Posts tagged with memoir:

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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

  • k 16 notes
What I’ve Read:
I am so far behind with these. I hate combining multiple book reviews into one post, but if I don’t, I’ll never catch up. Here we go.
Lay the Favorite by Beth Raymer - I know next to nothing about gambling and especially little about sports gambling. Luckily, despite this book being all about gambling, my lack of knowledge didn’t matter much. After moving to Vegas and waiting tables, Raymer gets a job assisting a professional sports gambler and gets increasingly drawn into a shady, crazy, money-filled world that she pretends she’s still outside of. The best part of this book is not Raymer, though she’s the one telling it and most everything is happening to her. The supporting characters (especially Dinky, the first pro gambler she works for) are the reason I kept reading. I guess it’s recently been made into a pretty crappy movie (which I haven’t seen, obviously), but I can see why someone would have thought “movie!” upon reading this. It’s insane. I finished it and felt like I’d been on an all-night bender. In a good way. Great vacation book or beach read. 
One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea by Dana Becker - This book is utterly fascinating, but a warning: it’s dense. It can be witty and Becker clearly has opinions, but they can get lost in the muck of myriad studies and works cited. This hasn’t been turned into “nonfiction lite” for a casual reading audience. That’s not to say it’s not a valuable book to read. It is. Fact-driven and beyond thorough, it really challenged the way I think about “stress” and my use of the phrase, “I’m stressed.” It’s also made me take a closer look at what I consider “stress relief.” Becker challenges a lot of conventional thinking and years of commercialization of what’s basically an idea. The sections about how stress is viewed differently depending on someone’s economic or social conditions are particularly good. 
The Scientists by Marco Roth - Marco Roth, co-founder and editor of n+1 magazine, begins this memoir discussing his father’s slow decline from AIDS. It’s not a long book, but it is sharp and poignant. There is something really irresistible to me about memoirs that discuss how relationships and feelings toward parents change and grow. Describing the moments when a child realizes that parents are not impermeable, perfect beings can make for a really wonderful book—if done properly. This is a good one. 
Have you read any of these books? Any recommendations for me?

What I’ve Read:

I am so far behind with these. I hate combining multiple book reviews into one post, but if I don’t, I’ll never catch up. Here we go.

Lay the Favorite by Beth Raymer - I know next to nothing about gambling and especially little about sports gambling. Luckily, despite this book being all about gambling, my lack of knowledge didn’t matter much. After moving to Vegas and waiting tables, Raymer gets a job assisting a professional sports gambler and gets increasingly drawn into a shady, crazy, money-filled world that she pretends she’s still outside of. The best part of this book is not Raymer, though she’s the one telling it and most everything is happening to her. The supporting characters (especially Dinky, the first pro gambler she works for) are the reason I kept reading. I guess it’s recently been made into a pretty crappy movie (which I haven’t seen, obviously), but I can see why someone would have thought “movie!” upon reading this. It’s insane. I finished it and felt like I’d been on an all-night bender. In a good way. Great vacation book or beach read. 

One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea by Dana Becker - This book is utterly fascinating, but a warning: it’s dense. It can be witty and Becker clearly has opinions, but they can get lost in the muck of myriad studies and works cited. This hasn’t been turned into “nonfiction lite” for a casual reading audience. That’s not to say it’s not a valuable book to read. It is. Fact-driven and beyond thorough, it really challenged the way I think about “stress” and my use of the phrase, “I’m stressed.” It’s also made me take a closer look at what I consider “stress relief.” Becker challenges a lot of conventional thinking and years of commercialization of what’s basically an idea. The sections about how stress is viewed differently depending on someone’s economic or social conditions are particularly good. 

The Scientists by Marco Roth - Marco Roth, co-founder and editor of n+1 magazine, begins this memoir discussing his father’s slow decline from AIDS. It’s not a long book, but it is sharp and poignant. There is something really irresistible to me about memoirs that discuss how relationships and feelings toward parents change and grow. Describing the moments when a child realizes that parents are not impermeable, perfect beings can make for a really wonderful book—if done properly. This is a good one. 

Have you read any of these books? Any recommendations for me?

  • k 18 notes
What I’ve Read: Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (and Other Affairs) by Wendy Plump
Personal memoirs are at their best when they are unflinchingly honest. Plump’s decision to write openly about her ex’s affair—the one that ended their marriage—and their respective numerous affairs that came before makes for an uncomfortable, revealing look at the slow unraveling of a relationship. 
Are we meant to be monogamous? Plump asks this question over and over. Throughout the several affairs she had before she discovered that her husband had been seeing the same woman for years and had a 9-month-old child with her, Plump makes clear the blunt facts about how and why she did it. What she questions later in the book is why some people don’t. Her conclusion? “I think you either cheat or you don’t. It’s either hardwired in you or it isn’t. Infidelity may rest latent in you, but if you have that inclination, it will be difficult to resist. Or there will always be the question of it hanging, exhaustingly, in front of you.” 
Plump’s unusual situation—having been both the cheater and the one cheated on—makes her uniquely qualified to discuss the consequences of infidelity from all sides. To speak to the honest tone she’s taken throughout the book, she doesn’t leave out the parts she enjoyed either. “The arms that wrapped around me at night or the face that hovered above me during sex or the man who waited in my driveway for a homecoming after South Carolina…” 
I’ve no doubt that a person could read this book and dismiss it as an exotic tale—something so far outside the realm of their own life that they could never imagine themselves in Plump’s shoes, as either the one cheating or the one cheated upon. This book is not a warning shot across the bow so much as it is a reminder. A reminder to anyone in a long-term relationship or a marriage that betrayal does not always happen to someone else. It may not strike your relationship personally, but at some point in your life, you will feel the shockwaves. You’ll feel them as you comfort a friend or listen to a teary confession from a family member or learn a dark secret about a parent that you never expected to hear. We’re human, after all. We’re inclined to want more. “The grass is always greener” is maybe the truest description of human nature. So, do you cheat? Or don’t you? 
Plump references often her boredom with the safety of her marriage as a reason for her infidelity. Later, after her husband has moved out, she contemplates safety in a new way.
“At those times [in the middle of the night] safe didn’t feel boring. Safe felt like a rescue. Safe felt like the most romantic, knight-on-a-horse, warrior-brandishing-a-sword existence possible. Not because I was insulated from trouble when in a couple, but because I was facing it with someone. […] This is not hindsight. It’s serious, keening, howl-at-the-moon regret over not recognizing the luck that surrounded both Bill and me. The sound of my husband sleeping. The cut and cottony smell of his T-shirts in the laundry. […] These are the details of married life. You could slay a dragon with them. What a pity that we missed the most salient point of union, that we fell prey to the most obvious stupidity—not knowing how good it all was.” 
Plump’s affairs, which took place before her husband moved out, were complicated for her: fun, exciting, dangerous, scary, sad. But, she never felt the pull to, as she put it, “make the journey from Other Woman to Woman.” Why? “In my view, crushing, worrisome regret lies in wait for the single woman or the single man who has an affair with a married spouse, pulls the spouse away, and then marries him or her. As the new spouse, you would have to help justify the sacrifice of the first marriage on a too-often basis. If you or he or both don’t cheat again, you will end your days worrying that it’s about to happen. When you are betraying a spouse, one of the things you demonstrate most emphatically is how untrustworthy you are. Not much of a basis on which to hang a new marriage.”
I can’t say this book was an enjoyable read per se. It felt personal, gouging. It is emotionally raw and intensely well-written. It’s a book I won’t soon forget. 
Have you read this book? What did you think?

What I’ve Read: Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (and Other Affairs) by Wendy Plump

Personal memoirs are at their best when they are unflinchingly honest. Plump’s decision to write openly about her ex’s affair—the one that ended their marriage—and their respective numerous affairs that came before makes for an uncomfortable, revealing look at the slow unraveling of a relationship.

Are we meant to be monogamous? Plump asks this question over and over. Throughout the several affairs she had before she discovered that her husband had been seeing the same woman for years and had a 9-month-old child with her, Plump makes clear the blunt facts about how and why she did it. What she questions later in the book is why some people don’t. Her conclusion? “I think you either cheat or you don’t. It’s either hardwired in you or it isn’t. Infidelity may rest latent in you, but if you have that inclination, it will be difficult to resist. Or there will always be the question of it hanging, exhaustingly, in front of you.”

Plump’s unusual situation—having been both the cheater and the one cheated on—makes her uniquely qualified to discuss the consequences of infidelity from all sides. To speak to the honest tone she’s taken throughout the book, she doesn’t leave out the parts she enjoyed either. “The arms that wrapped around me at night or the face that hovered above me during sex or the man who waited in my driveway for a homecoming after South Carolina…”

I’ve no doubt that a person could read this book and dismiss it as an exotic tale—something so far outside the realm of their own life that they could never imagine themselves in Plump’s shoes, as either the one cheating or the one cheated upon. This book is not a warning shot across the bow so much as it is a reminder. A reminder to anyone in a long-term relationship or a marriage that betrayal does not always happen to someone else. It may not strike your relationship personally, but at some point in your life, you will feel the shockwaves. You’ll feel them as you comfort a friend or listen to a teary confession from a family member or learn a dark secret about a parent that you never expected to hear. We’re human, after all. We’re inclined to want more. “The grass is always greener” is maybe the truest description of human nature. So, do you cheat? Or don’t you?

Plump references often her boredom with the safety of her marriage as a reason for her infidelity. Later, after her husband has moved out, she contemplates safety in a new way.

“At those times [in the middle of the night] safe didn’t feel boring. Safe felt like a rescue. Safe felt like the most romantic, knight-on-a-horse, warrior-brandishing-a-sword existence possible. Not because I was insulated from trouble when in a couple, but because I was facing it with someone. […] This is not hindsight. It’s serious, keening, howl-at-the-moon regret over not recognizing the luck that surrounded both Bill and me. The sound of my husband sleeping. The cut and cottony smell of his T-shirts in the laundry. […] These are the details of married life. You could slay a dragon with them. What a pity that we missed the most salient point of union, that we fell prey to the most obvious stupidity—not knowing how good it all was.”

Plump’s affairs, which took place before her husband moved out, were complicated for her: fun, exciting, dangerous, scary, sad. But, she never felt the pull to, as she put it, “make the journey from Other Woman to Woman.” Why? “In my view, crushing, worrisome regret lies in wait for the single woman or the single man who has an affair with a married spouse, pulls the spouse away, and then marries him or her. As the new spouse, you would have to help justify the sacrifice of the first marriage on a too-often basis. If you or he or both don’t cheat again, you will end your days worrying that it’s about to happen. When you are betraying a spouse, one of the things you demonstrate most emphatically is how untrustworthy you are. Not much of a basis on which to hang a new marriage.”

I can’t say this book was an enjoyable read per se. It felt personal, gouging. It is emotionally raw and intensely well-written. It’s a book I won’t soon forget.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

  • k 34 notes

What I’ve Read: Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I wrote about this book a few days ago but wanted to also write a longer review. This short book—a series of essays written by Lindbergh while she was on vacation at the beach—talks about marriage, children, the specific role of mothers in the household, friendship, etc. There are occasional moments that betray the book’s age (it was published in the 1950’s), but by and large, this is timeless material. It could have been written yesterday.

I was trying to think of the perfect way to describe my experience reading this book and the best I can come up with is that it was just a distinct pleasure. It was relaxing and renewing—the way I might feel leaving the spa or after getting a pedicure or after spending the morning laying on the beach. I have a habit of often reading books with or for some sort of purpose. Reading them because they are new or popular, reading them because they are good novels, reading nonfiction because it will teach me something. This book is a departure from that kind of purposeful reading that can, admittedly, feel sometimes like work.

If you thought Lindbergh’s name sounded familiar, it should! Anne married Charles Lindbergh in 1929 and became heavily involved in her husband’s flying career. They moved to Europe after the kidnapping and murder of their first child. They moved back to Connecticut during World War II and had five more children.

Here are some passages that I marked to come back to later:

“For to be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essentially circular. We must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider’s web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes.”

“The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask. I have shed my mask.”

“There is a quality to fullness that the Psalmist expressed: ‘My cup runneth over.’ Let no one come—I pray in sudden panic—I might spill myself away! Is this then what happens to woman? She wants perpetually to spill herself away. All her instinct as a woman—the eternal nourisher of children, of men, of soicety—demands that she give. Her time, her energy, her creativeness drain out into these channels if there is any chance, any leak. Traditionally we are taught, and instinctively we long, to give where it is needed—and immediately. Eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim.”

“There was the sudden pleasure of having breakfast alone with the man one fell in love with. Here at the small table, are only two people facing each other. How the table at home has grown! And how distracting it is, with four or five children, a telephone ringing in the hall, two or three school buses to catch, not to speak of the commuter’s train. How all this separates one from one’s husband and clogs up the pure relationship. But sitting at a table alone opposite each other, what is there to separate one? Nothing but a coffee pot, corn muffins and marmalade. A simple enough pleasure, surely, to have breakfast alone with one’s husband, but how seldom married people in the midst of life achieve it.”

“‘A complete sharing between two people is an impossibility ’ writes Rilke, ‘and whenever it seems, nevertheless, to exist, it is a narrowing, a mutual agreement which robs one member or both of his fullest freedom and development. But, once the realization is accepted that, even between the closest human beings, infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each other to see the other whole and against a wide sky!’”

“Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread and anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.”

Don’t you want to read it now?

Have you read this book? What did you think?

  • k 16 notes