Paperback

I am so happy that the paperback of On Being 40(ish) is on sale now, with a brand-new, fabulous cover!  I admit I like this cover even better, and I hope you do too.  I admit to total bias, but I really do think these essays are wonderful and I hope you will consider reading them.

 

Holiday Books 2019

As is my tradition in the last few years, I wanted to share some of the books I’ll be wrapping up and putting under the tree this year.  I firmly believe that books are the best gift and often give many.  Some of the books I give are seasonal and change, but some are eternal.  Previous holiday book suggestions posts are here: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014. 2013, 2012.

If you are a book-giver, I’d love to hear what’s on your list this year!

Memoir/Non-fiction:

Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World – this short book, which is an adaptation of Admiral William McRaven’s commencement speech, was Whit’s pick for this list.  He read it and loved it (and we all did too).  Great for young men in your life and adults as well.

The Book of Qualities – Ruth Gendler’s unusual, beautiful book has been one of my favorites for a long, long time (two of our wedding readings were from it).  I love to give it as a gift.

Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me – I reviewed Adrienne Brodeur’s gorgeous memoir here and have already given it to multiple people in my life.  Anyone interested in cooking, anyone interested in family dynamics, anyone who loves to Cape, or anyone who loves good writing: all of these folks will love this memoir.

Life’s Accessories: A Memoir (and Fashion Guide) – I was delighted to blurb Rachel Levy Lesser’s wonderful book, which is a delightful series of essays about accessories in her closet and the memories of her life that go along with them.  I laughed, I cried, I read sections aloud to my husband because I related so much.

Fiction:

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi’s powerful novel was Grace’s choice for this post.  It was her school’s required reading over the summer and she and I both read it and loved it.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne’s novel, which I read at the end of 2018, remains one of my favorites of the last many years.  I’m recommending it left and right, still, and plan to give it to any of my novel-loving friends who haven’t read it.

The Great Believers – Ditto everything I said above regarding Rebecca Makkai’s glorious book.

Children and Other:

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems – Randall Monroe – I love Randall Monroe (his Thing Explainer is one of the books I’ve given most of all) and I’m excited he has a new book out.

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez – I’m delighted to see another book in Andrea Beaty’s wonderful series, which I’ve given a lot (Rosie Revere, Engineer, being the original).  Can’t wait to read and gift this.

Love Poems for Married People – John Kenney’s book of poems is hilarious.  It was sold out this spring when I wanted to give it to long-married friends with a sense of humor, and I’m thrilled it’s back in stock.  So.  Good.  I plan to read his follow up, Love Poems for People with Children, as well).

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Wild Game

“For the drama to deepen we must see the loneliness of the monster and the cunning of the innocent.” – Vivian Gornick

When I saw Adrienne Brodeur read from and speak about Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me last week, she quoted this and the whole audience gasped.  This is what Wild Game does so beautifully: evokes the deep humanity of its flawed and beguiling central character, Malabar (whose name is aptly exotic) and the profound neediness of its protagonist, Adrienne herself, Malabar’s daughter.

Wild Game is a riveting, beautifully written exploration of a particular, unusual mother-daughter relationship.  In its telling of Malabar and Adrienne’s story, Wild Game does what the best memoirs do: it illuminates something universal – the complexity of the mother-daughter bond – by diving into the deep nuances of a very specific, singular story.  I wrote my thesis in college on the mother-daughter relationship, so it’s not an overstatement to say it’s a topic that has fascinated me for 25 years.

Brodeur’s story begins when her mother, age 48, wakes her (age 14) up in the middle of the night to tell her that her father’s best friend, Ben, had kissed her.  Beginning that night, Brodeur is woven inescapably into the fabric of her mother and Ben’s affair.  For years it goes on, and Brodeur is her mother’s “confidant and accomplice,” not really thinking that there’s anything wrong with her role in this extramarital affair until during a gap year in Hawaii her boyfriend reacts badly to her telling him the story.  When her boyfriend asks “what kind of person would do that to her daughter?” Brodeur is confused.  Her reaction, that “Adam is getting this all wrong,” reveals how one-sided her impression of her own situation is.

We follow Brodeur through college and through her falling in love and marrying an interesting person.  I won’t reveal more here but her choice is at once startling and not at all a surprise.  We see Brodeur’s growing into adulthod, having her first baby, and dissolving into a tearful panic attack when for the first time her mother meets her newborn daughter.  In the back quarter of the book some of the story’s ends draw together, and we understand what happened to the key players on that night of the first kiss.  The kiss that, as Brodeur says, “marked the beginning of the rest of my life.”  Without giving away the facts of the story – and this is a memoir that reads, as Richard Russo says, “like a thriller,” it is true that Brodeur’s narrative closes with her reaching individuation from Malabar at last.  With space and years she has the perspective to look back on her mother’s behavior, which truncated her childhood and profoundly complicated their bond.

Mothers and daughters need to separate, a process that usually occurs during adolescence.  This can be painful and difficult, but it is necessary for two fully developed adult people to form where once an adult and an absolutely reliant baby were.  This individuation is complicated – and compromised – by Malabar’s choice to not only confide in Brodeur but to ask for her help in hiding her affair.  And when the necessary separation between mother and daughter does not happen, like plants that are deprived of light, growth can be stunted.  To continue with the tree analogy, it is that stunting, that gnarling, which Brodeur examines in Wild Game, and, from which she eventually breaks free.

Wild Game is a moving tale for anyone interested in the mother-daughter relationship or, further, anyone with curiosity about families in general.  It’s also beautifully written.  Both Cape Cod herself and Malabar’s gorgeous cooking are characters in their own right.  Brodeur powerfully evokes the dunes and tides of Cape Cod, a geography that’s very familiar to me, and she writes about Malabar in the kitchen in a particularly compelling way.  From the first scene, where Ben walks in holding a brown paper bag of fresh, dead squab for Malabar to cook, damp at the edges with blood, we return over and over again to Malabar at the stove.  She is a sorceress in the kitchen, whipping up gourmet meals with ease and grace and making even the reader salivate with hunger.

This is a stunning book, engrossing, thought-provoking, and hard to put down.  I have bought copies for friends and am recommending it to everyone I talk to.  I couldn’t recommend Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me more highly.

 

 

Things I Love Lately: summer reading edition

I read some great books this summer!  I’d love to hear what you enjoyed as well.

The Most Fun We Ever HadClaire Lombardo’s novel was engrossing, entertaining, and un-put-downable.  I loved it.

On Being Human: A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard – I’m lucky enough to have met Jen Pastiloff and to already love her work; her memoir was even more moving, wise, funny, and honest than I expected.  Gorgeous.

City of Girls – I adored Elizabeth Gilbert’s book and devoured it.  I can’t get Vivian’s voice out of my head.

 The Expectations – Alexander Tilney’s book is sharply-observed and familiar.  Entertaining (though I did catch one reference to a girls’ athletic contest against Belmont Hill School, which is a boys’ school!)

Where the Crawdads Sing 
I loved the first half of Delia Owens’s book (it reminded me of two books I adore: Island of the Blue Dolphins by O’Dell and My Absolute Darling by Tallent) and the second half a bit less.

 The Guest BookIn an altogether different way, Sarah Blake’s book was about deeply familiar world as well.  It touches on complicated themes and explored the ways that choices in our past echo into our present.  Really good.

The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides.  Page turner.

Normal People – Sally Rooney’s novel came incredibly highly recommended and it lived up to it.  Wry, funny, wise.

The Last Romantics  I really enjoyed Tara Conklin’s novel, with its themes of love, poetry, history, the presence of the past.

Rich and PrettyRumaan Alam’s novel is an incisive, keenly-observed examination of female friendship.

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi’s book, which is Grace’s All School Read this summer, was my first book of the summer and my favorite.

Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss – Margaret Renkl’s book was the last book I read this summer.  I can’t remember who told me I had to read it, and I wish I could because they were absolutely right.  A mix of Annie Dillard ad Mary Oliver.  Beautiful.

Best Books of the Half-Year

I’ve written posts like this for the last several years, and I really enjoy pausing at the year’s midpoint to reflect on what I’ve loved (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018).  I am always interested in books you’ve really enjoyed lately, so please share!

Memoir

All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf, Katherine Smyth – This memoir, about a giant of a father, his death, and the echoing importance of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, took my breath away.  I shared a few thoughts about it here.  This is among the most gorgeously written books I’ve read in years.

Running Home, Katie Arnold – Another memoir about the loss of a father, but couldn’t be more different.  Katie’s story, interweaving her childhood with her adult discovery of endurance running, is both moving and inspirational.  I loved it.

Novel

The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai – This book immersed me in a world I knew nothing about (the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the 1980s) and I fell deeply into it.  Makkai’s characters are nuanced and sympathetic, and this was a story I was very sad to see end.  Beautiful.

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi – This novel captures time, and the often-unseen ways in which the past animates the present, in an intensely lovely way.  The book is haunting and gorgeous, and I am so glad I read it.  This is Grace’s all-school read this summer, and I’m looking forward to talking to her about it.

Gone So Long, Andre Dubus III – I loved this book, which is bleak in many ways but profoundly humane at the same time.  Dubus writes some of the most thoughtful female characters of all, in my opinion.

Late in the Day, Tessa Hadley – There’s something about this quiet book, one of the first I read this year, that has stayed with me.  The characters, the complexity, the echoing absence of the beloved father.  It’s just lovely.

Other

Mostly Plants: 101 Delicious Flexitarian Recipes from the Pollan Family, the Pollan family – I rarely buy cookbooks these days (oh, internet, how you have spoiled me) but this one spoke so directly to how I want to eat these days that I did.  It’s also beautiful. Plant-forward, but with a little bit of meat here and there, recipes that are both inspiring and flexible.  I love this cookbook and have already used it several times.

The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid, Dylan Thuras – I love this book and gave it to all of my godchildren.  It’s not a surprise that I love maps and atlases, and this book is a fun, adventure-centric play on traditional books of maps.  It is a reminder that the world is large, and beguiling, and full of challenges and joys.

 

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