Most books are built out of a single idea and build and build into a fabulous book with 300 pages of solid gold content. Many of these books listed fall into that category, but I thought I would have fun whittling a few books I've read down to their VERY ESSENCE.
Perhaps one day I will turn this listicle into a book of its own, where I delve into the very raw creative process of paring a book down to its very soul. I could probably wring at least 200 pages out of it!
Okay, here are the results of that raw creative process:
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover:
My family was a hot hillybilly mess, and I got the hell out of there to do some book learnin'.
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers:
Hurricane Katrina really sucked.
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore:
Seriously, can you believe that we let women work with radium to make watch numbers even though jaws were literally falling out of mouths left and right?
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande:
13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do by Amy Morin:
Look, just try to grow up a little bit, ok?
Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini:
Scientology is a crazy cult-like religion and Tom Cruise is insane.
PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives by Frank Warren:
Actually, everyone is insane.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman:
Grumpy old men are people, too.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio:
Little boys with facial deformities are also people, too.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins:
Drunk people (are also people too but) don't usually make credible witnesses.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Love and euthanasia aren't always the best combination.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Yeah, it was a hard life back in the day, but for one week a month you could lay around in a tent while people fanned you, rubbed your feet and fed you grapes and such while you built meaningful female relationships.
Eat, Pray, Love:
Money + freedom = happiness.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Wow, Kevin was an awful human being, and readers should definitely think twice before procreating because you could have a KEVIN and then your life is over!
The Road by Cormac McCarthy:
Probably better to just die in the apocalypse.
Please add to this listicle in the comments!
This weekend I had a lot of time to devote to reading, so I finished off three books! I did some other things too, but not really.
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
This is a chunk of a novel, but I was glad I cracked it (even though I read it on my phone so I actually just downloaded it, which wasn’t nearly as satisfying.) I’m not sure what I expected – probably not a lot of drama and intrigue in a novel about a group of Benedictine nuns, but I was mostly pleasantly surprised. The idea was to tell a story about how nuns REALLY are. It turns out that nuns are not larger than life but are in fact human beings who have very relatable struggles and sometimes do stupid or crappy things like the rest of us do. This was a quiet and satisfying book with some really lovely character development. The second half packed in more plot than the first half, so stay with it.
Pair with: lots of delicious coffee. The nuns were allowed to have coffee on occasion, but it sounds like the person brewing it did a horrible job. Apparently it was always gritty- yuck! Therefore, this book pairs well with grateful sips of some smooth coffee or espresso.
Then I did a total 180 with:
Home is Burning by Dan Marshall
This was a hilarious and sad memoir about a family dealing with ALS. It was definitely laugh-out-loud reading for those who don’t mind an average of one swear word per sentence (I don’t.) What I minded a little more, though, was the author leaning on some of the same jokes over and over. Repetition works, to a point. But the author was so funny that he brought himself a notch with, for example, placing a yogurt in his mom’s hand every single time he writes about her. Every time, she was in some various stage of consuming the only thing she could stomach – yogurt. This is funny and then funny and then funny and so on until approximately the 36th time and then you’re over it.
Aside from that gripe, I really enjoyed it. It was definitely pretty new for me to read something so funny about terminal illness. I frankly felt pretty cruddy about laughing so much, but there it is.
I was having a little trouble getting my head wrapped around one of his younger sisters – specifically how she looked. Plus, I wanted to know what became of her. So what did I do? Found her on Facebook! I’m now the creepiest person ever. Please don’t ask me how many pictures I looked at on Saturday night of people I don’t know. But I do know them! Because I read a MEMOIR about them.
Pair with: leftover lasagna, a dish consumed throughout the book, as apparently this is the dish of choice for do-gooders to bring to families dealing with terminal illness. (Mentioned 35 times)
How to Be Married: What I Learned from Real Women on Five Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage by Jo Piazza
Well, I’ll be damned. This book sounded pretty decent, I thought I’d like it, but I didn’t have high hopes. It was fantastic! How fun to learn about how different cultures throughout the world approach marriage AND to come away with some terrific inspiration for ensuring that my own marriage is the best it can be. I also thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Jo’s life and marriage. They’re both very real and super likeable.
I appreciated her journey. Jo shares that she is a feminist from the beginning, but her open-minded exploration of other cultures – and their ideas about good marriages, gender roles, equality, and tradition – help her grow as a person, and reframe her definition of feminism for herself. I respect this, and admit that I’ve got some new questions to ask myself in this same vein. Fun!
To be honest, I think this is a book I may have to read again in the coming years. I hardly ever re-read books, due to the number of books I still have yet to read! However, this was a fairly quick read and holy cow, I’m giving it five stars. Who knew?
Pair with: Loads of chocolate, which is both mentioned in this book and ironically what I paired it with since I was on an eating/drinking/reading cabin weekend with my mother, sister, and daughter.
Up next: Bitter Orange, by Claire Fuller - which sounds neither bitter nor orange, but is supposed to actually be a seductive psychological portrait. We'll see!
*I'm kidding. I know where my kids are! Right now, two of them are at home and one of them.....is not. She's at a school function of some type. So - see? All accounted for!
A Good American by Alex George
So good! This novel followed a German-America family in Beatrice, Missouri for three generations, and was much like real life in that it was sad and satisfying. The narrator shares the lives of his grandparents and parents before he enters the picture, and then describes all of the exciting events that transpire in his brothers' lives. Toward the end, I wondered if much of anything would ever happen to the narrator himself and suddenly - plot twist!
This was my first five star read in quite a while. I'm particular with my five star ratings!
Read it - just know that many of your favorite characters will die. For a novel spanning over 100 years, I guess that is to be expected.
Pair with: Cajun food! This book features lots of alcohol, then lots of German food, then lots of Cajun food, and then lots of American food and THEN some Mexican food as the family's bar morphs into different iterations of a restaurant over the years. The Cajun food sounded the best, and was prepared lovingly by one of my favorite characters (guess his fate.)
Infinite in Between by Carolyn Mackler
I flew through this book this weekend. Infinite in Between follows five teenagers throughout their high school career, month by month. A set up like that makes for a lot happening quickly, easy on the teen angst - perfect. The character development was excellent as well, and Ms. Mackler clearly put a lot of work into ensuring that these five teens mature appropriately from 9th grade to 12th grade. Great book!
These high-schoolers were a lot busier with drugs, alcohol, and "anatomy" than I ever was in high school. Yet everyone seemed to get excellent grades and was accepted to stellar universities. I believe YA authors have a tough job on their hands. They want to push out books that teens will actually want to read (i.e. books that don't preach at them) but those with a conscience don't want to lift up bad choices either. On the spectrum, this book leans more toward the former. Thus, I'll be handing this to Veronica in a few years with some sort of parental lecture attached. Maybe I'll leave little notes in it for her.
Pair with: Vodka that you're allowed to drink because you're at least 21! Or forget the drinks and food. You'll be flipping these pages so quickly you won't want to waste time putting things in your mouth. (I really just said that.)
Next weekend I'm going to a cabin with my mom, sister, and daughter. What happens at the cabin stays at the cabin but primarily we read books and drink coffee. Thus, I should have 3 or 4 books finished up this time next week. Surely I'll have my 600 pager about nuns finished up. I plan to start Home Is Burning here in about ten minutes.
Have a lovely week!
Most readers I know have at least a short list of what an author can do that will result in a book being thrown across the room with cries of "NOT AGAIN!" reverberating throughout the house (or coffeeshop, or workplace - wherever one can sneak in a few pages.)
Granted, I can be tempted to chuck a book when a favorite character dies, or a wrong choice is made - but those aren't the eye-rollers. Here is my list of what can just stop NOW!
1. Stupid Titles: The <occupation’s> <relationship> and anything with GIRL in the title. Get away from me, gimmicky publishers. This <Retired Computer Programmer>’s <Daughter> is the Girl Who Won’t Be Having It. (THIS is a deal-breaker for me at this point.)
2. When someone asks a character a question and they respond, “Yes. No. I don’t know!” Can we think of a new way to show conflicted emotions please?
3. Someone padding into a room. (Have you ever actually heard someone say this in real life? I did, once - my Granny described padding into her parents' bedroom when she was little. I had trouble looking at her for the rest of the visit.
4. Every single male character in a book turning out to be an awful human being. Men don't have a monopoly on evil and women don't have a monopoly on....being a decent person.
5. Overuse of a word. The book I'm currently reading is AMAZING, but the word "furtive" finds its way into every chapter. A Thesaurus! Find it, use it, love it.
5. Cheesy character nicknames that don't ring true. This is often found in YA novels when the male love interest wants to give the female love interest a sweet nickname that can be referenced again and again in intimate moments, tear-jerking good-bye letters, angsty fights, or on a gravestone. I’m looking at you, John Green. Green eyes. Johnny Green. John Boy.
This concludes my first listicle! I feel like BuzzFeed will be ringing me up any minute to hire me to write about which continent has. the. cheesiest. pizza. EVER!
Tell me what dumb author habits are on your list!!
13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success
by Amy Morin
I read this on my phone, so it was like having a therapist in my back pocket for a few days. This book does inspire one to be their best self, to act like an adult, to quit being an idiot in general. The author generally steers away from buzzwords and annoying psycho-babble, but I did have a belly laugh over her description of what mindful eating looks like. I loved her stories of household names who were able to overcome obstacles, find mental strength, and be successful.
Thumbs down on her sneak preview of 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do. The first book is universal and solid. Throwing a second book out there specific to women feels like wringing as much money as possible out of what was basically a listicle fluffed into a book. It’s like when Sex and the City was a great TV series, and then it was an okay-ish movie, and then it was just a crap movie sequel. Stop while you’re ahead, I say.
Pair with: Something healthy like baby carrots, and eat them mindfully.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
by Shirley Jackson
This whole book felt like someone’s hazy dream to me. While I can certainly appreciate a concise story, I felt that this was so sparse that I didn’t have a firm grip on what was going on at any given time. I can see why my book club opted for this story as a perfect creepy Halloween tale. I’m looking forward to seeing what the others thought. I’m seeing a lot of 3 star reviews from them on Goodreads, and I concur.
Pair With: A cup of tea, hold the arsenic-laced sugar. Sip while imaging walking on the corpses of people who terrorize you when you go into town.
That's it for last week! Currently I'm reading a 600+ pager about nuns and am halfway through a family saga that involves all of the best characters dying horrific deaths.
Mom of four, wife of one. By day I fund-raise with coffee, by night I read with wine and chocolate.