Thursday, September 19, 2019

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

It’s all about the book in this week’s edition of Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - the actual physical book, not a digital edition hidden away on your electronic reading device.

Fast Company wants us to know Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You’ll Ever Have Time To Read. I cannot tell you how excited I was when I first saw this article. Not only did it give me permission to keep buying more books, but it also gave me permission not to feel guilty about not yet having read the books I already own. The article cites the 30,000 volume library of Umberto Eco (more on that later) and suggests that his library kept him intellectually hungry and perpetually curious. I’m not suggesting that you accumulate 30,000 books…unless you want to. After all, who am I to put a cap on your curiosity?

Karl Lagerfeld

Nigella Lawson
About Mr. Eco – Open Culture gives us this video of Umberto Eco walking through his library.
Of course, Eco is not the only famous person who owns(ed) a lot of books. Emily Temple, LitHub, compiled this list of 10 Famous Book Hoarders with honorable mention for several more who didn’t quite make the list. Mind you, in the day and age when books were significant investments, Thomas Jefferson’s 6,487 books looks significantly more impressive than a present day collection of the same number of books.

Finally, from Matt Grant at Book Riot, comes this article about the Japanese art form of tsundoku to help us feel better about those shelves of unread books. According to the article, A. Edward Newton, an avid book collector who wrote three books on the subject a century ago, wrote “the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching toward infinity…We cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.” So mental health therapy, right? And at a price far less than a therapy session would cost! So this weekend, venture out and buy the books. It’s good for you!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
Read by Kate Lock
Published September 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
An English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle - a girl said to have survived without food for months - soon finds herself fighting to save the child's life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

My Thoughts:
I've only just finished this book this morning, racing to the end before my loan expired. I'm certain the book suffered from the fact that I had to listen to it, much of the time I had it, at 1.5 speed. While I often felt as if the book were going nowhere and I just wanted Donoghue to get on with it, I attribute much of that to the fact that I was feeling a rush to get through the book. Why do all of my library loans have to come in sooner than I am planning for them and why does there always seem to be at least one person waiting to get ahold of the book so that I can't renew it?!

On the other hand, perhaps Donoghue meant to do that, meant to have readers understand the long days stuck in one room, the slow dying of little Anna, the hours for Lib to do nothing but go inside her own head. And, to be fair, it did take some time for Lib to reach her various conclusions about what was happening and who was at fault. Here is where Donoghue was a bit of a master mystery writer - Lib invariably came to her conclusions as she pondered what someone had told her earlier, things the reader was privy to and might have caught earlier than Lib. I never did, but I always recalled what had been said.

That having been said, the last two hours of the book races along, with secrets being revealed left and right. Then I so wished I could slow the book down and really enjoy the revel and be able to get caught up in the tension. The lesson here is this - if you decide to read or listen to this book, take your time and don't give up on it.

Donoghue throws organized religion (particularly the Catholic faith with its miracles and sainthood) and the medical profession of the 19th century, under the bus. And then backs the bus back up over them. While she does let the village priest and a nun who is also keeping watch with Lib up off the ground to brush themselves off, the dogma of religion and the village doctor with his antiquated ways don't fare well.

Through all of this, Donoghue also manages to educate readers about Ireland's potato famine and about Florence Nightingale. Nightingale became known as "The Lady With The Lamp" because of the rounds she made of soldiers at night. This has always conjured up, in my mind, a warm, compassionate woman who offered the soldiers kindness as well as care. Donoghue uses Lib to show us that, while Nightingale was among the first to recognize the importance of sanitary conditions and proper living conditions and was instrumental in turning nursing into a revered profession, her emphasis was on keeping a professional distance and not becoming so entangled with patients that their care suffered. I certainly had expected, when I picked this book up, to learn so much or to have it leading me to do more research. You know how I love that in a book!

The ending of the book was a little too neat and tidy for me while, at the same time, leaving me frustrated that nothing seemed to have been learned by those in Anna's village who encouraged her fasting.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Midnight In Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham

Midnight In Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham
Published February 2019 by Simon and Schuster
Source: ebook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
April 25, 1986 in Chernobyl was a turning point in world history. The disaster not only changed the world’s perception of nuclear power and the science that spawned it, but also our understanding of the planet’s delicate ecology. With the images of the abandoned homes and playgrounds beyond the barbed wire of the 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone, the rusting graveyards of contaminated trucks and helicopters, the farmland lashed with black rain, the event fixed for all time the notion of radiation as an invisible killer.

Chernobyl was also a key event in the destruction of the Soviet Union, and, with it, the United States’ victory in the Cold War. For Moscow it was a political and financial catastrophe as much as an environmental and scientific one. With a total cost of 18 billion rubles—at the time equivalent to $18 billion—Chernobyl bankrupted an already teetering economy and revealed to its population a state built upon a pillar of lies.

The full story of the events that started that night in the control room of Reactor No.4 of the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant has never been told—until now. Through two decades of reporting, new archival information, and firsthand interviews with witnesses, journalist Adam Higginbotham tells the full dramatic story, including Alexander Akimov and Anatoli Dyatlov, who represented the best and worst of Soviet life; denizens of a vanished world of secret policemen, internal passports, food lines, and heroic self-sacrifice for the Motherland.

My Thoughts:
Recently HBO aired a mini-series called Chernobyl. We didn’t catch all of it but enough of it to make me interested in learning more so I turned to the library to see what was available. As it turned out, this book had only recently been published so I figured I’d grab up the newest book on the subject. Then I waited for weeks to get it. By the time I finally got it, and saw that it was almost 600 pages long, I began to doubt myself.

Two weeks later, I am surprisingly happy to tell you that I have a pretty damn good idea of how nuclear reactors work. Now there's a sentence I never expected to be saying (er, typing). Not only do I have a pretty good idea about how the reactors work, I have a really good idea about all of the ways they can fail. And I found it all of that science fascinating. I love, love when an author can do that for me (and a little annoyed that it couldn't have been made more interesting for me when I was in school!).

But, as you'll have surmised by the summary, this is not just a book about how a nuclear reactor failed. It's a book about how the Cold War lead to a rush to move nuclear weapon technology into energy production, how it lead to a race to build the reactors despite evidence of the dangers being built into the reactors, and how it lead to an unwillingness to admit failure. It's also a book about the crushing bureaucracy that not only contributed to the failure of Reactor Number Four but also lead to a massive coverup of the failure, inept attempts at containing the disaster, and disastrous care of the human beings impacted.

It's a long one that I thought I might never finish. I was highlighting so many things, including names I was certain I would need to be able to remember later. But Higginbotham is good about reminding readers who all of players are as he reintroduces them again and again. And, eventually, I came to realize that this is a library book; there's not much need to highlight when I won't be able to go back later and refresh myself on what I learned.

Higginbotham includes quite a few photos which I always enough in a nonfiction book, as well as an epilogue that follows up on the players who survived more than thirty years after the incident. As far as I can tell (and as far as he was able, given that much of the evidence is still hidden, labelled as top secret), this book is incredibly well researched. But now I need to go back to the HBO mini-series which, I now realize, took liberties to make the show more dramatic.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) 14

It's that time of year again - time for Readers Imbibing Peril, or RIP. You all know by know that I'm not a big reader of scary books and I'm not crazy wild about Halloween so it would seem odd that I do enjoy this blog world activity every year. But I always enjoy the push to read books that are out of my normal comfort zone, books, perhaps that have been languishing on my TBR for all too long (like one of last year's reads We Have Always Lived In The Castle) or even books that have been on my shelves for years.

This year my goal is simple - read a book that I have owned in excess of 40 years which I cannot remember ever having read. How is that even possible? I hauled home armloads of books from the library every chance I got growing up, was thrilled to receive books as gifts, and read the backs of cereal boxes when there was nothing else new to read. To be honest, I can't actually remember if I did read it. Maybe I did and it's left my memory. But it seems unlikely that I would have forgotten any book I'd read so completely, especially when I actually owned so few books. So, after all of that, my one goal this year is to make sure I read 50 Great Horror Stories edited by John Canning.

Now, if I get through that, it's possible, just possible, that this will be the year I finally read Dracula. But if you'd like to give me other suggestions for books I might enjoy, I'm more than happy to put that one off for another year!

Here's what you need to know about RIP if you're interested in joining us:

The purpose of the R.I.P. Challenge is to enjoy books that could be classified as:

Dark Fantasy.

The emphasis is never on the word challenge, instead it is about coming together as a community and embracing the autumnal mood, whether the weather is cooperative where you live or not.

The goals are simple.

1. Have fun reading.

2. Share that fun with others.

As we do each and every year, there are multiple levels of participation (Perils) that allow you to be a part of R.I.P. XIV without adding the burden of another commitment to your already busy lives. There is even a one book only option for those who feel that this sort of reading is not their cup of tea (or who have many other commitments) but want to participate all the same.

Multiple perils await you. You can participate in just one, or participate in them all.

Peril the First:

Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (our very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shirley Jackson or Tananarive Due…or anyone in between.

Peril the Second:

Read two books of any length that you believe fit within the challenge categories.

Peril the Third:

We all want you to participate. This Peril involves reading one book that fits within the R.I.P. definition.

Peril of the Short Story:

We are fans of short stories and our desire for them is perhaps no greater than in autumn. We see Jackson in our future for sure! You can read short stories any time during the challenge. We sometimes like to read short stories over the weekend and post about them around that time. Feel free to do this however you want, but if you review short stories on your site, please link to those reviews on our RIPXIV Book Review pages.

Peril on the Screen:

This is for those of us who like to watch suitably scary, eerie, mysterious gothic fare during this time of year. It may be something on the small screen or large. It might be a television show, like Dark Shadows, or your favorite film. If you are so inclined, please post links to any R.I.P.-related viewing you do on our book review pages as well.

Peril of the Review:

Submit a short review of any book you read and you may see it here on the blog! Again, you may participate in one or all of the various Perils. Our one demand: enjoy yourself!
The R.I.P. XIV Challenge does not require you to read from a pre-selected list of books, but like many of you we love to get ideas from what others are thinking of reading. If you want to include a pool of potential reads when you sign up, either in the comments or on your own sign up post on your social media channel of choice (not required for participation), please do!
This challenge is always a joy because of one thing: you! You sharing your passion for books, reading, films, television, etc. helps bring us together and ensures that we all have a great time. Thank each and every one of you who choose to participate on any level. We are honored that you would choose to do so.

So sign up below and join us, won’t you? It’s going to be a screaming good time.

Starts September 1st. Use the #ripxiv hashtag on all the socials.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Life: It Goes On - September 15

Where did this week go?! I wish I could say it flew by in exciting events or super productive days, and some of it was because of those things; but mostly it was just the usual stuff.

I did get a lot of reading done this week (now I just need to get caught up on reviews), The Big Guy and I had a fun date night, and I made a lot of tweaks around the house to keep things interesting. At least I didn't end the week feeling like I'd wasted too much time on mindless things (I'm looking at you, Instagram, you black hole, you!).

Last Week I:

Listened To: See sidebar. I finished The Wonder and with no new audiobook in queue at the moment, it's time to imprint Hamilton on my brain before Mini-him and I go see it on Sunday.

Watched: More Orange Is The New Black (BG works late on Mondays so Miss H and I knock off a couple of episodes every Monday), America's Got Talent, college football (of course!), and the first episode of A Very Brady Renovation. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the HGTV and Brady Bunch stars recreate that house so many of us grew up with.

Read: I raced through All The Ugly Wonderful Things and I'm still processing it - it may take awhile before I can write my review. I have three digital books and three books in print out from the library right now so I'm going to have to keep up my reading pace this week!

Made: Chicken caprese pasta, peanut butter cooks, bbq chicken - I can't actually remember what we ate like this but I did cook real meals most nights.

Cocktail bar in the Joslyn Castle
Enjoyed: Five hours of Happy Hour with friends on Friday evening, a few hours with all of my siblings at my parents' house today, and an evening at a Mark Twain Launch Party at Joslyn Castle with my hubby (bourbon tasting, tasty treats, live music, and some Mark Twains strolling around).  Did I ever tell you we have a castle in Omaha?

This Week I’m: 

Planning: One of Miss H's friends spur-of-the-moment spent the night last night. She told Miss H that our guest room was creepy with all of the old family pictures hanging on the walls. I'm not going to take all of those pictures out of the room; but if it feels creepy, it might be time to change things up a bit in there. If I'm doing that, I'm going to have to go get some paint - I literally used every last drop of a gallon of paint the last time I painted in there. 

Thinking About: My family - life is tough sometimes and I don't know what we'd do without each other.

Feeling: A little bit like I'm spinning my wheels and getting no where. Which is sort of why I'm tweaking things around here. Sometimes a little change around here can give me the inspiration to get on with things.

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday and Hamilton on Sunday!

Question of the week: As I have the past couple of falls, I'm planning to try really hard not to look beyond fall. But I'm having a tougher time this year already. For those of you who experience a real winter, how do you keep yourself from get down as winter approaches?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

In this week's episode of "Let's Clean Up Lisa's Bookish-Related Facebook Saves," I'm looking at books about children. I wasn't sure why I, who have only adult children, would have saved posts about books for little people. But as soon as I started looking at the lists, I remembered how much joy children's books have bought me over the years. And now I want start rereading the children's books that I've been saving.

Gretchen Rubin, who is a huge fan of children's literature, shared a list of her 81 favorite children's and young adult books. The list only includes one book by any given author so only James And The Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Most of my favorites are on this list, as are many of my kids' favorites. There are also a lot of books on this list that I've never even heard of!

From Romper comes a list of 19 Obscure Children's Books Your Child Should Have On Their Shelf. Again, there are a couple of books here that I've never heard of but I'm pretty excited to see All Of A Kind Family, Pippi Longstockings In The South Seas, and Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang on this list.

Some of the same books that appeared on these lists also appear on The New York Public Library's 100 Great Children's Books|100 Years. If you're invited to a book shower or a children's birthday party, you can't go wrong with buying any of the books on this list. You've got to figure that this list includes books that have been popular with children at the library for decades. I've chosen to show you Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon which was one of my son's favorite books when he was little and which I credit for providing him early encouragement for his creative mind.

After looking at these lists, is there anything missing that you would include?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Fall Feasting 2019

Several years ago I decided to devote a good portion of my fall reading to books about food. As much as I adore summer and love sitting on the patio eating salads, when the temps start to drop and the leaves start to change, I start to get my cooking mojo back. It stands to reason that books about food are just going to give me that much more inspiration. Last fall, it kind of got away from me but I'm feeling ready to mix in some food books this year so I'm brining it back.

I'm kicking this Fall Feasting season off with Lucy Knisley's Relish: My Life In The Kitchen, a graphic novel. I haven't read a graphic novel in a long while. If this goes well, I may just pick up Knisley's French Milk when I take Relish back to the library.

Also on my list of possible reads this fall are:
Stir: My Broken Brain and the Foods That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver
French Lessons by Peter Mayle
Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Harvest by Richard Horan

What books would you recommend for me to add to my list?

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Read by Cathleen McCarron
Published May 2017 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

My Thoughts: 
Everyone was reading this book in 2017. Because everyone was reading this book in 2017, I had that reaction that has so often saved me from reading a book I would rather not have read. I put it on the tbr list where books so often go to die. But everyone is still reading this book - I had to wait 16 weeks to get the audiobook from my library. If everyone is still reading this book, maybe there's something to it.

There is.

Did I not actually read any of the reviews of this book back in 2017? Because I was certain, for two years, that this must be one of the sweet, feel-good books that might be just the right book at certain times but lacks the depth that makes it anything more than a sherbet kind of read.

I was wrong.

Well, I was and I wasn't. It is a sweet, feel-good book. But there is a depth to it that completely took me by surprise. In many ways Eleanor reminded me of Don Tillman (Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project). Eleanor is a woman set in her ways, socially awkward, judgmental, and often rude. But Eleanor has a history that explains much about why she is so bad at social interaction and seems to feel she is superior to others. As Honeyman slowly revels Eleanor's past, she sucks readers in in much the same way as does a mystery book. I needed to know what happened to Eleanor and I needed to know that she was going to be ok. As unlikable as Eleanor is in the beginning, there is a person inside who desperately wants to be loved. Honeyman is masterful at getting readers to love Eleanor.

I was sad for this book to end but Honeyman ended it exactly the way it should be ended. This one is going on my book club's list for 2020 - I wish I could have them read it sooner!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Life: It Goes On - September 8

Grey, gloomy, and threatening to rain - so far September is looking very much like much of August. I'm not a fan of weather like this in the first place; but the fact that it is making it difficult for my tomatoes to ripen is making me more than a little cranky. It has made for excellent reading weather, which is a good thing because I have so many book checked out from the library that are about to expire. Why do they all have to become available at the same time?!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'm hoping to finish Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine today so I can get back to The Wonder tomorrow. I'm sure I've read reviews of Eleanor Oliphant but it still surprised me by its dark undertone.

Watched: Football - it's back for real now! Also, I've finally reached the final season of Orange Is The New Black. This morning I'm watching a marathon of Good Bones on HGTV.

Read: I'd been racing through books until the past couple of weeks when I hit Midnight In Chernobyl, which is over 1000 pages long. Also, I'm pretty sure I only read about 100 pages in the six days I was six days I was out of town.

Made: Bruschetta, nachos, caprese pasta, salads - lots of summer kinds of foods. Yesterday, though, I pulled out a container of frozen chicken taco soup because it was chilly and it has me thinking of new soups to try. As much as I hate for summer to end, I can't seem to stop myself from moving into fall!

Enjoyed: Friday evening on the patio with friends. We'd planned to do happy hour but it was so nice we decided we needed to make sure we could sit outside for as long as we wanted. It was the kind of evening I live for all winter!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: I'm not sure what project is up next. I've got a big reorganization planned for the basement but I'm not sure I want to spend nice days down working on that. Perhaps it's time to try deconstructing a chair. Or maybe I'll just sew some new pillow covers instead. That seems more do-able, right?

Thinking About: Christmas. Yes, I said it. It's time to start thinking about gifts before I'm racing around like a chicken with my head cut off in December. I've got some ideas for gifts to make and those always take longer than I think they will.

Feeling: There are some things going on right now that have me a little cranky and stressed. Stupid, toxic people need to get out of my life. And I need to find ways to decompress.

Looking forward to: Time with friends and family next weekend!

Question of the week: Of course, I turn to books to relax but I need your best ideas for other ways to find your inner peace. What's your go-to to put yourself in a better place?

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Recently I reviewed Melanie Benjamin's latest book, Mistress of the Ritz. In going through my Facebook saves, I discovered this post from Benjamin in September 2018:
"You know what's a good way to take care of yourself with all that's going on in the world? Read a book. And particularly, read fiction. I'm not telling any tales out of school when I say that fiction is not doing so well right now in this climate, not compared to the weekly hot new political memoir, obsessive Twitter refreshing, and the latest "Binge-worthy" drop on Netflix. Even some of my closest friends, devoted readers, have admitted that they haven't read a novel in a long time, even as they can recommend a list of recent nonfiction as long as their arms! And I like nonfiction, I do. But fiction takes us away, immerses us in new worlds while shutting out the noise of this one; it beguiles, it beckons, it helps us experience different lives, fascinating lives and stories. There is no better distraction than a big thumping novel that keeps you up at night. Try it. You'll like it!"

The other day I noticed that I had entirely forgotten to put together a list of books I've enjoyed in 2019. As I went back through the books I've read this year, I realized that I've read much more nonfiction than I usually read (although the nonfiction books I've read haven't necessarily been related to politics, which is what I believe Benjamin is referring to above). In the past couple of weeks, I've been racing through fiction books again and really enjoying what I've been reading. I'm certain I would have enjoyed these books any time I might have picked them up; but it's also possible that I just need to immerse myself into something that has nothing to do with the current climate.

I'm going to continue to work to read what I'm in the mood for, be that fiction or nonfiction. But, while I'm all for reading books that make us think, that teach us something, I'm also convinced that one of reading's great qualities is that it takes us away from the world we live in and into the world of imagination. I'm going to try to make sure that I spend as much time in that world as I do in the real world in my reading.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Life: It Goes On - September 4

The wedding trip has come and gone - how did six days pass by so quickly?! Re-entry yesterday was, as it always is, a little rough. I'm still tired and sad that I didn't have time to explore more while I was north. But I got to spend lots of time with my kiddos, which you know I love. And the wedding was beautiful. And I got to spend a lot of time with my parents and time with my siblings. Also, there was a giant lake I got to spend time right next to for days.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I didn't have much time for listening to a book in the past week. Mostly I thoroughly enjoyed listening to my kids enjoying each other's company. I love that they discuss world issues together, confide in each other, and lean on each other. This week was all about them teasing each other and laughing together. So much laughter and so many jokes that we will be laughing about for a long time.

Watched: My niece get married, duh! There were some tears, there was some laughter (my brother-in-law actually dropped his drawers during his father-of-the-bride speech!), there were a lot of smiles, and there was a whole lot of baltering. What's that you ask? Balter: (v.) to dance artlessly, without particularly grace or skill, but usually with enjoyment. And that was just my siblings and me!

Read: Ugh - I'm not getting one book done before the next one becomes available from the library so I'm trying to get through Midnight In Chernobyl and then I'll go back to This Blessed Earth.

Made: Travel food - muffins, hard boiled eggs, brownies. We rolled into our hotel looking like total white trash with our box of food and two coolers.

Enjoyed: I'm pretty sure you've figured this out by now - wedding, time with my family, Duluth. Perhaps the thing I enjoyed the most was watching my daughter having a blast in a situation that might have been really hard for her. I was so proud of her!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing up my early fall decorating. That doesn't mean I'm giving up on summer and there won't be pumpkin anything in my near future. But, there is a chill in the air these days. And Instagram is telling me it's time, so...

Thinking About: A major reorganization in my basement. You know I always need something to be planning that will take me much longer than I expect it to take. This should fill the bill.

Feeling: Meh. It's the let down after something you were looking forward to is past.

Looking forward to: Hamilton in two and a half weeks! Time to be listening to it nonstop!

Question of the week: Do you makeover your house for the change of seasons?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
Read by Judith Ivey*
Published July 2019 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
Two sisters, one farm. A family is split when their father leaves their shared inheritance entirely to Helen, his younger daughter. Despite baking award-winning pies at the local nursing home, her older sister, Edith, struggles to make what most people would call a living. So she can't help wondering what her life would have been like with even a portion of the farm money her sister kept for herself. 

With the proceeds from the farm, Helen builds one of the most successful light breweries in the country, and makes their company motto ubiquitous: "Drink lots. It's Blotz." Where Edith has a heart as big as Minnesota, Helen's is as rigid as a steel keg. Yet one day, Helen will find she needs some help herself, and she could find a potential savior close to home. . . if it's not too late.

Meanwhile, Edith's granddaughter, Diana, grows up knowing that the real world requires a tougher constitution than her grandmother possesses. She earns a shot at learning the IPA business from the ground up—will that change their fortunes forever, and perhaps reunite her splintered family?

Here we meet a cast of lovable, funny, quintessentially American characters eager to make their mark in a world that's often stacked against them.

My Thoughts:
Returning to the format that made his debut, Kitchens of the Great Midwest so popular, Stradal again gives us a generational story of a family torn apart and the way that rift impacts each of them. That book used one central character with the story moved forward from the point of view of many people who came into her life. It was a really interesting way to tell the story and you never entirely lost sight of the central character. Here Stradal utilizes a more traditional form, telling his story from just the points of view of his three central characters.

Because of the nature of the story, this meant that one or more of the characters kept disappearing from the story, sometimes for long periods. The truth of the matter was that not much of importance to the story was happening to those characters during that time period so it’s fine that we didn’t get that; but when the story more or less switched from being Edith’s and Helen’s story to being Diana’s story, it took some getting used to the change. Eventually, though, it all circles back, as you know it will from the beginning; and I found the way Stradal handled that very satisfying.

As he did with food in Kitchens, Stradal goes into detail about the ingredients and flavors and even smells of beer as well as the exploding craft brewing industry and the way that turned traditional brewing on its ear. And, as he did with foodies in Kitchens, Stradal is quick to mock those who take it all too seriously. I’m a big fan of craft beers but I have no idea of the specific ingredients that go into making my favorite porter. My son, on the other hand, is very knowledgeable about beer and has very definite opinions about craft beers in particular. He will happily chat up a brewer, which might make some of the characters here happy, but certainly makes him a target of Stradal’s mirth.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota does require some suspension of disbelief. Diana is forced to make her first beer 22 times before the brewery owner finally decides she’s made something worth selling; but, later, the grandmas that start working for her are allowed to put their first efforts out into the world. These are ladies with no experience in beer making who didn’t hesitate to believe they could create a beer. Putting them through their paces just wouldn’t have fit the time line, so we have to be ok with that. We also have to be ok with the idea that anyone would buy a pie flavored beer. I only know of one person who wouldn’t hesitate to try it (and you know who you are….Dad!). But these ladies need to be allowed to make beers they would drink and we have to believe that there are other people out there who would feel the same way. For the sake of the story, I was willing to do that.

The publisher calls the cast of this book “lovable, funny, quintessentially American characters.” I disagree. This cast is at quintessentially Midwestern, certainly quintessentially Minnesotan. Which is just fine; Stradal knows these people and clearly has great fondness for them. I was impressed with how well Stradal wrote female characters in Kitchens and he hasn’t lost a step here. This book is absolutely about women stepping up and stepping into traditional male roles and about women finding ways to make their lives work, no matter what it takes.

Lager Queen lacks the gut punches and certain element of darkness that Kitchens sometimes had so it lacked some of that depth. But there are characters here to like, characters you won’t care much for, successes, sadness, and hard times. But it’s an uplifting book that you will probably race through. And, in the end, when you hear something on tv about Citra and Simcoe hops (as I did just after I finished this book), you’ll feel mighty darn smart because you already know what those do to a beer!

*Judith Ivey does a commendable job reading this book (although she is stronger with the older
women’s voices than some of the others). I’d definitely pick up other books she’s read.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

This week, I'm looking at women and books as I go through my bookish saves on Facebook.

First up, from Book Riot comes a list of 10 New Books on Anger, Feminism, and Unruly Women (mind you, this list was created in September 2018 so these are really all that new anymore). I've had to back off my anger for a bit for my mental health, with 2020 and elections around the corner, I'm ready to get fired up again and these books will help!

In June 2018, HelloGiggle gave us this list of the books Emma Watson and her feminist book club had read to that point. Everyone of the books on this list that I've already read I heartily recommend and I can't wait to get to the rest of them. Now I need to go find out what the club has read in the past year. Why haven't I joined this book club?!

POPSUGAR gives us this list of 100+ Books by Black Women That Should Be Essential Reading for Everyone. This seems even more appropriate to share since we recently lost Toni Morrison, whose Beloved appears on this list. You know that I'm always trying to push myself to read more diversely and this list is going to be a great help when I'm looking for my next book to read in the pursuit. Every one of the books on this list is written by a different author (hence, only the one book by Morrison on the list) so there are a lot of new authors to experience.

Because, let's face it, most book clubs are made up entirely of women, I'm including some book club lists on this post as well. First up is Reese Witherspoon's Book Club Picks from Read It Forward. While Witherspoon isn't nearly as edgy as Watson, her books always focus on women and she does include a mix of styles, from books that would likely be considered chick-lit to Curtis Sittenfeld's short story collection, you think it, i'll say it which I reviewed here.

If you'd like to push your book club out of their comfort zone, check out this list of 10 New Controversial Books To Shake Up Your Next Book Club from Book Riot. I'm forever trying to remind my book club that one of the reasons to join a book club is to read books that they wouldn't otherwise pick up. Trust me, none of them would pick up any of these unless I made them do it!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin
Published May 2019 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Nothing bad can happen at the Ritz; inside its gilded walls every woman looks beautiful, every man appears witty. Favored guests like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor walk through its famous doors to be welcomed and pampered by Blanche Auzello and her husband, Claude, the hotel’s director. The Auzellos are the mistress and master of the Ritz, allowing the glamour and glitz to take their minds off their troubled marriage, and off the secrets that they keep from their guests—and each other.

Until June 1940, when the German army sweeps into Paris, setting up headquarters at the Ritz. Suddenly, with the likes of Hermann GoĆ«ring moving into suites once occupied by royalty, Blanche and Claude must navigate a terrifying new reality. One that entails even more secrets and lies. One that may destroy the tempestuous marriage between this beautiful, reckless American and her very proper Frenchman. For in order to survive—and strike a blow against their Nazi “guests”—Blanche and Claude must spin a web of deceit that ensnares everything and everyone they cherish.

But one secret is shared between Blanche and Claude alone—the secret that, in the end, threatens to imperil both of their lives, and to bring down the legendary Ritz itself.

Blanche and Claude Auzello
My Thoughts:
The world is full of people who have interesting stories. Some of them are famous, some are well known in their own sphere, others are almost forgotten to time. Melanie Benjamin has a knack of finding the people at the edges of fame and bringing their stories to life: Vinnie Bump (Mrs. Tom Thumb), Alice Liddell (Alice In Wonderland), Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Blanche Auzello is remembered because of her connection to fame, the fame of Hotel Ritz in Paris, a hotel known for its glamour, famous clientele, and the curious mingling, during World War II, of the rich and the Nazis who had set up headquarters in the Ritz.

Only a skeleton of Blanche's history remains for historians and that's where Benjamin's ability to weave a story comes into play. Benjamin has created a story of a hasty marriage between two people who seemed drawn to each other but who were unwilling to compromise and unable to communicate with each other. The arrival of the Nazis turned the heat up on all of that.

I'm not entirely sure how a feel about Benajmin's light touch early in the book. I don't really need Benjamin to tell me what was happening to the people who were pulled out of their homes and disappeared. And I understand that, at the Ritz, things were not so desperate as they were in other parts of the city. Still, it seemed strange to read a book about occupied Paris without feeling overwhelmed by sadness about what was happening to the people of France.

Benjamin's focus, though, is on Blanche and Claude and the things they do to fight for the country they both love. The atrocities that the Nazis were committing are a part of the book but the real fear and horror doesn't come into play until late in the book, after Benjamin has built the tension around her central characters. And once she's built up the terror of the Nazi occupation, Benjamin doesn't shy away from the atrocities and the suffering nor the desperation those who remained safe felt. Nor does she shy away from the aftereffects of what happened once the Nazi's are driven out of Paris. There is no real "happily-ever-after." The citizens of France may have heeded Charles de Gaulle's advice and focused on moving forward after the war. But, as happy as the reunions were, the scars remained.

As with all of Benjamin's books, Mistress of the Ritz would make an excellent book club selection. There is a lot here to discuss including infidelity, secrets, collaboration with enemies, marriage, friendship, heroism, and anti-Semitism. I raced through this one and recommend it, particularly for fans of historical fiction.

Monday, August 26, 2019

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Read by Blair Brown
Published June 2019 by Penguin Publisher Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
"Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are."

Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves - and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now eighty-nine years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life - and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. "At some point in a woman's life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time," she muses. "After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is."

My Thoughts:
I've been struggling with this review. There was so much I liked about this book. And yet, when I was about two-thirds of the way through it, a friend asked me what I thought of it and the word that came to mind at that point was "boring." So I turned, as I so often do, to see what other people thought of the book. Was I the only one who felt this way? Had I missed something? Was I the only person who found this book to be terribly uneven and who felt it had lost its way? The answers to those questions is "no."

Vivian is looking back on her life because she's received a letter from a woman whose father has died and she is asking Vivian for an explanation of her father's and Vivian's relationship. This book is meant to be Vivian's response.  A hundred pages in, it occurred to me to think it was odd that Vivian would go into such detail as a response to that request.

At that point, though, I was thoroughly into the story. Ron Charles, of the Washington Post, nailed it when he said that Gilbert has a good ear for the "arch repartee of 1940's comedy." Y'all, I love 1940's comedies - Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in His Girl Friday, anyone? Vivian's time with her Aunt Peg at the Lily Playhouse was filled with humor, wild abandon, a crazy cast of characters, and descriptions that made the place and time come alive. I'd completely forgotten that I was meant to be reading a letter to the daughter of one of Vivian's loves.

Then Vivian's life crashed and the vibrancy of the book crashed as well. I tried to give Gilbert the benefit of the doubt - certainly she would have wanted readers to feel how flat Vivian's life had become and to understand how she might yearn for the life she had once had and for us to truly understand how what had happened affected her. But I was so bored by the book at that point that I seriously considered giving up on it, and you know how rare it is for me to give up on a book.

Gilbert saved the book with the third act (a reminder why I am always so loathe to give up on a book). It didn't have the same sparkle, nor the humor, and went longer than it needed to as it worked it's way back to the answer to the daughter's question. Which sounds like I didn't like the ending but I actually liked it a lot and was very glad that I had stuck with this book. Although I'm not sure I can recommend it. Now you see why I was struggling with this review!

Here's my other struggle with recommending this book - you can't skim an audiobook (yes, I know you can speed it up but you can only stand so much mosquito buzzing reading) so you can't just move ahead to the good parts of the book. But if you read it in print, no Blair Brown and Blair Brown was the perfect person to "play" Vivian.

Ron Charles raves about Gilbert's first book, Stern Men. Maybe I'll go pick that up so I can appreciate Gilbert's often impressive skills in a book that really works.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Life: It Goes On - August 25

The last Sunday of what I consider summer - why does summer have to go by so quickly?! Not only that but it's been grey and cool here the past few days; it doesn't even feel like summer any more. Which may account for why I'm starting to think about fall decorating (even as another part of my brain cries out "don't pack up the seashells yet!"). I feel like the summer has flown by and we haven't done nearly enough summery kinds of things. Hopefully, we'll still have some hot, summery days left in September for us to do some of those things.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished The Lager Queen of Minnesota and I am now an expert when it comes to the ingredients that go into a beer. Seriously - on CBS Sunday Morning they were talking about the ingredients in a particular new beer and I turned to my husband and said "I would like that beer with Citra and Simcoe hops." Friday I started Emma Donoghue's The Wonder, which is moody and Irish.

Watched: Friday night I watched three Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies (thanks, TCM!), my Oakland Raiders preseason game, and the kickoff of college football yesterday.

Read: I'm really enjoying This Blessed Earth about a year in the life of a Nebraska farm family. It's slow going because I'm really wanting to make sure I'm soaking it up. I'm hoping to finish it in the next few days and can't wait to talk to people about it. The farm is only about ten miles from where my husband grew up so I can vividly picture the lay of the land.

Good thing you can't see the rest
of the room!
Made: My daughter's bed. It's a rare thing but once I got the painting done and the curtains hung, it was time to get the bedding on and I wanted at least one pic to know what the room could look like if she made the bed.

Enjoyed: Book club on Tuesday. We reading Michelle Obama's Becoming and enjoyed talking about the book and the roads that discussion took us down.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: It's wedding week for my niece! I'll be driving north with my parents and my family will follow the next day. By now you all know what a control freak I am so it won't surprise you in the least to know that leaving BG in charge of closing up the house and bringing up the rest of what we need to causing me to panic a bit. There will be long to-do lists left for him!

Thinking About: What books to take along. Which is a little silly because between actually be the driver for a good part of the trip and being busy with family and sightseeing, there won't be much time for reading. But you know I'll still probably bring a couple of books with me!

Feeling: A little silly. I'm feeling very sad that my kitty girl will be home alone for so long and I already know that I'll miss her and her silliness and snuggles. Those of you who don't have pets will think I'm crazy; those of you who do will completely understand.

Looking forward to: Duluth!

Question of the week: What's the one thing you always forget when you're packing for a trip?

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

I added something to my save the other day on Facebook and realized that I've been adding things for months again without going back to read them. It's time for me to go through those and I thought I'd share while I was at it. This week, I'm looking at nonfiction books. Truly, I never realized that I could love nonfiction until I started blogging, even though I have always loved biographies, memoirs, histories. What I've learned is that there is something for every when it comes to nonfiction, just as with fiction.

First up, from Book Riot, is a list of 5 Popular Books That Are Still Worth Reading Post-Hype. Let's face it, we've all picked up books because we wanted to read them while everyone was talking about them. And we've all had our fair share of them that baffled us - how did this book become so popular? Or, we've been scared away from a book because everyone else was reading it. Sometimes it's worth waiting a bit to see how the book holds up. I definitely recommend the four of these I've read (I haven't heard of Clade to be honest).

From Bustle comes a list of 10 Nonfiction Books About Other Books, Because The History of Literature Is Fascinating. Most lists contain at least one or two books that I have no interest in picking up but I'm adding all of these to my towering TBR list. The question is where to start? I'm thinking a reread of Little Women followed by Meg, Jo, Beth Amy. Or...Prairie Fires, in light of the fact that I recently read Caroline, Little House Revisited. Hmm....

Kim Ukura, of Book Riot, has put together a list of 50 Great Narrative Nonfiction Books To Get On Your TBR List. I love narrative nonfiction so I'm pretty darn excited to check out a lot of these books. Kim is kind of my go-to person for nonfiction recommendations so I'm loving having all of these suggestions in one place.

The last list I want to share this week is The New York Times' list of The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years. Two of my co-workers just finished Tara Westover's Educated. They both loved it but both of them said it was the first memoir they had ever read. That blew my mind! So I've been trying to put together a list of other memoirs they might like. There are quite a few here I think I can safely recommend; I'm thinking Mary Karr's Lit will be my first recommendation. I think I'll finally get around to reading it, too!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Accidentals by Minrose Gwin

The Accidentals by Minrose Gwin
Published August 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Following the death of their mother from a botched backwoods abortion, the McAlister daughters have to cope with the ripple effect of this tragedy as they come of age in 1950s Mississippi and then grow up to face their own impossible choices—an unforgettable, beautiful novel that is threaded throughout with the stories of mothers and daughters in pre-Roe versus Wade America.

Life heads down back alleys, takes sharp left turns. Then, one fine day it jumps the track and crashes.”

In the fall of 1957, Olivia McAlister is living in Opelika, Mississippi, caring for her two girls, June and Grace, and her husband, Holly. She dreams of living a much larger life—seeing the world and returning to her wartime job at a landing boat factory in New Orleans. As she watches over the birds in her yard, Olivia feels like an “accidental”—a migratory bird blown off course.

When Olivia becomes pregnant again, she makes a fateful decision, compelling Grace, June, and Holly to cope in different ways. While their father digs up the backyard to build a bomb shelter, desperate to protect his family, Olivia’s spinster sister tries to take them all under her wing. But the impact of Olivia’s decision reverberates throughout Grace’s and June’s lives. Grace, caught up in an unconventional love affair, becomes one of the “girls who went away” to have a baby in secret. June, guilt-ridden for her part in exposing Grace’s pregnancy, eventually makes an unhappy marriage. Meanwhile Ed Mae Johnson, an African-American care worker in a New Orleans orphanage, is drastically impacted by Grace’s choices.

As the years go by, their lives intersect in ways that reflect the unpredictable nature of bird flight that lands in accidental locations—and the consolations of imperfect return.

My Thoughts:
I've been reading a lot lately - books for review, library books that have become available and need to get read quickly. It's meant I'm not always reading the book that I would have chosen for the reading mood I'm in at that moment. Truthfully, I'm not even always sure what I'm in the mood to read. For example, I didn't know, when I picked up The Accidentals that I was in the mood for a beautifully written book about family that spans decades and explores the ripple effect of our choices. She vividly describes the birds, the land, the food and drink, the clothing - it's all part of a beautiful picture. More importantly, Gwin does a marvelous job of helping readers feel her characters anger, their guilt, and their pain.

In the time before Roe v. Wade, three unwanted pregnancies result in three different choices and three very different outcomes. Gwin doesn't make any judgments about her characters choices; she seems to want readers to understand that any choice is a tough choice when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. Olivia had to be willing to risk her life, Grace was forced to give up her daughter, and June felt forced into marriage - all choices they felt they had to make because of the morals and laws of that time.

Speaking of the morals and laws of the time, Gwin loads up her story with references that put readers squarely into the decades in which the book takes place. World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the space race, the Challenger accident, Hurricane Katrina, and Barack Obama's first bid for the presidency help readers keep track of when the book is taking place; Gwin tends to skip forward in time, sometimes taking great leaps, and those references helped me keep track of the ages the sisters.

She also touches on a lot of subjects in the book: homosexuality, abortion, teen pregnancy, rape, adoption, racism, love, redemption, forgiveness, family, racism, "passing," mental illness, Alzheimer's, cancer, animal abuse, pedophilia, rights of felons to vote, and gender inequality. Sound like a lot? It is and, to be honest, Gwin might have been better served by cutting back on some of it. Occasionally it felt forced, like when Ed Mae can vote for the first time just as the first black man is running for president. Sometimes I wasn't sure it was Gwin's place to try to tell the story. I appreciated that she was trying to weave in a story about how unfair life was for blacks in the south in the second half of the last century; but I wasn't sure it was her story to tell.

One reviewer on Goodreads wrote "much like the birds - the "accidentals" that lose their way - so, too, does the story." I'm not sure I entirely agree with that, but the last quarter of the book feels like it is racing along to get to the finale. And it felt a little jarring that Gwin chose to let Ed Mae's story be the final chapter since the book was not her story. That being said, despite a need for some suspension of disbelief, I did like the way the story lines came together at the end of the book and that fact that Gwin left readers to come to their own conclusions about what might have come next.

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for giving me the right book at the right time, a book about these "accidentals." For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour.

About Minrose Gwin

Minrose Gwin is the author of The Queen of Palmyra, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick and finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award, and the memoir Wishing for Snow, cited by Booklist as “eloquent” and “lyrical”—“a real life story we all need to know.” She has written four scholarly books and coedited The Literature of the American South. She grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, hearing stories of the Tupelo tornado of 1936. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Find out more about Minrose at her website. The book can be found at HarperCollins.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Recovery: Intoxication And Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison

The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison
Published April 2018 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: my copy purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
With its deeply personal and seamless blend of memoir, cultural history, literary criticism, and reportage, The Recovering turns our understanding of the traditional addiction narrative on its head, demonstrating that the story of recovery can be every bit as electrifying as the train wreck itself. Leslie Jamison deftly excavates the stories we tell about addiction—both her own and others'—and examines what we want these stories to do and what happens when they fail us. All the while, she offers a fascinating look at the larger history of the recovery movement, and at the complicated bearing that race and class have on our understanding of who is criminal and who is ill.

At the heart of the book is Jamison's ongoing conversation with literary and artistic geniuses whose lives and works were shaped by alcoholism and substance dependence, including John Berryman, Jean Rhys, Billie Holiday, Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson, and David Foster Wallace, as well as brilliant lesser-known figures such as George Cain, lost to obscurity but newly illuminated here. Through its unvarnished relation of Jamison's own ordeals, The Recovering also becomes a book about a different kind of dependency: the way our desires can make us all, as she puts it, "broken spigots of need." It's about the particular loneliness of the human experience-the craving for love that both devours us and shapes who we are.

My Thoughts:
I've read about addiction in a lot of books over the years, from Go Ask Alice when I was in junior high to, most recently, Daisy Jones and the Six. I've read memoirs and fiction. I've a lot of books by both men and women who battled addiction - William Faulkner, Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens. Jamison has read a lot of books written by addicts, too. When it was time for her to write her dissertation, it was those addicts whose journeys through addiction she chose to write about. Those were her people, writers battling their addictions.

Here Jamison has expanded on that dissertation. She writes a lot about how addiction and recovery affected creative lives. She was looking for answers to some questions - are active addicts better storytellers? are stories of active addiction more interesting? I'd add another question after reading this book and thinking about those questions - what does it say about our society when it seems that the answer is that stories of people behaving badly, giving in to their demons are more interesting to us? Perhaps the most interesting story off all the authors she included was that of Stephen King, who said he wrote The Shining "without even realizing...that I was writing about myself." But even though this piece of the book gave me much to think about, it was also this piece of the book that dragged for me.

Fortunately, there was so much in this book that made me happy that I picked it up. Jamison is incredibly honest about her own alcoholism and how it impacted her life and very open about her battle to get clean. Addiction has hit close in my family and I'm always looking for stories about people who have found a way to get and stay clean. I could picture those church basements Jamison described and the people who found their way to them. I know about addicts getting up to tell their stories and I know about the mantras that may seem trite to some but which seem to be lifelines for recovering addicts. Because Jamison is an alcoholic, her recovery experience is with Alcoholics Anonymous and she includes the history of that program. I did wish she would have touched on other groups that help other kinds of addicts; not all programs work the same.

Most interesting for me was Jamison's research into the history of the recovery movement in this country and her examination of the way we treat addicts and addiction. Have you ever heard of the Narco Farm, the "infamous prison-hospital for addicts?" Did you know that Richard Nixon, not Nancy Reagan, first initiated the so-called War on Drugs? In the past 100 years, it seems that we have made very little progress, as a society, in dealing with addiction. We rely almost entirely on programs like Alcoholic Anonymous or rehabilitation facilities that most addicts can't afford and which have a very low rate of sustained recovery.

But Jamison leaves readers with hope. Researchers continue to find new drugs that will help recovering addicts sustain their sobriety and the way addiction and treatment affect the brain. And there is hope for addicts who want to recover, who look to those fellow addicts who can show them the way.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Life: It Goes On - August 18

August 18. The kids here are all back in school. Summer is almost over. Oh, maybe not officially. But even for those of us who don't have school-aged children, summer is over when August is over. Honestly, if we didn't mentally start fall on September 1st, we might not even get two months of it - more than once we've had winter storms before then end of October. So while I've absolutely enjoyed beautiful evenings on the patio this week because of evening temperatures in the 70's, I need me some 90 degree days before the end of the month. I need it to feel like summer before summer is gone.

Last Week I:

Blair Brown, Judith Ivey
Listened To: I finished Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls on Thursday and started J. Ryan Stradal's The Lager Queen of Minnesota Friday. Can I just tell you how perfect the readers are for both of these books? Blair Brown reads City of Girls and Judith Ivey reads Lager Queen and I can't recommend listening to these books enough.

Watched: Football, America's Got Talent, and several episodes of Orange Is The New Black. I'm struggling with Orange, with the violence and threat of violence that is much more constant than previous seasons. I have to be in the right frame of mind to watch it.

Read: I raced through Melanie Benjamin's Mistress of the Ritz and yesterday started Ted Genoway's This Blessed Earth which was a Nebraska Reads choice and is now the Omaha Reads choice.

Made: If it's got tomatoes in it, we've had it this week. This will pretty much be the case for the rest of tomato season!

Enjoyed: Lots of time with friends this week - dinner on Wednesday at a Thai restaurant and last night on the patio having s'mores.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing up Miss H's room. The new bedding is on, the painting will be done this afternoon, and the curtains are hung. We just need to finish up some organizing and she'll be good to go. 

Thinking About: What I'm going to refinish next. I finally finished the plant stand I've been working on for weeks. Early last week I stained it. Then decided I hated the color. So I stripped it back down, sanded it a bit and gave it a new color. It's not perfect (I would have had to sand it down another half inch or so to get to all of the paint!); but, for me, it's imperfectly perfect!

Feeling: Excited - next week we head north for my niece's wedding and I'm already making packing lists. Can't wait to get in the car to celebrate, enjoy time with family, get to see my kids from up north, and spend time along Lake Superior.

Looking forward to: Book club this week and, hopefully, a book club outing to see Where'd You Go Bernadette.

Question of the week: What's your favorite part about a road trip?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain by Phoebe Robinson
Read by Phoebe Robinson
Published October 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my audiobook copy checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Being a black woman in America means contending with old prejudices and fresh absurdities every day. Comedian Phoebe Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years: she's been unceremoniously relegated to the role of “the black friend,” as if she is somehow the authority on all things racial; she's been questioned about her love of U2 and Billy Joel (“isn’t that...white people music?”); she's been called “uppity” for having an opinion in the workplace; she's been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask her whether they can touch her hair all. the. time. Now, she's ready to take these topics to the page—and she’s going to make you laugh as she’s doing it.

Using her trademark wit alongside pop-culture references galore, Robinson explores everything from why Lisa Bonet is “Queen. Bae. Jesus,” to breaking down the terrible nature of casting calls, to giving her less-than-traditional advice to the future female president, and demanding that the NFL clean up its act, all told in the same conversational voice that launched her podcast, 2 Dope Queens, to the top spot on iTunes. As personal as it is political, You Can't Touch My Hair examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases with humor and heart, announcing Robinson as a writer on the rise.

My Thoughts:
I was not familiar with Robinson before I read this book, although I had heard of her podcast/HBO show 2 Dope Queens. But you know that I'm trying to educate myself so I decided to pick this book up after seeing it around the blogosphere. An education is exactly what I got from a lady who knows how to blend serious subjects with humor and down right funny stories.

Robinson opens the book talking about black people's hair - the ways it has been used to make statements, the way her feelings about her own hair have changed over the years, and the way black people's hair has been used as a weapon against them. Robinson writes about wishing she were the girl with the great hair but she also acknowledges that she can play with her hair in all kinds of ways. Google images of Robinson and you will see that she takes full advantage of her options.

Perhaps my favorite part of this book were the letters Robinson wrote to her now very young niece, who is half black (which, given the content of many of them, we can only hope she won't read for a good long while!). Robinson wants to make sure her niece understands the good things about her black heritage and gives her some heads up about how to make her way through the world as a black woman. And then, hilariously, brings in comedian John Hodgman to explain the good things about being white.

I was educated, I was amused, and I often found myself nodding in agreement. All of which is a good thing in an essay collection and makes this book well worth a listen. Now I need to find the print copy I have somewhere on my shelves because as much as you gain somethings by listening to a book, you also miss out on all of the pictures.

My only, small issue with the book is this: after several similar books in the past few months, there is starting to be cadence and manner of speaking that feels like the funny ladies I'm listening to have all gone to the same "how to read your book" school. If I was more familiar with Robinson, I would know if what I heard here was true to Robinson's style. I suppose I should just go download some @ Dope Queens and find out...and educate myself some more.