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books and reading

Punch Me Up to the Gods

Title: Punch Me Up to the Gods

Author: Brian Broome

Genre: memoir

Thank you NetGalley for this book. And really, I am so thankful. What a fantastic book.

I’m a white, cis, straight, woman. Because of these privileges, my life is not hard. Sure, being a woman can be difficult at times, but it doesn’t compare in any way to being a Black person in society these days. Or being a gay person. But being both Black and gay is an unbelievable challenge, to put it mildly. Brian is around my age, grew up in a small town, just like I did, but his life was vastly different all because of his Blackness and his queerness. This theme is the topic of the book, and although the book was difficult to read because of all the struggles he dealt with, I couldn’t put this one down. Reading books written by people who are different from you is critical to being a member of the world. I’m so glad NetGalley sent this one to me.

From Goodreads: Punch Me Up to the Gods introduces a powerful new talent in Brian Broome, whose early years growing up in Ohio as a dark-skinned Black boy harboring crushes on other boys propel forward this gorgeous, aching, and unforgettable debut. Brian’s recounting of his experiences—in all their cringe-worthy, hilarious, and heartbreaking glory—reveal a perpetual outsider awkwardly squirming to find his way in. Indiscriminate sex and escalating drug use help to soothe his hurt, young psyche, usually to uproarious and devastating effect. A no-nonsense mother and broken father play crucial roles in our misfit’s origin story. But it is Brian’s voice in the retelling that shows the true depth of vulnerability for young Black boys that is often quietly near to bursting at the seams.
 
Cleverly framed around Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem “We Real Cool,” the iconic and loving ode to Black boyhood, Punch Me Up to the Gods is at once playful, poignant, and wholly original. Broome’s writing brims with swagger and sensitivity, bringing an exquisite and fresh voice to ongoing cultural conversations about Blackness in America.

Back when I was teaching AP English, I was constantly on the hunt for passages to use in class. One section near the end of this book about Brian wanting a pink shirt is simply one of the best written passages I’ve read in ages. So many people write memoirs their story is interesting, but the writing leaves you cringing because of how cheesy or bad it is. This book is beautifully written from beginning to end. I hope this one gets the reviews it deserves. Own voices books are critical these days, and this is one I will be recommending to everyone.

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books and reading

The Wild Truth

I read Into the Wild around the time the movie came out. I can’t remember if I read it first or saw the movie first, but in any case, both had a pretty big impact on me. I was fortunate enough to teach excerpts as well during a unit on transcendentalism. I had the students read the excerpts alongside excerpts from Walden, comparing and contrasting the thoughts and ideas each presented. Obviously, the ideas were a bit different since Walden is a first-person account and Into the Wild is told about the author, rather than the author’s own words, but Jon Krakauer was also an outdoorsman who presented the Chris McCandless’s ideas seamlessly.

The Wild Truth is the other side of the story from Chris’s sister’s perspective. Carine discusses their rocky childhood. Their father was married to another woman when he had children with Chris and Carine’s mother. They have a slew of half-siblings. Their parents eventually married, but life wasn’t easy. They were verbally abused on a daily basis from both parents. Carine explains why this information wasn’t included in Into the Wild. She told Krakauer the entire story but was always hopeful for reconciliation with her parents, so she asked him to gloss over the terrible childhood. When she felt she couldn’t keep quiet any longer, she published her own story.

I can’t say I enjoyed this book, simply because it’s really painful to read about other people’s suffering. And I really didn’t see *why* this book needed to be published. I’m not saying Carine should have kept protecting her abusive parents, but this could easily have been told in a series of articles. Much of the book was about Carine and her life, which was fine, but not really all that interesting to me. She reiterated her love for Chris, which I fully believe (she named her daughter after him) and her half-siblings who were always there for her and Chris. As far as memoirs go, this one felt a bit unnecessary, but it was nice to revisit Chris and reminisce on the impact he had in the world.

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books and reading

Same Kind of Different as Me

*originally posted 2010 on another site

I was a little skeptical of this book and for good reason. It’s certainly heartwarming, but that’s just not something I enjoy reading most of the time. The book starts out strong but becomes more and more depressing as it continues. It was to the point that I was reading it just to be finished with it.

The story is told from two narrators: Ron- a wealthy white man in Ft. Worth and Denver- a homeless black man in the same town. They tell their own stories for a bit, and these were my favorite part. I enjoyed learning where they both started their lives. They are very short vignettes, so I could easily use some in the classroom. Ron meets his wife, Debbie, and after several years of marriage, she decides that God has told her to do some good in life. Now, I’m not the religious type, so this book quickly lost its appeal simply because the level of Christianity mentioned. I’d rather hear of people who helped the homeless because they wanted to, rather than because God led them down that path. In any case, the friendship that was formed was meaningful and true. Ron and Denver became reluctant friends, but each found something special within the other.

Halfway through the book, Debbie is diagnosed with cancer. There’s where the fun ends. It went downhill for me at that point. I just don’t enjoy reading about people’s sadness.

I imagine this book is inspirational to a lot of people, which is perfectly understandable. It just isn’t my thing…

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books and reading

Troublemaker

I usually don’t read books written by celebrities. Most of them don’t really have interesting enough lives for me to want to read about them. Being an actor just doesn’t impress me. Nor does being famous. And these people aren’t really writers. And reading about their struggles in how to make it in Hollywood isn’t interesting. There are a few exceptions. I’ve read Tina Fey’s and Amy Poehler’s books because I do respect both of them as funny women who have changed the game in Hollywood. And Fey, especially, wrote a hilarious book. But I had to read a book written by a celebrity for my book challenge, and Scientology is just so fascinating, so choosing Troublemaker was a no brainer for me.

And I loved it. What a crazy story!! It is hard for me to take pleasure in reading about another’s pain, though. I feel so bad for Remini and all she went through. To feel so lost and let down by her church really is a terrible feeling, one many can relate to, albeit not in Scientology, since most members stay with the church, or go into hiding if they have left. This fact should tell you something, as well. This church isn’t one to be trifled with. They have tremendous power, but thankfully, most people think they are crazy, so their power only reaches so far.

I’m not a religious person and believe a lot of it is brainwashing (yep, I said it), but Scientology takes the cake. It’s absolute madness what these people will believe. I watched the Going Clear documentary and fully intend to read the book, as well. And there’s always the Southpark episode about it. One that was so controversial that Isaac Hayes (a dedicated Scientologist) quit the show over it.

Remini’s story is highly readable, given all the Scientology terminology, and can be read in a day, even. I was completely taken in by her story. I am glad she was able to escape with her family (mostly) intact. That’s a rare thing within the church. And I hope others are able to do the same as successfully.