January ’22 book roundup

Colorado winters are a reader’s dream – dark, cozy nights reading under soft twinkle-lights strung up in a candlelit room, warm drink in hand and a shelf-full of unexplored minds. Some books effortlessly fall into this ambiance, making reading an escape from the bitter cold. Others leave me feeling like I’d honestly rather be outside in sub-zero temperatures than trudging through the endless words and pages standing between me and the dreaded DNF label. (did not finish) Some people have mastered the art of walking away from a book that just isn’t doing it for them. I’ve gotten better, but I still feel like reading the books that I don’t jive with makes me a better writer, if even subconsciously, so I have a hard time giving that up. Some books, however, I have to finish not just to know what not to do, but because they’ve truly pissed me off so much that I won’t accept the defeat. I want to have the full scope of the book and it’s writing in my mind in order to figure out what exactly it was that didn’t click for me, or what I would’ve done differently if I was the author. Since I don’t have any major publications, let alone an entire published book, take this all with a giant block of salt because I do recognize that at least these folks went out and did the damn thing. But when someone references that they were named after Jesus Christ multiple different times and never seems to be doing it ironically even though they’re trying to, I’m gonna probably have a few critiques of the work – I’m looking at you, Christie Tate.

In an attempt to get weird of my dramatically bitter energy towards Christie Tate, I’ll kick off my January reads roundup with my very strong feelings on her 2020 memoir, Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life.

Reese, my dude, what is your criteria for this book club of yours? Cuz this book is NOT it

I’ve already shared some strong feelings on this book on my bookstagram so I’ll just reiterate those quickly in bullet form:

  • my main beef with Christie Tate stems from a Slate piece I’ve read regarding the fact that although her daughter (9 y/o at the time of the article) had explicitly asked her to stop writing about her, including things that should be personal and private like bathroom habits and relationships, Tate refused to do so, saying her “…“creative labor” as a mother is “culturally devalued” and argues that “promising not to write about her anymore would mean shutting down a vital part of myself,” which wouldn’t be good for her or her daughter.” Christie, if you can’t figure out a way to make art imitate life without a direct copy and paste, you need to work on your writing.
  • which leads me to my next qualm concerning the members of her therapy group and their very intimate details, vivid descriptions, and seemingly unchanged names. Let’s just hope she got consent from everyone before airing out their dirty laundry as therapy porn for the world to see. Let’s also hope someone was there to fact-check her because there’s an awful lot of direct quotes and dialogue from a span of 7 years, and then a 10-years-later section for it to all be truthfully verbatim.
  • another cringe-worthy moment arises when she mentions the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, only to off-handedly refer to her affair with a married man as “a category-six hurricane about to make landfall” 20 pages later. oof.
  • Writing wise, the pacing was insanely slow, coupled with repetitive breakthroughs/breakdowns (such is the nature of therapy, healing isn’t linear, but find a way to write about it that doesn’t make me think “here we go again, another scene where Christie screams and rips her hair out because she’s been bottling her emotions” *cue eye roll*)
  • speaking of repetitive, on her 4th mention of being Jesus Christ’s namesake, she really hammers it home for the reader. before calling herself “an aspiring Jewess” in order to get a date on the Jewish dating site, Jdate, she tells her friend “I’m literally named after Christ”. There’s no witty banter surrounding these proclamations, they just keep appearing weirdly spaced out just enough to make you feel like it’s a bit odd and she should probably sort that out in therapy

So yeah, while the reviews I’ve read say this memoir is extremely raw and real and hilariously human and all the buzzword phrases, it’s a no from me dawg. Yes, it was entertaining, but only because it satisfied the natural human urge to read about people whose lives are all over the place and make you feel like you’ve got your shit together more than you think, which isn’t why I want to read a book about someone’s experience with therapy. I want them to be honest, yeah, but not in a way that their issues feel like I’m watching an episode of reality tv, more so in a way that shows me how they’re diving further into why they’re doing what they’re doing and what might help them cope. If anything, the best takeaway I got from Group was from the other members, who are real, three-dimensional people dealing with real shit and breaking the mold of who needs therapy, how often, and for how long.

a breath of fresh air after reading Group, despite its heavy subject matter

Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy reads like a novel truly written by its characters, its author the vessel through which they speak. Walker said of her overlapping characters throughout several of her works that, “…Tashi, who appears briefly in The Color Purple and again in The Temple of My Familiar, stayed with me, uncommonly tenacious, through the writing of both books, and led me finally to conclude she needed, and deserved, a book of her own,” (p. 284). What a privilege it would be to see Walker’s notes while writing; the mundane details of a character sketched in the margins providing them depth, the scenes and dialogue that didn’t quite fit in anywhere, internal musings guilty of telling rather than showing – a book of the darlings who’ve been killed if you will.

Fantasy aside, this work of Alice Walker’s is no casual read. The story follows an African woman named Tashi throughout her life, periodically returning to the present where she finds herself on trial for murder. After undergoing the controversial and often fatal procedure known as female genital mutilation (FGM), we experience Tashi working through the effects of her experience, as well as navigating her relationship with Adam, a Black missionary whom Tashi meets as a child and eventually marries. In an attempt to help Tashi mentally process all that has happened to her in life, Adam brings Tashi to the United States where she meets with a psychiatrist and begins to remember everything she tried to forget.

Each chapter title features the name of the character whose point of view we’re reading from. From a writer’s perspective, this feels like a monumental task to take on – rewriting the same scene through another’s eyes, keeping track of what the reader knows as well what each character does or doesn’t know, maintaining continuity with the dialogue, the list goes on. From a reader’s perspective however, it’s a gold mine adding a new layer of depth and meaning to every character, scene, and piece of dialogue. For example, a chapter titled “Tashi” reads, “And what about your dreams? the doctor one day asks me. I tell him I do not dream. I do not dare tell him about the dream I have every night that terrifies me” (p.25). The next chapter, titled “Adam”, opens with, “Your wife refuses to talk about her dreams, the doctor says, mysteriously” (p.26). This narrative technique allows Walker to include nuance and subtleties both within and between the lines, allowing the reader to experience what Tashi experiences bearing in mind that she walks through life as a dark skinned, African woman. In a previous chapter titled “Tashi”, we experience another scene with her therapist, “He’d been taken aback by the fact that I had only one child. He thought this unusual for a colored woman, married or unmarried. Your people like lots of kids, he allowed. But how could I talk to this stranger of my lost children? And of how they were lost? One was left speechless by all such a person couldn’t know” (p.18). The racism is obvious, “Your people”, but it’s the internal questioning of Tashi that hammers home just how much can be lost if we only had the doctor’s narrative POV. The depth of suffering Tashi conceals, because it simply isn’t worth trying to explain to someone who already has preconceived notions.

Walker further demonstrates Tashi’s experience using her American name, Evelyn, strategically in the chapter titles. From the same character’s POV, we have chapters titled “Tashi” – her true African self, “Evelyn” – the Americanized version of herself, “Evelyn-Tashi” – moments of a co-existing of the selves with the American experience influencing what is said/occurs (i.e. the horrifying experience of childbirth for a Black woman in America), “Tashi-Evelyn” – an interpretation of the same experience, focusing on what matters to Tashi as an African woman (i.e. Tashi watching an African FGM ceremony their host recorded on his travels, triggering suppressed memories for Tashi), “Tashi-Evelyn-Mrs. Johnson” – used during her trial where all of her identities combine to recall the past, experience the present, and fight for her future, and finally “Tashi Evelyn Johnson Soul” in which Tashi’s posthumous spirit considers her final moments.

There is much more to be said on this work, but I’ll end with some final thoughts. The crux of Tashi’s trauma is rooted in the (still ongoing) practice of FGM, an extremely complex and difficult to discuss subject. Walker’s treatment of such a heavy topic is delicate in that she allows the memories and effects of her experience to unfold gradually for Tashi. The act itself is described in no uncertain terms, but still never crosses the line into trauma-as-entertainment. She discusses the outdated views around the practice, the ceremony of it as a ‘coming of age, rite of passage’, the overly traditional thought process behind it – the upholding of the patriarchy, and the many layers of culture, societal pressure, and personal identity bound up in it. In Pierre’s analysis of Tashi’s dream, he tells the origin story of Christ and the white ant/termite hill culminating in a more direct explanation to Tashi, “We think it was told to you in code somehow, says Raye. Not told to you directly that you, as a woman, were expected to reproduce as helplessly and inertly as a white ant; but in a culture in which it is mandatory that every single female be systematically desexed, there would have to be some coded, mythological reason given for it, used secretly among the village elders” (p. 233).

What I admire about Walker’s feminist writing is that she goes deeper, beyond nonfiction writing directly discussing pay gaps and sexism and all of the other immediate topics white feminism focuses on. She weaves a tale about termites and clits which reveals the lengths men will go to uphold their power and suppress the power of others, especially those they deem to be more powerful than themselves. Her tale, as well as Tashi’s initial ignorance, indirectly relays the sinister nature of the patriarchal mindset. In true intersectional feminist thinking, Walker demonstrates through Tashi that it is the liberation from these unbalanced power structures that will change our world. Rather than seeking revenge, we must seek to regain what has always been ours. RESISTANCE IS THE SECRET OF JOY.

I try not to be a literary snob, but nothing is less appealing to me than a book with the movie adaptation cover. So sorry, Glenn Close. It’s not you, it’s me.

I picked up The Wife by Meg Wolitzer from the thrift store, despite its movie adaptation cover, because I recognized the author from a previous work of hers, The Female Persuasion. Upon Googling, I’ve come to learn Wolitzer has penned 14 novels, damn. Like Walker, Wolitzer is a feminist writer, however, I’d argue that she’s a bit narrow in her focus. (Granted, I’ve only read 2 of her 14 books, so this opinion is open to adjustment.) When a Black woman writes about feminism, it tends to be inherently intersectional; no one can be truly free until and unless there is liberation for all. Even when focused on an individual, like Tashi, there’s an understanding that she is an individual within the larger collective. When a white woman approaches the topic, it often focuses on one woman’s experience as an individual who may see the patterns in her struggle amongst other women, but still fails to widen her scope and acknowledge the larger structure we are all a part of. White women’s feminism is navigating a singular straight road with easily defined obstacles along the path; intersectional feminism is navigating a meandering overgrown trail with dead ends, hidden shortcuts only available to some, and intangible obstacles affecting the others.

That’s obviously a grossly broad stroke with which to summarize feminist writing, but my word count is already insane so I’m trying to keep it relatively under control. Alllllll of that being said, I’ve found that a kind of “suspension of certain lenses” can be necessary when reading, not to comply with the status quo, but to separate the content of the story from the circumstances of our current world in an effort to give the narrative a chance. Approaching The Wife this way, putting myself in the mindset of a 50-year-old white woman struggling through a loveless marriage, allowed me to do what books are supposed to let you do – experience the world through another’s eyes.


The Wife follows Joan, a 19-year-old English major at Smith college, smitten with her 20-something writing professor, Joseph Castleman. After breaking up his marriage and family to be with her, the pair live and work together in New York, eventually getting married and starting a family of their own. Throughout their marriage, Joe is an insatiable flirt, having several affairs and a few mistresses on the side. Joan commits to her role as “the wife” and although she’s no pushover, infidelity seems to be a battle she’s deemed unworthy of fighting. The predominant issue for Joan early on is her struggle to be taken seriously as a female writer in a world dominated by mediocre men, one of whom is her husband. This struggle leads to the gradual neglect of her writing and the seemingly overnight success of her husband, who’s writing used to be his biggest insecurity. On a flight to Finland where Joe is to receive a prestigious writing award, Joan reflects on their 30 years of marriage finally deciding enough is enough.

I suppose the breaking point for Joan was the fact that she’s essentially been editing/ghost writing her husband’s work for the entirety of his career. One can only imagine the frustration Joan swallowed for so many years, attending awards ceremonies and colleague dinners having to pretend to be no more than the wife of the great author Joe Castleman when in fact it was her work everyone was praising and celebrating. On top of all of that, Joe was often celebrated for his ability to write female characters!! “”Personally, I have trouble writing about women authentically,” he admitted. “It all comes out sounding like men talking. … “I still can’t connect to the hearts of women, to all that feminine mystery, and those secrets they keep. Sometimes I just want to shake it out of them. … “It’s extremely frustrating to me as a writer,” he said. “The wall that separates the sexes, keeps us from getting to know each other’s experience” (p. 62). Imagine having your head so far up your own ass that you use that many words to simply admit that you have no empathy for others, can’t relate to anyone but yourself or people like you, and in truth you’re not creative in any way whatsoever. At least he’s self-aware, we can give him that I suppose.

Reading through the eyes of Joan, I can’t believe she didn’t publicly out him on more than one occasion. If not to the whole world than at least to a few close friends after he dropped one of his sexist zingers in a group conversation at one of the many social events they attended. Friggen Joe, always being faux humble about his work and putting on the “grateful husband” hat whenever he was recognized for it. Because if he could at least pretend to be indebted to Joan for her domestic attributes maybe he could pretend that she didn’t do literally everything for him, including his entire life’s work. On top of all of that, he’s not even a good dad! Run fast and never look back, Joan. GOD SPEED

a note on the lemon wall – it may look cute, but I wouldn’t wish peel and stick wallpaper on my greatest enemy. It’s not cheap and it sure ain’t easy, man.

My final read of January was the lovely, gorgeous, aesthetic to death, Film for Her by Orion Carloto which I’ve written a lengthy review of here


I could talk about books for hours, so thank you for indulging me. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to read some of my thoughts, and I’d love to hear your opinions/recommendations!

As always, happy reading!


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