Stiff- Mary Roach

I have been meaning to read this book since I started this blog and I finally got around to it, using it for the microhistory portion of the Read Harder challenge.  (Though, now that I think about it, this was only kind of history and more pop science, but whatever, I’m counting it for a category that seems kind of arbitrary to me anyways.)

So… Mary Roach is a journalist with a focus on science who decided to write a book about allll the various things that can happen to a dead human body.  She covers the role of cadavers in medical education and the history of anatomical dissection, as well as the role of cadavers in other science research/practice (criminal forensics, car safety, gun/explosive safety, organ donation).  While her focus is more on the extreme things done with human bodies, she does talk briefly about decomposition of dead bodies and funereal options for dead bodies– embalming, burial, cremation, and some of the newer, greener ideas such as body composting.  She also dabbles in the super extreme, spending some time talking about bodies used in religious experiments (trying to prove that the Shroud of Turin was authentic) and even goes so far as to spend way too much time talking about cannibalism.

This was an interesting subject, but if you know me you know that I have an academic background in the history of medicine and that I kinda dig reading books about death or history of medicine (see my reviews of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks).  I came into this excited to learn something new.  However, I spent the first several chapters rehashing or reviewing information that was not at all new to me.  For example, the history of medical dissection and body snatchers is not new to me because of stuff I read in grad school, body farms are not a new concept to me as I used to read/watch a lot of crime fiction/TV, and Doughty covers what happens to bodies in funeral homes in greater detail in Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.  The later chapters provided new information and I was interested in the use of bodies in scientific research, organ donation, and thought some of the ideas for new ways of disposing of dead bodies were pretty interesting, too.  But Roach lost me when she gets to the most extreme and rare examples of cadaver use– religious research and as food/medicine.  In particular, the cannibalism chapter seemed designed to push the reader to the limits of squeamishness (and dead bodies don’t really squick me out, so this was certainly a bit much) and just involved Roach investigating a bunch of bogus stories without finding any real actual evidence of people eating their dead in contemporary society.

I did enjoy learning some new things about what happens with dead bodies and I did enjoy that Roach really plugs for body donation and organ donation– options I am pretty firmly set on for my eventual dead body– and options which get some odd reactions from people.  (You know if you donate your body to science, people will see you naked, right?  Umm, yeah, they see you naked when they embalm/cremate you, too.)  I had always figured on cremation as my back-up option, but hearing it has such negative environmental effects has made me think on that a little more, too.

There were things that really bugged me about this book, though.  Namely, Roach’s tone and style.  Roach tries to inject humor into her analysis and it wasn’t very successful for me.  I kind of wondered if the narrator on the audiobook was just not delivering the punchlines successfully, but I think the jokes just weren’t that funny.  Also the tone of this book is very… pop-journalismy, if that makes sense.  I do prefer my non-fiction not be stuffy and dry and this wasn’t stuffy or dry, but it just bordered on too unserious and too casual for my tastes.  And perhaps this last complaint is related to the style of the book, but there were areas where I wanted Roach to push further and she just didn’t. She seemed far more interested in trotting out extreme or gross examples of what happens to dead bodies than in actually talking about anything in real depth.

Anyways, I’d recommend this to people who want more of a gross out, wow example of what happens to dead bodies, people without a whole lot of background knowledge of the subject. I guess I’m just not the average Joe when it comes to dead bodies.

A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents- Liza Palmer

I’m going to develop a reputation for not liking Liza Palmer’s books, but I swear that’s not true.  I really did enjoy the first two of her books that I tried.  (Proof 1 and Proof 2)  But I guess pushing that proof aside, I really did not like A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents.

Alright, so the premise of this story is Grace is from this super tight-knit family with four kids, an estranged father, and a really awesome mother.  Grace’s mother died five years prior to this story started and Grace hasn’t spoken to her siblings since her mother’s funeral.  She has isolated herself in this little bubble of numbness, hiding from the intensity of her grief.  Then, one day, Grace’s sister calls to tell Grace their father has had a stroke and has made their older brother his power of attorney.  Grace sucks it up and out of a feeling of obligation to be a good child like she thinks her mother would have wanted her to be, drives up to see her father and her siblings gathered at his bedside.  It soon becomes clear that Grace’s father is dying and there is a big scuff-up because a lady claiming to be his wife keeps turning up, making it incredibly puzzling why their father left his power of attorney to a son he hasn’t seen in 20 years.  Amid the legal issues this precipitates, Grace is left with trying to process her grief for her mother, resolve her feelings about her father who abandoned her, get back in the good graces of her siblings and nieces/nephew, and reconnect with the boyfriend (who is also older brother’s partner at their law firm) who she abandoned when she deserted her family five years earlier.

There were parts of this story that worked for me, particularly the sibling relationships.  It felt like a very real reunion between these four very close siblings, with some anger and resentment from her sister, total acceptance from her younger brother, and some tough love from her older brother.  In the face of some really trying circumstances, they band together to make sure their father’s dying wishes are complied with.  I also enjoyed the plot antics in terms of the second wife and legal rights and inheritance and all that.  It was an original and interesting plot for a chick lit book and was actually a cohesive plot (unlike that of Girl Before a Mirror).  Also, Palmer’s writing is very readable and this book was no exception.

But there were parts of this book that did remind me of my dissatisfaction with Girl Before a Mirror.  Mainly the romance and character development in this book felt forced, much like they did to me in GBAM.  Grace’s grief bubble dissolves in the blink of an eye.  That sort of sudden character change doesn’t feel authentic and is kind of confusing.  In addition, the romance in this book lacked the establishment of a real connection between John and Grace.  It’s mostly told in flashbacks, but the on-screen, real-time romance we get is no real discussion or resolution of the five years separating these two, but rather just some sex and quick forgiveness and I love yous and never ever leave agains.  And that was also much the same way that the resolution of relationships went for Grace between her and her siblings and between her and her father.  It was all quick and easy forgiveness, and while I was willing to buy that Grace and her siblings could put aside the past to work together on their father’s behalf (after all, that’s what families do), I had a hard time buying that her ex-boyfriend whom she abandoned and the father who abandoned her would result in such easy resolutions.

Also, I wasn’t particularly happy with the ending of this book.  The epilogue was gag-me-with-a-spoon cheesy (seriously, why do authors think the surprise pregnancy is a cute, romantic thing?  WHY?) and for a story with a lot of people in heartaching situations, everything ended up a bit too rosy.  A story about a father who abandons his children and then calls them to his deathbed 20 years later could have much more depth and emotion than this story managed to.  This was all a little more fluffy and happily ever after than you might imagine based on the plot description.

And I think that brings me to the big thing that has been bugging me in Palmer’s books– she chooses very big issues to discuss in her books (the death penalty, school shootings, the death of one’s parents, sexism in advertising) and instead of digging deep, still manages to turn out a story that is rather fluffy without any major examination of those big issues.  I think that’s why Seeing Me Naked and Nowhere But Home worked for me– they were mostly about the family and personal drama.  The death penalty could have been a big issue in the latter, but plot-wise it wasn’t necessary, so it didn’t work against the overall development of the characters.  And I think this is also is why A Field Guide for Burying Your Parents fell so flat for me– it promises to deal with the grief of losing both parents through death and abandonment, but ends up settling for an easy out with a father who always loved his kids and ex-wife, but could never ask for forgiveness and come back to them and made grieving a mother as simple as not talking about it for five years and then having a mini-breakdown in a parking lot.

I only have one of Liza Palmer’s books left to read and I’m honestly not sure if I will or not.  It is her debut and should be closer in tone to Seeing Me Naked.  But I have had such mixed results with her books, that I have a hard time imagining giving them another try with the failures so fresh in my memory (Girl Before a Mirror was such a major disappointment for me).  In any case, it has been interesting to be working on authors’ backlists this year (kind of unintentionally) and to see that sometimes an author who really works for me in one book doesn’t at all in another.  Has this ever happened to you?

August 2015 Roundup

August was a pretty good reading month, actually.  I worked on the backlists of authors I’ve been meaning to read all the books by (Liane Moriarty, Liza Palmer, Taylor Jenkins Reid), I ticked another book off my Read Harder Challenge checklist, and really, just seemed to have more enjoyment in my reading than I have in a couple of months.  I even wrote up a few reviews.

I did participate in my one annual book event tradition of going to the library book sale this month.  I only came home with one book for myself (My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick), which was super disappointing, but I did snag a few books for my daughter and spent only $5, so I guess I can’t complain too much.  I might have been more successful, but the weekend of the book sale was the hottest weekend of the summer and while it was indoors, I think the crowd/heat got to me and I started feeling like I was going to pass out, so my book-hunting adventure was cut a bit short.  Oh well, there’s always next year.

Let’s see, the other big thing is I announced on the blog that I’m pregnant again and spent a bit of time talking about some of the fears I have about having a second child and a little time getting more personal by discussing my struggle with breastfeeding.  I have been considering getting a little more personal on the blog (again), as it is helpful for me to put some of that out there and well, I don’t read or review quite as steadily as I used to.  We’ll see.  I have some ideas, it is just a matter of putting together coherent posts that hit the right tone and being courageous enough to put myself out there that way.

So, expect a couple of reviews this month and maybe a couple of personal posts and maybe some Top Ten Tuesdays (if I ever remember to draft the posts in advance) in the next month.  I always like to post more at the end of the year, so let’s hope that trend continues this year, as work quiets down some.

Books Read in August:

Bottled Up by Suzanne Barston

A Field Guide To Burying Your Parents by Liza Palmer

The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Stiff by Mary Roach (audiobook)

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

In the Works: I am currently reading Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben and listening to Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  Both of these books are for tasks for the Read Harder Challenge (author of the opposite sex and book published before 1850, respectively).  I am also giving serious consideration to joining in the RIP X event this year because well, I already tend to read mysteries/thrillers/spooky books at this time of year anyways (see above where I am reading a mystery and a gothic lit book about a reanimated corpse) and why the heck not make it an official thing?

I don’t really have any other big plans for September, other than enjoy the return of football (well, maybe… I’m not as keen on football as I once was) and the end of baseball (so that I can spend the next six months waiting for it to come back) and hope that maybe we get some weather that is good enough to where we can actually go do outdoor activities again before it gets cold (probably going to have to wait until next month for this, but a girl can dream).

How has your summer been?  What have you been reading lately?

 

Bottled Up- Suzanne Barston

This post is going to be very long and cross into some seriously personal territory and if you are not into reading about breastfeeding, I suggest you skip it.

Let me get the personal background out of the way first.  I have a two year old daughter and am expecting a second child (a boy) in January.  I had an incredibly difficult time breastfeeding my daughter due to low supply due to what the lactation consultant supposed was “insufficient glandular tissue.”  That is, my breasts apparently never developed enough of the glandular tissue required to produce an adequate supply of breastmilk to feed an infant.  I had never heard of this condition and still don’t even know how this is possible as I’ve never had issues with any of my reproductive health and development.  I just have small boobs that are kind of spaced far apart.  I never knew that was abnormal.  And with what little I read about breastfeeding before having a child, I thought that just about everyone could breastfeed, if they actually tried hard enough.  To find out that this was not actually true for me meant facing all kinds of disappointment and anger and guilt.

I’d had some issue towards the end of my pregnancy with my daughter with intrauterine growth restriction– meaning she wasn’t getting enough nutrition to grow on the inside.  I had mostly come to peace with that, I carried her to term, and I was somehow much more prepared for things to not go perfectly during pregnancy/childbirth than I was with things going wrong in breastfeeding.  It was pretty devastating to learn I could not feed my child the way I had planned to, the way I’d been told by well-meaning advocates was natural and healthy and BEST for my child.  It was pretty devastating to take my 5 day old to the ER because she was so dehydrated and jaundiced, I couldn’t wake her up.  It was pretty devastating to try everything that the lactation consultant told me to try (pumping after every feed, supplements, etc.) and everything other well-meaning advice-givers gave me (drink more water, eat more calories, pump, pump, pump) to have it make absolutely no difference in the amount of milk I was producing.  I cried a lot about it, felt so embarrassed taking bottles out in public, tried to avoid (still try to avoid) moms who talk about things like “freezer stashes” and the glories of breastfeeding because it was just too painful to admit and explain that I was a failure at those things that other women worked for, sure, but actually had the capacity to do that I didn’t.

Anyways.  All that to say, having another baby has brought so many of these feelings back to the surface.  I can definitely not go through the newborn phase in the emotional stage that I was with my daughter again.  I cannot sit attached to a pump while my baby is in the swing or held by his dad, all to get another third ounce of “liquid gold” to mix into the formula.  And I certainly do not want to go through having another newborn hospitalized.  I have to, for my own sanity, do something differently this time, which means I’ve been thinking very strongly about formula feeding from the start.  And this makes me feel all kinds of guilty.  How can I not even try, especially when I nursed my daughter using a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) for an entire year?  What if they were wrong last time and my issues were due to something other than my own anatomy that is now fixed?  What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t even try to nurse?  What kind of flack will I get from the breastfeeding advocates in my life (in particular, my own mother)?

In the midst of all this angst over things I cannot change or cannot predict, I decided to read Suzanne Barston’s book, after reading an article about her choice to bottle feed her second child from the start.  She wrote this book with women like me in mind.  Women who believe in the benefits of breastfeeding, but, due to whatever personal factors/choices, formula feed their babies.

Bottled Up is a very accessible, very readable book about how harmful the moralism surrounding breastfeeding promotion can be. I am not sure it is as thorough or conclusive or even as hard-lined as I wanted it to be, but this was exactly the book I needed to read with all these latent feelings swirling around in my head. This book somehow made it feel ok to have tried and fail and reminded me that formula was really not a devil. Without it, my child would have died of dehydration or jaundice or starvation or something.

As for the book itself, the first 4 chapters had me glued to the page and nodding continuously. Sometimes breastfeeding is more dangerous to the mother/child than formula and it is ridiculous and uncompassionate to suggest that every individual mother can/wants/should breastfeed.  She mostly focuses on factors like post-partum depression, past rape or sexual trauma, or even a child’s allergy to its mother’s milk (one issue that Barston encountered personally), but does bring up low supply issues and provides a firm reminder that the low estimate of women who are unable to breastfeed is 5%.  That’s 1 in 20 people, which if you extrapolate to the number of the women in the US is in the hundreds of thousands.  That’s a lot of people being done a disservice by the dialog that “breast is best” and the really lackluster support systems in existence for women with breastfeeding issues.  Barston also points out how our society isn’t really the same as it was when breastfeeding was last in vogue. Many more mothers work outside the home and pumping is difficult even in the best of situations (I had a very supportive work environment, but pumping was the worst, it was so isolating and provided a constant visual reminder of how little I was pumping, especially when my bottles sat in the fridge next to those of other users of the lactation room).

The last two chapters were a little more scattered. Barston claims that of course breastfeeding is better, but her chapter on statistics doesn’t do much to show this. I remember coming across an article (I cannot find a link to the exact article that I remember reading, unfortunately) that analyzed breastfeeding studies in much more depth with a much sharper conclusion: breastfeeding can only conclusively be linked to prevention of a couple instances of diarrhea in infants. I expected a similar summary here, but got a much more lukewarm one. As in, Barston points out that most of these studies are impossible to really take seriously because of all the complicating factors at stake (i.e. you can’t control for who breastfeeds vs. who doesn’t and some of these differences may come down to class differences or parental involvement, etc.), but doesn’t bother to draw a larger conclusion that we don’t have many reliable studies, free of bias, to base claims of “breast is best” on.  She just kinda goes with “breast is best” as the inevitable conclusion, making the same mistake most of the researchers she faults do.

In the last chapter, Barston casts her net wider to encompass breastfeeding as an unrealistic choice not for medical, psychological, or health reasons, but for socioeconomic ones. This is a particularly important point, yes, but felt like too much for this little book. That, and Barston’s winding discussion about breastfeeding in the developing world, really draw her away from what made the first chapters so striking– her personal experiences and feelings and the white middle class angst about formula. I know she was trying to bring this around to a discussion of choice rather than a discussion of well, if you tried and failed, then it’s ok to use formula, but I left this book with a little less satisfaction than I felt after the first four chapters.

If you also had trouble breastfeeding (or couldn’t/didn’t want to for any number of reasons) and felt terribly judged and terribly guilty about having to/choosing to use formula, this book is definitely for you. There is something about realizing I am not alone in this experience, something about realizing that the hyped up talk about breastfeeding is, in fact, mostly talk, and something about remembering that feeding an infant is a deeply personal choice and experience that has helped me let go of some of my guilt. I am no further in knowing how I want to proceed with my next child, but I have some more food for thought.  I have some validation for putting my mental health at the forefront in making that decision. And maybe, just maybe, I can make that tough decision with far less guilt and tears than I did the last time around.

A Second Child

I am going to get a little more personal than usual in this post, but my book review on Thursday touches on this topic so it’s time to get it out in the open, despite my general blahness about talking about it.  (It’s not a secret, but I just haven’t wanted to get into my complicated feelings about the whole thing, I guess.)

Anyways, I am expecting my second child, a boy, at the end January!  We are excited, but also kind of terrified.  Life with a toddler is so intense that it is hard to imagine bringing a newborn into this situation.

I expected to be more excited about this pregnancy than I was with my first as a lot of my anxieties from the first time around are lessened.  I’m less worried about childbirth.  I’m less worried about everything going wrong (I mean, nothing will go exactly how I expect, but I know that and can deal).  I’m less worried about caring for a baby.  I managed to make it through all that stuff before.  Instead of not worrying at all, I just worry about different things.  I worry about losing myself or my marriage in the neverending demands of two small children.  I fear I will never sleep again.  I worry that I am not good enough with even one child to be good with two (thank you, weekend of massive toddler breakdowns, for this anxiety).  I worry I just don’t have enough time, energy, love, me to give to another person.  I worry I am not “enjoying” what will probably be the last pregnancy of my life and am just letting it slip by.

This second pregnancy is just so different from the first.  It’s not the entire scope of my attention and it mostly just feels like an inconvenience, an obstacle getting in the way of everything I need to do to take care of my daughter and the house.  It’s not that I won’t enjoy having a baby around again or that I won’t enjoy seeing my daughter become a big sister (she is totally baby-obsessed right now, so I think this will tickle her pink) or that I know I won’t eventually adjust to this big major life change.  It’s more that, I know how to be a mom, but I don’t know how to be a mom of two.  And not knowing is always a scary thing for me.  It’ll be ok, but until then I’m going to worry.  That is the (somewhat annoying) way I handle things.

To bring it back around to this blog and books, I have no idea if once this baby comes, I will ever find it in me to blog, but I figure I will come back around eventually (I always do), even if just for some meme that looks ridiculously fun.  I surely will continue reading and updating Goodreads because I can do both those things with handheld technology (score!) and I know that I will have some quiet time on maternity leave to binge on fluffy books and even fluffier TV shows.  Just remind me to not read 10 Stephanie Plum books in a row on maternity leave this time, ok, guys?

 

 

The 2015 Read Harder Challenge Update

I have been working my way through Book Riot’s 2015 Read Harder Challenge this year and thought it was about time I did a little update on my progress, since we’re halfway two-thirds of the way through the year and these sorts of posts tend to keep me accountable for my challenges.  It doesn’t hurt that Brandyn recently posted her update and reminded me that I’ve been promising to write this post for two months now.  I’ve already completed 16 of the 24 tasks so far, so I’m doing way better than I’ve expected.  Also, most of the books I chose outside of my comfort zone have proven to be great (or in some cases absolutely amazing).  This has been a good experiment, but I still have some big categories left to tackle throughout the rest of the year.

 What I have left:

Task 1: A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25

I originally thought I’d reread Frankenstein for this category, but think I might move that to the classic book category, so I recently requested The D.U.F.F. from the library.  This is a book I never thought I’d read, but all my friends like it, so I guess I will give it a chance.  Plus it’s YA, so I don’t have to gear myself up for it as much as I do classics.

Task 2: A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65

There are a few titles I’m considering for this– Juliet Marillier’s newest book comes out in November and she’s over 65, Kent Haruf had a book published earlier this year, and then Agatha Christie wrote some books after turning 65.  Still deciding, as none has grabbed my immediate attention.

Task 6: A book by a person whose gender is different from your own

So… I somehow have gone half a year without reading a book by a male author (well, I have, they have all just counted for other Read Harder challenge categories).  This is kind of ridiculous, as I thought I’d do this category on its own without even thinking about it, but I read a lot of genre fiction in genres dominated by women, so I guess I will actually have to work for this one.  I have no idea.  Does a book co-authored by a male (I am currently reading The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg) count?  It might have to.

Task 10: A microhistory

Earlier this year I started a massive book for this, got like 70% of the way through and gave up.  I just could not sit through any more of it.

Now I am listening to Stiff by Mary Roach, a book I’ve wanted to read since forever and I’m going to count it towards this category.  Just can’t listen to it with the kid in the car and I’ve been doing more driving with her lately than I usually do.

Task 12: A sci-fi novel

I think I want to read The Martian for this category.  I keep meaning to get it on Audible and then I choose something else instead.

Task 14: A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade

I still want to read The Emperor of All Maladies for this category, but I can only get it from the library as a physical copy and for some reason that means I’ve had a hard time getting around to it.  It sounds like a total “me” book, though.

Task 19: A book that was originally published in another language

I thought I’d go with the latest Herman Koch book here, but the problem is that I started that one last summer and did not get into it after a few pages.  I was willing to give it another try when I was in more of a thriller mood, but that just hasn’t happened.  I don’t have any other ideas.  I keep forgetting I have this category left, actually.

Task 22: A book published before 1850

As mentioned above, I think I will try to reread Frankenstein for this category.  I already bought it on audio, just haven’t motivated myself to start it yet.

 

So mostly, I have categories left that I am having trouble getting in the mood for or getting excited for.

Anyways, did you sign up for any challenges this year?  How are they coming?  Any other suggestions for these categories or particular encouragement for any of my selections?

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood- Jennifer Senior

 

I rarely ever read non-fiction and I even more rarely read parenting books because while it is nice to have ideas of what to try with your kids, parenting advice just feels like a giant minefield to step into.  Like the time I accidentally started reading an attachment parenting book and was like no, no, no, you will not make me feel guilty about not letting my child sleep in my bed.  So Senior’s book was appealing because it is not a “this is how to parent” book, but more of “this is how we parent and this is how it affects our lives” sort of book, which is fascinating stuff because becoming a parent really is a paradoxical thing, just like the title says.  It is joy and love and wonderful moments and simultaneously it is the most frustrating, mind-numbing, and puzzling journey I’ve ever embarked on.

All that to say, I really enjoyed this book and found it impossible to put down.  I was totally fascinated.  This is the type of non-fiction I enjoy– social science data combined with lots of anecdotes and history.  I am not sure that there is much practical that I learned from this, but it has made me think about what I get out of being a parent and about what my goals are in terms of parenting (a large portion of modern parenthood seems to be uncertainty about what exactly the goal is). The larger message is simply that being a parent is challenging, sometimes boring, frustrating hard work, but somehow, someway we find that in spite of that fact, it is a rewarding, enriching, joyous experience.

Senior divides the book into parental experiences at different times of childhood– early childhood (babies, toddlers, preschoolers), the elementary school years, and the adolescent and teenage years.  I very much related to the feelings of middle class mothers in the early childhood years- the feelings of needing to be present and actively involved if I’m with my child (which my husband doesn’t seem to share), struggling with feelings of perceived inequity in the division of domestic duties, and the intense frustration of interacting with someone who needs direction, yet only listens about 60% 33% of the time.  I haven’t yet reached the later years (my kid is only 2) to empathize with the parents of elementary school or adolescent children, but the areas she focused on were certainly familiar and things I think about when I think of the upcoming years– how many extracurricular activities are reasonable for a child? is it possible to escape the intense competition of upper middle class Texas suburbs like the ones Senior examines/I live in? should one monitor their adolescent’s online activity?  I particularly found the fact that living with adolescents has emotional effects on parents fascinating. Working with young adults, I could already see how being around young people making life choices makes one rethink their own life decisions and adolescences and I can only imagine the intensity of these feelings when it is one’s own kids in the hot seat.

What will stick with me longest, though, I think, is the statement that in the moment, parenting is not fun or enjoyable, but in the stories we tell/our memories it is the source of great joy and happiness. This reminded me a lot of Gretchen Rubin’s statement in The Happiness Project that the days are long and the years are short. This is something I feel every day, the drudgery and frustration of walking my toddler back to bed a million times every night is so rough in the moment, but once she finally surrenders to sleep, all I can think about is the cute thing she said to me in the bathtub and how nice it will be to see her in the morning (a feeling I do not experience when she walks into my room before the alarm goes off).

This was a thought-provoking read for sure, but I think mostly if you are a member of the demographic Senior focuses on. As a white, suburban, middle class, married mother who works full-time outside the home, this book was highly relevant. While Senior’s intention was to speak to parents like me, I don’t know that this review of the experience of parenting is widely applicable.  Also, because she relies heavily on anecdotes, it is hard to know if these are really accurate slices of the average parent’s life.  I learn really well from anecdotal evidence, but I know that is not the preference of social science and doesn’t really prove wider truths.  In any case, this is something I’d recommend if you are at all interested in thinking about what social science has to say about the experience of parenthood.  The conclusions might be fairly obvious (all joy, no fun), but it is interesting to see how other parents report similar experiences and to look ahead at the challenges I might face in later stages of childhood.

 

July 2015 Roundup

I seem to have kind of settled back in to my average reading speed after a crazy start to the year, but I’m not complaining, I’m still on track to exceed my reading goal.  It’s been a hit or miss summer for me with books.  I’ve been reading a lot of 3 star books lately.  Good, but not great and really, nothing worth writing a review over.  I would just restate the premise and be like this is good, but not setting my world on fire, the end.  So.  I’m trying to jazz things up by reading stuff I think that I know I’ll super like and it kind of works, but I think my mood is as much contributing to my lack of enthusiasm for books than anything else.  I probably need to switch up the genres I’m reading or something just to shake up my attitude.

Anyways, I wrote a few posts in July.  Nothing spectacular, but slowly trying to get myself back in the game.  I really try not to stress over hit or miss posting, but there is something so sweet about having reviews scheduled out for weeks.  Maybe someday I’ll get back to that point.  Maybe.

Books Read in July:

Endlessly by Kiersten White

It’s Not Me,  It’s You by Mhairi McFarlane

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa (audiobook)

Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

In the Works: I’m in a bit of a weird phase where I keep picking up books about death/dying/grief/dead bodies.  In that spirit I’m currently reading A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents by Liza Palmer and listening to Stiff by Mary Roach.  This upcoming weekend is my library’s book sale and I’m dying to go, but we’re supposed to have company and I am not sure how to fit a book sale into a visit with the in-laws.  We’ll see.  Other than that,  this month promises to be busy, as school starts back in less than three weeks and I will be back to fighting students for a parking space and a table to eat my lunch at.  The ever-so glamorous lifestyle of higher education staff, ya’ll.

I am kind of sporadically blogging when I can/feel like it and expect to remain hit or miss for at least this month.  I make no promises.

What’s going on in your reading/blogging/regular lives?

 

Summer Mini-Reviews: Cheater Cheater Pumpkin Eater

Look guys!  I am actually posting a review!  Ok, it’s a mini-review.  But I realized recently that I keep picking up books where the heroine gets cheated on by her boyfriend and it sets in motion a series of life-changing events.  I actually put down a book after two pages when realizing it had this same conceit.  Anyways, here are my reviews of two cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater books that I have read somewhat recently.

Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend by Sarra Manning

Hope Delafield has been with Jack, her childhood sweetheart, for over a decade.  Their mothers are best friends who have high hopes for their relationship.  Hope and Jack own a home together and Hope is certain that engagement is on the horizon for them.  That is, until Hope catches Jack kissing her best friend in a more-than-friendly, definitely-not-the-first-time kind of way.  Hope is crushed, but still loves Jack and believes his assertions that he loves her, too.  They decide to give it another go and Hope takes her share of emotional beatings on her journey to decide what she really wants for herself.

What I liked: Sarra Manning is one of my favorite authors and this book had a lot of the elements that I have come to expect from a Sarra Manning book.  Hope is flawed, insecure, and messy, but also very likeable.  She is forced by circumstances to determine what she wants out of life, as she has kind of coasted by picking both the career and boy her mother wanted for her.  She is also a total pushover, who has yet to grow a backbone, and she lets Jack walk all over her, giving him way more second chances than he deserves.  Her eventual non-Jack love interest, Wilson, is very much a Sarra Manning hero– he’s prickly and hot.  Hope could be a bit of a frustrating character, but I did like her and root for her and enjoyed seeing her grow over the course of the story.
What I felt meh about: This is an exhausting book.  Absolutely exhausting with the will they-won’t they between Hope and Jack.  It was appropriate for Hope’s character to not immediately end things and to keep giving Jack another chance, but it got frustrating to watch.  I really wanted more of the story to focus on things with Wilson and I wish Hope had grown her backbone a little earlier on in the story.
All in all: I am glad I read this book, as I really do like Sarra Manning’s characters, but this is probably my least favorite of hers so far.

It’s Not Me, It’s You by Mhairi McFarlane

Delia Moss decides it is finally time to get the ball rolling with her boyfriend of nine years, Paul.  They own a home together and a dog together and Delia is ready to get married. So she proposes to Paul.  He is bewildered, but accepts and the two go to a pub to celebrate.  At the pub, Delia gets a text from Paul that is clearly meant for another woman.  She confronts Paul and finds he has been seeing someone else for the past few months.  She isn’t ready to the end the relationship, but she also can’t stand the sight of Paul right now, especially as she finds he keeps lying to her about little things.  When her boring, but safe job goes up in flames, she decides to move from Newcastle to London to stay with her best friend, Emma.  In London, Delia lands a job in PR and her boss is a bit… shady, but Delia wants a new life and tries to learn what she can at this new job.  That is, until she keeps running into a handsome investigative journalist who is hell-bent on ruining the reputation of Delia’s shady boss.  Delia’s life is up in the air and she has to decide who she is and what she wants out of life.  Does she want the relative safety of a relationship with Paul?  Does she want to be someone who bends (or breaks) the rules to be successful in business?  Or is she ready to take some risks and do what she knows is right?

What I liked: Delia is a very sweet and likeable character and the rest of the cast of characters (with the exceptions of Paul and shady boss, Kurt) were also fun to read about.  I particularly liked that McFarlane wrote in some seriously geeky characters, like Delia’s brother and the computer genius, Peshwari Naan, who were perfectly themselves, even though that meant they didn’t really fit into the roles that Delia hopes for them.  There is a lot of scheming between Delia and the cute journalist, Adam, to take down Kurt and while it definitely approaches a silly and ridiculous level of antics, I had a lot of fun with this plot line.  It was a cute, original way to bring two characters onto the same side and allow them to get a little closer.  Really, this book was fun and readable and had great leading characters.
What I felt meh about: I kind of got tired of the whole Paul story.  He cheats, he lies, Delia tells him she wants some time off, and he will just not take no for an answer.  He keeps sending her things to remind her of their relationship and begging for another chance.  Delia has started moving on already, though maybe she doesn’t quite realize it, and I just got sick of seeing Paul pop back into the story.  Probably, this would have bothered me less if I hadn’t read it with Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend in mind, but what can you do?
All in all: I really enjoy Mhairi McFarlane’s books.  They are funny and smart and just great chick lit.  I had high hopes that this would top Here’s Looking at You for me.  It didn’t, but it was a good book nonetheless.  I will definitely be back for more Mhairi McFarlane in the future.

Top Ten Tuesday: Diverse Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme brought to you by the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish (the button also belongs to them).  This week’s theme is Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity/Diverse Characters (example: features minority/religious minority, socioeconomic diversity, disabled MC,  neurotypical character, LGBTQ etc etc.).

I LOVE this topic, as this has been an area I’ve been trying to work on in my own reading this year and it has been really interesting for me to grow as a person and a reader by reading more diverse books.

Here are some of my favorite discoveries:

         

1. Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern– While the plotline of this gets a little whacky, this was an interesting and addictive story about a girl with cerebral palsy and a boy with serious anxiety issues.  I enjoyed seeing how these limitations affected their friendship and their lives as they move from high school to the “real world.”

2. Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White– Gosh, I love Kiersten White for fun paranormal YA.  I liked that her story in the short story collection, My True Love Gave to Me, featured a Hispanic girl.  I was pleasantly surprised that the first novel of hers that I tried also had a main character who is dark-skinned (not that you can tell from that cover) and from an island colony of the country she is studying in.

3. I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios– I absolutely adored and raced through this cute YA contemporary.  It features a character with a disability and a character of low socioeconomic status. Josh has lost his leg serving as a Marine in Afghanistan.  Skylar and her mom live in a trailer park and live paycheck to paycheck.  Money is a constant worry for Skylar and really limits what she can see for herself in her future.

4. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie– I read this as part of a challenge I’m working on this year, which involved reading a book by an author from Africa.  Adichie is Nigerian and this book is about a Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who comes to live in the United States and eventually writes a blog about race and the immigrant experience in America.  It also revolves quite a bit around the man Ifemelu left behind in Nigeria and their desire to rekindle their romance.  I really loved the social commentary on the black experience in America that figures heavily into this book.

5. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson– This beautiful memoir in verse is the story of Woodson’s childhood as she grows up black in the 1960s and 1970s, splitting time between the North and the South.  This is seriously such a good book and Woodson’s experience is shaped by both her race and religion (Jehovah’s Witness) and the major goings-on of the Civil Rights movement are strongly present in the background of this mostly personal tale.

         

6. Trade Me by Courtney Milan– This romance was a fun little New Adult about a second generation Chinese American girl who simultaneously attends college and takes on the burden of supporting her family economically.  Tina gets the chance to swap places with Blake, a white guy who is super rich because his dad is the founder of an Apple-like technology company.  Oh yeah, and he’s a guy with an eating disorder.  Of course Tina and Blake become involved romantically over the course of their agreement.  I also like how Milan so subtly dropped in a transsexual side character (who will be the lead in the next book in this series!) that I got confused later in the story when it was brought up.

7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie– I love Alexie’s work for his take on the contemporary Native American experience and particularly his ability to be funny and awkward and genuine all at the same time, but his YA novel is probably my favorite of his works.  This is the story of Junior, a tween/teen boy growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

8. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz–  This book is an absolutely beautiful, excellent coming of age story about two boys growing up in 1980s El Paso.  It gets the LGBT tag, but that enters spoiler territory, so I’ll just say this story is mostly about Ari and Dante’s friendship, their families (LOVE their parents), and how they grow into themselves.

9. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth–  Cameron comes of age in Montana in the early 90s, dealing with coming to terms with her sexuality and the death of her parents.  Her conservative, religious aunt finds out that Cameron has been experimenting with girls and sends her off to a de-gaying school in the wilderness.

10. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling– I picked this one because Rowling portrays Pagford’s poor in such an honest, frank way that was deeply affecting for me.  I had so much compassion for Krystal and the horrible home life she faced and her limited life choices.  She’s cast as the town troublemaker by everyone else in town, but Rowling shows Krystal is a more complex (and tragic) person than the town would believe.

What are some of your favorite diverse books?  Do you try to make a point of reading diversely?  I’d love to see your lists so I can try out even more diverse books!