Book I Meant to Read in 2018 – Celebrity Memoir

Y’all! This girl! She is crazy, and I say that in recognition of like meeting like. Or rather, like reading like. She is crazy!

I’m a little late to the party, I know. This book was on my radar last year and I just didn’t get to it. The title caught my eye, because “unicorn,” but I didn’t really know who Haddish was at the time. Comedian? Singer? Grownup child star? I knew it was some type of celebrity memoir, but I didn’t know if it was spiritual, self-help, funny, or what. Turns out, it’s all three.

If you also don’t know who Haddish is, she’s a super funny chick who starred in Girls Trip and Night School, comedy specials, and stand-up shows, and several other things. Not having seen those, I know her from her hilarious Groupon commercials and as that chick who always shows up at events in the same white designer dress that she says she wears all the time to get her money’s worth! I listened to the audiobook which Haddish reads herself, and it was a great option.

I laughed till I cried and then cried until I laughed. Really. She’s got some stories to tell. Some are small vignettes of a day in the life, others are much more personal, some are deeply disturbing. To hear Haddish tell them though, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry and most of the time she prefers that you laugh. As Haddish says, she doesn’t like to dive in the “emotion ocean,” just skim along the top. She shares some heavy stuff but in an honest, offhand way. For example, Haddish talks about being molested at 13 in a foster home by an older man who said sucking on her prepubescent boobs would help them grow. Only, Haddish didn’t know she was being molested, didn’t realize until she was an adult and talking with another female friends about the things young girls do to make their boobs grow. According to Haddish, the man never did any of the things people warned her molestors would do: he didn’t try to touch her privates, he didn’t ask her to touch his, and he didn’t tell her not to tell anybody. She didn’t know. She just thought he was doing her a favor. It’s not a funny story. Neither are the beatings she endures from a variety of people throughout her life, people who should have loved and protected her for the most part. Not funny stories at all, but there is something in the telling of it where Haddish manages to make you smile despite the horror.

There’s funny stuff, too. Haddish takes Will and Jada Pinkett Smith on a swamp tour in New Orleans, tickets she bought through Groupon (whom she currently endorses). According to Haddish, Jada thought “Groupon” was a private tour boat, as in you take a group on it, and was surprised when they all three turned up for a tour with the masses. With Haddish driving. High. In a $20 a day rental car. No security, no tinted windows. They took the tour and ended up having a great time by her account. Wish I had been there! She also out-pimps her wannabe pimp ex-boyfriend, stealing his girlfriend out from under him and getting the girl better gigs and more money. That’s how you get revenge. Don’t get me started on the sex tape bootlegs or her praying to Jesus in front of a live audience to give her the strength to beat a drunk girl’s a$$ at a show! I would hang with her anytime.

Haddish covers being bullied due to her looks (a wart grew in the middle of her forehead and led to her being called a ‘dirty ass unicorn’); her childhood with a mentally ill parent; living in foster care; dealing with racism and sexism in the entertainment industry; really bad relationships; and surviving to succeed. Among other accolades, she’s the first black female stand-up comic to host Saturday Night Live and she was hilarious! Like I said, you’ll be crying laughing and then shocked to your core at some of the things she has been through. Her personality really comes through in the audio version and you can’t help but be won over!

Here is a clip from The View with Haddish as a guest just after her book came out. You can get a good idea of her particular charm, humble but proud and she has every right to be. She’s come a long way from her childhood and overcome tragedies that might break the rest of us. And, please, if you listen to the audiobook, listen all the way to the end. The Last Black Unicorn song Haddish sings is not to be missed! I promise!

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Celebrity Memoir

I was flipping channels one night and came across the most delightful episode of a television show. I didn’t know whose it was or what was happening, but I was mesmerized and stayed with it until the end. The setting was the Philippines, at Christmas, and there were cover bands and office parties and booze and the loveliest people you would ever want to meet and right in the middle of it all was this tall white dude calling himself Bob from accounting. That’s how I came to know and be charmed by Anthony Bourdain.

I knew who he was, of course. I knew he was a chef and had a few TV shows and I kind of thought he traveled the world and ate weird stuff like a couple of other television shows that I refused to watch. They seemed to be gross for the sake of being gross. I took a hard pass and hadn’t given poor Tony a chance until I happened upon the above-mentioned episode of Parts Unknown and then I was hooked. I delighted in his smarts and his dark humor, but also in his compassion and his insightful storytelling. He did eat weird stuff, but it wasn’t the focus of the show. He shared his love of food with people around the globe and they, in turn, shared their souls.

At some point, I discovered Bourdain had risen to fame after the publication of Kitchen Confidential, a book that looked behind the curtain and under the tables of the restaurant industry. While it had been on my radar to read at some point, it jumped to the top of the list after Bourdain’s tragic suicide just last week. What else could I find out about this fascinating man who left us way too soon? Celebrity memoirs are a dime a dozen; some shallow, some deep, some inspirational, some funny. Considering Bourdain wasn’t yet a celebrity when the book was published, this choice seemed unique in the genre and would give me some insight to where his journey began.

Kitchen Confidential came into being after the publication of Bourdain’s article, Don’t Eat Before Reading This, was published in The New Yorker. He sent the article unsolicited, and it was published anyway. It’s an eye-opener and has made me rethink every meal I’ve ever ordered! Interest in the article spawned the book and a reluctant star was born. In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain gives us his earliest memory that starts his love of food and it’s not a shabby one. He and his family were on a trans-Atlantic voyage on the Queen Mary to his father’s home country, France, and a young Bourdain, fresh out of fourth grade, ate vichyssoise. According to Bourdain, it was the first food he “really noticed.” He also recounts the story of a neighbor, once they arrived in France, who took the whole family out in his little boat. Monsieur Saint-Jour, an oyster fisherman, reached into the water and brought up oysters for the family. Bourdain was the only one who, defiantly, would eat a raw oyster, much to his family’s disgust.

This is where Bourdain thinks the spark of his adult persona started all those years ago. “I frequently look back at my life, searching for that fork in the road, trying to figure out where, exactly, I went bad and became a thrill-seeking, pleasure-hungry sensualist, always looking to shock, amuse, terrify and manipulate, seeking to fill that empty spot in my soul with something new. I like to think it was Monsieur Saint-Jour’s fault. But of course, it was me all along.”

From that trip, Bourdain guides us through his early years and to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he had his first job in a restaurant. The rivalries were fierce, the drinking was hard, and the sex and drugs were plentiful. This was the 70s, after all. Just after the Age of Aquarius and anything goes. His first summer in a restaurant was exhilarating and he was eager to come back again the next year, puffed up with a little experience and a lot of hubris. He was smacked down hard by the new owner and crew at his old restaurant and decided to go to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) to exact his revenge, to become better and faster and more skilled than these guys in a Provincetown seafood house. We’re all the better for it. Imagine Anthony Bourdain as a Vassar student, wearing nunchucks in a holster around his hip; at the CIA taking advantage of the naïveté of his younger fellow students in card games and drug deals; a CIA graduate with “…field experience, a vocabulary, and a criminal mind”; a young entrepreneur basing his catering prices in relation to the going price for cocaine. It’s all there, every glorious, scurrilous detail.

I’m sorry I waited so long for this one. The writing is fresh and realistic and makes me want to drop everything and join the pirate ships that are restaurant kitchens. Bourdain’s journey is a crooked, blurry line and he takes us through restaurant after restaurant and character after character until the end of the book. It’s a wild ride and, as Bourdain says, “…I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

You can watch several seasons of Parts Unknown on Netflix for an extended run. (The Christmas Philippines episode remains my favorite. Watch it for yourself – it will change your life!)

Blogger’s note:

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the haunting mental illness behind the suicides of Bourdain and designer Kate Spade in the same week. I suffer from mental illness, many people I know suffer from mental illness, and probably many more people I know suffer as well but are too afraid or ashamed to mention it. The battle is real and it’s uphill all the way. It’s a tough illness to face and the demons are hard to back down, no matter your lot in life. I can’t give you advice on how to fight your war, but I can assure you that you have allies. You just have to keep looking until you find them. Furthermore, if you know people who have a mental illness, help them find help. Listen to them, don’t shrug it off and tell them to toughen up. We would if we could and, hear me when I say this, depression does not discriminate. Get help or be help. That’s all.