Books #57

My goal for this year was to read 150 books. Last year I read 170 books and felt really proud about that. I am not going to reach my goal. Between now and the end of the year I will probably be at 135. It’s been hard to read a lot this year, even though I have a lot more time! I just didn’t have the motivation for the beginning of the pandemic and I’ve been watching a lot more TV this year that reading. Oh well. Here are some of my recent recommendations.

1 – My Life So Far by Jane Fonda

I enjoyed this book a lot!

I didn’t know much about Jane Fonda. I knew she was an actress, married a few times, had a famous father, what a political activist and got in trouble for protesting the Vietnam War. I became a fan when I saw Grace and Frankie (great show!). So reading this book was very enlightening.

Her life has been impressive, crazy, and very full. She spoke very openly about her life, her struggles, her difficulties in her marriages, her struggles with eating disorders and her relationship with her father.

Her mother committed suicide (in a really awful way) when she was really young and then she spent her entire life struggling to connect and be seen by her cold fish father. She has a very deep wound from that.

“In the confines of our home, Dad’s darker side would emerge. We, his intimates, lived in constant awareness of the minefield we had to tread so as not to trigger his rage. This environment of perpetual tension sent me a message that danger lies in intimacy, that far away is where it is safe. Then there were his rages. They were not the Mediterranean, get-it-all-out-and-over-with variety. They were cold, shut-you-down, hard-to-come-back-from Protestant rages. Except for Peter, who didn’t seem to pay attention, we all took great care to avoid his trip wire.”

I was most fascinated by her extensive activism. She did SO much good for marginalized people. I know that she is now super into environmental and climate change activism, which is awesome. People that can use their fame and fortune for good are awesome in my book.

“I learned that if you want to reduce population growth, you have to increase the supply of contraceptives, but that this must be done in a culturally sensitive, nonjudgmental manner, and women must be offered a choice of methods.”

Her marriages are all different, but the common theme was that she lost herself in relationships and became whatever the men her life wanted her to be. It was really sad and I never felt like she “fixed” that part of herself. I particularly did NOT like her third husband, Ted Turner. Yes he was an environmental activist and did some really good things for conservation. But he was such a narcissist and the kind of man that bulldozes over everyone in his life, especially women. He was controlling, immature and needy. He NEEDED his women to basically just be constant companions with no job, no hobbies, no interests of their own. SO MANY RED FLAGS.

The book is long, but until the last 30% of the book (the Ted Turner years) it didn’t drag. I was fascinated by her chapters about Vietnam, her activism, the fallout and how she tried to fix her mistakes.

The book is very good and I enjoyed it a lot. I would recommend it!

2 – The Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating by Christy Harrison

This is the author that has the podcast, Food Psych, that I’ve recommended. Since I enjoy her podcast so much I was excited to read her book. It’s very good (although the title of the book is very gimmicky to me).

“Dieting felt like unlocking a new level in life. I started getting compliments on my weight loss left and right…”

This book is really important, I think, for everyone to read. It’s such an eye-opening conversation I think we all need to have. I didn’t know much about “diet culture” and how invasive and pervasive it is in our every day life, our culture, our psychology. It is so incredibly damaging for a lot of people—even if you aren’t unhealthily skinny like how most people picture “anorexic” people. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes and it’s important to recognize that.

There were so many things in this book that I loved and that were helpful plus informative. Things I had no idea about before. It really made me stop and think about how much I have been in diet culture. I recommend everyone read this book, even if you aren’t “dieting”.

3 – Love, Loss and What We Ate: A Memoir by Padma Lakshmi

I love Top Chef and didn’t know a ton about Padma, so picked up this book. I thought it was a fun, interesting read. She is definitely a privileged woman, so sometimes it was hard to be sympathetic about her life — she was a model who had many rich men taking care of her and giving her a lifestyle. She came across as whiny and unappreciative many times.

However, she did have some hardships that were interesting to read about. I liked all of the stories about her childhood in India, about her culture as a Hindu and Indian woman, about the women in her life in India. I enjoyed reading about her becoming a mother, and it was commendable for her to come out about endometriosis–something a lot of people don’t know about. It’s good when celebrities can open up about an issue and shine a light on it.

Overall I enjoyed reading this book, even if I rolled my eyes at the privileged rich lifestyle.

4 – Monogamy by Sue Miller

This is a different kind of book, interesting writing style. The story unfolds slowly, but not in a bad way, and reveals deep things through different characters that are intertwined. But not in the clunky way that books often do it.

It’s a story about Annie and Graham, married for 30 years. Like with a lot of marriages there are ups and downs but when Graham dies unexpectedly, Annie is forced to face things she didn’t want to realize.

“She would find herself standing someplace in the house—in front of the half-empty closet or in Graham’s study or facing the bathroom mirror or at the kitchen windows, looking out—and have no idea what impulse had brought her there, or how long before.”

The book is about how grief is processed, how friendships deepen, how people heal. It was a powerful and emotional book. I think most people, touched by grief in their lives, can relate to this book.

5 – Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

When I first started this book, I wasn’t sure I was going to continue reading. The topic is a difficult one for a parent–when your young child is taken or missing…

“Hope lasts only so long, can carry you only so far. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it’s all you have. It keeps you going when there’s nothing else to hold on to. But hope can also be terrible. It keeps you wanting, waiting, wishing for something that might never happen. It’s like a glass wall between where you are and where you want to be. You can see the life you want, but you can’t have it. You’re a fish in a bowl.”

And also, all of the characters in the book were very unlikable. But I hung on and kept reading and got sucked into the story and the drama. So many lies, so much terribleness. But the ending was satisfying and I ended up really enjoying the book.

6 – Memorial by Bryan Washington

This was a very interesting and layered book that makes you think about a lot of things. Benson, African American, and Mike, Asian, are an “unlikely” couple. They do not seem to have a lot in common but have fallen together in kind of a stilted way. It feels like both are reluctant to be vulnerable, to open up, to say I love you. They both hold back. But when their relationship seems to reach a breaking point, Mike finds out his dad is dying. His mom has just arrived for an extended visit, but Mike gets on a plane to Japan to be with his estranged, dying father.

Benson is left at home in Houston, to entertain Mike’s mother for who knows how long. It’s a book about grief and loss, healing wounds, relationships, trying to find a way to be vulnerable and admit things to your partner. It’s about race, cultures, gay relationships, HIV…so may layers and so many topics, but they all intertwine nicely.

The writing style is very different, but once you get used to it, it works.

7 – Cross Her Heart by Melinda Leigh

This was a surprisingly good book. I downloaded it on a whim for my free prime read. The description wasn’t exceptionally exciting but the book turned out to be a good read. I read it fast. The characters were well-developed and didn’t have annoying (re: weakly written) “quirks”. The story was good and I did not guess the culprit. I also ended the book feeling excited to read the second!

These posts have Amazon Affiliate links. Happy reading!

Books #56

Reading in 2020 has been a struggle, for sure. Pre-pandemic, I read so much! I’d read on the bus to and from work. I’d read on the elliptical during my lunch break at work. I’d read on my breaks at work…then of course, every night at bedtime. But now, while I have the time, I just don’t read other than at bedtime. And I do not feel overly motivated to find time in my day to do it. I don’t know why (other than a general feeling of being burned out).

Despite that, I am reading some good books lately. Here are a few:

1 – Rage Against the Minivan by Kristen Howerton

I absolutely loved this book!

I heard an interview of the author on a podcast, talking about adoption and what it was like raising black boys in today’s world. She touches on that a little bit in this book. But this book is more about her life as a mother, the multiple miscarriages she went through, the horrific and traumatic processes of adoption (one was in Haiti and took 3 years and an earthquake for her to finally bring her son home).

She opened up about her struggles with anxiety, depression, struggling with balancing work and home life, how to do everything and raise 4 kids. How her marriage suffered and ended. The book was revealing and raw and I think a lot of mothers can relate to at least one thing in this book. She wrote about being lonely and not having many friends, especially when they left their church because she disagreed with their stances on racism, LGBTQ rights, etc.

The book was also hilarious. I laughed out loud too many times to count. I could relate to so much.

“They turned up their noses at vegetables or any kind of sauce, requesting instead the Bland Beige Food Group. They were uninterested in quiet family meals. Our table felt more like the breakfast scene from Cheaper by the Dozen than something painted by Norman Rockwell.”

“I was an amazing mother before I had kids. I had it all planned out. There were meadows involved. There would be handmade wooden toys and organic, home-cooked meals. There would be picnics on hippie-inspired blankets (in the meadows) and vintage books and lazy days at the park (more meadows).” (I had the same vision!)

Instead of the bliss she said it was:

“I felt tired and frazzled. I no longer recognized the body I inhabited. I didn’t have time for things like hair appointments or workouts. Or showers. Going shopping for food felt like an insurmountable challenge, and I may have once started crying in public when there were no double carts left at the grocery store. It hardly felt like living. I was surviving.”

I highly recommend this book. It was so funny, real and relatable.

2 – Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent

I enjoyed this book a lot. I’ve known a few midwives and they are all cool, calm and collected. It was fun reading about the early days of “modern” midwifery.

Peggy was a new OB nurse in the 1970’s in Berkeley. She didn’t agree with the way the male doctors treated labor and decided to become a midwife and go off on her own.

“Midwives believe birth is normal till proven otherwise. Doctors don’t.”

She got the training, kind of became a bit of a hippie (Birkenstocks and all) and started her own midwife practice. Each chapter was a short story about a woman’s birth that she attended. They were all different and interesting. There were a few that I felt like they could have left out of the book, but the majority were great stories.

“Just think about it. As midwives, we meet wildly interesting people and stay up all night with them. We ask them questions about their sex lives, eat their food, feel inside their bodies, snoop around their houses, drink champagne at all hours, and best of all, we get to catch delicious little naked, wet babies. What I can’t figure out is, why doesn’t everyone want to be a midwife?”

Toward the end of the book, Peggy had the unfortunate experience of a birth gone wrong. She’d warned the woman that she should birth at the hospital because of certain things, the woman refused, and then called Peggy to her home when she was in labor. Peggy arrived and saw immediately there was an issue. The ambulance service and EMTs bungled things. They got to the hospital. The doctor chose to do a C-Section and the baby had major issues. The woman ended up suing everyone involved for “wrongful life”. This might have been one of the first cases.

It was a sad way to kind of end the book because Peggy ended up losing her midwife insurance as a result (the doctor did NOT lose his malpractice insurance) and she went back to shift work at a Kaiser OB unit (she called it a Ford Assembly Line of birth). It was a bit of a bummer. 🙁

But overall I loved the book and the stories and the connections Peggy made with the women and their babies.

3 – The New Wilderness by Diane Cook

This was a very interesting book. It was a different kind of dystopian world. In this one, The City is toxic. It’s overcrowded. People are getting sick and dying just from living in the city. Bea is desperate to safe her young daughter, Agnes, from a untimely death. So she, Agnes and her husband, go to the “New Wilderness.” It’s outside of the city, completely untouched wilderness, and they are supposed to live a nomadic life, one with nature.

There’s a group of them. There are rules. There are Rangers that track them, check in with them to make sure they are following the rules. They live off the land, hunt animals. They aren’t allowed to build permanent structures or stay in one place for very long because it will do damage to the environment.

These people live a “pure” life here. It seems to be going well. Years go by. People in their group die. Eventually they get some new people added to their “tribe.”

It’s a fascinating concept. It was a little Hunger Games, a little Lord of the Flies. It’s worth a read just for the interesting concept.

4 – Our Time is Now by Stacey Abrams

Very very good. So informative, lots of history and very very current events. The afterword even talks about Covid-19. I appreciated her service and description of politics in Georgia, about gerrymandering, about the despicable things the GOP has done to suppress votes for so many people in America. She had some good types on how to get involved. I appreciated the book very much and was happy to support someone who has done so much for the democratic system.

5 – The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory

I recently watched this series: The White Queen, The White Princess and season 1 of the Spanish Princess and they were so good! I used to read Phillipa Gregory a long time ago but it’s been awhile. I am so glad I picked up this book because it’s very good. It is a super fast read, covers a lot of history in an engaging way and I highly recommend it!

6 – Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

I heard about this book on a podcast interview with one of the authors. It was a very interesting concept. There are so many books written about romantic relationships but rarely about friendships. Friendships play such a big part of our lives, but we don’t always put the “work” in like we would with romantic relationships. The story of the two authors, their friendship, the rocky times, how they worked to fix things, were all very interesting to read. It was part memoir style, peppered with research on friendships, etc but it never felt bogged down with quotes/facts/research.

The book also talked about race and feminism, among other topics. It gave me a lot to think about and I enjoyed reading the book.

Happy Reading!

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