Thursday, March 03, 2016

Challenge Accepted! 2016 January and February Books

I had no intentions this year of doing the Reading Challenge again. I wanted to read whatever I wanted to read and not be beholden to a list.

But when I realized that the seven books I've read so far this year all check off a category in the 2016 list, I thought, "Eh, what the heck." We'll try the Reading Challenge again. The difference being that this time, it's all about balance, and if I go off-list or fudge a little or if I don't finish, I won't care. I'm not going to be a purist like last time, nor am I going to feel the same deep and personal commitment to this project.

So. Here we go.

January Books:

A Queer And Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein (An autobiography)

(Memoir, autobiography - what's the difference?)

"The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today."

How could I read that tagline and NOT read this book?

I gotta be honest; this wasn't an easy book to read, nor is it for the faint of heart (or stomach). She writes in shocking, graphic detail about BDSM, masturbation, and sex, both hetero- and homosexual. However, Bornstein's story is fascinating and sad, covering her conversion and time spent in Scientology as well as her transition to living as a woman. She talks about being separated from her children, because she has been declared an SP ("Suppressive Person", a danger to Scientology) and a pervert by the Church, and she discusses her painful relationship with her family who had a difficult time accepting her as a woman. This book is very raw, graphic, and blunt. I'm glad I read it, but it is definitely going on the no-kids shelf until they are all a fair bit older!

(DISCLAIMER.  Let me be clear, by the way, since I'm not one for censorship:  What makes it un-kid-friendly is not the fact that she is a transwoman. My kids are aware of trans issues and are being constantly taught that it's who a person is inside that matters. It is the graphic descriptions of BDSM and masturbation, among other things, that make this inappropriate for kids.)

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini (A book written by a celebrity)

Fascinated by Kate Bornstein's experience with Scientology, I next read the much talked about book by actress Leah Remini telling her story of her life in Scientology. Remini's mother joined the CoS when Remini was a young child, and Remini spent most of her life in the Church, even joining the Sea Org, the CoS clergy, which is a paramilitary organization.  Remini tells us of the conditions she lived in, the work she was required to do, and the way in which the Church manages to brainwash its members into total submission, through encouraged tattling (Knowledge Reports), regular auditing (sort of like counseling with an E-meter), and ostracism when doing something "out-ethics" or "out-PR".  She tells of her rise to stardom and her journey up the Bridge to Total Freedom, finally all culminating with being ostracized right out of the Church due to an upset at Tom Cruise's wedding. This book is truly fascinating and infuriating. There is nothing innocent about Scientology, especially when it comes to how it treats children, particularly Sea Org children. If you'd like some light reading on Scientology with a fun dose of celebrity gossip, I recommend this book.

Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (A self-help book)


Scott bought me this for Christmas. We both read Freakonomics a few years ago and liked it. This one is similar but with a different slant. It encourages readers to think outside the box, asking questions that don't seem relevant or intuitive from the outset but may be the questions that hold the answers that elude us.  Some of the stories were already told in Freakonomics which was kind of annoying, but it was still an intersting read. The idea of asking unusual questions to reach new solutions to old problems is probably something I'll carry with me, particularly in the workforce. 

February Books:

Bossypants by Tina Fey (A book written by a comedian)

This was our February book club choice. I thought it was pretty funny, most of it. I disagreed with some of the things she said - about Photoshop not actually affecting how girls view their own bodies, for instance - but you know, I enjoyed it. Tina Fey is funny. Let it be known: Girls are funny.

My biggest complaint was how all over the place the book was. It just kind of jumped all around, making it kind of hard for me to sum it up here. If you asked me what it was about, my answer would be... "Lots of stuff, said with jokes."

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (A book that's more than 600 pages)

560 pages is  CLOSE ENOUGH. It's not that I can't or won't read anything longer, it's that I don't want to commit myself to do so.  I have a lot of books I'd like to read, and a 600 page book takes up too much time. I'm balancing. So sue me. (If you are Donald Trump, you probably will at least threaten to.)

Okay, so the book. I have wanted to read this for ages, being a huge fan of the musical. The musical is so witty and so cute and so fun. I love how it twists the Wizard of Oz story like a perfect green pretzel.

The book? Not so much.

I'd maybe say it's still witty, but cute and fun? Not really. It's very dark. Humorous, but dark. It's also far more convoluted than the musical. It's not as perfectly twisted as the musical, but it's certainly still twisted. If I could judge the book on its own merits in its own right, I'd say I liked it. I did, I really did. But it wasn't what I thought I'd be reading. There was no Kristin Chenoweth or Idina Menzel. No "Popular". But there was plenty of cruelty, salaciousness, and death.  

I liked it. In its own way.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (A book with a blue cover)

This book has been built up so much, I think, that I was a little let down. I haven't seen the film yet; I've been waiting to read the book. I don't mean to say I didn't like the book, because I did. But it wasn't the tearjerker, heartbreaker I expected it to be. I called the ending pretty much from the start, so I wasn't surprised. Therefore, I wasn't wiping away tears. Sad story anyway, and a good story. I'd maybe liked it more if the hype hadn't been so great. Sorry, fans.

I do plan to watch the movie now.

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill with Lisa Pulitzer (A New York Times bestseller)

I may have developed a serious fascination with Scientology. I think Scott is worried.

This is my third escape-from-Scientology book I've read. What makes this one so interesting is that Jenna Miscavige Hill is David Miscavige's niece - David Miscavige being the current leader ("Chairman of the Board" or COB) of the Church. She was a third generation Scientologist, raised from birth as a Scientologist. Her mother was a prominent executive in the Sea Org and her father was a high up Sea Org member too.

Hill describes her life being virtually separated from her parents from the age of 2, seeing her parents on average once a week until she was 12, then only a small handful of times (3-5) after that until adulthood.  She shares her experience growing up at the Ranch, basically a child labor camp, where she signed a billion year contract with the Sea Org. Following that, she moved to the Flag base in Clearwater, FL, where she was inducted as an extremely young member of the Sea Org, despite not being prepared via the necessary courses.  She tells of all the interrogation she endured when her family members stepped out of Scientology lines, even though she was still basically a child. Her whole story borders on disbelief; one wonders how this organization has not been shut down already for its cruelty to children.

If you want to read a serious book about life inside Scientology, this is the place to start. Hill is relatable, likable, and a little bit tragic. Ultimately, though, she is a survivor, a brave young woman unafraid to tell her story without being bullied by the multi-million (multi-billion?) dollar organization she grew up in - even if it means facing off with the very top man himself, her uncle.

Join the 2016 Reading Challenge and tell me what you're reading!


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