“Certain Girls” a novel by Jennifer Weiner
When I was a kid, our small-town paper published wedding announcements, with descriptions of the ceremonies and dresses and pictures of the brides.
We meet Cannie Shapiro again after her debut novel, loosely (or maybe not) based on her life became a huge success. That success sent her scurrying out of the limelight and into a quiet life as mother to Joy, wife to Peter and the writer of science fiction books under a pseudonym. The chapters alternate between Cannie and Joy as they attempt to navigate the natural pulling away between mother and teenage daughter. Joy, feeling her mother is hiding a huge part of her life, sets out to discover what she is hiding. As the mother of two teenage daughters, I was surprised to find myself with a lot of empathy for Joy. Cannie’s overprotectiveness felt stifling and I didn’t always get where it came from. I won’t spoil the ending but when I got near the end I was so surprised (and maybe a little annoyed) by what happened. But it kept me up past midnight so I could finish it and when I did I realized that it had to happen.
“The Slippery Year- A Meditation on Happily Ever After” a memoir by Melanie Gideon
One day when I was sitting in the carpool line waiting to pick up my son from school, it occurred to me that I had been sleepwalking through my life.
Okay, so I think she wrote my memoir. So many similarities: we are both 44, married for 20 years, moms, on a quest for a new mattress. (Like her, I was considering the tempurpedic but now, not much) Like her, I also have this low-grade (sometimes not so low) anxiety that thrums beneath the surface of my really blessed life. I keep waiting for the Bad thing to happen. We also have the same relationship to camping, liking it in theory more than in reality. She explores the angst of letting her nine-year-old son go to camp. This summer I have had to let my 15 year-old-daughter go several hundred miles away as a mother’s helper for six and half weeks. I think a good book reminds us that we are not alone even in our darkest most neurotic hours, and Gideon does precisely that.
“Home Safe” a novel by Elizabeth Berg
One Saturday when she was nine years old, Helen Ames went into the basement, sat at the card table her mother used for folding laundry, and began writing.
Yes, I am always a sucker for a book about writing. I devoured this one in less than twenty-four hours. Berg is always immensely readable. It’s like she’s dropped by for a brief visit to fill you in on what’s been happening to some people she knows. In this case, it’s the life of Helen Ames who has been recently widowed. In the midst of her grief she finds herself unable to write and extremely dependent on her twenty-seven year-old daughter, Tessa. When she makes the shocking discovery that her husband withdrew most of their retirement saving shortly before he died without her knowledge, everything she thought she knew about herself, her husband and her marriage is up for grabs.
“The Lair’s Club” a memoir by Mary Karr
My sharpest memory is of a single instant surrounded by dark.
How did I not read this before now? I’ve heard about it. I’ve seen it. It blew me away. Karr does this tricky thing with memory and tense that absolutely works. Most of the memoir is told in past tense except when we are in the midst of some harrowing memory then it is in present and we are right there with her as she tries to piece it together. This is also one of the few memoirs I’ve read that talks so openly about memory, admitting that it’s often unreliable, letting the reader know that she is struggling to remember what she remembers but is quick to point out hat perhaps her sister might see it another way, polar opposite of what she just wrote. As dark as the story is, it is also laugh out loud funny. It is never maudlin or melodramatic. The tension is pitch perfect, taut all the way through. Amazing, truly.
“My Stroke of Insight- a Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.
Every brain has a story and this is mine.
My sister showed me this clip and I knew immediately that I had to read Taylor’s book. I borrowed it from the library but now realize that I will have to buy my own copy to refer to again and again as well as be able to underline passages that speak to me. Jill Bolte Taylor was a thirty-seven-year-old brain scientist when she experienced a massive stroke that obliterated her left brain on December 10, 1996. It took eight years to fully recover but as you will read, what does recover truly mean? She explores and explains what happened to her brain during the stroke and subsequent recovery in terms that are not only easy to understand but also fascinating. I joked that if I had a do-over I would seriously consider going into brain research. She shares the insight she had about how we can all access a true inner peace, feel at one with the universe and how we always have a choice about how we respond to any situation. Did you know that an emotion such as anger takes 90 seconds to physiologically course through your body? After ninety seconds, it’s done. If you are still angry, you are choosing to stay angry. This is a book that everyone should read. It’s invaluable to those who may know somebody who has had a stroke but also to any person wishing to have more insight to this beautiful creation we house in our head called a brain.
I also read some great short stories from the current issue of “The Missouri Review” as well as “The Atlantic Fiction 2009”. I am eagerly waiting for the BASS 2009, edited this year by Alice Sebold.