Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Dirtbag, Massachusetts: A Confessional by Isaac Fitzgerald

Dirtbag, Massachusetts: A Confessional
by Isaac Fitzgerald
256 pages
Published July 2022 by Bloomsbury USA

Publisher's Summary: 
Isaac Fitzgerald has lived many lives. He's been an altar boy, a bartender, a fat kid, a smuggler, a biker, a prince of New England. But before all that, he was a bomb that exploded his parents' lives-or so he was told. In Dirtbag, Massachusetts, Fitzgerald, with warmth and humor, recounts his ongoing search for forgiveness, a more far-reaching vision of masculinity, and a more expansive definition of family and self. 

Fitzgerald's memoir-in-essays begins with a childhood that moves at breakneck speed from safety to violence, recounting an extraordinary pilgrimage through trauma to self-understanding and, ultimately, acceptance. From growing up in a Boston homeless shelter to bartending in San Francisco, from smuggling medical supplies into Burma to his lifelong struggle to make peace with his body, Fitzgerald strives to take control of his own story: one that aims to put aside anger, isolation, and entitlement to embrace the idea that one can be generous to oneself by being generous to others. 

Gritty and clear-eyed, loud-hearted and beautiful, Dirtbag, Massachusetts is a rollicking book that might also be a lifeline.

My Thoughts: 
I came to this book in an unusual way. Fitzgerald was on The Today Show just before Christmas last year, making gift book recommendations, and recommended a book by George Saunders. You would think that would point my in the direction of Saunders' book; but I didn't need that nudge. Instead I saw an author I'd never heard of before recommending a book by an author I like. If we have the same taste, maybe I'll like the book Fitzgerald wrote, I reckoned. So I requested it from the library with only the idea that it was a memoir. 
"My parents were married when they had me, just to different people. That's the way I open every story when I'm asked about met childhood. I was a child of passion! A happy little accident. Or, put another way, I was born of sin: a mistake in human form, a bomb aimed perfectly to blow up both my parents' lives."
Eventually Fitzgerald's parents left their partners, and the children they had with those partners, and married each other. In the beginning, they were poor, relying on both of their jobs and the charity of a Catholic charity to survive. But they did survive. Until they didn't. Until it was decided that Fitzgerald and his mother would move to a small town, next door to the parents who had chased his mother away because of her marriage to his father. She was miserable there, her parents made things worse, and her marriage began to crumble. A bomb went off in Fitzgerald's parents' lives but it wasn't Isaac, it was their own doing. And it was Isaac who suffered the greatest damage. 

Within four years, Fitzgerald was drinking, doing drugs, and stealing. He stole pornography and sold it to other young teenage boys, he stole cars to joyride, he became part of a fight club. He was saved, in a manner, when he was accepted on scholarship, to a boarding school. It was a first step to pulling himself out of the hell he was living in but it was a very long time before he would come near to being healed. 

This collection is not an easy read. Fitzgerald spent a lot of years drinking far too much, becoming a regular at a lot of bars in San Francisco, including one that would become his workplace for a number of years. Making ends meet was always a struggle; at one point, Fitzgerald even performed in pornography. But in that struggle, Fitzgerald finally discovered himself and learned valuable lessons and skills that would help him find his way back to his family. In the bars, he made friends who he would keep in his life long after he no longer lived in San Francisco. The porn industry taught him that open communication is vital and that maybe families should have inviolable safe words to stop them from harming each other. 

Fitzgerald's live isn't one that I can readily relate to; still, there were things he had to say that rang true to me. 
"Look. Not everything ages great, our own parts most unattractively of all. When you look back over your history, I'm sure it's not just glimmering perfect accomplishment after glimmering perfect accomplishment. If it is, then...good on you and I wish you a happy life, but I personally wouldn't trust you as far as I could throw you (which, given the whole aging thing, isn't very far these days)."
Fitzgerald doesn't hold back in this collection and he makes no apologies. He doesn't try to make us believe he's got it all figured out now. He's never entirely stopped drinking too much. He's still working on figuring out why he blames his mother more than his father for the pain in his past. And he's still working on forgiving both of his parents. But he and his half siblings have created a family unit in which all of the disparate parts have figured out how to work. 

One of my favorite sayings is, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." That's exactly what Fitzgerald's been doing all of his life. In that way, I certainly can relate to him. 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Life: It Goes On - February 27

Happy sunny, almost the end of winter, Sunday! Our weather roller coaster is the the upside meaning March is going to come in like a lamb this year. Does that mean that, in an inverse of the old saying, it will go out like a lion? Good golly, I hope not; by the end of March I'm hoping we'll be having some days that make me consider dinner on the patio (yes, we will almost certainly still need to wear jackets to do that and any hot food will cool quickly, still...). 

We did have one day this week that got icy and yer girl here fell in the parking lot at work. Proving that I'm not so old that any fall will mean a broken bone, which is good, I guess. Also, figured out pretty quickly that I was more concerned with how embarrassing it was than whether or not I was actually hurt. Proving that you can be in your sixties and still as worried about what other people think of you as you did when you were a teenager. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I'm finishing up Nine Perfect Strangers today, which I'm now listening to at 1.5x speed, just to get through it before it expires. I really haven't gotten into it and haven't been able to make myself choose to listen to it when I'm not in the car. Next up is Matt Haig's Reasons To Stay Alive, which I should be able to get through this week. 

Watched: I finished season 3 of Emily In Paris, watched the second to last episode of Orange Is The New Black (finally!) and the second to last episode of season 5 of The Crown and we finished season 1 of Wednesday. I finally have The Big Guy convinced to consider the streaming services before mindlessly scrolling through regular television. 

Read: I finished Isaac Fitzgerald's Dirtbag, Massachusetts and Elizabeth Berg's Earth's the Right Place for Love. Next up is Simon Parkin's The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, A Poet, An Heiress, and A Spy in A World War II British Internment Camp. I discovered that in the NY Times book reviews and it sounded interesting; but, now that I've got the book in my hands, I'm not sure I'm up for something that is bound to be depressing. 

Made: A chicken and vegetable base that one night turned into chicken and dumplings and another night turned into chicken and rice. 

Enjoyed: Book club on Tuesday and dinner with friends around the kitchen table last night. You've gotta love the kind of company that means you can wear your slippers. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: 40 Bags In 40 Days started Wednesday and we're off to a slow start. Yesterday I started work on the basement and that will continue much of the rest of the time. I've got a plan for what I want things to look like when we're all done and a plan to get us there. Now if I can just keep BG moving forward! 

Thinking About: We booked our tickets to Alaska this week so now I'm thinking about what things we'll do, what things we'll take, what things I need to buy before we leave. 

Excited. See above. One of the things we'll do is to take one of the boat tours for whale watching; I've wanted to see a whale for most of my life and I can't wait. 

Looking forward to: Seeing Miss H next weekend. 

Question of the week: Both of our girls will celebrate their birthdays on Wednesday. Miss H is easy to shop for but Ms S is tougher since they live in such a small house and it's so expensive to ship things to her. What would you choose for a woman who's turning 35?

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Horse by Geraldine Brooks

by Geraldine Brooks
14 hours, 6 minutes
Read by James Fouhey, Lisa Flanagan, Graham Halstead, Katherine Littrell
Published June 2022 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
Kentucky, 1850. An enslaved groom named Jarret and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South. When the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant young artist who has made his name on paintings of the racehorse takes up arms for the Union. On a perilous night, he reunites with the stallion and his groom, very far from the glamor of any racetrack.  

New York City, 1954. Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on edgy contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with a nineteenth-century equestrian oil painting of mysterious provenance.

Washington, DC, 2019. Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, and Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, find themselves unexpectedly connected through their shared interest in the horse—one studying the stallion’s bones for clues to his power and endurance, the other uncovering the lost history of the unsung Black horsemen who were critical to his racing success. 

Based on the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred Lexington, Horse is a novel of art and science, love and obsession, and our unfinished reckoning with racism.

The only known photo of
My Thoughts: 
I've long been a fan of Brooks, first discovering her work when I read People of the Book before I started this blog. Brooks does have something of a pattern, which, to be honest, doesn't always work for me. There are (nearly) always dual time lines (here there are actually three). No matter how well the modern time line works, it always pales (for me) in comparison to the historical time line. Perhaps that's because Brooks' stories nearly always begin with some nugget from history that piques her interest and starts her down her research journey. 

Here that start was learning about Lexington, a horse so fast that the modern-day stopwatch was invented to be able to time him and who sired 236 winners, including Preakness from whom the now-famous race is named. And then he disappeared from history, his articulated skeleton languishing for years in a Smithsonian attic. In her research, Brooks also discovered that Lexington had been painted by several painters, including a lost painting that was referenced to include "black Jarrett." Brooks also discovered the crucial part that enslaved persons played in antebellum horse racing - they were grooms, trainers, and jockeys. 

Painting of Lexington by Thomas Scott
It is Jarrett, and his relationship with Lexington, that is the true heart of this book, the two sold together from one rich man to another. Lexington isn't the only historical figure that Brooks includes in the book - each of Lexington's owners, his first trainer, abolitionist politician Cassius Marcellus Clay, and itinerate painter Thomas Scott are also featured in the book. 

Jarrett, and the role enslaved persons played in horse racing, launched Brooks' book; but as she wrote, Brooks discovered that her story needed to be about race, not just racing. How she fared with this is the subject of some debate; a white woman writing the stories of two young black men is a risk, one Brooks was bold enough to point out in the book. Here again, I felt like she addressed this situation better in the historical parts of the book and was disappointed in how she finished out the modern story line in regard to this. 

Brooks is always strongest when she's using her research to guide her stories; her books are always filled with details but rarely to the point where I feel like she's trying to cram in everything she's learned. Here we learn about how scientists clean bones, how skeletons can reveal so much about an animals life, about art preservation, and, most of all about horse racing in a time when horse racing was a much different sport. 

The book is told from several points of view, fleshing out the full history of the characters and their stories, including the only first person narrative told as diary entries made by Scott.  As with the time lines, some of the points of view are stronger than others. The audiobook uses multiple readers for the different points of view and only one really didn't work for me; otherwise, the readers served to enhance the reading experience for me.

Is it sometimes a bumpy ride? Yes. But despite the flaws, I really enjoyed this one; Brooks' strengths far outweigh the faults in my opinion. And, as always with her books, Brooks has been doing some digging on my own to learn more about the subjects she's presented and the historical figures she's included. I'm always a fan of a book that makes me want to keep learning. 

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Life: It Goes On - February 19

Happy Sunday! It's sunny today and will be (for us this time of year) warm today. We got 7 inches of snow this week so as I look out the windows, everything remains snow covered. Not yet that ugly, patchy, dirty snow but a beautiful white covering over all of the grassy areas so it's pretty to look out and see. I worked from home the day it snowed and was reminded, once again, that snowy days are my most productive. I know so many of you talk of curling up in a comfy chair with a cup of tea and a good book. But me? I want to be in the kitchen, making just the kinds of food a snowy day calls for. Fortunately, working from home allowed me to both work and cook. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: In an effort to work through some of the books that have been sitting on my shelves for years, I decided to get back to requesting audiobooks that I already own in print. So this week I checked out Nine Perfect Strangers, by Liane Moriarty. I'm a big fan of Moriarty's but nearly 3 hours in, this one is really grating on my nerves and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to finish it. To be far, it may be the reader as much as the book itself. 

Watched: Some Emily In Paris, some Wednesday, some of The Crown and a fair amount of college basketball. The other night, when I finished an episode of Emily In Paris, I was surprised to find that I only had one more episode left in season 3 and pretty bummed to find out that season 4 will not be released until the end of this year. Do you watch it? I have a feeling that, when the series comes to an end, I'm going to be disappointed by an ending that seems foregone. 

Read: I'm finishing Lawn Boy today. I really, really need to pick up my reading. My loans for three Netgalley books will expire this week (and I never know if I'll be able to reload them) and I picked up three more books at the library the other day. 

Made: Steak, green bean soup, nachos, Thai chicken peanut noodles. The Big Guy, in his infinite need to buy bargains, bought five pounds of green beans the other day and the only way two people were going to get through them was to turn them into soup. It's a pretty easy recipe and now I'm thinking I need to make it again soon while I can still remember the ways I thought of to tweak it. The same goes for the Thai chicken peanut noodles; not so much that I will tweak the ingredients as that I will tweak the way I cook it. 

 A quiet week, including a Valentine's Day dinner in the dining room. Basic food (steak, baguette, green beans (yeah, those again), chocolates. But I set the table with a vintage tablecloth, china, crystal, and flowers and threw on my Spotify love song playlist so it was lovely. Oh yeah, and BG got me chocolate whiskey which we enjoyed with our dessert and it was marvelous!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: 40 Bags In 40 Days started Wednesday! BG is on board (at least in theory) and we are determined to reclaim our basement. Today I'll put together a plan of attack and I'm almost as excited about the planning as I am about the doing. 

Thinking About: Last night I dreamed that the house I grew up in had sold. Today I'm thinking about what still needs to be done with it to make that happen. As hard as it will be to say goodbye, it's time. 

Feeling: My sleep has been better lately, the sun has been shining, the days are longer and I'm about ready to lighten my house - I'm feeling good!

Looking forward to: Booking our tickets to Alaska this week. I'm going to try not to think about being shut in a tin can thousands of feet in the air for five hours at a time and focus instead on what fun we'll have. 

Question of the week: Every day I have a checklist of things to get done that day and most days I do a pretty good job of checking everything off. But yesterday I went down a task rabbit hole. In getting out cleaning products, I realized I had a bag of potting soil and remembered that many of my plants needed more soil so I stopped and did that, for example. Do you ever start cleaning and find yourself doing tasks you hadn't expected to do? 

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday - My Favorite Love Stories

If you've been around long, you don't that I'm not a reader of the genre of books known as romance. But that's not to say that I don't enjoy a great love story. Here are ten of my favorites: 

1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - one of the few books that has ever made me truly sob. Classic tale of two disparate people coming together to fall in love but so, so very different from any other love story I've ever read. 

2. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - two teenage misfits find each other...in Omaha. Yep, that personal touch makes this one even more appealing but it's the characters and the recollection of young love that makes this one special. And the mystery of those three words. 

3. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion - you couldn't find two more different characters but you can't help but hope that Don will allow himself to fall in love. 

4. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger - Claire and Henry remain true to each other despite Henry's inability to stay in time. He is there and then he's gone as he moves in and out of Claire's life and in time throughout his own life. 

5. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman - proving that there is someone out there for everyone and that that someone might just save you. 

6. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin - maybe not one you'd usually see on a love story list, but I loved watching Tony try to win over Ellis and then almost losing her to another man who she could equally love. 

7. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter - the story of a love that almost was and then was found again. 

8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - yes, I know this one is really problematic but I still love it. 

9 Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen - so many love stories in this one; I'm always torn by which character I love more. 

10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - my all time favorite romance and book. The ultimate story of two people who grow to love and appreciate each other. 

Monday, February 13, 2023

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

The Most Fun We Ever Had
by Claire Lombardo
Read by Emily Rankin
20 hours, 33 minutes
Published June 2019 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
When Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, they are blithely ignorant of all that's to come. By 2016, their four radically different daughters are each in a state of unrest: Wendy, widowed young, soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet, a litigator-turned-stay-at-home-mom, battles anxiety and self-doubt when the darkest part of her past resurfaces; Liza, a neurotic and newly tenured professor, finds herself pregnant with a baby she's not sure she wants by a man she's not sure she loves; and Grace, the dawdling youngest daughter, begins living a lie that no one in her family even suspects. Above it all, the daughters share the lingering fear that they will never find a love quite like their parents'.

As the novel moves through the tumultuous year following the arrival of Jonah Bendt — given up by one of the daughters in a closed adoption 15 years before — we are shown the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons' past: years marred by adolescence, infidelity, and resentment but also the transcendent moments of joy that make everything else worthwhile.

Spanning nearly half a century, and set against the quintessential American backdrop of Chicago and its prospering suburbs, Lombardo's debut explores the triumphs and burdens of love, the fraught tethers of parenthood and sisterhood, and the baffling mixture of affection, abhorrence, resistance, and submission we feel for those closest to us.

My Thoughts:
Twenty hours is a really, really long time to expect readers to pay attention. Also, a really, really long time if you've checked the audiobook out from the library and only have 14 days to listen to it. A week in I decided I needed to pick up the speed...turned it to 125%. Two days later, I turned it to 150%. I'm not really sure I missed anything by doing that. To be fair, if you're telling a story that spans forty or so years, I suppose it shouldn't be all compacted into 200 pages. Certainly there are really long books that I have fallen into and hardly noticed that they were hundreds of pages longer than most books. This wasn't, unfortunately, one of those for me. 

One reviewer on Goodreads (fatma) said, "a family saga is only as good as its family." They need not care for this one at all (surprised they gave the book even two stars) and had a lot of good reasons but one of them was a lack of caring about any of the characters. Which made me realize that, honestly, I didn't care about any of them, either. At first I thought my big issue was that every single person in this family has major issues. I mean, yes, we all have our issues. But not like this family. But after I read fatma's review, I realized that not only did the issues bother me, the way the characters dealt with them, they way they dealt with each other's problems, really made me dislike most of them. Still, you also know that I can find a character unlikable and still love their story. 

Let's just break that down, shall we?

Oh, let's don't. It's not that I entirely hated the book. I just think it could have been better. Better human beings, less book, and way fewer things that made reading it uncomfortable. Multiple times people walk in on others having sex, Lombardo uses the R word more than once, mental illness is treated as a burden for those living with those who actually are suffering. Why didn't an editor suggest that some of these things needed to be cleaned up, made right? There's a good book in here - the story of a couple who meet in college and stay together and remain in love for decades, the story of four sisters and the ways in which they diverge and come together, the story of a young man who falls through the cracks in the system only to finally have a loving family. 

This one does have an almost four-star rating on Goodreads so maybe don't just take my opinion (or fatma's!). Others clearly really enjoyed it and you might, too. 

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Life: It Goes On - February 12

Happy Sunday and happy Super Bowl Sunday! Do you all have big plans for watching the game? If you do, are you there for the game, the ads, or the half time show? I'll be honest, those half time shows haven't held much interest for me for quite a while (no criticism of the talent but not the music I listen to) and I've been pretty disappointed in the ads the past few years. But I am 100% there for the game, especially since it's the last football I'll be watching until August. 

The Big Guy is headed off to a friend's party but I've no interest in spending a few hours with people I don't really know and will only see once a year so I watch at home alone. Which sounds sad and pathetic but allows me to watch and also get the usual Sunday night things-that-need-to-be-done-before-the-work-week-starts done.

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Geraldine Brooks' latest, Horse. Brooks has a way of finding topics to write about that I've never considered and then weaving a story around them that makes you think about ethics and morals and humanity. 

 More of Emily In Paris. I've been loving these light, romantic shows lately. I'm well into the third season and wondered if you have any recommendations of something similar that I can watch when I'm caught up with this one. I could go back to Bridgerton but I'm not sure I want to (unless one of you suggests to me that I'll really enjoy Season 2). 

 I've been trying to read The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer, as recommended by Glennon Doyle. But the Midwest pragmatist in me is struggling. It feels like so much New Age-ism without any really guidance was to how to get where Singer says we need to be. I'm not sure I'll be finishing it. I've also just started Lawn Boy, by Jonathan Evison, as recommended to me by my aunt. 

Made: Lasagna (looking forward to having leftovers of that again today!) and tapioca pudding. I'm almost certain I've had tapioca in my cupboard before but I can't, for the life of me, remember making it. I will definitely be making it again and can't wait to try to variations. 

Enjoyed: The touring production of Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird, starring Richard Thomas. We really enjoyed it. The acting was really great and the sets worked wonderfully. 

It lacks the slow pace of the book and the movie adaptation; what was Scout's narration alone in the book is spread amongst the three children (who are all played by adults because they have to be due to the length of the tour); and the black characters are given more voice. While I appreciated that last, it definitely felt more of this time than of the time in which the book was set. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I'm making tremendous progress on cleaning up my office (who would have thought such a small room could hold so much?!) and will finish cleaning it out this week. Hard to believe that next week starts 40 Bags In 40 Days. I'm determined that the majority of that will be spent working on our basement, although I'll also be making a pass through any space I haven't gotten finished yet this year. 

Thinking About: My dad and I went to a presentation for a new senior living facility that's being built nearby and he put down a deposit to hold a spot there. Yes, I know he just moved in October; but things where he's at have not been what he was promised and I'm not sure I feel that he's entirely safe there. So it's time to look at a change, which means thinking about what gets moved with him this next time. 

Feeling: I had a couple of terrible nights of sleep this week, which might actually have been made worse by having worn my watch so that I know exactly how little sleep I got. But the past two nights have been much better and I'm feeling vastly more energetic today. So I should probably get off the computer and get moving, right? 

Looking forward to: The calendar for this week is entirely blank, which you know I always enjoy! Work is really getting busy so I'm going to very much appreciate being able to just come home and relax in the evenings. 

Question of the week: Eagles or Chiefs? 

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

Mad Honey
by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan
464 Pages
Published October 2022 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary: 
Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life—living in Boston, married to a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, raising their beautiful son, Asher—was upended when her husband revealed a darker side. She never imagined that she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in and taking over her father’s beekeeping business.

Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start.

And for just a short while, these new beginnings are exactly what Olivia and Lily need. Their paths cross when Asher falls for the new girl in school, and Lily can’t help but fall for him, too. With Ash, she feels happy for the first time. Yet at times, she wonders if she can trust him completely. . . .

Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But she would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the flashes of his father’s temper in Ash, and as the case against him unfolds, she realizes he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her.

Mad Honey is a riveting novel of suspense, an unforgettable love story, and a moving and powerful exploration of the secrets we keep and the risks we take in order to become ourselves.

My Thoughts: 
Here's what I wrote about Picoult's writing when I first reviewed one of her books in 2019: 
"Confession: I have never read a Jodi Picoult book before. Picoult has written 23 novels and I have never read a single one of them. And why is that, you may ask? They don't fall in any of the genres I tend to steer away from. They are books written to make readers think and we all know how much I like that in a book. Here's why: they are "issue" books. It's been my impression that Picoult's books are very much like the latest episode of Law and Order, story lines that are ripped from the headlines. Don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly fine with books addressing current issues. I just don't want it to feel like the writer is churning out books with no other intent other than to write about that issue. . NPR even did a segment about the way Picoult turns "tough topics into best-sellers." In that segment, NPR suggested that Picoult writes what might be called "ethical or moral fiction." I like that a lot better. They also pointed out that Picoult's novels tend to be written around families. Which brought me back to feeling like they might be formulaic."

That book was A Spark of Light and I have gone on to read one of Picoult's books every year since then. Are they all "issue" books? Yes. And yes, she does write a new book nearly every year, an astonishing rate most authors can't begin to touch. Of course, if you're going to write a book about a current issue, you need to get the book into the hands of readers while the topic is on readers' minds. Are they formulaic? Only in so far as you know, when you pick up one of Picoult's books, that she's going to tackle not just one, but two or more hot button topics. 

This book is written by both Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan, who willed the book into existence when she had a dream that she and Picoult had written a book together. When she tweeted about it, Picoult shot back that it was a great idea. So the collaboration was born, each writer taking one of the two voices the story is told through; one writing Olivia's story in the present and the other writing Lily's story from the past moving up to Lily's death. They edited each other's work and each took one turn at the other voice. The result is a book written by two people which only feels like it was written by two people because the two voices are so distinct, as they should be, given the characters. 

Both writers have a lot to say about the issues the book tackles and, as Picoult has, it's now been my experience, always does, it makes readers really think. Honestly, I learned a lot from this book that I will take forward with me when I have conversations with other people about some of the issues. And it became timely almost immediately when I turned on the news the night after I finished and watched a television show that covered the same topic the very next night. 

But the book can get a little long-winded and repetitive at times and there is a ton of backstory here that might have been left out and not missed. Disbelief needs to be suspended at times, to make the book work (Asher doesn't have a single person, other than his mother, who has begun to have her doubts, to be a reliable character witness?). But, as a mom (and a woman) I was willing to overlook those issues to get to the meat of what these writers had to say. And that the mark of a book that works for me. 


Sunday, February 5, 2023

Life: It Goes On - February 5

Happy (finally sunny) Sunday! We're having an unseasonably warm weekend which makes the six more weeks of winter that Puxsutawney Phil predicted seem more bearable (as if those of us who don't live where there is a real winter know that there will ALWAYS be six more weeks of winter as of February 2). As I type, the cardinals are flitting about the bushes outside of my windows; and, even though I know that cardinals are here all year, birds outside my window also remind me that spring is just around the corner. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Claire Lombardo's The Most Fun We Ever Had. Hoping to finish it today. 

Watched: More Emily In Paris, another episode of Wednesday, and we finally finished Wildcat, which is heartbreaking and hopeful. If you don't want to own an ocelot by the time you finish watching this one, I don't know that we can be friends. 

Read: I think I'll finish Joci Picoult's latest, Mad Honey

Made: Not a gosh darn thing. Seriously. The Big Guy has done what cooking has been done around here and we've eaten out several times. This week, it's time to get back to it, starting with a pork loin and banana bread today. 

Enjoyed: Dinner out last night with BG's siblings and their spouses. I am blessed to have married into a family that I so enjoy spending time with. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: BG and I have some rearranging plans in the works, which will also help with our 40 Bags In 40 Days basement project. Mind you, I say that even as I've just brought home two more fairly large pieces from my parents' house that need new homes, at least temporarily. 

Thinking About: Everything. Mostly while I should be sleeping. I am not a fan of insomnia and I can't imagine how anyone who has a worse case than I do gets up everyday and contributes to society. 

Feeling: Pretty happy to finally be able to play things on the piano that sound like actual music. Much, much more practicing will be required before anyone other than BG gets to hear me play, though. 

Looking forward to: Saturday we have tickets to see To Kill A Mockingbird, which will be starring Richard Thomas (John Boy, for those of you old enough to remember The Waltons). 

Question of the week: There's a new home decor style in town, and it's name is Grandmillennial. I've gotta say, it feels like the style I've been working toward for a long time, a blend of cozy, comfortable, collected and vintage and it's guiding me on what I want to do next in my main living areas. Have you heard about this "new" style? Is it something you could live with? 

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Dinners With Ruth: A Memoir On The Power of Friendships by Nina Totenberg

Dinners With Ruth: A Memoir On The Power of Friendships 
by Nina Totenberg
320 pages
Published September 2022 by Simon and Schuster

Publisher's Summary:
Four years before Nina Totenberg was hired at NPR, where she cemented her legacy as a prizewinning reporter, and nearly twenty-two years before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court, Nina called Ruth. A reporter for The National Observer, Nina was curious about Ruth’s legal brief, asking the Supreme Court to do something revolutionary: declare a law that discriminated “on the basis of sex” to be unconstitutional. In a time when women were fired for becoming pregnant, often could not apply for credit cards or get a mortgage in their own names, Ruth patiently explained her argument. That call launched a remarkable, nearly fifty-year friendship. 

Dinners with Ruth is an extraordinary account of two women who paved the way for future generations by tearing down professional and legal barriers. It is also an intimate memoir of the power of friendships as women began to pry open career doors and transform the workplace. At the story’s heart is one, special relationship: Ruth and Nina saw each other not only through personal joys, but also illness, loss, and widowhood. During the devastating illness and eventual death of Nina’s first husband, Ruth drew her out of grief; twelve years later, Nina would reciprocate when Ruth’s beloved husband died. They shared not only a love of opera, but also of shopping, as they instinctively understood that clothes were armor for women who wanted to be taken seriously in a workplace dominated by men. During Ruth’s last year, they shared so many small dinners that Saturdays were “reserved for Ruth” in Nina’s house.

Dinners with Ruth also weaves together compelling, personal portraits of other fascinating women and men from Nina’s life, including her cherished NPR colleagues Cokie Roberts and Linda Wertheimer; her beloved husbands; her friendships with multiple Supreme Court Justices, including Lewis Powell, William Brennan, and Antonin Scalia, and Nina’s own family—her father, the legendary violinist Roman Totenberg, and her “best friends,” her sisters. Inspiring and revelatory, Dinners with Ruth is a moving story of the joy and true meaning of friendship.

My Thoughts: 
I can't begin to tell you how excited I was to pick up this book...well, you know because you are fully aware that I've kept from returning it two extra weeks just so I could finish it. But I suppose that sentence tells you something about how I felt about the book as I read it, as well. I mean, it took me an extra two weeks to read it. Let's be honest, nonfiction takes longer to read than most fiction; it just does. But this book was only about 280 pages, not counting the notes at the end of the book. I should easier have been able to finish it in the allotted two weeks. 

So why didn't I?

Well, because I was looking for a book that was mostly those first two paragraphs of the publisher's summary. But, honestly, there was at least as much involving that last paragraph and Nina's own life. That doesn't necessarily make this a bad book; it just makes it a different book from the one I thought I was picking up. The two other drawbacks of the book, for me, where quite a bit of repetition (yes, I heard you the first time, Justice Antonin Scalia's nickname was "Nino") and a whole lot of name dropping. If you don't know all of the players in Washington, then there are bound to be a lot of people Totenberg talks about of whom you've never heard. 

I've read about Ruth Bader Ginsberg's life before so some of the background Totenberg shares here was not entirely new to me. I knew Ginsberg had to push to get everything she got when it came to the law and I knew that she was one of the first women to do many of the things she accomplished. Thought I've long been a huge fan of all things NPR and Nina Totenberg is a name as familiar to me as Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I wasn't aware that she, too, was among the first females in her chosen field of journalism. I knew from listening to her for many decades now, that Totenberg was a first-rate reporter but I didn't realize what a bada** she was until I read about how she'd had to push her way into rooms that hadn't previously been open to women and, often, break new ground. What I wouldn't have given to be at one of the dinner parties that Totenberg describes, where these two women, surrounded by other remarkable women (and, yeah, some pretty terrific sounding guys as well) spent the evenings in intellectual conversation, friendly chit-chat, some gossip, and a whole lot of laughter. 

Totenberg is upfront in saying that she had to learn to be a friend and you can, as she writes it, really see her develop as a better friend and her relationships grow deeper, through long battles with cancer, the deaths of spouses, and defending those friendships. Through travels and shopping and movie nights, one on one or as groups. And through those dinners, where Totenberg befriended so many Supreme Court justices while never seeming to lose her ability to remain impartial. Oh, to have been lucky enough to be at one of those dinners.