Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was a book that came highly recommended. It’s been on my list of books to read for such a long time, so I felt the pressure to read it sooner rather than later. I made the unfortunate mistake of reading it on my iPad. This book is definitely one that settles better in the mind if you have a physical copy and a cup of cafecito with you. I wish I would have realized that before hastily reading ahead on a digital copy.

The plot begins with Noemí Taboada arriving at High Place looking for her cousin Catalina who has just married a rich, attractive and seemingly perfect bachelor, Virgil. As she gets closer and closer to Virgil’s brother, Francis, the mystery of why Catalina sent her a delirious letter subtly requesting a rescue unravels. Moreno-Garcia does indeed write a modern Mexican gothic, doom and gloom and self-references included.

“It was the kind of thing she could imagine impressing: an old house atop a hill, with mist and moonlight, like an etching out of a gothic novel. Withering Heights and Jane Eyre, those were Catalina’s sort of books.

Mexican Gothic has a sick twist alla Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak. Without revealing the entire plot, it involves a creepy fungus. The novel works; it’s well-written. Whatever R/romance is included in the novel is not overly sappy or ostentatious. There are sections of the novel that had Alice in Wonderland echoes, and I wished that Moreno-Garcia had gone deeper with the mystery using this writing technique. Overall, she definitely made a new fan out of me, and I will very likely purchase this book along with a few others in the future. The book is definitely worth the hype!

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California State University Dominguez Hills’ R+J (2023)

It was always my intent to incorporate theatre and film reviews to Read House Review. While I could go back and begin with my very first film experiences as a child – which are already covered in my original teaching philosophy – or my first theatre experience with UCSB’s She Stoops To Conquer, I decided to launch into reviewing plays with R+J which was a recent production by California State Dominguez Hills’ Theatre and Dance Department. It is a fresh adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. What makes this play extra special? The play was co-directed by one of my former English professors, Kimberly Huth.

The Playbill

Not to put Dr. Huth on full Shakespearean expert blast, but I can see her influence in this play. I’m glad to note that Kelly Herman, the director, and everyone else involved in the play, was able to work with what she and her years of experience with Shakespearean theatre brought to the production. Now that I have well over a decade working with adaptations myself, I know that making Shakespeare accessible to modern audiences is a huge challenge. One of the biggest criticisms that Shakespearean theatre gets is that it’s too bougie. The fact that this play honors the LGBTQ+ community is very apropos because the community takes great pride in transforming the concept of conservative bougie into modern chic, theatrical flamboyance. We should be thanking modern drag queens for this reconstruction of a previously inaccessible heteronormativity.

To see a play like this on a college or university campus is what I consider success. I remember 10-12 years ago working on my English bachelors and feeling like an outsider. The plays that I was exposed to were considered classics, but I always wondered how they could be adapted to draw in new audiences, audiences that were not necessarily British literature nerds, so to speak. How do we re-mix the best of British literature, Latinx culture, and non-heteronormativity? Fast forward to this play. The idea has come full circle. And, not surprisingly, it required an immense amount of interdepartmental collaboration. The next step in this revolution in theatre (and film) is to see it bloom on Broadway and Hollywood. We really can’t let Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton take all the spotlight.

Things about the play that I noticed were particularly outstanding: the music and choreography. Honestly, much like the soundtrack is the icing on a film, the music and choreography make or break a play. I’m not a fan of all types of Latinx music, so the re-mixes were cleverly constructed while not becoming obnoxious. I couldn’t give the same positive review to the Buffalo Wild Wings down the street from CSUDH that played rancheras for nigh 20 minutes straight and gave me a migraine from Hell. The play had some bachata, viejitas or Latin ballads, and some good movidas. The choreography matched: a stellar mix of formal Elizabethan dance and ChaCha moves. The mix was certainly amusing and got a good chuckle out of me. It was a job well done by Marco Carreon.

The Play Zine

Now, to the acting: I thought Romea was going to faint from lack of oxygen. Imelda C. Franco was delivering those lines so fast. A part of me wants to wryly think her speech matches how fast she is to fall in love with Juliet. “Slow down, gurl you talking too fast!” I wanted to whisper to her while she waited on my side of the stage for her next stage scene. “Breathe!” Her pairing with Emma Soltero, Juliet, was well-chosen. I have to say that Emma Soltero gave one of the best monologue performance regarding her love for Romea that I have ever seen in both school adaptations and commercial adaptations, and I’ve seen a lot! Placing the correct emphasis on certain words, voice projection, and pauses need to be just right. Otherwise, with the Shakespearean English, the actors run the risk of not being understood at all.

I’m going to conclude this review with a few final highlights. Like the Director’s Note says, “As our country is increasingly polarized, we should be reminded that love and tolerance can always fall victim to tribalism.” Plays like this really challenge that tribalism. And, they are precious representations of a intercultural vision we should hope to some day achieve. Finally, for further details, articles, and information, check out the play zine. All you have to do is scan the QR code in the picture above. Don’t forget that anyone can make tax deductible contributions to the Theatre and Dance Department if you cannot attend a play!

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Nicole LePera’s How To Do The Work

Instead of listening to the body – after all, symptoms are it’s way of communicating with us – we seek to silence it.

How To Do The Work seemed to me like New-Age Hippy psychology. I have spent the last few years really critically reviewing contemporary psychology trends, so I expected a lot of this book to be quite repetitive. And, while getting a brief review of some great modern psychology tips in every book is reasonable, I tend to really hate the cliché stuff. Nicole LePera had just the right blend of modern, contemporary, and scientifically-backed up tips for her readers. I can see why she’s very popular on social media; she has an accessible voice.

I approached this book with a very nonchalant attitude. Then, bam! She gets the reader with really well-placed references to Dr. Gabor Maté and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. Not to bash on the New-Age Hippy psychology, but that gave her work a real foundation. Her focus though is on wellness. Wellness as a symptom of health. “The research is unequivocal: people with unresolved trauma get sicker and die younger,” she writes. This places real emphasis on getting healthy not buying into the social lies that perpetuate illness and trauma such as “That’s how things have always been, therefore that’s okay.” What I really enjoy matches LePera’s message is that it’s our responsibility to get healthy; it’s our responsibility to take our mental wellness into our own hands because society will certainly not do it for us. It is, in fact, working against us, actively pushing us toward sickness to make us vulnerable to the capitalist networks that are all around us.

When a parent-figure denies a child’s reality, they are unconsciously teaching the child to reject their intuition, their “gut feeling.”

How To Do The Work lists a few key pillars that are very important on a wellness journey and reparenting. They go (1) emotional regulation, (2) loving discipline, (3) self-care, (4) rediscover wonder. Reparenting to me is an interesting concept. I’m sure many great parents would feel very offended if their child claimed to need it. The key, in my opinion, is to realize that it’s a kind of conscious differentiation. If we didn’t reparent and redirect ourselves, we chance repeating their mistakes, their traumas. The idea is to also build self-trust. Many of us focus on a million and one things before we focus on internal peace, serenity, and good mental health. It’s revolutionary to flip the tables and have our lives revolve around these goals first and foremost. From personal experience, I can certainly say that speaking my mind (rather than keeping my silence for the sake of maintaining peace) ruffles a lot of feathers. But, while society and my employers may try to punish me in some form or another, I sleep better at night knowing that I did not betray myself for the sake of others. The new you might definitely have less friends, and that’s just fine.

Emotional maturity has nothing to do with numerical age. Some of us hit maturity levels that exceed those of our parent-figures before we hit puberty – and some emerge from the womb more mature…”

Work Cited

LePera, Nicole. How To Do The Work, Harper Wave, 9 March 2021. Accessed via Hoopla.

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Ray Bradbury’s The Creatures That Time Forgot

I’m not a huge fan of short stories. They always leave me wanting more: a longer plot, more detail, more of a resolution. None of that ever arrives for the reader. It’s frustrating beyond belief, it’s that form of titillation is often very addictive. It’s the reason why many readers love Ray Bradbury. In The Creatures That Time Forgot, we meet the main character as a newborn with a newborn consciousness, and he is growing and learning really fast.

He stored knowledge thirstily. He understood love, marriage, customs, anger, pity, rage selfishness, shadings, and subtleties, realities and reflections. One thing suggested another.

The weeks passed. Generations lived and died in the cliffs, while the five hundred workers labored over the ship, learning its functions and its parts.

The people in this short story are living on a planet. To me, it’s unclear whether the planet is habitable or not, but it really doesn’t seem so. At least the plot seems to suggest it’s not because the people struggle to survive and are caught in an endless war. Reads like a powerful metaphor. More importantly, they live a really, really short time. This is the story of one individual on a quest to expand his life somehow using a space ship. Will it work? Read it. Nothing is lost by giving it a shot; see if you like it.

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Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State

There’s no room for such distinction in a country where too many people have to claw for what they need and still have nothing to hold.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay is the story of a woman that gets kidnapped in Haiti for ransom. It gets interesting when her father decides to be an ass and not pay the ransom. He soon realizes that the kidnappers are dead serious.

“You will have to be strong,” my father said. I marveled at his ability to state the obvious, to say the most useless things.

Mireille endures 13 days of Hell before her father pays up. In the meantime, the only thing that keeps her breathing are thoughts of her son and husband. Yet, many times through her ordeal and even thereafter, she states that she’s already dead. A strong commentary on violence against women and rape.

My sarcasm doesn’t really work in the country.

The memory of my life, the weight of it, threatened to break my body more than any man could. I needed to be no one so I might survive.

I’ve read other works by Roxane Gay. So, while I like this book, I am also mildly disappointed. Her fictional voice sounds too close to her autobiographical voice. This story, too, shares many themes with events of her own personal life. It’s almost as if the line between fictional writer and autobiographical writer gets blurred to an uncomfortable degree. Perhaps that is the draw-back when fictional writers decide to share too much about their personal lives.

I wanted to tear the skin from her face so I could see the blood of a woman who would stand by and do nothing while another woman endured what was being done to me.

In the end, Mireille is pushed to forgive her father. We know, however, that she’s lying. As a reader, I was really bothered by this plot point. I, personally, think he wasn’t even worth the lie at all. The expenditure of energy would not be affordable even for that. But, to each their own, right?

I didn’t forgive my father. I lied because that lie cost me less than the truth would have cost him.

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Karma Lekshe Tsomo’s Buddhist Feminisms and Femininities

Language is powerful and can express more than mere concepts.

My Buddhist studies were limited to one course back in the early 2000’s, but I never looked at religion the same since. It completely changed my POV of Catholicism and Christianity. And, it also surprisingly shifted my thoughts on feminism. It totally gave me this Zen outlook on some things. So, I was really interested in reading Karma Lekshe Tsomo’s Buddhist Feminisms and Femininities.

It is simply an attempt to develop different, culturally attuned ways of thinking about gender that do not rely on hyper-analysis and “perpetual reflexivity.”

What I found utterly fascinating was their concept of divine hierarchy. If you were born animal, for example, you were of a lesser rung on the divine latter. If you were born into a certain social level, you were of a higher rung on the ladder. Their concept of Hell was having your soul revert back to a lower rung and forcing it to work, over the course of many lifetimes, back to a higher rung on the ladder. If you forgot the lessons of your previous lives and fell into the same pit over and over again, well your soul was fucked. Unless, of course, you got the help of an experienced Buddha.

The hyper-intellectualism of much feminist literature appears pretentious and weird to many indigenous women. The heart of the Buddha’s teachings is to see things “as they are…”

One might conclude that the fundamental problem with beauty is not the manifestation of beauty, per se, but the attachment to beauty. In other words, the desire to be beautiful.

If readers find this book on Hoopla, it would be best to know that it’s mostly a collection of academic articles on the intersectionality of Buddhism and Feminism. I have no shame in stating that I skimmed through it very quickly because many of the references are quite obscure. But, I wanted to absorb it for my own studies in minority feminisms. One of the first steps in research is to arrive at somewhat concrete definitions of what something is and/or is not. Even if those definition are later subject to criticism. One of the key topics within minority feminisms is beauty. So what can we say? It definitely varies from culture to culture. But, I’d say the Buddhists have it correct in stating that it’s a universal essence, a je ne sais quoi sans physique. (My French is clearly terrible.) Beauty and woman, femininity, are intertwined for better or for worse. These elements should find themselves in a minority feminisms conversation.

Disinterest in beauty itself, dispassion toward beauty, and no attachment to beauty – coupled of course with virtue – constitute the truly beautiful person.

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Lindsay C. Gibson’s Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents

The ability to feel mixed emotions is a sign of maturity.

I’m sure that I’ve read Lindsay Gibson’s Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents twice now. Many of the trauma books explain very similar concepts. Gibson is particularly good at providing facts and details. Due to current personal reasons, I am finding it challenging to write a good review of this book. More than anything it has to do with taking the time to deal with recurring flare-ups of trauma. The everyday triggers can never fully be eliminated. Adults with trauma live in a context of reality; we have to pay bills, we have to work, we must interact with individuals day in and day out. We often don’t have the luxury of living, working, and being constantly in healthy isolation. We rarely have the luxury of (social) consideration, in the sense that we often exist as an invisible population, esp. when we’re rather well-adjusted. Many of us are not veterans; we don’t get holidays or discounts.

Because emotionally immature people have little awareness of feelings and a limited vocabulary for emotional experiences, they usually act out their emotional needs instead of talking about them.

Interestingly, self-sufficient children who don’t spur their parents to become enmeshed are often left alone to create a more independent and self-determined life (Bowen 1978).

I’m a huge advocate of using writing as a form of therapeutic outlet. Writing helps expel the toxic. It gives the opportunity for errors that can be corrected in a safe way. The editing process helps refine what we feel/felt, how we should feel/have felt, etc. We can write anything, and mean only 5% of it. Or, we can write hardly anything and mean every word. We can write it down then burn it, or store it away never to be seen again. There is something therapeutic in the silence of it, the lack of utterance. Anyway, this book review reminded me of those Dua Lipa lyrics: “I got new rules. I count them. I gotta tell them to myself.” I always took that as the speaker keeping track of who breaks her rules; she’s making a list and checking it twice. Kind of like Arya Stark, you know?

“So how to define a successful person?” Answering his own question, he said, “I guess first of all, you get rid of ‘success’ – and then see who you are as a person.”

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Ray Bradbury’s The Playground

The Playground by Ray Bradbury is one of those short stories that I would really love to subject to some serious analysis. I could just really play with the concept of age, regression, evil, and life stages. This short story could be looked at through a psychoanalytical lens, Marxist lens, and/or sociological perspective. In the story, the main character grapples with allowing his son to play in the community playground. Instead, he finds himself changed back into a younger version of himself.

“Why do children insist on making life horrible for each other? Oh, the continual torture. He heard himself sigh with immense relief.”

The concept of evil becomes a huge theme in the short story. Like the Christian/Catholic doctrine, it has something to do with knowing. Yet, in this Bradbury piece, the knowing is not an inherit belonging of God. It is a knowing of evil. It really does open the conversation, doesn’t it? When we know that innocents that have been touched by evil know evil but are still just innocents. What of that isolation? Do we relegate them to the playground forever? Trapped in that sand box forever? Read it; it’s interesting.

“I can’t tell you outright,” said the boy. “It has to do with the Playground. Any place where there’s lots of evil, that makes power. You can feel it, can’t you.”

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Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder

A Sound of Thunder has been on my reading list for a decade. I got really into science fiction my first year of college at UCSB. Because I’ve been distracted with theatre and film literature, I hadn’t gotten back to reading some good “old-fashioned” Ray Bradbury until now. It’s kind of funny to consider him classic science-fiction since his writing really was futuristic, visionary far beyond what many could have thought when he first started writing; he’s straight-up timeless. In A Sound of Thunder, Bradbury toys with the idea of a time machine that takes hunters on safari to kill dinosaurs.

“Step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity.”

“But until we do know for certain whether our messing around in Time can make a big roar or a little rustle in history, we’re being careful.”

Interesting concept. From a business standpoint, this sounds like Tesla trying to sell cars first to fund its future space explorations. I’m definitely not sold on the idea. From a scientists perspective, it’s cringe-worthy in the ethical sphere of things. One little misstep and we’re all fucked six ways to Sunday. And, that’s exactly what happens in the book! Revolutionary, insert Ray Bradbury’s unique brand of sarcasm here. One of the time tourists steps on a butterfly. When they return to their time, he lets out a thunderous “Oh fuck!”

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Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman

I bought this earlier this year before my Barnes & Nobles Membership expired. It was a worthwhile purchase for personal and research purposes. Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman gives a teaspoon view of the behind-the-scenes life of beloved British Actor Alan Rickman’s life. I say teaspoon because the book is obviously edited, and I am almost certain a lot was redacted or kept private. Whether it was more personal concerns or deeper thoughts on his romantic life may forever remain a mystery.

Fresh from reading the book, I can say that this book is definitely very gossipy. Initial reaction, anger! I know there is much more content. But, the actors and directors and producers which he mentions in his diaries may find themselves in hot water or the estate of Mr. Rickman may want to avoid stepping on toes, so it’s also very watered down. Yet, I can picture researchers itching to use the material for PhD dissertations.

The theatre and film geek inside me really enjoyed reading some of the tidbits that made up his life. It’s no surprise that there was some friction with Tim Allen; Mr. Rickman is as classy about it in his writing as he would have been in an interview. When he writes about Sigourney Weaver and Liam Neeson, the warmth shines through. Also, I’m very glad he wrote about Anthony Minghella, the director of one of the most beautiful films that Alan Rickman ever made, Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990). Minghella died tragically in 2008 and was such an inspiring director. Rickman was a very social guy that really enjoyed his relationships with fellow actors, directors, and producers. Dinner and a show was his favorite pastime. His acquaintance with Meryl Streep and their unfulfilled desire to work together was such an insightful detail.

I was really touched that Rickman dedicated such a beautiful passage to Natasha Richardson. The genuine care and grief he felt after her passing jumps out of the page. As someone who is a fan of Liam Neeson, I was glued to the TV when it happened, and her death still leaves me feeling a dull ache in my chest. It was heartbreaking to hear the news. (For those who did not know Natasha Richardson, she was a fantastic British actress, a legacy of her theatrical and actoral family.)

The final note by Rima, his wife, broke my heart a little. It was simple, but the love shone through. She doesn’t give much of herself away when writing about Alan, but she does narrate his final days in the hospital. She wrote about his funeral; he practically directed the whole bloody thing from beyond the grave. And, he got a final standing ovation at London’s Actors Church, Covent Garden. 2020, London. I walked by the place in Covent Garden, and I briefly did think of him. I really couldn’t bring myself to visit. A part of me likes to think he’s still alive somewhere. I can’t even bring myself to watch A Promise (2013) even though its free on Tubi.

Work Cited

Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman. Henry Holt & Co., 18 October 2022.

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Perdita Durango (1997)

Savage. I found Perdita Durango (1997) on Tubi, and I debated for the longest time whether to watch it or not. I am so, so glad that I decided to watch it after all. What a gem of a film! Honestly, this film is a cult classic. I put it right next to Fight Club (1999). We meet Perdita Durango (Rosie Perez) at a corner bar. Romeo just happens to end up at the same place. They hook up, and all Hell breaks loose! Long-story short, they kidnap a white American teenage couple. Of course, it does not end good for them.

One of the most interesting aspects of this film is the way femininity shines through. It’s savage, primal, and animalistic. And, it demands respects. If it’s not given, it’s affirmed the old-fashioned way: through physical violence. At one point, Perdita beats Romeo up in the desert, and it’s glorious. She establishes a hierarchy through sexuality, re-affirms it through physical violence, and uses whatever method (guns) to defend it. Perdita is undoubtedly caught in a sadomasochistic dynamic with Romeo, and they drag the two kidnapped teenagers into it.

Apparently, it was adapted from a novel: Barry Gifford’s 1992 novel 59° and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango according to the Wikipedia page. I’d have to read the book at some point to tell how accurate is the translation from novel to film. Also, Javier Bardem plays Romeo, but these were the acting days when he was credited as Carlos Bardem. Anyway, I don’t want to continue revealing other details of the film plot. Suffice to say, I highly recommend it. It all just had to end in Las Vegas!

Work Cited

Perdita Durango (1997). Directed by Alex de la Iglesia. Kadokawa Herald Pictures, 1997.

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Roxane Gay’s Hunger

Hunger by Roxane Gay is a gluttonous book. There is no other way to describe it. Did I enjoy it? Not as much as I was hoping to enjoy it. It may have been because it’s a masochistic book without a deep, deep mind-gasm at the end. No deep epiphany for me. A lot of the book just sounds tragically familiar; I, too, struggle with weight issues. Roxane Gay rightly says, “People see bodies like mine and make their assumptions.” Despite repeated warnings, people often still judge the book by its cover.

Roxane Gay attributes her weight issues to her trauma; she was raped by school mates as a young girl. Not to give away the whole plot, but she muses about her weight and her hunger for 99.9% of the book. “They think they know the why of my body,” she states about others’ opinions about her weight. As a heavier-set girl, I often felt this was true. Skinny or fit people seem to singularly attribute fatness to uncontrollable or excessive eating. To a certain degree, what we eat does have a lot to do with weight gain or loss. However, there are a select few individuals who can partly attribute their weight issues to some other actual physical illness/syndrome, etc. In my case, I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) which makes weight control a huge challenge. (The book reminded me of a personal hidden quirk: I hate being lectured on how to workout my own body, as I if I don’t already know.)

Roxane Gay writes a lot about internal pain due to trauma. She notes, “It spreads through the body like an infection. It becomes depression or addiction or obsession or some other physical manifestation of the silence of what she could have said, needed to say, couldn’t say.” Silent depression. Suppressed depression. The writing process for this book seems almost like a form of purging. She eats and eats and eats: pain, food, toxicity. Then, she word vomits. At some points, I believe in her enlightenment. At others, I sense the self-perpetuated denial. “I don’t want to change who I am, I want to change how I look,” she writes. But, that is an impossibility. Our physical appearance in many ways says a lot about our internal ecology. Something internal must change in order for us to change externally.

And, let’s not forget that psychological states may not always correlate with our emotional states. We may be psychologically sound, but we may also struggle with deep emotional wounds. Roxane Gay, though sometimes sounding like a broken record, takes the reader through the gamut of issues connected to weight gain: eating disorders, bulimia, erasure of gender, sexual expression. I bitterly agreed when she notes, “Sometimes, I get so angry when I think about how my sexuality has been shaped.” When looking at the topic through the eyes of a researcher, I am astonished at how utterly sadomasochistic it is for everyone. Our sexuality is the locus of pleasure for us and no different than what a rat feels when given a piece of cheese after completing a maze with untold obstacles. Am I right or am I right? Anyway, Roxane Gay’s Hunger an interesting, queer read.

Work Cited

Gay, Roxane. Hunger. Harper Collins Publishers. Accessed on Hoopla on 26 January 2023.

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Kurt Vonnegut & Suzanne McConnell’s Pity the Reader

Pity the Reader: On Writing with Style was technically not written by Kurt Vonnegut; it was edited together by Suzanne McConnell. Though she incorporates Vonnegut’s voice through his writing, she really is the primary communicator in this book. And, I was not a huge fan unfortunately.

Like many writers, Vonnegut taught writing. He worked at the Iowa’s Writers Workshop way back when. So, McConnell centers him as a skilled creative writer and a skilled technical writer. By technical, I mean that he knew and understood the mechanics, grammar, style, and overall art of composition. He gives several rules to follow; the first is (1) “Find something you care about.”

And, the list continues:

(2) Do not ramble.

(3) Keep it simple.

(4) Have the guts to cut.

(5) Sound like yourself.

(6) Say what you mean to say.

(7) Pity the Reader.

(8) Give your readers as much information as soon as possible.

McConnell goes through and adds commentary to each of those rules. Those were some of the most important ones in my own book of writing. However, I did spot a key element in which we differ. Vonnegut does not like easter eggs. I, however, love the subtle embedded nod to this work or that work. It feels like a gift that keeps on giving when a book does that. Even when I don’t know the reference, it gives me something to look deeper into, research. One final advice I took from this book was to be bold and brave in writing. Vonnegut writes, “Moxie opens doors.”

Work Cited

McConnell, Suzanne and Kurt Vonnegut. Pity the Reader: On Writing with Style, RosettaBooks, Accessed on Hoopla 26 January 2023.

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Hotel (2001)

Wikipedia states this is a “British-Italian comedy” and a “horror-thriller” which I find as an amusing attempt at stating that it’s a genre defying film. Written and directed by Mike Figgs, Hotel (2001) does not have the cult following that it deserves. I found myself intrigued and repelled by this film enough to let it keep playing on Tubi not too long ago. And, for some reason, I found myself wanting to do a review on this quirky movie.

It’s a “film-within-a-film” type scenario that the viewer slips into. A film crew for the “Duchess of Malfi” is trying to work in Venice while it finds itself recorded by a documentary film maker. The horror of it all is that their hotel staff seem to be cannibals, which I humorously confused for real-world vampires at first.

Roger Ebert stated that it was like a “jazz improvisation,” and he did not seemed surprised that it would go over most people’s heads. I found it akin to a comic book woven together without the stylized veil that Marvel uses on some of its action montages for example. One of the more explicit sex scenes found itself referenced in one of my book reviews recently. Hotel (2001) seems to delight in exhibiting the extremes of human nature side-by-side in a morbid comedy-of-errors sort of way. It very nearly falls into the mockumentary category, but of what exactly… it beats me.

Even with its fabulous cast, it does not surprise me that it bombed at the box office with only 30K revenue. Yet, for me and those who also survived it’s viewing until the end, it’s that same cast that gets us through the full 114 minutes. Salma Hayek, Rhys Ifans, Lucy Liu, John Malkovich manage to get viewers invested in their respective character arcs. Hotel (2001) is a subtly avant-garde piece playing with a perverse aspect of reality. My suggestion for viewers on a film like this is to rewatch multiple times while following the trajectory of one specific character at a time; maybe then a glimmer of an answer will appear to the question it poses: “What was the point of this montage anyway?”

Work Cited

Hotel (2001 Film.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 November 2022, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotel_(2001_film).

Hotel. Directed by Mike Figgs, produced by Moonstone Entertainment, 2001.

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Danielle Dobson’s Breaking The Gender Code

“This book puts the Gender Code under the microscope. It scrutinizes the equation of productivity + business = worthiness and dismantles outdated motherhood myths.”

Danielle Dobson presents a series of perspectives on gender in Breaking the Gender Code. The book promises to scrutinize the gender code. It really is nothing more than a brief review of early 2000’s to 2010’s information regarding gender disparities. A good companion book for Breaking the Gender Code would be Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism.

“What also kept coming up were observations and experiences around gender disparities, pay, inequality, discrimination and inappropriate treatment of women in the workplace.”

“It all starts early in life with childhood play behaviors and the strong influence around gender socialization, and continues to the workplace and beyond.”

I obviously did not find this book all that memorable, but I think it’s a good beginners book for students or citizens looking for a gentle introduction into the topic. Though Dobson does review the differences in gender treatment at work and socialization patterns, she focuses a lot on motherhood as a female role. Personally, that really annoys the shit out of me. In a postmodernist twist, I think that by focusing her book so much on motherhood she is inevitably reinforcing the same stereotypical socialization onto the reader that she attempts to critique.

Work Cited

Dobson, Danielle. Breaking the Gender Code, Code Conversations Pty. Ltd. Accessed on Hoopla, 2022.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

In the beginning, nearly fourteen billion years ago, all the space and all the matter and all the energy of the known universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence.

I had the pleasure of visiting the American Museum of Natural History in New York late Spring 2021 around the time that COVID quarantine was slowly ending everywhere in the United States. In fact, there was a vaccine center set up at the center of it, right under the big whale. It wasn’t until later that I realized that Neil deGrasse Tyson worked there as the director of the Hayden Planetarium. Of course, I knew of him and his work as the current host of Cosmos, so it was nice to finally take a peak at his book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, which gives a solid review on the science and physics of all things space.

Within the chemically rich liquid oceans, by a mechanism yet to be discovered, organic molecules transitioned to self-replicating life.

We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out – and we have only just begun.

I should make up a name for that 6th sense that tells me when a writer is authentic. It may just be my experience as a writer or with literature, but I can always tell a book has been written almost 100% by the author with very little manipulation by third-party editors. Why? Because it sounds like the authentic voice of the writer. If you’ve seen any interviews with deGrasse Tyson, you can tell he has a very unique cadence and linguistic code. And yes… not all nerds sound the same!

To the scientist, the universality of physical laws makes the cosmos a marvelously simple place. By comparison, human nature — the psychologist’s domain – is infinitely more daunting.

Astrophysics for People in Hurry was a great read. So many great quotes! I couldn’t help compare it to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and I’ll likely also compare it to one of Stephen Hawking’s books that I have hidden away in storage in the future. A part of me is annoyed that I still liked Cosmos better. Maybe it’s because I’m not so good with math and calculations, and deGrasse Tyson does not slow down for anyone, not that he should. I felt a little bit like a fish out of water, like I was expected to already know some foundational astrophysics even though it’s still a rather easy read. In any case, this one takes a healthy 8.5 out of 10.0 in my reading scale. I hope to read some of this other work in future and compare.

Work Cited

De Grasse Tyson, Neil. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, W.W. Norton & Company. Accessed from CloudLibrary 2022.

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Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly

Far from being an effective shield, the illusion of invulnerability undermines the very response that would have supplied genuine protection.

Having read The Gifts of Imperfection, I decided to read Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. It hit me in the chest with some brutally real quotes. She tackles vulnerability again, but she adds some really good psychological advice to the mix.

Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences who have earned the right to hear them. Being vulnerable and open is mutual and an integral part of the trust-building process.

Sharing our feelings and vulnerability with others is not a requirement for success in life. In fact, Brown implies that it’s healthy to be selective with whom to share vulnerable information and feelings. I would venture to add that those who’ve earned the right to hear certain facts and details are not necessarily family.

With children, actions speak louder than words. When we stop requesting invitations into their lives by asking about their day, asking them to tell us about their favorite songs, wondering how their friends are doing, then children feel pain and fear (and not relief, despite how our teenagers may act).

The bottom line that daring greatly requires worthiness.

I found Daring Greatly very affirming. Setting high goals for yourself requires high self-esteem. The pre-requisite for believing can have and achieve something is believing that you are worth it. Brown also helps draw some connections between vulnerability and depression. Vulnerability is an emotion; suppressing it can cause pain.

Neuroscience advances confirm what we’ve known all along: Emotions can hurt and cause pain. And just as we often struggle to define physical pain, describing emotional pain is difficult.

Brown also addresses the role of perfectionism and vulnerability and emotion. However, I will refer readers to The Gifts of Imperfection again. An important topic that she reviews in this book is the difference between guilt and shame, which I think is super important for individuals to realize. Guilt is “I did something bad.” Shame is “I am bad.” As an English major, I couldn’t help but analyze the two from a grammatical, linguistic, and structural sense.

I remind myself, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” (Cribbed from Voltaire.)

Guilt is tied to “did” a verb of transient action. Shame is connected to “am” a verb that indicates a personal state of being. Unfortunately, many individuals associate states of being with permanence without accounting for personal change. Perhaps this is the connection between vulnerability, emotion, and depression. Locking oneself into permanent states of thinking without accounting for some change or differences can be depressing.

Work Cited

Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly, Penguin Publishing Group , Accessed on Hoopla 2022.

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Shahida Arabi’s The Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to Dealing with Toxic People

“I’ve learned that toxic people and narcissists find it quite easy to convince a highly empathic and conscientious person that they are paranoid, losing it, or just “over-reacting” when being manipulated. Therefore, these are the people who are targeted, because they can be conditioned to doubt themselves.

Shahida Arabi’s The Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to Dealing with Toxic People was a fortuitous find on my Los Angeles Library’s Hoopla account. It’s right next to The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk when it comes to dealing with trauma and toxicity. One of the key elements that I took from this book is holding to both your feelings on a situation and knowing key aspects of what makes it toxic. While for me it educates on specifics that I’ve already been exposed to, it could be a great introductory book for those seeking to heal.

“Gas-lighting can be extreme when it is used to paint the true abuser as a victim, which often happens in cases of abuse. When a toxic person cannot control you, they often resort to controlling the conversation about you by slandering you and staging smear campaigns.”

“The idea that we can take on the emotions of others is not an unscientific one either. Research indicates that “emotional contagion,” the tendency to “catch” the feelings of others, is more common than we think (Hatfield, Cacioppo, and Rapson 2003).

So many of my other book reviews highlight the idea within the trauma field that individuals can catch the feelings and mental states of others. Depressed people can depress others, pushing them away, and moving farther and and farther away from those that could help. Same with alcoholics. The statistics on those that resume their alcoholism increases if they’re around those who are actively drinking. One aspect about this book that I really enjoyed was Arabi’s use of outside sources rather than simply relying on personal and professional experience; it’s good to see how these writers incorporate the work of others and how the knowledge flows from one research area to another.

Work Cited

Arabi, Shahida. The Highly Sensitive Persons Guide to Dealing with Toxic People, New Harbinger Publications, Accessed on Hoopla 2022.

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Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Robert Sternberg, the present-day guru of intelligence, writes that the major factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement.”

This is a widely known theory of mind and psychology within the education circuit in Southern California and probably other areas of the world. It made sense for me to finally read the entire book rather than limit myself to the knowledge provided by excerpts of Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. A key piece of advice that my mentors have given me over the years: review the sources too and follow up on reading what they have to say on the subject matter. Researchers build up subject matter knowledge this same exact way, and it is a common strategy in many fields.

Howard Gardner, in his book Extraordinary Minds, concluded that exceptional individuals have ” a special talent for identifying their own strengths and weaknesses.”

In contrast, students with the growth mindset continued to show the same high level of interest even when they found the work very challenging.

Mindset has a lot of great quotes that I can cherry-pick to use as a teaching strategy. So, what is it? What is the theory itself? Simply put, learning happens when students engage material with an open mindset. The book explains the criteria for an open mindset or growth mindset. Key factors include: consistent effort over a long period of time, renewal of effort despite challenges and difficulties, willingness to explore options not attempted in previous efforts, willingness to take advise from others and carry out that advice. Not surprisingly, Carol Dweck also mentions here and there how learners with a growth mindset also speak differently; this creates a nice bridge between this book and Valorie Burton’s Successful Women Speak Differently.

Yet, it’s been clear to me for a long time that different students handle depression in dramatically different ways. Some let everything slide. Others, though feeling wretched, hang on. They drag themselves to class, keep up with their work, and take care of themselves – so that when they feel better, their lives are intact.

What I found particularly interesting about this book was Carol Dweck’s inclusion of the subject of depression and it’s connection to success. The statistics on childhood depression vary depending on the source, but one fact is certain: they are way too high for comfort. Having experienced my own first depressive episodes as early as middle school, I can certainly see the point Dweck tries to make regarding the invisible connection between depression and academic success. The growth mindset group keeps it together while the other group does not. As an instructor, I have been tempted many times to “go easy” on my students because they struggle with x, y, or z. A part of me has always felt that I do them a disservice when I lower my standards. What are educators really trying to say when they hold students to a bare minimum standard?Hey, listen kid, I know this is really the best you can do, so I won’t expect better from you. To me, this always felt like the teacher is trying to take the easy way out rather than giving the students a much needed mental break.

Many educators think that lowering their standards will give students success experiences, boost their self-esteem, and raise their achievement. It comes from the same philosophy as the overpraising of students’ intelligence. Well, it doesn’t work. Lowering standards just leads to poorly educated students who feel entitled to easy work and lavish praise.

Work Cited

Dweck PhD, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Penguin Random House, 2016. Accessed on CloudLibrary 2022.

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Alexandra Solomon’s Taking Sexy Back

Although sex is something you (usually) experience with another person, your sexuality is yours.

Alexandra Solomon’s Taking Sexy Back is a very reaffirming book on the complicated nature of women’s sexuality. Having surveyed quite a few of the books within this genre, I find her to be reasonable but a little generic. However, I did find her sections on trauma sexuality very helpful. It’s good to hear how trauma affects a female’s sexuality especially in conjunction with the judgmental nature of social narratives regarding preferences. Recently, I watched the film Hotel (2002) featuring Salma Hayek and a number of other fantastic actors. The film features a scene in which a woman pegs her sexual partner. It was not clear to me whether the couple was married, but I thought about this book suddenly. Two points flashed before my mind: (1) the scandalous idea that the woman found it enjoyable to perform that specific act on a willing partner, (2) the ambiguous nature of the male’s sexuality; regardless of the act performed for the camera, he isn’t necessarily homosexual in the “conventional” sense.

One-third of all women will be subjected to sexual violence in their lifetime, and the risk of sexual violence is higher for women of color and for those who belong to the LGBTQ+ community.

If women cannot say no, then women cannot truly say yes.

Consent is a huge, huge issue in society today! I think I was part of a generation that had to learn a lot about sexuality independently. Through trial and error, mostly error if I’m honest, we figured out a lot of truths and facts that were not common knowledge for us growing up. So, for me, this book was more of a warm reassurance. I think for an older generation that didn’t really have the opportunity to develop a sense of sexual freedom this book would be a great read. I kept thinking it would be a great read in Spanish for the older divorced generations that married young and didn’t have much experience prior to marriage and whose experience during marriage sucked. Having become familiar with Alexandra Solomon on Instagram, I give her props for having such a warm personality. Though Taking Sexy Back was a lukewarm read for me, I actually look forward to reading her other work.

Pleasure is quite literally your birthright.

Work Cited

Solomon PhD, Alexandra. Taking Sexy Back, New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2020. Accessed via CloudLibrary 2022.

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Carol Mitchell’s Breaking Through “Bitch”

Both executive men and women have told me that if women do not find that perfect balance of sex stereotypic behavior (femininity) and professional leadership behavior, they are judged more harshly.

A part of me expected this book to wow me, but I didn’t quite get that impression from Carol Mitchell’s Breaking Through Bitch. The underlying goal of this book is to encourage women not to worry when they’re considered a bitch. It’s like Mitchell is trying to be the elite cheerleader; unfortunately, she doesn’t quite achieve it. She does reiterate some key information about women in leadership roles, though it’s more stereotype based rather than statistical or research based.

It isn’t unusual to hear a strong female leader referred to as “the dragon lady.”

In Jewish mythology Lilith is the Hebrew name of a female demon. The folklore is that Lilith was the first wife of Adam and, unlike Eve, was made at the same time and of the same earth as him. (It only took one of Adam’s ribs to make Eve.) Lilith left Adam when she refused to be subservient to him. She has come to symbolize the quintessential “uppity woman”; standing up to and behaving aggressively toward men, she is someone to be feared.

I wrote an essay a while back on Milton’s Paradise Lost. If I were to ever extend my analysis of the text, I would definitely expand on some key ideas about Sin, Eve, and Lilith. I think I left Lilith out of that particular essay, but it seems to me that there is an underlying conflation between these three key figures that could be looked at more closely. It was refreshing to have Mitchell mention Lilith in the text especially because many modern stereotypes are still informed by long-standing myth.

Executive women can see relationships and connections among seemingly unrelated pieces of information.

Don’t quote me on this, but I do believe that neuroscientists have confirmed that the female brain is quite a bit larger than a male’s brain. There are also more parts firing up at once in any given circumstance. I think it really does have to do with the reproductive nature of the female body that women are able to connect the dots better and have a sharper sense of perception. So, why is it that our leadership skills exist as a constant societal question?

Successful executive women have figured out how to delegate and let go of control – in a very controlled way.

Delegating items on an important to-do list is the leader’s worst nightmare. You really have to trust your team, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and know everyone’s potential limitations. It’s a game of gaging the reliability of someone’s potential. This is some key psychological hocus pocus that is rarely taught in school. It almost happens through osmosis from others that demonstrate the skill.

Madeleine Albright has said – and the late, great Ann Richards, former governor of Texas, has echoed – “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

This Madeleine Albright quote made me sigh in frustration. Yes, feminism in its modern form really is all about building a network of support. However, a part of me wishes that Mitchell would have expanded on why it would be prudent to not help someone. Not enabling destructive behaviors – whether by a man or woman – is a personal and professional boundary that I’ve noticed many successful women in positions of power uphold. Anyway, not sure if I would recommend Carol Mitchell’s Breaking Through Bitch. Check it out if professional development is your thing though!

Work Cited

Mitchell, Carol Vallone. Breaking Through “Bitch,” The Career Press, Inc., 2015.

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Valorie Burton’s Successful Women Speak Differently

“Alisha, on the other hand, talked about her vision to pretty much anyone who would listen – and she did it in an easy, energetic way. She was sharing her passion, not selling something.”

A lot of today’s self-help and professional development literature is informed by cognitive psychology and Valorie Burton’s Successful Women Speak Differently is no different. In this book, Burton also takes into account her personal observations. Some of the advice she gives had me cringing though I really liked her explanations. Telling individuals about your vision is a tough one.

“Being intentional about your word choice and conquering your fears to speak up when needed and remain silent when it is wise can mean the difference between success and failure.”

Sharing your vision, especially when its only a half-formed idea, can be terrifying. Trying to add “easy” and “energetic” to that is a recipe for a mental breakdown when things go pear-shaped. At these moments, the intentionality of the quest is crucial. But, Burton stresses the importance of speaking. It reminds me why I tend to tell my students that after graduating with my bachelor’s degree I realized a key lesson I was never given by my instructors was the importance of networking. You cannot network unless you speak!

They think differently in the face of fear, failure, setbacks, and challenges. They say different things to themselves in the face of such obstacles.

Whenever I get the chance, I remind my students that beginning these necessary conversations is like writing an essay. You need a hook. And, the best hook for beginners is always a simple question. Once you get the hang of it, you can go for more advanced introductions, so to speak. Something that I find interesting is that successful people, from my point of view, never forget what it feels like to fall, and fall hard. Why is it that most people forget what it feels like to land on their knees when they trip and fall while running in the playground? How do we forget when that sibling accidentally tripped us and we fucked-up our shin? Not to speak in metaphors all the time, but isn’t it the same thing? The pain question is just a physical versus psychological debate.

If you honestly think you are better than you are, you’ll step up for opportunities even when you might not quite be qualified or ready. And while you won’t get some of the opportunities, some you will!

In one of the quotes I selected for this review, Burton states that it’s important to be intentional with your word choice. I totally agree with this! There are a handful of words that I consciously try to leave out of my vocabulary now. Words such as: failure, shelter, and all the curse words I know in Spanish. Like I told my students once at Education First in New York, contrary to what some people believe, your words have a power to influence your reality in very powerful ways. Your words create your reality. And by the power of association, your reality can distort the reality of others too. So be careful what you say and do! An example of this concept would be, don’t make things an option that are really a necessity: a phone, internet, self-love, etc. (from the material to the metaphysical).

“The human voice is the organ of the soul,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I think it’s Brené Brown that says something like “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” She talks about showing up in terms of vulnerability. But, she is right on the mark. This is what Burton forgot to mention in this book quite a lot. Successful people don’t just show up, speak up in different ways … they put themselves on the damn line in vulnerable ways. Like Rumple says in Once Upon A Time all the time, “Everything comes with a price.”

Successful women show up for small opportunities as they do for big opportunities.

A lot of professional development gurus mention that it’s worthwhile to always assess every opportunity presented. When someone is on a winning streak, it is easy to dismiss something small. Even worse, dismissing something small without leaving the window of opportunity open. People be tripping on this a lot! Maybe it’s because my parents owned a company based on sales and word-of-mouth for many years that I think of it differently. You may dismiss the small opportunity that doesn’t pay much at first because you’re caught up on other things, but that could have led up to other opportunities that pay more later. Anyway, I could have written a much longer review with all the great quotes Valorie Burton had in Successful Women Speak Differently; I definitely recommend you take a peak into it.

Work Cited

Burton, Valorie. Successful Women Speak Differently, Harvest House Publishers, 2016.

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Amy Morin’s 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

Developing mental strength is about improving your ability to regulate your emotions, manage your thoughts, and behave in a positive manner, despite your circumstances.

Amy Morin’s 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do would be good book for individuals struggling with some depression and lack of motivation. One of the things that I wanted to clarify while reading the book was the difference between an emotion and a feeling. According to Psychology Today, “Emotions originate as sensations in the body. Feelings are influenced by our emotions but are generated from our mental thoughts.” So, from my understanding, both can be controlled to some degree. If you apply control to your body, then some emotions can be controlled. Nutritionists and fitness experts would agree that physical motion(s) help emotions. But, when we keep our mind sharp, we can also steer the ship to better waters, so to speak.

Increasing your mental strength isn’t about suppressing your emotions; instead it’s about developing a keen awareness of them. It’s about interpreting and understanding how your emotions influence your thoughts and behavior.

It’s about understanding your thoughts and feelings well enough that you can determine when to behave contrary to them, and when to listen to them.

It seems mindfulness and self-control are key. Giving yourself time to stop and think critically about your thinking and feeling and body seems to be the way to gain some control over a seemingly chaotic moment. It is very difficult to do. It takes practice. And, having learned from my family’s history of alcoholism and domestic violence, your first feelings and emotions are not always right. The reflexive impulse to fix something in a particular way because “that is what anyone else would do” or “society says that’s what anyone would typically do” or “the rules of society dictate that’s what you should do” is not necessarily correct.

Coined as “bi-local expectancy,” the people who understand that they can take a lot of steps to control their lives while also recognizing the limitations of their ability are happier than people who think they can control everything.

Unfortunately, for some of us that have experienced some trauma in our early years, the truth is that we can never – for the rest of our lives – trust our own emotions and feelings, our own judgement. (And, if someone’s advice continues to steer us in the wrong direction, we begin to lose trust and respect.) It is a sad reality that we live with on a day-to-day basis. This is why the experts often say that alcoholism and domestic violence is an illness; you can spread it to others in one form or another. And, it’s insidiously difficult to pin this cruel reality. Amy Morin is really good at highlighting some key important things. First, success requires discipline. She gives great points to follow, but the importance of discipline – consistent, sustained, and long-term – cannot be underestimated. As they say, Rome was not built in a day.

The more time you spending focusing on someone else’s achievements, the less time you have to work on your own goals.

Finally, many people give up because they have a fixed mind-set about their abilities. They don’t think that they have any control over their level of talent so they don’t bother improving and trying again after failure. They think if you weren’t born with a God-given talent to do something, theres no use in trying to learn.

Amy Morin obviously read Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. It will hopefully join the review list soon; make sure to check the table of contents for it. I want to propose that depression and fixed mindsets are also contagious although I probably wouldn’t be the first to say it. The challenging part is coming to terms with the fact that the bad habits and disciplines tend to overpower the good ones. Here, I want to suggest that there are definitely not enough trauma-informed parenting books to prevent the repetition of cycles, even seemingly well-adjusted parents with trauma histories could unwittingly re-create unhelpful cycles.

When you become mentally strong, you will be your best self, have the courage to do what’s right, and develop comfort with who you are and what you are capable of achieving.

So, who is Amy Morin? She’s a licensed clinical social worker, affiliate of Northeastern University, and psychotherapist. A lot of what she talks about in 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do is common information in the educational circuit, but she compresses it into 13 bullet points. Why that number is still a question to me. Not to be disparaging of her work, but she says the same thing that many of her contemporaries in the self-help genre say. At this point, I am left with the notion that the writers within the psychotherapy and self-help genres achieve success moreso by the uniqueness of their personality rather than the originality of their work. As a literary critic, the cult of personality is a term closely attached with these contemporary genres, so I don’t think I’m far off the mark on this.

Even if you can’t change the situation, you can choose how to respond. You can decide to deal with problems, circumstances, or tragedies that come your way without developing a victim mentality.

Work Cited

Morin, Amy. 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, HarperCollins Publishers, 2017. Access on Hoopla 2022.

“The Important Difference between Emotions and Feelings.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-pleasure-is-all-yours/202202/the-important-difference-between-emotions-and-feelings.

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Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing

Where did I find the courage to rebel, change my life, live alone?

Ray Bradbury is among the most prolific writers that went on to write his own how-to book on creative writing. Wow, that last sentence had a lot of versions of “write” in it, LOL. But, there you have it. He’s a big proponent of putting it all down on paper no matter what. What’s the point of keeping it in your head? What good does it do there? I think the refining process begins once you put something down on paper. Interestingly enough, he is also one of a few very successful commercial writers that used a typewriter. Hmm… maybe I should use one for my next book and see if that works.

First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.

Bradbury is one of those writers that speaks of writing like a spiritual calling. You cannot turn your back on it once you’ve discovered the talent. It would be sacrilegious. It even informs the title for goodness sake. I think part of it is that within the dedicated writer is also a need to capture something essential about life, some zeitgeist … however painful. It may not do us any good in this life or bring us fame or fortune, but I guess that’s also why scriptures of many religions were written. No?

Not to write, for many of us, is to die.

Something that I really enjoy about Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing are the glimpses of his very normal life. The struggle was real, and he caught it on paper. I cannot imagine having a full-blown family and trying to make a living as a writer. It just seems like the toughest decision to dedicate yourself 100% to it. It always reminds me of Alan Rickman deciding to be a graphic designer first because being an actor was not the “practical” thing to do in society.

Remember that pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.

Another reason why I love this book is because it corroborates quite a lot of what Stephen King says in his book On Writing. Practice is key! After mastering a few grammar and style rules, of course. Funnily enough, there isn’t much to it aside from that. There, that is the grand mystery to writing! If I were to give the biggest difference between King and Bradbury in these two books is the voice and organization of the books. King’s got that smooth, styled voice. Bradbury is all California dude. And, whether by the talents of the writer or his editors, King’s book has a better structure. He divides his book into sections while Bradbury makes the reader feel like he’s just having a long winded conversation with someone.

What is The Subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse.

Bradbury does talk about the Muse. He thinks of it in subconscious terms which would lend itself nicely to a psychoanalytic reading. So many creatives talk about the muse, inspiration, or “channelling” something beyond them, even Beyonce has admitted to having an entirely different alter ego. As a Mexican, sometimes I tell myself sarcastic and wry jokes about possession and having some muerto with flavor take over you. Because, we really do go into a zone, the zone in which nothing but the next word matters.

Let’s say that each of us has fed himself on life, first, and later, on books and magazines.

Bradbury reminds me a little of those method actors because he seems to feel like the writer embodies his writing, the creative story in many ways. And, that inspiration breeds inspiration. While King for example, he speaks of it as something that is disciplined. When you’ve mastered the craft, you don’t need inspiration when you can give yourself prompts to begin. For Bradbury, one that works is word association or lists of interesting words. They both have a point, gotta say. Start with whatever floats your boat, but remember it’s only a start and the ending may be somewhere else entirely.

Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand.

I love poetry, okay. It’s a fine art, a craft. It’s a craft to write it, and it’s a craft to read it. You know those new parenting tips on how to help your infants develop their motor reflexes and learn physical coordination. Well, poetry does the same freakin’ thing. I’ve been saying it for years, and Bradbury backs me up. Simply put, it’s like a puzzle your brain needs to put together. The brain is a muscle people! And, not to be cheeky about the quote above, but Voldemort must have not read poetry because he lost his nose completely. Poor sucker.

Literary history is filled with writers who, rightly or wrongly, felt they could tidy up, improve upon, or revolutionize a given field. So many of us plunge forward where angels leave no dustprint.

Talk about making my choice to try to get a PhD a moot endeavor! Oh, thanks Ray. Insert sarcasm here. I wonder if he was a fan of E.M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread. Ah! To be an angel or not to be, that is the question. One final note about Zen in the Art of Writing, readers should really get familiar with some of his work before diving into this book because he does reference his own writing and it helps connect the dots better. Did you know he used the typewriters at UCLA for a lot of his drafts? Fun fact.

Work Cited

Bradbury, Ray. Zen in the Art of Writing, Rosetta Books, 2017.

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Jane Juffer’s Millennial Feminism at Work

There is no universal answer here, no singular definition of feminism. Rather, feminist theory offers strategies for analyzing the power imbalances of any particular site.

To be thoroughly sarcastic, Jane Juffer sure paints the most hopeful picture in Millennial Feminism at Work doesn’t she? If I wasn’t depressed before about the state of academic careers, feminism in the workplace, and the stereotypes on working women… well, she sure did a wonderful job. I have half-a-mind to rescind my application to Cornell for the PhD if these are the instructors they’ve got bestowing hope to the future. And yet, I shudder when I imagine the state of world without us brainy academics alive to force a handful of individuals to learn how to think critically about select subjects.

Most of them have struggled to make ends meet, have changed jobs at least once, or have deliberated about whether to continue working for nonprofits that minimize risks to their workers’ mental and emotional health.

Staying in the same job without changing at least once seems to be a thing of a by-gone era. If my generation ever gets to that point, I would not be surprised if it’s not until our mid-thirties to early-forties. And, interestingly enough, I’ve worked in the for-profit legal field, and I know that it’s also incredibly taxing to workers’ mental and emotional health. Few actually point out the real cause of the problem: capitalism. It’s not the individual worker but the repeating systemic patterns triggered. Imagine drinking a little drop of poison every day for years, do you think it might get you sick eventually? Like my nephew Aaron says sometimes, “Common. Get real.”

Ideally, students would have the opportunity while still in college to “try out” theory in a workplace, so that there is time to return to the classroom and consider how the engagement redefines the theory.

Jane Juffer uses the stories of some of her former students to analyze how feminist theory manifests itself in their daily lives. Any theory we try out will inevitably conflict with making money. That is why so few continue to have the courage and interest in it. In the case of feminism, some sexist patterns are so entrenched that to change them at least one woman needs to explode like an atomic bomb before others get the fucking point – usually men. Been there, done that.

I learned one thing very well: feminists aren’t always popular in the workplace. My values and approach to the work caused a lot of conflict with my peers in management who were uncomfortable with having to talk to people whom they perceived as difficult or challenging (read: homeless or formerly homeless).

“Feminists aren’t popular anywhere,” I would venture to say at my most jaded moments. It takes having a sense of British humor to take a poke here and there about some antifeminist comment or another. And, from my experience socializing at Buffalo Wild Wings talking to a lot of blue collar workers, it usually also takes a pint and a cheeky smile. But, take away the alcohol and put on your Voldemort face, and here comes trouble.

However, she said, she soon realized that networking was another form of activism in which she had always engaged and a way to ask the question, “What does it mean to reach out to people you might want to stay in touch with for the rest of your life?”

When it comes to networking, Juffer knows what I’m talking about. What does it mean to stay in touch with someone long-term? What forms of connection (i.e. social media, in-person, email, etc.) are the most helpful? It’s not always about what can this person do for me, but what can I do for them that would be helpful to their goals. In many ways, it’s a love language alla Gary Chapman. It’s not so much about individuals being resources, but it’s about intimacy. And, how individuals build it varies greatly in my experience. I’ve had friends that are social climbers, superficial. Those are difficult to handle for the sensitive heart that like genuine connections. Other friends are the fast and furious kind; they go deep fast. It can trigger a best friend phase or – worst case scenario – the run-like-hell phase. (It’s a trauma reaction.) Then, my personal tendency: the slow-and-steady-wins-the-race-with-a-few-breaks-inbetween.

Writing that thesis shaped my understanding that feminism could be inconspicuous, pleasurable, and everyday.

I went to Niagara Falls, Canada with my mom recently. (We were on a break from our relationship for a while; she hasn’t been that nice to me.) Anyway, I went into this random store called “For Shits and Giggles,” I think. It sold graphic t-shirts. In my opinion, that made it the best store in the entire town. A Harley Quinn shirt caught my eye. It says, “Daddy’s Lil’ Monster.” What can I say? I’m a fan much like Kevin Smith. And she had to sour the mood by saying, “I don’t know how you guys like those things.” Well, I do. It joins another Harley Quinn shirt in my collection that says, “The crazy things we do for love.” Ain’t that right daddy?

I was dedicated to quieter, personal ones – expelling misogyny from my life, investing in female friendships, breaking down my perceptions of acceptable femininity, and questioning concretized histories of sexism – without thinking much about whom these acts benefited.

The truth of everyday feminism is that it’s a subversive hobby for most women. Discrete, underhanded. It takes real balls to bring it to the surface and not mince words … or action. It’s not convenient. It’s expensive: try translating the energy the feminist man or woman exerts in upholding those ideals into money. It’s not for the fainthearted. But, I also want to point out, that it does not mean living without privacy. Being a feminist does not mean being an open book, people. Some pains and griefs – whether from personal or work experience – need to be handled independently. (It’s called maturity.)

Whom do we choose to grieve and why? What does public mourning say about the person grieving and the person being grieved? Though grief can be intimate and solitary, Butler also remarks on the community that can be formed in sharing loss.

Whenever I’m asked why I wear so much black, I like to say, “Because I’m eternally grieving my soul.” #whatevernevermind Unless you’re in the mood for communal, feminist therapeutic talk in the vein of “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” this book is a skip it. If you’re in college and want a glimpse of the worst-case-scenario for your future, dive right in kid; this is your jam, right here.

Work Cited

Juffer, Jane. Millennial Feminism at Work, Cornell University, 2021.

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Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility

My middle sister once told me disparagingly, “You think you’re so white.” Robin Diangelo quotes Amiri Barak in White Fragility to say that “whiteness has been … a highly adaptable and fluid force that stays on top no matter where it lands” (15). How interesting because I find that I’ve felt at the bottom for such a long time. It could be a shadow of low-self esteem. Or, as Miley Cyrus was saying in an interview not too long ago, no matter what I do, there will always be those that will judge me. I will always be either too this or too much of that. Perhaps my experience is more marginalized than black or white, there are so many other schemas by which to organize our perception of the world: latinx, feminism, sexuality, socio-economic class, fashion, ecology, legal, etc. Depending on which schema you judge by, the scale will always angle one way or another.

Charles Baudelaire: “The loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.”

One of the main points that Diangelo makes in this book is that race may not be true, but it is real. Race in and of itself is a human construct. I read it as a fictionalized value system that we place on the color of our skin, and we’ve used that value system over and over so much that it’s become a schema by which the world revolves. In many ways, what Diangelo is saying reminds me of Judith Butler’s performativity. We’ve performed race so much in the United States and all over the globe that, frankly, for some of us, it becomes a critical point of resistance and deviance. Some schemas no longer work, and we need to cease recycling them.

“Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority that we either are unaware of or never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race” (22).

Do I like the book overall, though? No, I can’t say that it’s one of my favorites or that I would even recommend it to others as much as I originally thought I would. Why? Because, the writer is white, writing about the white experience resisting racism within the white community. Robin says that she’s “using my insider status to challenge racism.” It’s a noble cause. I’m all for it. However, regardless of what my middle sister says, I think I’m way past a book like this one. This book is for Recovering Racists 101. Sometimes, it’s hard to explain to some individuals – like my sister or like actual racists – that there is a divergence – a very important one – from a fragile sense of pride in what we’ve accomplished for ourselves and actual sense of superiority. Is it informed by race? Of course, the accomplishments are despite and because of. It takes a particular kind of self-consciousness, perhaps the very one that lends itself to fall so readily into low self-esteem, to prevent pride from turning to superiority.

“We make sense of perceptions and experiences through our particular cultural lens. This lens is neither universal nor objective, and without it, a person cannot function in any human society. But exploring these cultural frameworks can be particularly challenging in Western Culture precisely because of two key Western ideologies: individualism and objectivity” (28).

I do have to say that I recognize Diangelo’s voice. She writes like someone who straddles a dangerous and precarious margin. She also mentions she’s a sociologist which explains why her book is so generalized and non-specific. Though, I did appreciate the statistics on white teachers (82%) and white professors (84%) in the U.S. Whatever is left of that percentage is likely distributed among minority professors and teachers, a very small number and why I’m so persistent with my PhD goals. I’m happy she clarifies that “the sad fact is that many whites have no cross-racial friendships at all” (86). A sad fact. Lately, I’ve had a few radical ideas slip through my mind. I would have to say that I think many individuals from minorities don’t have many white friends either. Even to say that we would like more white friends, for the sake of diversity, would be criminal. We’re taught racism. Racism is the prevailing topic. In a wild suggestion informed by reverse psychology, shouldn’t we teach diversity? The more we teach about racism, the more it seems to me that we perform it.

“Many of us see emotions as naturally occurring. But emotions are political in two key ways. First, our emotions are shaped by our biases and beliefs, our cultural frameworks” (128).

But, the color in us demands acknowledgement. The highlights in history have become the crux of violence where race was a presiding factor. And, suddenly, this review feels like I’m the British entering World War II to “turn the tide.” America gets dragged into this by default. But, what else can I say on the subject? When I really go into deep thought about this, I depress myself. Perhaps that’s what I sense in Diangelo. The cultural frameworks she speaks about speak to me. If I suddenly told my mother, hypothetically, any of the following, for example: I like women, I don’t want to ever be a mother, I want to marry a black man, I hate dating Latino men, I feel queer, I like kink, I like Korean guys… She would likely disown me, nevermind that she has nothing to give me as an inheritance anyway. The framework gets so suffocating the more you visualize it that it becomes almost impossible to navigate the culture.

For Diangelo, this is book one of hopefully a follow up book that brings out the big guns. I am a pacifist on any given day, but sometimes violence is the last resort to shake something up. What I told my students recently on race, the kind of violence we need the most is psychological. The utter destruction of faulty schemas to re-write the personal constitution, so to speak. Like the creators of #BlackLivesMatter said, we should not get too sidetracked by the actual physical violence. It’s only a representation of some deeper sociological shifts. White Fragility is definitely a good beginner’s text for White America, but it should not be held as the ideal. It is a step toward deeper, more succinct texts like Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism or even Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands to really understand racial diversity and informed by Interdisciplinary Studies.

Work Cited

Diangelo, Robin. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism. Beacon Press, 2018.

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Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women


“Her husband always said, ‘Baby, you are perfect,’ and she flushed angrily. His assurances were so reflexive as to be insulting.”

This entire book is a collection of short stories. I hadn’t really read an anthology like this since “Chicken Soup For The Soul,” which is a lot more campy. I highlighted some of the quotes because they appealed to me on one level or another.

“Their voices are deep and velvety in the way of women who know things.”

The secret knowing of an experienced woman, so attractive to many. Or, when someone tells you something they don’t mean only to make you feel better. This one reminded me of my grandmother; she was from Mexico, but low-key very British.


“At night, I sit in my apartment and watch TV and search for faculty positions and other carer opportunities closer to the center of the world.”

It’s often said that certain educational segments are getting over-saturated with candidates. The qualifications of these candidates in question. It really takes careful filtering to see whose qualified for those positions. I feel like such a dick sometimes for thinking that schools are way too easy on students these days; we should be harder and filter with greater finesse those actually worthy to be in universities. But, that’s just me.


“It is a remarkable thing, the stone thrower often thinks, being able to see such intimacies, being able to see the separation of her whole into parts.”

For some reason reason, this quote reminded me of the movie “The Cell” with Jennifer Lopez. There is that scene where the cow horse gets cut into several different slices. The heart is still beating even a few seconds after.


“I looked at Teresa, saw how hard living had taken up residence in her features.”

I had that look once. Bags under my eyes, tired, hair that lacked that healthy shine. It was also the look my last employer had when he “let me go.” Utterly exhausted. I looked my face in the mirror later that day, and I laughed. “Como la fresca lechuga,” my Grandma Maria would have said. Like fresh lettuce.


“Every time that man sank his fists into my body, I could breathe a little. I used one hurt to cover another.”

How can you break all the way down when you are already broken? At what point do all the tears dry up? Bone. Soul. Dreams. The hurt gets covered over by … what? Cute, cheap stickers? Leave it bare.


“We play games because we can and we like it. Most days these games keep us together, somehow.”

Only people with no purpose seem to be able to afford the games. No immediate purpose. Or, maybe I’m just bitter. See the previous chapter. Obviously, I don’t play much. I don’t have much of a taste for it. It’s a rare privilege for some to witness.


“There are things you do not know about me. These things are not inconsequential.”

I will write or speak of those things in detail freely some day. For now, they rest in peace in my head. It may take a long time to speak or write about them. That’s how much it hurt. The silence is the only remedy for the wound that I found works.


“My husband and I often ask unanswerable questions of each other. Should we give up? Should we find other partners? Why are we putting ourselves through this?

Thanksgiving is around the corner; the title reminded me. It’s the doubt that tortures the sensitive soul. Maybe mine has roughened out? Is that even grammatically correct? Whatever. Nevermind. The shadow of the truth for better or for worse. But, isn’t it always like that? Humanity craves certainty. Few can survive in that space of ambiguity, especially couples from my observations.


“Each word and every sentence in Difficult Women invites instead of repels the reader. Her erudition and ardor always strive for connection, and her blunt stories are anchored by curiosity and emotional depth while avoiding the maudlin, or needlessly grotesque plots.”

“Repels and invites,” I would have said it is a kind of romantic survey. There’s something utterly melancholic about it. A picture of the contemporary woman, female. A little bit of something for everyone. The only thing missing were the LGBTQ+ unicorns.

Worked Cited

Gay, Roxane. Difficult Women. First Grove Atlantic, 2017.

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Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

Truth be told, I was looking for a copy of some of Buddha’s writings or maybe Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. I found Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet by accident at Barnes & Noble. It was tucked in a little corner and caught my eye. The first couple of lines I read immediately caught my attention. The prose was just what I needed to feel a sense of grounding and meditation. He says, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.” As noted on several other reviews online, the book follows a prophet by the name of Al Mustafa as he seemingly journeys through a village. The villagers ask him questions about life and whatnot. He answers them from a well of seemingly infinite wisdom, “You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.”

“Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.”

“The soul unfolds itself like a lotus of countless petals.”

The Prophet has a sensuality to it. It was one of the qualities about Gibran’s poetic style that caught my attention. With subtle poetic devices used and deep aphorism, it is no wonder that The Prophet became very popular around the 1960’s. It’s sensuality and free-form, prose-poetry suited the counter-culture of the time. Apparently, John Lennon was a fan and used it in his music. Since I stopped listening most of the Beatles’ work after Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, this was a new fun fact about music and literature that I learned while looking into this book. One of my favorite quotes is: “And let today embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing.” The theme of my first two books were remembrance and memory. The idea that memory is not always held in the mind but the body, and other places of great significance, community or the cultural subconscious. Kahlil Gibran also touches on another of my favorite subjects: pleasure. The prophet says, “It is the caged taking wing, but it is not space encompassed.” It’s such a beautiful way of saying that pleasure is that space between nature and freedom held in the friction of just the right amount of closeness. It brought to mind that quote, “I know why the caged bird sings.”

Work Cited

Gribran, Kahlil. The Prophet, Fall River Press, New York, 2019.

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Lil’ Libros’s Lotería

Oh my goodness, I love these books! They are the cutest little things on any store shelf. Lil’Libros is a Latin-founded book company. They publish multilingual children books on a lot of incredibly well-curated subjects including: lotería, famous people, and telenovelas. Please, please visit their website and check out their store to support their work through a purchase! You can also find them at select Target stores. It’s so worth the purchase.

My first Lil’Libros book: Lotería

I used my nephews as an excuse to buy my first Lil’Libros book: Lotería. It’s essentially a mini-guide to the beloved traditionally-Latin game. The cards are explained while readers get to enjoy the wonderful art that illustrate the book. All of Lil’Libros’ books have amazing artwork, mostly thanks to Citlali Reyes. This particular book was a collaboration with writers Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein. Of course, these ladies are not the only ones collaborating with Lil’Libros. I’m already eyeing a few other books from different writers and/or artists on their website; I’m sure my nephews will enjoy them too.

Work Cited

Rodriguez, Patty and Ariana Stein. Lotería, Lil’Libros.

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Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey comes highly recommended by my youngest sister. She really enjoys reading books from the personal development genre. Me, not so much. I decided to give this book an opportunity either way because it seems to bring in Covey’s ideas with a mix of statistics and psychology and because it was available on Hoopla, one of my new and favorite ways of reading books with a public library card. While it conveys ideas similar to many writers in the personal and/or professional genre, I cannot say that it was particularly outstanding. Regardless, I want to touch on a few highlights.

“Just as breathing exercises help integrate body and mind, writing is a kind of psycho-neural muscular activity which helps bridge and integrate the conscious and subconscious minds.”

“Things which matter the most must never be at the mercy of things which matter the least.”

One of the best take-aways from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is that it really mixes in practical ideas for improving your life and personal concepts that shape a healthy human psychology. For example, what are the key points to focus on for time management? Covey says organize and execute. Make a list of items, dates/deadlines, prices, etc. and execute. Don’t wait. Just do. In the process of doing, refine the idea incrementally. He says, “Begin with the end in mind.” Make sure that everything you deem important directly contributes to your mission, values, and/or goals. Constantly assessing the importance of tasks, for example, will help with staying focused on priorities. If you have to say “no,” then say “no.” Politely, of course.

Integrity is, fundamentally, the value we place on ourselves. It’s our ability to make and keep commitments to ourselves, to “walk our talk.”

Covey moves away from the hard-core advice on meeting professional and personal goals. He begins to focus on a few topics that do not seem to be pertinent to success. Nevertheless, relaxation and cultivating the mind as a key habit are crucial. We need to let nature talk to us, with us, every so often. Connecting to nature gives our body the opportunity to come back into balance, harmony, and a healthy rhythm. Covey then notes, “Sharpening the saw in the first three dimensions – the physical, the spiritual, and the mental – is a practice I call the ‘Daily Private Victory.'” Like many educators and intellectuals, he places a great deal of importance on self-analysis. Examine your own mind, it’s reflex thoughts. Critically analyse your own critical thinking. Easier said and written than done. Personally, I think the reason why many people fail at personally and/or professionally evolving is that they are fearful of placing themselves in that kind of a vulnerable position. That mirror is harsh. It’s all in the name of not letting our minds atrophy after we’re done with our legally-compulsive education.

“The person who doesn’t read is no better off than the person who can’t read.”

Work Cited

Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, e-book edition, Mango Publishing, 2022.

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The State of Affairs

“But when we reduce the conversation to simply passing judgment, we are left with no conversation at all.”

One of the most controversial books in the last two decades, Ether Perel’s The State of Affairs quickly joined Mating in Captivity on my bookshelf. Her first book primarily addressed sexuality in the twenty-first century. The State of Affairs tackles the second biggest relational issue worldwide: extra-marital affairs. When it was released, Perel took a lot of flack for purportedly condoning extra-marital affairs. But, having actually read the book with an experienced critical eye, she does not attempt to excuse the wanderer but rather seeks to help the couple review the relational context that led to the affair.

“The best ideas rarely arise in one isolated mind, but rather develop in networks of curious and creative thinkers.”

Much like Mating in Captivity, I read The State of Affairs twice and took a lot of notes. I kept comparing relational betrayals to types of trauma. When you place trust, loyalty, and your body in the care of someone and there is a betrayal, it fragments the relational schema that you live by. Perel does say quite often that individuals find out who they are in relationships, as a by-product of relationships of all kinds. It goes without saying that affairs are heart wrenching when romantic relationships are a place in which most modern individuals allow themselves to be vulnerable. The beast of burden is to overcome the consequences.

“But one theme comes up repeatedly: affairs as a form of self-discovery, a quest for a new (or a lost) identity. For these seekers, infidelity is less likely to be a symptom of a problem, and is more often described as an expansive experience that involves growth, exploration, and transformation.”

The State of Affairs lays out several case examples and Perel’s commentary on them. Oftentimes I read books that don’t capture the speaking tone and style of the writer, I’m glad to report that her books do. What’s even more interesting? She explores the works of the professionals she cites on her Sessions Clinical Training platform, which I had the pleasure of sampling not too long ago and wouldn’t mind returning to some day. Even as a English Literary Arts professional, I think it would be of great help. Not only is it invaluable educationally, psychology and relationship wise, but she is creating a community open to exploring questions with answers that are rough to capture for the average person. In any case, read The State of Affairs because it’s better to know a little relational first aide right from the start than not.

Work Cited

Perel, Esther. The State of Affairs, HarperCollins Paperbacks, 2018.

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Collective Trauma, Collective Healing

Jack Saul’s Collective Trauma and Collective Healing aims to give health professionals – and anyone really – an insight into how to create community based assistance programs after traumatic events. Since I work in the English education field, it’s a little outside of my area of specialization. Yet, I read this on the sheer respect and admiration other professions in the field seem to have for him. He seems to really know his craft. Psychology theory is easily examined by English literary intellectuals, but the application of it for wide-scale use – rather than only individualized therapeutic sessions – is a different conundrum requiring a unique eye.

The original goals that led to reading this book were (1) learn more about its potential application in bibliotherapy, the use of literature as a psychological tool, and (2) survey the psychology books from published from the 1990’s to 2000’s. Collective Trauma, Collective Healing is a guide for mental health professionals that breaks down the steps and methodology for creating community based programs to build resilience and coping skills among populations struggling due to political and other types of violence. The real-world examples he gives in his books are the mental health response programs established as a result of major catastrophes like 9/11, the Holocaust, Kosovo’s political conflicts, and the Liberian civil war.

I had the pleasure of attending a conference hosted and produced Thomas Hübl which had Jack Saul as a speaker recently on healing collective trauma. It’s my personal opinion that many professions would benefit from incorporating some of the strategies he argues for in their offices, classrooms, and work. I’ve experienced a succession of traumatic events in my life: family domestic violence, sexual abuse, the death of my father, mental health struggles, and PCOS. The one healing tip that I can give and which this book confirms is that art – our artistic endeavors – are the key to healing wounds, from literature to painting, and theater to music, and dance to anything else that lights you up inside.

Work Cited

Saul, Jack. Collective Trauma, Collective Healing, Routledge, 2013.

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Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity

“Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.”

Reviewing Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity feels a little like reviewing anything written by Brené Brown. Alas, it will not be a perfect review, so I may as well confront it directly. It’s more than a little anxiety inducing but also too good to let the opportunity pass. Mating in Captivity is one of those books that I think have risen to popularity because they directly confront some of the biggest issues plaguing individuals and/or relationships. It is a marker or symptom of the psychological troubles of certain demographics since the 1990’s. We crave healthy relationships and good sex while bemoaning the fact that the divorce rates have spiked and all the good partners are taken. And, we really don’t do much about it individually and/or collectively to set into motion positive changes.

“Our partner’s sexuality does not belong to us. It isn’t just for and about us, and we should not assume that it rightfully falls within our jurisdiction.”

Mating in Captivity really does have some great insights into sexuality and relational psychology. But, when I read some of the online opinions of Perel being a “woman hater,” I admit the modern feminist in me cringed a little. Never one to take someone else’s opinion as my own that easily. I kept reading the book, made a ton of notes on it, and then gave it to a friend whom I thought could use some of the insight. I realized that my notes could have been helpful for some future dissertation work on a modern survey of genre-specific literature, so I got myself a second copy and made a ton of notes on that one. It’s never as good as the first time I tell you. I have yet to chase down my original copy and see if I can ever get it back.

“Woman hater” is definitely not the worst I’ve heard or read about a writer. Rumor had it that Lewis Carroll was a child molester, and we still adore Alice in Wonderland. To many people, it is the content that counts. It would have been nice to have this book available while discovering my own sexuality. I mean that in the normal sense that most women – and men – find what they like and don’t like, their opinions, and learn about this or that, good ways of negotiating conflict with a sexual or romantic partner. It not only took the time to highlight the actual issues with sexuality, especially in a country like the United States, but it also compared perspectives with other parts of the world.

“Everyone should cultivate a secret garden.”

Our sexuality is an aspect of ourselves to cultivate like any other part. We worry about our resumes and 401k accounts and shave our legs religiously, but many of us don’t bother to think of our sexuality as something that needs an equal, if not more, amount of attention. Mating in Captivity was also incredibly validating. It’s been a personal struggle to navigate relationships, both romantic and personal, when my opinion of a relationship does not match Hallmark’s Valentine’s Day marketing campaign. I enjoy a smutty, romance novel just like the next girl. But, whenever I have dated a guy that hit all the romantic notes hard and fast, my first instinct was to bolt. And, 99% of the time I did, and I still would to this day! Why? I smartened up and read some of the books and authors Perel cites. Guess what that may end up being? Love bombing. So, for the girl or guy who’s like me and is trying to avoid repeating abusive patterns present in their family or childhood, it pays to read books like this one and follow the trail of experts.

Work Cited

Perel, Esther. Mating in Captivity, Harper Paperbacks, 2017.

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Marcus Clayton’s indicia

Clayton’s indicia has several issues out now. I admit that I’m a bit insecure about listing him as the primary editor, so I will note that he does collaborate with several other highly talented individuals. indicia periodically updates its submissions page. For those who have desire to have their poetry published and feel they meet the theme selected, it would be a good idea to check the website. A simple Google search and anyone could find it or check out the link below.

I selected “when a person lives in a spider’s nest” by David Diaz to review from Vol. 2.1 of indicia because I really enjoy its erratic and disjointed way of conveying meaning. It is not only a visually impactful poem, in the sense that it utilizes the full page as a word canvas, but also weaves its meaning back and forth, back and forth. It’s almost as if the reader falls into the web and awaits the spider’s bite by the end. It’s also mildly grotesque and creepy to read. I kept visualizing spiders crawling all over me when I first read it. After actually having a spider mite infestation in my bedroom not too long ago, I can say that it is really, really difficult to live in that kind of environment. Oddly enough, I picked up on the idea that the adult female in the first paragraph would definitely be mildly envious of the little boy up on the tree because he seems utterly impervious to them. Or, is it just that ignorance is bliss? And, how old must that tree be to host such a disturbing amount of spiders? The poem tree seems to stretch its branches out to the sky in the little boy’s mind as a symbolic statement of resilience. If you feel like reading the end, check out the rest of it online. Again, follow the link below.

Work Cited

Clayton, Marcus. indicia, a journal curating literary arts, Online.

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Dyeneka Campa’s Leo the Fearless and the Furless Lion

My forte is definitely not children’s literature, so preparing to write this review left me wondering where to start and what changes have taken root in the field since I was child. While scrolling through Instagram recently, I noticed a post on the subject. I was laughing in stitches after a few minutes because of its irony. It was in celebration of the LGBTQ voices that found a home in children’s literature and influenced generation after generation of readers despite facing all manner of persecutions in their day-to-day lives. Subversive, revolutionary, and persistent. These voices entertained and inspired child after child to pursue their dreams and build a strong identity. And, they still do. Dyeneka Campa certainly aims to make a similar memorable impression on young children these days with Leo, The Fearless and Furless Lion though the targeted audience is the many multicultural and multilingual children that are under-represented in literature.

I bought a copy for my nephew Aaron of Leo, The Fearless and Furless Lion when Dyeneka first published it. Even though it was meant for him, I have kept it in my custody for safekeeping. It’s a kind of memento for us. At the time, he really enjoyed my reading of the book and the story itself. Leo is a young lion that doesn’t really have a mane. He looks different than his peers and is struggling with a moment of self-consciousness and lack of self-confidence. Regardless, he braves his day at school and realizes that diversity is part-and-parcel of life. The book tackles the subject of acceptance in a beautiful and multicultural way with each of its characters having a rich uniqueness to them. Children can enjoy reading and re-reading this book. It will join my list of recommended children’s books next to Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.

Work Cited

Campa, Dyeneka. Leo, The Fearless and Furless Lion, Bright, Blended Books, 2017.

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Marcus Clayton’s Petals Blue As Blood

Professor Marcus Clayton was one of my supervisors at Los Angeles Southwest College in Southern California when I worked as a tutor and later a supplemental English instructor. He’s in a rock band called Tudors, is getting a PhD at USC, and writes poems. He’s one of the most prolific literary dudes that I’ve ever met. I highly suggest checking out his website to find out more about his work.

Marcus gathered some collaborators and put together indicia, a magazine that curates the work of some great up-and-coming poets and artists. His poem “I Can’t Draw a Heart” is probably one of the best poems that I’ve read in the last decade. It can be found in his chap-book petals blue as blood. He wields the morbid imagery to paint a crisp picture of someone that, I imagine, craves intimacy fiercely. Yet, that intimacy seems as unattainable and illusive as the ideas presented by the modernist authors he likely analyzes for his PhD at USC.

One of the reasons why I find this poem really intriguing is the different thematic elements that I sense while I read. We are living in a time in which science and technology has created synthetic, clinical barriers between individuals. Connection is more and more a by-product of the use of cellular phones and computers. But, here, you have a speaker that yearn for something tactile. The desire has turned so grotesque in nature which, to me, sends a vampiric echo through my mind while I read. Interestingly, the gender of the speaker remains vague. It presents an avenue for a gendered reading or analysis of the poem. At the very least, it weaves enough intrigue into the reader to induce a flipping of the page and find out the ending. Check out petals blue as blood!

Work Cited

Clayton, Marcus. petals blue as blood, indicia, 2020.

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Yumi Sakugawa’s Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe

In my personal opinion, one of the key markers of the postmodernist literary movement is the increased demand for self-help and individualized psychology books. We are living in a time where books that give us relaxation strategies, explain terms that previously existed only within the isolated field of psychology, and break down into simple concepts what exactly happens to our body and mind when placed under stress for long periods of time are in high demand. It seems to finally have occurred to the generations after the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s that we really don’t know how to relax, our workaholic lives are not always that fulfilling, and that making a good impression of an over-worked donkey doesn’t pay off nearly was well as we thought. Interestingly, many psychologists would also argue that books like Yumi Sakagawa’s Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe are subtle responses to an over-traumatized society.

Most of the time, the universe speaks to us very quietly … in pockets of silence, in coincidences, in nature, in forgotten memories, in the shape of clouds, in moments of solitude, in small tugs at our hearts.

You read that right. Large literary movements have been known to correlated with strong social movements or trends. Popularity in book genres and key novels with exceptional sale success are typically a response to some greater psychological and/or socio-political and/or economic shifts. I could go into so much more detail about this. But, the point is that Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe is made for this era’s stressed population. It’s illustrated; it’s cute; it’s calming. The reader is guided into relaxing in a novel way. Most recommended strategies for relaxation are not books now-a-days. Go check out this app! They say. Listen to this podcast! Or Check out my friend’s playlist on bla bla bla. More and more, I’ve noticed a trend in which people associate or have been conditioned into associating literature with stress. So, it’s refreshing to have this book on my book shelf. To think that I bought it on a whim only to be pleasantly rewarded.

It’s in black and white. Yumi is an incredible artist. I wondered for a comically long time why it was only in black and white. Then, it kind of hit me that coloring is known to be incredibly relaxing. Such a sneaky psychological strategy. We’re given a blank canvas with Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe. It’s play. It’s childish. It requires us to let go of our inhibitions and indulge in a carefree, purposeless activity. I would not recommend markers, though. Stick to crayons so the ink doesn’t bleed through the pages. Mine is not colored in yet, but I think I will enjoy taking the time filling in some of the pages one day after pouring myself a large glass of wine. If you buy it, enjoy!

Work Cited

Sakugawa, Yumi. Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe, AdamsMedia, 2014.

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Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods

If you have seen any episodes of Ancient Aliens (2009), then you’ve probably heard of Erich von Däniken. He is a frequent collaborator and commentator on the show. In Chariots of the Gods, he poses many of the questions explored by the TV show series. Questions such as, “Could it be that God was extra-terrestrial?” Not only that, but much like Carl Sagan, Erich von Däniken tries to give some basic scientific education to back up his claims.

“Can we still afford to close our eyes and stop up our ears because new ideas are supposed to be heretical and absurd?

He states facts that are now considered common knowledge in the scientific field. For example, there are 4,500 stars that exist in the universe. Even the biggest telescopes, which can view up to 2,000,000 visible stars cannot caption its full dimensions. And, Earth’s crust has been dated at 4,000,000,000 years. Life forms can exist of different combinations of oxygen, water, and carbon dioxide. It is difficult that, statistically, we are the only life, humanoid life, or otherwise in the entire universe. Plus, we really only know very little of human history; we can fill in the information for about 7,000 years out of our 1,000,000 reported existence. Imagine that. Very rational, right?

It’s rationality and macroscopic view of the facts make this book and shows like Ancient Aliens (2009) very believable. Incredibly, the microscopic facts also seem to back up the theories posed by this book. And, that’s where we get hooked. However, unlike the TV show, the book fails at midpoint to grab readers attention. I found myself drifting and getting distracted. So, I sped read some sections. Nevertheless, it is an impressive thesis piece for Erich von Däniken.

“The time has come for us to admit our insignificance by making discoveries in the infinite unexplored cosmos. Only then shall we realize that we are nothing but ants in the vast state of the universe. And yet our future and our opportunities lie in the universe, where gods promised they would.”

As soon as we gather the smallest evidence of other lifeforms somewhere on the planet, it will revolutionize the way we think about our human history. Chariots of the Gods and shows like Ancient Aliens (2009) may actually have many of the theories proven or dismissed. Given that science is still evolving and perfecting its own field, I would not dismiss it just yet. Like Carl Sagan said once, and I’m paraphrasing, some books are like seeds; they have the keen ability to flourish in even the most unpromising soil. Personally, I can’t get past the connections and similarities between many of the creation myths of many of our ancient societies. Gods, creation, life after death, celestial beings, travel to another realm (i.e. heaven). Who could deny it raises our curiosity?

“Can all these related phenomena merely be dismissed or a coincidence?”

Work Cited

von Däniken, Erich. Chariots of the Gods, Berkley, 1999.

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Carl Sagan’s Cosmos

Hands down one of the most influential books for me in the past 5-6 years! Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is an absolute diamond in the sand. I cannot rave about it enough, honestly. There also happens to be a show Cosmos with a more revamped version released in recent years. The edition that I read had a foreword by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. At the time that I first read Cosmos, I was not that familiar with DeGrasse Tyson’s work. But, when I’m able to get one of his books, it will definitely be reviewed here too. He happens to be the host of the newer Cosmos show.

Knowing a great deal is not the same as being smart; intelligence is not information alone but also judgement, the manner in which information is coordinated and used.

I think I’ve mentioned this book so many times in conversations with other people that I could have sworn I already had a review drafted. Let me just say that Carl Sagan had a very interesting life story. He had very humble beginnings and truly believed in the power of literature to shape young minds and inspire them to achieve their goals. He spends a lot of time in this book weaving clear scientific explanations for phenomena in the universe while simultaneously giving a broad education on other fields that impact it: literature, anthropology, history, geography and geology, and on and on. But, it doesn’t really get boring. He delivers so much information in a very easy and affable tone.

“National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars.

Aside from reminding us that the light of the sun is technically the product of an active nuclear fusion occurring, Sagan does more that delight us with his scientific knowledge. He tries his best to keep us humble as a species, reader by reader, book by book. He does the math and puts it this way: we are worth no more than $3.00 (plus tax) in chemicals. The human body is simply the right combination of a handful of chemicals. And, in the vast expanse of the universe, we really only have one home: Earth. Knowing that we are alone and the nearest planet that could sustain life – or us really – is millions if not billions of light years away should make us think twice about not caring for our planet.

I believe our future depends on how well we know this cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.

To wax lyrical and romantic, Carl Sagan does what some of the most brilliant literature minds only wish they could do. Move over Jane Austin and Danielle Steel! He takes us to the stars and keeps us grounded here on Earth all in one book. There is an eloquence to his voice. It’s evident to me why Cosmos is one of the best-selling science books of all time all around the world. He has some of the most elegant and graceful writing that I’ve ever read, a very quotable man. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, to add a final note, even inspired some of my own writings in Remembrance of a Lover Lost for which I gave him a mention.

“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.”

Work Cited

Sagan, Carl. Cosmos. Ballantine Books, 2013.

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Stephen King’s On Writing

One of my favorite books to recommend to writers and reader is Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. The books reveals details about his early life, struggles with alcoholism and drugs, a severe accident that changed his life, and his writers journey. This particular book, though short in comparison to so many other texts on writing, is succinct, to the point, and delivers some of the best hard-earned advice in the business, subject, and craft of writing.

“The work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

For those that enjoy writing and use it as a form of personal outlet, it’s satisfying to learn about King’s journey as a writer and his feedback on rejection letters from publishers and magazines. Reflecting back on it, I can draw comparisons to the everyday individual receiving rejection emails after submitting employment applications. And, King himself seems to think of it like any other job out there. It takes some getting use to the rejection, but the writer or the employee looking for an opportunity simply gathers their skirts – so to speak – and keeps on walking. Get it together and try again.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

One of the many reasons that I enjoy this book so much and recommend it to others frequently is because, when I had doubts about whether I could ever even be considered someone that knew writing and composition well enough to teach it to others, this book confirmed many of my instinctive recommendations. It was a confirmation that was not actively sought out but really needed. The foundations of the language, some proficient grasp of basic grammar, and the notion that writing and reading go hand in hand are key elements.

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

Practice. Practice. Practice. You have to write. You have to read. King simply confirms what so many English instructors have wasted their breathe telling their students. There is no magic formula other than write, read, and repeat. But, what about inspiration some of you must be thinking. King does talk about how he was drawn to certain ideas and themes. For the most part, however, he simply explains how they began with very simple thoughts that came to him randomly in the middle of living his life. He scribbled random notes on paper or napkins and came back to them when he needed to break the mental gridlock. This is the part of the book that I enjoy the most: he doesn’t glamorize writing. In fact, King can be quite self-deprecating. He kind of considers himself a professional liar, nothing special.

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

Work Cited

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Writing Craft. Pocket Books, 2 June 2002.

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Ian Kerner’s She Comes First

I found Ian Kerner’s She Comes First at a Book Off store. It had been on my reading list since Pauline Réage’s Story of O inspired me to add more risqué books to my book shelf. To give you a brief summary: Kerner literally dumbs down the art of cunnilingus for the novice apprentice and uses graphics in conjunction with several detailed routines as examples. I always imagined that if I ever had sons this would be one of the first books that I’d place on their nightstand as soon as they hit puberty in their teenage years. In fact, this would be a great read for girls too for the simple fact that many females’ struggles with achieving orgasm are directly connected with a lack of or improper oral sex.

“The premise of this book is simple: when it comes to pleasuring women and conversing in the language of love, cunnilingus should be everyman’s native tongue.”

“When you are using a dental dam, it would be a bold-face lie to say that your abilities as a cunnilinguist are not somewhat handicapped; they most certainly are, roughly by a factor of about 30-40 percent.”

As Kerner explains, the fellatio is so common place and almost an expectation for men, but the art of cunnilingus is frequently absent in sex. We have to set the standard high here – unless you are missing dental dams in a potentially unsafe situation. “A man goes down. No excuses. No hesitation,” writes Amy Sohn in an excerpt. Kerner who holds a PhD in the subject goes on to break more than a few misconceptions about penetrative sex and oral sex such as the notion that oral sex is not real sex. Well, to bring a little humor into the subject, I’m sure that would be shocking news to lesbians all over the world. This one is a must read book! For girls, for boys, for teens, for couples, and especially for anyone that struggles with the subject.

Work Cited

Kerner, Ian. She Comes First. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004.

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Pauline Réage’s Story of O

“Unfasten your garter belt,” he says, “and take off your panties” (4).

Omg. If readers thought 50 Shades of Grey was intense, they should try reading Pauline Réage’s Story of O. This book goes really deep into some intense kink. Now-a-days, this little gem is overshadowed by 50 Shades of Grey, but in its hay-day, it was a red-listed book-on-fire! But, also very well hidden by those in “the scene.” I don’t recommend this to readers who enjoy the “softer” side of kink. I think this book is for readers who are experienced literary adventurers, and those with an intense interest in all things BDSM and Kink. Definitely, open minds only. Aside from Freud, I can mostly say this was one of the most difficult reads for me to date. That’s saying a lot! But, to those with a big interest in erotica, kink, psychology in literature, this book is the place to begin! There will not be another place to start unless you go back all the way to the middle ages and read Chaucer’s Wife of Bath which deals with consensual cuckolding. BDSM or kink literature is a very particular niche, and it’s always interesting for me to find little gems like Pauline Réage’s Story of O. If you have any recommendations, please add a comment.

“Then they made O get up and were on the verge of untying her, probably in order to attach her to some pole or wall, when someone protested that he wanted to take her first, right there on the spot” (10).

“If someone should notice, she could explain it any way she liked, or not explain it at all, whichever she preferred, but it was her problem, and hers alone” (56).

This book was originally written in French. It made me wish – again – that I could read French. Having studied some Samuel Beckett in the language, I know it makes a difference. Sometimes words have a different flavor to them. Anyway, what are the themes of this book? BDSM, obviously. Submission, monogamy, eroticized humiliation, which is what makes many readers cringe, and the utter political incorrectness of sexuality, dominance, and the sexually grotesque as a form of spectacle. You would think this wouldn’t be so taboo amongst the general population given the pervasiveness of these themes in modern film, but I guess not. In any case, I’m glad that I returned to it and finished reading Story of O; I was one that needed a break to be able to return to it with a fresh perspective. At least now I know why it’s called by some a “mystic book;” it requires a certain type of sensitivity.

Work Cited

Réage, Pauline. Story of O. New York: Ballantine Books, 26 March 2013.

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Paulo Coelho’s The Devil and Miss Prym

Paulo Coelho’s The Devil and Miss Prym sets up an interesting moral dilemma for readers. A stranger arrives to town. And, Berta, the towns resident wise old-woman, notices that it is the Devil in human form. The Devil goes into the town bar. He meets the protagonist Chantal Prym and befriends her. And, he proceeds to tell the townspeople that there is gold buried in town. The townspeople can have the gold if they murder someone. What follows cannot be described as anything less than an interesting social debate. Should the town believe it? Would it be such a great sin to consider it? Would the ends justify the means?

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened on in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.”

On the whole, the theme of temptation is strongest current running through the book. And, because the town must choose who to kill, the theme of betrayal becomes the source of no small amount of remorse. Gotta say, the intrigue is intense. It was a rather nice read even though it’s on the shorter end of the scale. But, I can’t say that it completely blew my mind away. It was quaint. It would have really given me a mindgasm so-to-speak if Coelho had included a few more twists and turns. Although, it would have likely turned the book into a modern thriller.

“Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.”

“The devil by your side is smiling because you are playing the game he invented.”

The Devil and Miss Prym is definitely for the melancholic reader. Easy reading material. It’s the type of book that readers who have been away from the hobby for a long time should choose to begin reading again. The town solidarity, the community, the subtle and sensitive themes incorporated explain why Paulo Coelho is a cultural favorite. I think it’s also a book that will trigger a lot of reflective thinking especially regarding social justice, social equity, power versus influence, and murder by negligence. Because, isn’t the weakest link just another way of viewing a part or a person that’s been neglected for too long? Either way, it seems this town desperately needed change even before the Devil came along.

Work Cited

Coelho, Paulo. The Devil and Miss Prym. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, January 2007.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold

My review of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold will likely be very, very short. I remember appreciating the subtle wittiness of this book … and not much else. I’m sure there will be many, many other readers that will disagree with me. Perhaps because the events around me or happening in my life around the time that I read Chronicle of a Death Foretold were so chaotic – the height of COVID worldwide, I was inoculated against the drama of this book. I forgot much of the plot. It was not as impressionable to me as the title suggested. Like most of Garcia Marquez’s books, Chronicle of a Death Foretold tells the happenings of a fictional town somewhere in Hispania, i.e. Colombia or Colonial Spain. One of its citizens, Santiago Nasar, has an infamous reputation. His “widely foreseen” death gives the book its title and leads readers through a maze of intrigue and domino effect tragedies that ripple through the community.

Works Cited

Gabriel Marquez, Garcia. Chronicle of a Death Foretold. New York: Vintage, 7 October 2003.


Elie Wiesel’s Night

Like Number the Stars, Elie Wiesel’s Night is a must read. The average person’s education on the Holocaust is incomplete until they read this book. While not a children’s book like Number the Stars, Night‘s protagonist, Wiesel himself, is a child living through the persecutions of the Nazis. This book was on the introductory English syllabi at California State University, Dominguez Hills when I was teaching on the campus. And, having helped guide student through it, I think it’s still a very under appreciated book. Apparently, the book’s length has gotten shorter and shorter due to edits. The original version that Wiesel wrote was over 500 pages. The shorter drafts are easy to read and very accessible to the average reader.

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

Weisel narrates the events of his life between 1955 and 1945. He is imprisoned with his father and other Jews in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. During his time in the concentration camps, Wiesel describes how the Jews survived. Some gave up their faith and desire to live. Others tried to help those sick or motivate those severely depressed. And, the third group mounted a resistance, a subversive group of Jews that found ways to keep others alive or undermine the Nazis’ work. Much of the narrative, though, involves Wiesel recalling parts of his life, his Jewish teachings, and the negotiation with himself about his faith in humankind. One of the biggest themes of books connected to these historical events is the loss of faith. It is every trauma psychologists and post-modernist theorists’ dream: the death of God. Not to make light of such a morbid thing, but it’s also a literary translator’s dream. The books been published in so many languages including Yiddish, French, English. A literal tongue twister if not a mind-bender. It’s an existentialists’ play pool.

“They are committing the greatest indignity human beings can inflict on one another: telling people who have suffered excruciating pain and loss that their pain and loss were illusions.”

“He explained to me with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer.”

Night is actually part of a trilogy – Night, Dawn, and Day. Whether its 800 pages or 100 pages, Wiesel seems to have imparted onto himself the quest of showing any reader that ventures into his story that even when you reach rock bottom – the darkest, deepest level of jadedness – your memory might still be good enough to write a book and that you are certainly not dead yet. Truthfully, it’s a really sad book. Full of melancholy and utter pain. The anguish that young Wiesel feels is translated through the words. And, if we’re sensitive enough, the reader can almost slip right into that with him. As a trained college educator, I sometimes despair that it might be wasted reading material on a younger pool of students. I wonder if a contemporary film adaptation would revive interest in the novel.

Work Cited

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill & Wang, 16 January 2006.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love In the Time of Cholera

While sorting which books I would review and in what order, I confused two of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s books. A good lesson for readers would be to space out books from the same author; alternate between two to three authors. It helps avoid confusing one book’s plot for another. Let me tell you about the first time that I picked up Love in the Time of Cholera. I was still taking Spanish classes in college around 2010. I had originally wanted to get my B.A. in Spanish and an excerpt of this book was on my reading list. So, I decided to check out the entire book in Spanish from UCSB’s Davidson Library. I realized after two pages that I was not cut out for the endeavor.

“She had never imagined that curiosity was one of the many masks of love.”

I highlighted all the words in Spanish that I did not understand. And, oof! That was a very neon yellow page. (Yes, I highlighted on a UCSB library book.) The book ended up back at the library. I don’t regret it. Flash forward many years later, I finally picked up the book again. This time I chose an English edition. The book itself is gripping. Love in the Time of Cholera is a candid look at love from the masculine perspective. The love triangle involves Florentino Ariza, Fermina Daza, and Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Florentino falls in love with Fermina. But, by the sad twists of fate, Fermina ends up marrying Dr. Juvenal Urbino. And, ugh! The angst! It’s so smutty, perverted at times, and the promiscuity it reveals blends into the reader a sense of discomfort. I found myself struggling with the notion that someone could have multiple true loves and that the choice between them is not always fueled by youthful passion.

“One could be happy not only without love but despite it.”

Love in the Time of Cholera was one of those books that left me with a cauldron of confusing feelings. I sympathized with the protagonist. As the protagonist narrates his experiences, the reader is drawn to connect with him, his losses, his desires, his pain at having lost the opportunity at a life with the woman he loved. But, as time elapses for the character, the reader senses how his feelings lean him toward a toxic cynicism, disenchantment, with regards to relationships, sex, and love. Florentino does some seriously disgusting and borderline incestuous things. By the time that he gets a second chance with Fermina, as a reader, I wondered if he even deserved it. Had he lived his entire life with Fermina, had she known the extent of his perversion, the full color of his soul, would their reunion have been as fairytale-like. Oh, goodness. I have to say that Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera is one of those books that opens the door for such rich conversation regarding: gendered relations, marriage, morality and permissiveness, etc.

Work Cited

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. Love in the Time of Cholera. New York: Vintage, 2007.

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Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness

Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness is a chronicle based on Oz’s childhood in the early years of the state of Jerusalem. He captures the tensions and conflicts between Israel and Palestine. These conflicts are ongoing to this day. It occasionally makes the news headlines and re-sparks a flurry of political debate online. So, in the historical sense, this books a contemporary jem. As for the plot, Oz’s mother takes her own life by overdosing on sleeping pills. This becomes the focal point of much of his personal development. Oz’s narrative seems echo the Jewish sentiment of emotional abandonment and the feeling that Israel became a type of orphanage after WWII. The Jewish motifs embedded within A Tale of Love and Darkness that add richness to the plot are the fight for freedom, the love of literature, the love of language, and importance of food and eating.

“Friendship includes a measure of sensitivity, attentiveness, generosity, and a finely tuned sense of moderation.”

Most of the Jewish books that I’ve read are directly related to the Holocaust. I came across Amoz Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness after I heard Natalie Portman was interested in directing and/or producing a film adaptation (2015). I naturally decided to put this book on my reading list. It took me a while to read the book, but I finally managed it in mid-2021. It did not take long for me to realize that I had been remiss in not realizing there is a literary pool of Jewish texts that are not directly related to the Holocaust. If anyone else has any other recommendations similar to this book, please add a comment to this post. Hopefully, it will take me less to get around to finally watching the film adaptation. The trailer genuinely peaked my interest.

“Facts have a tendency to obscure the truth.”

I hope the film adaptation of the story will be better than the book. That usually isn’t the case unless the directors or producers are particularly gifted in what they do. Taking the richness of the literary piece and translating that to the screen is a unique art form. Yet, in regards to A Tale of Love and Darkness, I can say right off the bat that I was a little underwhelmed. And, the fact that the narrative is so long really got to me a bit. Perhaps that was the intention. I found it long-winded with an almost depressive, melancholic exasperation to the narrative. Given some of the events that happen to young Oz, I can totally understand why that’s the case. Even without running a literary search for articles on this book, the way that Oz handles the theme of mourning, especially mourning in the midst of growth and the maturation process, has a lot of literary integrity. A Tale of Love and Darkness is definitely the most Jewish text that I’ve read; aside from snippets of the Talmud / Torah that I read in a Christianity course many, many years ago. I definitely recommend A Tale of Love and Darkness, especially for those that have a gap of knowledge about Jewish culture and life in Israel in modern times.

“And books then really were sexier than books today: they were good to sniff and stroke and fondle. There were books with gold writing on fragrant, slightly rough leather bindings, that gave you gooseflesh when you fondled them as though you were groping something private and inaccessible, something that seemed to tremble at your touch.”

Work Cited

Oz, Amos. A Tale of Love and Darkness. New York: Keter Publishing House, Ltd., 2003.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude

I have to say that I liked Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude a lot less than Love in the Time of Cholera. The story revolves around the Buendía Family in the fictional Columbian town of Macondo. For those that grew up in Latino households, the story has a very familiar vein. It involves inter-generational trauma, drama, and repeating cycles – for better or for worse. The small town is cut off from the rest of civilization, and it seems to the reader that the solitude precipitates much of the drama, romance, and crime between the individuals. It gives the phrase Hasta en las mejores familias a whole other literary meaning because the Buendía would be the most prominent family in town. I’d recommend this to readers that have a strong sense of loyalty to the Latino culture and/or want to explore more literature from Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Work Cited

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. New York: Ballantine Books, 2013.

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Michael Crichton’s Timeline

It rankles me when I know I already wrote a review or did something and it literally vanishes into thin air. Whatever. I still love Timeline by Michael Crichton. The original review might be the same or similar. But, when you liked reading something the first time, try watching the movie next if there is an adaptation. Pst, Paul Walker and Gerard Butler are in the movie. Sigh. Maybe some other time I will tell you about how I saw Gerard Butler leaving the New York subway near Broadway. (My mother is a huge fan of him in Olympus Has Fallen.)

“The purpose of history is to explain the present – to say why the world around us is the way it is. History tells us what is important in our world, and how it came to be. It tells us what is to be ignored, or discarded. That is true power – profound power. The power to define a whole society.”

This one is centered around archeology and the development of a time machine. The team finds proof that their missing professor somehow ended up in the past, and off they go on a dangerous mission to rescue him. Or rather, they end up rescuing themselves in the process. It ends in a very angsty vein that I actually found very bitter sweet. One of the archeologist / time-travelers Marek falls in love with Lady Claire, played by Anna Friel. It’s a very charming and adventure-filled tale with the setting in 1357 England and France.

“Professor Johnston often said that if you didn’t know history, you didn’t know anything. You were a leaf that didn’t know it was part of a tree.”

I would recommend Michael Crichton’s Timeline to readers for the ending alone. He is more often than not known as the writer of Jurassic Park, but I definitely ventured into reading a few of his other works. If you are interested, see the table of contents. He is genuinely one of the best science-fiction writers in contemporary literature. I’d say that in terms of style, prose, and inventiveness, he is on-par with Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Anne Rice. Timeline and Jurassic Park are two examples of how Michael Crichton weaves the science, even hypothetical and theoretical, with reality and turns it into a scientific realism. With the developments in genetic modifications, splicing, biomedical engineering, readers could believe the worlds he weaves are real. In fact, they might already be real somewhere in the world given that I think he actually did inspire many modern scientists.

Works Cited

Crichton, Michael. Timeline. New York: Ballantine Books, 2013.

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Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood definitely won my readers heart with this book. Obviously, for those who want the story but don’t want to read all the words, it was recently adapted into a show on Hulu. I’ve seen the first season, and it was good. The one complaint that I have is that I think they miscast the protagonist. This will likely be an unpopular opinion given the success of the show, but I think Elizabeth Moss was probably not the best choice. I was happy, however, with the casting of Joseph Fiennes who has the gravitas to carry his antagonist character. And, bringing in Samira Wiley from Orange is the New Black really brought balance to the cast enough for me to enjoy the show. I have yet to watch additional episodes beyond season one, but maybe sometime in the future I can squeeze that into my schedule.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

“But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain makes you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”

Back to the book! It’s a wonderful, creative way to revive the epistolary drama. Mix in a dystopian plot with very relevant political elements and you have a literary hit! The relevance of the feminist dilemma of this novel gives it a very real civil urgency. The world for the women of Handmaid’s Tale has changed; it’s been upended. The U.S.A. has fallen and crumbled and in it’s place is a new regime. This new regime, Gilead, controls a woman’s life like currency. Birth rates have dwindled to non-existent levels. The women selected to be handmaids are considered no more than breeders for a select few upper-class men and, surprisingly, sometimes their infertile wives.

“You can’t help what you feel, but you can help how you behave.”

The book has obviously been analyzed six ways to Sunday by many literary scholars, including myself, because of the poignant parallels that Margaret Atwood makes with the Holocaust, much like J.K. Rowling does with Harry Potter, and modern feminist politics. These are politically charged books. It makes you really think about how politically fragile we really are as a country and/or a planet, i.e. financially and technologically. And, given the corruption and the attempts to squash individual autonomy, it also makes the reader question the actual levels of bravery in modern society. Is society able to critically analyze what battles to fight and which are actually self-detrimental? It seemed that, when Gilead, the political regime that took control in The Handmaid’s Tale, rose into existence, many people just stood by and watched. As I write this, it really does bring back flashbacks of the invasion of the Capitol building back during the Trump administration. We might think it’s just literature, but dystopian books aim to present very real, plausible life scenarios. It leads us to wonder: what would you do if this did happen?

Work Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Turtleback Books, 1998.

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