Friday Faves: What I’ve Read So Far in 2019

Can I read 30 books this year?

One of my goals for this quickly passing new year is to read (or listen to) 30 books. Ambitious? Perhaps. But if you saw the stacks of books filling the nightstand next to my bed, you might be inclined to agree that I need to pick up my reading pace if I am ever going to make a dent in the piles (which just continue to grow because I have a book-buying problem).

One of my tactics is to set aside one hour to read each night before I go to sleep, which is generally scheduled from 9-10 every night. Ideally, I close the book at 10, turn on my sound machine, and go to sleep. In reality, there’s far more time wasting — last minute slides down internet rabbit holes, perhaps I sit down before my intense magnifying mirror and start shaving my face* — before my light actually goes off. But I’ve been pretty good about the reading part and have found it much more relaxing falling asleep with a head full of whatever I’d just been reading vs. the local Fox 5 10:00 news, which had been my falling asleep routine for years (I’d set my TV timer to go off at 11).

Besides being a little more calming than news of rape, murder and whatever Donald Trump’s been up to, reading an hour a night has really helped me stay on task and get through the books on my nightstand.

Another strategy has been joining book clubs. So far, I’m up to three: the big, unruly one I’ve been a part of for years where there’s wine and side conversations about kids and menopause inevitably crop up; a smaller group of women who meet to discuss usually more challenging fare over lunch or dinner; and a no-strings-attached book club at my local independent bookstore where a group of strangers gather and have excellent conversation focused on a book for an hour. I’m what Gretchen Rubin refers to as an Obliger, so I know I need accountability if I’m going to get things done and committing to a book club (or three) seems to be working for me this year. I’ve also been selfishly pushing fellow book clubbers to read stuff I already own (shhhh).

Here’s what I’ve read so far this year:

Circe (Madeline Miller) : Here’s one I read that had nothing to do with book clubs and was all about my love of Greek mythology and the notion of a witch living on an island. This is a lifestyle I could get behind. It’s a reimagining of the story of Circe, daughter of Helios the Sun God, and features cameos from all your favorite mythological characters: Hermes, Dedalus, the Minotaur and the wandering Odysseus. Plus, she transforms rapey dudes into squealing pigs which, in this #MeToo era, is an interesting idea. I immediately bought the author’s earlier book, The Song of Achilles, which is now living on the pile but I can’t wait to dig into Helen of Troy, Trojan Horses and all that good stuff.

Educated (Tara Westover): I know. Everyone’s already read this one. My big book club read it for January and it prompted wonderful discussions and kept the dozen or so of us on topic for most of the night. I was reluctant to read at first, because the story sounded so much like that of The Glass Castle, which we all read 100 years ago. But I liked getting a peek into what life was like living off the grid on a mountain in Idaho with a crazy dad, brother and enabling mother (spoiler alert: not amazing). It made my large, dysfunctional family seem like The Waltons in comparison. I’d also listened to a bunch of the book via Audible, and loved the narrator. In fact, I couldn’t shake the feeling like I’d heard her voice before and then about half way through, realized it was the same woman who narrated the unsettling My Year of Rest and Relaxation and kept waiting for her to say something really snarky. But there’s no snark in Educated. Just a compelling reminder of what we are all capable of achieving and how complicated families can be.

Warlight (Michael Ondaatje): From the author of The English Patient, here’s the first line of this novel, set in post WWII England: In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals. Atmospheric. Memorable characters. More contemplations on family and finding solace sometimes in those to whom you are not related. Maybe even forgiveness. I also listened to about half the book during a long drive, which challenged my ADD given its lack of real action. Read for my small book club and chosen by my friend who is an admitted Anglophobe who gobbles up any book taking place in or around the Great War. We also liked that it was on Obama’s list of favorite books in 2018.

Asymmetry (Lisa Halliday): Everybody is talking about this book, so when my local bookstore advertised it as their first ever book club pick, I had to sign up to read, but then walked into the meeting last week and said, “Somebody, please tell me what this was about.” One hour later, all the pieces had fallen into place and made me want to go back and reread (which a few of the women there had actually done). The internet, and an interview with the author, helps.

Scoop (Evelyn Waugh): I think I started this at the end of last year, but read the bulk in 2019, like, a day before my small group met to discuss in January. The send up of early 20th century Fleet Street journalism had been on my list for a while, and I’m glad to have read it but it probably won’t make my list of favorites at year end. A few interesting things: it’s where Tina Brown plucked the name “Daily Beast;” in some ways, (some) journalism seems to have swung back in that direction — where journalists less cover the news than create the news; and very interesting lesson in reading something under the lens in which the era it was written. Waugh is incredibly racist and uses some incredibly offensive language describing people of color and Jews. But then my fellow reader stumbled across this article, which helped us keep the book in perspective.

Next in my 2019 lineup:

The Female Persuasion

American Marriage

The Book of Help

The Library Book

Just Kids

My Sister, the Serial Killer

Follow me on Goodreads, which I’ve begun to dabble in recently. We can compare notes. As always, I want to know what YOU are reading, so please share. Also, if you want to borrow anything I’ve written about (or would like to peruse my sagging shelves), please come take your pick!!

Happy reading!

*WARNING: tread lightly with that micro trimmer! I went in to remove some hair right inside my nostrils and before I knew it, there was nothing left. For, like, a week I could see straight up to my brain. Lesson. Learned.

Friday Faves: What I Read This Summer

When my kids were young enough to come to the beach with me every day, but old enough to get themselves to the pool or spend the day trying to sell friendship bracelets up by the cabanas at our club, I’d squeeze in a lot of reading. I’d sit in a circle on the beach with my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law, and after we’d finish talking about funny things the kids did or our latest concerns about what the kids were watching or eating (we were young mothers, of course), we’d pull our books or newspapers out of our beach bags and quietly read alongside each other in the sand.

A few times, we all headed to the family cabin in the Poconos, and I am being very generous with the term “cabin.” It was pretty rustic — think outhouse and no running water — and had been furnished with the hand-me-downs of extremely frugal people. The kitchenware was mismatched and the stacks of bedding kept in a trunk in the living room had been worn thin with use. But despite its lack of creature comforts, the cabin sat a short distance from a lake that we’d ride our bikes around at dusk in search of beavers building dams and once, a mama bear and her cubs crossed the road right in front of the cluster of cousins that had zoomed ahead of the grownups. We’d drive over to the falls and slide down the rushing water into the cold dark pool below and eat a picnic of sandwiches and chips perched on the flat rocks overlooking the water flowing downstream. But in between adventures, we’d make our way out to the porch looking out over fields of foxgloves and teepees the kids had fashioned out of long tree branches, and settle in to read. With no TV to watch and still in that blissful era before iPhones and Instagram, the kids would pull out the latest Harry Potter of Captain Underpants and join us in the shade. 

Nowadays when I go to the beach, there’s a lot more talking than reading and I’m as guilty as the next guy of looking at my phone and falling down long and twisty Internet holes. So, it was nice this Labor Day to sit quietly with my older two kids (so far, the biggest of my readers) under the beach umbrella and read for most of the afternoon. It helped that both my daughter and I were finishing books that we were loving and couldn’t put down. That’s how I felt about (almost) all of the books I read this summer: they kept me coming back and I was sorry for (most) of them to end. Which, to me, is all you can ask for of a book.

Less (Andrew Sean Greer): It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year and was what I had been (reluctantly) finishing up on the beach on Labor Day and I cannot recommend it enough, especially if you are turning 50. I think Arthur Less’s story will resonate with anyone of us who has lived a life. Less is a struggling novelist who decides to avoid his former lover’s pending nuptials by accepting a series of invitations (teach a course, be up for an award, celebrate somebody else’s 50th) that set him traveling across the globe. Here’s my favorite exchange.

Less smiles. “My birthday is in one week.”

“Strange to be almost fifty, no? I feel like I just understood how to be young.”

“Yes! It’s like the last day in a foreign country. You finally figure out where to get coffee, and drinks, and a good steak. And then you have to leave. And you won’t ever be back.”

AUDIO: My Year of Rest and Relaxation (Ottessa Moshfegh): A lot of times I will listen to the audio version of a book and become convinced that simply reading it would never have been as good (that was my experience with Lincoln in the Bardo, for sure). Such is the case with this story of a 20-something woman living in Manhattan during the summer of 2000 who decides to escape the sorrow in her life by spending a year asleep. Enter the wackiest, prescription writing NYC shrink and whiny best friend, and the narrator does a terrific job giving each character a distinct voice and personality. The final line of the book is everything. Haunted me for weeks.

Pachinko (Min Jin Lee): It took me until about two-thirds of the way through this generational saga set in Japan, which focuses on its Korean refugees beginning in the 1930s, that Pachinko wasn’t the name of a major character in the book. “When are we going to meet her?” I kept wondering as I looked at the illustration of the woman on the paperback’s front cover (it is not a spoiler to tell you that pachinko is a Japanese pinball game). Loved learning about the splitting of Korea and how kind of horrible the Japanese were to them when they fled their country and how displaced the Koreans were in their new home. Good insight into what it must feel like for all those refugees wandering around the globe, forced from their homes and unwanted in other countries. Hard to imagine.

The Woman in the Window (A.J. Finn): Fast. Fun. In the “Gone Girl” vein of unreliable narrators. Made me glad that for all the red wine I drink, I steer clear of prescription meds. It makes you see things. Maybe.

Calypso (David Sedaris): What can I say? I’ve loved Sedaris since I heard him on NPR reading his “Santaland Diaries,” when I pulled into my driveway and then sat, laughing as he threatened to have some mouthy kid — waiting on-line to see Santa — killed, until the end. This new collection of essays seems to have more of a thread running through the pieces than his other books, which I really liked. It kept a lot of the stories in context. One of the most alarming is the tale of a lipoma he had removed from his back and what he did with it. Strange and hilarious. The piece about his sister, Tiffany’s, suicide remains heartbreaking, no matter how many times I read it.

Look Alive Out There (Sloane Crosley): More collections of essays and maybe funnier than Sedaris, I am completely obsessed with Crosley and have wasted way too many hours stalking her online and reading everything she’s written. To wit: “Around this time, I began dating a younger and emotionally unavailable man who was completely wrong for me in every way but anatomically. So I fell for him.”

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson): The exact opposite of every book listed above, this slow contemplation of life and religion — written as a letter by a man at the end of his to his son — is no page turner. But it’s a beautifully written exploration of the relationship between fathers and sons and the inner workings of an Iowa preacher nearing death. Heavy.

Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie): Don’t be imposed by its size, this is a compelling, but dense, story of a Nigerian woman’s experience moving to the United States and a lot of comparisons between Black Americans and Black Non Americans (her labels). There’s also love and tons of humor. Plenty of the book is also set in Nigeria, which I loved getting a glimpse into and am fascinated by black hair politics and how long it takes to create those elaborate braids you see some black women wearing. I fell down such a deep Internet hole investigating the author and have watched both her Ted Talks (“We Should All Be Feminists” and “The Danger of the Single Story”) multiple times and find her utterly charming and sassy. I was so obsessed with her, I even Googled how to pronounce her name.

Would love to know what YOU read this summer and what you’re planning to read this fall! If you are like me and have a book-buying problem ( I have SO many piled up next to my bed rn), I highly suggest (if you are local) that you use River Road Books as your official pusher to get your next reading fix (the only compensation I receive from them for that plug is great conversation when I go in to browse). 

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Friday Faves: Things I’m Obsessed With This Week

Friends, I know. I am a terrible pen pal. Honestly, this is probably why I don’t have any friends from grammar school. I’m just not great at staying in touch.

But I’m trying to turn over a new leaf.  I’m going to attempt to lift this blog from the hot and humid ashes of New Jersey in July on a little more regular basis. I’m hoping this doesn’t go the way of my knitting career or the time I thought I’d learn to speak Italian. Let’s just say, I remain monolingual.

So while I’m figuring out how to tell you about my second child moving out of the house recently or the surgery I had on my old lady foot, I thought I’d share a few things I am ob-sessed with lately. Here they are in absolutely no particular order:

  • Melissa Clark’s new cookbook, Dinner: Changing the Game. Historically, I’ve stopped actually cooking dinner — like, chopping or roasting — by this time in July. Usually by this point of summers past, we’re eating a lot of hamburgers or takeout. And I can’t tell you the last time I bought a cookbook and back in the day, I used to buy a lot of them. But with the interweb, I find there’s no need to pay for something when you can get it for free online. But this book is worth it and full of tons of great dinner ideas. So far we’ve made both the Harissa Chicken (you can get harissa at Trader Joe’s) and Sausage and Cauliflower (with cumin and Turkish pepper — which you can get at World Market) twice, but my 20yo has gone through and marked about a dozen other recipes with post it notes.
  • Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid. I’m on a reading roll and in under three days gobbled this slim novel that weaves a little magical realism with the story of a city under siege and the plight of refugees.
  • Broken Open, by Elizabeth Lesser. This is literally (okay, not literally) the Bible for figuring out how to make lemonade out of the lemons that life throws your way. I read it 8 or 9 years ago when my marriage was falling apart yet for some reason, it resonates even more now. The quote from Anais Nin in the book’s prelude says it all: “And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
  • This Ted Talk video. 
  • This New Yorker cartoon.
  • Selina Meyer. I’ve been watching Season 5 of Veep and during each episode, think, “I need to write down some of these lines.” The things they say are off-the-charts hilarious and vulgar. But neither pen nor paper was required to remember this beauty, which I’ve used already on numerous occasions (if you don’t like cursing, please do not click).

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Friday Faves: Bell, Books & Candles

This candle from Bath & Bodyworks is so my jam right now.

This candle from Bath & Bodyworks is so my jam right now.

I can’t tell you how much I love this time of year. #1: I don’t have to worry about putting on a bathing suit for months. #2: I don’t have to go outdoors and pretend I’m having fun. In other words, I get to release my inner homebody. I love putzing around my house and feeling cozy as the weather starts to dip outside.

It makes me consider becoming a witch, as the headline to this post suggests, and pulling out my cauldron.

Here’s what I love about October:

  • I bought this cool, mercury glass globe at Pottery Barn a couple of years ago and splurged for the twinkly lights to sparkle inside. It sits on the Ballard Design coffee table in my TV room and although one person once commented that it’s like a spooky crystal ball, I like the magical feel it gives glowing from the center of the room.
  • I am all about smelly candles and feel strongly that what works during the summer months don’t quite cut it when it gets cold outside. Here’s what I’m obsessed with, in no particular order:
    • I absolutely adore this Mrs. Meyers candle for fall, however I can only find it online. It’s never for sale at Target or Wegman’s. Unlike some of the other scents in this candle line, the orange clove is potent and one small votive really permeates my entire downstairs.
    • This candle flavor from Williams-Sonoma is also a sesaonal favorite for me. Its scent is warm and spicy and makes me think of Thanksgiving and sitting by the fire.
    • I officially want to take a bath in this scent from Bath & Bodyworks. Not only do I have the candle going on my kitchen counter but one of those cool wallflower doohickeys you plug into an electric outlet. It’s plugged in right by my front door and immediately greets visitor with its yummy, piney scent. In fact, I may be jumping the gun on blanketing our house in this flavor as two of my children have walked in the house recently and said, “It smells like Christmas” (not the worst thing).
    • I was totally obsessed with this Bath & Bodyworks candle last year and plan on stocking up on it again soon to help take the edge off January.
  • Books. And lately I’m not just buying them, I’m actually reading them.
    • I read Liz Gilbert’s inspiring Big Magic in two sittings a few weekends ago. Halfway through I cursed myself that I did not instead download the audio version, simply because I love her voice. Both on the page and her legit speaking voice. She’s so warm and engaging and down-to-earth. She tells it like it is: the only way to nurture your creativity is to do the work. Plain and simple. Hey, don’t just take it from me, read my friend Brooke Leffert’s recent review of the book for the Associated Press.
    • Another one of my writer crushes is Ann Patchett and I happen to enjoy her nonfiction the most and probably because, once again, of her voice. I just finished her memoir Truth and Beauty, which recounts her friendship with the novelist and poet Lucy Grealy. “Whenever I saw her, I felt like I had been living in another country, doing moderately well in another language, and then she showed up speaking English and suddenly I could speak with all the complexity and nuance that I hadn’t realized was gone. With Lucy I was a native speaker.” Lovely.
    • To round out my girl-crush trifecta, I’ve also just started Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir. Dudes, she is so damn smart and funny. “No one elected me the boss of memoir,” Karr writes. “I speak for no one but myself.” Think this might be another lone I listen to after it’s read. If you haven’t read any of her earlier memoirs, you’ve got a lot to do this weekend.
    • In this vein, I’ve also been poking around in Robert McKee’s Story to figure out how to tell mine on a larger scale than a blog post.
    • I also breezed through the first 100 pages of my friend Michelle Sassa’s fun new novel, Copygirl. It’s a fun take on the Mad Men world of advertising and I like to think of the protagonist Kay as a modern day Peggy Olson, the lone, hard-working woman surrounded by baby men. Fun and I can’t wait to finish this weekend.

What are you reading or doing to stay cozy this weekend?

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Friday Faves: Book Addict

This is so not funny.

This is so not funny.

Hello, my name is Amy and I am a book-aholic.

You guys, I have a problem. Some people gamble. Some can’t stop buying shoes.

I am addicted to books. I love to buy them. I don’t necessary always read them. Or at least finish them. But I have a lot of them.

They sit in piles on my desk and my nightstand. They are stacked in my den and there’s even a few shelves of them sitting in my garage.

And I don’t just buy them for myself. I tend to buy tons of them for my kids, too. And when I was married, I’d often buy them for my then-husband in hopes he might open one up and read alongside me. When he had knee surgery I figured he’d have so much time on his hands lying around he’d definitely pick up “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” or one of the other five books I had gone out and bought for the occasion. Instead he sat on the couch for about 45 minutes after returning from surgery until he got antsy and went out to clean dog poop up in the yard.

There was a reason why his knees were shot. He was not one to sit around.

Over the last few months I’ve purchased a bunch of books either for my Kindle or an easy one-click order on Amazon Prime or at the nearby Barnes & Noble and recently from my favorite book shop around the corner. And while I wish I gave all my business to the local bookstore, it’s like I’m a junkie and just need a quick-fix when it comes to my book habit. I need to score them as quickly as possible once the urge comes in.

Really, if I just concentrated on reading the many unread books I already own, I would probably save half my annual income. Well, that might be an exaggeration. That would only happen if I stopped buying wine, too.

Here’s what I’ve bought either for myself or one of my sons since about May:

  • The Grapes of Wrath: I bought TWO copies of this. One for my Kindle, which I’m about six percent through, and a paper version for my oldest child after he finished East of Eden and was looking for something to read next.
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany: So of course, while I was at B&N buying Steinbeck’s classic, I also picked up a few others I thought my son might like, including this one — one of my all-time favorites — which I believe I read when I was also just home after graduating from college. It makes me want to go back and read all those John Irving books I loved.
  • Master and Commander: Another one for oldest guy. I remember how much my dad loved this Patrick O’Brien historical series about the British Navy and thought my son might, too.
  • A Window Opens: The author, Elizabeth Egan, is coming to our local bookstore next month so I stopped in the other day and picked up a copy to read in advance. LOVED. She’s the former book editor at Self who left to work for Amazon and the novel seems a thinly-veiled account of her experience trying to balance being the mom/wife/daughter/friend she wants to be with a ferocious corporate culture. Smart. Well-written. Funny. Love her and can’t wait to read whatever she writes next.
  • Good Mourning: Whilst at the local bookstore, I also picked this up after a rave review from one of the owners with whom I chatted while she rang me up. This is a memoir of a woman who was the event planner at THE funeral home in Manhattan. The place where anyone who’s anyone is laid to rest including Joan Rivers and Heath Ledger. I’ve read a few pages and it’s funny and engaging and who doesn’t want to know some of those secrets?
  • Getting to 30: A Paren’t Guide to the 20-Something Years: I bought What to Expect When You’re Expecting the second I discovered (perfect word) I was pregnant with my first child and it became my handbook during that and the subsequent two pregnancies (by my last they had invented this thing called the Internet so I didn’t need What to Expect to self-diagnose placenta previa or kidney failure any more). Over the years I turned to Dr. Spock, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, Between Parent & Teenager, Odd Girl Out, Queen Bees & Wannabes and many, many more tomes for advice on how to raise my children. So why should this new stages we’ve entered — the post college period — go without a book as well? Good overview of the “emerging adult” and reminder of what a difficult time it is.
  • I Am a SEAL Team-Six Warrior: Memoirs of an American Soldier: It is my intention to get my little guy to read more this school year. Like, more than what his friends post on Instagram. That kind of more. So I’ve been looking for something he is REALLY interested in. And I found it in this. The subject matter totally suits his “God bless America/Young Republican” personality and he even read it while we sat waiting forever in the doctor’s office last night, so that is a great sign. I only hope he’s half the reader his brother (and older sister, I might add) are.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: What? We never owned this one? Of course we do. The older kids read it and I even read it aloud not once but TWICE to various sets of children. But somehow, it the great house decluttering of ’15, it got swept into a donate pile and given away. I know. It makes me a little queasy, too. But my little guy and I decided we were going to read this one together, not out loud but more like a book club and then hopefully we’ll go through the rest of the series in much the same way. I know. Rainbows and unicorns. I’ll keep you posted on how this fantasy plays out.

On a completely different note, I cannot let the import of this date go unnoticed and want to send my love to everyone today. Not just the many people directly affected by the terrible events of 14 years ago who lost so, so much on that day. My heart breaks every time I think about all the men and women who are no longer with us. That level of loss is unimaginable and I don’t pretend to know how it feels.

So today is a day of rememberance, and I want to remember not just all the lives that were lost. I also want to remember how the tragedy brought us all together as a country and reminded us how much we loved living here and our fellow Americans. Despite all of our many, many differences, I want to remember that underneath it all, our hearts all look the same. We’re all struggling. We’re all doing the best we can. Let’s try to remember that today.


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The Girl on the Plane

9780385682329_0I went to the Bahamas for a few days last week with a girlfriend and was very ambitious in the amount of reading material I packed for the trip.

Not only did I download The Girl on the Train on my Kindle, but I packed about 20 pounds of magazines — a few Peoples, Oprah, the Vanity Fair Oscar issue — along with my fairly heavy journal into my carryon bag. I almost tried to squeeze my new, 500+ page hardcover copy of All the Light We Cannot See into my suitcase — on top of the four pairs of sandals, running shoes, straw hat and separates that would have lasted me over a month on the island — but decided at the last minute to pry it out of the bag. I slipped in an extra pair of shoes instead.

Which was a good thing because I didn’t even crack open the latest Entertainment Weekly (not even the back page to check out EW Bullseye!), much less an actual book.

Do you know how you really connect with some people more than others and never run out of things to talk about? You can just jump from topic to topic? That’s how it is with the gal I went away with. And when we weren’t examining each other’s histories and solving each other’s various and sundry personal and professional issues, we were enjoying pitchers of rum punch and roaming around the resort carrying our wine glasses.

In other words, we were busy little bees.

And while I never would have gotten through All the Light We Cannot See on the trip, I did manage to bang out The Girl on the Train flying back and forth. I even stayed up well after midnight upon my return to finish the last few chapters.

Two thumbs up.

There’s been a lot of press that the British import is the new Gone Girl and while I did not find the main narrator of Train, Rachel, anywhere near Amazing Amy’s sketchy status (I mean, hard to top that nut), she does make for a fairly unreliable narrator in her own way.

The thriller is hard to put down as the story unfolds and Rachel’s heavy drinking creates holes in what she’s able to piece together, which was a little unsettling for someone to read after mainlining pina coladas poolside for a few days.

According to some of the reviews I’ve looked at after I finished the book, it’s apparently not perfect. And Rachel can make some really annoying decisions. But it’s super fun and sometimes, fun is enough for me.

I mean, it’s not like I’m marrying the book or anything.

So if you’re starting to think about what to pack for your upcoming Spring Break trip and, like me, favor easy-breezy over Camus (Smartypants: you know who I’m talking to) for your beach reading, give The Girl a whirl.

Tell me: What are you packing to read for Spring Break?

Hey look! Here's, like, the one photo I took on vacation while we were squeezing out the last drops of the one perfect beach day and obligatory bottle of white wine.

Hey look! Here’s, like, the one photo I took on vacation while we were squeezing out the last drops of the one perfect beach day coupled with the obligatory bottle of white wine.

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10 Books That Shaped Me

I generally try to avoid all of those email and Facebook chain letters. I’m always flattered when someone includes me in a group of friends whom she thinks would be inspired or uplifted by the message  but try to dodge them all the same. I feel bad, but what can I do?

But now I’ve been asked by two girlfriends the Top 10 books that have inspired me over the many years I’ve roamed this planet — like the dinosaur that I am — and I am having a hard time resisting the urge to share. I mean, what narcissist who reads a lot wouldn’t want to bore you with the books that have made her tick?

So, Denise Swanzey and Staci Seltzer, thanks for letting me remember the books that have helped shape the weird person, weirder mom and navel-gazing writer that I’ve become.



1. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.: Judy Blume

Boobs, periods, boys: They were mysteries back when I first read the book in fifth grade and they continue to stump me almost 40 years later. Perhaps it’s time for a re-reading.







2. To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee

The only good thing that came from leaving my tiny Catholic grammar school after my parents’ divorce and moving an hour south was getting to read this book in the public school I attended in 8th grade. Up to that point, the only stuff I’d read for school came out of a box on a giant glossy card (ugh that discouraging SRA Reading Program). I couldn’t believe my good fortune that I got to read an actual novel for English class (because it was English and not Language Arts back then).





3. Childhood is Hell: Matt Groening

Long before The Simpsons debuted on The Tracey Ullman Show, I adored Groening’s subversive “Life is Hell” cartoons in The Village Voice and stumbled across this collection while browsing a midtown Manhattan bookstore during my lunch hour from my low-level job as a glorified secretary at a women’s magazine. I spent the afternoon doubled over in my cubicle covertly reading about the “16 Types of Dads” (Fun Dad, Fear Dad, Lord Dad) and “Your Pal the TV Set” (“Is TV the coolest invention ever? Well, DUH.”). It’s now become one of my 11-year-old’s faves and that makes me feel like I’ve succeeded as a parent.




4. Bossypants: Tina Fey

I’ve read it twice and listened to it countless times during car trips up and down the Eastern Seaboard. My teenaged daughters adore it and I even let my little guy listen to it and am convinced the strong feminist ideas mixed with Fey’s deadpan humor totally override her liberal use of the “f” word. I think he’ll be a better man for it and will know how to use the term “motherfucker” in the right context. Score.





5. The Middle Place: Kelly Corrigan

My college girlfriend Honeypot — aka The Senator — sent me a copy of Corrigan’s first book long before I knew I wanted to be Corrigan. Her memoir about the place we find ourselves in mid-life between our parents and our children, with a little cancer thrown in, showed me that there was a place for people who wrote like I did.







6. The Twilight Series:

I gobbled up the first three books in about a week and mostly during a trip I took out west with my three sisters. I even had to stop at a bookstore near my sister’s home in Marin County to pick up book #2 and found myself often referencing vampires and their proclivities throughout the trip. And somehow, the series in a weird way made me want to end my marriage and find a dude that would take care of me like Edward. I am still accepting applications for that position.




7. The Honeymoon’s Over: True Stories of Love, Marriage and Divorce: Original essays by 21 writers

I read and re-read this collection of essays during the turbulent final years of my marriage and they helped me feel a little less alone. The writers showed me that there could be life on the other side, and you could even write about it.







8. I Feel Bad About My Neck: Nora Ephron

Funny. Self-deprecating. Shrewd.

Shards of brilliance: “Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.” 

And: When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

I mean, what’s not to love?






9. Wild: Cheryl Strayed

I read Strayed’s memoir about going off and finding herself while I was sailing around the Greek islands and, well, finding myself. Enough said.








10. Eat, Pray, Love: Elizabeth Gilbert

Okay, obviously I’ve got a thing for chicks going off and finding themselves. But, as chronicled in detail here, listening to Gilbert read her memoir for a few weeks this spring really helped set the stage for a lot that happened in the heart department this summer. I highly recommend it.

My Summer Reading List


This is totally not what’s happening in my bedroom. That would be weird.

I have a grotesque number of books stacked around my bedroom. Like, I hesitate even taking a picture of the situation, lest you think I am a total nut.

There are young adult books that my daughter has recommended, like Rainbow Rowell’s “Attachments.” Some novels lent by my friend and fellow writer including Ann Pachett’s “The Patron Saint of Liars” and the new Sue Monk Kidd book from another reader friend. There are books on writing screenplays and memoirs and just writing in general, a few by Dani Shapiro (who I actually have been reading lately). Something called “Yoga and the Quest for True Self” that I will probably never get around to and of course, self help books galore – like “The Five Love Languages,” that sounded like a really good idea at the time I ordered it off Amazon late one one night. And then there’s “Middlemarch.” Fucking Middlemarch. It’s like always there, all 853 pages of it, just mocking me since I started reading it on a sailboat in the middle of the Aegean last August. Reminding me of all that I’ve yet to have accomplished.

My Kindle is also not immune to the log jam of unfinished and never opened reads. “The Husband’s Secret” lost me once we found out what his secret was and I only read a few of the short stories, I am ashamed to say, in George Saunder’s “Tenth of December.” I never even started Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” or Elissa Schappell’s “Blueprints for Building Better Girls.” Then there’s Pete Hamills’ “A Drinking Life,” Stacy Schiff’s “Cleopatra” and the third installment of “The Game of Thrones” series I never got around to, probably because I’m so busy watching it unfold on my television. But don’t worry, all three Fifty Shades of Grey books were quickly and thoroughly read because they are the literary equivalent of eating a bag of Doritos in one sitting. Great at the time and thoroughly addictive but in retrospect, kinda unhealthy.

Anyway, not to get all ambitious, but I think this summer is the summer I start getting through all of the reading material I actually spent money on. I mean, if you tallied the costs of all the unread books both physical and digital I have purchased, it’s got to add up to at the very least, a really nice pair of shoes (which is another item I probably own more of than I really need).

So, as part of my plan to spend my afternoons this summer accompanying my little guy to the beach so he can Boogie board his heart out in the cold Atlantic surf with his little buddies, I would like to spend my time reading stuff I already own. Maybe with, like, one exception.

So, I think my top five books to start will be:

  1. “The Patron Saint of Liars,” by Ann Patchett
  2. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou (book club selection)
  3. “Tenth of December,” George Saunders
  4. “The Outlander,” Diana Gabaldon (okay, I’m buying this because I’m hot to try the series and love that sci-fi stuff)
  5. “Middlemarch,” George Eliot (because everybody seems to love it and if I can read “War and Peace” I can get through this, dammit)

What have I read lately?  Well, I just finished the recently-released novel “Bittersweet” the other night, which got amazing reviews in Entertainment Weekly and People but left me sort of cold. I was hoping for more of a shocker at the end after the whole build up throughout the novel that, according to Amazon, “exposes the gothic underbelly of an idyllic world of privilege and an outsider’s hunger to belong.”

I finished Julia Fierro’s “Cutting Teeth” last week, which was a fun skewering of a Brooklyn play group that goes off to spend the weekend at a Hamptons beach house and plenty of hipster angst ensures. It’s the perfect smart beach read and kind of made me glad I had teens and not toddlers to deal with nowadays.

What about you? Do you feel bad about all of your unread books or are you better at reading what you already own (maybe that’s my problem, that I always want what I don’t already have)?

And don’t forget to let all of us know what’s on your summer reading list for all of those good people that don’t have already have a queue of books lined up next to their bed or in a cloud somewhere.

Happy reading!

Are You a Goodreader?

photo-9In my semi-retirement, when I am not eating or thinking about eating or making lists of things I’d like to be eating, I find I am catching up on things I was never able to get around to while I had a job.

Things I just didn’t have the time to do.

So now, when I wake up early in the morning, I reach for my journal before blogging on my laptop, which lets me filter thoughts and feelings a little bit better between my brain and the Internet.

I went snowshoeing not once but twice this past week and felt unhurried, able to take in the stillness and silence of the snowy woods and not have to worry about missing a call or coming up with some piece of content for work.

And I’ve also been reading a lot more during my unemployment. I finished two books I had started in the New Year — Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro and The Goldfinch, by Dona Tartt — and am determined to finish Middlemarch by the end of the month.

If it kills me.

And while I probably should be doing things like updating my LinkedIn profile and finding useful ways to utilize Pinterest for my blog, I found myself playing for a while on Goodreads yesterday instead.

Do you know that site? I am pretty late to the Goodreads party, since there are already about 20 million users who can make lists of books they’d like to read and rate and review books they’ve already read. So after I spent about an hour cruising through categories like “Popular book club books” and “Most read,” adding books I’d read to my shelf and marking the ones on my wish list, I quickly amassed over 100 titles.

It was like taking a walk down memory lane. I got to wave at some of the YA books I’ve been loving lately (The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park), books from my childhood (Charlotte’s Web) and books my children and I snuggled up to read over and over when they were young and yummy (Where the Sidewalk Ends).

And then I realized that it would be fun to see what was sitting on the shelves of other readers who I know, but was pretty limited as I had but one “friend” on Goodreads — my 19-year-old daughter. Out of 20 million users, that seemed kind of sad (even though she is excellent company).

So I tried to “friend” my real-life friend and voracious reader Susan, and quickly realized after Susan accepted my request and saw what was on her bookshelf, that I had indeed friended the wrong Susan.

My Susan definitely wasn’t currently reading Read Happiness: The Power of Meditation. She’s my Anglophile friend who leans more towards the World War II European experience than crunchy chewy self-help tomes.

So then I thought, why don’t I use my blog to try to make friends on Goodreads?

And so here I am.

I’d love to know what you’re reading (and listening to, too). What’s kept you sitting in your driveway or staying up way past your bedtime?

Let’s be friends. I think you can find me using the email

As for my own quick reviews, I was hesitant to get involved with the new Donna Tartt book, I’d heard mixed things about The Goldfinch, but I ended up loving it and have thought of the characters often since I finished it last week and had discussions about who should play Boris and Theo if it’s ever made into a movie.

And for someone who generally can’t even remember what happened on an episode of “True Detective” or “House of Cards” the minute the credits start to roll, that is impressive.

And I also fell head-over-heels in love with Ann Patchett after reading her collection of essays last month called This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s made me want to read every piece of her fiction (aside from Bel Canto, which I read years ago) and make a pilgrimage to her bookstore in Nashville.

I legit want to stalk her (in a very friendly, non-threatening way).

Anyway, go friend me on Goodreads so I can see what’s on your virtual bookshelf and we can compare notes.

Maybe it will inspire me to crank through Middlemarch and move on.

Happy reading.


what are you reading this summer?

IMG_2590I am a reader. It’s just always something that I’ve done to stay busy ever since my mom handed me Babar to get me out of her hair when I was a kid.

Over the years, the amount I’ve read has ebbed and flowed – I don’t think I finished one book between like 1992-1998 when my older kids were small – but it’s always something I’ve come back to. By the time I had my fourth child in 2002, I spent late nights nursing him while reading Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours. Cheery.

And while I cut my teeth on Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steele and The Thornbirds (oh, Father Ralph), I have gotten a little choosier as I’ve aged about what I spend my time reading.

Not that I’m all Don DeLillo and Proust now, but I recently tried to get into the new Dan Brown and found myself annoyed that the hero, Robert Langdon, was immediately – and obviously – paired with some gorgeous, yet brilliant, young doctor. Haven’t we already gone down that road? It just seemed formulaic.

Any time you open a book, you’re gambling with your time. Even though Entertainment Weekly, Oprah or someone in your book club raved about it, you might have thought Possession was unbearable. I know I did, and I’d like those hours I spent trying to slog through all those poems back.

I choose a lot of what I read based on reviews in maybe People or The New York Times. I see four stars and think, “That’s for me.” That’s how I found The Lovely Bones and Gone Girl and more recently, The Good House (my mom had sent me an article about the author and I felt an affinity for the picture of her lying on her bed with her laptop).

So imagine my disappointment when I realized the current book I’m reading, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, which garnered a wonderful review in the Times by Michiko Kakutani, is cleverly cloaked soft porn involving teenagers. Like, keep your hands to yourself, kids.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m all about porn — and frisky teenagers, for that matter. I devoured the Twilight series and Fifty Shades of Gray in days. Those trilogies were the equivalent of, say, plowing through a fresh box of Cheez-Its and quickly finding yourself scraping the salty bits off the bottom of the bag. Delicious.

Call me a prude, but there is way too much back arching, throbbing and moaning between teenagers than I could handle. And, really, if I want to read something about first love, I’d prefer to snuggle up with The Fault in Our Stars or Eleanor & Park. Even Judy Blume’s Forever, from what I recall, seemed more tame (but how many times did I reference page 86 back-in-the-day?)

So, I’m on the hunt for better. I want to find my next Gone Girl or This Is How You Lose Her to kick off beach season.

So tell me, what are you reading this summer? My Kindle is charged and ready for downloading.