January Reads

January 2019BooksThis year, I’m writing shorter posts on books as I finish them rather than saving reading recs for the end of the year (expect a “Best Of 2019” list, though).

If January is any indication, 2019 will be a page-turner. Here are the 10 books to which I devoted my time, in the order I read them.

American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures by America Ferrera and others – A collection of essays from 32 first- and second-generation immigrants (all of whom are famous, but most of whom I did not know), these short tales illustrate America making good on her promise to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It’s a love story to, and celebration of, our country – a great start to the year!

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee – I was not familiar with Chee’s life or work before this book, another collection of essays that traverses a life of literature, writing, activism, tarot card reading, and surviving a father’s untimely death. I didn’t love it, but other writers might.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean – If you like reading, and/or buckling your seatbelt for a nonfiction ride that will take you to strange places you’re not sure connect to each other at first glance, then this is your book. I honestly had no interest based on the initial write-ups I read, but after it made so many “Best of 2018” lists, I caved. I am so very glad I did. The Library Book is my first rec of the year.

GMorning, GNight! Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda – This illustrated book of Miranda’s inspirational twitter messages is cutesy and quick to read, but, ehhh. I don’t feel any better for having read it.

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka – If you don’t like graphic novels, you won’t like this one, but if you are even a casual fan of the genre, this autobiography of a writer/artist finding his way despite a drug-addicted mom and an absentee dad is worth a read. Like with Spiegelman’s work, adults will get more out of this than the younger audiences graphic novels often target.

An American Marriage: A Novel by Tayari Jones – My first fiction read of the year gets my first fiction rec of the year. Told from multiple perspectives, this story dares you not to empathize with each of these characters. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore – I seem to be pulled to stories involving magical realism (see The Vegetarian write up from 2016), and y’all know I love multiple narrators (see above and many of my former picks for confirmation). Moore’s novel about the formation of Liberia has both of these characteristics. While I can’t say I completely understood or followed how the three main characters were separated and reunited, I did enjoy it.

Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman – If you want to get back to reading but can’t commit to a longer novel, this short, intense story ought to do it. Narrated by a dead man who intimately knows Eden, who is on death’s door himself, and his wife, Mary, this novella takes you to some dark, surprising places. I highly recommend!

My Ex-Life: A Novel by Stephen McCauley – Oh, you want something lighter? This novel about a private college counselor who gets sucked back into his ex-wife’s world via helping her daughter with her applications will do it. Readers of Richard Russo, Jonathan Tropper, and Tom Perrotta will surely like this one.

Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage by Joanna Nylund – My name is Kirstin Pesola. It’s as Finnish as they come, and I am proud of my Finnish ancestry for many reasons, and the concept of “sisu,” for which there is no literal English translation, is one of them. While I liked the book’s application of this Finnish trait to different contexts, I thought many of the tips were self-explanatory.

So, to recap, here was the best of the month:

The Library Book for nonfiction
An American Marriage: A Novel for fiction
Waiting for Eden for short, intense fiction
My Ex-Life for light-hearted fiction

92 in 52: Books of 2018

Book-loving blog readers might remember my early July post covering the 40 books I had read up to that point, all reviewed in haikus.

That was fun and all, and I did write haikus for most of the books I finished in the months that followed with the intention of a year-end post, but I’ve read 52 books since then, and even I don’t want to read 52 haikus.

How do you cover 92 books in a short-ish blog post?

You don’t.

My goal next year will be to write more frequent blog posts on books as I finish them, but for now, this longer post contains a shortlist of the books I’m most glad I read this year and why, followed by some recommendations for certain reading inclinations so you can skip to the section that best describes you.

At the end is the list of all the books I read this year, in chronological order (minus the ones I started and tossed in the “Life’s too short to read books I’m not feelin’” pile, which gets bigger every year). I’m happy to give you my take on any of them – just leave a comment.

Happy page-turning!

14 Books I Loved in 2018 (listed in the order I read them)

HowtoLeadHow to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority by Clay Scroggins (nonfiction) – I’ve read many books on leadership, but none compare to this one, written by a pastor with Biblical references throughout. If you know me, I was as surprised as you are by how much this book resonated with me.

Self Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon (fiction) – I’m still thinking about theSelfPortrait moral dilemma at the heart of this debut book: a young photographer accidentally takes a photo of a dying boy and struggles with what to do with it, then deals with the aftermath of her decision. It’s not a perfect book, but it was engrossing.

LuckyBoyLucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran (fiction) – Oh, what a book! A couple gets custody of a detained mom’s son, and we get the heartbreak of understanding and relating to both mothers’ perspectives.

EducatedEducated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (memoir) – Yes, it is as good as everyone says. Raised in a home-schooled Mormon household, Westover discovers that in order to find the knowledge she seeks, she needs to leave and sacrifice relationships with family members to do so.

CrueltyOur Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall (fiction) – I don’t know why this book didn’t get more attention. It’s a “love story,” and I found it more disturbing than Gone Girl. It’s a thriller that got under my skin and exposed some biases I didn’t know I had.

Meet Cute: Some People are Destined to Meet by various authors (short story MeetCutecollection) – This year reminded me how much I love the short story form, and this collection was a delight. The title and the fact that some of the authors are popular writers of young adult books make it seem like the pages will be fluffy. They aren’t. These were solid stories about fate.

IfILovedYouIf I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black (short story collection) – A finalist for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award, this collection contains stories that demonstrate the form perfectly.

Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, EverythingIsHorribleLove, and Loss by Stephanie Wittels Wachs (memoir) – Almost 10 years after my dad’s death, I still love a good grief book, particularly one that spans the gamut of emotions (and colorful language) loss can bring. And I love the concept of both/and – everything is horrible and wonderful.

LikeAMOtherLike a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes (nonfiction) – Move over Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy. THIS is the pregnancy book I will now give to anyone expecting (and I did gift this to my sister immediately upon reading). I learned so much, and I am a little disgusted that what I learned is not common knowledge shared with pregnant women in prenatal care.

The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for GirlsWentAwayAdoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler (nonfiction) – An adoptee, Fessler includes interviews and stories of more than 100 women who were sent away to have babies ultimately put up for adoption (not all by choice, either). The stories complicate and humanize the pro-life/pro-choice debate and offered historical context.

21Lessons21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari (nonfiction) – This book wins the prize for my most highlighted of the year (literally – I marked so many passages). Harari made me think differently about religion, politics, education, and other weighty topics. Almost every book I read is a library book, but this is one I am actually buying to have on the shelf.

HumanActsHuman Acts by Han Kang (fiction) – On many “Best of 2017” lists, this book is not one whose description I had any interest in (political unrest in South Korea), but I am still haunted by Kang’s earlier book, The Vegetarian, and she has become one of my writers-to-watch. Literary fiction as its finest.

WifePsychMy Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach (memoir) – We don’t talk about mental illness, and we definitely don’t acknowledge it as a family affair. Lukach’s memoir about his wife’s psychotic breakdown early in their marriage is honest about the toll it takes on him and, ultimately, their young son.

BecomingBecoming by Michelle Obama (memoir) – Obama narrates the audiobook, and listening to her tell her story was exactly what I needed to close out the year. Each of the three parts is its own coming of age story – politics aside, it’s a love story, a mother’s story, and a quiet nudge to find your greater purpose.

Books for…Bleeding Liberal Hearts

Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza and Barack Obama (nonfiction)
Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (nonfiction)
Almost Everything by Anne Lamott (nonfiction)
Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years by David Litt (memoir)
Becoming by Michelle Obama (memoir)

White People Wanting to Better Understand Race

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson (nonfiction)
So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Louo (nonfiction)
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo (nonfiction)
What Truth Sounds Like by Michael Eric Dyson (nonfiction)
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam (fiction)
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele (memoir)
Old in Art School by Nell Painter (memoir)
Becoming by Michelle Obama (memoir)

…Aspiring Writers

Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson (short story collection) *but ONLY the essays on writing; the stories are mostly disappointing and were previously unpublished for good reason.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (fiction)
The Essay: A Novel by Robin Yocum (fiction)
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (memoir)
The Destiny Thief by Richard Russo (memoir)
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (memoir)

…Happy Ending-Lovers

Ikagai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles (nonfiction)
Meet Cute: Some People are Destined to Meet by various authors (short story collection)
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (fiction)
Piece of Mind by Michelle Adelman (fiction)
How to Walk Away by Katherine Center (fiction)
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (fiction)
The Essay: A Novel by Robin Yocum (fiction)

…Dark, Twisted Souls

Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall (fiction)
It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell (fiction)
The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien (memoir)
Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss by Stephanie Wittels Wachs (memoir) 

…Parents(-to-be)

Voice Lessons for Parents by Wendy Mogel (nonfiction)
Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes (nonfiction)

…Lovers of Multiple Narrators/Perspectives

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (fiction)
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (fiction)
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (fiction)
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran (fiction)
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea (fiction)
Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams (fiction)
Human Acts by Han Kang (fiction)

…Feminists

We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (nonfiction)
Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (nonfiction)
Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes (nonfiction)
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister (nonfiction)
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (fiction)
The Power by Naomi Alderman (fiction)
Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall (fiction)
Tradition by Brendan Kiely (fiction)
His Favorites by Kate Walbert (fiction)
Becoming by Michelle Obama (memoir)

All the Books I Finished in 2018 (chronological order)

We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (nonfiction)
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (fiction)
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker (fiction)
Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong (fiction)
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (fiction)
The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson (nonfiction)
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (fiction)
10% Happier by Dan Harris (memoir)
Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years by David Litt (memoir)
So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Louo (nonfiction)
Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee (fiction)
Ikagai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles (nonfiction)
The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien (memoir)
One Station Away by Olaf Olafsson (fiction)
The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros (nonfiction)
Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (fiction)
Piece of Mind by Michelle Adelman (fiction)
Give and Take by Adam Grant (nonfiction)
Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza and Barack Obama (nonfiction)
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (fiction)
How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge by Clay Scroggins (nonfiction)
Loving Day by Mat Johnson (fiction)
The Power by Naomi Alderman (fiction)
Voice Lessons for Parents by Wendy Mogel (nonfiction)
Self Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon (fiction)
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran (fiction)
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (memoir)
Census by Jesse Ball (fiction)
The Art of Vanishing: A Memoir of Wanderlust by Laura Smith (memoir)
Tenth of December by George Saunders (short story collection)
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele (memoir)
Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (nonfiction)
Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson (short story collection)
Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall (fiction)
The Wide Circumference of Love by Marita Golden (fiction)
The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg (short story collection)
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea (fiction)
The Impossible Vastness of Us by Samantha Young (fiction)
Meet Cute: Some People are Destined to Meet by various authors (short story collection)
It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell (fiction)
Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams (fiction)
The Dependents by Katharine Dion (fiction)
Lexicon: A Novel by Max Barry (fiction)
Lincoln’s Last Trial by Dan Abrams (nonfiction)
Old in Art School by Nell Painter (memoir)
Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham (memoir)
Tradition by Brendan Kiely (fiction)
The Million-Dollar One-Person Business by Elaine Pofeldt (nonfiction)
Bright Side by Kim Holden (fiction)
How to Walk Away by Katherine Center (fiction)
Permission to Parent by Robin Berman (nonfiction)
Enough As She Is by Rachel Simmons (nonfiction)
If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black (short story collection)
Less by Andrew Sean Greer (fiction)
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (fiction)
Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss by Stephanie Wittels Wachs (memoir)
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown (memoir)
Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? by Dan Bucatinsky (memoir)
Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes (nonfiction)
More Beautiful Than Before: How Suffering Transforms Us by Steve Leder (nonfiction)
The Psychopath Inside by James Fallon (memoir)
Outline by Rachel Cusk (fiction)
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (memoir)
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (fiction)
You’re Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation by Deborah Tannen (nonfiction)
The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler (nonfiction)
The Essay: A Novel by Robin Yocum (fiction)
How Not to Die by Michael Greger (nonfiction)
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari (nonfiction)
Almost Everything by Anne Lamott (nonfiction)
Human Acts by Han Kang (fiction)
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam (fiction)
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown (nonfiction)
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (memoir)
Great Second Acts by Marlene Wagman-Geller (nonfiction)
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo (nonfiction)
Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders (nonfiction)
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen (memoir)
Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) by Kate Bowler (memoir)
The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak (fiction)
You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld (short story collection)
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister (nonfiction)
Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis (memoir)
Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley (nonfiction)
All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva (short story collection)
The Destiny Thief by Richard Russo (memoir)
What Truth Sounds Like by Michael Eric Dyson (nonfiction)
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (memoir)
His Favorites by Kate Walbert (fiction)
Hippie by Paulo Coelho (memoir)
My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach (memoir)
Becoming by Michelle Obama (memoir)

Thoughts on My Son’s 5th Diaversary: Thank you, President Bush

This Sunday, December 9th, marks the 5th anniversary of my son’s Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis, the second worst day of my life, trumped only by the day my dad suddenly died from the same disease almost 5 years before. One of the best decisions we made after Owen’s diagnosis was going to The Barton Center for Diabetes Education’s family camp, where they told us to celebrate our child’s “diaversary,” as it is another year they have successfully managed living with this disease.

2014-12-7 - Owen's Diaversary-0010On Owen’s first diaversary, we threw a party for family and friends and played games designed to educate everyone about diabetes and what living with it entails. We also started the tradition of going out to eat wherever Owen wants (so far, it’s only ever been IHOP—go figure), and he picks another family whose tab we cover as a way of paying forward our gratitude. I usually post a thank you on social media to express our appreciation for all the support loved ones have given us.

It’s all very lovely.

But I’m gonna keep it real here and say that, 5 years in, I don’t really want to acknowledge another year of successfully navigating this awful disease.

Many of you know I do not post pictures of my kids on social media without their permission. When it comes to talking/writing publicly about Owen’s diabetes, I try to stick to the same philosophy and focus on my experience as a mother of someone with Type 1 Diabetes. I want to respect Owen’s privacy, not share his story, which is not mine to tell.

2014-12-7 - Owen's Diaversary-0059So I will only say this: parenting and managing our 9-year old son’s diabetes was very different than our reality today of parenting and managing our 14-year-old son’s disease. I would love to be back at that first diaversary party playing “pin the pod” on Owen’s outline or giving out prizes for guests who correctly guessed the carb count of a meal. Life was so much simpler then. My list of worries is so much longer now.

Still, the one rule I have for myself on 12/9 is not to fixate on the devastation of this disease or all the ways I might be failing as a parent of someone living with it. December 9th is a day of gratitude, and in that tradition, I will continue to focus on the positive.

This year, my focus is timely.

In 1990, as an able-bodied 11 year old, I was 23 years away from being the parent of a boy with Type 1 Diabetes. Even with a father with the disease, I didn’t understand the significance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that President George H.W. Bush signed into law. I had no way of knowing that legislation, and the amendments made to it in 2008, signed into law by the other President Bush, would benefit my son.

ADA

Because of the ADA, it is illegal for Owen to be denied jobs or housing due to his diabetes. More pertinent to him now, though, he is allowed to take breaks to test his blood sugar and take his insulin throughout the school day, and during standardized tests, without penalty. We can go through airport security with syringes and vials of insulin without anyone batting an eye.

Because these protections have been in place since before Owen’s diagnosis, it is easy for me to take them for granted. After all, Owen is essentially “legally” allowed to treat his diabetes. Ya-hoo?

But when my father was in college, he had a red dot on his ID, preventing him from using the gym because diabetes was considered “a communicable disease.” For an athletic, competitive guy, such a limitation probably added insult to injury. (He found a work-around by covering the dot with his finger; when that failed, he’d leave and his buddies would open the back door for him. Go, Dad!)

Because of the ADA, Owen – also an athletic and competitive guy – will never be in that situation. Diabetes is a disease he has to think about and plan around all day long, every day, for the rest of his life. But thanks to President George H.W. Bush, Owen’s burden is a little lighter. And on this 5th diaversary, and in honor of President Bush’s life and service, that I can celebrate.