Posts tagged with books:

What I’ve Read:
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani - I will always and forever be a sucker for coming of age novels set at boarding schools. In this book (set in during the Great Depression), Thea Atwell’s Florida citrus-rich family sends her to the Yonahlossee camp after a scandal that is slowly revealed in flashbacks throughout the book. The book is sensual and vivid: The horseback riding scenes (though there aren’t many of them) are especially good. Thea is an interesting character and as the story progresses, my feelings toward her become more and more complex. She’s not a conventionally likable heroine, but I did really like her. The book moves fast and feels more suspenseful than it should, given the subject matter. I felt like I was plowing through the last half because I was so anxious to see what happened. I liked that Thea was not easy to understand. Her motives were sometimes unclear, her coldness toward some characters (and warmth to others) seemed random. I thought the book was better for it—giving me room to speculate about her several days after having finished it. (One last warning! This is not a book about horses. This is a book set in a camp where they ride horses occasionally. If you want lots of horsey material, you may want to look elsewhere.) 
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan - This book is pretty brilliant. It’s also sad and introspective and thought-provoking, but mostly brilliant. It’s the story of Kim Larsen, a pretty 18-year-old, who disappears mysteriously one summer night. The police are lackadaisical about her disappearance at first, but foul play becomes evident before long. It’s a tabloid, true crime-ish plot, but it’s not really about Kim’s disappearance, or the investigation or the person who kidnapped her. It’s about the family she left behind (her mother, father and younger sister) and about the friends and boyfriend that had seen her several hours before her disappearance. The book is sparing and almost flat and I think this is purposeful. We tend to look at cases—disappearances, in particular—and concoct all of these dramatic and speculative horror stories or conspiracies, but the reality almost always seems so different. There is an initial surge of interest—a huge media push for anything, everything the family can offer. They give as much as they can and soon it fades away to a daily monotony. This portion of the book seems almost like a purgatory, with the family acting close to their normal selves. It seems strange to the reader that the family is not more dysfunctional or emotionally unstable, but taken as a whole, you can see their slow exhaustion from riding a bubble of hope and expectation. When they grow tired and that becomes too difficult to maintain, there is nothing left for them to do but resume the “normal” lives that had been put on hold. Movies and the media have led us to expect a certain kind of grieving or suspense in stories like this, but I expect this portrayal is more accurate. It feels more accurate, anyway. I occasionally watch the show Disappeared on ID and am always frustrated, sad and incredulous at the episodes where the missing person seems to have vanished into thin air. The show’s interviews with family and friends seem to echo a lot of the sadness and the desperate emptiness that O’Nan has woven into each of the characters in this book. I am glad I read it: Though it is occasionally slow and mundane, these are the same qualities that make the book so meaningful. 

What I’ve Read:

  • The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani - I will always and forever be a sucker for coming of age novels set at boarding schools. In this book (set in during the Great Depression), Thea Atwell’s Florida citrus-rich family sends her to the Yonahlossee camp after a scandal that is slowly revealed in flashbacks throughout the book. The book is sensual and vivid: The horseback riding scenes (though there aren’t many of them) are especially good. Thea is an interesting character and as the story progresses, my feelings toward her become more and more complex. She’s not a conventionally likable heroine, but I did really like her. The book moves fast and feels more suspenseful than it should, given the subject matter. I felt like I was plowing through the last half because I was so anxious to see what happened. I liked that Thea was not easy to understand. Her motives were sometimes unclear, her coldness toward some characters (and warmth to others) seemed random. I thought the book was better for it—giving me room to speculate about her several days after having finished it. (One last warning! This is not a book about horses. This is a book set in a camp where they ride horses occasionally. If you want lots of horsey material, you may want to look elsewhere.) 
  • Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan - This book is pretty brilliant. It’s also sad and introspective and thought-provoking, but mostly brilliant. It’s the story of Kim Larsen, a pretty 18-year-old, who disappears mysteriously one summer night. The police are lackadaisical about her disappearance at first, but foul play becomes evident before long. It’s a tabloid, true crime-ish plot, but it’s not really about Kim’s disappearance, or the investigation or the person who kidnapped her. It’s about the family she left behind (her mother, father and younger sister) and about the friends and boyfriend that had seen her several hours before her disappearance. The book is sparing and almost flat and I think this is purposeful. We tend to look at cases—disappearances, in particular—and concoct all of these dramatic and speculative horror stories or conspiracies, but the reality almost always seems so different. There is an initial surge of interest—a huge media push for anything, everything the family can offer. They give as much as they can and soon it fades away to a daily monotony. This portion of the book seems almost like a purgatory, with the family acting close to their normal selves. It seems strange to the reader that the family is not more dysfunctional or emotionally unstable, but taken as a whole, you can see their slow exhaustion from riding a bubble of hope and expectation. When they grow tired and that becomes too difficult to maintain, there is nothing left for them to do but resume the “normal” lives that had been put on hold. Movies and the media have led us to expect a certain kind of grieving or suspense in stories like this, but I expect this portrayal is more accurate. It feels more accurate, anyway. I occasionally watch the show Disappeared on ID and am always frustrated, sad and incredulous at the episodes where the missing person seems to have vanished into thin air. The show’s interviews with family and friends seem to echo a lot of the sadness and the desperate emptiness that O’Nan has woven into each of the characters in this book. I am glad I read it: Though it is occasionally slow and mundane, these are the same qualities that make the book so meaningful. 
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What I’ve Read:
HRC by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes - This dense, comprehensive book about Hillary Clinton’s political comeback after her loss to President Obama in the 2008 primaries is fascinating. It’s not exactly a fast read: There are so many small player political names mentioned that it’s hard keeping them straight. Still worth the read, especially if you’d like some context about how/why a 2016 presidential run could happen. (Probably will happen.) (Almost assuredly is going to happen.) 
Dare Me by Megan Abbott - I read an interview where another author recommended this book and described it as “cheerleaders meet Macbeth” and I was like YEP GOING TO READ THAT. And I did. I read it in a day. This book is the juiciest. It’s dark and twisted and set against hair bows and back handsprings and sex and love. This is the beach or vacation book I will be recommending all summer. It’s so good, and I knew that as I was reading it, but I turned the last page and then it hit me—how insanely great it was and how I haven’t really read anything like it before. “But there are a million books about teenage drama and cheerleaders,” you say. Not like this. Trust me. 
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon - Set in the 1930’s, this novel imagines what might have happened in the real-life mysterious disappearance of New York Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater. It’s all speakeasies and gangsters and showgirls and it is fabulous. It’s one of the best historical fiction books I’ve read in a while. There are a few twists that I absolutely did not see coming. I LOVE that. 
Bury This by Andrea Portes - So! This was an interesting read. It didn’t grab me right off the bat (a bit strange since the premise is an unsolved murder mystery and you know I love those), but once it got going, it went. Fast. The characterization makes this book, which is made more impressive by the fact that there is no main character. Every player (male or female) seems equally large and important and that is no small feat. There are no clear cut villains or heroes either: they’re just seemingly regular people with messy lives. (Some of that messiness is hard to forget.) Really good book. I was surprisingly moved by it. 
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup - I waited to watch the movie until I’d had a chance to read the book and I’m glad I did that. This is a book I can barely find the words to describe. It is heart-breaking and completely arresting. It’s been over 150 years since it was first published and the emotions still jump off the page so vividly. It’s hard to explain the visceral reactions I had to the book. I don’t think I have the ability to put them into words. (Nor do I want to, really.) Suffice it to say that I am glad I read this before watching the movie. It brought additional context and emotional heft to the scenes on screen. If you have not read it yet, please do. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, wait until you’ve read the book. 
Have you read any of these? I’ve been adding lots of new books to my list: What are you reading now?

What I’ve Read:

  • HRC by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes - This dense, comprehensive book about Hillary Clinton’s political comeback after her loss to President Obama in the 2008 primaries is fascinating. It’s not exactly a fast read: There are so many small player political names mentioned that it’s hard keeping them straight. Still worth the read, especially if you’d like some context about how/why a 2016 presidential run could happen. (Probably will happen.) (Almost assuredly is going to happen.) 
  • Dare Me by Megan Abbott - I read an interview where another author recommended this book and described it as “cheerleaders meet Macbeth” and I was like YEP GOING TO READ THAT. And I did. I read it in a day. This book is the juiciest. It’s dark and twisted and set against hair bows and back handsprings and sex and love. This is the beach or vacation book I will be recommending all summer. It’s so good, and I knew that as I was reading it, but I turned the last page and then it hit me—how insanely great it was and how I haven’t really read anything like it before. “But there are a million books about teenage drama and cheerleaders,” you say. Not like this. Trust me. 
  • The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon - Set in the 1930’s, this novel imagines what might have happened in the real-life mysterious disappearance of New York Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater. It’s all speakeasies and gangsters and showgirls and it is fabulous. It’s one of the best historical fiction books I’ve read in a while. There are a few twists that I absolutely did not see coming. I LOVE that. 
  • Bury This by Andrea Portes - So! This was an interesting read. It didn’t grab me right off the bat (a bit strange since the premise is an unsolved murder mystery and you know I love those), but once it got going, it went. Fast. The characterization makes this book, which is made more impressive by the fact that there is no main character. Every player (male or female) seems equally large and important and that is no small feat. There are no clear cut villains or heroes either: they’re just seemingly regular people with messy lives. (Some of that messiness is hard to forget.) Really good book. I was surprisingly moved by it. 
  • Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup - I waited to watch the movie until I’d had a chance to read the book and I’m glad I did that. This is a book I can barely find the words to describe. It is heart-breaking and completely arresting. It’s been over 150 years since it was first published and the emotions still jump off the page so vividly. It’s hard to explain the visceral reactions I had to the book. I don’t think I have the ability to put them into words. (Nor do I want to, really.) Suffice it to say that I am glad I read this before watching the movie. It brought additional context and emotional heft to the scenes on screen. If you have not read it yet, please do. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, wait until you’ve read the book. 

Have you read any of these? I’ve been adding lots of new books to my list: What are you reading now?

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Question:

Hello. We had a baby a few months ago. Do you have any suggestions for books about keeping the marriage on track after a baby? Also, can you keep the name anonymous? My husband is very private. Thanks!!

I wish I had more for you. I wish I could list 10 books that helped but I can’t. I can give you just one really good recommendation: All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior. (My review is here.) The portions about why couples can fracture post-baby was the first time I read anything that mirrored my own feelings and experiences. 

(I’m going to go off on a tangent here for a second so feel free to skip.)

  1. I’m always careful to toe the line between privacy and openness here on my blog and this post is no exception. Marriage dynamics post-baby are very tricky. I think that’s why no one talks about it. Well, almost no one. You see a million “DH is a deadbeat, I’m divorcing him tomorrow!!!!” posts on mom message boards (Babycenter, ahem). But if you look to other online communities—Instagram, Facebook, whatever—you’ll hardly ever see anyone write anything of substance about marriage post-baby. And you’ll never, ever see a prominent mom blogger discuss it unless they mention it briefly and then tritely wrap it up with how they are still so in love, and the partner is so supportive. Somehow protecting a brand is synonymous with perfect marital happiness. Other difficult, private things can be discussed, but the marriage relationship must never be examined thoughtfully. The result of this is a lot of women that look they are in perfect marriages with perfect guys that do perfect things to support their perfect home and perfect clothes and perfect meals. I used to read these blogs and go I HAVEN’T SHOWERED IN 5 DAYS HOW CAN YOU MAINTAIN THIS FLAWLESS FACADE. And I still don’t know how they do it. I don’t. 
  2. However, I’ve determined that there may be a “type” of marriage that can navigate the first year of the first child with a minimum of external tension. That marriage is a more traditional one. In a heterosexual partnership that adheres to traditional gender roles PRE-BABY, there is already an expectation that the male will do traditionally male things and the female will do traditionally female things. And post-baby, the traditionally female things will include the bulk of childcare. (Maybe all the childcare.) It probably also includes cooking, cleaning, organizing, doctor’s appointments, shopping. It may also include bills and finances. In this case, in this more traditional marriage, there is a clear expectation of what is expected from both parties long before the baby is born. Therefore, it’s no big surprise when baby arrives and Mom assumes the bulk of childcare. Dad is comfortable with his role, Mom is comfortable in her role. Tension is minimal because the expectations of child-rearing have been established for a long time. Maybe since the couple met. 
  3. So where does that leave other partnerships or marriages? In our case, my husband and I both worked full-time. We evenly split household duties, chores and responsibilities. How post-modern of us! How progressive! 
  4. But, holy shit, when Isobel was born, it’s like the world was turned completely upside down. I think Brandon expected to assume more of the childcare than he could do or that I would let him do. (That last one is key.) For my side, I expected him to anticipate and complete every single possible task that could be related to childcare on any given day. (DOESN’T HE KNOW THE BABY NEEDS A BATH) Then, I’d want to do those tasks myself anyway because I could do them faster, better. I was angry at myself for not giving him more space to carve out a place in the household and I was angry at him for not insisting on it. We were both frustrated at the traditional marriage/gender roles that we slipped into, almost immediately. 
  5. There are some extraneous things that really affect the way this plays out. Maternity/paternity leaves, for example. Brandon used vacation time to take almost two weeks off. I took a very short maternity leave and then juggled baby and full-time work from home until she was about 12 months old. Two weeks wasn’t enough time for dad to grow accustomed to the schedule and rigor of newborn care. Additionally, it’s difficult for Dad to wrap his brain around helping with a 3 am feeding when he’s got to be up at 6 am for a 12 hour work day. If we had started Isobel in daycare when she was an infant (which I would absolutely do if we ever had a second child), I think that could have helped with some of the issues that arose. I was trying to be a hero to too many people and I ended up being nothing but a failure to myself.  
  6. Another thing that really contributed to the traditional gender role tension—and is something that I almost never see discussed—is the way that breastfeeding changes the childcare dynamic. I breastfed for about 8 months (though I was only nursing in the morning and before bed by the last few weeks). I would breastfeed again. But fuck, I wish someone had told me what to expect. I don’t know what I was thinking, but for some reason my brain did not process the fact that I would be assuming the bulk of the night wakings and feedings. I had intermittent trouble with my supply and struggled to stash enough away for bottle feedings at night (which Brandon could have helped with). I also waited a long time to give a bottle in general. It was just long enough for both of us to have accepted that if the baby cried at night, I would go. And frankly, I was so highly attuned to the crying, that even if he’d helped, I would have had trouble going back to sleep. It was a very fragile, sensitive time for me. I had difficulty sleeping, difficulty waking, difficulty moving through my day. It was a fog. Anyway, my advice to moms who are breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed is that they establish ahead of time a list of tasks that the partner can accomplish since they may not be taking the night shift much at all. This could include: Making breakfast, keeping on top of the laundry, 15-20 minutes for Mom in the morning to shower, running errands for Mom before or after work (or during lunch break). If you are able to stash enough breast milk so dad can assist with a bottle at night, get earplugs, use an eye mask and kick him out of bed to do go it. Every single night. That might get you an extra 2-3 hours of sleep per night. That is A LOT. These are all things I wish I’d thought about before giving birth, because by the time the issues were actually happening, we were both too tired and overwhelmed to make logical, helpful decisions in ways that would have been beneficial to us both.  
  7. It was really difficult for me to ask Brandon for help. It was difficult for him to ask what I needed help with. This stalemated the situation and created a vicious cycle of inactivity and resentment and echoed a lot of what I read in All Joy and No Fun too. We both just wanted a few minutes to ourselves. The difference was that I felt I had to ask permission or ask for assistance in order to take that time. Ugh, it’s a mess, huh? I noticed that I sometimes thought of Brandon more like a babysitter (“Can you watch Isobel for 30 minutes so I can go get a pedicure?”) instead of my husband and her father (“I’m going to go get a pedicure, there is a bottle in the fridge, Bye!”). This was frustrating for Brandon too. When we look back on this time, we’re both irritated by how little we communicated about our frustrations and how easily we slipped into tired cliches. (They’re cliches for a reason, I guess.) He didn’t like that I would be like, “Are you sure you’re okay to watch her while I go to the grocery store for 10 minutes?” He’d think, well, she must not trust me to be a very good dad! And I’m thinking to myself, I wish he’d noticed we needed groceries! Finding a way to reconcile the way we used to split household responsibilities with all the new childcare responsibilities was challenging. 
  8. I don’t have a magical piece of advice that can string all of this together. But what I can tell you is that although I don’t know the specifics of your situation, I can sympathize with your general question. I’ve been there. We’ve been there. It was difficult for us to translate an equal marriage (in terms of us having a dual-income household that we held equal responsibility for) into equal parenting. The silver lining here is that once we pushed through the difficult months and sat down to discuss our individual issues, our relationship improved. A lot. We felt stronger and happier for having had to navigate through this major life change together
  9. I hope you’re still reading given that I kind of blacked out and just typed 10 paragraphs. :/ 
  10. You’ve got this. Now go for a pedicure! 
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Beach Reads:

hey! I’m going on vacay next week and am looking for some good beach reads. I’m not picky—anything good that has stood out to you lately? Thanks :) — alexash

I haven’t read many beachy books lately, but one I read this year that might qualify is The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol (review here). 

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright would be a GREAT beach book. It’s so insane and juicy and weird. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan is another option. It’s fun and over the top. 

If you like politics, I’m reading HRC by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes right now and it’s great. 

If none of these strike you, check out my best books list for 2013 here. (The links to my best books for previous years are at the bottom of the post.) 

Any recent beach read suggestions?

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Currently reading

Don’t know yet if I’ll post whole reviews of these, but I’ve been mentioning over on Twitter how I am completely engrossed in the MH 370 shitshow. That spiraled into a general aviation book hunt and I just finished with a summary of aviation disasters so basically I’m never going to stop reading about airplanes. ANYWAY.

(You should have seen when I was obsessed with submarines. And—as I’ve pointed out to Brandon—at least I’m not reading about serial killers…anymore.) 

I had a few people ask on Twitter what books I’ve been reading so here is a short list if you’d like to venture into the abyss with me:

  • Fly by Wire by William Langewiesche - This is very well-written, not too technical. It gives a great overview of fly by wire aircraft and intertwines general aviation history/the origin of fly by wire aircraft/etc. with the story of the Hudson River landing in 2009. 
  • Understanding Air France 447 by Bill Palmer - This is a highly technical account of the Air France 447 tragedy. I was fascinated by how technical it was—and I’m glad I read it after Fly by Wire.
  • Black Box by Nicholas Faith - Overviews and analysis of some of the most complex and notorious airplane crashes.

We (by “we,” I mean just me but it sounds better to say we) also watched the TWA Flight 800 documentary on Netflix a few days ago. If you like conspiracy theories (WHO DOESN’T), you are guaranteed to lose at least a few additional hours post-documentary scouring the Internet for more information. 

P.S. By the way, here’s the submarine book I read in the 7th or 8th grade that started everything. HAVE FUN.

 

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Been reading a lot of nonfiction lately (including a lot of airplane-related books but those are for a later review). 
What I’ve Read:
Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston - This is a sobering book. No pun intended—really. The research and anecdotal evidence that Johnston presents is a somber, thought-provoking look at the modern woman’s relationship with alcohol. Johnston, a recovering alcoholic, sets a foundation for the research she cites by telling about her own history with alcohol and her fight to get sober and stay sober. The book does not coddle or waste your time. Johnston has a very specific message she’s trying to get across and it is vividly (painfully) real from the first page. Johnston’s lifelong struggle with having an alcoholic mother made her swear she would never do the same thing to her family and it is heartbreaking to read how subtly, sneakily she began to walk down the same path. There is something startling about reading a book that describes so perfectly the way that I know I (and many other women, friends, coworkers) feel about alcohol. Johnston describes the ever-increasing pressures on women and how this relates to the pressure release valve of the first glass of wine at the end of a long day. God knows I can relate to that. In one portion, Johnston talks about how she loved even the ritual of opening the bottle—removing the cork, hearing the wine glug into the glass, the first warming sip. I have never been a big drinker, but I admit that over the past—oh, 4?— years, my relationship to wine has gotten…closer. This book is worth anyone’s time to read, but I encourage fellow women to pick it up. Her close examination of the way modern women drink (and her research about how women metabolize alcohol differently than men) was eye-opening. In one portion, she cites a CDC report that says female binge drinking (four or more drinks on one occasion in the past month) is a serious unrecognized problem. “Almost 14 million American girls and women binge drink an average of three times each month, typically consuming six drinks per bingeing episode. Meanwhile, one in five high school girls binge drinks.” The age of women most likely to binge drink? Women aged 18-34 with higher household incomes. The health risks Johnston points to are acute: breast cancer, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. She also points out that binge drinkers aren’t necessarily addicted to alcohol. It’s just the way modern women have learned to drink. She cites many reasons for this: The marketing of alcohol specifically to women (Skinnygirl products, for example), the tendency for high school and college-aged women to drink clear liquors like vodka to avoid calories (and thus developing a taste early on for stronger alcoholic drinks), etc. At one point, Johnston writes: “Women need a break. They feel they deserve a break. And if drinking is about escape, it is also about entitlement and empowerment.” At another point, she says, “Has alcohol become the modern woman’s steroid, enabling her to do the heavy lifting necessary in an endlessly complex world? Is it the escape valve women need, in the midst of a major social revolution still unfolding? How much of this is marketing, and how much is the need to numb?” I thought about that for a long time. I’m still thinking about it. 
All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior - If you are a parent or thinking about becoming a parent at some point, you should read this book. I have read some very terrible, very mediocre and very, very good parenting books and this one is very, very good. Instead of looking at how parents affect children, this book looks exclusively at how people are affected once they become parents. It’s a wonderful, much-needed point of view. The book is a combination of research and in-depth interviews with parents and the result is very readable and moves quite quickly. One paragraph in particular stood out to me: “The phrase ‘having it all’ has little to do with what women want. If anything, it’s a reflection of a widespread and misplaced cultural belief, shared by men and women alike: that we, as middle-class Americans, have been given infinite promise, and it’s our obligation to exploit every ounce of it. ‘Having it all’ is the phrase of a culture, that as Adam Phillips implies in Missing Out, is tyrannized by the idea of its own potential.” Thank God. I have never hated a phrase more. Instead of showing why parents can’t have it all or posturing that yes, you can have it all (you just must follow this advice to the letter), this book finally drills into the origins and expectations that the idea of “having it all” encompasses. What is it about our ideas of parenting that lead us to believe it will be something that it often is not? The world of parenting I am most familiar with is the one on blogs. If you look at that microcosm in the larger context of this book and parenting at large, you can begin to see why women especially are (often quietly) wondering why they don’t measure up. Why isn’t it the perfect happiness they were led to believe it would be? Why is it…actual work? How am I sleep deprived, ready to lose my mind, want to murder my partner and this other mom looks beautiful, well-rested and is dressing her child in $80 organic cotton onesies? Why is parenting so hard for ME? This book shows parenting in a light that few other books detail. Because it’s not focused on the “how’s” of parenting, it paints an accurate (research-backed) look at actual parenting. The affects of sleep deprivation. The ways that a marriage or partnership can change—more commonly for the worse—once a child has entered the picture. (The chapter on how each parent in a partnership is always convinced that he or she has had the more difficult week made me shudder in recognition.) I particularly enjoyed the chapters about raising older children too. I feel I am stuck in a baby/toddler parenting vortex and there is little I can see (or want to see) outside of that. I know that’s due to my own preferences (I don’t need to read articles about parenting teenagers right now), but parenting websites are so heavily geared toward younger children. Will that shift as our generation grows and our children grow too? Or will there always be a gap there? Senior has an interesting hypothesis about this. “It’s not an accident that most parenting blogs are written by mothers and fathers of small children. Part of it, yes, is that these parents are responding to the novelty of their situation. But part of it, too, is that the challenges they’re writing about are usually so generic that they’re betraying no confidences in revealing them. It does not violate your children’s privacy to say they detest peas, and it’s not a particularly poor reflection on your parenting either. Whereas writing about adolescents is different.” Senior talks about how this, and many other things, contribute to parents of adolescents feeling very isolated. Lots of food for thought here and I may reread the book again soon to pick up on some things I may have missed. I highly recommend it—and as I said before, if you are considering having children at some point and especially if you are considering having them soon, this book should certainly be added to your to-read list. 
Would love to hear your thoughts. Have you read either book?

Been reading a lot of nonfiction lately (including a lot of airplane-related books but those are for a later review). 

What I’ve Read:

  • Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston - This is a sobering book. No pun intended—really. The research and anecdotal evidence that Johnston presents is a somber, thought-provoking look at the modern woman’s relationship with alcohol. Johnston, a recovering alcoholic, sets a foundation for the research she cites by telling about her own history with alcohol and her fight to get sober and stay sober. The book does not coddle or waste your time. Johnston has a very specific message she’s trying to get across and it is vividly (painfully) real from the first page. Johnston’s lifelong struggle with having an alcoholic mother made her swear she would never do the same thing to her family and it is heartbreaking to read how subtly, sneakily she began to walk down the same path. There is something startling about reading a book that describes so perfectly the way that I know I (and many other women, friends, coworkers) feel about alcohol. Johnston describes the ever-increasing pressures on women and how this relates to the pressure release valve of the first glass of wine at the end of a long day. God knows I can relate to that. In one portion, Johnston talks about how she loved even the ritual of opening the bottle—removing the cork, hearing the wine glug into the glass, the first warming sip. I have never been a big drinker, but I admit that over the past—oh, 4?— years, my relationship to wine has gotten…closer. This book is worth anyone’s time to read, but I encourage fellow women to pick it up. Her close examination of the way modern women drink (and her research about how women metabolize alcohol differently than men) was eye-opening. In one portion, she cites a CDC report that says female binge drinking (four or more drinks on one occasion in the past month) is a serious unrecognized problem. “Almost 14 million American girls and women binge drink an average of three times each month, typically consuming six drinks per bingeing episode. Meanwhile, one in five high school girls binge drinks.” The age of women most likely to binge drink? Women aged 18-34 with higher household incomes. The health risks Johnston points to are acute: breast cancer, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. She also points out that binge drinkers aren’t necessarily addicted to alcohol. It’s just the way modern women have learned to drink. She cites many reasons for this: The marketing of alcohol specifically to women (Skinnygirl products, for example), the tendency for high school and college-aged women to drink clear liquors like vodka to avoid calories (and thus developing a taste early on for stronger alcoholic drinks), etc. At one point, Johnston writes: “Women need a break. They feel they deserve a break. And if drinking is about escape, it is also about entitlement and empowerment.” At another point, she says, “Has alcohol become the modern woman’s steroid, enabling her to do the heavy lifting necessary in an endlessly complex world? Is it the escape valve women need, in the midst of a major social revolution still unfolding? How much of this is marketing, and how much is the need to numb?” I thought about that for a long time. I’m still thinking about it. 
  • All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior - If you are a parent or thinking about becoming a parent at some point, you should read this book. I have read some very terrible, very mediocre and very, very good parenting books and this one is very, very good. Instead of looking at how parents affect children, this book looks exclusively at how people are affected once they become parents. It’s a wonderful, much-needed point of view. The book is a combination of research and in-depth interviews with parents and the result is very readable and moves quite quickly. One paragraph in particular stood out to me: “The phrase ‘having it all’ has little to do with what women want. If anything, it’s a reflection of a widespread and misplaced cultural belief, shared by men and women alike: that we, as middle-class Americans, have been given infinite promise, and it’s our obligation to exploit every ounce of it. ‘Having it all’ is the phrase of a culture, that as Adam Phillips implies in Missing Out, is tyrannized by the idea of its own potential.” Thank God. I have never hated a phrase more. Instead of showing why parents can’t have it all or posturing that yes, you can have it all (you just must follow this advice to the letter), this book finally drills into the origins and expectations that the idea of “having it all” encompasses. What is it about our ideas of parenting that lead us to believe it will be something that it often is not? The world of parenting I am most familiar with is the one on blogs. If you look at that microcosm in the larger context of this book and parenting at large, you can begin to see why women especially are (often quietly) wondering why they don’t measure up. Why isn’t it the perfect happiness they were led to believe it would be? Why is it…actual work? How am I sleep deprived, ready to lose my mind, want to murder my partner and this other mom looks beautiful, well-rested and is dressing her child in $80 organic cotton onesies? Why is parenting so hard for ME? This book shows parenting in a light that few other books detail. Because it’s not focused on the “how’s” of parenting, it paints an accurate (research-backed) look at actual parenting. The affects of sleep deprivation. The ways that a marriage or partnership can change—more commonly for the worse—once a child has entered the picture. (The chapter on how each parent in a partnership is always convinced that he or she has had the more difficult week made me shudder in recognition.) I particularly enjoyed the chapters about raising older children too. I feel I am stuck in a baby/toddler parenting vortex and there is little I can see (or want to see) outside of that. I know that’s due to my own preferences (I don’t need to read articles about parenting teenagers right now), but parenting websites are so heavily geared toward younger children. Will that shift as our generation grows and our children grow too? Or will there always be a gap there? Senior has an interesting hypothesis about this. “It’s not an accident that most parenting blogs are written by mothers and fathers of small children. Part of it, yes, is that these parents are responding to the novelty of their situation. But part of it, too, is that the challenges they’re writing about are usually so generic that they’re betraying no confidences in revealing them. It does not violate your children’s privacy to say they detest peas, and it’s not a particularly poor reflection on your parenting either. Whereas writing about adolescents is different.” Senior talks about how this, and many other things, contribute to parents of adolescents feeling very isolated. Lots of food for thought here and I may reread the book again soon to pick up on some things I may have missed. I highly recommend it—and as I said before, if you are considering having children at some point and especially if you are considering having them soon, this book should certainly be added to your to-read list. 

Would love to hear your thoughts. Have you read either book?

  • k 46 notes
What I’ve Read:
Submergence by J. M. Ledgard - Both books I’m reviewing in this post are sensory treats, but this is the darker of the two. Submergence is about James More, an English spy who is captured by Somalia-based jihadists in the opening of the book. The rest of the tale—mainly about his love affair with an oceanographer he meets a hotel just before the Somalia trip—is explored in flashbacks, while their present stories are told in parallel through the end of the book. Danielle, the oceanographer, is unaware that James has been kidnapped, and is simply working and preparing for a research expedition to study deep-sea vents. (“Into the abyss” is a heavy-handed metaphor, but it works here.) The book goes back and forth between mostly straightforward prose (describing characters, conversations, happenings) and almost poetic philosophical “shorts” that become the thread tying all of it together. It was a beautiful, sad, thought-provoking book to read. Not a light read, but I’ve had enough of those lately. 
Alena by Rachel Pastan - I heard about this book and another (reviewed here) in an NPR interview and I’m so glad I read it. It’s a modern retelling of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and manages to capture some of the original intrigue from that book while re-imagining the setting and characters in exciting, new ways. We never learn the name of our protagonist, but we do know she met the owner of a Cape Cod-based art museum in Venice while attending an art festival and after spending some time with him there, accepted his offer to become the new curator of his museum. The former curator—Alena—disappeared mysteriously, but is assumed to have been swept out to sea during one of her regular nighttime ocean swims. Relatively inexperienced, the protagonist stumbles into the prestigious job with insecurities about her creative vision, made worse by the fact that the ghost of Alena haunts her incessantly. Alena’s office. Alena’s brilliance. Her beauty, confidence, worldliness. Everything about the museum is Alena and she struggles to find her place, while also navigating the relationship with her strangely distant new boss, the friendly town sheriff and the Alena-obsessed museum employees she now manages. The descriptions of contemporary art are reason enough to read this. The artwork is brought to life so realistically that it seemed I was actually looking at them. The Cape Cod setting is another highlight. The ocean plays a huge role in the book and the stormy, windy, unpredictable shoreline could almost be a separate character. There is a major difference between Alena and Rebecca (that I won’t spoil for you) and it recast the story and the relationships between the characters differently, but not in an unsatisfying way. I liked the modern spin, really enjoyed the book and found the last few pages especially good. 
I’m reading Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston now but am prowling for a new book for when I’m done with it. Any suggestions?

What I’ve Read:

  • Submergence by J. M. Ledgard - Both books I’m reviewing in this post are sensory treats, but this is the darker of the two. Submergence is about James More, an English spy who is captured by Somalia-based jihadists in the opening of the book. The rest of the tale—mainly about his love affair with an oceanographer he meets a hotel just before the Somalia trip—is explored in flashbacks, while their present stories are told in parallel through the end of the book. Danielle, the oceanographer, is unaware that James has been kidnapped, and is simply working and preparing for a research expedition to study deep-sea vents. (“Into the abyss” is a heavy-handed metaphor, but it works here.) The book goes back and forth between mostly straightforward prose (describing characters, conversations, happenings) and almost poetic philosophical “shorts” that become the thread tying all of it together. It was a beautiful, sad, thought-provoking book to read. Not a light read, but I’ve had enough of those lately. 
  • Alena by Rachel Pastan - I heard about this book and another (reviewed here) in an NPR interview and I’m so glad I read it. It’s a modern retelling of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and manages to capture some of the original intrigue from that book while re-imagining the setting and characters in exciting, new ways. We never learn the name of our protagonist, but we do know she met the owner of a Cape Cod-based art museum in Venice while attending an art festival and after spending some time with him there, accepted his offer to become the new curator of his museum. The former curator—Alena—disappeared mysteriously, but is assumed to have been swept out to sea during one of her regular nighttime ocean swims. Relatively inexperienced, the protagonist stumbles into the prestigious job with insecurities about her creative vision, made worse by the fact that the ghost of Alena haunts her incessantly. Alena’s office. Alena’s brilliance. Her beauty, confidence, worldliness. Everything about the museum is Alena and she struggles to find her place, while also navigating the relationship with her strangely distant new boss, the friendly town sheriff and the Alena-obsessed museum employees she now manages. The descriptions of contemporary art are reason enough to read this. The artwork is brought to life so realistically that it seemed I was actually looking at them. The Cape Cod setting is another highlight. The ocean plays a huge role in the book and the stormy, windy, unpredictable shoreline could almost be a separate character. There is a major difference between Alena and Rebecca (that I won’t spoil for you) and it recast the story and the relationships between the characters differently, but not in an unsatisfying way. I liked the modern spin, really enjoyed the book and found the last few pages especially good. 

I’m reading Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston now but am prowling for a new book for when I’m done with it. Any suggestions?

  • k 34 notes
What I’ve Read: The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol 
I heard the most charming review of this book (and another that I’m reading right now: Alena by Rachel Pastan) on NPR. I bought it as soon as I got my hands on my Kindle.
I wasn’t as charmed by the book as I was by the review, but it turned out to be the kind of light, palette-cleansing book that was exactly what I needed this week. 
The book was written in French and translated to English by two people and that (in hindsight) makes a lot of sense. The book can feel abruptly disjointed. Almost like two separate people translated it! -_____- Anyway, sometimes the prose flows well and other times it’s painfully obvious that French colloquialisms have been awkwardly transformed into English ones. Luckily I found this more of an annoyance than an actual distraction from the engaging story and characters. 
The book is about Josephine, a suburban Paris mom whose unemployed husband runs off to Kenya with his mistress to start a crocodile farm. To make matters worse, Josephine’s job as a researcher of 12th century France isn’t quite enough to pay the bills after her ex-husband takes out a loan in her name to get the crocodile farm underway. Left in financial straits (with a teenage and pre-teen daughter begging for new clothes and computers), she agrees to her wealthy/bored sister’s plan to ghostwrite a 12th century chick lit novel while her sister pretends to be the author and handles the promotion and interviews. Affairs, secrets and general mayhem ensues. (Of course.) 
Long story short? The book wasn’t perfect but it was fun. And fun is just right sometimes. 

What I’ve Read: The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol 

I heard the most charming review of this book (and another that I’m reading right now: Alena by Rachel Pastan) on NPR. I bought it as soon as I got my hands on my Kindle.

I wasn’t as charmed by the book as I was by the review, but it turned out to be the kind of light, palette-cleansing book that was exactly what I needed this week. 

The book was written in French and translated to English by two people and that (in hindsight) makes a lot of sense. The book can feel abruptly disjointed. Almost like two separate people translated it! -_____- Anyway, sometimes the prose flows well and other times it’s painfully obvious that French colloquialisms have been awkwardly transformed into English ones. Luckily I found this more of an annoyance than an actual distraction from the engaging story and characters. 

The book is about Josephine, a suburban Paris mom whose unemployed husband runs off to Kenya with his mistress to start a crocodile farm. To make matters worse, Josephine’s job as a researcher of 12th century France isn’t quite enough to pay the bills after her ex-husband takes out a loan in her name to get the crocodile farm underway. Left in financial straits (with a teenage and pre-teen daughter begging for new clothes and computers), she agrees to her wealthy/bored sister’s plan to ghostwrite a 12th century chick lit novel while her sister pretends to be the author and handles the promotion and interviews. Affairs, secrets and general mayhem ensues. (Of course.) 

Long story short? The book wasn’t perfect but it was fun. And fun is just right sometimes. 

  • k 8 notes
What I’ve Read
I’m way behind on reviews and couldn’t wait to share a few of these. 
The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg - I’ve given her books mediocre reviews before but this one—a continuation in her series about detective Patrik Hedstrom—is her best I’ve read yet. It was nuanced, thrilling and even though I figured out the BIG TWIST before the book revealed it, it didn’t feel like a letdown. 
Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson - I’ve had this on my Kindle forever but finally got around to reading it after we saw the movie. (I know, I know.) Regarding the book itself, I was pleased that Robinson made a genuine effort to capture Luttrell’s unique voice. Instead of organizing the story into more of a standard ghost-written “clean” form, it’s obvious that Luttrell’s telling of the story was conveyed pretty accurately onto the page. The content of book is, of course, immensely sad and powerful. The first part of the book is fascinating too—detailing Luttrell’s military background and SEAL training. 
Eat and Run by Scott Jurek - Ultramarathons. What fresh fuckery are these? I used to run (no longer!) but never at very long distances and it made me tired just reading about this guy running 150 miles and WINNING. His accomplishments seem almost super-human, but the book is incredibly down-to-earth and even includes his favorite recipes and various running/cross-training tips. I sometimes think about this book at the gym because no matter how much I’m sweating, at least I’m not voluntarily running a 150 mile race in Death Valley. 
The Best American Crime Reporting (2008) compiled by Jonathan Kellerman - I bought this on the Kindle during a daily deal promotion or something and I’m going to read the other collections as soon as possible. I don’t know how I haven’t gotten my paws on these before (RIGHT IN MY WHEELHOUSE), but the shorter articles included are perfect for fitting in right before I pass out asleep at night. The content is varied and it’s all interesting, but I liked two articles especially. One was about Charles Cullen (the subject of this book I reviewed last year) and the other was about Chinese military murdering Tibetan refugees in sight of climbers at the base of Cho Oyu. Pretty haunting. 
Remote by Jason Fried and David Hansson - If you work remotely or want to work remotely, this book is a must-read. It’s short, concise and fascinating. I expected it to include more strategy about the implementation or mechanics of remote working, but it focuses more deeply on why remote employees make sense and why employers need to take a closer look at the advantages of remote work. I wish there had been more of the former, but it was still worth the read. This is a subject that I think will see a lot more attention paid to it over the next 5-10 years and I enjoyed this as an opening act to what will likely become a pretty heated, ongoing conversation in the nonfiction book world about work flexibility and remote employees. As a side note, it’s written by the two founders of 37signals—I use their products for my work—and I liked hearing their philosophies in the context of how Basecamp, etc., make my job so much easier. 
Rustication by Charles Palliser - This is a contender for one of my top books of the year already but we’ve got a long way to go. Rustication really confounded me. I loved it, then hated it, then REALLY LOVED HATING IT then just plain loved it when it completely fooled me in the end. Rustication refers to the archaic term for being suspended from school for doing something naughty. In this case, our quite unlikable little protagonist Richard Shenstone is sent home from his school for reasons not quite explained but may have something to do with his opium addiction. He arrives at his family’s large but shabby and creepy home to find things looking a little suspicious—then VERY suspicious. He doesn’t know who he can trust and rumors and bloody happenings in his small town up the spook factor with each page. It’s the anti-Downton Abbey mixed with a little bit of the recent movie The Woman in Black and it pulled me ALL the way in. One more thing: The plot twists are pretty insane and I admit that they caught me completely by surprise. I love that. 
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed - What can I say about this that hasn’t already been said? Not much, probably. I bought this book a long time ago and didn’t touch it. I wasn’t ready to read it because, by all accounts, it would turn me into a quivering emotional mess and yes, that is accurate. It did. But it’s worth the emotional breakdown because in the end, I did feel like I was seeing things with a new compassionate clarity that was missing almost entirely before. If you’re looking for something to do tonight, I can think of no better book to start on Valentine’s Day than this. Not because it’s romantic or sweet or any of those treacly Valentine’s Day things. No—you should read it because it’s about loving yourself, choosing your truth and discovering that even the most unthinkable things or the most grievous mistakes don’t have to just be an ending. They can be a beginning too. 
What are you guys reading these days?

What I’ve Read

I’m way behind on reviews and couldn’t wait to share a few of these. 

  • The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg - I’ve given her books mediocre reviews before but this one—a continuation in her series about detective Patrik Hedstrom—is her best I’ve read yet. It was nuanced, thrilling and even though I figured out the BIG TWIST before the book revealed it, it didn’t feel like a letdown. 
  • Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson - I’ve had this on my Kindle forever but finally got around to reading it after we saw the movie. (I know, I know.) Regarding the book itself, I was pleased that Robinson made a genuine effort to capture Luttrell’s unique voice. Instead of organizing the story into more of a standard ghost-written “clean” form, it’s obvious that Luttrell’s telling of the story was conveyed pretty accurately onto the page. The content of book is, of course, immensely sad and powerful. The first part of the book is fascinating too—detailing Luttrell’s military background and SEAL training. 
  • Eat and Run by Scott Jurek - Ultramarathons. What fresh fuckery are these? I used to run (no longer!) but never at very long distances and it made me tired just reading about this guy running 150 miles and WINNING. His accomplishments seem almost super-human, but the book is incredibly down-to-earth and even includes his favorite recipes and various running/cross-training tips. I sometimes think about this book at the gym because no matter how much I’m sweating, at least I’m not voluntarily running a 150 mile race in Death Valley. 
  • The Best American Crime Reporting (2008) compiled by Jonathan Kellerman - I bought this on the Kindle during a daily deal promotion or something and I’m going to read the other collections as soon as possible. I don’t know how I haven’t gotten my paws on these before (RIGHT IN MY WHEELHOUSE), but the shorter articles included are perfect for fitting in right before I pass out asleep at night. The content is varied and it’s all interesting, but I liked two articles especially. One was about Charles Cullen (the subject of this book I reviewed last year) and the other was about Chinese military murdering Tibetan refugees in sight of climbers at the base of Cho Oyu. Pretty haunting. 
  • Remote by Jason Fried and David Hansson - If you work remotely or want to work remotely, this book is a must-read. It’s short, concise and fascinating. I expected it to include more strategy about the implementation or mechanics of remote working, but it focuses more deeply on why remote employees make sense and why employers need to take a closer look at the advantages of remote work. I wish there had been more of the former, but it was still worth the read. This is a subject that I think will see a lot more attention paid to it over the next 5-10 years and I enjoyed this as an opening act to what will likely become a pretty heated, ongoing conversation in the nonfiction book world about work flexibility and remote employees. As a side note, it’s written by the two founders of 37signals—I use their products for my work—and I liked hearing their philosophies in the context of how Basecamp, etc., make my job so much easier. 
  • Rustication by Charles Palliser - This is a contender for one of my top books of the year already but we’ve got a long way to go. Rustication really confounded me. I loved it, then hated it, then REALLY LOVED HATING IT then just plain loved it when it completely fooled me in the end. Rustication refers to the archaic term for being suspended from school for doing something naughty. In this case, our quite unlikable little protagonist Richard Shenstone is sent home from his school for reasons not quite explained but may have something to do with his opium addiction. He arrives at his family’s large but shabby and creepy home to find things looking a little suspicious—then VERY suspicious. He doesn’t know who he can trust and rumors and bloody happenings in his small town up the spook factor with each page. It’s the anti-Downton Abbey mixed with a little bit of the recent movie The Woman in Black and it pulled me ALL the way in. One more thing: The plot twists are pretty insane and I admit that they caught me completely by surprise. I love that. 
  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed - What can I say about this that hasn’t already been said? Not much, probably. I bought this book a long time ago and didn’t touch it. I wasn’t ready to read it because, by all accounts, it would turn me into a quivering emotional mess and yes, that is accurate. It did. But it’s worth the emotional breakdown because in the end, I did feel like I was seeing things with a new compassionate clarity that was missing almost entirely before. If you’re looking for something to do tonight, I can think of no better book to start on Valentine’s Day than this. Not because it’s romantic or sweet or any of those treacly Valentine’s Day things. No—you should read it because it’s about loving yourself, choosing your truth and discovering that even the most unthinkable things or the most grievous mistakes don’t have to just be an ending. They can be a beginning too. 

What are you guys reading these days?

  • k 26 notes
This is the neatest gift for a book-lover. It’s a set of notecards that are reproductions of Library of Congress’ card catalog placeholders for classic books. It’s just $20 from Modcloth. 

This is the neatest gift for a book-lover. It’s a set of notecards that are reproductions of Library of Congress’ card catalog placeholders for classic books. It’s just $20 from Modcloth. 

  • k 70 notes