Genre: Memoir

Review – Everything is OK

Posted May 13, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Everything is OK

Everything is OK

by Debbie Tung

Genres: Graphic Novels, Memoir, Non-fiction
Pages: 184
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

Everything Is OK is the story of Debbie Tung’s struggle with anxiety and her experience with depression. She shares what it’s like navigating life, overthinking every possible worst-case scenario, and constantly feeling like all hope is lost.

The book explores her journey to understanding the importance of mental health in her day-to-day life and how she learns to embrace the highs and lows when things feel out of control. Debbie opens up about deeply personal issues and the winding road to recovery, discovers the value of self-love, and rebuilds a more mindful relationship with her mental health.

In this graphic memoir, Debbie aims to provide positive and comforting messages to anyone who is facing similar difficulties or is just trying to get through a tough time in life. She hopes to encourage readers to be kinder to themselves, to know that they are not alone, and that it’s okay to be vulnerable because they are not defined by their mental health struggles. The dark clouds won’t be there forever. Everything will turn out all right.

Debbie Tung’s Everything is OK is a journey through the artist’s experience of depression and anxiety, interspersed with one-page spreads illustrating various “inspirational” phrases and hints about dealing with anxiety and depression. Her art is cute, and she makes good use of colour to bring across the right moods.

I don’t want to critique someone else’s journey with mental health problems. And I’m sure there are people who’ve found this uplifting and helpful in their own journey — many of the things she says are good sense.

What it isn’t is a handbook to recovery from anxiety and depression, even though at times it’s phrased as general advice to everyone. For anyone whose situation is different or very complex, though, it risks coming across just as hackeyed and tone-deaf as the voices Tung depicts as bringing her down (people who say “just get over it”, “you’re doing this for attention”, etc). It’s no universal panacea, and there are many people for whom basic therapy doesn’t help, or doesn’t help enough. The journey she depicts in this book is an incredibly lucky one — which is great for her, but isn’t the answer to all the mental health problems in quite the way that some reviewers think. Just as it’s not as simple as “pull yourself together”, it’s also not as simple as “stop criticising yourself and learn to live with your flaws”.

Which, to be scrupulously fair, Tung doesn’t say — but nor does she really address it. The book does mention different journeys, but it doesn’t touch on the absolute depths. I wouldn’t give this to someone to help them “understand” depression, because it can’t do that job. I’d give it to Debbie Tung’s friends and family, to help them understand her depression and anxiety, and if someone identifies with the picture of depression in these pages, no doubt it can be useful in the same way. But please, for the love of chickens, don’t give it out as a general instruction book, please.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Wine

Posted May 3, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Wine

Wine

by Meg Bernhard

Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Pages: 159
Series: Object Lessons
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

While wine drunk millennia ago was the humble beverage of the people, today the drink is inextricable with power, sophistication, and often wealth. Bottles sell for half a million dollars. Point systems tell us which wines are considered the best. Wine professionals give us the language to describe what we taste.

Agricultural product and cultural commodity, drink of ritual and drink of addiction, purveyor of pleasure, pain, and memory - wine has never been contained in a single glass. Drawing from science, religion, literature, and memoir, Wine meditates on the power structures bound up with making and drinking this ancient, intoxicating beverage.

Like a lot of the Object Lessons books I’ve read recently, Meg Bernhard’s Wine is something of a memoir. At the same time, though, it does stick pretty close to the topic, and discusses the making of wine in a fairly close and involved manner: Bernhard went to vineyards and put herself to work, and spent time drinking the finished products in a thoughtful way.

As a result, it balances the personal (of which there is quite a bit) with interesting titbits about how wine is made, the impacts of climate change on wine production (such as the impact of wildfires and the wines that have to be made due to the smoke taint on the grape skins), and about how we relate to wine. It also discusses women in the wine industry, the difficulty of breaking through as a master sommelier in a highly male-dominated environment (where men have outright used their status to abuse women).

It’s still a highly personal book, discussing Bernhard’s personal relationship with alcoholic, her blackouts, the sexual assault she suffered when drinking heavily, her relationship with her father who has similar issues. But it manages to balance that with information, with a grounding in fact, and it works well.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – A Bookshop of One’s Own

Posted April 25, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – A Bookshop of One’s Own

A Bookshop of One's Own

by Jane Cholmeley

Genres: History, Memoir, Non-fiction
Pages: 340
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Silver Moon was the dream of three women – a bookshop with the mission to promote the work of female writers and create a much-needed safe space for any woman. Founded in 1980s London against a backdrop of homophobia and misogyny, it was a testament to the power of community, growing into Europe’s biggest women’s bookshop and hosting a constellation of literary stars from Margaret Atwood and Maya Angelou to Angela Carter. While contending with day-to-day struggles common to other booksellers, plus the additional burdens of misogyny and the occasional hate crime, Jane Cholmeley and her booksellers created a thriving business. But they also played a crucial and relatively unsung part in one the biggest social movements of our time.

A Bookshop of One’s Own is a fascinating slice of social history from the heart of the women’s liberation movement, from a true feminist and lesbian icon. Written with heart and humour, it reveals the struggle and joy that comes with starting an underdog business, while being a celebration of the power women have to change the narrative when they are the ones holding the pen.

What was it like to start a feminist bookshop, in an industry dominated by men? How could a lesbian thrive in Thatcher’s time, with the government legislating to restrict her rights? How do you run a business when your real aim is to change the world?

Silver Moon was a feminist bookshop in London — one of the first in the UK, and ultimately the largest in Europe, with the aims of showing there was a market for books for women, books about women, books about lesbians, etc, in all kinds of genres. They started out naive and hopeful, and mostly kept the hope alive through the years of downturns and bastard landlords and men coming in to wank in front of the lesbian bookshelves (really).

Jane Cholmeley was one of the founders, and this book is a little bit her memoir, and mostly the story of the bookshop. It’s selective, of course, though Cholmeley tries to have her eyes open to her own faults, and muses at times on what she did wrong, or on situations she might’ve handled differently. It’s clear that it was an important resource for many, and the support for LGBT women came at just the right time during a period where gays and lesbians needed visibility, to be given a place where they were normal, because of Thatcher’s section 28.

Sometimes it’s infuriating and depressing, sometimes you have to roll your eyes at the earnest naivety of two young feminists starting a bookshop with relatively little knowledge of the requirements, sometimes you just have to cheer them on. And I very much appreciated Cholmeley’s self-examination, and her eagerness to include the anecdotes and perspectives of the people who worked at Silver Moon, including those which were critical.

It sounds like it was a lovely and vital place, and it made me sad for all we lost in the closing down of the bookshops (not just Silver Moon) on Charing Cross Road.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Sticker

Posted April 19, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Sticker

Sticker

by Henry Hoke

Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Pages: 152
Series: Object Lessons
Rating: one-star
Synopsis:

Stickers adorn our first memories, dot our notebooks and our walls, are stuck annoyingly on fruit, and accompany us into adulthood to shout our perspectives from car bumpers. They hold surprising power in their ability to define and provoke, and hold a strange steadfast presence in our age of fading physical media. Henry Hoke employs a constellation of stickers to explore queer boyhood, parental disability, and ancestral violence. A memoir in 20 stickers, Sticker is set against the backdrop of the encroaching neo-fascist presence in Hoke's hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, which results in the fatal terrorist attack of August 12th and its national aftermath.

Unfortunately, I seem to be having bad luck with my Object Lessons choices lately. I enjoy the ones which pick into the history of an everyday object and try to understand it, like Personal Stereo and Blue Jeans. I’m less a fan of the memoir type, and Henry Hoke’s Sticker falls into that category. It’s a life told through tenuous connections with stickers, from the stickers his mother put on bottles of dangerous household cleaning products to the parental advisory stickers on CDs and onward.

There’s absolutely a place in this world for this kind of memoir, and the story of a gay kid growing up in Charlottesville is a story worth telling. I want to be clear that it’s not that I don’t think the story should be told at all. I’m just not a fan of it in this series, and nor is it something I particularly seek out to read (nor memoir in general). Just not for me.

So, if you’re looking for something that discusses the history or wider cultural relevance of stickers, this ain’t remotely it. Which is a pity, because that book would be fascinating. This book is about Henry Hoke.

Rating: 1/5

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