An Obamasterpiece

October 14, 2019 | New York, NY

As the weather gets cooler and the leaves start changing color, one of my favorite things to do is curl up with books written by the Obamas. It brings me back to a more wholesome time just 4 years ago, when President Obama addressing us all in his State of the Union meant shutting off my phone, ordering tacos, and staring dreamily at the TV. I never expected a governing body to bring me such joy, but here we were.

How wonderful it is, I’d think, that we have a president who makes dad jokes and plays basketball and does mic drops and rocks the hell out of a button down shirt. How inspiring Michelle Obama is with her toned arms and perfectly-timed bon mots. They’re like us, but better.

That hasn’t changed. While the nation’s currently every dictionary’s living definition of a Dumpster Fire, Barack Obama’s living his best life. Even more, he’s been writing his newest memoir – set to drop in 2020 – and we finally know the title: The Art of (Gracefully) Not Giving a F*ck.

President Obama addressing us in his State of the Union meant shutting off my phone, ordering tacos, and staring dreamily at the TV. I never expected a governing body to bring me such joy, but here we were.

“This book is a, uh, chance for me to reflect on the past 3 years and share my learnings with the American people,” the former president said in a (very) brief phone call.

In other words, it’s a masterpiece. The Art of (Gracefully) Not Giving a F*ck takes us through the process of adjusting to post-presidential life with vivid imagery and stirring prose. Lessons he learned along the way are distilled into singular chapters, with some standouts:

  • “Just Be Barack”

“I’m not somebody who gets real worked up about things,” Obama once wrote in The Audacity of Hope. He says this again here in his introductory chapter. What does ‘Being Barack’ mean? Be Cool-Tempered, he writes. Be an International. Travel to French Polynesia, Kensington Palace, the British Virgin Islands, and Twitter for reminders of who you are: Someone the World Reveres. Having a killer smile along the way will only help. So will a photographer who captures your essence.

  • “Oh, Word?”

Who but Barack Obama to remind us of the power of the written word in these trying times? This chapter highlights his dedication to posting lengthy, eloquent messages on social media. Never say the thing that’s bothering you most, he writes. Let the world read between the lines. The same goes for moving speeches and eulogies.

  • “Hollywood, Baby”

Here’s where it gets real. In a chapter that reads like a confessional, Obama tells us he’s finally tapped into who he really is: A Star. It starts with an appearance on David Letterman and ends with a recent Netflix deal to produce a set of films & series under his and Michelle’s production company called (what else?) Higher Ground Productions. “When Richard Branson and I went kitesurfing a few years ago, he told me, ‘Barack, you’re a star. Don’t you forget that,” Obama said, “I wrote that down on a Post-It and stuck it on my bathroom mirror.”

“When Richard Branson and I went kitesurfing a few years ago, he told me, ‘Barack, you’re a star. Don’t you forget that.’ I wrote that down on a Post-It and stuck it on my bathroom mirror.”

For Obama superfans, the book comes with perks. In the middle insert, readers will find letters both Obamas wrote in anger and put away in a drawer instead of sending to the intended recipients.

Footnotes from Michelle are also scattered throughout the book, guiding readers on mastering a well-timed eye roll, choosing clothes that’ll speak for you when you’re speechless, and letting us in on their method for coining iconic phrases (‘When they go low, we go high” was conceived during a dance-off between her and Barack).

“We wrote these portions of the book together, in restaurants, challenging and bringing out the best in each other,” Barack said, “While intimidating everyone around us.”

Therein lies the takeaway of The Art of (Gracefully) Not Giving a F*ck: You can choose to not give a f*ck and still care. “Don’t you see what we’ve been trying to tell you all these years?” the Obamas seem to say, “We’re just like you, only a little better.”

And here we are.

 

Blume for Boys

January 13, 2019 | New York, NY

My fourth grade teacher, Ms. Pialto, found me troublesome.

While the rest of class learned about the formation of sedimentary rocks, I spent all day reading books under my desk. I read Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Blubber and Fudge-a-Mania. Preparing for new adventures – like puberty and breasts and following my imagination – felt way more important than dirt.

Ms. Pialto disagreed. “Soné, put the book away,” she’d say, with a mild eye roll.

And so I slouched further in my seat, out of sight. I soon begged my mother to let me wear my hair down, thinking, A) It’d make me prettier, and B) It’d help me hide my books. (Style always = utilization.)

But this bookish madness had a purpose. All I wanted was to spend time with Judy Blume. Judy understood me. She was always one step ahead. She had all the answers.

In the years since, neither of us, it seems, has changed. Blume celebrated her 80th birthday last year and to wrap up 2018, she wrote a new book: Periodically Pissed.

But wait. This one’s for men.

____

It started with the words of Blume fan, singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer. “Women are currently scaring the bejesus out of people by doing something very non-dramatic and mundane: Telling It Like It is,” Palmer said last February.

New experiences are scary. They make us sweaty, nervous, unsure of what’s going to happen next. Everyone’s just too gosh darn exasperated with men lately. Maybe there are too many expectations, too many landmines, too many women saying, This isn’t the 60s anymore. We demand decency.

New experiences are scary. They make us sweaty, nervous, unsure of what’s going to happen next. Everyone’s just too gosh darn exasperated with men lately.

Who better than Judy Blume to gently guide the way for an entire gender?

It’s 2019 and women are taking ownership, not just over their bodies, but things like Congress too. And in a time brimming with uncertainty, Judy’s here to share some secrets into the unknown.

“My books have always been about the universal questions of adulthood and one question men always seem to have is: ‘Is she pissed or is she on her period?’” Blume said, sipping an iced tea on the porch of her Key West home, “It’s been a while since I wrote a banned book. It’s nice to live on the edge.”

My hero has done it again. She’s written another coming-of-age bible.

Periodically Pissed is a travel-sized guide. Chapters are short, with illustrations here and there, to help men better interact with women in the workplace, romantic relationships, and regular activities like grocery shopping. Emotions are separated by plastic tabs so that one can easily locate a Blumian explanation for them. See a woman crying? Flip to the Blue Tab. Screaming? That’s the Scarlet section. Is she no longer speaking to you? Go to Ivory.

It’s small but this paperback is chock-full of everyday scenarios that befuddle men. Judy’s voice is warm and cheerful throughout, like friendly gossip over blueberry muffins on a Saturday morning.

Oh, she marched out of that meeting when it ran 45 minutes over? Well, that’s understandable. And her voice shook when she stood up for that great idea no one liked? Mhmm. She ordered two baskets of fries at happy hour now, did she? Atrocious, but then again, all humans get hungry. And she sobbed uncontrollably at that video of a baby bonobo kissing a toddler? Okay, fine, that one’s probably her period.

Most explanations offer the same solution: “Treat her like a peer, anyway.”

“My books have always been about the universal questions of adulthood and one question men always seem to have is: ‘Is she pissed or is she on her period?’”

“This book, just like my past books, is an acknowledgement. It’s a way of saying, ‘I’m here. I understand. Life’s hard and all these women be so crazy,’” she mused.

And so, Periodically Pissed is for the everyman. It’s for the twenty-something with 2 female roommates, the men of Wall Street, the new CEO of that media corporation, the politicians in meetings with the Fab Four, or the respectful co-worker with a crush. It’s for highlighting and dog-earing and sharing over group texts.

It’s a secret asset detailing the world’s worst kept secret:

“Men don’t seem to have their s*** together. But a good book can help guide the way,” she said, and then paused, with a twinkle in her eye. “Then again, what do I know?”

Periodically Pissed is available at all stores with books. Get your copy today!

Keeping Up With Books

May 1, 2018 | Los Angeles, CA

Someone, somewhere on the Internet said one day, The devil works hard, but Kris Jenner works harder. The Internet, with all its tweeting minions, bowed solemnly to this truth. And in a Land Far Away & Far More Expensive, Kris Jenner heard this and smiled.

It’s been a crazy few days for the Kardashian family, what with one lover off on a Twitter spree, another blatantly cheating, tabloids circling the mess like hawks, and Kris Jenner – manager of America’s True First Family – doing damage control.

Otherwise known as “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

But chaos on KUWTK means something new is on the way. Something shiny, something to be monetized. Something, perhaps, like books.
___

“It all started one afternoon this past December,” Kris told me at her Hidden Hills mansion, “[My daughters] Kim and Khloe called me into the kitchen and jokingly smashed a cake into my face. I was furious. What did I do to deserve that kind of disrespect?”

Reality TV hath no fury like a woman scorned – no less, by her own offspring. And so, Kris spent the next few months in deep thought. Somewhere in this sticky humiliation was an opportunity.

“The other night, I spoke with Khloe, who just gave birth to her daughter, True. I said, ‘Khloe, honey, this is the beginning of a beautiful new chapter for you.’ And it hit me,” Kris said, “A new chapter. Books!”

She took off her Céline glasses, clipping them to her leopard print dress.

“I wonder…if I’d pushed my daughters to read more, maybe they wouldn’t have grown up to waste perfectly good cake. Maybe I can help Khloe not get cake thrown in her face. What’s motherhood if you’re not passing down life’s lessons?”

Reality TV hath no fury like a woman scorned – no less, by her own offspring. Somewhere in this sticky humiliation was an opportunity.

Kris Jenner has, after all, taken motherhood to new levels. Over the past 10 years, she’s single handedly managed the careers of all 6 children in the Kardashian-Jenner clan. Their show, now in its 12th season, has paved the way for a QVC fashion line, tooth-whitening endorsements, makeup lines, multiple spinoffs, and an episode in which she considered being made into a diamond after her death. But something was always missing.

“This could be big. I’ve been researching, digging into some classics: Lolita, Little Women, Gone with the Wind, Pride and Prejudice,” she shuddered, “Oooh, that last one was titillating. There are entire worlds that don’t exist on television. Did you know that? Why aren’t we all reading more?”

And so, the matron of superficial beauty is on a mission to bring back books.

Except, they never went anywhere. They’ve been here all along, revered through the centuries. They win Pulitzers, appear in NYTimes Bestselling lists, get endorsed by Oprah – but nothing truly exists in culture until Kris Jenner takes an interest in it. Maybe, just maybe, books haven’t been managed correctly all these years. That’s all about to change.

“Books are fabulously understated,” Kris said, sipping a dry martini, “They don’t just go with your look, they elevate it. Just think – we could have a resurgence of literature with women at the forefront.”

6 particular women at the forefront, that is. With Kris’s business acumen, books will make their way to the Kardashian-Jenner brand – a brand with over 500 million followers who believe they’re just one lip kit, hair color, or boob job away from perfection.

The truth of the matter is that the right accessory can change a woman’s life. It allows her to express herself, it gives her a certain joie de vivre. While you can’t judge a book by its cover, you’ll probably judge a woman by the book she carries. Someone might as well make money off this fact. It might as well be Kris Jenner.

The right accessory can change a woman’s life. It allows her to express herself, it gives her a certain joie de vivre. While you can’t judge a book by its cover, you’ll probably judge a woman by the book she carries.

She knows this. Soon, fans will be taking Twitter surveys about their favorite books. Upcoming episodes of KUWTK will feature how to appropriately respond to a catcall over one’s “big books.” Designers are lined up for Books of the Week underpants. (Monday: “Eat, Pray, Love Me”; Tuesday: “This Ol’ Feminine Mystique”; and so forth). Kim Kardashian is developing an Old Book Scent (with hints of grass & vanilla) to add to her perfume line.

Later into our conversation, an assistant brought over a tray of oatmeal-raisin cookies. Kris waved it away – the tray was plastic. A few moments later, the cookies reappeared on an Hermès serving plate.

I asked Kris what success looks like for her new venture.

“I see a stylish young girl in a city somewhere. She understands that while looks matter, books matter more. She’s a trendsetter, she’s got all her friends reading. And when they achieve total global domination – which they will – they will be indebted to me,” Kris said, with a smile.

She took a bite of her cookie, looking into the distance.

“It’s all about creating opportunities. Where would my family be without me? Where would the world be without books?”

To think it all started with cake.