Summer Camp, Russian Culture, and Belonging | Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Having adored Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol, I was keen on checking out her spin with this gripping and hilarious middle-grade summer camp memoir.

All Vera wants to do is fit in—but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there’s one summer camp in her price range—Russian summer camp.

I’m gonna jump right into discussing the book by highlighting the dreaded sleepover scene that still gives me chills… and it’s been over a decade for me. All the more painful to relive it through Vera’s young eyes. She’s trying her hardest to assimilate as smoothly as possible by pulling together a sleepover (by replicating her friend’s version), but then her mother gives her Russian twist on it.

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As a child of Russian Jews (like I mention in my review for Natasha and Other Stories), I know all too well that you’re donzo if your third-grade classmates see those Russian letters on the cake…

It’s these intimate moments of struggling to belong and navigating your own culture that stood out to most when I read Anya’s Ghost back in 2016. So I was glad to see it delve deeper with Be Prepared. I mean, the painful courage it took to include the sleepover must’ve been tremendous.Be Prepared 2-- bookspoils

Moving along to Vera finding out about a Russian summer camp “build around fostering Russian community” and deciding to join in the hopes of finding people that’ll get her. But she’s not quite prepared for the conditions set in the middle of nowhere.Be Prepared 3-- bookspoilsYou pretty much knew what to expect with this introducing letter:Be Prepared 5-- bookspoils“Dear mom, could you pick me up as soon as you get this? PLEASE! I’m desperate”

What follows is a journey of self-acceptance and resilience, finding friendship within the right people, and more and more summer hardships to overcome. I read it in a heartbeat.Be Prepared 4-- bookspoils

All in all, I more than keen on reading more of Vera Brosgol’s graphic memoirs, especially with that ending we got from Be Prepared!

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: April 24th, 2018

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Be Preparedjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Personality Tests & Modern Feminism in Choose Your Own Disaster by Dana Schwartz

It’s known by now that I’m a fan of memoirs, given that I’m easily swept up in the juicy secrets of someone’s thoughts and secrets without having to reciprocate; it’s bliss for my nosy self.

With this new release part-memoir, part-VERY long personality test, Choose Your Own Disaster is a manifesto about the millennial experience and modern feminism and how the easy advice of “you can be anything you want!” is actually pretty fucking difficult when there are so many possible versions of yourself it seems like you could be. Dana has no idea who she is, but at least she knows she’s a Carrie, a Ravenclaw, a Raphael, a Belle, a former emo kid, a Twitter addict, and a millennial just trying her best.

This memoir-ish book was a) entertaining b) morally questionable and c) utterly vulnerable when covering such topics as:

  • eating disorders, bulimia, and binge-eating.
  • the creation of @GuyInYourMFA. And the story behind the profile picture:

You are definitely, and almost assuredly illegally, using his picture (you had done a Google image search for “guy in hat” and gone with the best candidate). You apologize, profusely, and that afternoon you bring a slouchy hat you own to meet your friend Simon in the library, the same library where you took your Introduction to Fiction class, and you ask him to stand there, against the shelves, and you take a hundred pictures of him with your cell phone and replace the picture of the stranger by that afternoon.

  • tinder dating while on her Eurotrip and meeting a genuinely nice guy.

You and Rory will stay in touch, and you’ll flirt and text and email your writing back and forth for months, a year, after you meet. Once, you will sing and play the guitar over Skype while he accompanies you on glockenspiel and secretly you’ll imagine a version of your story in which you and Rory end up together. You’ll imagine loving him, and you like how it fits. But you only talk in words on a screen anymore, and then, one day, both of you will meet someone else and fall in love for real and will have to tell the other person, a stranger across the ocean who you were never actually dating, that you’re actually with someone else now. Whatever flame you two had, whatever nonrelationship, will be quietly folded and put away in the linen closet.

  • celebrity sightings and her internship at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
  • titles like, Are You an Introvert or Just a Lazy Asshole?”.

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55But my reading experience encountered some minor hindrances when it came to the series of men in this book…

Firstly, I couldn’t help but hear the uncanny resemblance Dana Schwartz’s writing voice bore to Esther’s from the TV series Alone Together (probably because they’re both New York millennial Jewish girls). In particular, those moments when Dana’s hanging on to a guy who’s giving her the clear ‘He’s just not that into you’ signals (which she herself notes more than once).

I appreciated when Dana focused more on chronicling her personal life, instead of wasting time on the men in her life that ditched her or vice versa, like a broken record. (I have to admit, though, that I felt delicious victory at putting together the identity of a certain established writer she was keen on that ended up ghosting her…) It threw me off with the overtly sexual details that I truly don’t care enough to spend pages on pages. I mean, there’s this lawyer dude that I skipped reading (because he came off as the biggest creep), but he was still written about for over twenty pages…

If nothing else, the aforementioned made for a comical line in her acknowledgments:

To all of the men I’ve slept with, thank you for giving me what I needed in that moment, for making me feel special or wanted or loved. And if you hurt me, thank you for helping me to learn while I was young. Hope you bought this book full price just to see if I wrote about you.

Oh, what last lines…

On another note: I couldn’t shake off my annoyance when it came to the constant excuses for her bad calls by comparing herself to problematic fictional women. It just brings home the point that fiction shapes your viewpoint, in particular, when she tries to brush off flirting and sleeping with a married man by using these women from TV shows that cheated (Carrie Bradshaw, Rory Gilmore, Olivia Pope). Everything about this screams midlife-crisis-with-precocious-college-kid.

If I’d gotten a more individual take on Dana Schwartz as a person – not Dana Schwartz in a relationship – I would’ve grown to appreciate this memorable take on memoirs that more.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: June 19th, 2018

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Choose Your Own Disasterjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

 

Review: Unqualified by Anna Faris, Chris Pratt (Foreword)

The road that led me down to pick this book up is a funny one and can be mainly credited to one character: Andy Dwyer. So basically, I was in a funk of watching a bunch of Parks and Recreation videos that started off with this hilarious compilation below of Chris Pratt bloopers that had me nearly choking with laughter, while simultaneously wiping away laugh-crying tears.

I inevitably went down a rabbit hole of binge-watching clip after clip of Parks and Rec, and all this to say, I knew something productive would come of it because this whole preface led me to Unqualified by Anna Faris, since I recalled that Chris Pratt wrote the foreword, and after reading his words, I can only say: Andy would approve.

But the funny thing is, I quickly forgot all about the previous noise when I put on Anna’s easygoing narrative-voice on audio (perfectly made for storytelling), which snared me in right away. I immensely enjoyed the window into her whirlwind world.

Her comic memoir and first book, Unqualified, will share Anna’s candid, sympathetic, and entertaining stories of love lost and won. Part memoir, part humorous, unflinching advice from her hit podcast Anna Faris Is Unqualified, the book will reveal Anna’s unique take on how to navigate the bizarre, chaotic, and worthwhile adventure of finding love.

The book showcases an honest firsthand account of despising high school (“The guiding question of my teenage years was simply, How do I survive this time in my life?”), getting rejected from audition roles (the most exciting one to read about was the Friends audition that later led her to a much bigger role in the show), school-grade crushes (“It was that heady rush of young love that has no basis in logic at all.”), marriage, family, sharing her “penchant for digging into other people’s personal lives,” and more on life and all its aspects. I bonded over the many insights shared from Faris.

The biggest compliment I can pay is that I was so into Unqualified that I continued dreaming about in my sleep, granted I stayed up listening till 1 am and slept for only five hours that night, but still. This book reads of truth. Also, I’m glad I decided to listen to this on audio since her soft-spoken, calming voice has this subtle raspy factor to it that I came to appreciate.

Other essays that stood out for me were about:

  • going to her high school reunion after twenty years and having her 90s romantic movie-worthy ending… just read this passage:

 “I’d been at the reunion for all of one hour, but it was long enough for me to feel like I was in high school again, and to be ready to get out. I mean, Green Day was pumping through the loudspeakers. Chris drove down and picked me up, as we’d planned, and it did feel a bit like the lion rescuing the lioness from the hyenas. It was amazing to watch the reaction as he came through the door. I still felt like headgear-wearing, awkward Anna Faris, but when Chris came in, he was all movie star. There was a collective gasp as he whisked me away and, yes, that was fairly satisfying, I guess. I’m human, after all.”

  • her utterly moving chapter about her son, Jack Pratt. This was the most telling chapter in her memoir where I was continually taken off guard, and I applaud Anna Faris for her ineffable strength and endurance. I felt all the things she described, from the terror of feeling her water break two months before she was due, to the boredom through her bed rest, and then the inevitable scenario of going into labor… All these high-intensity moments stayed with me long after the last page.
  • unfolding the history behind Chris’s fascination with learning to french braid, which had piqued my interest last year when I saw this:

“My mom loves to French braid my hair. It’s a weird thing she does even now that I’m an adult. But she always starts a little too high and I end up looking like a sister wife. Three or four years ago, Chris was watching her do a French braid and wanted to learn. He already knew how to do a regular braid because his sister taught him when they were kids, and he’s into knots in general, from being an outdoorsy guy.”

  • And last but not least, what’s a memoir with sharing some blast from the past photos?

Unqualified 1-- bookspoils“(I’m the short one).”Unqualified 2-- bookspoilsUnqualified 3-- bookspoilsUnqualified 4-- bookspoils


My knowledge of Anna Faris before reading this could be narrowed down to her character Cindy Campbell in Scary Movie (which I definitely shouldn’t have watched at the age that I did), but after reading Unqualified, I feel like I’ve got a more solid perspective on her as a person, which is all I could’ve asked for. Bottom line: I love a good spot-on memoir I can be swept into.

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Unqualified, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!