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Summer 2017 Reads
Real Artists Have Day Jobs
by Sara Benincasa

  For week three’s read, I chose Sara Benincasa’s Real Artists Have Day Jobs (And Other Awesome Things They Don’t Teach You in School).

Long Title. Good Book.
Long Title. Good Book.

A collection of 52 essays reflecting on life, love, mental illness, and the mystical powers of dogs, Benincasa’s book is at times poignant and insightful, yet consistently funny.

  A lot of advice-y type books that I’ve read in the past trend toward establishing their suggestions as the be-all, end-all solution to your woes. Benincasa, on the other hand, recognizes and emphasizes that what has worked for her in the past may not work for you. In this recognition, there is a more collaborative feel between the author and the reader, making it feel more like a conversation than dictation.

  That isn’t to say that there aren’t valuable musings that will be right up your alley. For packrats like me, the idea of a purgatory bag (34) was a positive revelation. Essentially, you keep a bag in your house dedicated to throwing your knickknacks and general clutter that you’re sort of ambivalent about. At the end of the month, you pass judgment on the objects within—keep it, or donate it. And then there’s the chapter on not apologizing for everything. For years, I’ve tried to encourage people to stop saying sorry for every little thing, so this chapter had a special place for me. Benincasa’s story of ‘rock bottom’—apologizing to a sexual partner for her vagina’s sensitivity (75)—is funny yet striking in how entrenched the idea of ‘apologizing for existing’ is for women.

  There’s really only one part of the book that hits a flat note. In a chapter on embracing one’s inner dork, Benincasa relates a story of talking to a school assembly. She encourages students to become comfortable with their nerdiness, but then pivots to isolating and painting kind of a grim, somewhat mocking picture for what she assumes to be the ‘pretty’ and popular teens (115). It just seemed very mean-spirited for a book that was otherwise very good at being inclusive and, at one point, emphasizes that “Your Normal is Not Everyone Else’s Normal” (246).

  But that is one anecdote in one chapter in a book overflowing with warmth and acceptance. The book is structured in such a way that you can get through it in one sitting or stretch it out to one bit of joy per day or week (making it a yearlong extravaganza of stories and support). It also makes a good gift, so maybe consider sending this book with your newly minted collegiate child to help make them a better, geekier, happier human.

Purchase Project Northwoods at Amazon.com.   Purchase Washed Hands at Amazon.com   Purchase Improbables at Amazon.com.

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