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.

Best Audiobooks for Long Drives With Teens

It’s graduation season, so in preparation for my final journey eight hours south to the big state university my two oldest children have attended over the last five years, I downloaded a couple of audiobooks to help make the time hurtling down a major interstate pass as quickly as humanly possible.

Over those years of driving down for orientations, football games and settling kids in for fall semesters, we’ve listened to a number of excellent books but it’s been a challenge trying to find something that appealed to every passenger in the car.

Okay, let’s be real. When I first started visiting the school about six years ago, I picked stories that interested just me, as I’d come to terms with the fact that I would be the only one listening. I had three teenagers, after all (and one very cute 7yo).

I knew that all of the teenagers along for the ride would be reclining in the back of our SUV, thoroughly ensconced in whatever loud music was blaring from their white headphones. As soon as I turned the key in the ignition, the children would slip into their own worlds and spend the following eight hours intermittently napping and taking Snapchats of themselves — framed by whatever geotag we were passing through — while some misogynistic lyrics blasted into their young ears. (Okay, there probably wasn’t Snapchat six years ago but you get what I mean).

51ySC5A5-NL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_So I listened to Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken which, at about 8 hours long, was perfect for one leg of the trip. Not only was the story of overcoming insurmountable challenges incredibly inspiring but I also learned a lot about the Pacific theater part of World War 2, in particular Japan’s deadly attacks in China. Like, who knew?



61sHQfg18hL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_For an ensuing trip, I decided to really go for it and downloaded the second Girl With the Dragon Tattoo book (The Girl Who Played With Fire), which clocked in at 18.5 hours. This is when I discovered that some books are better to read than listen to. Number One, I do not have the attention span for all of that storytelling and it was so long I had to finish listening upon my return while driving to soccer and making dinner. And Number Two, while all those Swedish names of people and places were easy to differentiate while reading, you could tell by sight who or where the reference was, but listening was a whole different story. I couldn’t discern a Blomvkist from a Lundagatan and I have been known to speak the Swedish language.

413XudZK0tL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_Eventually, through some kind of miracle, the kids started listening along as we drove. We all enjoyed Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and while she totally embraces the “F” word, which probably wasn’t the most appropriate language for my elementary school child, I loved her kind of Smart, Girl Power message and figured that would outweigh some of the naughtier language. And honestly, that’s probably what kept the kiddies listening, thinking they were kind of getting away with something.

And our love for Tina set us down the road to listening to a bunch of humor audiobooks on long drives up and down the Eastern Seaboard. We loved Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please and Jim Gaffigan’s Fat Dad. We listened to both Mindy Kahling books and Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. Of course, Nora Ephron helped us pass the time during one trip with her essays from I Feel Bad About My Neck. And I discovered Mike Birbiglia listening to This American Life and downloaded his poignant and hilarious album Sleepwalk With Me. We seriously laughed our asses off.

41dfXsZcQDL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_We listened to some kid/teen-centric books as well. My little guy and I enjoyed Wonder driving down to move his sister into her new apartment one August and my two daughters and I adored Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Elenor & Park. Maybe a little too much.

But listening to books during long drives was not a novel (get it?) idea for my children. When they were young, I was always popping in a cassette – and later a CD – for us to listen to while driving. We loved Roald Dahl’s Magic Finger and Fantastic Mr. Fox and thrilled to Shel Silverstein’s slightly creepy, thoroughly wacky readings of his poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends.

One of my favorite family stories is the time we were all heading out on a long drive home from skiing and I popped in Mary Pope Osborne’s child-friendly version of The Odyssey, which was greeted by groans from the back seat. My oldest was probably around 12 or 13 and was way too grown up and cool to be subjected to his mother’s campaign to create lifelong readers in her children.

He grumbled and eventually settled down to hear about Odysseus’ struggles with wooden horses and one-eyed giants and as the first disc ended, I heard, “Wait, that’s it?” from that too-cool-for-school son in the back seat. Too old, indeed.

That same son – who, at 23, is an avid reader and counts East of Eden, which he read last summer while commuting, as one of his favorite books – was my travel companion for this weekend’s graduation festivities, so I kept him in mind as I perused iTunes to download stuff to listen to and kind of think I killed it.

tumblr_mav95sJmYi1rg9ssco1_250Driving down, my son, 19yo daughter and I listened to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – clocking in at 6 hours – and then couldn’t stop referencing the story throughout graduation weekend. We joked about the lovable yet often frustrating main character who has Asperger’s and mimicked the British-isms sprinkled throughout the story. I think the rest of our family, who was not in our car, was kind of annoyed by our going on about the story but yesterday, the graduate started reading it and I might encourage my youngest to do the same. Great story.

41diKbNSQSL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_For something completely different, our drive home was filled with the beautiful and profound thoughts on what makes a life worth living in the gorgeous memoir When Breath Becomes Air. An excellent contemplation of life and death written by a 36yo neurosurgeon before he succumbed to lung cancer and about 5 and-a-half hours long. Lovely.

My son and I listened to the end of Paul Kalanithi’s beautiful words and quickly followed up with a Game of Thrones podcast chaser to finish out our trip, thus balancing the heaviness of the memoir with the airy ponderings on the fate of Winterfell.

I will miss having a reason to trap my children with me for such large chunks of time and getting to listen to stories together. More than the stories – though I do love them – it’s the shared experiences I’ve enjoyed so much over the years. The inside jokes. The references to pet rats and dead dogs and sisters for sale.

However I will never miss I-81 or stopping to use sketchy restrooms in the middle of nowhere. Some experiences are best left in the past.

When I’m not driving up and down the East Coast, I write about being a mom to grown, and almost grown, kids. Sign up to get all of my latest posts sent right to your inbox by typing your email into the box below. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. 

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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.

Can’t handle reading a whole book right now? Sign up instead to get all my posts sent directly to your inbox. Just plug your email into the “receive new post in your inbox.” 

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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.