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

April & May Reading

People usually ask me how I have time to read so much.

No one was asking me that in April and May.

Work “stuff” and family “stuff” took away from my reading time. I only completed 8 books over these two months (though one of them was the lengthy tome that is Alexander Hamilton).

Unfortunately, most of these 8 books were disappointing, but given these two months were hopefully my worst of the year, my state of mind probably affected my assessment.

So be it. Summer is here, and I’m making up for lost time. (The June post is coming soon!)

AprilMayBooksthe sun and her flowers by rupi kaur – I do not typically read poetry collections, but I saw this on display at Busboys & Poets in DC (a restaurant/bookstore), and the illustrations and sparse, meaningful language intrigued me and reminded me a bit of Gendler’s The Book of Qualities. The poems all center on growth and healing and are divided into five chapters based on a flower: wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. Some of my favorite lines will give you a sense of the flavor: “if i am the longest relationship of my life isn’t it time to nurture intimacy and love with the person i lie in bed with each night – acceptance” and “it isn’t blood that makes you my sister it’s how you understand my heart as though you carry it in your body.”

The White Book by Han Kang – Kang’s two other books astounded me, so I was excited to read her latest, also shortlisted for the 2018 Booker Prize. Not surprisingly given the title, all things “white” frame the story as a narrator reflects on an older sister who died just hours old. I appreciated a strong theme…but this is my least favorite Kang book.

Freshwater: A Novel by Akwaeke Emezi – Another book on display at Busboys and Poets, Freshwater is a mystical story of a Nigerian girl who essentially develops split personalities, though this particular diagnosis is never given. I kept waiting for more – explanation, payoff, point – but I never got it.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow – Always one who likes to read the book before I see the movie, I’d been on the waitlist for this one ever since scoring tickets to the musical. Sadly, it did not come my way until after I saw the show. I have since seen the show again, and having read the book helped contextualize events. While not a huge fan of the musical version of Eliza, I have a deeper appreciation for her after reading Alexander Hamilton. George Washington also comes off as a hero. If you have seen the musical and not read this book, you really should.

Gun Love: A Novel by Jennifer Clement – On many “Best of 2018” lists and long- and short-listed for national awards, Gun Love brought me high hopes, but I was disappointed. A girl grows up in a car in Florida, and her mother is shot. There are some beautiful phrases and sentiments (“Sometimes I’m taken over by a great wish to start all over. I want to fall in love with my future again”), but it’s not a novel I’d recommend.

Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis – I read Hollis’s memoir Girl, Wash Your Face in 2018 and thought it gave helpful reminders to set goals and go after what you want in life. I also thought I am not her audience, as I don’t need a push to do that. So why did I pick up her second book, billed as “A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals?” I do not know. Her advice is solid for those who need to hear it, but I did take issue with her not acknowledging her privilege, which is on greater display in this book.

Brother: A Novel by David Chariandy – A Trinidadian young man in Toronto tells the story of a fateful violent evening when he lost his brother, and the effect this loss has on him, his mother, and the relationships they have with those in the community. Alternating between present day and the past, the story unfolds layer by layer, and it is an engaging process.

Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan – A recommendation in one of the magazines I get, Tell Me More was just what I didn’t know I needed to read. Corrigan’s honesty about her own failings, coupled with some adult language here and there, and insightful advice about what we need to say to each other to improve our relationships, made this an easy, thought-provoking, satisfying page-turner.

The best of April & May:
the sun and her flowers for lovers of poetry, beautiful language, or concise self-help statements
Alexander Hamilton for history buffs and lovers of the musical
Tell Me More for memoir-readers or people who want to thought-provoking, but not heavy, reading