The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo
By Amy Schumer. (Gallery Books, 323 pages, $28.)
In case you’re wondering: In the title of this book, Amy Schumer isn’t just riffing on a certain Swedish crime thriller; she does have a lower back tattoo. But that should be no surprise to fans of the bawdy, self-deprecating persona she’s cultivated onstage and in her hit show, “Inside Amy Schumer.”
This book takes her show’s title to heart, offering essays (on growing up, sex, fame, sex, body issues, sex) in which shame and self-confidence coexist, sometimes in the same sentence. The highlights are the excerpts from Schumer’s diaries — by all appearances actually culled from her teenage musings — annotated, updated and explained by Schumer with 2016 hindsight.
Here’s her 18-year-old self, in 1999, with commentary:
“We got pretty drunk and went to meet up with Nick. He was so happy to see me. (Red flag) He bought us drinks all night. (Redder flag) We didn’t pay for a thing. (Reddest flag) I looked amazing. (I am dying laughing knowing what I looked like at this age. The only amazing thing about how I looked was that people were able to identify me as female.)”
Schumer’s style is breezy, cringe-worthy, laugh-out-loud; there are humanizing anecdotes, but no shocking revelations, among the sex talk. Did we mention the sex?
Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table
By Ellen Wayland-Smith. (Picador, 301 pages, $27.)
Perhaps only in America could the story of a prominent silverware manufacturer begin in a free-love commune whose 19th-century followers experimented with gender equality and eugenics before cashing in on capitalistic dreams.
In her thoughtful, well-researched account of the rise and fall of the Oneida Community — and the Oneida silverware brand it eventually created — Ellen Wayland-Smith provides a fascinating look at how a rural preacher with some unusual ideas about love, sex and God won over followers and created a movement.
Wayland-Smith, herself a descendant of some of the Oneida’s original followers, used diaries and other surviving documents to venture deep into the lives and thoughts of the men and women who believed that “complex marriage” would bring them closer to God.
As a commune and a company, Oneida offers a window into the country’s changing thoughts on religion, marriage, families and success from the 1840s to the turn of the 21st century. It’s a slice of forgotten history that’s well worth pondering — and enough to make you wonder what else we don’t know about all the products that have become a ubiquitous part of American life.