Open Book by Jessica Simpson || Book Review

“I kept a promise I made to myself a little over a year before to show up in my own life. To feel things, whether they were the result of bad memories, or good ones in the making.”

It is easy to write Jessica Simpson off as a ditzy blonde, and while in some cases this may be true, her memoir painted a clear picture of her as someone who is incredibly resilient. I typically enjoy celebrity memoirs, and this one was no different. In memoirs, you get to pick and choose the stories that you share with your readers so you have the opportunity to leave out anything that would make you unappealing. 

Simpson chose the perfect title for her memoir: Open Book. Let’s all be honest with ourselves – Could we write a book airing out all of our dirty laundry and come out of it in the end even more likeable? Because that’s entirely what she was able to do. I never followed her love story with Nick Lachey, John Mayer or Tony Romo. Do I believe that there are two sides to every story? Absolutely. But the way she defined her relationships didn’t exactly seem one-sided (except in the John Mayer case, but man he seems like a jerk.)

The most remarkable portion of this memoir, to me, were the stories about Jessica’s cousin, Sarah. In 1996, her older cousin Sarah was killed in a car crash. Her cousin was one of her best friends, and it was devastating to Jessica. Sarah kept journals of her thoughts, feelings and prayers for other people. Honestly, I cried through the various sections of the memoir that were about Sarah – It felt emotional and raw, and it was the most memorable piece of those story.

“It was a powerful lesson in creating a legacy by choosing your words with intention. We are on this earth such a short time, cruelly short in Sarah’s case. What message did I want to leave behind?”

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders || Book Review

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Number of Pages: 189
Rating: 2.5/5 stars


Synopsis

In her late twenties, Cait Flanders found herself stuck in the consumerism cycle that grips so many of us: earn more, buy more, want more, rinse, repeat. Even after she worked her way out of nearly $30,000 of consumer debt, her old habits took hold again. When she realized that nothing she was doing or buying was making her happy—only keeping her from meeting her goals—she decided to set herself a challenge: she would not shop for an entire year.

The Year of Less documents Cait’s life for twelve months during which she bought only consumables: groceries, toiletries, gas for her car. Along the way, she challenged herself to consume less of many other things besides shopping. She decluttered her apartment and got rid of 70 percent of her belongings; learned how to fix things rather than throw them away; researched the zero waste movement; and completed a television ban. At every stage, she learned that the less she consumed, the more fulfilled she felt.

The challenge became a lifeline when, in the course of the year, Cait found herself in situations that turned her life upside down. In the face of hardship, she realized why she had always turned to shopping, alcohol, and food—and what it had cost her. Unable to reach for any of her usual vices, she changed habits she’d spent years perfecting and discovered what truly mattered to her.

Blending Cait’s compelling story with inspiring insight and practical guidance, The Year of Less will leave you questioning what you’re holding on to in your own life—and, quite possibly, lead you to find your own path of less

Review

It had been a while since I opened a book (or in this case an e-book). I was on day 3 of scrolling through the library books available online at that exact moment when I stumbled upon The Year of Less. In my time away from blogging, I thought a lot about my spending habits (i.e. buying books that I wasn’t reading yet!!) and how it was impacting my overall life. I was putting money into savings every month, paid off my student loans, began really saving for buying a house — but I was (and still am) stuck with the question: Am I doing enough for my future financially?

I flew through the pages of The Year of Less not because it was a well-written book, but rather the underlying message spoke deeply to me.

If I could describe the writing style of The Year of Less in a single word it would be: whiny. This book was mainly memoir of a 20-something who made some major mistakes in her life and overcame huge obstacles to get back on her feet, but the writing was not good. There were sections of the novel that repeated the same line multiple times. I had to flip back and forth to make sure I wasn’t having double vision.

The 5% of the book focused on decluttering your life and saving money for your financial future sparked a little light under my butt. I came home and grabbed a garbage bag and sat in the bathroom to begin to throw away all of the extra, superfluous items in my life. I made my way through one cabinet and needed a break… could be my sleep schedule, could be my interest or maybe I just completely overwhelmed myself. But I began the process of clearing out the clutter.

“But there were really only two categories I could see: the stuff I used, and the stuff I wanted the ideal version of myself to use.”

The concept in the memoir that I found the most interesting (and unrealistic) was how she emptied her closet down to something nutty like 25 articles of clothing. She lived in Canada — are there not TWO+ seasons in Canada where you need different styles of clothing? Can you really function with only one pair of shoes?? (Says the girl who ordered a new pair of boots from Kohls last night…)

So for those of you who have made it this far, could you pare your closet down to 25 articles of clothing/shoes? At this moment, that is truly just unrealistic for me, and likely most people. I have 25+ articles of clothing specifically for work. Is that overkill? Yes, likely. But oooooof – This is the one place that I couldn’t jump on the decluttering band-wagon (You could also ask Michael who painfully threw away 15 pairs of my old, ratty vans and converse a few years ago when he was helping me pack to move… RIP SHOES).

If I’m feeling generous (which I am because she sparked a light under my butt), I would give The Year of Less a 2.5 out of 5 rating. Her editor could’ve pared down the stories; she could’ve been less whiny in her writing and poor me attitude. If I didn’t take away bits and pieces of her message, I would’ve likely rated it a 1.5 or 2.

Maid by Stephanie Land|| ARC Review

Date Published: January 22, 2019

Publisher: Hatchette Books

Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir

Synopsis: Evicted meets Nickel and Dimed in Stephanie Land’s memoir about working as a maid, a beautiful and gritty exploration of poverty in America. Includes a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich. 

“My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter.”

While the gap between upper middle-class Americans and the working poor widens, grueling low-wage domestic and service work–primarily done by women–fuels the economic success of the wealthy. Stephanie Land worked for years as a maid, pulling long hours while struggling as a single mom to keep a roof over her daughter’s head. In Maid, she reveals the dark truth of what it takes to survive and thrive in today’s inequitable society.

While she worked hard to scratch her way out of poverty as a single parent, scrubbing the toilets of the wealthy, navigating domestic labor jobs, higher education, assisted housing, and a tangled web of government assistance, Stephanie wrote. She wrote the true stories that weren’t being told. The stories of overworked and underpaid Americans.

Written in honest, heart-rending prose and with great insight, Maid explores the underbelly of upper-middle class America and the reality of what it’s like to be in service to them. “I’d become a nameless ghost,” Stephanie writes. With this book, she gives voice to the “servant” worker, those who fight daily to scramble and scrape by for their own lives and the lives of their children.

Thoughts + Feelings: Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mothers Will to Survive was incredibly frustrating to read. Stephanie Land was dealt challenging cards in life. She became pregnant in an abusive relationship, left that relationship without a steady income, struggled to find affordable housing, entered into more unstable and unreliable relationships, continued to make poor choices with any extra source of income, and so on and so forth.

I was really looking forward to reading this memoir because I was expecting to learn more about the profession of being a maid — crazy right? I was disappointed in the lack of story revolving around being a maid.

One piece of the story that has stuck with me is that Stephanie didn’t appear to fit the “stereotype” of the individuals we associate with needing to go to the government for help. Often times we jump to conclusions about individuals who use government services, although the services are there for a reason and there is absolutely nothing bad about utilizing the services that we have provided to us. It was a big check to my own privilege – things can happen to anyone; it doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like or where you’re from.

However I was left with quite a few questions… Why does Stephanie have zero savings? Why does she buy herself a $200 diamond ring when she receives a $4000 tax refund instead of moving herself and her daughter, Mia, out of an apartment with black mold??

I tried not to judge while reading the memoir because each person gets to make their own decisions and its hard to say what choices you’ll make when faced with a challenging question. But there is also a point where you have to stop and reflect on your choices in the moment and figure out what the heck you’re doing.

I originally rated this book as an average novel, but now I feel like it was 2/5 stars. While I understand that this is representative of Stephanie Land’s life, she was repetitive in her novel and quite irresponsible with her child. I hope that as her success takes off, both as a student and a writer, that Stephanie has learned how to manage her time, money and lifestyle.

Rating: ⭐⭐

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover || Book Review

Date: February 20, 2018

Publisher: Random House

Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir

Synopsis: Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.

Thoughts + Feelings: I began seeing Educated: A Memoir pop up on Goodreads back in February 2018 before I ever started Arguably Alexis. And I truly mean that I began to *see* it – I never clicked to see the synopsis. I wasn’t initially interested in what the story was about. From the cover I knew it was a real-life story about someone’s education, but I wasn’t immediately drawn to know the story.

I’m honestly a bit surprised by myself that I didn’t take an immediate interest. It combines several of my favorite things in life: memoirs, education and learning about survivalist (and people who compare themselves to Ruby Ridge/Waco). I should’ve picked this memoir up a year ago. I should have listened when it became known as a wildly popular book.

I was behind the band-wagon on this one, but let me tell you… I have hopped on the Educated bandwagon and I am not looking back.

Educated: A Memoir is the story of Tara Westover and her dysfunctional and extremist/survivalist family. Tara grew up in Idaho to a radically Mormon* family who did not trust the government, the medical establishments or the school system. Tara never went to school, nor was she home-schooled. Her first experience with our modern day education system was at age 17 when she entered her freshman year of college at BYU.

This memoir depicted a life in the United States that I cannot imagine existing in this country during the 21st century. I mean, I know that this happens. I know that there are other families of survivalists who don’t vaccinate their children, don’t have birth certificates and bury food, fuel and weapons under the ground near their homes. The abuse and mistreatment that Tara underwent at the hands of her family broke my heart each time. Educated was filled with beautiful, and painful memories. It’s quite remarkable the magic that she was able to include in this memoir.

“First find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are.”

The part that struck me as the most magnificent is how Tara began to educate herself, after following in the footsteps of her older brother. She taught herself enough grammar and mathematics to pass the ACT and be accepted into BYU. She beat the learning curve in college and learned how to study and retain information. She learned about her own ignorance and how inaccurate it seemed to many of those surrounding her. Tara had a desire for more. She didn’t want to work in the junk yard for her entire life. She didn’t want to become a midwife. She wanted something different for herself, so she built her life towards it.

I loved Educated: A Memoir. The story it told us was not only unique to Tara. Accessibility to education is not equal across the United States, or the world. Resources are not equal. Tara broke down the barriers to her own education, and I applaud her endlessly for that.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Recommend? If you haven’t had the opportunity to read Educated yet, don’t even wait on the list at the library. Just go out and buy this beautiful, powerful memoir. 10/10 would recommend.

ARC Review: Would You Rather? A Memoir of Growing Up and Coming Out by Katie Heaney

ratherRelease date: March 6, 2018

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Genre: Memoir

Premise: A collection of poignant, relatable essays from the author of Never Have I Ever about coming out in her late twenties, entering into her first relationship, and figuring out what it means to be an adult.

When Katie Heaney published her first book of essays chronicling her singledom up to age 25, she was still waiting to meet the right guy. Three years later, a lot changed. For one thing, she met the right girl.

Here, for the first time, Katie opens up about realizing that she is gay. She tackles everything from the trials of dating in New York City to the growing pains of her first relationship, from obsessing over Harry Styles (because, actually, he does look a bit like a lesbian) to learning to accept herself all over again. Exploring love and sexuality with her neurotic wit and endearing intimacy, Katie shares the message that it’s never too late to find love–or yourself.

Thoughts + Feelings:  I had never heard of Katie Hearney before I stumbled upon her book on NetGalley. I thought it was awesome that she had written a memoir at such a young age because it’s not something that’s done very often, unless you are already famous.

I have read very few books that are a) written by LGBTQ+ authors or b) books about the LGBTQ+ community, so I was interested to read about Katie’s life leading up to and after she had come out.

I found a lot of Heaney’s writing to be redundant and whiny. Katie seemed to retell the same stories over + over again in her memoir. It seemed like she was trying to show the stories from different perspectives, but they were all of her same stories… from her perspective. I also hate using the word ‘whiny’ to describe her writing style because I don’t want you (my readers) to confuse my idea of her whiny writing style with me thinking that she is whining about her coming out story. I have always been in heterosexual relationships, so I do not have experience with needing to come out – but from trying to understand it from the larger picture and conversations that I’ve had with people who have come out, I have an understanding of how challenging it is for a person. I just feel like there is a way to do it without whining in your writing.

“I cannot change anything about the trajectory of my past, and if I were given the opportunity, I am not sure that I would.”

In Heaney’s life thus far, she has learned a lot about herself and the person that she wants to be. That is something that I truly admire. To go from writing a book about never  dating to the slow-time realization that you are queer is a big shocker to the system. Just because I didn’t love her writing style, doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate her story.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Recommend? LGBTQ+ friendly. If you know someone struggling with their feelings towards men/women, this could be a good book to help them feel like they’re not alone. If you’re looking for a memoir to better understand a segment of the LGBTQ+ community, this book is also for you!

Book Review: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

eat pray love

Release date: February 16, 2006

Publisher: 

Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir

Premise: A celebrated writer’s irresistible, candid, and eloquent account of her pursuit of worldly pleasure, spiritual devotion, and what she really wanted out of life.

Around the time Elizabeth Gilbert turned thirty, she went through an early-onslaught midlife crisis. She had everything an educated, ambitious American woman was supposed to want—a husband, a house, a successful career. But instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed with panic, grief, and confusion. She went through a divorce, a crushing depression, another failed love, and the eradication of everything she ever thought she was supposed to be.

To recover from all this, Gilbert took a radical step. In order to give herself the time and space to find out who she really was and what she really wanted, she got rid of her belongings, quit her job, and undertook a yearlong journey around the world—all alone. Eat, Pray, Love is the absorbing chronicle of that year. Her aim was to visit three places where she could examine one aspect of her own nature set against the backdrop of a culture that has traditionally done that one thing very well. In Rome, she studied the art of pleasure, learning to speak Italian and gaining the twenty-three happiest pounds of her life. India was for the art of devotion, and with the help of a native guru and a surprisingly wise cowboy from Texas, she embarked on four uninterrupted months of spiritual exploration. In Bali, she studied the art of balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence. She became the pupil of an elderly medicine man and also fell in love the best way—unexpectedly.

An intensely articulate and moving memoir of self-discovery, Eat, Pray, Love is about what can happen when you claim responsibility for your own contentment and stop trying to live in imitation of society’s ideals. It is certain to touch anyone who has ever woken up to the unrelenting need for change.

Thoughts + Feelings: I strongly disliked this book. I contemplated not finishing it several times. But I’m no quitter, so I powered through the absolute garbage that was Eat, Pray, Love. I understand why there were mixed reviews of this memoir because I went back and forth between being empathetic with Liz Gilbert and really just wanting her to shut up (maybe that’s a little harsh). She had a wonderful year long journey in Italy, India and Indonesia. She lived a life that so many others can just dream of. Several quotes throughout the memoir are the reasons that I decided to power through – I’m a sucker for motivational quotes.

“My truth is not a condemnation of yours.”

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”

“Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.”

I chose to finish this book because I know that Elizabeth Gilbert had a reason to writing it for the story to become a global phenomenon. I have not yet seen the movie, but it is on my life. Deep down I appreciated the story because it was relatable. It’s not always about traveling the world, and eating an insane amount of pasta. It’s about realizing what you need in your life in that moment. It’s reflecting on your relationships with your friends, family and with yourself. This by no means meant that I liked this book. I thoroughly wanted to smash my iPad as I was reading it, but I did like bits and pieces of it.

Rating: ⭐⭐

Recommend? No, I honestly wouldn’t. I’ve already texted several friends that it would not be worth their time to read the book. I was initially so excited for this memoir because it’s about self-discovery, but it was SO boring.