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 #45

I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately. I read some good books (see below) and then had a rash of duds. Books I just could not get into at all and gave up before finishing. And they were recommended books! So I don’t know. Maybe my head wasn’t in the right space for them or something.

But here are a few good ones to add to your list.

#1 Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

A friend recommended this book and I liked it a lot! Lori is a therapist in LA. She has an 8 year old son, she’s supposed to be writing a book on happiness. She’s engaged. And then her boyfriend breaks up with her and she finds herself in her mid-40s suddenly floundering.

“I’m convinced that Boyfriend has quickly transitioned into his post-me life completely unscathed. It’s a refrain I recognize from divorcing couples I see in which one person is struggling mightily and the other seems fine, happy even, to be moving on.”

She has writers block, she’s depressed and crying all the time, she’s having some health issues the doctors can’t seem to diagnose. So, even though she’s a therapist, she ends up going to therapy.

“We can’t have change without loss, which is why so often people say they want change but nonetheless stay exactly the same.”

It’s a very interesting read. She writes about some of her clients (names changed, of course) and it was interesting to read about the journey people had in therapy. Even if you can’t relate to her clients there is a little tidbit in each other their stories that I think most people can relate to. Grief. Loss. Big life changes.

“One of the most important steps in therapy is helping people take responsibility for their current predicaments, because once they realize that they can (and must) construct their own lives, they’re free to generate change.”

While I didn’t find her own therapy sessions as interesting as the clients she shared about (Julie in particular), I enjoyed the book a lot!

#2 Women’s Work: A Reckoning with Work and Home by Megan Stack

I liked most of this book. I found it really interesting from a cultural standpoint. There were definitely parts of it I didn’t like, but overall it was a good read.

It’s a memoir about a reporter, Megan, who is living in China with her husband when she gets pregnant and quits her reporting job. They decide to hire help (housework and help with the baby) so she could write a book. She writes about her struggle as a new mom, the lack of sleep that caused some insanity. I could totally relate to that and remembered the haze of early motherhood.

Then, pregnant again, her husband gets a job in India and they move there. She hires help in India, too. She struggles with the realities of having help and the cultural differences and what happens when you try and help “the help” based on your culture.

There were some parts of the book that were definitely uncomfortable. Her privilege definitely came through and was gross, but at the same time, I’m a middle-class white woman with privilege (even though I don’t have hired help), so maybe it’s uncomfortable to read because of that? Who knows. Either way, there were some “icky” parts but some really interesting parts.

#3 Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

I liked this book a lot. I read it in one day! There is a sequel coming out this fall, that I am dying to read, too.

Irene is a 50-something woman with two grown boys and a husband who is away a lot for work. She gets a shocking, and mysterious, phone call on New Year’s Day that her husband died in a helicopter crash in the Caribbean. She’s confused because he was supposed to be in Florida for work. Why was he in the Caribbean?

She flies down there to discover that not only was he lying about where he was most of the time, he had a villa and another life–complete with a mistress and a love child. Irene, with her adult boys, are trying to piece together who he really was because Russ Steele apparently lied about everything.

It was a good book and a fast read.

#4 From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily and Finding Home by Tembi Locke

I loved this book. It was so well written and heart-felt and passionate and sad.

Tembi is an African American actress. When she was in college, she spent some time abroad in Italy for her her Art History degree, where she met and fell in love with her future husband, Saro. They had a long distance relationship for awhile and then got marriage, despite Saro’s family’s displeasure–which caused a family rift.

Saro and Tembi were in love for a long time, focused on their careers and then he got cancer. She nursed him back to health, tried to broker a family reunion to fix whatever drama was going on, and when Saro was well they adopted a baby daughter. Years later, he dies of cancer and Tembi is now faced with healing, dealing with grief, raising their daughter alone, and going back to Sicily once a year to be with Saro’s family.

It’s a truly heart-felt book. You definitely feel for the young widow, feel for the daughter, the mother…She’s trying her best to heal her own grief, while helping her daughter with the loss of her father.

“‘Children, especially those your daughter’s age, are prone to magical thinking. You will need to help her understand what is happening because her brain will want to forget. Her brain and heart will not be able to hold it. One day when she’s sixteen and all her grief is new and fresh, triggered by all the ways he is not in her life, she will be angry and hurt and confused. And mad at you, mad at life. She may say, ‘And you never let me say good-bye to my dad’ or ‘I never got to go to his memorial service.’ And she won’t be making it up. It will be real to her. Children can bury what is too big to bear. That is why you will have the picture.’ “

The descriptions of Sicily are magical. The book is about grief and healing and it’s just really well done.

“…they sat in front of Saro’s childhood home waiting for us. They were prepared for mourning. They had done this before, many times—for themselves, for family, for neighbors, perhaps since the dawn of time. Sicilians were accustomed to welcoming home the dead.”

I can’t recommend it enough.

#5 The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

The premise of this book is absurd and unrealistic but totally delightful. Suspend reality, be ready to just read fluff and enjoy it. I read it camping and finished the book in one day.

Olive and Ami are twin sisters. Ami is getting married to Dane. But at the last minute, almost the entire wedding party gets sick, including the bride and groom, so Ami insists that Olive goes on her honeymoon for her. It’s non-refundable, afterall.

So Olive and the groom’s brother, Ethan, whom Olive dislikes a great deal, pretend to be new husband and wife for a free trip to Hawaii. Absurd and predictable, you can totally see where this is going and where it ends up. But still, I liked it. I needed something fun and light and not a deep think and this hit the spot.

#6 Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain

This was an interesting story. Molly and Aidan are 30-something and unfortunately, suffered a loss at 20-something weeks pregnant and Molly had to have a hysterectomy. Now they are going the adoption route, which has it’s own ups and downs. But it’s bringing up a lot of ghosts for Molly.

The book spends most of the time in the past, describing one summer in Molly’s childhood. At first I wanted the story to stay in present day but the story sucked me in. It was a good read and a compelling story.

Happy Reading!

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