Sunday, June 30, 2019

Life: It Goes On - June 30

Happy holiday week! I'm pretty excited to be looking forward to a four-day weekend, although what I anticipated to be a relaxing long weekend is starting to fill up with activities. Think I need to pencil in time for reading and naps on the patio before all of my time is filled up. Of course, naps on the patio will entirely be dependent on the heat and humidity - this weekend it's so hot and humid that even I don't want to eat dinner on the patio!

Happy anniversary today to Mini-me and Ms. S! I can't believe it's already been two years since we gathered to celebrate their future together!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Mindy Kahling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me and started Marlon James' 24-hour-long Black Leopard, Red Wolf. It quickly became apparent to me that there's no way I'm going to get that finished before it disappears back to the library so I've checked it out in print as well. Of course, I have several other things that need to be read in the next week or so, so I'm not sure I'll even finish it up in print in time.

Watched: For months I've thought that Miss H had cancelled Hulu. Recently I found out that she didn't so this weekend I've been having a marathon of The Mindy Project. So darn funny and exactly what I needed.

Read: Northern Lights by Cathy Parker, about a woman who saw a news story about a high school football team in Barrow, Alaska and felt called on to give those young men a real football field. To say that she moved heaven and earth to get an astroturf field to the Arctic Circle is no exaggeration. I've started Karl Marlantes' Deep River, which I got through Netgalley. I'm really enjoying it a lot but I'm pushing the archive date so I'm hoping there is time to finish it before I can't access it any more. I'm also finishing up Anita Kushwaha's Side by Side for a TLC Book Tours tour tomorrow. So sad!

Made: Reverse chocolate chip cookie dough - chocolate dough, white chips - which is only slowly getting made into cookies and mostly getting eaten as dough because we like to live dangerously, apparently.

Enjoyed: Rocketman last night with friends. Taron Egerton is absolutely fantastic as Elton John; my friend and I agreed that he is hands down better than Rami Malek was as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, as he won the all kinds of awards. Sadly, this has probably been released to early to earn consideration for any awards. While it's a biopic, it's more in the vein of Across The Universe, in that the songs are incorporated as much like a musical as they are performed in concert in the movie.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: To finish up some projects I started this weekend, including stripping and refinishing a plant stand that my grandpa made at least 50 years ago. I'm go excited about getting it back down to wood, but even more excited to find my name written on it by Grandma long ago designating it for me.

Thinking About: My heart and head are always with our friends who lost their son. We'll be heading their way next weekend to spend some time with them.

Feeling: Energized today. Yesterday was a lazy day thanks to a headache but once I started moving this morning, I have been kicking butt on getting things knocked off the to-do list.

Looking forward to: Late starts this week for work - with only a three-day week, I don't have to go in to until 8:30!

Question of the week: Do you have big plans to celebrate this week?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing by Marie Kondo
Published October 2014 by Potter/Ten Speed/ Harmony/Rodale
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary: 
Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

My Thoughts: Although I didn’t start organizing my things when I was only five, as Kondo did, I’ve long been looking for the best way to keep the things we have organized and to keep the number of those things from becoming out of control. When this book first came out, I certainly considered giving Kondo’s methods a try. But the whole idea of touching every single item in my house and deciding if it “sparked joy” started to seem more and more preposterous and turned me off from looking into her methods further.
Having recently enjoyed Kondo’s Netflix show, I decided it was time to give it a try. I still think touching every single item in my house and deciding if it sparks joy is a bit nuts, particularly assuming you look at things strictly as needing to be something that makes you happy.

After watching the show and reading the book, though, I feel like I can broaden that out a little and make it work for me. Would not having a particular object make me unhappy, for example? Take, for example, a toilet plunger. I doubt even Marie Kondo looks at hers and finds that it sparks joy. But not having one would certainly make me unhappy.

I do think Kondo is all too eager to convince us to part with some things. She recommends, for example, we toss all boxes that purchases come in, suggesting we can always find another box to put that item in if the need should arise. This doesn’t take into account the fact that some manufacturers require you to return items in the packaging in which they arrived. It doesn’t take into account the idea that people may move frequently and having the originally packaging for an item will absolutely be the best way to pack that item up for transport, as my son has found in his many moves. Mind you, those boxes are stored in my basement, not his apartment, so that might not work as well if he had to find storage space for them. It also goes against Kondo’s dictum that shifting your things onto others is a no-no.

The absolutely craziest thing I found in this book was Kondo’s idea that dishes should be dried on the veranda. You know, the place were bugs might (in Nebraska, will) land on them. Sunlight may be a good disinfectant, Marie, but not good enough to kill off the fly poop that’s getting on my dishes outside, to say nothing of dirt. All that being said, I did find a lot of good to take away from Kondo.

I’ve previously tried the idea of getting rid of one thing every day. I’ve done 40 Bags In 40 Days for several years now, working on one area of the house each day. And still I feel overwhelmed by the amount of things we have. Clearly those methods are not doing for me what I need done. I like the idea of breaking the process down into categories and working through one category before moving onto the next. Kondo’s order that the categories should be done in makes perfectly logical sense to me, guiding people through the easier categories first and leaving sentimental items for last.

It makes perfectly logical sense to me to make sure we are gathering all of one category together before we start deciding what to keep. In my house, there are writing utensils in three different places on the first floor alone; there is no one to know if we are holding on to far too many pens in total if we never see them altogether. And Kondo provides good guidance on how to part with items we are only holding onto out of guilt. And while I balked when she started talking about getting rid of large quantities of unread books, suggesting that if you didn’t read them when they first came into your house, you never would, later she did make allowances for people who might want to hold on to more, as long as their remaining books made them happy.

Kondo clearly developed her method around the Japanese way of life. Some of the things she’s done to make her method work for her would not work for me. Kondo and I will just have to agree to disagree when it comes to talking for our inanimate objects and expecting a response. But, as I do with all methods, I’ll take what will work for me and give it a try. If it fails, Kondo would clearly believe it’s because I didn’t follow all the rules, including thanking my house and all of my things for the great job they are doing, but I’m good with that.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Read by: Hope Jahren
Published: April 2016 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment. Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together.
My Thoughts:
Finally – a book I feel like merits being on all of the best-of lists the year it was published! This is a book that is beautifully written, painfully open and honest, makes science come alive, and is one of the best read books I’ve to which I've listened.

Jahren is telling so many stories in the book – what it’s like to try to do scientific research in an age where there is shockingly little money for it, what it’s like to try to rise as a scientist when you’re female, her life outside of being a scientist including her battle with mental illness and a very dangerous pregnancy, and the story of the wonderful friendship she and Bill have had for decades.

When Jahren became convinced that she couldn’t become a doctor, she decided to major in English literature. It shows in her often poetic writing, never more so than when she includes passages from David Copperfield to illustrate points she is making in the chapter about her time working in the pharmacy of a hospital.

Oh, my lord, if you don't read this book for any other reason, you really do need to read it for the relationship that Jahren has with Bill. They have such a close bond that if her now husband would have had a problem with Bill, that would have been a deal breaker. They "get" each other in ways that are both poignant and so very, very funny.

Did I mention that the book is often hilarious? Jahren finds the humor in ridiculous situations but she also uses humor as a shield against pain. From her relationship with her mother to her bipolar disorder, from her pregnancy to her battle against men in her profession, Jahren is brutally honest about what she has been through and her ability, or inability, to handle these times.

Jahren’s passion for science shines throughout the book but she never gets dragged down by it. She finds a way to make plant life relatable to life’s events that is original and captivating. And Jahren as the reader of her own book is absolutely marvelous - she knows how to make a book come alive, how to make readers feel her pain and her passion.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Life: It Goes On - June 23

This past week I had to question that title. Last Sunday morning, we got the news that some of our oldest, dearest friends' son had been killed the night before in a motorcycle accident. The funeral was Friday. And still today I struggle to believe that it can be true. I'm so sad for my friends and their other children; I worry about how this is affect them as a family. Their family is our family. He and Mini-me were great friends. We just went to his wedding last fall. Right now I'm as angry as I am sad. This past week has passed in a fog and the only thing that has helped me get through it is to throw myself into books. I've got so many reading commitments I need to take care of, but what I really want to do is re-read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Hope Jahren's Lab Girl and started Mindy Kahling's Is Everyone Else Hanging Out Without Me?

Watched: A lot of the College World Series and, in an effort to find something that would be a comfort food kind of a movie, Reese Witherspoon in Home Again. I'm sad to say that I can't recommend it and know why I'd never heard of it before finding it on Netflix. In an effort to get over that Witherspoon memory, yesterday I started watching the latest season of Big Little Lies, in which she stars. I'm curious to see where they go with it now that they don't have source material to work from.

Read: I finished Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and read Melanie Benjamin's The Girls In The Picture. 

Made: It's been all I can do this week to scrounge up meals; I've had no interest at all in cooking so nothing note worthy has been made this week.

Enjoyed: Watching my three kids on Friday. I know they're all adults but watching them talk with our friends, meeting new people, and providing comfort to the family reminded me again of how incredibly proud I am of them.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On getting caught up on things that have fallen by the wayside this week.

Thinking About: Starting up Marie Kondo's tidying up process soon.

Feeling: Helpless. What to do to help? What to say?

Looking forward to: A quiet week.

Question of the week: If you've lost a child or know someone who has, I'd love your advice on how I can help my friends. What to say to help them through it? How much should I check in? When does reaching out become intrusive?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
Read by Rebecca Lowman
Published April 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: checked out the audiobook from my library

Publisher's Summary: 
To be admired by someone we admire—we all yearn for this: the private, electrifying pleasure of being singled out by someone of esteem. But sometimes it can also mean entry to a new kind of life, a bigger world.

Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer—madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can’t quite place—feels her inner world light up. And then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she’d always imagined.

Charming and wise, knowing and witty, Meg Wolitzer delivers a novel about power and influence, ego and loyalty, womanhood and ambition. At its heart, The Female Persuasion is about the flame we all believe is flickering inside of us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time. It’s a story about the people who guide and the people who follow (and how those roles evolve over time), and the desire within all of us to be pulled into the light.

My Thoughts:
It's official - I am not Wolitzer's biggest fan. I've suspected as much when I've read other books she's written (The Ten-Year Nap, The Uncoupling, and The Interestings) but this time I was certain that I was going to be blown away by her writing. I mean, this book got rave reviews. Kirkus Reviews, which I feel has issues with every book they review, called The Female Persuasion "the perfect feminist blockbuster." I'm all about feminism so this should be perfect for me, I should finally really be able to connect with one of Wolitzer's novels.

Meh - not so much.

An anonymous reviewer on Barnes and Noble's site had this to say:
"I'm considering building a video game where no one can find the plot to this book. People will search everywhere and it will go into excruciating detail about all the characters' back stories as well as forecast the details of their future. Gamers will try to guess what it is that will actually "happen" and keep playing and playing learning little cliches about how life is hard and disappointing but also sometimes kind of great. And sometimes the players will level up but it won't last, they'll end up going back down levels in confusion because, guess what? The game will have no plot, no way to win. No way to ever let the player succeed and I'm thinking that way players will *have to come back for more!"
It's perhaps a little harsh; the book is not entirely without a plot. But the larger point is that it keeps getting lost in never ending backstories that keep popping up well into the book. Maybe Wolitzer's point is to remind readers that things are not always as they appear on the surface. Valid point. And Wolitzer certainly explores many of the issues that face women these days, that are foremost in the minds of feminists (and should be foremost in the minds of most women). She addresses campus sexual assault and the responses of college administrations, abortion, social activism, sexual orientation, finding our voice, and empowerment. Along the way, Wolitzer touches on other important themes including fidelity, loss, compromise, chasing your dreams, and friendship.

There's a lot going on here and I'm not suggesting it's not a good book; it is a good book. And at least it didn't make me angry, like The Ten-Year Nap did. Like all of Wolitzer's books, it made me think, which I find important in a book. But I've been convinced to read four of Wolitzer's books now, which is a lot by one author for me. She has yet to really blow me away with her writing and I am always look for the books that will blow me away. It's time to stop looking at Wolitzer to do that.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert
Published February 2014 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy purchased the the Omaha Lit Fest and signed by the author

Publisher’s Summary: On the eve of the World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, is unsure how the fair’s events will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his purpose shifts, and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair.

One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway’s Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine, playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, transforms everything when the fair’s magic begins to take its effect.

My Thoughts: I have long been a fan of Schaffert’s and grabbed this one up shortly after it was released when I was at an event where I could have it signed. And then it sat. Because I’m Facebook friends with him and I was sort of holding off on it until I knew he had another book headed to the publisher. Seems he’s still working away but I couldn’t wait any longer; it felt like this was just the book I needed.

I was right. The Swan Gondola absolutely enchanted me. Truly, I was under Schaffert’s spell from the beginning, when I was introduced to the Old Sisters Egan, two sisters who live on the plains of Nebraska and whose quiet existence is suddenly upended when a hot air balloon crashes into their house and Ferret Skerritt is deposited, broken bones and broken spirit, in their field. From there Schaffert weaves his story back and forth in time, including letters from Ferret and Cecily.

Of course, I’m particularly partial to the story because it’s set in Nebraska, most of it in Omaha. I was also eager to learn more about the World’s Fair that was celebrated in Omaha in 1898 and 1899. Nothing, no landmark of any kind remains of it today which makes it all the more fascinating and mythical – it hardly seems possible that it happened in what was then a dirty, rough city on the edge of the wilderness. I really only knew about the New White City portion of the fair – the beautiful, magnificent, educational buildings that appeared out of nowhere. What a treasure it would be if any of them had survived! But I had no idea that there had been an equally large midway and it’s really there that Schaffert sets his love story.

It's a love story that's melodramatic in all of the right ways and it feels every bit as Victorian as the time period it is set in. A murderous automaton, backgrounds that make both Ferrett and Cecily damaged goods, an incredibly wealthy man who will pull out all of the tricks to get what he wants, and a cast of characters that the Lincoln Journal-Star reviewer called lovable "Schaffert-esque." I know exactly what he meant - Schaffert always peoples his books with characters who are quirky, often damaged, and have emotional depth.

The Swan Gondola is certainly influenced by L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz but it is absolutely not a retelling, more of an homage. Schaffert includes a character named Dorothy, a balloonist who crash lands into another land, an Emerald Cathedral, and even a cyclone. To an extent, I suppose you could even say that the ending resembles Baum's book in a way. But it's also an ending that settles quietly, even as Schaffert throws one last surprise readers' way.

There is an element of spiritualism and even, perhaps, a bit of magic. You all know how I feel about magic in my books and I began to be concerned that a book I was enjoying so much was going to veer too far down that path. But Schaffert plays that perfectly for my tastes and I came away without feeling like he had copped out of trying to resolve his story in a mystical way.

I really don't know why this hasn't been optioned for a movie. In its scope, its characters, its story lines, I would love to see this on the big screen.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Read by Dion Graham
Published September 2018 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: audiobook borrowed from my library

Publisher's Summary:
George Washington Black, or "Wash," an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is terrified to be chosen by his master's brother as his manservant. To his surprise, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning--and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash's head, Christopher and Wash must abandon everything. What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic. What brings Christopher and Wash together will tear them apart, propelling Wash even further across the globe in search of his true self. From the blistering cane fields of the Caribbean to the frozen Far North, from the earliest aquariums of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black tells a story of self-invention and betrayal, of love and redemption, of a world destroyed and made whole again, and asks the question, What is true freedom?

My Thoughts:
Oh my goodness, folks, I absolutely loved this book on audio. Dion Graham does a phenomenal job of putting a voice to George Washington Black; his voice seems to pick up all the bits of accents that Wash would have acquired from the plantation to his time with Christopher Wilde (Titch) to his time in Canada and then on to England. I think I would have very much enjoyed this book as read even had it only been an average book. It is so much more, though, than an average book.

Washington Black begins as a novel about slavery in British-ruled Barbados just a few years before Britain outlawed slavery. Young Wash is cared for by Big Kit, a mother figure who sees that way things turn when a new, cruel owner takes over Faith Plantation.
“Death was a door. I think that is what she wished me to understand. She did not fear it. She was of an ancient faith rooted in the high river lands of Africa, and in that faith the dead were reborn, whole, back in their homelands, to walk again free.”
But Edugyan is not writing a book about slavery, she's writing a book about the relationship between a young man and the only father he has ever known. Titch is a white man who has stolen Wash, a man who is a secret abolitionist who has benefited his entire life because of slavery, and a man with a complicated relationship with his own father. It makes for a very complicated relationship made all the more complicated when Titch walks away from camp in the Arctic into a snowstorm, leaving a teenaged Wash to make his own way in the world.

Edugyan gives the book just enough tension, just enough violence to make readers understand that world that Wash must survive but the book never gets weighed down in that. This is Wash's story about learning to read the world to survive it, finding a new family, and becoming a man who never forgets the man who he loved but who left him.

Did I mention that I loved this book? I will not forget Wash or his story any time soon.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Life: It Goes On - June 10

Y'all know when I've actually had a weekend with plans when this doesn't show up until Monday, right?! Mini-me and Ms. S were in Omaha this weekend and my parents also came in yesterday. We had such a good visit and it felt so good to have them home. We ate too much, celebrated Ms. S's birthday (some of her gifts were too fragile and too irreplaceable to be shipped), and talked and laughed so much. They went home with a couple of pieces of furniture, the china set they'd chosen, and Mini-me "checked out" nine books from my "library."

Last Week I:

Listened To: Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion. I always have mixed feelings about Wolitzer's books but this one got such great reviews that I thought I'd give it a try. Guess what? I'm having mixed feelings about it. It'll expire in three days so we'll see if these last few hours suddenly wow me.

Watched: Lots of NCAA baseball.

Read: I'm reading Timothy Schaffert's Swan Gondola and really enjoying it.

Made: Ham and Swiss, beef and white cheddar, and portabello mushroom sliders for dinner on Sunday along with strawberry rhubarb pie since it was, apparently, strawberry rhubarb pie day.

Gallery pictures taken at the KANEKO gallery in Omaha
Enjoyed: Having my family back together, going to see the musical Ragtime with my book club on Wednesday, and going to a gallery opening (it was all about using repurposed objects) with friends on Friday.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On putting my basement back together. After all of the work we had done on it, we discovered that we had gotten water in it after the last storm (the first time we've had water in our basement in 23 years). Right now there is an industrial dehumidifier working it's magic down there. We were fortunate in that there wasn't much water in and nothing got damaged - it's just a pain to deal with.

Thinking About: Going to my 40th class reunion this weekend. There will be some people there that I'd really like to see; but otherwise, walking into a venue filled with people I don't really know anymore (and many I didn't really know 40 years ago), is so out of my comfort zone. I'm on the fence right now and didn't sign up to be at any of the meals.

Feeling: Happy.

Looking forward to: As much as I enjoyed all of the things we did last week, I'm looking forward to a quiet week this week.

Question of the week: What can you do with radishes besides put them on a veggie tray or in a salad? Mini-me brought us radishes, new potatoes, asparagus, and lots of lettuce from the organic farm he is working on this year and while I can imagine all kinds of ways we will use everything else, I'm at a loss as to how we'll consume a dozen enormous radishes! Can they be pickled?

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Published December 1983 by Cengage Gale
Source: my copy purchased through Better World Books

Publisher’s Summary: Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel Samstat discovers that her husband, Mark, is in love with another woman. The fact that the other woman has "a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb and you should see her legs" is no consolation. Food sometimes is, though, since Rachel writes cookbooks for a living. And in between trying to win Mark back and loudly wishing him dead, Ephron's irrepressible heroine offers some of her favorite recipes.

My Thoughts: Nora Ephron died seven years ago. I am still in mourning. There will be no more wonderful movies that will become classics. There will be no more books to make me laugh out loud, cry in public, and astound me with Ephron’s wonderful way with words. So periodically I watch one of her beloved movies. And every so often I read one of her books. There are so few of them; and while you can always reread and enjoy them, you can only read them for the first time once. So Heartburn’s been sitting on my bookshelves for a while waiting for me to need some Nora. Recently, I needed me some Nora.

Heartburn is a thinly disguised (and I mean very thinly) novel based on Ephron’s marriage to and divorce from journalist Carl Bernstein (you know, Watergate Carl Bernstein). When asked by her therapist why she has to turn everything into a story, even the sad or terrible things, Rachel says:
 “Because if I tell the story, I control the version.
Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.
Because if I tell the story, it doesn’t hurt as much.
Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.” 
Which you can’t help but think is maybe the truest thing Ephron ever wrote. She and Bernstein divorced in 1980 and by 1983 the book was in print. Truth be told, don’t we all tell stories for much the same reasons, especially those stories about things that are painful? Ephron just does it so much better than we can. She can make you feel the pain behind the humor. She can make you find the humor in the pain. And as funny as this book is, it is also really sad. It’s hard to see a marriage fall apart; it’s hard to read about someone betraying a person they once loved so much they begged and begged for the marriage.

Does Rachel have any deep epiphanies about how she found herself in a second bad marriage? No. Does Ephron give us any deep conversations between Rachel and Mark to help us understand their marriage? No. But then we aren't really looking for that in this book; at least I wasn't. I was looking for what I always want from Ephron - humor, humaneness, wonderful conversations. My one little problem with the book is that it is written from Rachel's first person point of view which means that we are to believe that this is a book like the others she has written, books that general contain heaping helpings of stories with recipes. As such, "Rachel" also includes recipes in this book.  But here, they just sort of seem superfluous.

As someone who has always needed to use humor to survive the tough times, I could so relate to Rachel’s need to deflect her pain with her stories and her humor. I saw the movie adaptation of this book years ago. Even though I know what Ephron and Bernstein look like, I still kept picturing Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson as Rachel and Mark which made it slightly easier to imagine this as something other than autobiographical. A story. Because that’s the way Ephron wanted it.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
Read by Mia Barron
Published March 2016 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
A warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.

Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs' joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.

Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the futures they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.

My Thoughts:
Guys, this book appeared on a lot of "best-of" books in 2016. I'm afraid I don't get it. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to like about this book. But "best-of?"

Why not? Because I really didn't care about these characters. Even unlikable characters need to make me care what happens to them (even if that means I'm hoping they'll get hit by a bus). Leo is an ass who cheats on his wife (who, as it turns out is a terrible person as well) and the other three are people who are mad because the windfall they were counting on to bail them out of the terrible decisions they've made is gone. It's not that these characters are stupid people who couldn't be expected to know better, they are just people who lived beyond their means. Yes, I know that a lot of people have found themselves in this position. But a whole family of them?

The truth of the matter is that the nest egg is merely a plot device Sweeney uses to explore a lot of different kinds of people. Each of the siblings represents a different kind of life, both in their life styles and their occupations, as do the many characters that Sweeney works into the story. In that regard, I did find the book interesting. Sweeney juxtaposes a young girl discovering she is gay with her middle-aged uncle who survived the AIDS epidemic because he settled into a long-term monogamous relationship with a man that he secretly married. We have the Plumb siblings' mother who could hardly be less motherly to compare against her daughter, Melody, who documents the amount of time she spends with each of her daughters to make sure they both get equal attention.

Do they all finally grow up and learn their lessons? I'm not going to give that away other than to say that I did find the end of the book satisfying and true to the character's characters.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Life: It Goes On - June 2

What a glorious weekend we are having in Omaha - warm, sunny, not too humid. We deserve it - we needed to dry out and recovery from the rains we've been getting and the hail storm that moved through our neck of the woods on Monday night. It was, for us, mostly a mess and a lot of damaged plants but it did break a skylight so we had a waterfall in a bathroom for a bit.  Others affected by the storms that have hit the country have had it much worse so I'm counting my blessings.

Last Week I:

Listened To: The Nest by Cynthina D'Aprix Sweeney, finished Washington Black (I only had one hour left but had to wait two weeks to get it back from the library), and I started Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion.

Watched: Book Club starring Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, and Mary Steenbergen. I'm a fan of all of those women but I can't say I cared for the movie. For one thing, it seemed to say that a woman can't be happy without a man in her life. Also, 81-year-old Jane Fonda's love interest was 69-year-old Don Johnson - yes, yes, a younger man might fall for an older woman; but that didn't seem to be the message here. Instead, Fonda, who looks fantastic for her age, was heavily filtered in what appears to have been effort to erase the age gap.

Read: I read Nora Ephron's Heartburn and started Timothy Schaffert's Swan Gondola (finally!). I started Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer but it just wasn't the right time for this one.

Made: Honestly, it's another one of those weeks when I don't remember what we ate.

Enjoyed: Cocktails with friends on their deck on a beautiful Friday evening and Vintage Markets Days with my girl this afternoon. There were horses on the property there and Miss H decided she really wants a horse and I think that big boy she was petting would have followed her home!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: The work continues on Miss H's rooms - my goodness, does that girl ever have a lot of stuff! We are finally through sorting everything into bedroom, living area, box up for the future, and an office area in my office. Her living area is pretty much finished, just a bit more decorating to do. Then I'll touch up the paint in her room and get it redecorated. Not gonna lie, I've actually enjoyed this process - I do like to have a project!

Thinking About: Next weekend - see below.

Feeling: Happy and excited - Mini-me and Ms. S are coming home next weekend for the first time in almost two years!

Looking forward to: Seeing the musical adaptation of Ragtime with my book club on Wednesday.

Question of the week: If your kids were coming home for the first time in two years, what's the one dish that you make that you know they'll be wanting?