Posts tagged with ‘memoir’

What I’ve Read:
Wheelmen by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell - I’ve now read several books about the Lance Armstrong fiasco and this one differs by coming at the doping conspiracy from a mostly financial perspective. Lance Armstrong The Athlete is superficially discussed (his Tour de France wins occupy a few paragraphs each), but Lance Armstrong The Celebrity and Lance Armstrong The Charity Founder are researched in great detail. It might be easy—especially if you didn’t get interested in this story until it started blowing up—to wonder why Lance’s doping seems to fully eclipse the other cyclists who transfused their blood alongside him. Why is he so vilified, especially when you take into account his massive personal and financial investment in a cancer foundation he created? Wheelmen lays out that answer very neatly. It’s no secret that Lance Armstrong was a focused, driven, ambitious athlete with a mean streak. Wheelmen demonstrates how his personality and ego were very complementary of the general corporate greed and powerful sports entities that have followed him through the past few decades. Since his admission to Oprah on TV that he did dope during his Tour wins, he has continued to frame the doping in a leveling-the-playing-field context. If you didn’t dope, you weren’t even a competitor. This trite, dismissive attitude is laughable against the backdrop of the Armstrong Machine that the authors of Wheelmen write about. Did other cyclists lose $75 million in sponsorships in a single day after recording a poorly performed interview with the most famous talk show host in the world? No. That’s why they’re still writing books about this cyclist. And, as far as the Lance Armstrong-postmortem books go, this is a good one.  
Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan - You may know Boylan from her memoir She’s Not There. In this book, Boylan talks about parenting roles and how her personal parenting experiences in different genders (pre- and post-transition, primarily) impacted her and her family. Boylan writes beautifully. She is funny, insightful and poignant—sometimes all in the same paragraph. Her memoir portions of the book are fantastic. Unfortunately, there are regular breaks for short Q&A interview sessions Boylan conducts with other writers, friends, etc. I found these uneven—some were very insightful, others not so much—and I started skimming through them hoping to return quickly to Boylan’s story. And another thing: While I enjoyed (loved) Boylan’s voice throughout the story, the story omits her wife’s point of view almost entirely. Boylan mentions wife Deidre often, but we get little idea about their personal relationship or interactions. I get it—this IS Boylan’s memoir after all or perhaps there were privacy issues involved—but Boylan’s intimate memories of her sons felt incredibly rich and detailed compared to the references to Deidre. Although I wanted more—more Boylan, more Deidre—I still came away thinking this book was pretty great. It was sweet and heart-warming, full of love and food for thought. I received this book free in exchange for a review. 
Have you read either one? What are you all reading now?

What I’ve Read:

  • Wheelmen by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell - I’ve now read several books about the Lance Armstrong fiasco and this one differs by coming at the doping conspiracy from a mostly financial perspective. Lance Armstrong The Athlete is superficially discussed (his Tour de France wins occupy a few paragraphs each), but Lance Armstrong The Celebrity and Lance Armstrong The Charity Founder are researched in great detail. It might be easy—especially if you didn’t get interested in this story until it started blowing up—to wonder why Lance’s doping seems to fully eclipse the other cyclists who transfused their blood alongside him. Why is he so vilified, especially when you take into account his massive personal and financial investment in a cancer foundation he created? Wheelmen lays out that answer very neatly. It’s no secret that Lance Armstrong was a focused, driven, ambitious athlete with a mean streak. Wheelmen demonstrates how his personality and ego were very complementary of the general corporate greed and powerful sports entities that have followed him through the past few decades. Since his admission to Oprah on TV that he did dope during his Tour wins, he has continued to frame the doping in a leveling-the-playing-field context. If you didn’t dope, you weren’t even a competitor. This trite, dismissive attitude is laughable against the backdrop of the Armstrong Machine that the authors of Wheelmen write about. Did other cyclists lose $75 million in sponsorships in a single day after recording a poorly performed interview with the most famous talk show host in the world? No. That’s why they’re still writing books about this cyclist. And, as far as the Lance Armstrong-postmortem books go, this is a good one.  
  • Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan - You may know Boylan from her memoir She’s Not There. In this book, Boylan talks about parenting roles and how her personal parenting experiences in different genders (pre- and post-transition, primarily) impacted her and her family. Boylan writes beautifully. She is funny, insightful and poignant—sometimes all in the same paragraph. Her memoir portions of the book are fantastic. Unfortunately, there are regular breaks for short Q&A interview sessions Boylan conducts with other writers, friends, etc. I found these uneven—some were very insightful, others not so much—and I started skimming through them hoping to return quickly to Boylan’s story. And another thing: While I enjoyed (loved) Boylan’s voice throughout the story, the story omits her wife’s point of view almost entirely. Boylan mentions wife Deidre often, but we get little idea about their personal relationship or interactions. I get it—this IS Boylan’s memoir after all or perhaps there were privacy issues involved—but Boylan’s intimate memories of her sons felt incredibly rich and detailed compared to the references to Deidre. Although I wanted more—more Boylan, more Deidre—I still came away thinking this book was pretty great. It was sweet and heart-warming, full of love and food for thought. I received this book free in exchange for a review. 

Have you read either one? What are you all reading now?

What I’ve Read: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
The title is amazing. The book is pretty fun. As far as travel/romance memoirs go, this is one of the better ones I’ve read. There have been many of these and I can’t keep them all straight anymore. They’re a tropical beach blend of spiritual experiences and handsome, exotic men. I don’t have problems with any of these things, by the way. Just that everything in the post-Eat, Pray, Love memoir genre reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love. I think (I know) that EPL—which Newman mocks in this memoir—has made me very wary of the travel/romance/life-lessons memoir. I’m too skeptical of the author’s intentions. Do you want Julia Roberts to play you too? I don’t think Kristin Newman does, but like I said: Eat, Pray, Love has ruined a lot of things. 
But I digress! Newman writes well (she’s a successful television writer) and the parts of the book that talk about how and why she changed her views on relationships are astute and funny and bittersweet. Her examination of her family history adds a lot of depth to the story and I appreciated her being willing to look at her entire life and write about it in a genuine way. That would be enough to bump it to the top of the EPL genre list, since most of those books attempt to be self-deprecating but fail miserably. (“My biggest flaw is that I am too much of a perfectionist! Everything is done perfectly, what a burden! This is what caused my divorce, obviously.”) Anyway, this book is deeper and more introspective than you might expect. There are several moments that hit me pretty hard. (There’s one in particular. Still thinking about it.) I love being surprised by a book in a good way. I must find my passport! A trip is overdue. 
I received this review copy for free, but I’ll always write an honest review. Even if I hate it. Especially if I hate it! I love writing angry reviews. 
Have you read this yet?

What I’ve Read: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

The title is amazing. The book is pretty fun. As far as travel/romance memoirs go, this is one of the better ones I’ve read. There have been many of these and I can’t keep them all straight anymore. They’re a tropical beach blend of spiritual experiences and handsome, exotic men. I don’t have problems with any of these things, by the way. Just that everything in the post-Eat, Pray, Love memoir genre reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love. I think (I know) that EPL—which Newman mocks in this memoir—has made me very wary of the travel/romance/life-lessons memoir. I’m too skeptical of the author’s intentions. Do you want Julia Roberts to play you too? I don’t think Kristin Newman does, but like I said: Eat, Pray, Love has ruined a lot of things. 

But I digress! Newman writes well (she’s a successful television writer) and the parts of the book that talk about how and why she changed her views on relationships are astute and funny and bittersweet. Her examination of her family history adds a lot of depth to the story and I appreciated her being willing to look at her entire life and write about it in a genuine way. That would be enough to bump it to the top of the EPL genre list, since most of those books attempt to be self-deprecating but fail miserably. (“My biggest flaw is that I am too much of a perfectionist! Everything is done perfectly, what a burden! This is what caused my divorce, obviously.”) Anyway, this book is deeper and more introspective than you might expect. There are several moments that hit me pretty hard. (There’s one in particular. Still thinking about it.) I love being surprised by a book in a good way. I must find my passport! A trip is overdue. 

I received this review copy for free, but I’ll always write an honest review. Even if I hate it. Especially if I hate it! I love writing angry reviews. 

Have you read this yet?

What I’ve Read:
Bootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link - This was one of those books I randomly decided to read because it sounded vaguely entertaining and I’m a sucker for fun cover art. Memoirs of rural living/adventure set alongside some sort of personal or professional hardship OR displayed as a brave and courageous departure from the monotony of a 9-5 life are littered on bookshelves. Maybe Wild started it, maybe Animal, Vegetable, Miracle did it first, but whatever the case, they are now A Thing. And I’m okay with that. I enjoy them a lot. You wrote an entire book about raising chickens? Sign me up. How about that one where you bought a farm and you have no idea what you’re doing? Yes, please. These books are usually a predictable combination of heart-warming anecdotes and humorous stories and sometimes that sounds just about right. (The Dirty Life by Kim Kimball is still one of my favorites of the genre.) Anyway, Bootstrapper is most definitely one of these types of books, but it’s also better. Better because Link IS badass and I was rooting for her the whole goddamn book. She and her husband divorce and suddenly she’s raising 3 boys at an income level that registers at or below the poverty line. She is resourceful, though, and has the kind of mental and emotional fortitude that makes her seem bigger than life. She’s inspirational but it doesn’t come off like she’s actually trying to be. She’s just telling about her life—like when she and her sons entered a zucchini-growing contest at their local bakery to win free bread so she could make her sons enough sandwiches that they wouldn’t go hungry for lunch. It was a quick, good book, but a few things confused or annoyed me. First, it seems like she ran out of stories once things began improving and at that point she realized she’d better wrap it up quick. Nothing else to write about, folks! I’m good now! Second, there are several details that she glosses over or pretends we won’t notice. Details of the divorce, for example, are no where to be found, though it’s a pivotal and reoccurring theme in her book. Third: A good memoir often makes you feel like you know someone intimately and it takes a lot of honest dumping all over the page to get that sense of familiarity well-established. Wild is a good example of this. Cheryl Strayed is really fearless talking about the not-so-book-ready parts of her story and that made me feel invested. Link, on the other hand, seems to have written this very much with impressions in mind (I don’t blame her, she has older kids after all), but I always got the sense she was writing the story she WISHED to tell rather than the one that actually happened. This probably directly relates to my first issue with the book (the rushed conclusion). I think she framed the story, told what she liked and when she couldn’t novelize it anymore? THE END. Anyway—this review has gotten much too long—I still really liked it and would recommend it to you if you need a quick read. 
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - Lately I’ve been having a hard time writing reviews longer than three sentences about books I really love. I think I’m afraid that my writing about them will cheapen the experience I had reading them. Long review short: This is the best book I’ve read yet this year. It will be short listed as one of my favorites for 2014. It’s only June, but I’m completely confident about that. I don’t want to give any of the plot away. Just start reading it. It’s intricate, haunting, moving. The writing is so good it made me want to cry. Reading this was a spiritual experience.
You guys reading anything good?

What I’ve Read:

  • Bootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link - This was one of those books I randomly decided to read because it sounded vaguely entertaining and I’m a sucker for fun cover art. Memoirs of rural living/adventure set alongside some sort of personal or professional hardship OR displayed as a brave and courageous departure from the monotony of a 9-5 life are littered on bookshelves. Maybe Wild started it, maybe Animal, Vegetable, Miracle did it first, but whatever the case, they are now A Thing. And I’m okay with that. I enjoy them a lot. You wrote an entire book about raising chickens? Sign me up. How about that one where you bought a farm and you have no idea what you’re doing? Yes, please. These books are usually a predictable combination of heart-warming anecdotes and humorous stories and sometimes that sounds just about right. (The Dirty Life by Kim Kimball is still one of my favorites of the genre.) Anyway, Bootstrapper is most definitely one of these types of books, but it’s also better. Better because Link IS badass and I was rooting for her the whole goddamn book. She and her husband divorce and suddenly she’s raising 3 boys at an income level that registers at or below the poverty line. She is resourceful, though, and has the kind of mental and emotional fortitude that makes her seem bigger than life. She’s inspirational but it doesn’t come off like she’s actually trying to be. She’s just telling about her life—like when she and her sons entered a zucchini-growing contest at their local bakery to win free bread so she could make her sons enough sandwiches that they wouldn’t go hungry for lunch. It was a quick, good book, but a few things confused or annoyed me. First, it seems like she ran out of stories once things began improving and at that point she realized she’d better wrap it up quick. Nothing else to write about, folks! I’m good now! Second, there are several details that she glosses over or pretends we won’t notice. Details of the divorce, for example, are no where to be found, though it’s a pivotal and reoccurring theme in her book. Third: A good memoir often makes you feel like you know someone intimately and it takes a lot of honest dumping all over the page to get that sense of familiarity well-established. Wild is a good example of this. Cheryl Strayed is really fearless talking about the not-so-book-ready parts of her story and that made me feel invested. Link, on the other hand, seems to have written this very much with impressions in mind (I don’t blame her, she has older kids after all), but I always got the sense she was writing the story she WISHED to tell rather than the one that actually happened. This probably directly relates to my first issue with the book (the rushed conclusion). I think she framed the story, told what she liked and when she couldn’t novelize it anymore? THE END. Anyway—this review has gotten much too long—I still really liked it and would recommend it to you if you need a quick read. 
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - Lately I’ve been having a hard time writing reviews longer than three sentences about books I really love. I think I’m afraid that my writing about them will cheapen the experience I had reading them. Long review short: This is the best book I’ve read yet this year. It will be short listed as one of my favorites for 2014. It’s only June, but I’m completely confident about that. I don’t want to give any of the plot away. Just start reading it. It’s intricate, haunting, moving. The writing is so good it made me want to cry. Reading this was a spiritual experience.

You guys reading anything good?

What I’ve Read:

She Left Me the Gun by Emma Brockes

A beautiful memoir by a talented writer. Every page was thoughtfully and skillfully written. After Brockes’ mother Paula dies, Brockes starts to investigate the mysteries of Paula’s childhood. Why did Paula leave South Africa for London? What is the story of her relationship to her father and her siblings? Brockes’ father warns her before she leaves for South Africa that she might discover things she wish she hadn’t found out. There is much in this book about the complexities of family relationships and the fragile fault lines that separate relatives in the wake of tragedy, but there is also an abundance of information about South Africa and its history. It occasionally reads like a travel memoir…which I guess it sort of is. The descriptions of the book call it suspenseful. I wouldn’t call it suspenseful. The high drama of the cover art and the title hide the quieter truth of the story—that this is basically a love letter to her mother. 

Have you read it?

What I’ve Read

The Astor Orphan by Alexandra Aldrich

A little hard to get into (the Astor family tree is ridiculous and Aldrich, wisely, does not dwell on it for too long), but it turns into an entertaining short read about a once-monied family trying to make it in a decaying 43-room mansion and not quite succeeding. Aldrich wrote vivid recollections of her childhood and she inserted enough bits of adult hindsight to make them more more funny or poignant than they might have been otherwise. 

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

I don’t remember the last time I read such a fun book. There is something great about reading a book that’s the perfect blend of mindless romance, historical fiction and adventure—a combination that’s far too rare. I think about early Philippa Gregory (her latest stuff is shit, don’t bother) or Jennifer Donnelly’s Tea Rose series. They’re so fun to read. They’re right on the cusp of being just a TAD stupid but they toe that line for all they’ve got. That’s what makes them such a good time. The River of No Return is just such a book. It’s about time travel but not really in the over-serious, stereotypical way you might expect. When I say it’s a combination of romance, historical fiction and adventure, it really is. It’s an almost perfect balance of all three. The characters are interesting, the story moves briskly and the romance portions are JUST THIS SIDE of corny. It’s set up perfectly for a sequel but doesn’t end unsatisfactorily. I read it with a bowl of popcorn. It’s that kind of book.

P.S. Can we talk about that gorgeous cover art? 

Have you read either book? Reading anything good right now?

What I’ve Read: Poser by Claire Dederer
This is a book I liked a little less the more I read of it. I’m not saying it’s not good (it is) or that it’s not well written (it is), but it’s overlong. She writes about nothing very, very well. There is a time and place for that kind of book in my life, actually. Sometimes I just want to read something about nothing because my brain needs a break. This could have been that book for me, except that the length (over 300 slow pages) didn’t lend itself well to being a guilty pleasure book. 
So—Claire Dederer discovered yoga after she was experiencing back pain from breastfeeding and molds the contents of each chapter in the book around a particular yoga pose. She describes the poses and her classes in some detail. These are the most interesting parts of the book for me. She captures group class dynamics very well. She’s a skillful writer—I often felt like I was in class with her trying to do a backbend. The book gets murkiest when she veers into memoir-ish discussions about her childhood or her relationship with her husband or her group of friends. These threads contained interesting tidbits but weren’t explored thoroughly enough. She’s at her best talking about yoga and parenting and the rest tends to feel like she couldn’t decide what kind of book she wanted to write, so it’s all in there just in case. Book soup. 
I’m going to veer off-topic for a second because I’ve been thinking about this a lot and it might be relevant to insert here. Reading about parenting is interesting. Reading about yoga is interesting. Reading about someone’s marriage or childhood or whatever—these things are also interesting to read about! It’s not always about the skill of the writer. Dederer, for example, is a fabulous writer. But she made interesting things boring or forgettable. It takes more skill to write about your life and feelings in an interesting way than it does to simply write about your life or your feelings. I used to read quite a few blogs outside of Tumblr since they were more text-focused and I liked reading people’s thoughts about their life or their jobs or their kids or whatever. When I was pregnant, I started reading a lot of mom blogs (once again, many outside of Tumblr) because they contained a lot of information that I thought was fascinating or useful. I see less of that now and it makes me sad. Or people still write about their families but it’s so impersonal or fancified that it’s the equivalent of reading the text of a J.Crew catalog. You can read it if you want, but you won’t get anything out of it. (I know, I know—I’m one to talk. I post about clothes all day.) But this book is a great example of how anything can become less interesting the more generically it’s presented. I don’t know really where I’m going with this so I’m going to leave it here. 
Have you read this book?

What I’ve Read: Poser by Claire Dederer

This is a book I liked a little less the more I read of it. I’m not saying it’s not good (it is) or that it’s not well written (it is), but it’s overlong. She writes about nothing very, very well. There is a time and place for that kind of book in my life, actually. Sometimes I just want to read something about nothing because my brain needs a break. This could have been that book for me, except that the length (over 300 slow pages) didn’t lend itself well to being a guilty pleasure book. 

So—Claire Dederer discovered yoga after she was experiencing back pain from breastfeeding and molds the contents of each chapter in the book around a particular yoga pose. She describes the poses and her classes in some detail. These are the most interesting parts of the book for me. She captures group class dynamics very well. She’s a skillful writer—I often felt like I was in class with her trying to do a backbend. The book gets murkiest when she veers into memoir-ish discussions about her childhood or her relationship with her husband or her group of friends. These threads contained interesting tidbits but weren’t explored thoroughly enough. She’s at her best talking about yoga and parenting and the rest tends to feel like she couldn’t decide what kind of book she wanted to write, so it’s all in there just in case. Book soup. 

I’m going to veer off-topic for a second because I’ve been thinking about this a lot and it might be relevant to insert here. Reading about parenting is interesting. Reading about yoga is interesting. Reading about someone’s marriage or childhood or whatever—these things are also interesting to read about! It’s not always about the skill of the writer. Dederer, for example, is a fabulous writer. But she made interesting things boring or forgettable. It takes more skill to write about your life and feelings in an interesting way than it does to simply write about your life or your feelings. I used to read quite a few blogs outside of Tumblr since they were more text-focused and I liked reading people’s thoughts about their life or their jobs or their kids or whatever. When I was pregnant, I started reading a lot of mom blogs (once again, many outside of Tumblr) because they contained a lot of information that I thought was fascinating or useful. I see less of that now and it makes me sad. Or people still write about their families but it’s so impersonal or fancified that it’s the equivalent of reading the text of a J.Crew catalog. You can read it if you want, but you won’t get anything out of it. (I know, I know—I’m one to talk. I post about clothes all day.) But this book is a great example of how anything can become less interesting the more generically it’s presented. I don’t know really where I’m going with this so I’m going to leave it here. 

Have you read this book?

What I’ve Read: Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
I was going to write this review tomorrow but I couldn’t wait. I just finished this book maybe 20 minutes ago. I can still feel the remains of the tears that fell uncontrollably as I turned the final pages. I am wrecked. I have never read a book like this.
Sonali and her family—her husband, two sons (aged 5 and 7) and her parents—were vacationing on the coast of Sri Lanka in the latter days of 2004. The book begins in their hotel room. Her two sons are playing with their Christmas presents and her husband is in the bathroom. She is talking with her girlfriend who is vacationing there as well. Her girlfriend surveys the family and remarks, “What you guys have is a dream.” A few minutes later they notice the sea rising. Of course you know what it is—the 2004 tsunami that claimed the lives of an estimated 230,000 people. 
Sonali gathers her sons, her husband, her friend and they run. They reach a Jeep in the courtyard of the hotel and speed away. She does not knock on her parent’s hotel room door as they leave. A few minutes later, the Jeep is overturned by the oncoming rush of the wave. She remembers much of what happens next, but it is told in fits and starts. She remembers pain in her abdomen. She remembers grabbing a tree branch when the wave lifts her to the surface. Later they determine she was dragged inland with the wave and back out as it retreated. She is found not far from their hotel. She was the only survivor. 
What is grief? How is it defined? What does it mean to experience heart-wrenching loss? Most of us cannot conceive of it, so we are left with this book: easily the most profound expression of grief I have ever read. It is honest and brutal. I could barely breathe as I read. The book is short but every page is a knife to the heart. In the days and months following the tsunami, Sonali hides and plots of ways to kill herself. What other avenue is left? She hoards pills. She gets drunk. She slams her head into the headboard of her bed. She burns herself with cigarettes. And this is only the first quarter of the book. 
She does not return to their London home for years. When she returns the home is as she left it. She finds an eyelash on her husband’s pillow. There is laundry waiting to be done. It is unimaginable. 
This is a book that transcends recommendation. It is horror and love and loss beyond all reason, beyond all description. And yet—here it is. Every page is an eternity. I read slowly though. So often I hide from the difficult things or turn an eye to what I cannot comprehend. But here is humanity. Here is family. Here is grief. And, as she so beautifully conveys, there cannot be grief of this magnitude without great love as a point of origin for it. 
Perhaps the most powerful book I’ve ever read. I won’t forget it. 
Have you read it?

What I’ve Read: Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

I was going to write this review tomorrow but I couldn’t wait. I just finished this book maybe 20 minutes ago. I can still feel the remains of the tears that fell uncontrollably as I turned the final pages. I am wrecked. I have never read a book like this.

Sonali and her family—her husband, two sons (aged 5 and 7) and her parents—were vacationing on the coast of Sri Lanka in the latter days of 2004. The book begins in their hotel room. Her two sons are playing with their Christmas presents and her husband is in the bathroom. She is talking with her girlfriend who is vacationing there as well. Her girlfriend surveys the family and remarks, “What you guys have is a dream.” A few minutes later they notice the sea rising. Of course you know what it is—the 2004 tsunami that claimed the lives of an estimated 230,000 people.

Sonali gathers her sons, her husband, her friend and they run. They reach a Jeep in the courtyard of the hotel and speed away. She does not knock on her parent’s hotel room door as they leave. A few minutes later, the Jeep is overturned by the oncoming rush of the wave. She remembers much of what happens next, but it is told in fits and starts. She remembers pain in her abdomen. She remembers grabbing a tree branch when the wave lifts her to the surface. Later they determine she was dragged inland with the wave and back out as it retreated. She is found not far from their hotel. She was the only survivor.

What is grief? How is it defined? What does it mean to experience heart-wrenching loss? Most of us cannot conceive of it, so we are left with this book: easily the most profound expression of grief I have ever read. It is honest and brutal. I could barely breathe as I read. The book is short but every page is a knife to the heart. In the days and months following the tsunami, Sonali hides and plots of ways to kill herself. What other avenue is left? She hoards pills. She gets drunk. She slams her head into the headboard of her bed. She burns herself with cigarettes. And this is only the first quarter of the book.

She does not return to their London home for years. When she returns the home is as she left it. She finds an eyelash on her husband’s pillow. There is laundry waiting to be done. It is unimaginable.

This is a book that transcends recommendation. It is horror and love and loss beyond all reason, beyond all description. And yet—here it is. Every page is an eternity. I read slowly though. So often I hide from the difficult things or turn an eye to what I cannot comprehend. But here is humanity. Here is family. Here is grief. And, as she so beautifully conveys, there cannot be grief of this magnitude without great love as a point of origin for it.

Perhaps the most powerful book I’ve ever read. I won’t forget it.

Have you read it?

What I’ve Read: Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton
I’d heard of Momastery but never read it and then I had this book recommended to me and thought, why not? I needed a light, quick read and this seemed to be a good contender. 
A disclaimer: it’s a book written by a blogger which means it had a 90% chance of being awful since 90% of the blogger books I’ve read have been AWFUL. (Jason is an exception, obvs.) Most blogger books I’ve read rely on photographs to carry their material which isn’t unexpected but feels like a waste of money/time, especially since many of the photographs are the same that you can see for free. On their blog. -___- I can understand why many of these bloggers rely on photographs for their book content because they’re often shitty writers. They may be able to eke out a few paragraphs in a couple of tortured hours for their blog, but it’s a horse of a different color when confronted with writing 200+ interesting pages. 
I’m digressing! Back to this book. It was a happy surprise. I mean, such a good surprise read. I laughed out loud numerous times. I think some of the chapters are actually recycled blog posts but I hadn’t read her blog so it was all new to me. I had added this book to my list without reading anything about it so I was taken aback when I realized that she was a Christian. (I guess MOMASTERY DIDN’T CLUE ME IN.) There is only one thing I hate more than 90% of blogger books and that is the “Christian mommy perspective.” Listen—I was raised in Christian churches and schools and I, frankly, have had enough Christian mommy perspectives to last me an entire lifetime. So I almost threw this book aside a few pages in. But I didn’t. And you know why I didn’t? Because she’s a fucking phenomenal writer. (She has an entire vignette devoted to her love of cursing so I feel justified using it in this review.) 
I’ve done a little reading about her since finishing the book and SPOILER ALERT—she had marital problems right before the book release and apparently once more recently? I don’t know the specifics. But what I appreciate about this book is that she doesn’t shy away from discussing her faults or the difficulties in her marriage or the hard parts about raising children. But, on the other hand, she can tell a funny story really, really well. It’s a good balance of the serious and the lighthearted (or sometimes a mix of both in the same story). 
If nothing else, the chapter she wrote about what she’d say if her son was gay made the entire book worth reading. It is beautifully written. As I was reading it, I thought something I haven’t thought about for a long time, which is that she was really verbalizing what I had always been taught as a child was the true “spirit” of Christianity—the spirit I never saw firsthand from anyone who taught it to me. She wrote, “We believe that when in doubt, mercy triumphs judgment.[…] So [we] decided that if a certain scripture turns our judgment outward instead of inward, if it requires us to worry about changing others instead of ourselves, if it doesn’t help us become better lovers of God and life and others, if it distracts us from what we are supposed to be doing down here—finding God in everyone, feeding hungry people, comforting the sick and the sad, giving whatever we have to give, and laying down our lives for our friends—then we assume we don’t understand it yet, and we get back to what we do understand.” 
Have you read this book? What did you think?

What I’ve Read: Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton

I’d heard of Momastery but never read it and then I had this book recommended to me and thought, why not? I needed a light, quick read and this seemed to be a good contender.

A disclaimer: it’s a book written by a blogger which means it had a 90% chance of being awful since 90% of the blogger books I’ve read have been AWFUL. (Jason is an exception, obvs.) Most blogger books I’ve read rely on photographs to carry their material which isn’t unexpected but feels like a waste of money/time, especially since many of the photographs are the same that you can see for free. On their blog. -___- I can understand why many of these bloggers rely on photographs for their book content because they’re often shitty writers. They may be able to eke out a few paragraphs in a couple of tortured hours for their blog, but it’s a horse of a different color when confronted with writing 200+ interesting pages.

I’m digressing! Back to this book. It was a happy surprise. I mean, such a good surprise read. I laughed out loud numerous times. I think some of the chapters are actually recycled blog posts but I hadn’t read her blog so it was all new to me. I had added this book to my list without reading anything about it so I was taken aback when I realized that she was a Christian. (I guess MOMASTERY DIDN’T CLUE ME IN.) There is only one thing I hate more than 90% of blogger books and that is the “Christian mommy perspective.” Listen—I was raised in Christian churches and schools and I, frankly, have had enough Christian mommy perspectives to last me an entire lifetime. So I almost threw this book aside a few pages in. But I didn’t. And you know why I didn’t? Because she’s a fucking phenomenal writer. (She has an entire vignette devoted to her love of cursing so I feel justified using it in this review.)

I’ve done a little reading about her since finishing the book and SPOILER ALERT—she had marital problems right before the book release and apparently once more recently? I don’t know the specifics. But what I appreciate about this book is that she doesn’t shy away from discussing her faults or the difficulties in her marriage or the hard parts about raising children. But, on the other hand, she can tell a funny story really, really well. It’s a good balance of the serious and the lighthearted (or sometimes a mix of both in the same story).

If nothing else, the chapter she wrote about what she’d say if her son was gay made the entire book worth reading. It is beautifully written. As I was reading it, I thought something I haven’t thought about for a long time, which is that she was really verbalizing what I had always been taught as a child was the true “spirit” of Christianity—the spirit I never saw firsthand from anyone who taught it to me. She wrote, “We believe that when in doubt, mercy triumphs judgment.[…] So [we] decided that if a certain scripture turns our judgment outward instead of inward, if it requires us to worry about changing others instead of ourselves, if it doesn’t help us become better lovers of God and life and others, if it distracts us from what we are supposed to be doing down here—finding God in everyone, feeding hungry people, comforting the sick and the sad, giving whatever we have to give, and laying down our lives for our friends—then we assume we don’t understand it yet, and we get back to what we do understand.”

Have you read this book? What did you think?

What I’ve Read: Friendkeeping by Julie Klam
I’ve yet to find a book that really gets its hands around the complexity of adult friendship, but Friendkeeping is a valiant effort. (It’s still better than the frustrating MWF Seeking BFF.) Klam goes the anecdotal route, discussing various aspects of friendship in a funny, memoir-ish way that doesn’t tie things up neatly into a bon mot, self-help tone at the end of each chapter. That’s fine—but the book seems to be marketed differently. The tagline/subtitle for example: A Field Guide to the People You Love, Hate, and Can’t Live Without. This really isn’t a field guide to anything except Klam’s personal friendship history. 
While not a great book, it was still an entertaining way to pass the time and some chapters were better than others. The section on online friendships was good and the latter chapters of the book—which deal with long-distance friendships—were especially poignant for me. (My best friend lives in Dubai.) 
One thing Klam does right is talk about how proximity is the best ingredient for maintaining an adult friendship. Without physical proximity, the lines of communication become less intimate and more intermittent. That’s why adults so often have the coworker friend or the gym friend or the book club friend or even the blog-turned-real-life friend. When you’re young, friendship is as simple as having a desk next to someone else in class, living a few houses down from a girl or boy your age or, later, getting close to your college roommate. Post-college friendships require more maintenance than any you’ve had before, but the irony is that there are more demands on your time than ever before too. Proximity helps that. Klam does a great job of explaining how hard it can be for her to maintain friendships when they’re not easily accessible for her. I think that’s something most people can relate to. 
If you’re stuck in a book rut, this is a good little palette cleanser. It’s not too long and it’s light-hearted (and occasionally funny). 
Have you read this book? What did you think?

What I’ve Read: Friendkeeping by Julie Klam

I’ve yet to find a book that really gets its hands around the complexity of adult friendship, but Friendkeeping is a valiant effort. (It’s still better than the frustrating MWF Seeking BFF.) Klam goes the anecdotal route, discussing various aspects of friendship in a funny, memoir-ish way that doesn’t tie things up neatly into a bon mot, self-help tone at the end of each chapter. That’s fine—but the book seems to be marketed differently. The tagline/subtitle for example: A Field Guide to the People You Love, Hate, and Can’t Live Without. This really isn’t a field guide to anything except Klam’s personal friendship history. 

While not a great book, it was still an entertaining way to pass the time and some chapters were better than others. The section on online friendships was good and the latter chapters of the book—which deal with long-distance friendships—were especially poignant for me. (My best friend lives in Dubai.) 

One thing Klam does right is talk about how proximity is the best ingredient for maintaining an adult friendship. Without physical proximity, the lines of communication become less intimate and more intermittent. That’s why adults so often have the coworker friend or the gym friend or the book club friend or even the blog-turned-real-life friend. When you’re young, friendship is as simple as having a desk next to someone else in class, living a few houses down from a girl or boy your age or, later, getting close to your college roommate. Post-college friendships require more maintenance than any you’ve had before, but the irony is that there are more demands on your time than ever before too. Proximity helps that. Klam does a great job of explaining how hard it can be for her to maintain friendships when they’re not easily accessible for her. I think that’s something most people can relate to. 

If you’re stuck in a book rut, this is a good little palette cleanser. It’s not too long and it’s light-hearted (and occasionally funny). 

Have you read this book? What did you think?

What I’ve Read: Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington
I am a million light years behind on reading this. I had been on a library hold list for it for months and I nearly broke down and bought it—but no. I was invested in my hold list. I told myself to wait it out. Anyway. 
It was worth the wait. The book is so enjoyable to read. It’s witty, quick and written with a wry sense of humor and welcome doses of self-deprecation. Looking at her personal illustrations throughout is almost as fun as reading her words, but of course, the real highlight (or highlight reel) is a full-color photo collection of her best-known editorials in the appendix. Seeing these spreads, laid out one on top of another, is even more delightful after having read the background on many of them throughout the book.  
Like many memoirs, there is an abrupt shift in tone once the book transitions out of childhood. This is a constant source of frustration for me when reading memoirs. Grace’s chapters on her childhood and youth were particularly charming and well-written, but the emphasis on her personal life becomes more calculated and opaque the closer the timeline gets to the present-day. For example, she discusses Anna Wintour often and with an equal dose of respect and candidness, but once the book reaches the zenith of her professional career, the personal “memoir”-ish bits are relegated to a discussion on her favorite cats and her relationship with various designers or photographers. Definitely not unwelcome to read, but it is candid in a different way. To be frank, it was her personality and her obvious artistic genius that first captured the public attention in The September Issue. Her memoir gives us plenty of her personality and some descriptions of her at work or her preferences about work and fashion and the like, but it occasionally feels shallow. Or unfinished. Maybe she didn’t want to delve too deeply into what she does because what she does is incapable of being transformed into words. Or maybe she guards her privacy more carefully in the wake of her sudden fame and doesn’t want to delve too deeply into potentially sensitive or painful issues. Her objectiveness about these matters leaves her an enigmatic figure. She becomes someone that you feel you might know in the way you know a business acquaintance. You’re aware of the rough details of their life, but are closed off to the intimate feelings under the surface. At any rate, I closed the book with a good grasp of the breadth of Coddington’s talent, of highlights from an impressive and glamorous life and of her personality. 
For a summer/beach book, you can’t do better. It’s a fast read. I don’t think she had a ghost writer (and if she did, they were very good), and she admits more than once that she’s scarcely read two books in her life. It reads like the book of someone that doesn’t like to read. Meaning? It’s fast. It’s entertaining. She knows her audience as much of the latter half of the book is devoted to her experiences with or impressions of fashion photographers, editors, models and designers, etc. You can buy the book on Kindle, but after reading the hardback edition, I can vouch for how delightful it was to read on paper. I’m afraid an ebook version would remove some of the magic from the illustrations/color photos. 
Have you read this book? What did you think?

What I’ve Read: Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington

I am a million light years behind on reading this. I had been on a library hold list for it for months and I nearly broke down and bought it—but no. I was invested in my hold list. I told myself to wait it out. Anyway. 

It was worth the wait. The book is so enjoyable to read. It’s witty, quick and written with a wry sense of humor and welcome doses of self-deprecation. Looking at her personal illustrations throughout is almost as fun as reading her words, but of course, the real highlight (or highlight reel) is a full-color photo collection of her best-known editorials in the appendix. Seeing these spreads, laid out one on top of another, is even more delightful after having read the background on many of them throughout the book.  

Like many memoirs, there is an abrupt shift in tone once the book transitions out of childhood. This is a constant source of frustration for me when reading memoirs. Grace’s chapters on her childhood and youth were particularly charming and well-written, but the emphasis on her personal life becomes more calculated and opaque the closer the timeline gets to the present-day. For example, she discusses Anna Wintour often and with an equal dose of respect and candidness, but once the book reaches the zenith of her professional career, the personal “memoir”-ish bits are relegated to a discussion on her favorite cats and her relationship with various designers or photographers. Definitely not unwelcome to read, but it is candid in a different way. To be frank, it was her personality and her obvious artistic genius that first captured the public attention in The September Issue. Her memoir gives us plenty of her personality and some descriptions of her at work or her preferences about work and fashion and the like, but it occasionally feels shallow. Or unfinished. Maybe she didn’t want to delve too deeply into what she does because what she does is incapable of being transformed into words. Or maybe she guards her privacy more carefully in the wake of her sudden fame and doesn’t want to delve too deeply into potentially sensitive or painful issues. Her objectiveness about these matters leaves her an enigmatic figure. She becomes someone that you feel you might know in the way you know a business acquaintance. You’re aware of the rough details of their life, but are closed off to the intimate feelings under the surface. At any rate, I closed the book with a good grasp of the breadth of Coddington’s talent, of highlights from an impressive and glamorous life and of her personality. 

For a summer/beach book, you can’t do better. It’s a fast read. I don’t think she had a ghost writer (and if she did, they were very good), and she admits more than once that she’s scarcely read two books in her life. It reads like the book of someone that doesn’t like to read. Meaning? It’s fast. It’s entertaining. She knows her audience as much of the latter half of the book is devoted to her experiences with or impressions of fashion photographers, editors, models and designers, etc. You can buy the book on Kindle, but after reading the hardback edition, I can vouch for how delightful it was to read on paper. I’m afraid an ebook version would remove some of the magic from the illustrations/color photos. 

Have you read this book? What did you think?