Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity

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I found this book among many treasures at Portland’s most famous bookstore, the endless universe that is Powell’s. Somehow, I was not able to get to it until last month, which I was thrilled to discover, was Pride Month. I do not believe this timing to be accidental ( I believe it is the workings of the Bookstore Goddess, who guides the wayward who dare to step without direction or ambition into bookstores unawares), for indeed this book and the fact that I could watch Houston’s Pride celebrations from the corner window of my new apartment, made this year’s Pride Month truly exceptional for me. Thank you, Book Goddess. Thank you #HoustonPride.

THIS BOOK. THIS BOOK. THIS BOOK is such an incredible gift. As a lover of memoir, I cannot say enough about how monumental is this collection of stories. I am even having a hard time characterizing these deeply honest, clear-eyed, unapologetic renderings. That is what they are— renderings— of lives mostly hidden, but hidden in plain sight. This exploration of gender by those who cannot, will not, be confined by our notions of the world as binary, taught me so much that I didn’t know, about complexities that I could not appreciate. The offerings are not just revelatory. The writing is exceptionally beautiful. I don’t know how editors, Rajunov and Duane, came to find these authors/writers/artists, but what a talented bunch. The writing alone makes this book a forever treasure. But the timeliness of this compilation is also so fortuitous. We seem to be ready to take a long look at gender. I believe that once we have loosened our grip on what we have long accepted about who makes up what, and how exactly we must only be a he or a she, we might as well deconstruct the whole damn thing, or at least acknowledge that it is already done, and not because we have decided it so, but because gender as binary has never actually existed.

Small Fry

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I am not really one for celebrity memoirs. But this one is too intriguing to pass up, precisely perhaps because the author, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, has been largely denied her potential celebrity status by her very famous late father, Steve Jobs. And so hers is not a life-as-celebrity story, but rather, what its like to be juxtapositioned to the life you should be living. Honestly, she gives us more than this. But I find this aspect most interesting.

Born Bright

C. Nicole Mason had it rough. And her triumphant story, which reminds me a little bit of Cupcake Brown's  Piece of Cake,  is about how a person perseveres and overcomes really hard life challenges. To be fair, on the difficulty scale, Mason's story doesn't compare to Brown's, who wins the Most Despicable Childhood Award and the Most Extreme Adult Life Turnaround Prize. But Mason's story about the dual existence in which she must exist between her poor neighborhood and affluent school-- poor kid among the rich; smart kid against low expectations; Black girl alone among Whites. Her story resounds for many of us who find ourselves navigating similar worlds and experiencing that same chip, chip, chipping away of self that happens on both sides. Mason's story is about the little Black girl who propels herself forward by being good at being good. Brown's story is about a that little Black girl who propels herself forward by being really good at being really bad. Somehow, they end up in the same place, which is essentially so far on the other side that they are able to look back and provide us profound perspectives on their journeys.  also see-  Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown (NPR Interview)

C. Nicole Mason had it rough. And her triumphant story, which reminds me a little bit of Cupcake Brown's Piece of Cake, is about how a person perseveres and overcomes really hard life challenges. To be fair, on the difficulty scale, Mason's story doesn't compare to Brown's, who wins the Most Despicable Childhood Award and the Most Extreme Adult Life Turnaround Prize. But Mason's story about the dual existence in which she must exist between her poor neighborhood and affluent school-- poor kid among the rich; smart kid against low expectations; Black girl alone among Whites. Her story resounds for many of us who find ourselves navigating similar worlds and experiencing that same chip, chip, chipping away of self that happens on both sides. Mason's story is about the little Black girl who propels herself forward by being good at being good. Brown's story is about a that little Black girl who propels herself forward by being really good at being really bad. Somehow, they end up in the same place, which is essentially so far on the other side that they are able to look back and provide us profound perspectives on their journeys.

also see- Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown (NPR Interview)

The Cooking Gene

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By way of The Cooking Gene, an historical tour de force of African American Southern cooking, Michael W. Twitty does not just put the long line of exceptional Black cooks on the Southern culinary map, he shows that they ARE the map-- beyond the landmarks, they are the very terrain from and upon which this region's food traditions are planted, nurtured and cultivated. His family story and culinary odyssey make for inspiring reading and ultimately, the book is deeply enlightening both as a memoir and a historical reference. 

Heart Berries

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With Heart Berries, Teresa Marie Mailhot offers the best elements of memoir combined with a fresh and unique voice. Heart Berries is heart and poetry. I hate when I read a review that says that a writer of memoir is "brave" and "honest." Most people who have decided write about their lives take a leap; they decide to break themselves open and look inside, and then they show us what they find. Memoirist worth reading are, by definition, brave and honest.

Mailhot does a whole lot more than that. She delivers her difficult story in beautiful, poetic prose and you can't put the short but dense story down. The only reason this book is still on my nightstand is because I am launching a business and am basically in work-or-sleep mode. As I finish it, I want to be fully present for every word.

Literary Witches

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So a confession...I am not as well read as I would like to be. Not even close. This book is such a delicious find. It highlights excellent, historic women writers in the most fun and creative way. Tasia Kitaiskaia explains why each profiled writer is a witch. She says, "All artists are magicians, and Witches wield special magic. Witches and women writers alike dwell in creativity, mystery, and other worlds," and then she discloses what exactly is each writer's magical powers. Mostly she nails it every time.  I am going to work my way through this book's reading recommendations. I've read a lot of the books on the witchy-author-focused lists, but not nearly most. Feeling like this is a good start toward better literacy and my journey toward my own magical powers!