To be perfectly honest I’d never heard of a performance memoir before I read Experiments in Joy, the second book by author and artist Gabrielle Civil. I was only nudged to pick up this book after booking Civil as a guest on The Stacks. In the case of Experiments in Joy, a performance memoir is a mix of letters, conversations, performance notes, photos, stage directions, criticism, and poetry to tell a fractured story of Civil’s life as an artist. It covers a handful of her performance pieces and gives them a fuller context than simply seeing the piece live.
I’ve never read anything like this book, and as a reader I oscillated between enjoying Civil’s process and being annoyed at having to read descriptions of things I would much rather be watching. The how of these pieces coming together was much more interesting to me than the actual what (think excerpts of scripts) that was sprinkled through out.
Civil is very honest and open with her audience, allowing us to read intimate letters from past collaborators and lovers. She shares insecurities in her own work and confronts her process head on. She also shares her joy and anxieties, her successes and reflections.You get to know her, and like her, through her process. This isn’t the kind of memoir where you hear about Civil’s childhood (at least not too much). It is more a memoir of the work itself as opposed to the person, though those things become inextricably linked when dealing with performance art.
Like in a collection of poems, some sections resonated with me and sparked interest, others were mere blips on my radar as I read toward the end of the book. I think that is ok. It doesn’t all have to land, and the sections can be read alone or in the context of the entire book.
If you’re an artist or someone who likes to grapple with the art of creation this book might spark something in you. If you’ve heard Gabrielle on The Stacks, you might likewise be intrigued to read this book. Hearing her speak about this book, and her first book Swallow the Fish, made me understand her work and the genre of Performance Memoir a lot better.
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March was all about the backlist. I went on an amazing vacation and took a bunch of books I had been wanting to read for a long time, and I read them! What a treat. I really enjoyed almost everything I read in March. My stand out was Assata by Assata Shakur and the low-light was Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare. What were your favorites this month? Also worth noting, I read my first books on a Kindle, and I survived.
You can find my reading month by the numbers and short reviews of everything I read below.
March by the Numbers
Total Books Read: 10 Audiobooks: 1 E-Books: 2 Five Star Reads: 1 Unread Shelf: 6 Books Acquired: 12
By Women Authors: 6 By Authors of Color: 3 By Queer Authors: 1 Nonfiction Reads: 8 Published in 2019: 2
In the story of her life, Assata Shakur lets her reader in on her childhood, her relationship with the Black Liberation Movement, and her arrest and imprisonment. The prose are conversational and the content is enraging and devastating. Not only is this book a look back at the past, it is also a very clear indictment on the current state of affairs in The United States.
If nothing else, Assatais a reminder of the struggle for Black equality that has spanned centuries, and the lengths the American government will go to stifle that quest. Racism, abuse, torture, and human rights violations are all part of Assata’s story, and the story of this struggle. She exposes corruption in the criminal justice system and even in The Black Panther Party. She is unapologetic and easy to connect with. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about a figure I had heard of, but really knew so little about, though there were times I’d wished she was more forthcoming with her own revolutionary activities, and the reasons why she might have been targeted by the police. The fact that this book is still so relevant over 30 years after it’s publication is a reminder of how much work needs to be done. I highly suggest this book for people who love a good memoir and people interested in the history of social justice movements, though I caution there are very graphic scenes of abuse through out the book.
A book unlike anything I’ver ever read, Experiments in Joy mixes the genre of memoir with the artist’s performance notes, letters, and cultural criticism into a book that encapsulates both the artist and the art. Civil is a performance artist, professor, and poet, and this book is a reflection on some of her pieces and her way of seeing the world and her place in it. In addition to Civil’s own words, there are conversations and letters from her collaborators and reviewers to deepen the readers understanding of the work.
I didn’t always connect with the book, but I felt deeply that the context given helped me to better understand Civil as a creative and an activist. The book is truly a glimpse at how one creates. The sections in which she gave context before or after laying out the performance pieces were my favorite along with the book reviews. To understand how the artist works and why is captivating for me and brought the performance notes to life. Civil is a beautiful writer, and her letters especially show her skills. For any lover of the arts this book as a unique look into process over product.
Paul Ham uses contemporaneous documents, reflections after the fact, and critical thinking in Hiroshima Nagasakito take down the conventional thinking about the use of nuclear weapons on Japan in 1945. This book is a fantastic work of nonfiction and does a great job of analyzing and deconstructing these acts of extreme violence
For 60+ years America has pushed a narrative about the “need” to drop an atomic bomb on a civilian target in order to avenge Pearl Harbor and/or to prevent “millions” of future US casualties. This book looks deeper into that idea and debunks much of reasoning that was flawed and so easily accepted by Americans and all of history. If you love history, politics, and smart writing, I would highly recommend Hiroshima Nagasaki. Though this book can be dense at parts (especially the first 100 pages) and lacks a real introduction for those not familiar with this moment in time, Ham’s writing is extremely readable. He mixes politics with humanity and covers many facets of these bombings its not all Harry Truman, it is also very much about the victims. I learned a lot about World War II, and was able to see the political maneuvering that America took part in that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.
A vivid look at the culinary industry from the perspective of chef, Anthony Bourdain. This book is part memoir and part expose in which Bourdain shares what to never order from a restaurant and what the kitchen thinks of people who order a well done steak. It is an approachable book and an easy read.
Throughout Kitchen ConfidentialBourdain seems hell bent on shocking his reader. He loves talking about sex, blood, and drugs. Its a little over played and can be cringeworthy at moments. There also seems to be a little self-congratulation around his relationships with his Latinx coworkers/employees. I was not familiar with Bourdain in life, and since his passing I am just barely more informed on his life and contributions. There was little sentimentality for me in reading this work and much of my criticisms come from who he presents himself as in this book, a bit of a know it all. Though I will say, his heart and passion come through loud and clear and I loved those moments of the book most.
I enjoyed reading this book, but 20 years after its first publication, I don’t know if the tone and approach stand the test of time. If you love Bourdain or want something a little rough and tumble you might really enjoy this one.
In Love’s Labour’s Lost we meet a King and his male courtiers who take a pledge to become celibate, but then, of course, they meet some women and fall in love. The show revolves around the men trying to secretly get the women to love them despite the oath. While most of Shakespeare’s comedies are trivial, this one is nonsensical. There is a lot of disguise and mix ups that are confusing to read and not particularly necessary or interesting.
The only part of this play that I found remotely intriguing is the ending, in which the women finally get some power and put their feet down. I don’t want to spoil it, but it is a twist and makes some interesting points about duty over desire and the idea of reciprocity in relationships.
I wouldn’t suggest this play to anyone, but it might be more fun to see than read. The language is confusing and the there really isn’t much action at all.
A book of quippy erotic fantasies of women being treated equal, or better than equal, to men. A world in which Ruth Bader Ginsburg is immortal, and Juliet tells Romeo off for being so love sick. While the idea is fun and smart, the execution left me wanting more.
The best and most effective satire calls out inequality by speaking truth to power and by forcing the audience to question their own complicity in the power structure. This book fails to do that. It seems to be content just being cute. It relies on the “erotica” to do a lot of the heavy lifting. The authors attempt to address intersectionality in the introduction, but then spend the rest of the book trivializing the aggression of men instead of addressing it head on. The book fits nicely into the White capitalist patriarchy as a piece of protest, meaning it is a safe way for women to vent without really forcing a deeper discussion at the issues at play.
If you’re looking for a light palate cleanser, this is might be a good choice, plus you can read it in about 90 minutes, but if you want something more biting I think there are other books to go to.
A true crime story about a White British woman who goes missing in Tokyo in 2000 and all that unfolds there after. The book looks at the crime, the family and their grief, the media and their coverage, and the police and their ability to figure out what happened.
What makes such a solid work of true crime is that the author, a journalist, is weaving many elements of this story together in an extremely readable way. The writing is no frills, but the story is full of surprises and is totally engaging. Parry is, for the most part, objective and helps the reader understand the cultural differences that makes this case unique . Plus the story itself is captivating, the book is over 400 pages but you want to read it in one sitting. I loved the commentary on race, class, culture, and gender throughout the book and would have liked even more. Getting to understand a criminal justice system that is so different than my own (that of The United States) was fascinating. Parry does a great job as our guide into a world I’d never known. If you like true crime, you’ll enjoy this book, though be warned there are trigger warnings for sexual assault and violence.
Four Stars | Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Reprint edition | May 22, 2012 | 454 Pages | Paperback |Purchase on IndieBound
To articulate the fragility and toxicity of Whiteness to White people is one the the greatest challenges of anti-racism work, and in White Fragility Robin DiAngelo does just that methodically. This book is a take down of racist ideas and the entrenched denial around White supremacy.
White Fragility is admittedly written for White people by a White woman. DiAngelo is very clear in that, though, as a Black woman I found a lot of valuable insights in both how I can do better as I work toward anti racism and how I can approach uncomfortable situations with White people. I was able to understand the socialization of White people better, and to understand the tactics used to reinforce racism in our society.
This book is a great tool in any anti-racist’s tool box, along side one of my all time favorites, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. If you’re serious about the work this book helps to explain one road block that is often encountered, White Fragility.
These poems are a look at the career of Shange as they span 40 years of her work. I started to notice which ones were from older collections and which were more recent. As with any collection some of the material connected with me and some didn’t. There were poems where I was stunned by the story, or moved by the language. There were also poems that I would zone out and have to read over and over and still felt like I missed the message. For someone who is new to poetry, I enjoyed this collection and I am really looking forward to discussing it on The Stacks on April 24th.
One night eight Mennonite women gather to discuss their options and response to the repeated drugging and sexual assaults of themselves, their daughters, and the other women in their community. The book is written from as notes taken during these meetings and is inspired by true events.
Women Talking is a lot of just that, women talking. It is theoretical and examines the ideas of loyalty, faith, and safety. It is a feminist text in that it explores the equality of women and their rights to be alive and to have a say in their own lives. I really enjoyed the writing. I was hooked early and wanted to know what would happen in the end. I also found the use of the minutes to be irritating at times because it was a lot of back and forth interpreted by our scribe/narrator (who is a man, which added an element of conflict).
If you like fiction thats a little different, if you’re interested in religious communities and the role that women play in conservative spaces, this book is a great selection. Women Talking has been compared to Handmaid’s Tale which makes a lot of sense, but neglects the fact that Women Talking is based on true events (the assaults not the meeting) which makes it that much more devastating.
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