Monthly Archives

September 2017

Text, Don’t Call: An Illustrated Guide to the Introverted Life

Being an INFJ (the rarest personality type), I was happy to come across this book. The following review appeared originally in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

Twenty years ago, as illustrator and author Aaron Caycedo-Kimura was trying to figure out what to do with his life, he made a monumental discovery: he was an introvert, specifically an INFJ, according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. “The description nailed and validated me; among other things, INFJs are deeply emotional, empathetic, relational, and INTROVERTED.”

Later, during a creative dry spell, Caycedo-Kimura, using the handle INFJoe, began posting illustrations online about his life as an introvert. “The response was amazing…! One person wrote, ‘I’m so happy to find out I’m not the only one.’ ” Following that experience, Caycedo-Kimura created Text, Don’t Call: An Illustrated Guide to the Introverted Life.

The guide is intended to help introverts understand themselves better and navigate the extroverted world. Caycedo-Kimura points out, for example, that introverts often describe themselves as antisocial or shy, but he illustrates how introversion differs from those two other qualities: being shy stems from a lack of confidence and antisocial behavior indicates an aggressive attitude toward others, while “introversion is the preference for directing our attention inward.”

The guide could also help extroverts be introvert allies—e.g., by ensuring at social gatherings that introverts “have a quiet corner where people don’t crowd [them]”—or simply be more empathic when introverts feel “peopled out” (exhausted after spending time at large gatherings). The drawings have a gentle wit, getting Caycedo-Kimura’s points across in a conversational, nonclinical style. Introverts will find he nails and validates them, by making it clear “we introverts are alone together.”


This Is Spinal Crack

A million years ago, my friend Lauren and I had a conversation about books and snacks and said we’d do it again, though we didn’t know when. Well, we were even lazier than we realized.

But we managed to finally have another online chat, this time about Rachel Khong’s superb Goodbye, Vitamin. As usual, Lauren is the one who brings up testes. 

Oh, and the title of this post? It refers to the cracking of books’ spines. Mr. PCN came up with it as the name of this series of conversations. As if Lauren and I are capable of doing it again. Let’s see first if we can crank this baby up to 11.

Pop Culture Nerd: Hey, you there?

Lauren: I don’t see anything.


L: Never mind, figured it out.

PCN: This will be part of the transcript.

L: Then I won’t swear at you out of the gate.

PCN: Swear away, but not at me since I’m not the problem.

L: My swear was going to be your inclusion of my ineptitude, but since that will not be a surprise to anyone, let’s get on with the show. Would you like to start with the lovely and funny Goodbye, Vitamin?

PCN: Yes, but first we need to talk snacks. What do you have on hand?

L: I think I failed at snacks last time, too, didn’t I? I just crammed some Trader Joe’s mac and cheese down my gob before we started. You?

Photo: Pexels. I don’t take pics of my food.

PCN: Mmm. Mac and cheese. I’m eating popcorn with sea salt and chili lime corn chips.

L: You’re so much better at that than I am. It’s also fitting we start with Snack Talk since Vitamin includes some pro-level snacking. Because I’m a weirdo, I counted the different foods mentioned: 142. I think my first text to you while reading was “I love this already, tons of snacks and missing pants.”

PCN: Yes! Snacks + no pants = perfection. It’s clear Rachel Khong knows what she’s talking about, whether it’s food or life or dementia. The impressive thing is her specificity. She cuts out all but the most riveting details, leaving nothing but scalpel-sharp observations.

L: She did a fantastic job with an emotional topic (dementia) in a difficult format (diary entries). In most books, that many mentions of one category of things, especially in fewer than 200 pages, would drive me insane. That she makes those feel such a natural and welcome part of the story evidenced a fabulous talent to me. Should we interrupt ourselves with a plot summary?

PCN: A 30-year-old woman, still smarting from the breakup of a relationship, goes home to help take care of her father, who’s suffering from dementia. She keeps a diary while there, and it’s funny AND poignant. How’s that?

L: Perfect. You read it before I did, which was fun because I then got to bombard you with texts while I was reading. One thing you mentioned that we both agreed on is that this one grabbed us both right off the bat. Opening line: “Tonight a man found Dad’s pants in a tree lit with Christmas lights.” Hilarious, poignant, and those wonderful, specific details you mentioned, all right in the first line. It only gets better from there.

PCN: A man stages a protest by throwing away his pants—how could that NOT grab us right away?

L: More than ten mentions of pants. (I’m starting to sound like Rain Man).

PCN: Is it 13 minutes to Judge Wopner? There are so many funny details. When I first heard this book had a character with dementia, I thought, NOPE. That’s a painful subject for me. But I kept hearing how witty Vitamin is, and I’m intrigued by writers who can find the humor in difficult situations. I’m so glad I took Vitamin. (Corny?)

L: Ha. Yes, corny, but I laughed. I had also passed it by, and I can’t even say why since I like difficult and painful stuff (was Rain Main also a masochist?). What blew me away about Khong’s writing is just what you mention above—all the details related to both the humor and the pain. All those mentions of food make it clear how important food is/was to this family.

And yet Ruth’s mom stops cooking because she feared anything but juice and vitamins might have contributed to Ruth’s dad’s dementia. That was heartbreaking. To get those ideas across so well in short diary entries is…let’s just say I was astounded to learn this was Khong’s debut and that she wrote in diary format because she didn’t think she had the chops (corny?) to write a novel. Methinks she’s way off base with that self-assessment.

PCN: With all the rave reviews, I hope she realizes she’s quite good as a novelist. Looking forward to seeing what she writes next.

L: I will pick up her next offering immediately, without regard to cover or subject matter. We are not easily won over (some might even say difficult), but she snagged us but good.

PCN: Oh, I want to mention one of my favorite lines. In her dad’s journal that he kept about her childhood, he wrote about how after he kept telling her to behave, little Ruth got frustrated one day and yelled, “I’m BEING have!”

‪L: That was a great line, out of so many. It will come as no surprise that one of my favorites includes “testes.” Oh, shit, I meant “balls,” but in the meaning of testes.

PCN: Balls always make a book better. Remind me: the balls weren’t mentioned in a food context, right?

L: Ha. No. They were talking about jury duty, which led to this diary entry about what her dad told her: “The word ‘testify,'” you said, “comes from testicles. Men used to swear by their balls.”

PCN: So honorable.

L: There was a mention of meatballs.

PCN: Now I want spaghetti. I liked how, when Ruth watched an old movie in which her dad was a background actor, she saw him sitting in the back eating an olive on a toothpick. Another great example of Khong’s specificity. She didn’t just write Ruth caught a glimpse of her dad onscreen. She described exactly what he was doing.

L: She knocked those details out of the ballpark. Which reminds me, before we move on, I have to say that you, sports hater extraordinaire, using a sports analogy to describe this book to me has to be the greatest compliment/blurb of all time. I can picture this on the paperback version: “Nailed me in the sweet spot. Or whatever that saying is.” —Pop Culture Nerd

PCN: Huh? I don’t even know which sports analogy I used.

L: That’s the beauty of it.

PCN: If you say so. Hey, all this talk of food has made me hungry.

L: Let’s shut ‘er down and eat.

Buy Goodbye, Vitamin from Amazon

The above is an affiliate link that provides a small commission to PCN if used.


Nerdy Special List September 2017

I’m late getting the list up this month because I ran away. It’s been an exhausting year and I needed a respite from everything, so I went to stay with relatives where there’s no cell service or Wi-Fi. Don’t believe such a place still exists?

It was wonderful. I could hear crickets.

No filter

I did drive into town to make one phone call and peek at Facebook to make sure friends were OK from Hurricane Irma. Otherwise I just breathed fresh air, hiked, stared at the water and stars at night, contemplating whether I could give up working and start paying for things with chickens.

But of course, I could never give up reading.

Here are the September releases my pals and I recommend.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

The Western Star by Craig Johnson (Viking, September 5)

At book number 13, I’m still as in love with Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series as I was at book 1. This installment takes readers into some of Walt’s backstory—the early years with his wife Martha—and a deadly train trip of Wyoming Sheriffs on a locomotive named The Western Star.

Johnson includes his trademark humor and smart allusions to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Wyoming’s nature is mostly in the passing countryside, but Johnson proves he’s equally talented at building a strong setting on a moving train as he is in the amazing beauty of his home state. Boy, howdy, another great read.

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (Farrar, Straus Giroux; September 12)

This stunning YA novel about three generations of women from an Indian family is both timely and timeless. As teenagers, Sonia and Tara Das move to the United States with their parents. The girls attempt to acclimate to their new home in their individual styles while their mother holds tight to the cultural traditions and norms of India. Their clash of personalities comes to a peak when Sonia elopes with a man her mother disapproves of, causing an estrangement between the two.

But the next generation of Das women find a way to heal the past and move forward. The themes of identity, diversity, and compassion are relevant now more than eve, and Perkins has delivered them in a gorgeous book geared to young readers but with appeal for all ages.

From Erin at In Real Life:

House. Tree. Person. by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink, September 8)

Ali gets a job at a psychiatric hospital despite her lack of qualifications, but finds the residents take to her. Her success with patients gets her in trouble with the spooky couple running the facility.

She’s also investigating what, if anything, her son had to do with the death of the person whose body he allegedly discovered. If that’s not enough, an unexplained trauma in Ali’s past haunts her, making her family question her every move.

Catriona McPherson is one of those rare authors whose characters jump off the page and into readers’ hearts. She puts them in situations as fascinating as they are terrifying. House. Tree. Person. (the title is explained in the book) pulls you in and along every twist and turn. My only complaint is that it had to end.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder (W. W. Norton, September 26)

For three years, journalist Jessica Bruder immersed herself in an exploding American subculture—individuals, couples, and families who have forsaken real estate for “wheel estate,” living on the road performing itinerant work to make ends meet.

As a result of the housing crisis, stock market collapses, divorces, failed businesses, and health issues, to name a few causes, people are increasingly finding themselves having to choose between food and electricity, health care or rent. By living in converted campers, vans, or even the family Prius, they have found a way to survive and sometimes even thrive.

Bruder’s account of this transient community (and some of the businesses that take advantage of them, e.g. Amazon) is insightful and frightening, as the American dream is exposed as something often closer to a nightmare.

From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence (Flatiron Books, September 26)

Seriously, who wouldn’t fall in love with a title like that? Annie Spence is witty and fun, and I think she’d be a blast to work with.

Libraries do have to break up with books—the title is too old, its condition may be too gross, the information may have been found to be incorrect. We call this weeding.

But the books Annie is in love with—well, it makes you want to keep a list of new books to try. And like all good librarians, she provides lists of recommended reading at the end.

Come for the laughs, stay for the books.

PCN’s recommendation:

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton (Minotaur, September 5)

Here I am talking about trying to relax and unwind, and yet I’m recommending this book that kept me TENSE the whole time I was reading it. Sharon Bolton usually has that effect on me. And I love it.

The premise: A group of tourists on a hot-air balloon ride witnesses a man killing a woman on the ground. The man looks up, sees them. The balloon crashes, and it’s nonstop terror from there as the killer relentlessly pursues the eyewitnesses to his crime.

I’m not saying anything more because the revelations are a 10 on the scale of whaaaat? Read Dead Woman Walking if you want a suspenseful thriller that makes you feel like the call is coming from inside the house.

What are you reading this month?