The messages embedded in it are deeply important and focus on breaking down “the belief that there is a hierarchy of bodies.” It was quite inspiring to read and made me want to work harder on changing the belief systems cemented within our culture. At times, the book felt a little too structured and, well, self-help-y, but it wasn’t really much of an issue. It’s also an extremely fast read. All-in-all, I’d definitely recommend this book as a jumping off point for leaning more into body positivity.

Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

34728667

Children of Blood and Bone

This pretty much lived up to the hype for me and I’m really glad I picked it up! I don’t remember the last time I lost myself in a book like this, I ended up reading for 3 hours straight to finish it and I literally couldn’t put it down. The half star loss was because it took me a bit to get invested in the characters. But once I did, ooooh boy, I was INVESTED. Highly recommend.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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(All covers courtesy of Goodreads.)