Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Club (What I'm Reading)

Earlier this month, I mentioned I would be adding a book club component to the What I'm Reading series for those of you who want to read along. This month's book was The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae. The book is an easy, fun read--particularly if you are a fan of the web series by the same name. You get a glimpse into her life, which helps shed light on her relationship with technology and her feelings on race, love, pop culture and of course, social awkwardness. Her honesty is refreshing and her use of humor breaks down barriers to allow for real conversation on topics like sex and race. I am a huge fan and this book just further cemented that. Here are a few book club questions (largely from the publisher's site). I'll post my answers with the April Book Club selection by the end of the month. If you have suggested questions or want to share your thoughts, please do so in the comment section!! Cheers!

1. Rae writes candidly about her family in nearly all of her essays. How does she use humor to write about very private family stories in a very public way?

2. The anonymity of the internet, particularly in its early days, when it was difficult to upload pictures and find out who was friends with whom, allowed Issa to project a personality different from her own. Was that the internet's "age of innocence," or the beginning of so many troubles we now associate with hook up culture?

3. Like so many, Issa struggles with weight, sometimes putting on thirty pounds more than what seems optimal. After successfully completing the Master Cleanse, she writes, "once the compliments come in, you're totally seduced into equating self-worth with skinniness...The compliments were the most addictive drug of all." Can you relate? Do you, too, "live for the validation that accompanies weight loss"?

4. Issa writes amusingly of the apprehension she felt as a young girl when she thought she might be expected to fulfill stereotypes associated with being black: to either know the latest hit rap lyrics by heart or to be able to dance like she came straight from a video shoot. She felt as if she were expected to "put my hands on my knees, pop my booty, and do the Tootsie Roll." How does she use humor to deflect the anxiety? What stereotypes have people projected onto you, and how do you deflect their assumptions?

5. Race is a central issue in the book, but Rae describes her frustration at people who make it a central point in their lives. How does she walk this line herself in the book?

6. In "Leading Lady," Rae writes, "You could say I have an entertainment complex. It stems from growing up during the golden age of nineties television. I look back and realize what a huge and amazing influence it was to have an array of diverse options to watch almost every night of the week." She then laments how the subsequent decade offered fewer options. What about now? Are our choices more diverse? Does the internet with YouTube and the like, level the playing field in a substantive way?

7. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is about learning to accept yourself. In Rae's case she had to accept that she was typically the most awkward girl in the room. How did being an introvert limit her? If you are an introvert, how does it limit you? Is the world easier for extroverts?

8. How is Rae's life and artistry unique to the internet age?

9. Is it okay to use humor to talk about difficult subjects? Are there any taboo subjects, i.e., those that simply can't be approached with anything approaching humor or satire?

10. In "The Struggle" Rae writes, "I love being black; that's not a problem. The problem is that I don't want to always talk about it..."Does being a card-carrying member of one group mean you always have to represent that group in public? What group do you represent, and are you expected to always speak for that group? (Gay, Asian, single mom, Latin, trust fund baby, Jewish, geek, metrosexual, big girls, skinny girls, for example).

11. The topic of infidelity is a difficult one to approach with cool-headed nuance. How does Rae come to terms with this difficult topic in her life?

12. Issa talks about being in a committed relationship but not wanting to get married. What are your feelings on the need for marriage?

12. In what ways does Issa's unique background--half African, half African-American, one half of her childhood spent on the East Coast, the other on the West Coast--position her to see the world in a unique way? If your life is also composed of interesting cultures, how was your perspective on life been influenced? Is it empowering? Or more fractious?

13. Describe times in your life when you, too, have felt awkward. Do you think it is something you outgrow or something that is a part of you? How does Rae see her own awkwardness?

14. Pretend you have to write an intimate essay about one of the most difficult parts of your life. What do you think would be the obstacles in writing about this topic? Would making the essay funny help you deal with some of those issues or would it exacerbate them?

15. Watch all of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl on YouTube and pick a character who you think has been inspired by a person from Rae's book. How is that person's depiction different on screen and on the page? 

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