Review- Suck Less: Where There’s a Willam, There’s a Way

Suck Less: Where There’s a Willam, There’s a Way by Willam Belli

61lerla1nal5/5 stars

Willam is an amazing performer that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a couple of times. He is a drag queen, actor, singer, and songwriter that has been in multiple different TV shows (reality, crime, etc)—just check out his IMDb page. He is known for his quick wit (although in the book, he admits that he’s just a dickhead and people think he’s joking), along with his top-notch drag technique that has been shown again and again on TV, VMA performances, and music videos. Willam has always been a fun person to speak with and I was so excited when I heard he was releasing a book.

In Suck Less, Willam gives tips on how to suck less at various things that he is good at. The sections range from everything between stripping to having a nice home to insulting someone effectively. He also includes a dragtionary that explains all of the drag lingo he uses throughout the book. The pages are filled with high quality photos of Willam as well, some of these demonstrating things like tucking and hair techniques.

Willam gives a lot of valuable advice in the 221 pages of Suck Less. For example, there’s a section about how to suck less at leaving the house. He says, “I always have a garbage bag with me in case someone I meet is ugly. It’s also good for when the weather is iffy and you don’t wanna tote around an umbrella”. It’s humor like this that has made Willam one of the most loved mainstream drag performers. On a more serious note, he gives some really cool tips about things like acne—I had no idea that using a pierced Advil Liqui-gel could make pimples disappear.

I love Willam’s writing because I could hear him reading it in his own voice. If you’ve ever heard him talk, even just one sentence, you’ll know what I mean when I say his voice is very unique. It was so much fun to hear Willam’s tone so well that it felt like he was actually saying all of these tips to me directly. Even if you don’t know much about Willam or gay culture in general, this is a really great book to get advice from a drag queen. ‘Cause, you know, drag queens do most things the best anyway.

I anticipated this book to be 5 stars, and it certainly was. Willam’s fans know to only expect the best of the best from him, and Suck Less lives up to that. I’m excited to see where Willam’s career takes him next because he truly seems capable of bringing his persona to all forms of art.

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Review- Joe Gould’s Teeth

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Joe Gould’s Teeth by Jill Lepore

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

“Torment had never stayed his pen: Gould was an artist, a bohemian, suffering for his art, suffering for their art, suffering for all art.”

Somewhere around 1918, Joe Gould began recording every conversation he had with other people living in the United States. He wrote in hundreds of composition journals and filled the pages with quotations and paraphrases from his daily encounters and called it the “Oral History”. Gould insisted that publishers could not publish his work until after he died, as it was not meant for the current generation. In the late 1940’s, Gould was admitted to a hospital that virtually ceased his writing. After that, the journals stopped. After Gould passed away in 1957, the search for the “Oral History” began. Researchers tried contacting Gould’s friends, relatives, and people mentioned in his surviving letters. The story told in the surviving paperwork falls apart upon fact-checking some of the dates. If there is no trace of the hundreds of journals containing the “Oral History”, is it possible that it never existed at all?

Jill Lepore, thank you for writing the biography that got me out of my reading slump. I rarely read nonfiction, much less biographies, but I am so glad I picked up this book.

What I love about this book is the dual-plot structure between Joe Gould’s history and Lepore’s search for clues about the accuracy of the first plot. She tells Gould’s story as previous researchers have told it, but also voices her questions and rediscovers parts of his life herself. Although others have tackled the debate over the existence of the “Oral History”, Lepore certainly conducts her own research and draws her own conclusions. Interestingly, although Lepore outlines the facts she discovered, she allows the readers to form their own thoughts on the issue as well. Lepore says, “After reading everything about Gould I could possibly get my hands on, here are the facts and the story as I found it; do what you’d like with that”. In my opinion, that makes for the best kind of biography.

I also want to comment on the language of the book. The sentences are structured in a clear and succinct way. I have been deterred from biographies in the past because of the superfluous sentences that make the plot boring. I end up wondering why I’d want to read a biography about someone whose life was plainly uninteresting to me, and set the book down. Lepore has a way of keeping each sentence short enough to continue holding the reader, but concise enough to give the information needed. I wish every biography that I tried reading in the past could be rewritten into this sentence format because I am sure I’d pick them up again.

This was a really great read on a subject and person I knew nothing about beforehand. I’m glad I picked it up off of the NYT nonfiction best seller’s table at my town’s bookstore. It was an impulse buy, but a cherished one.

Review- Hand To Mouth

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado

818Nt-CU4eLRating: 5/5 stars

“…let’s stop saying that poor people are irresponsible parents and start admitting that society doesn’t seem to believe that if you are poor you are entitled to be a parent at all.”

Linda Tirado published a blog post online describing what it’s like to live as a poor adult in America. The positive feedback and hundreds of emails agreeing with her post led her to Hand to Mouth, essentially a way of showing the world what it’s really like being poor. This is not an “investigative project” about a middle or upper class citizen learning about poverty, this is written by someone experiencing the reality of it. Tirado splits her book into multiple categories– children, houses, work environment, doctors’ appointments, etc. She explains many questions that middle and upper class people have about poor people, “why do poor people spend their money on cigarettes?”, “why don’t they just use food stamps if they’re so poor?” and ends with a letter to rich people.

This book was extremely eye-opening. I can see this novel getting compared to Nickel and Dimed, which I read a few years ago. Honestly, Hand to Mouth is easier to read and I would definitely recommend it over the other. I read this book in one sitting–it’s pretty short but very interesting.

I love how Tirado portrayed the seriousness of her poverty while also adding a bit of satire. The title of the chapter about food is called “I’ve Got Way Bigger Problems Than a Spinach Salad Can Solve”. She’s right! Why would someone who’s making minimum wage (or below it, for that matter) spend half a day’s worth of pay on a spinach salad for one person when the same money could be used towards feeding an entire family “unhealthy” food.

Tirado does an excellent job showing the world why some of the stereotypes of people living in poverty are true. She explains the reality of being poor and how it’s impossible to “move up the ladder” class-wise. This was a great nonfiction book for me (I needed to break the fiction spell) and I would really recommend it to anyone looking for a quick book about what its really like to be poor in America.

Review- Persepolis

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

persepolisRating: 5/5 stars

This illustrated autobiography follows the childhood of Marjane Satrapi, a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. At age 10, she’s already decided that she wants to become the next prophet when she grows up. She has nightly chats with God and diligently researches political theory. Marjane lives in a time when her relatives are put in jail for protesting and friends abruptly move to the USA. Marjane sees political heroes all around her and strives to become one too.

This memoir/graphic novel is fantastic. It’s the first book I’ve read in a while that invoked emotion inside of me. I wanted to cry when it was over. There are many ways to tell the story of the Islamic Revolution, but through the eyes of a child is very unique. Marjane is definitely a bias narrator, but it’s interesting to see what the chaos was like for a 10-14 year old girl during that time.

Marjane finds comfort in religion and political theory, which makes up a good portion of the memoir. The ideas of Marx, Ghandi, and other political leaders are discussed (and some in depth). I found this really educational; It’s amazing that Marjane developed an interest in these studies at such a young age.

Overall, this was a very quick but phenomenal read. I think I have to go back and re-read it, as I didn’t take the time to appreciate the illustrations. I look forward to reading the sequel which, I believe, takes place in Marjane’s adulthood.

Review- The Sense of Style

The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker

senseofstyle_stevenpinkerRating: 4/5 stars

Note: I feel like as a writing guide, this is a 5-star book, but as a ‘general’ book it’s only worthy of 4 stars.

I was given this book by my dad who said “all readers and writers should read this at some point in their careers”. I expected to be thoroughly bored with The Sense of Style, but found myself pleasantly interested.

Steven Pinker is a cognitive scientist who writes books on how to write, and does it  well. This guide is extremely well-organized, which makes it easy to find exactly what topics you’re looking for. He starts by explaining and breaking down sentence structure in a way that makes sense and is a bit different than the way I was taught in high school. Pinker uses examples from texts to outline the good and bad ways to use language and grammar. I like how he shows the reader how to write rather than tells them. He also includes a chart of words that used to have only one meaning but now have more common usages. For example, “presently” technically means “soon”, but it now used to mean “now”. Pinker discusses these differences and accepts both definitions.

Pinker clearly distinguishes himself from people who don’t understand that the english language is constantly evolving. He disregards a few ‘old’ english rules and replaces them with his own rules. I think that Pinker has a very modern way of writing that’s important for an ever-changing lexicon. I definitely learned a lot from this guide and would recommend it to people pursuing writing as a career.

Review- Redefining Realness

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock

51-XJGTaccL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Rating: 5/5 stars

“We all fulfill our quota of misfortune at some point on our life. This is what I believed when I was a ten year old. It was a belief system of my own creation, part of a silent theory based on fairness and balance.”

This book truly opened up my eyes. I pride myself on knowing a lot about LGBT culture and understanding the oppression put on those who identify as such. But, wow, did I learn a lot through this book. Through her words and heartbreaking childhood events, Janet Mock shows the reader what it’s really like growing up as a TWoC.

The first several chapters of this book are extremely hard to get through. I felt sick to my stomach after reading about Mock’s childhood. I appreciate that she was honest in her writing and that it must have been extremely, extremely difficult to share intimate details with the world. That’s not to say that the rest of the book was cheerful, it just took me a few chapters to get used to the rawness.

I think that, often, trans and LGBT folks in general are misrepresented in the media. Yes, there are a few gay and lesbian characters on TV now, but they are primarily white and upper middle class. This is not the reality of life for most LGBT people. It’s almost as if the non-white, disabled, and poor LGBT people simply do not exist to the media. I’m so happy that Janet Mock wrote this book because it gives us a glimpse at some of these windows that are otherwise closed to viewers.

Nonfiction is not a genre I usually pick. I am so glad that I prioritized Janet Mock’s book because it has certainly had a great impact on me.