Some great songs that make me think of great books

Scene: You’re sitting on the bus, watching the city go by as you travel to some mundane destination. You put your headphones on and crank the volume up. For twenty minutes (or an hour, or two), you’re going to stare out the window and pretend you’re in some trendy indie movie. You can’t read a book–you have motion sickness (er, if you’re me, at least)–so you settle for just thinking about books instead. After all, you’re a well-read heroine or hero, and you’ve got to be ready for your take.

Just me? Oh well. Get your faraway expressions ready anyway, because I’m about to share some of my favorite songs of the moment that put me in mind of some really great books. Headphones on. Buckle in!


#1: “Phone” by Lizzo

Book Pairing: This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

My Review |Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

9780544786769“Phone” is a clever, silly song about heading home drunk after a night out. Even “feet all sore” in overpriced Louboutins and a lost phone can’t ruin Lizzo’s infectious self-confidence, just like a difficult home life and climb to fame can’t ruin Gabourey Sidibe’s charm and optimism in This Is Just My Face, her 2017 memoir.

If you’re thinking This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare is just another celebrity cash-grab memoir, you’d be wrong: Sidibe is genuinely fascinating. She grew up the daughter of a green card marriage between her tough-as-nails American mom and polygamous Senegalese dad. She went from a 20-something phone sex operator to overnight superstar when she starred in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, and her determination to not be a one-hit wonder is palpable throughout This is Not My Face. Luckily, there’s no chance of that. Sidibe continues to be a success on TV and on Twitter. She’s funny, sweet, down-to-earth, and completely fabulous–just like Lizzo. Let’s just hope Sidibe doesn’t lose her phone.

#2: “River” by Ibeyi

 

Book Pairing: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

My Review | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

9781101947135Ibeyi is a twin-sister act whose music is ethereal and lovely, but whose lyrics pack a punch. They’re French-Afro-Cuban-Venezuelan and they’re constantly reckoning with the diasporic, colonial history that entails. (“Ibeyi” means “twins” in Yoruba.) “River” is a trance-like song about sins and redemption.

How fitting, then, that Homegoing also centers on the devastating legacies of colonialism through the lens of two sisters from modern-day Ghana. The novel follows their bloodline for 400 years through tragedies and successes, betrayals and loves alike. One sister remains in Ghana while the other is sold into slavery in the U.S. It’s rare that a novel feels as ambitious and politically relevant as this one while still remaining a damn good story, to boot.

#3: “Waiting Game” by Banks

Book Pairing: Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

My Review |Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Sweetbitter CoverBanks slots neatly into the “weird girls getting it on” niche, right alongside FKA Twigs, Peaches, Robyn, and many more. “Waiting Game” is an intoxicating song about an off-balance relationship. “What if the way we started made it something cursed from the start?” Banks croons, and sure, it’s a little melodramatic…but so is love.

I reviewed Sweetbitter so recently that it seems almost redundant to include it here, but “Waiting Game” captures the essence of the novel so well that I just couldn’t leave it out. Throughout Sweetbitter, Tess always seems to be waiting: for love, for life, for the next magical flavor. She knows she can’t compete with the claustrophobic duo of Simone and Jake, but she tries anyway. Headstrong, young, dramatic, and kind of foolish: it’s a typical 20-something cocktail that Banks is the perfect soundtrack for. I love it.


Have any favorite book/music pairings of your own? Would you like to see this become a regular-(ish) feature on the blog? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: THIS IS JUST MY FACE: TRY NOT TO STARE by Gabourey Sidibe

Gabourey Sidibe’s bubbly, laugh-out-loud personality bursts from every page in this memoir, full of stories about growing up in Bed-Stuy, her depression and eating disorder, her time as a phone sex operator, her start in acting, and her complicated family–Sidibe’s mother is a subway singer, and her father is a polygamous Senegalese cab driver. As a memoir, it’s all over the place, but because Sidibe’s life is so genuinely interesting, this compulsively readable book feels like a slumber party with a good friend instead of your typical celebrity vanity project.

You can read my full review below.


9780544786769

This Is Just My Face: Try Not To Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

  • publisher: Houghton Mifflin
  • publication date: May 1, 2017
  • isbn: 978-0-544-78676-9
  • length: 256 pages

It’s safe to say that This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare is the first celebrity memoir I’ve ever purchased, and maybe even the first I’ve ever read. I do follow celebrity culture, but I’ve never been very interested in what celebrities have to say beyond their short blurbs in fashion magazines. The average celebrity’s life is so extremely different from my own that their memoirs might as well be written in Cyrillic for all I’ll relate to them.

But Gabourey Sidibe is different.

Sidibe is definitely a celebrity–she now appears on Empire and multiple seasons of American Horror Story–but I’d never realized how unusual her path to her success has been. Discovered at the age of 24 when was cast from among hundreds of girls for the starring role in Precious, an indie movie about a teenager trapped by extreme poverty and incestuous abuse, Sidibe recounts how fame didn’t protect her family from being evicted from their Brooklyn apartment; she writes about walking red carpets in dresses from mall retailer Torrid alongside women wearing ultra-high-end couture.

Precious went on to be nominated for numerous Oscars, including a lead actress nomination for Sidibe herself–but you get the sense that Sidibe has never quite lost her outsider status.

She opens the book with anecdotes about how much time she’s spent agonizing over mean tweets and Instagram comments from strangers–something I’d never even imagined a celebrity would do, but that in hindsight, makes sense. Self-flagellating over social media is, unfortunately, a pretty normal thing to do; Sidibe just has more ammunition than most. Her hurt is palpable on the page, instantly elevating This Is Just My Face from “Celebrities! Just Like Us!” to something far more interesting and true.

The memoir isn’t written linearly, something that could be both frustrating and charming. The effect is like talking to an extremely excitable but interesting friend. At times, you kind of want to interrupt for clarification–but to do so would throw off the flow. Conversations are rarely told in chronological episodes; instead, there are through-lines, and This Is Just My Face is the same way.

Sidibe’s complicated relationship to her parents is one such through-line. Her anecdotes are startlingly honest: she’s open about her distaste for her father, who entered into a green card marriage with her mother and then promptly engaged in polygamous relationships with women in New York City and in his native Senegal; she’s open about her frustration with her beloved mother, a subway singer whom Sidibe thinks should spend more time being happy. Most painfully, she’s open about how much her fame and income have poisoned her relationships with relatives who now always seem to have their hand out.

But just as she’s honest about the hard times, she’s also honest about the good ones. She’s especially good at finding the humor in her time as a phone sex operator, where her quips sharpen the emotional power of her anecdotes. (In one of the best parts of the book, she recounts the stories of people who called phone sex lines just for conversation, particularly troops stationed abroad.)

The memoir concludes with a chapter about the notebooks upon notebooks of self-insert *NSYNC fanfiction Sidibe wrote as a teen and 20-something; this chapter directly follows an anecdote about how emotional she felt while meeting President Obama. Somehow, the revelation of how much time she’s spent writing fanfic isn’t surprising, since This Is Just My Face feels like the work of someone who somehow stepped right into her own daydreams.

Going from a 24-year-old struggling psychology student and phone sex operator to getting an Oscar nomination? Meeting Oprah? Mo’Nique? The President of the United States? That’s amazing, and Sidibe never seems to forget it.

This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare feels more like a heart-to-heart conversation than words on a page. It’s a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and a refreshing take on what memoir can be. 4/5 stars.


I purchased my own copy of This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare and was in no way compensated for this review.

Friday Bookbag, 1.5.18

friday bookbag

Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or otherwise acquired during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

I ran a little wild in the nonfiction and memoir section of the Kindle Store this week and have an abundance of riches to share, so my descriptions of each book will be more abbreviated than they’ve been in previous weeks.

Ready? Let’s dive in.


9781492649359The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

why I’m excited: This real-life story of the factory workers who were poisoned by the glow-in-the-dark radium paint used to paint the faces of watches is almost too sad and bizarre to believed. I find radioactivity fascinating and would be interested in this book for that alone, but as a bonus, this book has also received rave reviews.

9781250080547The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

why I’m excited: In a culture that has a difficult relationship with sex to begin with, sexual crimes and abuse become even more difficult to unpack. Marzano-Lesnevich’s memoir contrasts her own horrifying history of being sexually abused by a family member with that of a man whose murder of a child was sexually motivated. This book has received less critical adoration than some of the others I bought this week, but I’m intrigued by its blend of true crime and raw memoir.

9780544786769This is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

why I’m excited: I love Gabourey Sidibe’s particular brand of carefree style and her amazing sense of humor. I’m not usually interested in celebrity memoirs, but Sidibe isn’t an ordinary super-rich, disconnected celebrity. Best-known for her Oscar-nominated role in Precious, Sidibe has also appeared on American Horror Story: Coven, Difficult People, and Empire. She’s one of the celebrities I’d most like to meet in real life, and I’m hoping this memoir is just as down-to-earth as I’ve found her online presence and acting to be.

9781616204624Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

why I’m excited: This was my biggest impulse-buy of the shopping spree. Who knows if this book will turn out to be as compelling as its eye-catching cover, but I love good science writing and I’ll admit that I’m curious as to why cannibalism is such an intensely repulsive taboo. The line between “animal” and “human” has always seemed disconcertingly thin to me, and it looks like this book will explore that quite a bit.

9780062422910My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward: A Memoir by Mark Lukach

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

why I’m excited: I’ve experienced a week-long stay in a psych ward myself, and I absolutely love memoirs about psych wards, as painful as they can be to read. I know that my own experience of mental illness has been devastating–although my health has improved a lot since that week five years ago–and I’m intrigued about the perspective Mark Lukach has as the spouse of someone with severe mental illness. I’m sure that this is going to be a heart-wrenching read for me, but I hope it will be a healing one, too.

9780062379290The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

why I’m excited: I love food, I love history, and I especially love Southern food and Southern history. What a treat for me that this book includes all of that. Twitty explores the unique forces that have shaped African American cuisine in the Deep South, from slavery to African heritage to religion. I’ll have to keep snacks on hand while reading, because I can guarantee that this book will make me hungry. Its goal of tracing African American lineage in the South reminds me a lot of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a novel I adored, so I’m excited for that element as well.

9780062362599Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

why I’m excited: I love Roxane Gay’s Twitter and used to obsessively read her short stories available online, but I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t read any of her books. Bad Feminist, her collection of essays, has been sitting on my shelf for years, and I’m planning to finally tackle it this month–but I’m actually more excited about this memoir, which unpacks her history of disordered eating. I’ve struggled with guilt about my weight for years and am looking forward to reading a book by another fat person about the complexities of the experience.

9781328663795Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

why I’m excited: Okay, so this one’s cheating a little bit…this book was actually my Christmas present to my partner during our annual trip to Barnes & Noble, where we each pick out a book for the other. An account of the relationship between Nazi Germany and drugs, particularly heroin and methamphetamine, this book caused quite a stir when it was initially published in Germany and I can’t wait to read it when she’s finished.


See books here that you’ve already read or that are on your to-read list? What are you excited to read this week? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!