Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble Book Review

Free speech is the cornerstone of any thriving and legitimate democracy. However, there are limits to this concept (i.e., yelling fire in a crowded theater). There are also those who push this concept to the boundaries. Specifically, when using certain language about certain people.

Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble, by Judy Gold, was published in 2020. A respected and award-winning comedian, Gold argues that comedy has no limits and censorship is a harbinger of what could happen when we stop telling the truth via jokes. Using her own background as a Jew, a woman, a mother, and a member of the LGBTQ community, she speaks her truth. Gold also explores how politically speaking, the last few years have challenged us all in terms of what is funny and what crosses the line.

I enjoyed this book. While speaking about and to her fellow comedians, she is not afraid to speak the truth. We live in a country in which comedy is more than subjective. There are many who have drunk the Kool-Aid and will take offense to anything that does not fit into their worldview. Moreover, they are not above using whatever means they have at their disposal to share their opinion.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble is available wherever books are sold.

Ben and Beatriz: A Novel Book Review

Among the thousands of writers that have existed throughout history, there is only a handful who have reinvented or added to stories as we know them to be today. One of them is William Shakespeare.

Katalina Gamarra‘s new romantic comedy, Ben and Beatriz: A Novel was published last month. It is essentially Much Ado About Nothing set among a group of modern twenty-somethings. Beatriz Herrera and Ben Montgomery are as different as night and day. Beatriz is a queer, biracial Latina who can take you down a peg or two with her sharp tongue if needed. Ben Montgomery is an all-American boy who comes from a WASP 1% family whose politics couldn’t be farther from Beatriz’s.

Though they claim to hate one another, underneath that hate is an attraction that cannot be ignored. As their expectations about one another begin to dissipate, there is a question of whether they can be honest about their feelings and their future as a couple.

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I was so excited to read this book. Unfortunately, the excitement quickly turned to disappointment. The promises made by the description were not fulfilled. Though the reader is told that Beatriz is queer and trying to hide it because of the political climate, it was barely mentioned. I kept asking myself if it was just being used to pull in readers without truly exploring this part of her persona.

Though the author does a good job of balancing the original text while recreating it in our time, it cannot be overcome by the expectations that were not met.

Do I recommend it? No.

Ben and Beatriz: A Novel is available for purchase in bookstores.

Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell Book Review

One of the earliest lessons we are taught when we are young is right vs. wrong. That does mean, that later on in life, we adhere to those lessons.

Tim Miller is a former Republican operative and strategist. For years, he proudly towed the party line and spread what he believed to be the truth. Then he came out and he was forced to reckon with his past decisions.

His story is told in the new political memoir Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. Published in June, Miller is upfront and honest about the half-truths, outright lies, and the games they were played by himself and his colleagues at the time. He also confronts the fact that he is a gay man and was working in a world that was and still is openly homophobic.

It reminds me of Michael Cohen‘s memoir. At the time, both Cohen and Miller believed that they were doing the right thing. It is only with time did they realize that the decisions they were making were at least morally, speaking, not on the up and up.

What I like about this book is that he does not end it with suggestions on how to bring the nation back to some sort of pre-2016 “normality”. In doing so, he is challenging the readers to take a look at themselves and figure out what they can do to restore our democracy and its former reputation.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell is available wherever books are sold.

Once a Girl, Always a Boy: A Family Memoir of a Transgender Journey Book Review

Coming out is not as simple as stating your truth. For many, it takes years, if not decades to gather the courage to reveal who they really are. Built-in, (which goes without saying) is the fear of rejection from family and friends.

Once a Girl, Always a Boy: A Family Memoir of a Transgender Journey, by Jo Ivester, was published in 2020. It is the story of her transgender son, Jeremy, and his journey to becoming his true self. Given the name Emily at birth, he never felt right in his body as a child. As soon as he hit puberty and junior high/high school, the issues became magnified due to the natural difficulties of the age.

As he grew into an adult, he slowly began to accept who he was and go through physical changes (medical procedures included) to match his outsides to his insides. The narrative is told from multiple perspectives: Jeremy, Jo, his father, and his siblings. It is more than the fight for his identity, it is his right to be respected as he is by society and the law.

This book is fantastic and different from other memoirs about this subject. What makes it unusual is the multiple perspectives. It gives the reader a 180 view of what it is like to come out as a transgender person and the multiple ripples this revelation creates.

I also very much appreciate the political action Jo took. She became an advocate not just for her son, but for the millions of LGBTQ Americans who are being discriminated against simply because of who they are.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Once a Girl, Always a Boy: A Family Memoir of a Transgender Journey is available wherever books are sold.

My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey of a World Champion Goalkeeper Book Review

To be a pioneer is anything is an experience that few have. While we celebrate these people for the paths they created for others, we sometimes forget the hardships they had to go through.

My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey of a World Champion Goalkeeper, by World Cup champion and Olympian Brianna Scurry, was published in June. The memoir, co-written by Wayne Coffey and with a foreword by television anchor Robin Roberts, is the story of Scurry’s extraordinary life.

The youngest of nine children, Scurry was a tomboy as a child. Finding a niche in soccer, she excelled at the game from a young age. Following her passion all the way up through adulthood, she reached professional levels that many dream of, but few reach. Along with being the only African-American and gay player on the team, she also dealt with mental and physical health problems, in addition to financial difficulties.

In terms of the genre, the narrative is fairly generic. Though Scurry’s achievements are nothing to sneeze at, I was not as inspired as I thought I would be. When I got to the low in the story, it felt like it was just rushed through. I wanted what she was going through, but I couldn’t.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey of a World Champion Goalkeeper is available wherever books are sold.

Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings Book Review

“Normal” is relative. What is every day to one person is out completely out of the ordinary for another.

To say that Chrysta Bilton‘s childhood was anything but ordinary is an understatement. Raised in and around Los Angeles, her story is told in the new memoir, Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings. It was published earlier this month.

In the early 1980s, her mother, Debra was out of the closet and wanted to be a mother. Other than getting married to a man and making a baby the old-fashioned way, her options were limited. She would have to go to a sperm bank. While getting her hair done one day, Debra met Jeffrey Harrison. He was everything she wanted the father of her children to be.

Through Debra tried to create a traditional family structure for both Chrysta and her younger sister, it was anything but. She had a series of partners, addiction issues, and tried to support her daughters via get-rich-quick schemes.

When Chrysta finally discovered the truth about her parentage and her many half-siblings, she was forced to face a reality that would force her to shift her worldview.

This book is amazing. Bilton’s story is complicated, emotional, difficult at times, and shows the truth about what it is to have a family. What I found inspiring is that Bilton somehow came out of this extraordinary childhood with a resolve and a strength that some might not have developed at all.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings is available wherever books are sold.

I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir Book Review

There are two ways to look at life. The first is a series of potholes that we stepped in and learned from. The second is to always be the optimist. My view is a combination of them both. Life is a combination of good experiences and bad experiences. What matters is how we deal with the outcomes of those events.

Harvey Fierstein‘s new autobiography/memoir, I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir was published in March. Born in 1952 to a Jewish family in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bensonhurst, he knew from an early age that he was a born performer. He also knew that he was not like other boys.

His life and career is nothing short of a roller coaster. As an LGBTQ activist, Fierstein has paved the way for this generation of queer young people to be out and proud of who they are. As a writer and actor, he has become well known and respected for his body of work: Independence Day, Newsies, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hairspray, etc.

Fierstein’s story is one of acceptance, change, and dealing with both the highs and lows that come with living a colorful life on your own terms.

I loved this book. In his trademark voice, Fierstein is funny, sarcastic, open, heartbreaking, and real. This is a man who has been to Hades and back and still finds joy in the little things. He is more than an icon in this book. He is a human being who has inspired us, made us laugh, made us cry, and most of all proved that we can be ourselves and thrive.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir is available wherever books are sold.

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Republicans and the Hypocrisy of Small Government

Every political movement, big and small, has a core ideal that governments their policies and legislation.

If we are to believe the current Republican party, they are governed by the idea of small government. As per Thomas Jefferson, it is as follows:

[A] wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.

On paper, it doesn’t sound hypocritical at all. It comes off as fairly reasonable. The powers that be should not be interfering in the day-to-day life of the average person on the street. But the reality is another story entirely.

When they are called out for their duplicity, they claim “free speech“. What about my right to free speech? Why is it they are allowed to speak their truths, but if I do it, I am labeled a radical lefty snowflake?

If they want to live in a right-wing, sexist, and racist Christian theocracy, that is their choice and their decision. As we say in Judaism “Zolst leben un zein gezunt!” (Yiddish for you should live and be well!). but do not impose your beliefs on me and expect me to quietly give in.

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Politics Book Reviews: Battling the Big Lie: How Fox, Facebook, and the MAGA Media Are Destroying America & Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution

It would be easy to think that those who we elect to speak for our needs in the halls of power are doing their jobs. A deeper dive reveals a lust for power, the need for influence to fill one own pocket, and the lack of care/responsibility to those who put them in office.

Battling the Big Lie: How Fox, Facebook, and the MAGA Media Are Destroying America, by Dan Pfeiffer, was published last month. In short, it describes how both the carelessness of the social media companies and a right-wing conspiracy nearly led to the annihilation of this nation and our democracy. He also talks about how we can fight back and stop the lies before they destroy us.

Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution, by Elie Mystal, was published in March. Mystal takes the legalese out of the Constitution and explains them in a way that anyone would understand. Complete with pop culture references and the occasional f-bomb, Mystal points out what is wrong with the law (i.e. racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ sentiment, etc), and how we can prevent the white patriarchy from dragging us back into the past.

What we need right now are two things: hope and a kick in the behind. These books provide both. By writing laymen’s terms, both Pfeiffer and Mystal are giving the average citizens the tools we need to fight against the growing threats of theocracy and fascism.

Do I recommend them both? Absolutely.

Battling the Big Lie: How Fox, Facebook, and the MAGA Media Are Destroying America and Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution are available wherever books are sold.

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Out of the Corner: A Memoir Book Review

From an audience perspective, it would appear that both starring in a blockbuster movie and coming from a respected performing family guarantees success in Hollywood. Anyone who knows the truth would say otherwise.

Out of the Corner: A Memoir, by Dirty Dancing actress Jennifer Grey, was published last month. Grey is Jewish acting royalty. Her paternal grandfather, Mickey Katz was one of the most famous comedians and musicians of his day. Her parents, Joel Grey (of Cabaret fame)and Jo Wilder followed in her grandfather’s footsteps. Raised in both New York City and Los Angeles, she rose to fame in Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and other 1980s classics.

The reader is taken on an emotional journey through her early years, the ups and downs of her personal and private life, and finally, her finding peace with her identity.

This book is amazing. Grey’s tale is emotional, human, honest, and goes straight to the heart. She leaves no stone unturned, revealing her flaws, her mistakes, and the various heartaches that came her way. Within the narrative, there were two stories that stood out. The first was her father publicly coming out almost a decade ago after spending a lifetime in the closet. The second is her wish to speak to co-star Patrick Swayze one last time. It is a heartfelt wish that I think that anyone who has lost a loved one will understand.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on a “best of” list come the end of the year. It is one of my favorite books of 2022.

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