pyrajane’s review #27: Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father by Alysia Abbott

FairylandThe title of this caught my eye because I thought it was about fairy tale faeries.  Then I learned it was about THE GAYS!!! and read the blurb and decided it sounded interesting.  I didn’t know anything about Alysia Abbott or her father Steve and was interested to learn more about growing up in the heart of the gay scene in San Francisco in the 70s and 80s.  I like memoirs because it’s interesting to see what you have in common with a person and how you relate to them even if their story is completely different than yours.

Alysia Abbott’s story is extra completely different than mine, but of course  I still found lots to relate with.  After her father died, she read through his massive  collection of journals and created a beautiful work.  This is her story, but she has her father’s words to fill in parts she doesn’t remember, as well as being able to get his side of the story for what she does remember.  It feels like the two of them are writing the book together, and it’s beautiful.

Alysia’s parents (Steve and Barbara) met in 1968 at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.  Steve told Barbara he was bisexual and she thought it was great.  The two of them moved in together and later decided to get married so they could furnish the apartment with wedding gifts and get cash from her parents.  They continued their open relationship and Steve found that he was empowered by having a wife.  He could be openly gay and people were sort of OK with it because clearly he liked women enough to marry and have sex with one.  And Barbara wasn’t bothered by the boyfriends, even if friends thought she was crazy.

Barbara gets pregnant with Alysia and wants the baby while Steve is panicked and doesn’t think it’s a good idea.  By this time in their relationship Barbara was jealous of Steve’s younger boyfriend and was going to have the baby with or without him around.  She does, and by the time Alysia is three, Barbara is in a relationship with a drug addict named Wolf.  She begins using heavily and Steve slowly finds himself as the only safe caretaker for his daughter.  Wolf is arrested out of state, Barbara goes to bail him out and on the way home she is killed in a car accident.

Steve is suddenly completely alone with a toddler.  He doesn’t fit in with his in-laws and his boyfriend has left him, unable to deal with the seriousness of the situation.  Less than a year after Barbara’s death, Steve packs the car and drives to San Francisco to build a life for himself and his daughter.

Once he gets to San Francisco, he is fully out as a gay man.  He already did come out while in Atlanta, but now he felt fully free to be who he was and to be able to work creatively in his own world.  He was part of the gay art scene and in places created it.  He was a writer and an artist and he surrounded himself with creative people.  The Castro was coming into power and Harvey Milk was starting his campaigns.  It was where Steve needed to be.

But he also needed to be a father and he struggled with this constantly.  He wanted to be a better person, to be healthy and clean and calm so he could be the best father for Alysia, but he was also lonely and wanted someone to love him.  It’s heartbreaking to read the longing in his own words, wanting desperately for someone to share his life with him and Alysia.  He seems to be constantly falling in love, but over and over he picks young men who aren’t interested in relationships, and especially aren’t interested in becoming a father.  He seems himself as a mentor to these young men and surrounds himself with other artists, hoping to guide them and help them find their own voices.  As an editor and creator of his own magazine, he does help them.  He goes on to run workshops and weekend retreats and poetry readings and much more with other artists, many of them gay, but the whole time he’s searching and longing for a partner.  I wanted him to find someone his own age who maybe had similar experiences, but that wasn’t the scene in the Castro District.  He was surrounded by young men, even referring to them as boys sometimes.  These were who he was falling in love with, and it wasn’t going to work, no matter how hard he tried.

Read much more over on my blog.  I’m really glad I read this.

pyrajane’s review #26: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews


I have no idea how to write this stupid book.

Can I just be honest with you for one second?  This is the literal truth.  When I first started writing this book, I tried to start it with the sentence “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”  I genuinely thought that I could start this book that way.  I just figured, it’s a classic book-starting sentence.  But then I couldn’t even figure out how you were supposed to follow that up.  I started at the computer for an hour and it was all I could do not to have a colossal freak-out.  In desperation I tried messing with the punctuation and italicization like:

It was the best of times?  And it was the worst of times?!!

What the hell does that even mean?  Why would you even think to do that?  You wouldn’t, unless you had a fungus eating your brain, which I guess I probably have.

Me Earl and the Dying Girl

This is how long it took me to realize I was going to have to force myself not to stay up all night and read this book in one go.  I mean, come on.  This voice?  I didn’t even know who Greg was, but I was in.  Honestly, I was probably in at “I have no idea how to write this stupid book.”  So many questions!  Why is he writing it then?  Is he being forced to?  What happened that was so important or awesome or scary or whatever that he decided to sit down in front of a computer and force himself to think of words while at the same time acknowledging that he might have a brain fungus?

And then I got to page 2.

I do actually want to say one other thing before we get started with this horrifyingly inane book.  You may have already figured out that it’s about  girl who had cancer.  So there’s a chance you’re thinking “Awesome!  This is going to be a wise and insightful story about love and death and growing up.  It’s probably going to make me cry literally the entire time.  I am so fired up right now.”  If that is an accurate representation of your thoughts, you should probably try to smush this book into a garbage disposal and then run away.  Because here’s the thing: I learned absolutely nothing from Rachel’s leukemia.  In fact, I probably became stupider about life because of the whole thing.

Again, I don’t know who Greg is, but I’m in.

Read more about how awesome this book is over on my blog.  It’s one of my favorites this year.

pyrajane’s review #25: Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities by Chris Kluwe

Beautifully Unique SparkleponiesI didn’t know who Chris Kluwe was until his wrote his amazing piece for Deadspin that many know as Lustful Cockmonsters.  Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. wrote an open letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti asking him to force his players to shut up about civil rights.  Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo spoke out in favor of gay marriage and Burns decided he should use his position to try and silence free speech.  It was disgusting.

Kluwe’s response was beautiful.  Click that title up there and read it if you haven’t.  I respect a man who uses “Holy fucking shitballs” when making an informed argument.

As his response exploded all over the internet, I found his twitter account (@ChrisWarcraft) and found out he was in a band AND was a gamer.  Holy shit, this guy was awesome.  NFL punter AND a nerd?  Fuck yeah.

When I found out he was writing a book I was super excited.  Here’s a guy who is smart, loves to read, plays games, and has a realistic understanding of how an NFL career works.  I heard him on a few podcasts and he’s really funny and clearly does his research about things that are important to him.  I especially like his attitude about the NFL and how it doesn’t last forever and you better have backup plans.

I really wanted to love this book, but it was just a solid OK.  He chose a few pieces that had already been published and I agreed with those choices.  For a few of them he added commentary or quick notes about things that have changed since the original publication.

Read more about what I liked but why I was mostly sad over on my blog.

pyrajane’s review #24: I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids by Jen Kirkman

I Can Barely Take Care of MyselfJen Kirkman and I don’t want kids.

Happily for me, that’s pretty much all I ever have to say about this fact.  Kirkman, on the other hand, has enough experience with being told that she’s going to change her mind that she was able to write an entire book about it.  I don’t understand how she hasn’t slapped anyone.

I became a fan of Kirkman from watching Chelsea Lately.  My husband got into her stand up after hearing her phone calls with Paul F. Tompkins on The Pod F. Tompkast.  I then saw her episodes of Drunk History and decided that yeah, she’s really fantastic.  She was so sincere and wanted to be sure that Oney Judge is honored and that she was wearing pants when talking about Frederick Douglass.  What’s not to love?

Her book is her memoir, based on the theme of not wanting kids and how there are a lot of people in this world that just cannot comprehend this.

I’m lucky that I don’t have to deal with this same pressure.  My mom and mother-in-law aren’t baby crazy and are fine not having grandchildren.  A lot of my friends don’t have kids, so it’s not a big deal.  I’ve never been in a situation where I felt like I was being attacked because my husband and I aren’t having kids.  It’s just not a thing.

Read the rest of my short review over on my blog…

pyrajane’s review #23: Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Vera DietzWatching your best friend make new friends and leave you behind is a special kind of heartbreak.  It still stings a bit as an adult because the two of you spent so much time together and were into the same things, and then they chose a path that you didn’t get to follow.  Maybe you tried to follow because the person was that important to you, or maybe they shoved you away and made it clear that you were no longer part of their life.  Maybe you realized that you didn’t want to have anything to do with these new people and walked away on your own.  Or maybe it was a little bit of everything.

No matter what, it hurts like hell.

Seems like the pain of your first lovesick broken heart isn’t quite as bad as losing your best friend.  Love is supposed to break your heart, according to all those songs, so maybe you expect it.  But a best friend?  Someone you’ve been with since you were little kids?  You don’t get to mourn publicly for that.  If your boyfriend breaks up with you and you start wailing in the middle of the lunchroom, people understand.  If your best friend takes up with other kids and you cry in the bathroom…  yikes.

So what happens when both happen to you at the same time?

Vera and Charlie grew up near each other and have been best friends since forever.  He knows her family secrets and she knows his.  They’re normal little kids – kicking around in the woods and climbing trees.

Suddenly they aren’t little kids any more and Vera realizes she’s in love with Charlie.  Charlie realizes he’s in love with Vera.

And everything goes to shit.

Read more about death, paper airplanes and pizza.

pyrajane’s review #22: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Family FangThe Fang family is Caleb, Camille, Annie and Buster.  Annie and Buster are Child A and Child B.  When you’re used in your parents’ art, it doesn’t make sense for you to have a name.

For Caleb and Camille, it’s all about the art.  You create something that forces people to respond and then you get out while they are still processing the destruction.  Their art is a series of performances pieces, sometimes documented with cameras, as they disrupt normal life to bring meaning into the moment.

That’s how they see it, anyway.  For Annie and Buster, it’s horrible and confusing and wonderful and theirs.

Growing up, you are your parents.  You like what they like because you don’t know that there are other options.  You like the music they play because they like it.  When they tell you that it’s important that you stand in public, telling lies about a sick dog while playing instruments you don’t know how to use, you stand in public, telling lies about a sick dog while playing instruments you don’t know how to use.  When you parents begin to boo you, you know that this is art and it’s important and that nothing works without you.

But as Annie and Buster get older, they become more and more frustrated with their parents’ art.  Annie especially begins to see that she will be unable to live as Child A and has to get out and on her own.  Buster is more of a peacemaker, wanting to leave with Annie while at the same time not letting his parents down.

Read more about art and if you’re making art right now or if it’s not art until other people are confused…

pyrajane’s review #21: The Walking Dead, Compendium 1 (The Walking Dead #1-48) by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn, Tony Moore

Walking Dead CompendiumI hate horror.

I hate horror movies.  I can’t stand the trailers for new ones.  Horror music?  Knock it the fuck off.

I hate scary TV shows.  Don’t want anything to do with them.

I can’t stand haunted houses and the few times I let myself be talked into going into one, I’d either bail after a few steps in and walk back out the front door or I’d grab the shirt of the person in front of me, close my eyes, press my face into their back and let them lead me.   Fuck haunted houses.

Zombies?  No.  One of the worst horror creations because they eat you alive and it could be someone you know.  The smell… I can’t even.  It might be a brand new zombie or one that’s been wandering around for who knows how long.  Fuck everything about that.

Walking Dead Season 4

I love The Walking Dead.

My husband had read the comics and when he heard AMC was creating the show, he was wicked excited.  Me?  Nope.  More than nope.  More like “Why?  Why would anyone DO that?”

He’d be watching in the other room while I was on the computer trying really hard not to listen to any sounds.

But then it got interesting.  The characters seemed cool and every single scene wasn’t a zombie biting off someone’s face.  I started wandering into the room, standing in the doorway, watching for a few minutes.  By episode four, I was very curious, but still not convinced.  Then season two started, Sophia disappeared, and I was in.

I didn’t want to read the comic because I liked being surprised and getting to know the characters through the show.  I knew the show had gone in a very different direction with the characters and the story, but I didn’t care.  I liked these people and didn’t want to know what could happen next.  My husband would point out from time to time if the book had a plot line that was more violent than what they did on the show and also that they changed the characters a lot and he liked what they did.

I got so into the show that I would watch in real time, complete with commercials because I didn’t want to wait for the DVR.  When season two ended, I was tempted to read the comic, but still didn’t want to.  Then season three ended and I waited a few months and here we are.

People might hate me for this, but I do not care: I like the show more than the comic.

Read more of my thoughts over on my blog.  

Spoilers.  Spoilers from the show.  Spoilers from the comic.

I’m not even going to try to make this anything but a huge pile of spoilers.

pyrajane’s review #20: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

UnknownLife After Life is another book I picked after seeing it on many suggested reading lists.  Happily, I agree with these reviewers.  It’s disappointing when you don’t like a book after it’s been well reviewed.  It makes me create elaborate scenarios about what the reviewer’s life must be like that he or she thought this book was worth my time.

I enjoyed this book so much while I was reading it that I started recommending it to people before I was even halfway through.  This would be a great book club pick because there is so much to talk about.

The book has a simple plot.  Ursula is born  1910 to a wealthy English banker and his wife.  Every time Ursula dies, she goes back in time to the moment that caused her death and starts over.

For those of us who play video games, she respawns at her last save point.

We don’t know why she does this.  I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening until the third time it happened, and then I reread the first two pages and realized that Ursula was on this planet to do something incredibly important.  Her life was rebooted over and over so she could get to a moment in time where something happened that changed everything.  What was this purpose?  What was she supposed to do?  How would she even know what to do this time?

Read more on my blog, complete with a ST:TNG reference and memories of the Choose Your Own Adventure series.

pyrajane’s review #19: A Scarecrow’s Bible by Martin Hyatt

Scarecrow's BibleYou sit and watch TV.  You wait until no one is watching so you can take a few more prescription pain killers.  You wash them down with whiskey.  You close your eyes and wonder if you’ll wake up back in Vietnam.  You wonder how long it will take before your wife looks at you with disappointment before she goes to bed.

You are Gary and you live near New Orleans, but not quite close enough.  Sure, there’s a secret gay bar you can escape to, but you’re surrounded by guys who drive trucks, drink beer, and probably secretly long to bash a queer in the skull with a crowbar.  You have a truck.  You drink beer.  You secretly long for something you know, but don’t know, but know you can’t name.

You meet Zachary by chance and he scares you.  He’s too young and too frail and you want to love him but you know he needs to teach you how.  He’s gay, he lives in the rural South, and it’s no use to try and hide it.

This book was incredibly satisfying and I hope more people read it.  Read my full review on my blog and maybe it will be a book you’ll search for.

pyrajane’s #18: Man Up!: Tales of My Delusional Self-Confidence by Ross Mathews

Man Up

Quick and dirty celebrity memoir review:

  • If you like Ross Mathews, read this book.
  • If you really like Ross Mathews, listen to this book.
  • If you do not like Ross Mathews, why are you even looking at this book?

And now, my thoughts:

I adore Ross Mathews, although I just this second realized I’ve been spelling his last name wrong.  I’m a fan of Chelsea Lately and always love when he’s on the round table.  This is where I first “met” him, if you will.  I knew he was on the Tonight Show, but I didn’t know anything about him until I saw him on Chelsea, perfectly dressed, complete with pocket square.

I was super excited to find out he was writing a book, and my fingers were crossed that he’d do an audio version.  He had to do an audio version!  It’s Ross Mathews!  Part of the reason why I love him is because of his voice!  Even when he’s being snarky, he sounds so sweet and innocent.  There’s nothing like a cheery voice delivering a well deserved disappointed pun at a celebrity who has let him down.

The planet had to have known the second he emerged into the world that he was far too fabulous to stay in Washington and be kept from us.  It’s possible this happened at this moment of his conception.  His stories about growing up in spinach land and crafting swears to make his father proud clearly point to where he would later end up.  This was a boy who was happy screaming obscenities at a lake to make fish appear (it totally works) and then pick out just the right outfit to wear for an elementary school rap performance.  (Spoiler: the rap results in heartbreak.)

Read more about why I love him and why I insist you get this on audio.