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Book Reviews

In The Belly Of The Fail Whale Written by Rob Gokee

I met Rob Gokee on Twitter and fell in twitterlove with his tweets. Rob is funny – smart – talented – and such a mensch (good guy). He is a composer for films and television series. And, recently, an author. His first book In The Belly Of The Fail Whale, is a great, naked read (how apropos, considering he’s in boxers on the cover of his book).

Writing memoirs, especially ones chronicling financial and emotional hardship is painful in itself – humorous, of course, because we can all relate. In Rob’s book, he addresses that and reminds us how small the world is, and how we can reclaim ourselves. His medium of discovery and reinvention happened to be Twitter over the course of a year.

Whether you’re a social marketing novice or expert, or just a literary voyeur, reading about Rob’s journey, is tragic and uplifting, heartfelt and festive. And, funny. We love humor.

After pleading with Rob to grant me an interview, he generously and graciously did. (Thank you, Rob Gokee. You and The Fail Whale are FABULOUS.)

Meet Rob Gokee, Author of “In The Belly Of The Fail Whale”.

Tell me about you. What do you do for a living?

I’m a composer for film, television & webseries, a writer/author, and a social media strategist.  Although those three things are very different, they tie together with common threads and all make up who I am, what I do & why I do it.

Where are you from and where do you live?

I was born and raised in Southern California just outside Pasadena. Not long after graduating high school, I moved to Denver for a few years, and enjoyed living somewhere that had a real winter. Now I never want to see snow again.  I moved to Albuquerque to attend the University Of New Mexico, and then came back to Southern California.  I currently reside in Long Beach.

When you’re not writing or composing, what are you doing?

There are other things? Honestly, most of my awake life is devoted to one or the other, or marketing myself as both. I love working, and I love everything I do, so I don’t mind spending 16 hours a day doing it.  Fortunately, my girlfriend is the same way, so we work well together.  When we do break, we like bike riding, reading, socializing with friends in & around LA, and occasionally sleeping.

What made you write The Fail Whale Book?

The book came from a place where I had begun to realize the impact Twitter had on my personal & professional life, and I felt this need to share it with people who didn’t “get it,” and thought it was a waste of time, whether they were trying to market their business or just meeting new friends.  It was also an excuse to take my pants off for the cover of a book.

Is FWB a memoir?

It is very much a snapshot of 1 year in my life, a turbulent year, and how Twitter played a role in the changes that occurred, both good and bad.  In a way, the horrible breakup went through was because of Twitter.  It indirectly played a role in the relationship’s demise, and it also played a role in meeting the most influential person I’ve ever met in my life.

Would you say that FWB is a humor book or would you say it’s a humor SM book (SM as in social media, har)?

That’s a good question, one I struggled with as I was trying to categorize the book myself. It’s a Humor Social Media book, because the point of the book is to show the reader how Twitter can work if you use it the right way.  And the way I get there is by telling the story of my life humorously.  Which, coincidentally, includes some S&M too.

What was the turning point in your life; the impetus that lead to writing it?

That would be giving away the book. Tsk Tsk.  I will say that the idea to write it came during some down time while I was waiting for 4 or 5 scoring projects to start.  Which they did, the second I announced to the world that I was writing a book.  Trying to do both at once was interesting. And by “interesting” I mean “insane.”  I wrote music during the day and wrote the book at night.

What made you log onto Twitter and create an account?

I joined in the summer of 2008 and then quit. I didn’t get it.  Then I read an article in PC Monthly in Oct 2008 that talked about how Twitter could be used as a marketing tool, and I was looking for something to replace MySpace, so I jumped on board. It still took me 6 months of tweeting to “get it.”

Do you remember your first tweet?

“Giving Twitter a second chance:) ” I actually include random tweets from my stream in the book; they help tell my story and show you just how fearless I am about opening myself up on Twitter.  There really isn’t anything I won’t tweet about.

Do you remember your first follower?

Hmm. You know what? I don’t. I know that I can check by going all the way back to Page 1 of my Following/Follower list, but that would take hours to do.  In fact, thanks a lot for bringing it up, now it’s going to bug me that I don’t know.  It’s possible that that person has moved on from me too; that happens on Twitter like in life.  People come and go in your stream, but that’s OK because it’s exciting to me that the opportunity to meet new people happens daily.

How did Twitter reshape your life?

Twitter helped me realize the power of connection. Think of Twitter like a large brain, and we’re all “connected.” In the brain, thoughts are connected by dendrites, or “wires.” If you look at the people you connect with on Twitter, then introduce yourself to their connections, you’re suddenly interacting with more and more people and increasing your network.  The more people you get to know, the more your network expands, and the more opportunities you have at life-changing experiences and relationships.

From when you wrote the book to present day, how has your life changed?

If you look at my life like a graph chart, from the time the book was finished until now has been a steady incline at about the same rate it increased during the writing process.  The biggest changes that occurred in my life came before I wrote the book, but are the reason I wrote it in the first place.

I ask everyone this, what is your favorite curse word and why?

I really like “Fuck.”  It’s so primal and multi-faceted.  I use it when I’m angry or frustrated, surprised, or to describe sex.  I think it’s silly that people are afraid of it; I use it in my Twitter stream without hesitation, but only when I actually mean it.

Rob Gokee  Upcoming Events – Solo Premiere Party @RobGokee @FailWhaleBook

Rob Gokee
Author/Composer
(310) 876-2174
www.failwhalebook.com
www.robgokeemusic.com
Twitter @robgokee

Book Reviews

Are you in the FLOW?

When I read FLOW: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, I had assigned so many emotions to the book, I didn’t know if I was on spin or rinse. Rather, in FLOWguage I didn’t know if my tampon was in a twist or my womb was doing the jig.

As a feminist, I felt grateful that Elissa Stein had written FLOW, for women who have always embraced their periods and for women, feminists or not, who are uncomfortable calling it what it is, and who choose to cloak it in society’s accepted verbiage: The Ragâ. That time of the month Aunt Flo is in town, among others.

I felt validated and lucky that I grew up with parents who cried tears of joy when menses commenced; parents who encouraged us to say “If you have your period, you have your fucking period.

Having embraced menses to the point of engaging in menseversation with grocery store clerks, strangers, friends and family, and having written a few essays on the subject, I was so proud; I wanted to bleed stains of joy.

One part confessional and one part factual history; for me, FLOW wasn’t just a great read. Saying that marginalizes the enormity and significance of FLOW for women and for men. Obligatory reading for teens (can I get a FLOWhoo from high schools who teach sex education, please?!), and women who have and continue to menstruate, as well as men who fear the bleeding tunnel and, or want to better understand it.

I savored every menselicious second, absorbing Elissa’s personal, often hysterical and heartfelt account of her menstrual history. Paired with facts about the origins of menstruation; without giving away that time of the month, women took herculean measures to contend with their mighty streams. Facts about what menstruation really is and the myriad of misconceptions we have assigned and assumed, and so much more.

I would beg, no plead, no strongly urge you to buy FLOW and permit yourself the opportunity to trek through unchartered, forbidden tidal waves of menstrual loveliness.  If you don’t believe me, check out these reviews: Rebecca Elia: Bring on the FLOW, YouTube Flow view, Elissa Stein: History of Tampon, Tampax and a Belt with Hooks, Changing People, Inspirational Women: An Interview with Elissa Stein, The Undomestic Goddess: Elissa Stein and more. In addition to the great interviewers mentioned, FLOW has been reviewed, and Elissa has been interviewed by many other great writers and magazines.

Elissa gave me the opportunity to interview her and her blook, FLOW:

1. Why do you think FLOW is considered a controversial book with respect to feminism and menstruation?

Menstruation isn’t talked about, in an open, honest, thought-provoking way in mainstream society. It’s a punch line, a joke, or something to be avoided at all costs. By taking on all that it does—sex, religion, politics, advertising, big pharma, medicalization FLOW makes people nervous.

2.What made you write FLOW?

My period stopped for a year. I was too terrified and embarrassed to say anything to anyone. When I finally went for help, the doctor literally patted me on the knee, handed me a pack of birth control pills and told me my hormones just needed “jump starting. I was dismayed by both how I was dismissed, and how difficult it was to overcome my shame. About something that’s a biological reality. It was then, over 15 years ago, that the first glimmers of FLOW appeared.

3. FLOW has the power to change public perception about menstruation, both for men and women, was that one of your intentions when you wrote the book?

FLOW goes beyond perception. It has the power to educate women, and men. To chip away at the walls of shame and secrecy built centuries ago about menstruation.

4. When you were growing up, how did you feel about your menses? How was menses perceived and treated?

I still remember sobbing to my mother, standing in front of her 1971 green Plymouth Valiant, after sitting through that film in fifth grade. I was horrified and it didn’t get better. We never talked about it in my family. I tried as hard as possible to keep it a complete and total secret.

5. What are your feelings about “The business of menstruation”?

I took it all for granted until FLOW. And then my eyes were ripped open: the packaging, the pristine white-ness, the endless landfill, the plastic applicators, the negative advertising that kept age-old messages fresh. There are greener options out there that I never knew about, but, sadly, am too set in my old ways to switch to.

6. What is your favorite part of FLOW, if there is one and why?

I LOVE the art. As a visual society, we communicate through images. Including the ads, books, and products that have so often shaped how we think and feel, was a huge part of the story a big shout out to St. Martin’s, who understood what this book needed to be. My absolute favorite piece is “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? I called booksellers all over the country looking for the edition that was out when I was ten. When the package arrived and I pulled the purple-covered book out, I was transported to my friend Rachel’s basement, seeing it for the first time.

7. What do you define as the worst nicknames for a woman having her period and why?

Anything that’s derogatory. Like on the rag. What a horrible thing to say. Rags connote dirt, garbage, needing to sop up messes. And by phrasing it that way, menstrual blood is nothing but negative.

8. Why do you think women have so much shame about menstruating?

At this point in history, I believe it’s ingrained. Menstruation’s been getting a bad rap since the start of recorded history”and I’m sure long before. Check out the Bible. Menstruation was considered impure, unclean. Women had to be ritually cleansed before they could be touched again. By their husbands. After getting that message from the most holiest of sources for centuries, how could one possibly put a good spin on menstruation?

9. What do you love most about menstruating?

I’ve become so aware of my body at this point that I can feel the hormone shift, before the bleeding starts. I go from cranky, tired, wound up, to mellow. Happy. And I know, from that emotional change, that my period’s starting soon.

10. Let’s dish about you a bit… Tell me about Elissa Stein. FLOW is not your first book. Can you tell me about other work that you’ve written and more about you?

Elissa Stein. Hmm. I’m a mother first. The most important, life-changing, exhausting, exhilarating thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been married for 21 years to a person I’m still delighted to see every day. I’m a graphic designer, which led me to publishing, and then writing. I practice yoga, which keeps me steady. I’m recovering from an ebay addiction—I love vintage coats and outrageous 1960s summer dresses. My NYC closets are now packed to capacity.

FLOW is my tenth book. My first, CHUNKS, was a compilation of vomit stories. I’m not kidding. I’ve done visual histories of iconic pop culture: beauty queens, stewardesses, cheerleaders. My husband and I wrote a labor support guide for dads, inspired by his own ineptitude in the delivery room. I’ve got a host of projects I’d love to do next.

11. Are you a feminist? If so, what does feminism mean to you personally?

I had to answer this question recently and it took a couple of days to figure out what to say. Yes, absolutely, I’m a feminist, when that means working to continually challenge society to accept, respect, and acknowledge that women are equal, but different, from men.

12. What is your favorite curse word and why?

I try SO HARD not to curse and have managed to stop for years having kids was the motivation. But I’d have to say fuck. It says a lot in one word.

13. What are your favorite foods?

Watermelon. Fresh green peas. And super sweet pineapple. Not all together.

14. What makes you belly laugh?

Trying to win a staring contest with my son Jack. We both are terrible at it and absolutely crack each other up. EVERY time.

15. What makes you happy?

Finding grace in a yoga class. Especially to a good soundtrack.

16. What makes you angry?

Having to repeat myself. Over and over.

17. Where can I read more about you and buy FLOW? Who do I contact for an interview/review?

FLOW is in bookstores all over, and at amazon.com. There’s more about FLOW at www.flowthebook.com. My publicist’s info is listed. And for more about me please check out: www.elissastein.com.

THANK YOU, ELISSA, for writing FLOW, for being you and for your valuable time.

Now, off you go to buy FLOW. Follow Elissa on Twitter and Facebook. Visit her website.

Is There A Farm In Your House?

I am very proud to announce that the good folks at Farmhouse Magazine have made me a Contributing Editor to their wonderful magazine. Farmhouse is one of my favorite reads. They’ve generously published my work online and in their first forthcoming Anthology, The Best of Farmhouse, on sale November 10th. They were also the first to review Emotionally Pantsed. They’re the dandiest of dandyrific folks and a very talented group of writers and editors.

Speaking of November, don’t forget to vote… for Obama/Biden.

Book Reviews

Farmhouse Magazine Interview, Katie Schwartz

Interview with Editor-in-Chief, Mike Dell’Aquila of Farmhouse Magazine

Your own writing style:

You mix comedy with very serious, cutting insights.  Do you think that making people laugh allows you to dig a little deeper toward the truth?

Though I love projecting because it’s such a no-brainer callisthenic, I’ve trained myself to focus more on self-sport guilt and shame to avoid making others feel like I’m speaking for them.

When an idea is couched in comedy, it’s easier for me to digest. My writing is an extension of that. I hope people who read my book, Emotionally Pantsed feel as connected to others as I did when I wrote it.

I’m drawn to subversive comedy and writing about phobias, life, the inane, death, sickness, marriage, divorce, illness, abortion, menstruation, sex, etc. etc. etc. The caveat was writing about my Graves’  disease (a type of hyperthyroidism), my dog’s death and winding up in a psychiatrist’s office, things I wrote about in my book. Thank God for my editor, Amy Guth because she helped me find balance between honest humor and honesty without humor, something that was more difficult than I realized.

As a kid we relocated a lot, no, we turned it into a lifestyle. Attending up to as many as three to four schools in a year some years, if I wanted to make friends, and I did, being funny was the only way to go. Having hilarious parents and extended family cultivated that. Comedy was a coping mechanism, okay, it still is I admit it; the difference is that I’m aware of it. I figure, if I need a coping mechanism, there is an upside, comedy is fat free and doesn’t leave needle marks. Additionally, Graves’ shifted my perspective, to look at myself and situations with patience and greater objectivity, which is apparent in my writing, I think.

How has your writing style/voice evolved over time?

When I first started writing, I wrote jokes for myself and a few other comedians. At first, the material was primarily about shock value. I was young and performing at mostly gay venues, which was an extraordinary and fortunate experience. I could be as blue as I wanted to be and feel embraced for saying whatever I wanted to. That freedom helped shape my voice. I also learned that it wasn’t the performing I loved, it was the writing.

When I write essays, I’m interested in non-fiction. If they are fiction, I prefer they be rooted in a degree of truth. The plays I write are both fiction and non-fiction, mostly non-fiction though, and other works are completely fiction. Knowing all of that has also helped. Basically, I know what I really want to write.

Have you always set out to be a humorist, or has it been a transformation as a result of painful events?

There has never been a day in my life when I didn’t want to write comedy. The difference is that I used to write about embarrassing things, whereas now I can also write about the painful things. I once wrote a dramatic piece and it read like a soap opera peppered in Hallmark card one-liners, infused with overly dramatic cliches. It was that awful. Shame. Shame. Shame.

I’m most comfortable writing comedy; it feels like a healthy beating heart that can’t stop. An organic, healing and liberating style of writing, which is why I think I love it as much as I do.

Who are the writers that you love?

Ooh, child, there are so many writers and song writers, where do I begin? Oy, okay. Charles Bukowski, Adrienne Rich, Jenny Bicks, Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Steinem, David & Amy Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, Neil Simon, Michael Patrick King, Cindy Chupack, Eminem, Woody Allen, Reinaldo Arenas, John Waters, Norman Lear, Nora Ephron, Pedro Almodovar, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Margaret Atwood, Virgina Woolf, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Alice Walker, Gertrude Stein, and I could go on for days.

What are the landmark works that inspired you along the way?

The two that stand-out the most are Women by Charles Bukowski because it was fearless and irreverent and that inspired the hell out of me. If I see that I’m hedging when I write, I recall Women for a snap-out-of-it slap in the face. It usually works. The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich marks a celebration of the strength and beauty of a woman’s voice, intellectually, physically and romantically. It’s unflinching in that commitment and has influenced me to bring those characteristics to my work.

In Emotionally Pantsed, you maintain an almost post-modern version of feminism; do you feel that honesty and humor are more effective methods of communicating ideas of equality than aggressive rhetoric?  If so, why?

Gosh, thanks.

I think both have tremendous value and importance. Had Suffrage and Women’s Lib been any less aggressive in pursuing their agenda, I don’t think I would have the landscape of opportunities I now have.

It is my preference to utilize humor as a vehicle for communicating the vitality and spirit of feminism and equality. As a society, to achieve equality, awareness and education are imperative.

I hope that each person expresses their idea of feminism and equality in a way that is most comfortable to them.

What are your feelings about modern feminism?

I’m not seeing as much camaraderie amongst women as I’d like to see. There’s a lack of sisterhood and that makes me blue. I’ve noticed that teenage girls and young women lack a strong sense of themselves as women, not realizing how much power they have. There’s a misconception that feminism is comprised of man hating militant chicks, which is completely untrue. I think that comes from lack of education and awareness. There are so many positive women who represent varying degrees and aspects of feminism. I know a lot of feminists and not one of them hate men. I’ve never dated or relationshiped with a man who didn’t love and respect women and feminist ideas. Some women I know in their thirties have abandoned feminism because they think it’s a turn-off to men. That irritates the fuck out of me, I admit it.

I love women, I think we’re fabulous and I want more women to love women. The majority of my girlfriends are feminists by their design and they love women as much as I do.

I’ve never trusted women who say, I only have male friends. Or, I don’t like women. How can you not love women if you’re a woman?! How does that make sense? I want to understand it, but have difficulty doing so. Would it kill us to demonstrate a semblance of love and appreciation for each other, is that so much to ask?! I’m not saying all broads should walk down the street saying, Oh, she’s a V, we must BFF right now. That’s not a reality, but you don’t have to stab a girl in the back or behave like a cunt. What does that achieve?! Throw a broad a bone, you got nuttin tah lose and everything to gain. You feel me?

You’re Relationship with Technology:

How do you feel that the Internet has helped writers?

Established writers have broadened their readership and new writers have garnered an audience. It’s a flawless medium to get your work out there. Writers have had their work published in print, online and sold manuscripts look at me. I sold my manuscript to So New Media Publishing, an incredible indie publishing company that publishes web based writers, both established and up and coming. They’re wonderful. Television shows and films have been developed and sold based on viral videos and blogs it’s a breeding ground for burgeoning talent. For budding magazines, zines and indie press/publishing companies, the internet is equally opportunistic. Viral tools and social networking enable content creators to reach millions without spending a dime, that’s sweet, yo. The websicle is also a wonderful place to connect with individuals you might not have access to via phone or post. Send out a lil e-stalk inquiry and chances are the e-stalk-ee will be more receptive to what you’re hawking. If I wasn’t so commitment phobic, I’d marry the internet. Is that creepy?

Do you feel like it might also have its drawbacks?

Sure, it can be addictive and isolating. There’s also a false sense of security. It’s important to be careful and smart. Feel a person out before giving them your personal info, even if it is for networking or a writing gig.

I don’t know if AA has already come up with an internet addiction program to 12-step your way out of it, but I did find this juicy dish, http://www.internetaddiction.com/ A Free Live Online and Offline Help & Support Group for Internet-a-holics & their Loved Ones. I don’t know anything about the website, but shouldn’t support take place offline? Seems like a cruel joke if the net is an addicts drug of choice. It would be like asking me to discuss my addiction to dairy in front of a buffet with my favorite cheese centric foods. I’d be crawling the walls, ready to shoot up brie.

Not all writing opportunities offer payment. If you’re seeking exposure or credibility, there are a ton of magazines and zines that are worth pursuing, even though you won’t get paid. Farmhouse is one of those magazines (not to shamelessly plug the hand that feeds me). In all seriousness, you support promising writers and truly get their work out there. That’s the spirit of the internet in a nutshell and the kind of prospect writers should pursue.

Do you believe that the blogs and online magazines community leads to further segmentation/isolation of the literary world, or that writers and organizations can truly form a cohesive, coherent community?

I think that a cohesive community can and should be cultivated. I also think it is happening, perhaps chiefly in indie circles. We all gain so much more as a community online and offline. I know some no-joke brick and mortar folks still reticent to jump on the i-wagon. It’s worth taking the plunge, I say go for it instead of fighting it.

What are your feelings about the transparency of social networking websites?  Does the false sense of privacy scare you?  Are you willing to accept that it’s just the way our culture is moving?

Social networking sites, like Facebook, Twitter, Okurt, etc. are outstanding tools for introducing your work to people. As I said before, you have to be smart. Don’t post your phone number or mailing address. If you’re meeting someone, get together in a well lit, highly populated area. Be smart and safe. Capisce? Capisce!

Thanks for having me, toots. Love the House of Farm! Always have and always will.

Book Reviews

Emotionally Pantsed Review, Jonuel Pozo

We were on the precipice of a hostile vaginal takeover. I googled my first blowjob for no particular reason. In this bombastic and compassionate parable of loss and disorientation, Katie Schwartz’s debut essay collection Emotionally Pantsed details her journey of falling apart in a million pieces to her quest to try to find the courage to put herself back together.

An irreverently honest confessional, inventing words when hyperboles simply do not suffice; Schwartz effortlessly emerges as a dominatrix of content and style. Skillfully conveying the absurdities and travesties of life with a devilish smile, while pointing to the triumph of the human spirit, her tales are destined to make a splash in the literary underground circles.

Book Reviews

A Review of Katie Schwartz’s Emotionally Pantsed by Mike Dell’Aquila

As if the ego were a living, breathing thing needing to be disrobed, Katie Schwartz bares all in her charmingly neurotic collection of essays, Emotionally Pantsed.  Throughout the book, she effortlessly breezes past her sexual misadventures, strained familial relationships and many of the other territories that drown the modern memoir in a sea of self-absorption, giving readers a fair and painfully honest account of herself without settling on superficial narratives or cheap laughs.

Her style, while conversational and confessional, is an entertaining sleight of hand trick.  Clever turns of phrase and truly comedic moments cast a humorous light on what is actually quite a dark terrain.  From one essay to the next, Emotionally Pantsed becomes increasingly tragic, as if we are all staring too long at a person’s private parts that were exposed against their will the initial laughter gives way to the somber realization that we are all poking fun at a much more vulnerable, fragile person than we realized.

While emotional instability is the current that runs through the entire book, Schwartz oscillates between serious social commentary and absurd asides while painting a very intimate portrait of a modern woman who’s constantly struggling to keep her head afloat.

Schwartz is meticulous and cunning, making her readers feel like they are part of her world.  The more that she draws us in, the harder it is to watch as each layer of emotional clothing is stripped away.  While readers will alternate between wincing from discomfort and gawking with anticipation, Schwartz’s bait-and-switch routine ultimately forces them to part with all of the labels and comfortable cliche’s that she formerly hid behind.

By the end of the work, she is no longer a fast-talking Jewish-American woman whose body issues, neuroses and sexuality can be so easily dissected: she is naked, unarmed and incapable of running away from the reality that she is trapped inside of her skin and forced to play the hand she was dealt a discovery so harrowing to our Teflon narrator that we have no choice but to start peeking beneath our own layers of comfort with a fresh set of eyes.