Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

The Kids Will Be Fine

18465524Sometimes you just need to read something you agree with. Something squarely in your wheelhouse. Over the weekend, I felt due for a nice, salty rant about something, anything, that I could get behind. So I turned to The Kids Will Be Fine: Guilt-Free Motherhood for Thoroughly Modern Women by Daisy Waugh. Daisy delivered exactly what I needed. I knew she would because I’ve read this book before (in 2014, says Goodreads). But I remember liking it so much that I felt it was worth a re-read.

It was.

I have felt kind of salty myself lately about other people’s children. In general and in theory, I really like children. Children are the future, per Whitney Houston. They are beautiful and special and fun for many different reasons, including that life itself is precious and children have only just started the journey, free of the fetters of societal expectations for the moment.

But as I’ve gotten older and more experienced as a parent and a human being, I’ve begun to see other people’s faults played out in their children. Meaning, I often run into children who are spoiled and coddled and whose every action and conversation is prodded and guarded and narrated by their doting (insanely overly attentive) parents.

Jacob

Our own kid, who graduated over the weekend, with doting, proud, but not insanely overly attentive parents.

Is it the children’s fault? Certainly not. And, probably, most but the criminal parents among us are trying our best. There’s no handbook, as we all know, for the right way to raise children.

But there is common sense. And lest you think this was a rant of my own and not at all a book review, I will tell you that Daisy Waugh’s book lists the various aspects of parenting where modern parents tend to fail in applying common sense.

Rather than chapters, Waugh lists sections and topics, beginning with Part 1: Pregnancy and Birth and Ending with Part 5: Charm School.

Each section contains related topics, such as Baby on Board, a rant on those “Baby on Board” signs everyone puts in their cars; Babies at Night (“Can be a nuisance.”); and Other People’s Children (“Are likely to be fractionally less interesting and more irritating to us than our own…”). Accurate.

I just really enjoyed reading those passages on the behavior of other people’s children because they, specifically, have been annoying me lately (not all my friends’ children, mind you. Mostly strangers’.)

In addition, I loved what Waugh has to say about the helpful approach known as unparenting:

By unparenting, I mean that we avoid making motherhood any more wearisome, costly, or complicated than it needs to be. It means banishing pointless after-school activities that entail chauffeuring; eliminating “playdates” that require organizing more than a couple of days in advance; no more costume requirements for school shows and assemblies; and definitely no more maternal guilt.

And about freedom from maternal martyr syndrome, which she highlights in her response to a ubiquitous, insipid, not to mention non-inclusive, Facebook post making the rounds during the time she was writing the book. Here’s the post and the beginning of her commentary:

To all the UNSELFISH MOMS out there who traded sleep for dark circles, salon haircuts for ponytails, long showers for quick showers, late nights for early mornings, designer bags for diaper bags & WOULDN’T CHANGE A THING. Lets [sic] see how many Moms can actually post this. Moms who DON’T CARE about what they gave up and instead LOVE what they got in return! Post this if you LOVE your LIFE as a mom ♥

Barf bags disposed of? Good. Where do we begin? It’s absurd, clearly. And could be dismissed on grounds of breathtaking inanity. Nevertheless, in its clumsy way, it highlights what is a commonly held belief: that good motherhood requires a denial of personal pleasure and a negation of the self.

If you are tired of hearing about the negation of the self being a prerequisite for motherly love, I recommend reading that section. I know from experience that one can be a parent and have a separate identity too. Given this culture of self-sacrifice around parenting, it’s just nice to have that affirmed once in a while.

Look, I know I shouldn’t be in the business of criticizing other parents who are trying their best. I know how hard it is to raise kids, the demands that pull at you from all corners. It’s just. Sometimes I want to be crabby about kids with bad manners. Ok?

And that is my very ranty post for today. 🙂

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Help Me! One Woman’s Quest to Find Out if Self-help Really Can Change Your Life


HelpMebookHelp Me! by Marianne Power
was a fun little romp. I’ve said recently that if I am going to read and enjoy a memoir (or essays), I have to like the author’s voice. And Power has a very distinct voice. She’s Irish, living in London, and her style is sort of Bridget Jones or, as one Goodreads reviewer put it “this memoir reminded me of a Sophie Kinsella novel.”

I’ve only read the first Shopaholic book, but I totally get it.

Anyway, Help Me! is Power’s memoir about one year in her life in which she attempts to actually take the advice given in her favorite, or just well-known, self-help books. She’s a self-help book addict, so to speak, and though she’d read it for years before writing the book, she noticed that she moved from one book to the other without ever really applying what she’d read.

One of the things I liked about this book is that it gives a view of the self-help industry, and it is a billion dollar industry, from the view of someone who buys in to the various popular gurus’ advice while possessing enough self-awareness to criticize it thoughtfully. Though, as you’ll see, Power gets deeper into the world of self-help and starts to lose her perspective.

Power is funny and endearing throughout. She had me from this paragraph:

“So why did I read self-help if it didn’t, well, help? Like eating chocolate cake or watching old episodes of Friends, I read self-help for comfort. These books acknowledged the insecurities and anxieties I felt but was always too ashamed to talk about. They made my personal angst seem like a normal part of being human. Reading them made me feel less alone.”

That is exactly why I read self-help. I have a few shelves devoted to it myself (though it’s mixed in with some other general spirituality/philosophy/psychology stuff):

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I mean, I also read it so I can use some of the advice, but, admittedly, follow-through is not my strong suit. But it keeps me inspired. I’m not looking for a fix, let alone a quick fix, for any of my problems at this point. I’m just looking for ways to continue working on myself.

Anyway, if you read self-help, I think you’ll really enjoy the books Power chooses, her methods of applying the advice given, and the consequences that play out in her personal life. As a self-help reader, I felt like an insider. I recognized every book and author and much of the advice.

I also appreciated Power’s critique of gurus and methods, though she doesn’t approach this with the intention of an exposé. She’s sincere about her interest and her attempts to find advice to apply to her own life. Still, I found the chapter on Tony Robbins especially poignant. Power attends a three-day event of his and the whole thing reminds me of one of those kooky mega-churches with Christian rock music and a pastor with trendy facial hair. It’s fascinating.

Anyway, whether you like self-help or not, I’d recommend this one. I enjoyed Power’s personality and insights; plus, she’s a journalist, which means her writing is particularly adept. That can be hard to find with funny writing. I so often read books where the author is funny but a bit clumsy.

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Top Ten Tuesday, What Shannon Read

Top Ten Tuesday: Inspirational/Thought-provoking…books

I’m going a bit off-book for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. The prompt is actually “Inspiration/though-provoking quotes from books,” but I don’t like reading blog posts full of quotes and huge amounts of text. What can I say? I’m a scanner, a product of the times I live in.

So instead, I’m list 10 inspirational/thought-provoking books and why I liked/recommend them. Hope you enjoy!

Ten Favorite Inspirational/Thought-provoking Books

Caveats: These are in no particular order and are not necessarily my favorites of all time or anything. I just like/recommend them.

yogaBitchbook1. Yoga Bitch: One Woman’s Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism, and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment by Suzanne Morrison

I just really love the whole attitude of this book. It’s a memoir detailing a yoga retreat in Bali where she becomes a certified yoga teacher. We meet quite a cast of characters in her fellow participants and the couple who leads the teaching certification/retreat. Morrison also, of course, applies what she’s learning to her life and I found that she communicates a lot of simple wisdom without being preachy and while being pretty relatable, as the sub-title indicates.

InPraiseofMessyLivesbook2. In Praise of Messy Lives: Essays by Katie Roiphe

Speaking of relatable, I found a friend in Katie Roiphe as she talks about the highs and lows of motherhood and divorce, and lots of other topics with mass appeal. I enjoyed that she’s a whip smart intellectual and an interesting writer, but mostly, I enjoyed that she seems to embrace her “messy” self and I think that more of us could use to do the same. I find that with essays and memoirs, I must like the author’s personality as it comes across in the book. I’m more likely to keep reading whatever the topic.

RadicalAcceptance3. Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach

I don’t know that Tara Brach needs much introduction, but I will say that if the idea of acceptance turns you off, read this book. I hate it when I’m told to accept things, but Tara helped me to understand the concept in a way that helped me successfully apply it to my own feelings and life.

ThesoulofAnOctopus4. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Conciousness by Sy Montgomery

I’ve talked about this book before, so I’ll just say: animals are amazing (us included).

 

KelseyMiller5. Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life

Just a thing that a lot of us need to do, me included.

 

 

ElDefo

6. El Deafo by Cece Bell

Ah, you didn’t expect a graphic novel from me, did you? 🙂 I just love this book about a young deaf girl who creates a superhero alter ego in order to process who she is vs. how the world sees her.

 

BigMagic7. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert was pretty much everywhere for a while and I think that’s why some people got annoyed with her and with the ubiquitous Eat, Pray, Love. But I liked Eat, Pray, Love and I really like Big Magic. It’s hopeful and encouraging, especially for creative people, and we all need as much of that as we can get.

WillpowerbyGillianRiley8. Willpower! How to Master Self-Control by Gillian Riley

Have I mastered self-control? Hahahahaha. No. But I still like the message of this book because it goes against the conventional understanding of willpower; namely, that we have a finite amount and it’s used up quickly. Riley’s message is that willpower is a muscle you can build. And I just like that approach because I’ve found it to be true in my own life.

LostandFound9. Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money by Geneen Roth

Roth lost her savings to Bernie Madoff and shares her thoughts on the place of money and food in her life. Two subject that may not seem related, but Roth writes about food and eating issues and notices, with great insight, that eating and money often follow the same patterns and fill similar needs in one’s life.

TurningStonesMarcParent10. Turning Stones: My Days and Nights with Children at Risk by Marc Parent

A social worker in NYC talks about the child welfare system, the people whose lives it affects, and its limitations. He takes the reader into his daily life as a social worker and, as you can imagine, the stories are at turns heartbreaking and inspiring.

And there we have it, my somewhat-dissenting Top Ten Tuesday for this week. Would love to hear any related suggestions! Thanks for stopping by!

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Madame Lalaurie

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Not the mansion in question because it was dark by the end of the tour, but this is something that’s haunted – I forget why and how…

God I love New Orleans. Ben and I went there recently when I had the opportunity to travel for a work conference. I went to sessions during the day and the night was ours. It was so much fun. It’s pretty much Ben’s favorite city and he says that it’s one of the only places he’s been to in the U.S. that truly feels different to him.

While there, we went on one of those hokey ghost tours and it was super fun. You get more legend than history with that kind of thing, but it still gets you into the spirit of the place. Especially in New Orleans.

One of the stops on the tour was the Lalaurie mansion, originally home to Delphine Lalaurie, the inspiration for Kathy Bates’ character in American Horror Story: Coven. After hearing the legend of Madame Lalaurie, in which she tortures and kills her slaves and possibly (it was strongly implied by our tour guide) murders her husbands, I had to research the real history of Delphine and the ill-fated mansion (later owned by Nicolas Cage, incidentally).

MadamLalaurieAfter reading some reviews online, I turned to Madame Lalaurie, Mistress of the Haunted House by Carolyn Morrow Long. Despite is sensational title, this is an exhaustively researched biography that endeavors to tell the real story of Delphine’s life, and her alleged crimes, based on original sources, along with an examination of the legends. I was delighted that the book also provides a good history of the city from its founding and life during the Civil War era.

I love to read both true crime and well-researched biographies of historically significant women and this book definitely fits the bill there—but knowing that Delphine was about to torture/kill her slaves, knowing that she “owned” people at all, was creepy and the whole biography has a depressing mood. If you read it, I recommend a palate cleanser afterwards or, if you read books simultaneously, opt something more light-hearted in between chapters.

At any rate, Morrow Long provides a 3D view of Delphine. We see her grow up in the upper echelons of New Orleans society. Her family history is interwoven with the history of the city as her grandfather brought the (MacCarthy) family there from Ireland during the French colonial era.

We hear about Delphine’s childhood and her three marriages, as well as what’s known about her family, friends, and of course, her slaves, or what’s known of them based on record and rumor.

If you don’t know the history, I won’t ruin it for you. I will say that the major plot points were covered by our ghost tour guide but at the end, she very mysteriously declared “…and Delphine was never seen or heard from again…” Lol. That’s not what happened. If you don’t want to read the book, check wikipedia.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

This is Where You Belong

 

ThisisWhereYouBelongbookI listened to this audiobook version of This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick on my walks home from work in the past couple of weeks, which made for some delightful synchronicity.

This book is part memoir, part self-help, part reporting. Warnick tells the story of her family’s propensity to move to new cities, rather than staying put, and the process of deciding where to move and why. Through her “Love Where You Live Project,” she then conducts experiments in how one can intentionally cultivate a feeling of “place attachment” where it doesn’t exists.

Warnick conducts interviews with experts and plain old residents like herself in various cities across the country. But she focuses on Blacksburg, Virginia, where her family moved due to her husband’s job (Go Hokies?).

River

I take a bridge over the river on my walks home. It’s especially pretty in the springtime, though behind me is a super busy street.

Throughout each chapter, she lays out Love Where You Live “principles,” like “If you want to love your town, act like someone who loves your town would act.” In little ways and small ways. For example, you see some trash on the ground in the park: would a person who loved your town pick it up? Probably. So get to it. Cultivate a sense of ownership over the space.

Each chapter also ends with a Love Where You Live Checklist based on the strategies discussed, offering practical advice for creating positive feeling/attachment to the city you live in. Some of these were unique and helpful and some, I thought, were common sense.

But maybe that’s because I’m already place attached. For example, patronize businesses you don’t want to go away. If you like that you have an independent bookstore in your town, spend money there to ensure its future. Etc., etc.

I enjoyed listening to the audiobook, especially while I was walking home from work through a few different “landmark” areas in my city. It genuinely made me appreciate where I live a little more.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America

40415813Have you ever had trouble losing weight? I sure have. If you follow me on Insta—and I suspect you don’t because I’m not exactly a major influencer— you know that I am on my own weight loss journey. It is slow going and any weight loss I achieve is the product of dedication, determination, and weeks and weeks of pure mind-fucking.

Weight loss is hard.

So I appreciated journalist Tommy Tomlinson’s exploration of his own journey  in The Elephant in the the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America as he works his way down from 460 pounds. This is not your typical weight loss memoir. Tommy goes down a couple of clothing sizes by the end of the book, but that’s not the point. The point is that he continually works his way up toward health from a deep physical and emotional well that he has dug himself. Understanding why you got where you are, and motivating yourself to change is the crux of the battle.

Here’s a particularly poignant passage on addiction:

This is the cruel trick of most addictions. They’re so good at short-term comfort. I’m hungry, I’m lonely, I need to feel a part of the world. Other people soothe those pains with the bottle or the needle. I soothe them with burgers and fries. It pushes the hurt down the road a little bit, like paying the minimum on your credit card bill every month. The debt never gets settled. Those little moments of comfort are also moments of avoiding the discomfort behind it. In that small instant when the salt and grease get into my veins, it’s a release. But then, when I look up and out and back, my life is measured not in days or years or heartbeats but in an unbroken string of takeout bags.

This man leads the examined life and is straight proof that fat people aren’t “lazy,” not mentally and not physically. There are a million reasons why someone gets fat. Among them are behavioral conditioning, hormones, and genetics. And for most of us, getting out of the hole we’ve dug, requires, yeah, a whole lot dedication, determination, and mind-fucking.

Even if you don’t struggle with food or your weight, I recommend this memoir. Tommy is an adept writer and just so damn relatable. You’ll find intelligence and humor in these pages, whether you’re interested in the topic or not.

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2019 Classics Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

Anna Karenina: I’m in it for the love stories, tbh

155I’m gonna’ need a major palate cleanser after plowing through Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina in one month. I’ve read 7 books so far in 2019 and I feel like I’ve read 20.

Anna Karenina is Tolstoy’s great novel centering on Anna’s love affair with Count Vronsky and, despite its doorstop status, this tome had me from the get-go.

About a zillion issues affecting 19th-century Russian society are covered in the novel and I do not know enough to talk about them intelligently but, to name a few, they include: liberal reforms (especially the Emancipation reform of 1861), the Industrial Revolution, education reform, military conflict, and the decline of the landed gentry. Also, art, beauty, and religion. I can see why it’s known as “the best novel ever written” (I read that somewhere) because it covers a lot of ground and covers it eloquently with sympathetic and multifaceted characters.*

But like the delinquent former English major I am, I noticed these themes and, rather than ponder their great truths, rushed through to the bits with the love stories. I’m hopeless, apparently.

The will-they-won’t-they gets me every time.

And the characters are just so wonderfully diverse and interesting. Who has time for social issues?

For starters, there’s Prince Stepan “Stiva” Arkadyevich Oblonsky, Anna’s brother and a civil servant who, at the beginning of the novel, is wrapped up in a drama with his wife Dolly. She’s just discovered his infidelity and while I felt for her, I couldn’t help but thoroughly enjoy Oblonsky. As Tolstoy described his morning routine, I had A Well Respected Man by the Kinks running through my head.

“There was no solution, but that universal solution which life gives to all questions, even the most complex and insoluble. That answer is: one must live in the needs of the day—that is, forget oneself.”

Oblonsky goes about his business like the well-respected man about town that he is and, while his obliviousness and lack of empathy for Dolly infuriated me, I still found myself enjoying his scenes.

AnnaKareninaMovie

I’m going to watch the Keira Knightly movie this week, even though I find her to be something of a tomboy who inappropriately clomps about most costume dramas.

There’s Anna, of course, who’s just so desperate and foolish-in-love and totally likeable. She shows remarkable self-awareness as she carries out an affair with Vronsky, but I was irritated as I watched her become powerless over the emotions that carry her away to her last fateful action. Which, tbh, I did not really understand. The build-up to this dramatic end was just not there for me.

And next, Kitty (Princess Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya – man, Russians have long names) with whom Levin (Konstantin “Kostya” Dmitrievich Levin) falls in love, provides the other love story in the novel. At the beginning of the novel, she’s actually  in love with Vronsky, who’s not in love with her, but is leading her on like the incorrigible fuckboi he is.

Levin pursues her and there is a great skating scene at the beginning that really gets you in the mood for some Russian weather. You can’t beat the sense of place in this novel. But anyway, by the end of the novel, Kitty is married to Levin and has given birth to their first child. She becomes a woman and because of her darling personality I think, it’s a joy to watch her grow.

And thus ends my terribly lacking discussion of the novel. I loved it and as far as I know, it is a fantastic introduction to the classic Russian novels. As translator Rosemary Edmonds says, (I read this on Wikipedia) it covers the “vast panorama of Russian life” and I certainly finished the novel feeling as though I’d gotten a foot in the door with Tolstoy.

*(All the while I’m typing this, I know that books and papers and studies have been written on this novel and by much smarter people than me, so my discussion of it pales in comparison to what’s available. I’m not worthy and I know it, so this is a basic, man on the street-type review.)

p.s. This is my entry for the Translation category of the classics challenge.

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