July Books

Oh, July – that glorious month of vacation when I can catch up on my reading and surround myself with new worlds, words, and ideas. Lucky for me, there wasn’t a bad book in this month’s batch.

July Books

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – In many ways, my brother-in-law is the male version of me, so when he recommends a book, I almost always like it. Case in point with this one, which looks at how we can change habits and use them to our advantage, whether individually, organizationally, or societally. I had not heard of the way he broke it down before, and it made much sense.

Quantum Wellness by Kathy Freston – I organized a Wellness Challenge this month for other women, and this book came up in my research. Freston focuses more on food (and advocates veganism) than I would have liked from a book on overall wellness, but her general message of balance between mind-body-spirit and what she calls the 4 quadrants (regular, relate, rejuvenate, and reach) was solid.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield – Recommended to me at the Creative Problem Solving Institute, this slim book addresses resistance creative people face. Pressfield (former Marine and author of The Legend of Bagger Vance) doesn’t offer anything ground-breaking, but it’s an easy and sometimes funny read/tough-love-kick-in-the-pants.

The Windfall: A Novel by Diksha Basu – This book made many “Best Of” lists when it came out in 2017 and has been dubbed the Indian version of Crazy Rich Asians (which I have not read so cannot speak to). It was warm, funny, and a bit more literary than your typical feel-good beach read.

Tampa by Alissa Nutting – I do not know to whom I would recommend this book, which tells the story of Celeste, a pedophilic female middle school teacher determined to seduce one of her 8th grade students. Frankly, some of the passages read like not-so-soft porn, and the only reason I stuck with it was to hopefully see Celeste’s downfall. From a writing perspective, Nutting successfully conveys the mind of a sociopath, which makes this a very difficult read, not for the faint of heart.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling – I have been an English teacher for 20 years and an avid reader for far longer. Until this July 11, I had never read Harry Potter. At first, it was because the timing of the first book didn’t work out for my life, and then there was a “What’s the point now?” mentality with each successive book and movie. Eventually, it became a shocking/ironic/fun fact. But. I am an avid reader. I am an English teacher. At some point, not having read a single book in one of the best-selling series of all time is more ignorant than ironic. My tipping point was how often it was referenced in a writing class I took at the Creative Problem Solving Institute. So, I read it. Now, I “get” it.

Glitter and Glue: A Memoir by Kelly Corrigan – Having loved her book Tell Me More (from May), I want to hear more from Corrigan. This memoir about her complicated relationship with her mother (who tells her that her father is the glitter, but she is the glue) was artfully done. Really, it’s not even about her mother, but rather what Corrigan comes to understand about mothers, including hers, from her brief stint as a nanny for a family that recently lost their mother. It’s a love letter to mothers that made me cry.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb – How to describe this gem about a therapist who goes through a bad breakup and then has to seek out her own therapist? It’s funny, it’s insightful, and it offers a fascinating look at the ethics and evolution of therapy. The book has already made many “Best of 2019” lists, and it’s being made into a tv series with Eva Longoria. I can’t wait to watch!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling – Clearly, I couldn’t just read the first book and stop. Dobby? So sweet. And who hasn’t met a version of Gilderoy Lockhart? Book 2 was even better than the first. But most of you probably know that.

The Caregiver by Samuel Park – This book received a lot of press with its release in late 2018 because it is Park’s final book; he died of stomach cancer at 41 right after finishing. The story moves between current day Mara, the caregiver of a childless divorcee dying of stomach cancer in California, and the childhood Mara, the caregiver of herself while her actress single mother tries to make ends meet in Rio be Janeiro by getting involved in some shady operations. Mara’s understanding of her mother unfolds throughout the story, and I wanted to read more of Park’s work when I finished, which makes his death even sadder.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling – Oh, I see! The story, and this fantasy world, gets more complex as the series continues. Sirius Black goes from Harry’s greatest threat to his biggest hope and then greatest act of selflessness in 435 pages. I’m still along for the ride.

Thank You for Being Such a Pain: Spiritual Guidance for Dealing with Difficult People by Mark I. Rosen – This is the third book I read this month mentioned by a fellow Creative Problem Solving Institute attendee. The underlying belief Rosen expounds is the difficult people are in our lives to teach us something, and he brings in various spiritual traditions to support this argument. But, regardless of your faith background (or lack thereof – and Rosen acknowledges this could be the case), what makes this book valuable are the practical exercises Rosen provides in each chapter. I highly recommend the book if difficult people take up too much of your headspace.

The best of July:
I cannot possibly pick!

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June Books

Now we’re talking! After a few months of minimal reading, I’m almost back up to speed.

June brought a wide variety of books, too.

JuneBooks

Half of What You Hear by Kristyn Kusek Lewis – A woman new to town takes on an assignment to write about an infamous, long-time resident, one with connections to her husband’s family she never knew. It’s an easy beach read, but I’d recommend others over this one given its poor payoff.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams – Websites describe the book as Bridget Jones’s Diary meets Americanah, and that’s probably better than any description I could provide, but I’ll add one more reference – add a healthy cup of Amazon Prime’s Fleabag to the mix, and you’ve got Queenie. The title character is a Jamaican British woman trying to figure it all out, making several poor choices along the way. I really loved this character, especially when we learn (alongside her) how her past affects her present.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent – This is a difficult book to read, and had I known more about the content before picking it up, I would not have; I have a hard time reading about kids in peril, and an even harder time when sexual abuse is added to the mix. But, I finished it, and I will say the ending was very satisfying. Readers who aren’t put off by the content might find this worthwhile.

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson – Given my penchant for short stories, and all of the “Best of 2018” lists this collection made, I gave it a whirl. All narrated by very flawed men (“Strangler Bob” gives you an idea), some of the stories were intriguing, but George Saunders, he is not.

Cribsheet by Emily Oster – I don’t recommend books I haven’t read, and this is especially true in recommending books to new parents. So I had to read this one before telling my sister and brother-in-law to pick it up. The concept is brilliant – Oster is an economist who says all decisions – including parenting ones – need to be weighed with a sort of cost/benefit analysis, and we also need to consider who benefits. She reviews the research on hot-button issues and lays out the pros and cons so that parents can make the decisions for themselves. Perhaps my favorite passage to sum up her approach is this: “The bottom line—perhaps the most important in this book—is that parents are people, too. Having a kid doesn’t make you stop being a person with needs and desires and ambitions. It almost certainly changes those, but it doesn’t eliminate them. Being a good parent isn’t about completely subsuming your entire personhood into your children. In fact, if you let your kids rule, it can have the opposite effect.”

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders – Longer than a typical short story but still shorter than a novella, this fable teaches the value of kindness and compassion and community. Perhaps reading it and enjoying Lane Smith’s illustrations with a younger audience would have made more of an impact on me, but as it was, this isn’t my favorite Saunders piece.

Down Came the Rain by Brooke Shields – Who knew Brooke Shields could write?! If you want to better understand postpartum depression, Shields’s honest memoir is an educational, insightful read.

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon – A memoir about growing up black and overweight, Heavy is well-written and reads like a novel. Laymon covers his complicated relationship with his mother, academia, his weight, and love. If memoirs are your favorite genre, this is worth a read.

The best of June:
Queenie for lovers of Bridget Jones’s Diary, Americanah, and Fleabag
Cribsheet for new parents or parents-to-be
Heavy: An American Memoir for lovers of this genre

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.