Becoming by Michelle Obama

38746485I’ve put off finishing this book for about four months, but now that we’re in the home stretch of 2019, I need to mark it complete for my reading challenge. Plus, not finishing the chapter about the Obamas leaving the White House doesn’t actually prevent it from happening and letting it be 2016 for the rest of time.

You don’t need me to tell you that this book is excellent. I loved reading about her early life and definitely cried at the laundromat when she wrote about her dad’s passing. It was interesting to see some of the behind the scenes “messes” of her early days on the campaign trail (I definitely don’t remember those, but I wasn’t an Obama early adopter in 2008). She doesn’t lower the veil too much and definitely has more respect for some people than I do (and I guess she knows them personally, so there’s that). I adored her anecdote about meeting Queen Elizabeth and how HM totally sloughed off PROTOCOL.

Anyway, I’ll leave a quote here that really sums up how I felt reading this book in the year in which I read it (p. 415):

Hamilton touched me because it reflected the kind of history I’d lived myself. It told a story about America that allowed the diversity in. I thought about this afterward: So many of us go through life with our stories hidden, feeling ashamed or afraid when our whole truth doesn’t live up to some established ideal. We grow up with messages that tell us that there’s only one way to be American – that if our skin is dark or our hips are wide, if we don’t experience love in a particular way, if we speak another language or come from another country, then we don’t belong. That is, until someone dares to start telling that story differently.

Life is Short, Don’t Wait to Dance by Valorie Kondos Field

38744007I’ve been vaguely aware of NCAA gymnastics since high school, but I never went out of my way to watch a meet the same way I watched Elite or the Olympics. Since starting to listen to Gymcastic three years ago, I’ve become much more aware of college gymnastics. Combine that with Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian heading to UCLA after their Olympic experience, and you’ve got a brand-new UCLA gymnastics fan!

I went to my first college gymnastics meet ever (and only my third in-person meet ever – first one in 15 years!) earlier this year when UCLA came to Stanford in January. I got to see Kyla Ross perform near perfect bars (one of the only times she wouldn’t get a 10 this season!) about five feet in front of me. IT. WAS. AWESOME!

All that to say, I was intrigued by Miss Val’s book since this is her last season. I wasn’t expecting her to spill the tea (she’s too classy), but hoped for more than a few coaching platitudes. It’s a quick read and from it, I can tell that I would NOT have been a good fit for UCLA gymnastics (should that have been an option). But I can see why she has such a good relationship with her gymnasts and why so many former Elites flock to her program.

The biggest revelation to me was that Katelyn Ohashi was so fucked up by Elite gymnastics that during her freshman year she admitted out loud during a group activity that she didn’t want to be great. Given her level of success and her positive attitude as an upperclassman, it’s a testament to Miss Val and to Katelyn’s hard work that she’s overcome a lot of the past and learned to love the sport again. It was also interesting to me that apparently UCLA gymnastics practices are open to well-meaning fans that show up, which seems CRAZY, but good to know, I guess.

All in all, Miss Val and I have very different philosophies, but I can see the value in where she’s coming from.

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

40411206Gilmore Girls got me through a break up in the early ’00s, and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since, even if I spent most of the later seasons screaming, “WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT?!” When it announced that the show was going to be part of the current revival craze that’s sweeping Hollywood, I was nervous because though it took a long time to get there, I felt the show was left in a good place: Luke and Lorelai presumably together, Rory off to be a reporter, and Richard and Emily doing their Hartford thing, but getting along with Lorelai for the first time ever.

However, reading Lauren Graham’s recollection of her time on set made me reconsider it. Most of her memoir feels like the normal things – how she grew up, how she struggled as an actor, how she got her big break, how things have changed for her, and now she’s filming the revival. It was a fun read and I’ve always like Lauren Graham (Northern Virginia gals gotta stick together!), but the best part was really her little diary about the revival. I really enjoyed the tiny moments where Kelly Bishop remembered Edward Herrmann and how Lauren tried to get everyone she ever met into a scene somehow (let’s be besties, Lauren – I wanna be on Gilmore Girls!) I was a little surprised how few Scott stories there were, but I guess the central relationship on this show was always Lauren and Alexis.

Anyway, at just over 200 pages, it’s a quick read with some cute stories. If you liked Lauren Graham before, this won’t change your mind (and vice versa). I’m curious to check out her fiction books to see if her manic energy is present there as well.

Thanks for the Money: How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be by Joel McHale

29429952Do you like Joel McHale? If yes, then you’ll love this book. If no, what the hell are you doing here? My mom thinks Joel is kinda funny, and she kinda liked this book when I lent it to her (sorry, Joel!). The theory checks out.

Though Joel McHale was not my first E! clip show about television show host crush (that honor goes to John Henson – who I almost met during my LA life at a taping of a failed talk show pilot – and his lovely skunk streak!), he’s my longest lasting one. He’s also one of the first people I remember following on Twitter (I joined for Rainn Wilson and Paul Feig, but Joel is the first one I kept). Our greatest Twitter interaction came in 2012:

Which of course led him to slide into my DMs:

We did not start a torrid Twitter affair (something about him being in love with his wife and me being too star-struck to respond – whatever), but I realized the power of the celebrity talk show host/sitcom-that’s-not-a-traditional-sitcom star. And luckily, four years later, he came out with a book to allow me to harness that power for myself. And when I finally read it two years later, it was pretty funny.

Like all celebrities, the beginning is humble, the middle is funny, but it goes on for much longer than anyone would prefer. Would I buy it again? Nah, that’s what libraries are for. But he got my money, and really, that’s all he cares about.

Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simone Biles

31847558Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast and one of the best (if not the best) we’ve ever seen. She doesn’t just win, she blows the competition away by full points. My fav, Aly Raisman, even joked that winning the all-around silver at the Rio Olympics was like winning first because no one had a chance when competing against Simone.

Simone’s memoir takes a surface look at her life from bouncy toddler of a mother who had to give her up to her grandparents (who adopted her and became her parents) to Olympic Gold Medalist. Gymnastics (or at least tumbling) seemed to come naturally to her and you can feel her joy for the sport in the pages. Her concentration on things like deals about belly button rings display her bubbly personality and youth. She’s surprisingly self-aware her bad attitude in practice as she went through her teen years, which is refreshing if hard to believe.

The book ends with her carrying the flag for the U.S. delegation into the closing ceremonies of the Rio Olympics. She’s upbeat, positive, and full of possibility. She only has good things to say about USAG, the Ranch, and her experience in gymnastics. Reading it after Aly’s book and knowing her #metoo story, I wonder how she’d change things today. Nevertheless, I look forward to Simone’s return to competition and the continuation of her story!