August-September 2017 Reading

“I knew it was true that I had stalled again on my writing. For once, I was too caught up with actually living my life to stop and turn it into words. People like Lawrie–who never wrote a single line of prose, as far as I knew–seemed to want those who did to walk around with a pad and pencil hanging round their neck, jotting down the whole thing, turning it into a book for their own pleasure” (Odelle Bastien from The Muse, by Jessie Burton, pp. 364-365).

I haven’t been on the blog much. As Odelle observes, I have stalled, too busy living to turn my life into words. I have been loving and serving my family; whitewater rafting; hosting a dessert and drive-in party for the neighborhood; working my tail off at two completely different jobs; meeting one of my favorite actresses and an influential world-changer in one week’s time; walking the dog and practicing yoga; meeting friends for yoga or coffee; with adequate sleep thrown in for healthy measure.

I haven’t even been reading as much as usual. Occasionally when I realize I’m not writing, I suspect that the words bottling up in my mind and soul preclude the input of additional words. I have started-and-stopped on several posts, not sure how to articulate my perspective on what I see in the world around me. Some thoughts, some posts, take more time to marinate before they’re ready for consumption. Some may never be ready.

But I have read a few books. Constantly adding to my reading queue, I laugh at how books come to me sharing things in common. This time, I had three books about women not working for various reasons and three about unusually gifted young girls. Several books that were fine for the time, and two five-star books that will rank among my favorites for this year, and likely beyond.

The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected AdventureThe Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure by Rachel Friedman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When music school doesn’t pan out as anticipated, when the English degree seems to lead nowhere specific, Rachel takes off: first for a summer in Ireland before finishing college, and then for the world post-graduation.

I finished the book, but sometimes felt a little bored by it. She meant it to be funnier and deeper than it was. Without the humor or timeless epiphanies, it sometimes read like a young woman’s travel journal with so-so interest. I’d rather go on my own travels than read about hers, especially in some places I’d never plan to visit.

Still, there were some highlights. Like the interesting reality that the American system works against travel culture among young people; with our high cost of education and health care, kids need to get solid, paying jobs ASAP.

Or the realization we all need, better achieved early on: “I imagine the people whose lives are most intertwined with mine, and I realize life has gone on without me. The planet has not imploded because I, the girl who has always done what is expected of her, decided not to, just this once” (16).

Or this, one of the perks of travel: “Maybe this is what travel gives you–or gives you back, in most cases–that childlike sense of wonder, and with it a kid-style openness where you want to finger-paint with anyone and everyone who shows up. Maybe it’s because people are in such an open state, on the road ready to absorb all the experiences and strangers that come their way, like we did when we were little” (157).

Not WorkingNot Working by Lisa Owens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bridget Jones, minus the razor-sharp wit, minus the job (obviously), plus the ever-patient Mr Darcy of her life, plus a strongly (strangely) off-putting conflict with her mum.

Claire has quit her job to “find herself.” She wants to do something truly meaningful, but has no idea what that is nor any plan to figure it out. Her family is daft, her boyfriend is beyond gracious, she is unorganized and obnoxious most of the time.

I wanted to like this book. The titled vignettes, snapshots of Claire’s life, are sometimes pithy, sometimes nonsensical. I sometimes felt entirely bored at the whining and wine-ing all the while she ought to get on with something. Sometimes I identified a little too much, and that annoyed too, but mostly she kinda bugged me.

And then it ended. She had a drunken epiphany that made sense and didn’t solve the issue At All and yet it’s over?

I really wanted more from the Buddleia. BTW, if you’re American, Buddleia is called Butterfly Bush (Google it!), and it’s really quite lovely, although I’m certain it ate into our septic system.

Counting by 7sCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love love love this book! I laughed, cried, read passages aloud to my husband… A unique child who faces more tragedy in her few years on Earth than most experience in a long lifetime manages to unintentionally create a new family around her just by being herself. Willow is inspirational, and I might just plant a sunflower forest in my backyard because of her.

A Mango-Shaped SpaceA Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mia is a synesthete, meaning she was born with the ability to ‘see’ colors associated with letters, numbers, names, and sounds. That Mass has taken a little-known condition and embodied it for young people in a relatable way–at a time of life when everyone feels different and no one wants to feel different–is helpful. The descriptions of Mia’s colors makes me jealous, TBH. But the story dragged for me. Not sure why, as overall it was mostly a good book.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVE THIS BOOK!

I recently reviewed all the titles I’ve read in the eight months of 2017, and was surprised that there weren’t more I felt over-the-top about. Here it is.

This book is a testament to the power of stories. Art imitating life and life drawing on the power of art. I have read Backman’s other books this year, and truly enjoyed them, but this one… This one is special.

“Elsa had been very afraid that night, and she had asked Granny what they would do if one day their world crumbled around them.
“And then Granny had squeezed her forefingers hard and replied, ‘Then we do what everyone does, we do everything we can.’ Elsa had crept up into her lap and asked: ‘But what can we do?’ And then Granny had kissed her hair and held her hard, hard, hard and whispered: ‘We pick up as many children as we can carry, and we run as fast as we can.'” (p132)

“Elsa remembers how Granny said that ‘the best stories are never completely realistic and never entirely made-up.’ That was what Granny meant when she called certain things ‘reality-challenged.’ To Granny, there was nothing that was entirely one thing or another. Stories were completely for real and at the same time not.” (p171)

“…Elsa decides that even if people she likes have been shits on earlier occasions, she has to learn to carry on liking them. You’d quickly run out of people if you had to disqualify all those who at some point have been shits. She thinks that this will have to be the moral of this story. Christmas stories are supposed to have morals.” (p315)

And happy endings. Christmas stories are supposed to have happy endings. And this one does.

Love Water MemoryLove Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, if this isn’t an allegory in the necessity of mental healthcare… Very readable, I picked it up with some trepidation that it would be cliche. It wasn’t. It touched on real and raw emotions, on the nature of personhood and personality. On love and relationships, friendships and family and neighborliness.

Who would you become if you could start over with a mostly blank slate? Interesting to consider…

Good book, not great. Would have benefited from another editorial pass, but still, engaging and quick.

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