Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Book Review Time

For some reason this year I've been reading like crazy. Maybe it's my way of escaping without actually going anywhere or that I've realized the kids can play and entertain themselves more now while I supervise behind the pages of a book. I'm also in the car a little more without the kids these days so I'm listening to books on CD as well. There are weeks when I am reading at least two books and listening to another all at the same time. Rediscovering reading has been great despite a few duds every once in a while. Now that I'm in a book club (my first one, unless you count college, which as an English major could be described as one big book club), I am not always reading books that I would necessarily pick. This is both good and bad. I am discovering new authors and genres but I also have to finish books I'm just not that into or that scare the crap out of me, such as the last one we read about a serial killer. You'll find some of the books I read say a lot about me - child rearing, relationship issues, mommy memoirs, self help... others I just happen upon at the library, intrigued by a cover or title or author’s name I recognize. Actually, some of the best books I've read lately have been because of the little library near my home. That's where I get all of my books on CD (way too expensive to buy). I discovered Elizabeth Gilbert's “Eat, Pray, Love,” Pema Chondra’s CD on meditation, Amy Sedaris's hilarious book on hospitality, “The Secret Life of Bees,” and so many more. Whoever is donating these books to the library definitely shares my taste in books. In today's review, though, I'm going to stick with just a few I've actually read since 2010 began.

“Committed” by Elizabeth Gilbert.
A huge fan of “Eat, Pray, Love” (what woman isn't?), I knew I had to read her latest book about marriage. We even picked this book for our first book club read. While I will say that “Committed” isn’t “Eat, Pray, Love,” I did get a lot of information out of it, in a different way. Her second book is more history than memoir, in my opinion; history that helps understand marriage in the Western world where little girls play dress up as brides and dream about their princes. I was one of those girls, always looking for someone to take care of me, sweep me off my feet – a little too much I now realize in that marriage was always my scapegoat out of having to take care of myself. I sure was surprised when I found myself married with children and no one was taking care of me but myself. This book helped to bring me back to reality, to see marriage for what it is and what it can be.

“Cleaving” by Julie Powell.
Man does Powell have guts to publish this book. I love guts, though, not the gory kind but the kind that are true and honest even when it doesn't make you look that good. In her follow up to “The Julie/Julia Project” (which I read as well), Julie Powell writes about what happens after the cooking project, and it isn't pretty. She has an affair, becomes a butcher and generally falls apart, much like what happens to many of us in real life (the falling apart part at least). At times it was almost too much and I felt like shaking Powell to wake her up and stop being so completely self involved. But she takes her own path and we follow along, hoping the best for her but fearing the worst. She’s someone I could see as a friend of mine, and no matter how painful the truth, it was worth the read.

“The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin.
I can always tell how much I love a book by how long it takes me to get through it. This one took me a few months, a long, long time for me. It wasn't that I didn't like it, though. It was that the book was a call to action, not just a passive read. The book made me think, take stock, wonder, but I wasn’t compelled to read in my every spare moment. While the author and I do have similarities, the differences were really obvious – she’s way more type A than me and for that reason I had a hard time empathizing with her. Overall, a good book with some very practical ways to increase happiness, but it didn’t move me as much as other books this year (probably too practical for me, which is why I should actually try some of her tips).

“The Sharper the Knife the Less You Cry” by Kathleen Flinn.
I picked up this book while procrastinating reading my book club's latest selection, a detective-ish novel that I just couldn’t get into, and I’m glad I did. Flinn writes about her experience at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Paris! She takes my two favorite things, traveling and cooking, and roles them into one book. And she includes recipes! I would definitely put this book in with the likes of “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Julie/Julia,” stories about finding an identity outside of the norm. I love that Flinn takes a chance to pursue a childhood dream. This book is easy reading and fun, definitely worth the time.

“This Isn’t the Story You Think It Is … A Season of Unlikely Happiness” by Laura Munson.
I have to say that you can tell what’s going on in my life by the books I read. When I had my first child I read “A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother” by Rachel Cusk and Anne Lamott’s “Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year.” Both of these books made me feel normal, understood and appreciated at a time when I really needed some serious empathy. A year after my second child and a serious bought of bad health (much later to be attributed to celiac disease/gluten intolerance), my book shelf was full of self help, Brook Shields memoir of her battle with post-partum depression, Lorraine Bracco’s visits to the psychiatrist in “On the Couch” and lots of others on similar topics. I was searching for a connection, empathy from someone who had experienced what I was going through. From my book reviews I’m sure you can tell I am searching for empathy again, this time in the self-fulfillment department, an attempt to maintain my own identity along with being a wife and mother. From “Committed” I read about finding happiness outside of a partner; from "Cleaving" that marriage can get really messed up when both partners are in total denial (but also that you can get through it); from “The Happiness Project” that happiness is sometimes work and doesn’t always come naturally; and from "The Sharper the Knife...," that dreams can become a reality and it is worth the risk. And then there is “This Isn’t the Story You Think It Is.” I read this book in four days. I read this book every chance I got, from every bath I took to every break in my day. I even considered taking it to work to read during my breaks but I knew I wouldn’t be able to put it down. I read this book because I felt complete empathy from the author; I felt her honesty and her pain and her perseverance. This memoir details a summer of marital discord, a huge bump in the road that is marriage. In short, her husband tries to leave her, even tells her that he doesn’t love her anymore. Ouch! But she doesn’t believe him, and the book chronicles her fight for her marriage and her husband. She remembers their wedding vows and their many years together and she still loves him – she still loves him! So she doesn’t give up or give in even when it gets really bad. I can’t say that I’m that strong. Throughout the book she talks to the reader, an interesting angle that I don’t see that often in a memoir. It makes it more personal, sharing her story, thinking about my own. I may have to read it again since I sped through it so fast, eager to know how it all turned out, so that I can absorb more of her wisdom and self-control. I could use a lot of both.

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