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 # 50

I’ve definitely got some good books for you to add to your list! There were a bunch that came all at once at the library and I tried to read as many as I could. So many good ones!

#1 – The Nowhere Child by Christian White

Wow was this book outstanding! I could not put it down and the twist at the end was one I did not see coming. The book and the ending was very satisfying.

Kim is a 28 year old photographer and professor at a college in Australia. Her life is a little lonely right now. Single, her mom recently died of cancer, she has her half sister but she feels alone and a little lost. One day a stranger from America shows up to her college campus during her lunch break and drops some startling allegations on her: she might really be Sammy Went, who was kidnapped in Kentucky when she was 2 years old.

Kim is reeling and doesn’t know what to believe, and definitely doesn’t want to believe her beloved dead mother was a kidnapper. The story unfolds, she ends up going to Kentucky to figure out what happened and the story is startling, riveting and kind of crazy.

The book is brilliantly paced, written well and creepy. Highly recommend!

#2 The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

I’ve had this book for years and finally read it. It’s breathtakingly awful but so important to read. During WWI, these girls, 15-25 years old, were destroyed. They got what they thought was a GREAT job with a high wage. Painting the dials on clocks with radium paint…guaranteed safe…

” The U.S. Radium Corporation had insisted that its product was safe. After Marie Curie and her husband discovered radium in 1898, it had been heralded as the new cure-all and was added to toothpaste, water, food, and cosmetics—with little regulation; sometimes it was enough just to say your product contained radium, which was costly to obtain.”

“Each dial-painter had her own supply. She mixed her own paint, dabbing a little radium powder into a small white crucible and adding a dash of water and a gum arabic adhesive: a combination that created a greenish-white luminous paint, which went under the name “Undark.” The fine yellow powder contained only a minuscule amount of radium; it was mixed with zinc sulfide, with which the radium reacted to give a brilliant glow. The effect was breathtaking.”

But it wasn’t safe, despite what the company was telling everyone.

” ‘We put the brushes in our mouths,’ Katherine said, quite simply. It was a technique called lip-pointing, inherited from the first girls who had worked in the industry, who came from china-painting factories.

” ‘When I would go home at night, my clothing would shine in the dark.’ She added, ‘You could see where I was—my hair, my face.’ “

They were called the “ghost girls” because they glowed. Chilly. But soon, the girls started having issues.

“… one woman got sores on her mouth after just a month of working there.”

Mollie Maggia was one of the first victims who ended up dying from radium poisoning. But it was a slow, very painful death.

“Mollie had more teeth out, as Knef tried to stop the infection in its tracks by removing the source of her pain—but none of the extractions ever healed. Instead, ever-more agonizing ulcers sprouted in the holes left behind, hurting her even more than the teeth had. Mollie struggled on, continuing to work at the studio, even though using her mouth on the brush was extremely uncomfortable..Sometimes, Knef didn’t even have to pull her teeth anymore; they fell out on their own. Nothing he did arrested the disintegration in the slightest degree.”

The descriptions in the book of the girls suffering was absolutely horrific. It is not something to take lightly–and yet, for years, everyone involved from the companies that hired them to the doctors, lawyers and work safety committees, claimed their issues weren’t from their jobs. Mollie Maggia’s doctor said she died of syphilis. (A later postmortem autopsy showed she had indeed died of radium poisoning–her coffin and corpse GLOWED when it was dug up!)

(Read more here: http://theradiumgirls.com/the-girls/4593781028 )

“Despite the dim fall day, the coffin seemed to glow with an unnatural light; there were “unmistakable signs of radium—the inside of the coffin was aglow with the soft luminescence of radium compounds.” “

The surviving girls suffering from radium poisoning, and the families of the victims who had died, eventually went to court.

“…a new law had come in only that January that made industrial diseases compensable. But—and it was a big but—only nine diseases were on the permitted list, and there was a five-month statute of limitations, meaning any legal claim had to be filed within five months of the point of injury.”

This was a ground breaking event and helped changed the laws and rules around work safety, especially for women.

#3 Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Jules is in her mid-twenties and her life is falling apart. She finds her boyfriend cheating on her on the same day she gets laid off of her job. She’s broke, has nowhere to go and no resources. She sees an ad for a apartment sitter in one of the most mysterious, notorious and rich buildings in New York. For three months she can make $12k for just being an apartment sitter. She feels like this is the miracle she needs. But once she moves in, she realizes things aren’t what they seem.

This book had a lot of mixed reviews. A lot of people felt like the ending was unbelievable and I had a moment where two of the theories made me think “are you kidding me? That is so lame” but then the real ending was revealed and I felt like it was satisfying. Unrealistic? Yes, but satisfying. I enjoyed the book. The author did a good job building suspense. I love books about creepy houses. So it worked for me.

#4 Columbus: The Four Voyages by Laurence Bergreen

I have mixed feelings about this book, mostly because it made me question my opinion about Columbus.

I wanted to read about Columbus after reading the book about Queen Isabella. The book is good, drags a little toward the last 25%, but overall very fascinating and informative. Instead of a biography covering Columbus’s life, it focuses on his four voyages to the New World.

My history was a little foggy. Basically, Columbus “discovered” Cuba, Jamaica, Dominic Republic and probably Puerto Rico…not “America”. I learned a lot from this book. Columbus has been vilified for a long time. He definitely did a lot of questionable things. I think most of his issues were greed and obsession with finding gold in the new world. And he was also focused on converting the Indians to Christianity.

He did kidnap a lot of Indians as slaves (horrific) to take back to Spain. A lot of the genocide/rape etc of the Indian people came from his men. It’s well documented that Columbus was not the greatest leader and he dealt with a lot of mutinies from his men. Not surprising considering most of the men on his fleets were criminals who were offered clemency if they helped sail with Columbus. So not the top notch people you’d want…

“Columbus suddenly divined: “that he might leave the people there” to begin a colony, and to become the catalyst for more voyages to China.”

And these men he left behind did terrible things. But Queen Isabella was very clear that she wanted no one to do any harm to the native people.

“…if members of the fleet mistreated the Indians “in any manner whatsoever,” Columbus was ordered to “punish them severely.” The order, unequivocal in writing, proved anything but in action.”

I found this to be very noble. And unfortunately, it wasn’t necessarily obeyed completely.

“Meanwhile, his management of the fledgling Spanish empire, and his quest for gold, devolved into cruel mistreatment of the Indians. The master of navigation became the victim on land of his lack of administrative ability.”

The book was fascinating about discovering the Caribbean Islands and the people that lived there. There were Indians that became extinct because of Columbus and his men. He also encountered Carib Indians who were apparently cannibals.

It’s so fascinating how things changed.

“When Europeans first touched the shores of the Americas,” he wrote, “Old World crops such as wheat, barley, rice, and turnips had not traveled west across the Atlantic, and New World crops such as maize, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and manioc had not traveled east to Europe…In the Americas, there were no horses, cattle, sheep or goats.” They were all “animals of Old World origin.the New World had no domesticated animals, no chickens, and no cattle until …”

Columbus’s life is in part a tragedy. He had to deal with a lot of horrible people trying to ruin him, double cross him, steal from him, ruin his name in Spain, etc. I’m in no way saying that Columbus was innocent, but I think he did try, at first, to be kind to the Indians and learn about their “strange ways.”

“Hindered by the lack of a common language or reliable interpreters, Columbus took the king’s signs and utterances to mean that the “whole island was mine to command.” And out of this communication gap was born the conviction, at least in Columbus’s mind, that he was acquiring an empire of his own.”

So like a lot of things in history and life, it isn’t black and white. There’s some gray area. But don’t think I am painting a rosy picture of Columbus.

#5 Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek

This was a fascinating memoir about Dr. Judy Melinek who was a surgeon struggling with the work-life balance and decided to become a medical examiner in New York City.

“We group all deaths into six categories: homicide, suicide, accident, natural disease, therapeutic complication, and undetermined.”

She takes you through some of her training, the people she worked with and the cases that defined her career and helped her grown as a medical examiner.

“Once I became an eyewitness to death, I found that nearly every unexpected fatality I investigated was either the result of something dangerously mundane, or of something predictably hazardous.”

The last 25% of the book was also about her experience being an ME during 9-11. Having recently read a book about the 9-11 attacks, this was an interesting perspective on the recovery and identification process in the aftermath of the tragedy.

I’ve always been interested in this type of science. I used to love the CSI shows. This book definitely scratches that itch if you are interested in mysteries, science, CSI, etc. If you are squeamish, it may not be the book for you. There were definitely parts of the book that were too much for me and I skipped or skimmed the parts that were too gruesome to read about. But overall it wasn’t too gross. There was a pretty good balance of the science and memoir feel.

#6 Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

This is the follow-up book to “Moloka’i”, which was excellent. This book follows Ruth, the daughter of Rachel (who spent most of her life in a leper colony on Moloka’i. Rachel was forced to give Ruth up at birth and she was sent to a home for a few years before being adopted by a Japanese couple in Hawaii.

The story is about Ruth’s life with her adopted family, how they moved to California to be farmers, and then World War 2 breaking out. The bulk of the story is about the Japanese Internment Camps, which are just absolutely heartbreaking and infuriating to read about. Families were given one week notice to pack up limited belongings and they were all sent to the camps, which were a step up from the concentration camps, but not by much. The conditions were horrible. These people lost EVERYTHING. When they were finally released and able to return “home” there was usually nothing left. They had to start completely over.

It was very eye-opening to read about. I knew a little bit about the internment camps but this was a lot of detail that really made it real.

The book is really good and more fast-paced than the first book.

Happy reading!

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