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What I Read In January

Not My Father’s Son. Alan Cumming. 2015. 290 pages.

This is the first book I purchased new from our local bookshop in Hoboken in a long time. I usually either visit The Strand in the city for used books or the Hoboken library to try and conserve some shelf space. But as Cumming’s memoir had been on my list since its publication, I figured it was a good book to add to my shelf between Conrad and Dahl.

The story jumped back and forth between present day and Cumming’s past with each chapter. Truth be told, these are my favorite kind of memoirs. I love when the writer tasks you with trying to make the connections of his life instead of simply telling you his own interpretation.

Not My Father’s Son was a fairly quick read about a young boy who was abused by his father and how that affected him and his family. It was also an emotional story of whether or not blood and bone alone is enough to make someone family. The continuous surprises will have you rooting for Cumming from beginning to end.

The most important opinion, of both my work and my conduct in life, is my own.
— Alan Cumming

Mutant Message Down Under. Marlo Morgan. 1991. 187 pages.

After I spent a month in Australia learning about Aboriginal culture from locals, I went to my favorite used bookstore in Syracuse searching for more information, more stories. Mutant Message Down Under came highly recommended from the man behind the counter and $4.50 later I was walking away with it tucked underneath my arm.

When I first bought this book, I thought it was memoir. After adding it to my Goodreads, however, I found that a lot of readers considered it to be fiction. And extremely racist fiction at that. I’m not sure if Morgan’s walkabout story with an Aboriginal tribe is true or not, (parts did seem exaggerated), but I enjoyed the story nonetheless.

For me, Mutant Message Down Under was a reminder of the importance for both the earth and our personal growth of living simply and within our means. It provided an interesting comparison between the Aboriginal way of life and the Western way of life. Do we really need all of these chemicals to heal or should we be finding more natural remedies? Are we taking the time to listen to the earth and the universe or are we shouting above it with all of our industrial revolutions?

You either have faith or fear, not both. Things, they think, generate fear. The more things you have, the more you have to fear. Eventually you are living your life for things.
— Marlo Morgan

How To Be A Woman. Caitlin Moran. 2011. 301 pages.

I usually just delete the many emails I get and scroll past the tweets I see about the x amount of books this type of person MUST read. But at the end of 2016, I slipped and read through a list of 25 Books Every Woman In Her 20s Must Read. Moran’s collection of life lessons on her journey of becoming a woman was on that list.

I had high expectations for this book. I love memoirs, and I love collections of essays, and I love women. The writing was witty and quirky at times, but it just wasn’t as serious about women’s issues as I would’ve liked. The only part I found Moran to be heartfelt about was her view on abortion.

Otherwise How To Be A Woman was just not my cup of tea. Too many sweeping generalizations about men, women, and society and not enough strength in her own views to get past all the clichés. 

I can’t understand antiabortion arguments that center on the sanctity of life. As a species, we’ve fairly comprehensively demonstrated that we don’t believe in the sanctity of life. The shrugging acceptance of war, famine, epidemic, pain, and lifelong, grinding poverty show us that, whatever we tell ourselves, we’ve made only the most feeble of efforts to really treat human life as sacred.
— Caitlin Moran