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Searing and extremely personal essays from the heart of working-class America, shot through with the darkest elements the country can manifest--cults, homelessness, and hunger--while discovering light and humor in unexpected corners. A VINTAGE ORIGINAL. As an adult, Lauren Hough has had many identities: an airman in the U.S. Air Force, a cable guy, a bouncer at a gay club. Searing and extremely personal essays from the heart of working-class America, shot through with the darkest elements the country can manifest--cults, homelessness, and hunger--while discovering light and humor in unexpected corners. A VINTAGE ORIGINAL. As an adult, Lauren Hough has had many identities: an airman in the U.S. Air Force, a cable guy, a bouncer at a gay club. As a child, however, she had none. Growing up as a member of the infamous cult The Children of God, Hough had her own self robbed from her. The cult took her all over the globe--to Germany, Japan, Texas, Ecuador--but it wasn't until her mother finally walked away that Lauren understood she could have a life beyond "The Family." Along the way, she's loaded up her car and started over, trading one life for the next. She's taken pilgrimages to the sights of her youth, been kept in solitary confinement, dated a lot of women, dabbled in drugs, and eventually found herself as what she always wanted to be: a writer. Here, as she sweeps through the underbelly of America--relying on friends, family, and strangers alike--she begins to excavate a new identity even as her past continues to trail her and color her world, relationships, and perceptions of self. At once razor-sharp, profoundly brave, and often very, very funny, the essays in Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing interrogate our notions of ecstasy, queerness, and what it means to live freely. Each piece is a reckoning: of survival, identity, and how to reclaim one's past when carving out a future.


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Searing and extremely personal essays from the heart of working-class America, shot through with the darkest elements the country can manifest--cults, homelessness, and hunger--while discovering light and humor in unexpected corners. A VINTAGE ORIGINAL. As an adult, Lauren Hough has had many identities: an airman in the U.S. Air Force, a cable guy, a bouncer at a gay club. Searing and extremely personal essays from the heart of working-class America, shot through with the darkest elements the country can manifest--cults, homelessness, and hunger--while discovering light and humor in unexpected corners. A VINTAGE ORIGINAL. As an adult, Lauren Hough has had many identities: an airman in the U.S. Air Force, a cable guy, a bouncer at a gay club. As a child, however, she had none. Growing up as a member of the infamous cult The Children of God, Hough had her own self robbed from her. The cult took her all over the globe--to Germany, Japan, Texas, Ecuador--but it wasn't until her mother finally walked away that Lauren understood she could have a life beyond "The Family." Along the way, she's loaded up her car and started over, trading one life for the next. She's taken pilgrimages to the sights of her youth, been kept in solitary confinement, dated a lot of women, dabbled in drugs, and eventually found herself as what she always wanted to be: a writer. Here, as she sweeps through the underbelly of America--relying on friends, family, and strangers alike--she begins to excavate a new identity even as her past continues to trail her and color her world, relationships, and perceptions of self. At once razor-sharp, profoundly brave, and often very, very funny, the essays in Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing interrogate our notions of ecstasy, queerness, and what it means to live freely. Each piece is a reckoning: of survival, identity, and how to reclaim one's past when carving out a future.

30 review for Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing: Essays

  1. 5 out of 5

    Roxane

    Lauren Hough’s extraordinary essay collection Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing is as powerful as it is poignant. So many moments in this exceptionally crafted essays brought me to tears and before long I would find myself laughing as Hough wielded her razor sharp wit. This is a memoir in essays about so many things—growing up in an abusive cult, coming of age as a lesbian in the military, forced out by homophobia, living on the margins as a working class woman and what it’s like to grow into the Lauren Hough’s extraordinary essay collection Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing is as powerful as it is poignant. So many moments in this exceptionally crafted essays brought me to tears and before long I would find myself laughing as Hough wielded her razor sharp wit. This is a memoir in essays about so many things—growing up in an abusive cult, coming of age as a lesbian in the military, forced out by homophobia, living on the margins as a working class woman and what it’s like to grow into the person you are meant to be. Hough’s writing will break your heart. The ways she lays herself bare will leave you marveling at the strength it takes to reveal such delicate vulnerabilities. And when you come to the breathtaking end, you will know what it means to be entrusted with the beautifully messy truth of a person’s life. What an overwhelming, unforgettable offering Hough has made. This is one of those rare books that will instantly become part of the literary canon and the world of letters will be better for it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Shealea

    Did not finish at 0%.

  3. 5 out of 5

    aashna

    white womanism is something else

  4. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    There are eleven essays ( memoir essays) in the collection of “Leaving Isn’t The Hardest Thing”...... I was soooo incredibly engrossed immediately —- that after reading the first two stories: ‘Solitaire’ and ‘The Slide’.... I went to Twitter and typed Lauren Hough’s name.... wondering.... “Who the hell is this woman?”.... .....SHE SHOULD BE ON TV...SHE HAS A PERSONALITY FOR IT......FOR HER OWN SHOW.... Lauren Hough is INTERESTING AS ALL GET UP!!! Ha...it was no accident that I notice Rachel Maddow was There are eleven essays ( memoir essays) in the collection of “Leaving Isn’t The Hardest Thing”...... I was soooo incredibly engrossed immediately —- that after reading the first two stories: ‘Solitaire’ and ‘The Slide’.... I went to Twitter and typed Lauren Hough’s name.... wondering.... “Who the hell is this woman?”.... .....SHE SHOULD BE ON TV...SHE HAS A PERSONALITY FOR IT......FOR HER OWN SHOW.... Lauren Hough is INTERESTING AS ALL GET UP!!! Ha...it was no accident that I notice Rachel Maddow was a big fan and following her too. Lauren has had life experiences that are shocking, hilarious, incandescent, heartbreaking, brutal, disturbing, cringing, laughable, sultry, and just plain fascinating. ..... Her stories are deeply personal ...edgy... unapologetic.... The language and subject matter is raw, thought-provoking- sometimes excruciating harrowing, rigorous, piercing, extremely gut-wrenching, humorous, down right fascinating..... .......and sizzling exquisite! There is a fair amount of profanity and explicit sex — so I wouldn’t suggest reading this to your children.... But for MOST ADULTS....who can tolerate a little walk on the dark side in your in reading diet.... even if not in your own life....readers could easily be blown away by this book.....by Lauren’s life! She sure knows how to tell a story and hold our interest. We learn a lot about Lauren through her memoir essays....and if you’re like me....you’re left being a huge fan. I’m now a regular follower of Lauren on Twitter. She’s so real - she makes me laugh...and cringe at the same time! When I look at Lauren’s physical size ( wouldn’t want to piss her off).....lol.... next to my size....I wondered if she might consider being friends with pint size straight married old fart — such as me? I’ll admit it....sometimes I simply fall in love with authors whose books affect ( not necessarily known as the greatest authors in the world but something about ‘them’ or their work moves me profoundly, > whose exuberance disposition excite me...... thinking: Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida, Claire Fuller, Isabel Allende, Robin Black, David Vann, Stephen King, Mary Roach, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Isabel Wilkerson, Anna Quinlan, Liz Moore, Dani Shapiro, Augusten Burroughs, ....etc...etc...that I simply want to have them over for dinner...hang out with them!!! Lauren Hough just joined my fantasy dinner list! Laughing here ....wondering??? What authors are fantasy dinner guests for you? (my reading friends?).... All I really want to say is....I am so darn glad I didn’t miss reading Lauren Hough’s first book of essays. I will be following her on Twitter. And if Lauren gets her own TV show, I’m going to try to figure out how to be a guest on. Extraordinary essays from a kick ass woman who has been a cable gal technician, an airman in the U.S. Air Force, a bartender, a barista, delivery driver, dabbled in drugs, sex with men & women, grew up in a God cult, ....was born in Germany...raised in seven countries and West Texas. She lives in Austin today. A little sample writing from Lauren Hough: “There are levels of privilege. Now that I’ve jumped a level, from blue-collar asshole, possibly crazy veteran with a criminal record, to writer who no one would suspect has a criminal record, or if they do suspect, they don’t care, I do have to talk about it. For nothing will change. Because people still believe, despite all the evidence, that cops don’t lie, that the system is just, that people in jail deserve jail, and, mostly, that it won’t happened to them. I can tell you solitary confinement is torture. I can quote the stats on who’s in jail, how many are serving serious time who haven’t been convicted of anything at all. But unless you understand it can happen to you, to someone who looks like you, that you can end up in solitary, guilty or not, and lose your goddamn mind, unless I can make you feel it, you won’t fucking care” You rock, Lauren Hough! Want to come for dinner?

  5. 5 out of 5

    Skyler Autumn

    ALL THE BLOODY STARS I haven't read this book yet wasn't even on my radar but definitely going to read it now, and I'm gonna throw in 5 star rating to help offset the 1 stars. Even if it's the shittiest book in the world. If you don't want to support her don't read the book this bombing someone's hard work into oblivion is nasty. She went on twitter and called us childish assholes, then we turn around and prove her right by being childish assholes. Who cares what an author says about us, God know ALL THE BLOODY STARS I haven't read this book yet wasn't even on my radar but definitely going to read it now, and I'm gonna throw in 5 star rating to help offset the 1 stars. Even if it's the shittiest book in the world. If you don't want to support her don't read the book this bombing someone's hard work into oblivion is nasty. She went on twitter and called us childish assholes, then we turn around and prove her right by being childish assholes. Who cares what an author says about us, God knows we say enough shit about their books. If we can dish it out, we should be able to take it. One of the 1 star reviewers wrote "if you are entitled enough to get angry at people who like your book because you don’t think they liked it “enough” then you should not be an author." And you know what that can be turned around really easy, cause if you're going to give a 1 star rating to a book you haven't read yet, then you shouldn't be a book reviewer.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Theresa Alan

    This is so well-written and so hard to read. Lauren Hough was born into a cult in which it was common for people to swap partners and if you were female, you were taught to sexually please men even if were only 12 years old. The cult was called various names, including The Family of Love, which had famous adherents like Rose McGowan and River and Joaquin Phoenix. The followers had to be completely dependent on David Berg, their alcoholic leader and failed preacher, so that meant abject poverty, This is so well-written and so hard to read. Lauren Hough was born into a cult in which it was common for people to swap partners and if you were female, you were taught to sexually please men even if were only 12 years old. The cult was called various names, including The Family of Love, which had famous adherents like Rose McGowan and River and Joaquin Phoenix. The followers had to be completely dependent on David Berg, their alcoholic leader and failed preacher, so that meant abject poverty, and being forced to sell things like posters to passersby to convert them. They were taught that anything was OK if it was done in love, so if you lured a man to bed for money, it wasn’t prostitution if you told him about Jesus. Add to that Lauren is a lesbian. When your entire upbringing has taught you to please males, being a six-foot-tall lesbian is a challenge. Then she joined the Air Force, and things didn’t get better. Her struggles with poverty and acceptance and making terrible relationship choices because she had no idea what healthy relationships should look like make for a harrowing read. She talks about the inanity of our “justice” system that unequally punishes the poor and black folks. Lauren is white, and her struggles with insomnia and PTSD were all helped by marijuana, which was not legal for a long time and is still not legal everywhere. Thus, she tried all the antidepressants the VA would supply her with, but those didn’t help the problem, they just made her move through life like a zombie. She did a lot of work as a bartender or bouncer, which paid barely enough to live in squalor, and meant that she and her friends would have to go to work sick because they didn’t get paid otherwise. Her personal experiences with being poor, getting into the prison system, struggling with anger and lack of education and lack of access to healthcare make for an important lens with which to view these issues. Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this novel, which RELEASES APRIL 13, 2021.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Majkut

    I read books for a living. Sometimes, once in a great while, a writer pierces that tough husk of my heart. But not often. Lauren Hough takes spectacular sharpshooter aim and hits the bullseye in 'Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing,' a collection of essays about several defining chapters of her life. My first encounter with Lauren's writing was her 2018 longform essay: 'I Was A Cable Guy' https://longform.org/posts/i-was-a-ca... She is also currently one of my guilty pleasures on Twitter. Lauren is an I read books for a living. Sometimes, once in a great while, a writer pierces that tough husk of my heart. But not often. Lauren Hough takes spectacular sharpshooter aim and hits the bullseye in 'Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing,' a collection of essays about several defining chapters of her life. My first encounter with Lauren's writing was her 2018 longform essay: 'I Was A Cable Guy' https://longform.org/posts/i-was-a-ca... She is also currently one of my guilty pleasures on Twitter. Lauren is an Air Force veteran in her 40s, 6 feet tall, a lesbian and a childhood survivor of an abusive cult called the Family. She also has a Ted Talk which featured one of her essays, about being jumped outside an Alabama gas station, after a high school girl mistook her for a dude coming out of the women's bathroom. After she left the Air Force in her early 20s, she spent a few aimless years as a bouncer at gay clubs in DC, among other entry level jobs. She then spent a decade long stint as a cable installer in the Virginia suburbs while she figured a few things out. Lauren threads her experiences and memories together with a sharp wit and distinct humor. She attempts to make sense of what happened to her. The older I get, the more I realize that this kind of self-propelled journey is a gift bestowed upon the lucky few who choose to lean into the work. Most don't because it's too hard. Everyone's messy life chapters vary. Lauren emerges plucky enough to find and develop some useful tools in her toolbox over time. She unpacks all of the crummy details AND the beautiful details. She tries to make meaning from the suffering. I tried to highlight what it was that drew me so much to Lauren's story. It could be all of the hysterical lesbian drama that left me howling and guffawing (apparently you have not lived until you've issued an itemized bill for sexual services to a financially abusive girlfriend). It could also be my obsession with the exposé of both Scientology and NXIVM, my adoration of Dan Savage, Lauren's uncanny ability to become a chameleon on demand when her safety required it, my preference for reading about the military, me not fitting in either, and maybe mostly - my status as the daughter of a Vietnam Marine combat veteran who could also not be de-escalated. There is some serious nervous system hypervigilance that only folks that have experienced it can comprehend. Lauren ticks off several boxes. I found kinship in her experiences that struck many chords. Mournful chords, but hopeful ones too. She reminds me that sometimes the most insightful commentary comes from the broken ones who knit themselves back together stitch by stitch. When you're done reading this, you'll want to have a beer with Lauren too - and ask her how she made it after all. Lastly, I was struck by how much these essays are veritable time capsules. Lauren insists she was awful at pop culture because she was nomadically gypsied around the world by her end-of-times cult. However, her references to music and other minute details deliver me back in time to the 90s. In more than one chapter, I am verily transported in my mind to a Lilith Fair concert wearing Teva sandals, smoking a roach in a Grateful Dead tie-dye t-shirt with that silver metal jingle ball necklace on a long black cord, undulating with the crowd to 'Building A Mystery'. Sigh. I was so inspired reading this book, reminiscing on the soundtrack and anthems of my youth that I made my own 90s 'mixtape' on Spotify with all these time-stamped memories of my own. Enjoy my jaunt down memory lane: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4TW... Lauren: keep going with this writing thing. The world needs more of you and your perspective. Thanks for your book, I can't wait to see more of what's next for you. Thank you to Edelweiss for providing me with an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I can't believe you all have to wait until April 2021 to get a copy of this. It is worth the wait. I also enjoyed it so much, I read it chapter by chapter over 'Election Week' savoring each morsel and passage slowly, because I did not want it to end. #books #libraries #reading #therapy #cults #LGBTQ #GenX #military #PTSD #memoir

  8. 5 out of 5

    hannah

    this was the worst book ive ever read ://

  9. 4 out of 5

    Klaus

    Guys, take those one star reviews down. You’re welcome to address disgraceful author behaviour by writing unrated reviews under books - which is what I mean to do with this thing: I won’t read anything by an author who reacts to critique this way - but giving a book you haven’t read one star is poor reviewer behaviour in my opinion. Condemn her, tweet about her, that’s totally valid for what she’s done! But don’t give ratings for books you haven’t read. Because addressing misuse of power by mis Guys, take those one star reviews down. You’re welcome to address disgraceful author behaviour by writing unrated reviews under books - which is what I mean to do with this thing: I won’t read anything by an author who reacts to critique this way - but giving a book you haven’t read one star is poor reviewer behaviour in my opinion. Condemn her, tweet about her, that’s totally valid for what she’s done! But don’t give ratings for books you haven’t read. Because addressing misuse of power by misusing your own power is just sick. ---- This is now my second-most popular review on GR and that freaks me out, because there are lots of reviews that I've put a lot of effort into, but apparently people care more about controversial authors than actual books these days. On a book reviewing platform of all places. Well. Also, I'm no longer replying to comments on this, I've said my piece. Carry on. Read a book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    I wanted to give this one star because of how the author was hating on reviewers who granted it "only" 4 stars (WTF, Lauren?!)...... but I can't. I loved the book. It's witty and I identified with way too much of her story. No cult childhood for me but the evangelical crazy bullshit upbringing is so similar. So yeh, I wanted to not like this and give it only one star but I absolutely loved it. It's a terrific memoir, funny and not self-pitying. Entertaining and interesting and I'm glad I forgot I wanted to give this one star because of how the author was hating on reviewers who granted it "only" 4 stars (WTF, Lauren?!)...... but I can't. I loved the book. It's witty and I identified with way too much of her story. No cult childhood for me but the evangelical crazy bullshit upbringing is so similar. So yeh, I wanted to not like this and give it only one star but I absolutely loved it. It's a terrific memoir, funny and not self-pitying. Entertaining and interesting and I'm glad I forgot I wasn't going to read it because of the author's remarks.... until I was half way through it and remembered and by that time, I was enjoying it too much to stop. "I’m proud that I was a stubborn, defiant little lesbian who made them work so hard to break me. I’m proud of every time I patched myself together and kept going when I was broken.". Hell yeh! Did I mention how much I identified with this book? If you enjoy memoirs, don't let the one stars or the author's remarks put you off it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bridget

    Do you ever click with someone at a party or a bar? Not romantically but you're just on the same level at the same time and you're telling stories and sharing confidences and they are the most interesting person in the room, on the block, maybe the whole planet. You leave that night, high on a friend crush but then never manage talk to them again. That's how reading this book felt, each essay is part of that long conversation, in turns smart, intimate, nihilist, and funny as shit. Hough writes i Do you ever click with someone at a party or a bar? Not romantically but you're just on the same level at the same time and you're telling stories and sharing confidences and they are the most interesting person in the room, on the block, maybe the whole planet. You leave that night, high on a friend crush but then never manage talk to them again. That's how reading this book felt, each essay is part of that long conversation, in turns smart, intimate, nihilist, and funny as shit. Hough writes in places like she's sharing a smoke with you (Badlands) and in other places like the single voice of reason in a world that is a cacophony of bullshit (Everything That's Beautiful Breaks My Heart.) Thanks NetGalley for a chance to read this early and to the author for your words.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Any book written by members of the US armed forces that doesn't so much as even mention the imperialism inherent in the US military is not nearly a good enough book. One star. Any book written by members of the US armed forces that doesn't so much as even mention the imperialism inherent in the US military is not nearly a good enough book. One star.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Levi Pierpont

    A fantastic book that people would like if they grew up and read it. TW: This book may give you some anxiety if you are queer. There are many depictions of hate-based violence and discrimination. Speaking of military exercises in the Air Force, Hough writes, "An exercise is when you go somewhere else to play solitaire on your computer because you’re not allowed to read at your desk—reading would look unprofessional." First, before my actual review: this is something that frustrates me about not jus A fantastic book that people would like if they grew up and read it. TW: This book may give you some anxiety if you are queer. There are many depictions of hate-based violence and discrimination. Speaking of military exercises in the Air Force, Hough writes, "An exercise is when you go somewhere else to play solitaire on your computer because you’re not allowed to read at your desk—reading would look unprofessional." First, before my actual review: this is something that frustrates me about not just military desk jobs, but all other desk jobs I've worked: reading doesn't look professional. Drawing doesn't look professional. Just about any productive thing you could do with your time, at your desk, after you've finished your work but you still have to be available, doesn't look professional. So instead, millions of workers across the world peruse the news or check their email compulsively because if you're staring at your computer, you look like a worker. Never mind the fact that a book could offer you a deeper understanding of the world and improve your work, not to mention the rest of your life. Just keep looking like you're working. Back to the review. I think of myself as pretty privileged, because I am. I'm White, I'm pretty much a guy, (I'm fine with he/him, but I don't like "son" or "mister") and yeah, I'm queer, but my day-to-day life isn't so affected by that, and my being a man and my being White makes it easier. I might get looks in the store if I am with a guy, and it's not the most comfortable thing, but it obviously could be worse. This book felt necessary to me because it reminded me that for older generations of queer folk, it wasn't that easy. They were spit on, beaten, ridiculed, pushed to the margins of society in every way. But they persevered, and I owe every ounce of comfort I have today to those women and men and people. Still, Hough has this keen awareness throughout her writing of her own privilege as a White person, an awareness that is sometimes rare when White people are marginalized. Reading this book felt like listening to the stories of my cultural forebears. Not only telling me, "appreciate how good you have it," but also, "remember it wasn't always this good. Remember it still isn't this easy for lots of others." Everything that crosses over between Hough's experience and my own--the Air Force, a fringe religious upbringing, being queer--strikes me as utterly relatable. Today, the Air Force is a lot more accepting of queer people, especially in "chair force" career fields like my own. This was a policy shift DOD-wide, but more than that, it was a culture shift, and I honestly can't speak for other branches of the military. To be clear, I'm not speaking for the Air Force, either. This was a perfect blend of memoir and essay collection, and both the author and Cate Blanchett make great narrators for the audiobook. I would recommend this to everyone, but especially queer people, people who have had to deconstruct or walk away from a faith that held major importance in their lives, and those in the military or who have been in the military. Lauren Hough, if you see this, thank you. Thank you for this book. I'm in Minot, and it's really not so bad here. Someday, it would be really cool to interview you for my podcast. A few people listen. I hope everyone reads this book and you get all the success that you deserve.

  14. 4 out of 5

    xTx xTx

    Honesty. Honest. That's my first word for this book. Ms. Hough could've easily sensationalized her history but instead she shared it. Her struggle with it. But more about her struggle with who she was. The cult, secondary. And, actually, that was, for me, the more interesting. She helped me see how I have my own 'growing up' issues. Looking for pictures, words, people that can give evidence to what/how things were during my 'growing up.' Nothing too flowerly...which i normally love...but the hon Honesty. Honest. That's my first word for this book. Ms. Hough could've easily sensationalized her history but instead she shared it. Her struggle with it. But more about her struggle with who she was. The cult, secondary. And, actually, that was, for me, the more interesting. She helped me see how I have my own 'growing up' issues. Looking for pictures, words, people that can give evidence to what/how things were during my 'growing up.' Nothing too flowerly...which i normally love...but the honesty, the matter of factness tethered me to her words. I rooted for her. I wish i could have coffee with her. nice way to ring in my new year. Hi Lauren. I'm a writer too. My brother just moved outside of Austin. Maybe we can have a coffee one day. I'm not weird. I mean, Yeah, actually, I'm weird, but i'm friends with Roxane Gay so, i'm like, safe weird. :-)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Stevens

    LEAVING ISN’T THE HARDEST THING is a memoir, but not in the traditional sense. It’s a book of essays that are neither chronological nor directly related, and yet through them a life story unfolds. I loved this book for so many reasons but recommend it specifically for fans of my own work who are curious about the cult I came from. The author is a fellow survivor and although this book isn't about the cult specifically, the cult permeates everything, and this is the most realistic, raw, and unbel LEAVING ISN’T THE HARDEST THING is a memoir, but not in the traditional sense. It’s a book of essays that are neither chronological nor directly related, and yet through them a life story unfolds. I loved this book for so many reasons but recommend it specifically for fans of my own work who are curious about the cult I came from. The author is a fellow survivor and although this book isn't about the cult specifically, the cult permeates everything, and this is the most realistic, raw, and unbelievably honest telling of the immense struggle of dealing with the aftermath while trying to adjust to a strange and foreign outside world as I have ever read. It is that and so much more.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    This is going to be the longest Goodreads review I have ever written, so buckle up. I’d only vaguely heard of Lauren Hough- I remembered reading her cable guy essay, which I enjoyed, and I’d read a couple of articles about this book when it was about to be released, so I headed over to Goodreads to check the reviews, which I often do to help me decide whether or not to read a book. Much to my surprise, the average review was less than 2, which is almost unheard of. I soon found out that this was This is going to be the longest Goodreads review I have ever written, so buckle up. I’d only vaguely heard of Lauren Hough- I remembered reading her cable guy essay, which I enjoyed, and I’d read a couple of articles about this book when it was about to be released, so I headed over to Goodreads to check the reviews, which I often do to help me decide whether or not to read a book. Much to my surprise, the average review was less than 2, which is almost unheard of. I soon found out that this was not due to the book itself, but because of a beef several Goodreads reviewers had with the author. What, pray tell, had she done? Had she killed someone? Been accused of sexual misconduct? Abused a girlfriend? Said or done something racist/transphobic/ableist or discriminatory in any other way? Supported a heinous political position? Been rude to waitstaff? Kicked a puppy? None of the above. She *checks notes* posted a snarky joke on Twitter about people who leave 4.5 star reviews that included a Goodreads screenshot. Now, if an author did that with one of my reviews, I’d laugh. I’d probably even be a bit flattered that an author NOTICED my review, and I think I’d probably reach out to the author, maybe make a joke of my own. But that’s not what hundreds of outraged, thin-skinned Goodreads reviewers did. They took it extremely personally and proceeded to bombard the book with 1-star ratings and negative reviews and scream at anyone who dared to suggest that they were in the wrong. This kind of thing really makes me hate the Goodreads community. I have heard every justification in the book that people have given for purposely tanking the reviews in revenge for Lauren’s tweets deemed insufficiently deferential to the almighty Goodreads reviewer. Here’s where I collect them all in one place and tell you why they’re wrong. These are the arguments Goodreads reviewers have made: -She doxxed a reviewer! Uh, no. Posting a screenshot of a PUBLIC review that only contains an avatar and a first name is not “doxxing” by any stretch of the imagination. -She was telling her followers to harass the reviewer! No. Not only did she not incite harassment in any way, but no one actually harassed the reviewer at all. Lauren is the one who’s been harassed. The reviewer in question has since taken her review down, but while it was up, all of the comments on that review were from people outraged at Lauren. Not a single comment harassing the reviewer in any way. In fact, before taking the review down, the reviewer left a pretty mild comment of her own saying that she found it baffling but that it was a shame that people wouldn’t read the book because of it. So. Think about that. -She was bullying/abusing/attacking reviewers! What a massive exaggeration. It is insulting to actual victims of abuse to call any of Lauren’s behavior in this situation “abusive.” Nothing she did could in any way be called “bullying,” “abusive,” or “attacking.” Yet I’ve seen those words used over and over. I didn’t even think “nerd” was considered an insult anymore. And who knew that people would get so offended over swear words like asshole and fucking? You’re really THAT insulted by what she said? -This is just like the Kathleen Hale incident! I am extremely familiar with Kathleen Hale. You can even read my review of Kathleen’s first book, (which is a review of THE BOOK, not what Kathleen did). Are you honestly comparing a comment on Twitter to actual, in-person, physical STALKING?! By the way, the average rating for this book? LOWER THAN THE AVERAGE RATING FOR TWO OF KATHLEEN HALE’S BOOKS. And until recently, lower than the ratings for all three of her books. Chew on that for a minute. -She compared reviewers to Nazis and bad reviews to RAPE! Uh, no, actually, she just pointed out that her book had a lower average rating than Mein Kampf, as well as a lot of books by crazy right-wingers. If you’d read the book, you’d know that Lauren herself survived a rape as a teenager that resulted in a pregnancy. I think she’s earned the right to compare things that trigger her to rape. -She blocked anyone who called her out on Twitter! Oh, the horror! You’d never do that, would you? -She should be GRATEFUL for 4.5 star reviews! If you say so! -Making fun of Goodreads reviewers is punching down! Let’s get something straight right now: Goodreads reviewers are not some kind of marginalized population. Reviewing books on Goodreads is not an identity. It is bizarre that people are taking this so personally. -iT wAsN’t A jOke BcUz It WaSn’T fUnNy!!1! I mean, hey, we all have different senses of humor. But you’d know, if you’d read the book, that Lauren tends to joke about serious things to minimize negative feelings. And clearly, you consider Goodreads reviews a Very Serious Thing. Aside from all of the above arguments, here’s what I’ve seen Goodreads reviewers do: They’ve accused her of being “antisemitic” for (correctly) pointing out that her book had a lower average rating than Mein Kampf. They’ve posted reviews that called her a b***h and a c**t. They’ve falsely spread rumors that she’s a TERF (not only is she not, she’s specifically denounced TERFs several times). They’ve claimed, without providing a shred of evidence, that Lauren and/or her Twitter followers tried to get a reviewer fired. They’ve locked their Goodreads accounts upon encountering any opposition to their opinions, because they’re cowards who can dish it out but not take it. All of this on TOP of purposely tanking the book’s ratings. You people honestly think this is a proportionate reaction? If you really were offended by this stupid drama, the correct response would be not reading the book and moving on with your life. But all of the above responses are SEVERAL TIMES WORSE than anything Lauren did. IT IS NEVER OKAY TO LEAVE A REVIEW OR RATING FOR A BOOK YOU HAVEN’T READ. EVER. Goodreads reviews are for rating THE BOOK. Not for getting revenge for some manufactured Twitter drama. If you’re one of the thin-skinned, petty, hysterical whiners who did any of the above things, well, I can’t actually say what I want to say to you. So just imagine the worst possible thing anyone could possibly say to you and imagine that I looked you in the eye and said it. Now. Onto my review of the actual book. Which, by the way, this whole debacle convinced me to actually buy, when normally I would have just checked it out from the library. I’m so glad that this book is excellent and I can honestly say that it’s worthy of five stars. It’s a book of autobiographical essays from a writer who’s had a really interesting life. Among her experiences: she grew up in a cult (the Family, formerly known as the Children of God). Her parents divorced when she was young and she and her siblings were split up. (Side note: this is weirdly the second book in a row I’ve read by someone to whom that happened. Is this more common than I realized or are people who go through that just more likely to become writers?) She spent the rest of her childhood living with her mom and an abusive stepfather. She joined the Air Force, where she endured a rape and discrimination for being gay, culminating in a hate crime for which she was blamed and courtmartialed, and was eventually discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She was homeless for a period of time. She’s spent time in jail. She’s lived with PTSD and depression and endured abusive relationships. She’s worked as a bouncer at a gay bar as well as a cable guy and several other blue-collar jobs. I have very little in common with Lauren, but she has a real talent for drawing the reader into her world. Her style is straightforward and unpretentious but also touches on some important truths. An essay will be laugh-out-loud funny in one place and, a couple of paragraphs later, take a turn for the serious and/or universal. If you’ve read the cable guy essay, which is funny, serious, and a microcosm of America all at the same time, that’s pretty much what all of her essays are like. At one point she describes suburban families outside a restaurant in this way: “They looked like people who drank milk with dinner.” Which cracked me up because my family, who sounds a lot like the families she’s describing, literally did do that. I also really enjoyed this description of cops: “Cops are dumb as shit. They’re insular and thin-skinned and get off on making people cry. They’re misogynists. They’re racists. And they don’t generally give a shit about pot. But pot has a strong smell and they’ll use the excuse if they need to make quota, or if they don’t like you.” My only negative comment is that there are some errors like missing words that a copyeditor should have caught. But I loved this book, and I’m glad I bought it, even if took some dumb Goodreads drama to bring it to my attention.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I've followed Lauren on Twitter for a while (since the viral article a few years back), so when I saw the tweet that caused the fuss, I took it as her humor--and cringed a little on her behalf, having been on GR for a long time and guessing that that tweet would not go over well, whether she intended it as humor or not. It did not go over well. Anyway, as far as her book is concerned, the essays are forthright and raw, sometimes funny, sometimes upsetting, always deeply moving. Kinda like her Twit I've followed Lauren on Twitter for a while (since the viral article a few years back), so when I saw the tweet that caused the fuss, I took it as her humor--and cringed a little on her behalf, having been on GR for a long time and guessing that that tweet would not go over well, whether she intended it as humor or not. It did not go over well. Anyway, as far as her book is concerned, the essays are forthright and raw, sometimes funny, sometimes upsetting, always deeply moving. Kinda like her Twitter, tbh.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    This memoir-in-essays hangs together far better than most examples of this genre. Lauren Hough has a gift for having each essay—about her childhood in the infamous Children of God cult, her time in the Air Force, her experiences as a lesbian in the 90s and as a blue-collar worker struggling to get by—reference and build on one another without feeling forced. Hough's voice throughout is mordantly funny, brimming with righteous and frustrated anger at systemic dysfunctions and hypocrisies. Come fo This memoir-in-essays hangs together far better than most examples of this genre. Lauren Hough has a gift for having each essay—about her childhood in the infamous Children of God cult, her time in the Air Force, her experiences as a lesbian in the 90s and as a blue-collar worker struggling to get by—reference and build on one another without feeling forced. Hough's voice throughout is mordantly funny, brimming with righteous and frustrated anger at systemic dysfunctions and hypocrisies. Come for the startled laughter at the kinds of things cable repair people will find in nondescript suburban basements; stay for Hough's slowly burgeoning comparison between the abusive, free-love, hippie-Jesus cult of her childhood and the all-encompassing cult of consumerist American Exceptionalism.

  19. 4 out of 5

    F.E. Jr.

    If the cliche that, "Love is Love" is true - then perhaps "A cult, is a cult, is a cult," is also true - because, damnit, Lauren - if you've not written my life in the pages of your book (not as well-traveled grant you but still) I'm the Queen of England. Lauren Hough is a master storyteller. Her ability to paint a picture of desperation on the fringes of life is nothing short of awe-inspiring while the stories contained herein are grotesque and brutal, that all the while, turn an accusatory gaz If the cliche that, "Love is Love" is true - then perhaps "A cult, is a cult, is a cult," is also true - because, damnit, Lauren - if you've not written my life in the pages of your book (not as well-traveled grant you but still) I'm the Queen of England. Lauren Hough is a master storyteller. Her ability to paint a picture of desperation on the fringes of life is nothing short of awe-inspiring while the stories contained herein are grotesque and brutal, that all the while, turn an accusatory gaze up at the world of latte-sipping, blog posting, scarf-wearing, "woke"- tweeting, middle America who've convinced themselves of their progressiveness, or their societal awareness because they've read a book written by Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison or call themselves 'an ally.' An accusation the world deserves. Full stop. Simply put, there's a world operating underneath this one that we live in, that people don't have the first fucking clue about. And that world is the world of cults. And you don't have to belong to a sex cult, like Lauren was, to see this. The David Koresh's and Jim Jones of the world were the obvious ones. The fundamentalists of other brands are out there. Chances are, you have them in your own neighborhood. Lauren presents the truth in an unpretty, unrestrained, and unapologetic book that should rock the senses of anyone with even the slightest shred of human decency about them. The slave master of old isn't dead, he's picked up a Bible, had a vision, and is now in command of thousands of souls. Souls who've had children that are now captive audiences to the horrendous behaviors of the morally depraved and predatory actions of a dystopian god. In the era of #metoo and #timesup and #churchtoo, this book should be required reading for anyone attempting to deconstruct their own cult experiences to show that, even on the fringes, their experiences are not that rare, that they're not really alone, and that there's healing in that.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mariah

    Got a cute email from GR saying they d3l3t3d my review. Here's a second one. Got a cute email from GR saying they d3l3t3d my review. Here's a second one.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mandy Hazen

    I am a huge fan of short stories. Lauren did not disappoint. So many of these stories are heart breaking Raw and real. Some are full of love and light and hope. Some are full of laughter. I couldn’t put it down and found myself wanting to read page after page and learn more about Lauren’s life. I especially appreciated her reflection on the privilege of her life and how it had perhaps altered different paths and other choices. Very well written. I received an advance review copy for free, and I I am a huge fan of short stories. Lauren did not disappoint. So many of these stories are heart breaking Raw and real. Some are full of love and light and hope. Some are full of laughter. I couldn’t put it down and found myself wanting to read page after page and learn more about Lauren’s life. I especially appreciated her reflection on the privilege of her life and how it had perhaps altered different paths and other choices. Very well written. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Zoe

    This book tore my heart up in the best way - engaging from start to finish, funny, and very moving. It also captures a time and place in queer history rarely engaged with in literature.

  23. 4 out of 5

    julianna ➹

    goodreads took down my last review, which is so surprising because like i swear up and down that i definitely read this entire book, front end to back end, and again, like i said before, actually really loved it but i just chose to round my 5-star rating down to 1 star

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    For a short period, I worked for a cult, which is part of what drew me to this book. The main thing that made me want to read it, though, is Lauren’s writing. Her essays and her Twitter feed are pretty excellent reading material, so I figured a book by her would also be exceptional. And it is. There are parts that are hard to read, like the chapter she writes about being in jail. The writing was so vivid, I could feel like I was there with her — not an experience I hope to relive. It was impossi For a short period, I worked for a cult, which is part of what drew me to this book. The main thing that made me want to read it, though, is Lauren’s writing. Her essays and her Twitter feed are pretty excellent reading material, so I figured a book by her would also be exceptional. And it is. There are parts that are hard to read, like the chapter she writes about being in jail. The writing was so vivid, I could feel like I was there with her — not an experience I hope to relive. It was impossible not to feel the things she felt, to hear the voices she heard. Earlier chapters, like those about her discharge from the Air Force and her early years as an out lesbian in DC, were equally well crafted. I couldn’t stop reading them though I had other things I should have been doing. My one complaint is that many of the essays in the book were published elsewhere first and left fully intact here, which at times made for a strange experience, as you got reintroduced to people and facts as if you hadn’t just read about them in detail a few pages earlier in another chapter. But that’s a bone to pick with the editor and not Lauren. Her work is exceptional here. If you found this book because of Lauren’s viral cable guy essay from a few years back, you’re in luck: that essay is included here, but is not even close to the best in the book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Vincent Scarpa

    “There were lesbian movies, sure. But the common theme of lesbian movies in the ’90s was: There’s this lesbian who’s in love with Mary-Louise Parker, who’s nice to the lesbian. Then Mary-Louise Parker dies. That was the dream back then: one day you might have a straight friend who isn’t shitty to you.”

  26. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Avery

    From the very first sentence of the first essay in this collection, you know you're in the hands of someone who knows herself very well. Someone with a certain and unshakeable center and a voice she can deploy through a dazzling range of sincerity, humor, grief, rage. Over the course of the book, you come to learn how hard-won that center, that voice, is. Lauren Hough masterfully balances all of the modes available to her as a memoirist. She discloses things with absolutely disarming candor, as From the very first sentence of the first essay in this collection, you know you're in the hands of someone who knows herself very well. Someone with a certain and unshakeable center and a voice she can deploy through a dazzling range of sincerity, humor, grief, rage. Over the course of the book, you come to learn how hard-won that center, that voice, is. Lauren Hough masterfully balances all of the modes available to her as a memoirist. She discloses things with absolutely disarming candor, as clear-eyed about herself as she is about others--but not once in this book does the work dip into self-indulgence or self-flagellation. The book also does what is ever so much harder to do in memoir, which is to implicate the reader ... this book will get up in you, all over you. But here, too, her deftness as a writer saves the work from ever being lecture or holding forth. It's laser-tuned. The last essay in the book absolutely broke me. I will read anything this writer puts out into the world and can't wait for her next thing.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Juju

    To all the snowflake reviewers who left one star on the assumption that the author is an asshole, this same “asshole” (having never met me) drove across 3 states to hand me frozen protein shakes on my cross US bike ride, two years later she went ahead and saved my life by intuiting that I was in grave medical danger. She may be the most empathetic person I know and her only fault maybe that she feels too much...which is exactly why she writes about the human experience in such an impactful way t To all the snowflake reviewers who left one star on the assumption that the author is an asshole, this same “asshole” (having never met me) drove across 3 states to hand me frozen protein shakes on my cross US bike ride, two years later she went ahead and saved my life by intuiting that I was in grave medical danger. She may be the most empathetic person I know and her only fault maybe that she feels too much...which is exactly why she writes about the human experience in such an impactful way that hits home and brings it home to you. So sit and judge from the comfort of anonymity because hitting the one star button gives you some kind of power trip and makes you feel relevant. You’re only proving yourselves the smaller by doing so. I loved the book and love the author who wrote it even more.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Pluck

    This memoir reads like a great crime novel. An escape from a cult, bouncing in gay bars and living in cars to the DC lockup, it’s an outsider’s view of the Cult of the American dream from an unforgettable new voice. Sometimes funny, other times razor sharp, a fellow working class writer’s first book and one of my best reads of this year. Out in 2021, but get in line now.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    I tend to enjoy memoirs more than your average bear (if bears do, in fact, enjoy memoirs). But Lauren Hough's Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing is the crème de la crème. Hough's personal essays are composed of all the elements that make up a great memoir: compelling stories, good writing, and a relatable/likable narrator. Let me start with the stories. Holy guacamole has this woman seen some THINGS. She was raised in a sex cult known as the Family. She is a lesbian who was in the Air Force in the I tend to enjoy memoirs more than your average bear (if bears do, in fact, enjoy memoirs). But Lauren Hough's Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing is the crème de la crème. Hough's personal essays are composed of all the elements that make up a great memoir: compelling stories, good writing, and a relatable/likable narrator. Let me start with the stories. Holy guacamole has this woman seen some THINGS. She was raised in a sex cult known as the Family. She is a lesbian who was in the Air Force in the days of DADT and the essay that details the reasons why she left is mind blowing (I'd think it was completely made up if I didn't know this was a memoir). She went to jail because... well, the mechanics behind that one are also stranger than fiction. She's been all kinds of harassed during her stints as both a cable woman and a bar bouncer. The sordid details of just one of these essays is enough to make your head spin - and yet this woman was able to craft eleven unique tellings of outrages things she's experienced in her life. It doesn't make for an easy life, but it makes for a fascinating one. Hough's writing is uniquely her. She's sarcastic and witty and hilarious. These stories, if penned by another author, could come across as angsty and bitter. But Hough's voice makes them more it-is-what-it-is followed by a glimmer of hope. Don't get me wrong - she's no Pollyanna. But these stories didn't come across as incredibly depressing as they could have been. Instead, they come across at times as funny, at times as not-so-funny, but always leaving the reader something to ponder. As soon as I finished this book my first thought was that I'd love to sit down and discuss it with Hough over a beer. Hell, I'd love to just chat with her about anything. If these essays are any indication, she's immensely likable, relatable, interesting, humble, and other adjectives with positive connotations that are escaping me at the moment. Although my life has been anything but similar to Hough's, I have a feeling we'd be able to find common ground nevertheless. One minor gripe (a gripette, if you will) is that since these were all published as individual essays before they were smooshed together to make this here fine collection, there are a number of instances where there's some heavy overlap in the details from one essay to the next. It was a little awkward to read an anecdotal story in one essay to have it pop up again later in the collection and have it treated as if it was the first time said anecdote was revealed to the reader. Thanks bunches to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sacha

    Thanks to NetGalley and Vintage for this arc, which I received in exchange for an honest review. I’ll post that review upon publication, but there’s no mystery here; this is unquestionably a five-star collection. Details to follow... Updated 4/13/21 5 stars I loved every second of reading these essays, even when they were deeply scarring - and they were - and I can't wait to read more. Hough's life is riveting, and the kind of person with her experiences might roll them up, tuck them away, and smi Thanks to NetGalley and Vintage for this arc, which I received in exchange for an honest review. I’ll post that review upon publication, but there’s no mystery here; this is unquestionably a five-star collection. Details to follow... Updated 4/13/21 5 stars I loved every second of reading these essays, even when they were deeply scarring - and they were - and I can't wait to read more. Hough's life is riveting, and the kind of person with her experiences might roll them up, tuck them away, and smile like the lady in the "Black Hole Sun" video as they try to go through life with a history of unimaginable trauma. Or, they can be the one of the most riveting and vulnerable storytellers you've ever encountered. Obviously, Hough takes the latter path. Some of Hough's experiences might not be relatable to every reader (lucky you!), but there is not a moment when SHE seems unrelatable, and that is a feat. Her writing is funny, biting, cathartic, exposing, and gripping, and I am fully addicted to it. You will be, too. TW: rape, sexual assault, child abuse

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