books, Memoir, Reading, Women Writers

“I Hear She’s a Real Bitch” by Jen Agg

“Accommodation is such a common thread for women in the workplace, even strong women at the top of their game. They feel a need to adjust and swivel and make space for male partners/co-workers to just keep doing what they’re doing, even if it’s poor leadership, or worse, abusive behaviour. Because this is both instinctual and learned, and taught to us from such a young age, it’s a huge challenge to break away, to decide to say ‘no, I don’t agree with you.’ And when you find your voice, and say no, instead of being lauded for doing exactly what men have been doing forever to succeed, you are vilified, told to be nicer, told you’ll get further with a better attitude, told to be less of a bitch.”

IMG_0807Based in Toronto, Jen Agg is a restaurateur and a damn successful one. Agg has, as of the time of publication, five restaurants currently in operation. She has forged her way in a male-dominated, bro culture with grit, determination, and a willingness to take risks. In her new memoir, “I Hear She’s a Real Bitch”, this Canadian powerhouse unleashes her tongue and tells her story with a sharpness that would do her knife-weilding chefs proud.

Agg is a first-time writer, but it doesn’t show. She is revelatory and raw, unapologetic and unafraid. She is, perhaps understandably, tired of the moniker “outspoken” and the latent sexism in its application almost exclusively to women.

“Obviously I have enough objectivity to fully get that I’m not for everyone, that some people just straight-up dislike my particular brand of shouty snark, but I have enough lived experience to know the difference between dislike and misogyny. And when I see men with huge platforms saying whatever the fuck they want with no real consequences, I can’t help but feel alienated. I can’t help but think it’s completely unfair.”

Her well-founded objections not withstanding, the tag is no less apt. Agg boldly shares her wins and her losses in a way that is outspoken in the true sense, in a sense that takes courage and a thick skin for anyone but which is often rewarded in men and discouraged in women. She doesn’t shy away even from her mistakes; from time to time she will point out the flaws in her logic, her choices, her actions, and then just say “Oh well. Fuck it!”

“I Hear She’s A Real Bitch” is about the restaurant world, about personal growth, about misogyny, and about life. Jen Agg’s story is well-composed and delicious. She has crafted a book that imparts the craftsman in her, one that is well-balanced with just the right amount of bite like one of her signature cocktails.

Thank you to Penguin Books for providing a complimentary review copy in exchange for a fair and honest review. “I Hear She’s A Real Bitch” by Jen Agg was published by Penguin Books on 9/12/17.

books, Debut Novel, Graphic Novel, Memoir, Reading, Women Writers

“Tangles” by Sarah Leavitt

IMG_0632In “Tangles”, Sarah Leavitt writes about “Alzheimer’s, my mother, and me”. “Tangles” is a graphic memoir, of sorts, in which Leavitt tries to unpack the heartache and frustrations of watching her strong, independent, witty mother disappear and eventually die from early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Leavitt’s drawings feel like sketches – they often lack detail and stray from realism to a more cartoonish bent. Likewise, Leavitt’s writing is often sketched; her passages are truncated and lack embellishment.

The book is true to the graphic novel form in its interdependence of pictures and words, but doesn’t take full advantage of the possibilities the form provides. In my mind, great graphic novels use the pictures to communicate and bring greater emotionality and dimension to the story. Shade and light, layout and storyboard can give a story an organic sense of flow and a greater depth and weight. Though Leavitt’s story is itself compelling – her anguish at the loss of her mother is palpably clear – her book itself felt underdeveloped. The sketchiness, rather than feeling like a signature style, felt unfinished. The crowded, overly simplistic panel layout of pages disrupted any chance of flow. This book, to me, could well be the pitch for a great story, but what I read was not yet that story.