March Wrap Up

march reads

Okay, y’all, March was the most Januaryist month ever. And by that I mean, it was LONG. Can you for a minute remember what life was like on March 1st? We had just gotten home from our trip to San Diego, my son only had two teeth (we’re now at SEVEN which is bonkers), and we were operating like normal. No longer, my friends.

That being said, I’ve gotten a surprising amount of reading done, despite all the stress and distraction. Several were audiobooks, several were graphic novels, but I figure whatever formats will keep me reading, that’s a good thing. As I always told my students, all reading is good reading! Here’s what I managed this month:

Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1) The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy (Harper One, 2019): This reads like motivational posters, and I mean that in the best way possible. I would like to frame just about every page on my wall. Beautiful tale of friendship with lovely and simple artwork. Takes about 20 minutes to read, and you’ll want to read it over and over. Read my full review here.

Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)halfstar Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng (Penguin 2017): Read this one to prepare for the Hulu show (which I haven’t gotten to yet… a couple grad school friends and I are going to watch it virtually together, and we still have a few eps of Friday Night Lights left!) Don’t need to say much, since everyone’s read it already, but I thought it was a beautiful rumination on motherhood. Read my full review here.

Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)halfstar Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, by Lucy Knisley (First Second 2013): I love Lucy Knisley’s work so much, and this graphic memoir focused on food was a delightful escape. She’s so down-to-earth and I think we would be great pals. Read my full review here.

Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)halfstar Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White, by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016): I loved this middle grade biography of E.B. White, both for its ability to transport me to early 20th century rural life, and for Melissa Sweet’s beautiful artwork. I now want to read E.B. White’s entire repertoire. Read my full review here.

Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1) Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, by Anne Lamott (Anchor Books, 1993): This memoir felt particularly relatable to me as I navigate the first year with my own son. Despite the angry references to H.W. Bush presidency (oh, what a world), I think this one has aged beautifully, and it certainly still feels very relevant. But then again, I’m not sure those feelings of early motherhood have changed much in 27 years, or 127. Read my full review here.

Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)You Think It, I’ll Say It, by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House, 2018): I’m a huge fan of Sittenfeld, and a recent huge fan of short story, so this was a definite win for me. An interesting rumination on parenthood, marriage, and life in the middle years.

Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1) How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi (Narrated by the author) (One World 2019): We now know that “not being racist” isn’t enough to cause real change in our society, and this book fully fleshes out what that means. A must read for anyone looking to broaden their perspective on race issues in America.

Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1) A Spark of Light, by Jodi Picoult, narrated by Bahni Turpin (Random House 2018): I listened to this primarily because I noticed Bahni was the narrator, and she’s my go-to narrator for audiobooks. Her voice is so captivating, and she did another stellar job with this one. This is Picoult’s look into the controversial pro-life/pro-choice debate, and she does an excellent job of giving life to many different perspectives on that.

Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1) Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell (narrated by the author) (Hachette Book Group 2019): I had heard an interview with Gladwell about his new book on Armchair Expert, and he explained that he had written it with the audiobook in mind the whole time. He also gave some wild sales statistic for how the audio has sold in comparison to the print version, and I don’t remember now what it was, but it was CRAZY high. That’s because the audiobook is pretty stellar. Gladwell is all about bringing different stories from the news into his pop sociology, and whenever possible, he included direct audio from those stories. We hear Sandra Bland’s videos from her YouTube channel and from the recording of her arrest. We hear clips of Amanda Knox’s documentary. We hear part of Brock Turner’s testimony. We hear audio from Neville Chamberlain after he met with Hitler in 1939. It’s pretty impressive.

Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)halfstar Ghosts of Harvard, by Francesca Serritella (Random House, anticipated release: May 5, 2020): This debut doesn’t come out till the beginning of May, so I’ll be posting my full review for it closer to its release date. It’s definitely a page-turner and kept me on the edge of my seat!

Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1) What You Wish For, by Katherine Center (St. Martin’s Press, anticipated release: July 14, 2020): This was my first Center novel, and it just didn’t do it for me. I think I would have rated it lower if I wasn’t in the mind frame that I needed a fluffy escape. Again, my full review will be posted later in the summer.

Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1)Untitled presentation(1) The Mental Load, by Emma (Seven Stories Press 2017): I wanted to love this graphic novel after hearing a discussion on a podcast about “the mental load” that is primarily handled by women in the household, which includes such things as meal planning and scheduling appointments and making sure permission slips are signed, etc. And some parts really did ring true. But other parts were a little too much or fell flat for me, so love it I did not. I wonder if part of that has to do with the fact that it is a French translation.

So seeya wouldn’t wanna beya, March. It’s been.. not that fun! I’m hoping I can get into a bit more of a reading groove in April, but also open to the possibility of branching out into genres that don’t require a ton of focus. I hope April brings great things to your reading life!

 

 

Review: Some Writer!

img_20200328_150903Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White, by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

First line: “Elwyn Brooks White became a writer while he was still wearing knickers.”

I’m a huge Melissa Sweet fan, which is why when I heard Meredith and Kaytee talking about it on their Currently Reading podcast, I added it to my to-read list immediately, even though I’m not the biggest E.B. White fan. I think I’ve only read Charlotte’s Web, and really all I actually remember of it is from the animated 90s movie. (**Correction: 70s MOVIE?? 1973?? Who knew it was that old!? Okay, upon review of this trailer, it does look super old. But DEFINITELY WOULD STILL MAKE ME SOB.) After reading this however, just like Kaytee promised, I want to go and read everything he’s ever written. If that’s not the measure of a good biography, I don’t know what it.

Sweet uses her classic art technique of layering real objects (newspapers, photographs, labels, clips, pins, letters, etc.) with her bright paints to bring White’s story to life. While I’m sure he had his hardships, White’s life sounds pretty idyllic, and it was a great escape for these tough, cooped up times. But not only that, this reminded me (or maybe really highlighted for me for the first time) how wonderful a writer White was. Sweet sprinkles quotes from White throughout, highlighting them by using a typewriter like he would, and it’s truly magical writing. What makes me so excited to go back and read his classic children’s books is the fact that he recognized that children’s literature isn’t by any means “easy literature.”

“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. … Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net.”

What a true pleasure this book was, and I can’t wait to track down a copy of Charlotte’s Web as soon as the libraries open back up.

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Review: The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse

img_20200328_140014The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy (Harper One, 2019)

First line: “Hello, You started at the beginning, which is impressive.”

It’s hard to know where to start with this book, as it’s unlike just about anything I’ve ever read before. This is story of four creatures who find each other along the way and become the truest friends you could ever hope to have. They support each other, both physically and emotionally, and share so many incredible experiences. There’s not a lot to this book (it’s not paginated, so I can’t tell you exactly how short it is), and I read it in about 30 minutes, but I felt like I could have spent much longer soaking in its pages. The simple outlined artwork paired with the powerful dialogue between the friends made me want to rip out and frame just about every page. (This is a library copy, so I would never, but I may eventually buy a copy to do just that. I’m serious. It’s so beautiful.)

This is the kind of book that you could literally buy and gift to anyone. I sent a copy to the pastor at my home church, randomly, because I just thought she needed it. But really, everyone needs it. It’s the perfect antidote to this strange and stressful time we’re living through, and brought me great comfort.

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Review: Operating Instructions

Operating InstructionsOperating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, by Anne Lamott (Anchor Books, 1993)

First line: “I woke up with a start at 4:00 one morning and realized that I was very, very pregnant.”

I’ve read a lot of Anne Lamott books with varied results, but there’s one thing I can always count on with her non-fiction: down-to-earth relatable nuggets that usually make me laugh. Operating Instructions has that in spades.

This book is just what the subtitle tells us it is: a journal account of Lamott’s first year of motherhood. When 35 year old Lamott realizes she is pregnant, she decides that ready or not, she is going to have this baby, despite the fact that the father of the baby claims no responsibility and immediately stops talking to her. What follows is Lamott curating a new kind of family for her son, one that doesn’t include a two-parent household, but on that loves her and little Sam overwhelmingly and unendingly.

This was the fifth or sixth Lamott book I’ve read, and I found it the most relatable of any of them. I was underlining and marking and LOLing all over the place. In years, Sam is 1.5 years my junior, but in calendar dates, he’s 6 weeks younger than my baby. It was remarkable to me how many little things she chronicled of Sam that had me saying, “Yes! T does that!” or “OMG, T was doing that at that week too!” Each “milestone”, including those tiny things that no doctor is looking for, like scratching the back of the couch over and over, or reaching out his hands in terribly graceful ways like a ballet dancer, or how it’s impossible to change his diaper because he immediately flips his body over. I couldn’t believe how many things lined up.

And then of course, there’s all the ways that Lamott and I line up too. She so accurately describes that ongoing vacillation of being incredibly frustrated, exhausted, angry and being overwhelmed with adoration and love. In a one sentence span, she can go from nearly hating Sam to being absolutely overtaken with love, and never has there been a truer feeling than that. The conflicting emotions of nearly every part of early motherhood are so rawly displayed, and I found it so incredibly validating.

I wouldn’t say this book is for every mother (there’s lots of cursing and strong political opinions), but this mother certainly found it wonderful.

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Review: Relish

img_20200318_092831Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, by Lucy Knisley (First Second 2013)

First line: “How do you remember things? What are your clearest memories?”

For Lucy Knisley, her clearest memories are associated with food, taste, and eating. As such, this memoir is about just that. Knisley takes us through her life, starting as a child being raised by foodies, including a chef/caterer as a mother, her years spent in the country growing food to eat and sell with her mother after her parents’ divorce, various trips she went on around the world trying new foods, such as her trek across Europe with a friend during college, and learning that, for her, the best way to show she cared about people was to share food with them.

As an avid follower of her Instagram accounts (@lucyknisley and @condimentraccoon — her specific food-related account), I can attest that this is still very much a part of her lifeimg_20200318_093154. And I think the thing I admire about it so much, both in her insta presence and in this book, is her so-very-approachable and down-to-earth nature. She comes off as someone who I would easily be friends with, and I sometimes think, maybe we are already friends (even though she doesn’t know I exist). There is nothing pretentious about her “foodiness” and I can think of nothing I’d love more than to spend an evening standing around in her kitchen and putting foods together to create a meal.

One of the best parts of this graphic memoir is her inclusion of a recipe at the end of each chapter. She includes those details that most recipes leave out, like how to hold the knife so you don’t slice your finger or the fact that a fork does an excellent job at scrambling eggs and is way easier to clean than a whisk. And something about seeing the recipe visually in delightfully drawn illustrations (not in endless img_20200318_093229pictures to scroll through on a food blog), makes them seem absolutely doable. As most of us are spending a lot of time at home right now, it seems like the perfect opportunity to explore our culinary talents.

The more I read of Lucy Knisley, the more I love. After reading and loving Kid Gloves last year, I am determined to read through the rest of her backlist and can’t wait to get my hands on her newest, Go to Sleep (I Miss You).

If you are a foodie, a wannabe foodie, or just love a graphic memoir, do yourself a favor and give this one a try. It’s fabulous.

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Review: Little Fires Everywhere

img_20200314_102422Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng (Penguin 2017)

First line: “Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.”

It’s hard to know what to say about this novel that hasn’t already been said. A couple years ago, it was the book that everyone was talking about, and just about everyone I know who reads adult contemporary fiction has read it already. But in case, you, like me, missed this one and are thinking about getting around to it again now that the Hulu adaptation is coming out, here’s the premise:

Mia and her daughter Pearl are always on the move. They stay in one place only long enough for Mia, a photographer, to work on her current project, and once that’s complete, they pack their most precious belongings into their VW Rabbit and move on. But finally Mia has told Pearl they can stay put. They’ve moved to Shaker Heights, a planned community suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, and are staying in a duplex owned by the Richardson family, specifically the matriarch Elena. Moody, one of the four Richardson children, befriends Pearl and soon she is swept up into a world unlike one she’s ever experienced, with parties and make up and after school TV watching and boys. The youngest Richardson, Izzy, feels drawn to Mia, however, finding in her a mother figure who values her difference from the other Richardsons. But when one of Mia’s friends gets into a custody battle with one of Elena’s friends, both families get entangled and secrets emerge that threaten to tear apart lives.

It took me a while to get into this book, but once the custody case came up, I was hooked. Not only is the plot engrossing, but Ng’s writing is truly captivating. More than anything, this book is a rumination on motherhood: what it means to be a mother, what kind of mothering is “best”, what paths we can take to become mothers, and the intricacies of mother and daughter relationships. And she has insights that I, as a new mother, haven’t put into words yet, but felt so true:

“To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and a past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once. You could see it every time you looked at her: layered in her face was the baby she’d been and the child she’d become and the adult she would grow up to be, and you saw them all simultaneously, like a 3-D image.” (122)

The number of times I’ve stared at my child’s face and pictured what he will be like in 3 years, in 10 years, in 25 years, and remembered what he was like when he was 3 days old, 10 days old, a month old… I had never thought of it like a place before, but it makes so much sense to me. And ultimately, what becomes clear even among this very diverse cast of mothers, is that the thing that ties all mothers together is that deeply rooted sense of love for one’s child. There’s just nothing that surpasses it.

I very much loved this one, and can’t wait to see how Reese Witherspoon adapts it for television. I think she is so talented as a producer, and I know she and Kerry Washington are going to do it justice. It releases in just three days! Mark your calendars for March 18!

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Review: You Think It, I’ll Say It

img_20200306_143551You Think It, I’ll Say It, by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House, 2018)

First line: “Nell and Henry always said that they would wait until marriage was legal for everyone in America, and now this is the case — it’s August 2015 — but earlier in the week Henry eloped with his graduate student Bridget.”

I’ve loved everything Curtis Sittenfeld has written. These short stories were no different.

This collection delivers ten stories of marriage, parenthood, regret, nostalgia, love, lust, and unexpected circumstances of living life in your 30s and 40s. My favorite story was “Bad Latch,” a story of a woman as she is struggling with her identity as a new mom and various aspects of “mom-shaming” in our culture, which isn’t surprising given my life status. But that’s what makes Sittenfeld so good –her ability to tap into the realness of a character and make them utterly relatable. With her debut, Prep, I first found my romantic desire to go to a boarding school. In Sisterlandshe aptly displays the complicated relationships of sisters. I’m not sure there’s a fictional character I’ve identified with more than Alice from American Wife. Each of the characters in You Think It, I’ll Say It is complex and engaging and offers a glimpse into their very real and full lives.

I’ve said this before, but I keep coming upon this realization that I think short stories are the most impressive type of literature one can write. Within 15-30 pages or so, an author creates a whole world, giving full lives to characters without us actually reading the extent of them. We only see them for brief moments of their story, and yet, they are complete. What a rare gift, and one I really need to explore more. Do you have a favorite short story collection for me to add to my list?

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