3 Months, 6 Books

I’m doing even better on my goal of one book a month for 2012 than I was the last time I posted my book reviews. I was able to complete six books that I truly enjoyed through the months of May, June and July. One of the factors contributing to my enjoyment of each of the books I’ve selected is my Kindle Fire. I never, ever, ever wanted to dabble in the whole e-book realm. It went against the old-fashioned English teacher in me. I love the feel of books. I like seeing them lined up in alphabetical order on my bookshelf. I like lending them to friends or students and hearing the opinions and reactions that follow.

But. The Kindle Fire won me over (thanks Mom!) and I’ve been using it like crazy. One of the major pros of the e-book thing is that I can download samples of every book I’m interested in before purchasing it. Earlier this month, I’m pretty sure I read 6-7 samples of books before I finally selected Heartburn by Nora Ephron. It’s a blessing when you live a busy working mom life and have a toddler in tow at the bookstore to not have to go to the bookstore, select a book that “looks good” (don’t judge a book by its cover, guys) only to get home and realize it bores you to tears.

All that being said, here are the six books I finished in the last three months, pros and cons, and my favorite quotations.

MAY: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

PROS: This book, set in Alaska in the 1920s, really brought me into a time period and setting I had no knowledge of previously. Picturing the cabin, built by hand, and the miles and miles of snow on the mountains revived my imagination. Also, the book really pulls the heartstrings if you’re a mother. It’s about a couple, Jack and Mabel, who were never able to have children. Mabel prays for a child, and she and Jack construct a snow child one day, laughing and running about. Magically, a little girl appears. If you enjoy complex characters, like the Snow Child named Faina, folklore and magic, and powerful emotions like love and loss, you’ll enjoy this book.

CONS: Honestly, I really don’t think there were any cons. I’m sure for some, the plot could move a little slowly but it was aptly written considering the characters and setting.

FAVORITE QUOTES:

1. “All her life she had believed in something more, in the mystery that shape-shifted at the edge of her senses. It was the flutter of moth wings on glass and the promise of river nymphs in the dappled creek beds. It was the smell of oak trees the summer evening she fell in love, and the way dawn threw itself across the cow pond and turned the water to light. Mabel could not remember the last time she caught such a flicker.”

This quote appeals to the English teacher in me because of its powerful imagery and description personification. But more than that, it appeals to the nostalgic side of me, the one who loves nature and hopes for greater things. Mabel’s character, forlorn, wanting, but hopeful, is one I believe all women can relate to.

2. “When my hair has all turned gray,” a swoop and a twirl beside the kitchen table, “will you kiss me then and say, that you love me in December as you do in May?”

Self-explanatory. Such love and understanding between Jack and Mabel.

3. “We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That’s where the adventure is. Not knowing where you’ll end up or how you’ll fare. It’s all a mystery, and when we say any different, we’re just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?”

This quote probably affected me the most because I’m not much of an adventurer anymore, and sometimes I find it difficult to accept circumstances the way they are if I cannot change them.

JUNE #1: I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern

 PROS: Let me say this. If you read my previous entry, this one will be totally opposite. I stumbled upon Justin Halpern and for some reason, was more intrigued by this title than by his more famous Shit My Dad Says. Pros? Absolutely positively hilarious. Hilarious. Like, I was laughing in my room so loudly by myself that my husband ran in thinking I was sobbing. The experiences Justin has had, his humorous and sarcastic way of reflecting upon them weaved in with his very matter-of-fact father’s words of wisdom made this book a fantastic read.

CONS: It is a memoir-type book, which is not always my favorite, and sometimes, it seems the “plot” isn’t going anywhere because it’s more a trail of small stories and how they turned Justin into who he is today. I appreciated that, though.

FAVORITE QUOTE:

“I called myself a writer, but so did my rat-hurling neighbor. In fact, when I’d run into him in the parking garage a few weeks before, he’d told me he was almost finished writing a comic screenplay about ‘an alien that comes to earth but people just think he’s a gay.’ If this guy could finish Gaylien (his title, not mine), I told myself, I had to be able to finish the scripts I’d been working on.”

I died when I read this. Died. You can’t make that up.

JUNE #2: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

PROS: Victoria is an orphan who has bounced from foster home to foster home, and understandably, just wants to be left alone. She has an affinity for flowers, and uses them to communicate with people. I adored Victoria’s character, how closed off she was toward socialization, but how accurately she could choose a flower to relay an emotion. The flower language as well as the plot and twists and turns were intriguing. The reader is always, always rooting for Victoria.

CONS: The emotions go back and forth and back and forth so many times that your head is spinning while reading this book. In addition, the ending might be slightly predictable.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “Perhaps the unattached, the unwanted, the unloved, could grow to give love as lushly as anyone else.”

JULY #1: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

PROS: This book, set on Long Island, New York in the 1920s, is a classic. That’s really the only way to describe it. It’s basically a short story stretched out into a novel through the contemplations of the main character, Nick, as he tries to make sense of this mysterious affluent man, Jay Gatsby. The pros of this book are the fact that it truly transplants you to “West Egg” and “East Egg” and to Gatsby’s famous parties. You grow to like Nick and to understand how money changes a person.

CONS: I read this book in high school and adored it, probably because my favorite English teacher did and his way of analyzing it went far deeper than my 15-year-old brain could. But to me, the cons of this book are the feeling you are left with when it’s over. You realize that the world can be (and is) a depressing place, with people full of secrets.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything.”

Sometimes, we set such high expectations, or we want to believe that something in the past was better than it actually was. I can totally relate to this quote, and it was the one I highlighted and wrote about in my book when I was in 10th grade.

 JULY #2: Heartburn by Nora Ephron

PROS: The main character, Rachel Samstat, uses humor to cope with her husband’s infidelity while she’s pregnant. I enjoyed the humor and the fact that much of the book pokes fun at those in Washington DC, because Rachel’s husband Mark is in politics. Additionally, I liked the little spots where Rachel, a cookbook author, shares her favorite recipes.

CONS: I’m not a huge fan of weak-willed women, so I spent most of the book shouting at Rachel (in my head, of course) to punch her husband in the face and leave him to start a new life.

FAVORITE QUOTE:

“Sometimes I believe that love dies but hope springs eternal. Sometimes I believe that hope dies but love springs eternal… Sometimes I believe that love is as natural as the tides, and sometimes I believe that love is an act of will… Sometimes I believe that love is essential, and sometimes I believe that the only reason love is essential is that otherwise you spend all your time looking for it.”

JULY #3: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

PROS: This book kept popping up on my Kindle recommendations and I kept passing it by until I just couldn’t anymore. I was too curious. It is a New York Times best-seller, my guess, because of its suspense. The author used a LOT of creativity and details, which I really liked as she wrote about the disappearance of Amy Elliott Dunne and her left-behind, stoic husband. One major point in Gillian Flynn’s favor is that she seems to have mastered the art of voice. She is able to write in three different voices and perspectives without any of them intermingling, even if two of the voices belong to the same person.

CONS: Believability. Or lack thereof. I had a hard time with the events because they just seemed entirely unrealistic. The characters seemed unreal, the conflicts seemed unreal, and the ending left me wanting.

FAVORITE QUOTE:

“I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.”

There it is, six books in three months that, for the most part, I would recommend. Even though Gone Girl left me hanging in the end, I very much look forward to seeing it turned into a motion picture.

Now… what should I read next?

A Working Mom’s Battle with Anxiety and Fear

A few weeks ago, I decided to start writing a post that I hoped would be somewhat therapeutic to me, and maybe relatable to others. I sat on it for a few days. I contemplated deleting it. I thought about the friends, family members, co-workers, former students, and strangers who would stumble upon it. I wondered what they would think of my candidness and admissions.

I chose to post it anyway. This week, on Liberating Working Moms, I wrote a post about fear and anxiety and how it has deeply affected my life. Many women came forward, admitting they, too, struggle with anxiety and fear, and some even offered suggestions for coping.

I suppose now, I’m glad I didn’t digitally trash the post. It may have been worth the write after all.

My grandmother dealt with anxiety. Actually, she didn’t deal with it. She lived with it and succumbed to it, and a lot of times, it affected the loved ones around her. The memories I hold of my grandmother are fond and positive. She and my grandfather taught me innumerable priceless lessons about life and love. However, I know that deep down, my grandmother lived an anxious life. I truly believe that my grandfather’s steadfastness and the presence of routine kept her from falling apart.

And yeah. That’s pretty much me.

When my mindset began changing, somewhere around my early 20s, I chalked it up to maturity, adulthood. Obviously, my brain was just going from hell-yeah-that-looks-like-fun mode to omg-I-can’t-skydive-my-brains-will-splatter-all-over-the-ground mode. And it seemed normal. Until it wasn’t.

I noticed it when I was in my senior year of high school. I experienced what I realize now were panic attacks concerning graduating high school, selecting a college, moving away from home. I felt chest pains. I couldn’t breathe deeply. Making decisions on my own? What if I made the wrong decision? This question swirled constantly in my brain. I couldn’t fathom the consequences if I chose the wrong path to take in life. How would I ever recover? I obsessed. I worried.

Instead of embracing the fun-loving, internationally traveling, bungee-jumping teenager that I had been and slowly transitioning to responsible adult, I made the leap so quickly that I decided I had to be in control of everything. 

Continue reading about how becoming a mother, and then a working mother, took my fear and anxiety to a new level.

I wish I could tell him…

If you’ve ever lost a family member, you know the denial, the anger, the sadness, and the acceptance that comes along with the grief process. I lost four family members in a matter of four years and it took a long time for the dust to settle and for me to truly process it.

Although I miss my paternal grandfather, aunt, and maternal grandmother, one of the losses in my life that I can never seem to get over is the loss of my maternal grandfather. Bop, as we called him, is the greatest man I ever knew. And everyone in my life knows I feel that way about him because I could never say enough about his personality, his accomplishments, his wisdom, and his deep love for his wife and family.

My Bop holding me as a newborn ❤

 Some big changes have come my way in the last couple of years. And every time something good or bad happens, one of my first thoughts is: “I wish I could call my Bop to tell him.”

So, here are some of things that I hope my grandfather, somewhere in Heaven, can see, can hear, can know…

I wish I could tell him how different things are in my family since he left.

I wish I could tell him that my son looks like me.

I wish I could tell him about my son’s first foods, first words, first steps.

I wish I could tell him that I sing my son to sleep with the songs he used to sing to me.

I wish I could tell him that when my son wrinkles up his forehead, he reminds me of him.

I wish I could tell him that I have made the most gains in my department with my students two years in a row.

I wish I could tell him how good my husband is to me.

I wish I could tell him how handsome and funny my brother is—though he always knew that.

I wish I could tell him about my mom’s new job.

I wish I could tell him that I painted a picture, and it actually looks like what I was trying to paint.

I wish I could tell him that I got my first article published in a magazine, just like he told me I would.

I wish I could tell him that I remember every piece of advice he gave me, and I try my hardest to follow it.

I wish I could tell him that I look at his and my grandmother’s wedding picture in the hallway next to my wedding picture every day and hope that our love lasts as long as theirs did.

I wish I could tell him I miss him.

Because I do. So so much. Every day.

I Told a Lie: I’m Meant to Be a Working Mom

When I went back to work from maternity leave, I was a shambles. I wrote about it. I talked about it. I cried about it. And eventually, like everyone said I would, I got used to it. My family and I got into a groove and I realized I had a kickass schedule and I truly enjoyed the happy face my son greeted me with when I picked him up every afternoon.

I don’t know if I’ll be a teacher forever, but I decided that I’m just meant to be a working mom. And I’m totally okay with that.

So I wrote about it on Liberating Working Moms:

Summer has begun and I’m thinking back. Last summer, I sat at home recovering from giving birth with a newborn who was chillin in a bouncy seat while I folded laundry and watched daytime television. Yes, I had many sleepless nights. Yes, the baby needed to eat every freaking two hours because they grow every time they breathe those first few weeks. Yes, I was stressed. Yes, the baby cried for no reason (well, it seems like no reason, doesn’t it?). Yes, I feared he was colicky when he had stomach issues and we switched formula multiple times. But that was adjusting to a new normal. Those months went by really quickly. I enjoyed being home because it was the only time I could figure all that shit out.

Now I’m home with a 14-month-old toddler. Running around. Throwing food from his high chair. Laughing at everything. Mimicking words and sounds. Pulling the dog’s tail. Combine all of these things with the fact that I’m totally not used to all-day stay-at-home motherhood and a tropical storm named Debby that has me surrounded by closed, flooded roads and TRAPPED in my house for days on end. Cue stir-crazy paranoia.

Continue reading at I Told a Lie: I’m Meant to Be a Working Mom.