Top Ten Books Read in 2012

Exploring Feminisms’ Top Ten in 2012

10.  Eva Braun: Life with Hitler by Heike B. Görtemaker

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This book epitomizes the phrase, “there’s a lid for every pot.”  Little is known about Eva Braun, the woman who was romantically linked and died with Hitler, due to the fact that towards the end he ordered all existing documents to be destroyed, even ones kept by Braun.  However, author Heike B. Görtemaker has pieced together through existing documents and letters a plausible picture of their courtship.  Görtemaker gives us a tale that can be both gripping and questioning, leaving much open for the reader to gather his or her own conclusions as to the validity of Hitler and Eva Braun’s relationship.

9.  Shaken, Not Stirred by Tim Gunn100_2026

 In this Kindle-only short story, Gunn briefly describes his father’s physical deterioration due to alcoholism and Alzheimer’s disease towards the end of his career, and the subsequent effect on his family.  Holding true to steadfast Tim Gunn-style, he is candid, witty, and introspective, thereby recognizing the flaws in his past and kneading them into something fruitful for the future.

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8.  Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling, also known as Kelly Kapur on the American version of the “Office”, has written an intelligent and introspective autobiography that offers us insight into the life of a truly funny woman.  Kapur’s writing is highly accessible: she’s sweet, silly, candid, and she possesses an incredible gift that makes you care about her, even though you’ve never met her.

7.  Armadillos and Old Lace by Kinky Friedman
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If you don’t know Kinky, get to know Kinky; the best Jewish cowboy country singer turned Jewish cowboy mystery writer around.  Friedman’s body of work, both fiction and non-fiction is impressive so it may be difficult to find a starting place besides at number one.  If you are going to skip around, then Armadillos and Old Lace (next to Elvis, Jesus and Coca-Cola) would be a safe bet.  Though peppered with slight vulgarity and delinquent humor (mercy!), Friedman always manages to be tender.  The main character, aptly named Kinky, loves animals, old ladies, his cigars, drinking, and saving the day.  He’s a good old boy with liberal sensibilities and stands up for those without a voice.  It’s a light mystery and you know that when  you get Kinky, you always get a happy ending.

GirlsWalksintoaBar6.  Girl Walks into a Bar by Rachel Dratch

Saturday Night Alum Rachel Dratch has written an adorable memoir about becoming accidentally pregnant in her 40s to a man that she is casually dating.  If you need an uplifting true story, especially to do with having children past what society deems to be your “prime” years, then definitely give it a go.  Dratch is a rebel who doesn’t apologize for her life choices and relays her experiences with honesty and a gentle touch; she’s to the point, but doesn’t come down too heavy.

5.  Rotters by Daniel KrausRotters

This book was an accident.  As I was perusing the horror table at the Printers’ Row Book Fair in early 2012, I picked up this book whose appeal factors included grave robbing and corpses, and thinking it was adult fiction, bought it.  Little did I know that in all actuality, it was young adult.  Little did I also know is that teen/young adult novels can be as gory and poignant as an adult novel.  The great thing about this novel, and perhaps in many teen novels, is that little is open to interpretation because it’s messages are blunt; very little beating around the bush.  Sometimes, don’t we all just want to be handed a message that we can understand immediately?  I know that sometimes I do.

IHateEveryone4.  I Hate Everyone, Starting with Me by Joan Rivers

Women aren’t supposed to be funny without femininity.  It may sound archaic, but women are only allowed to be accepted into our society on a large-scale unless their mouth is paired with pretty.  Pretty looks, pretty hair, or pretty jokes intermingled with ugly ones.  Rivers tosses her jokes in the face of a society that is based on the consumption of pretty, feminine women.  She offends everyone to the most extreme degree, including herself, but it’s all one big joke.  Does she really hate mentally disabled children?  Of course not.  It’s all part of staying true to the purity of her craft.  She gets plastic surgery because she understands that no one wants to see an old wrinkled woman on television (isn’t that the ultimate paradox?), but then she uses her place in the spotlight to subvert what is expected of her as a female comedian.  In a nutshell, Rivers’ book is an offensive hoot.  Have fun.

3.  Amy, My Daughter by Mitch WinehouseAmycovers

Written posthumously by Amy Winehouse’s father, Mitch Winehouse pays the ultimate homage to his daughter–he writes her life.  Previous to picking it up, my knowledge of Amy’s life and music was limited to what the radio stations doled out, which was mainly negative gossip.  MW paints Amy as realistically as a father can, except he ups the credibility factor with fault.  He finds fault with himself and with Amy, and this is what brings the reader in because really, who wants to read 300 pages of praise?  If so, where can connections be made?  MW ultimately lets us grieve along with him, his family, and for the tragedy that was Amy’s death.

Bedwetter2.  The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman

It’s jarring to hear a woman be so vulgar, compared only to the likes of Joan Rivers and a sprinkling of other female comedians who don’t give two shits about what mainstream culture says about them, but it’s also extremely refreshing.  Silverman’s no-holds-barred tongue is just the ruffling of the waters, much like Rivers’ book, that is needed to chip away at gender inequity, bit by bit.  Silverman’s book is a memoir of how comedy entered her life and how she has existed in that world.  Bedwetter is sometimes a tangled tale of inequality in the comedy arena that leaves you pissed off, intertwined with inspiration and gumption that makes you glad that there are women like Silverman out there who are disrupting at least one person’s sleep.

1.  It’s Always Something by Gilda Radnerit'salwayssomething

If you are seeking a solid story that leaves you feeling truly human and truly grateful, then read Radner’s autobiography.  In it, she hands us raw Radner on a plate and it leaves you completely changed at the end.  Radner’s memoir is one of cancer and her will.  She takes us on a journey that is the definition of bittersweet: getting cancer, its recession, fathoming her own possible demise, the ebbs and flows of hope, and her relationships and their own dealings with her cancer.  This book was written over twenty years ago and it reads as if it were written yesterday because love, friendship and struggle are (un)fortunately constants in life.

 

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Delicious Ambiguity: A Look Back at Gilda Radner’s Autobiography, “It’s Always Something”

When I checked out Gilda Radner’s autobiography, “It’s Always Something” from the library, I had no idea what I was getting into.  The extent of my knowledge merely spanned Saturday Night Live comedian and cancer, breast? Divine providence, nosiness, morbidity, who knows, something drew me in.  In the end, what it amounted to was two days of reading, about four break-down, hysterical crying sessions, about two weeks of PSTD depression, and a new name for my unborn or adoptive daughter.

In 1986, Radner was given the sentence of ovarian cancer after getting the proverbial runaround from physicians, all ending in one misdiagnoses after another for nearly a year.  From start to finish, Radner writes this book as she is experiencing cancer treatments including chemotherapy, radiation, barium in every orifice, water flushes, a microbiotic diet and about everything in between.  For three years, she is put through hell on earth, both of the physical and mental kinds.  She describes just about every thought and experience, including intimate arguments with husband Gene Wilder, her fears concerning her prognosis, her many bowel blockages, losing her hair (and she means everywhere), her involvement with The Wellness Community, bulimia, jealously, her inability to bear children, and one of her biggest support systems, her dog Sparkle.  You are privy to her ups and downs, to her raw depression, desperation and the depths that she explores are beyond what most of us can conceive of.  The book is in essence her diary, and this is how she pulls you in and makes you her friend and confidant.  My appreciation of this text arose within the first two chapters when I realized that she wasn’t pulling any cheap shots.  There weren’t any defense mechanism type of jokes to lighten any of her or our uncomfortable feelings concerning cancer; it was pure honesty.  She puts it all on the table so we’re all on the same page and look at her situation for what it really is–cancer that could be life threatening and how she’s learning to deal with that.

The book ends in 1988, approximately three years from start of cancer treatments to current day, and she sums up by saying that she is still receiving treatment and is hopeful.  We are left, as she is, in a state of “delicious ambiguity.”  An uncertain future is a good future because we don’t know what will happen, and that means that anything is possible.  Only we know all too well the outcome of this story: Gilda died in 1989 after being in a coma for three days while being put under for a CAT scan.  What makes this book so amazing is that it is in essence a documentary of three years of her life, straight from the horse’s mouth.  What also makes this book so amazing, and so sobering, is that we are privy to real-life dramatic irony.  She confides in us that she wants to live and we are unable to tell her the painful truth.

Was her struggle for nothing?  Of course not.  Though I am left with feelings of torment as I reflect on her story and anger at how unfair it was that she had to suffer for nearly five years (with nearly two years of unnamed pain and discomfort).  And though I am having trouble seeing past the injustice and senselessness that life sometimes throws at us, the strength and raw hutzpah that Radner threads throughout her trial is palpable.  She relentlessly keeps her chin up, and when it’s down, it’s part of the dialogue.  Living from day to day is a huge priority for her–potlucks, interacting and sharing experiences with others facing cancer, swimming, tennis, and even making the doctors and nurses laugh are all therapeutic for her emotional and physical recovery.  Towards the beginning of her treatments in the hospital, she would arrive with several pairs of silly slippers and moan comically and tragically through the intercom from her bed, all in the name of keeping her spirits up.  Whenever possible, she tried to make the process hers.

Three days after finishing the book, I returned it to the library in which I work and was reluctant to release it.  Sure, I could have deviously discarded it and kept it for myself in the name of collection development.  But then I thought, if I keep it for myself, then no one else at the library will happen upon on it as I did, maybe changing their lives as well?  Later in the day, the dark cloud of Gilda’s death was still hovering over me as I was coincidentally searching for obituaries on microfilm when it shut down unexpectedly as I was making a copy.   After four failed attempts at printing Mr. Jones’s obit, I went for help, only to find out that it was just out of paper.  As I shook my head and cursed my carelessness, my library director walked by and said, “never mind,” in the voice of who else, Gilda’s famed and opinionated social commentator, Emily Litella.

Delicious ambiguity.