Family Happiness by Laurie Colwin is the story of a woman, Polly, who always does what is expected of her. She is the only daughter in a prominent fam...moreFamily Happiness by Laurie Colwin is the story of a woman, Polly, who always does what is expected of her. She is the only daughter in a prominent family, who married the right guy, and had two nearly perfect children. She has a job, but always puts her husband's needs before her own. Until the day she finds herself swept up in an affair with a local artist. The book tracks Polly's confusion as she tries to figure out what it means to follow her own heart, and to figure out the right line to tow between duty and independence.
I was a bit surprised to learn this book was published in 2000. It might have just been the worn and yellowed copy I borrowed from the library, but something about the way it was written seemed old-timey to me. Or maybe it was just the idea of a prominent family and a daughter doing her duty. At times, as one might expect, Polly becomes annoying. Her inability to make choices, and the potential effects of her affair on her family are disconcerting (her relationship with her children is also quite strange) - but I liked this book more for the overall idea of it - trying to figure out what one wants in life, independent of what one is conditioned to want or what one feels they should want is no easy task. (less)
I enjoyed two previous novels by Curtis Sittenfeld, Prep and American Wife. So, when this one came out - and I found out it was about identical twins...moreI enjoyed two previous novels by Curtis Sittenfeld, Prep and American Wife. So, when this one came out - and I found out it was about identical twins - I was eager to read it. The books is about identical twins, Kate and Violet, who grew up in St. Louis and were ostracized for either possessing, or believing they possessed, psychic powers. Years later, Kate strives to distance herself from her sister, while Violet years to gain back their closeness. While I didn't think the actual plot line was that interesting, I found the relationship between the two sisters fascinating - just the concept of closeness - the fact that so many people desire to have that closeness with someone, but for those that have it, it can often be suffocating. This idea, however, could probably have been explored in a more interesting was (and has been in the non-fiction book about identical twins, One and the Same by Abigail Pogrebin). I have not read Sittenfeld's novel, The Man of My Dreams, but will do so only on the strength of American Wife. When it comes to Sisterland, I'd recommend taking a pass. (less)
Like many people, I have a fear of dementia. As a result, I am drawn to books about people living with dementia, caring for those who have dementia, a...moreLike many people, I have a fear of dementia. As a result, I am drawn to books about people living with dementia, caring for those who have dementia, and any type of neuropsychological study aimed at preventing it. I previously reviewed two fiction books featuring main characters suffering from dementia, Still Alice and Turn of Mind. Yet, I was reluctant to read Pat Summit's memoir - perhaps not really wanting to a real non-fiction account of one facing dementia, especially a woman so known for her strength.
To be fair, this is not a book about living with dementia. It is a book about a truly extraordinary woman making a name for herself in what was once perceived as a man's world. She is a woman who worked hard no matter what and made incredible sacrifices on and off the court. There is a lot of basketball in this book - and I think a reader who loves the game will take more from what Summitt has to say, but clearly the book has a more universal appeal. Pat Summit is amazing. That she has now gone public with her diagnosis is just one brave act in her lifetime of brave acts, and I hope that as she becomes one of the many faces of early-onset Alzheimer's she will help others see the need we have for more research in this area, and help people understand the true courage of those living with the disease, as well as those caring for them.(less)
I was prepared to be a defensive nay-sayer about this book. I had just grown tired of all the work-life balance debate and everyone judging everyone e...moreI was prepared to be a defensive nay-sayer about this book. I had just grown tired of all the work-life balance debate and everyone judging everyone else for the choices they make and their definitions of success, etc. But, I found so much in this book worth thinking about. Sandberg acknowledges from the outset that her thoughts are directed to women in white collar professions, and she acknowledges throughout the book that so much of what she has been able to accomplish is because she has a supportive spouse (if men were paying attention, many of them would be able to admit the same thing). But, my take-away from this book was also that to really succeed in corporate America, one not only needs a supportive spouse, but they need lots of money for childcare, and they need to be willing to let go of being the primary caregiver who is there for everything. And I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing (but the over-attentive parent is a whole different discussion). I think many of the suggestions Sandberg has could work in my workplace, and many of them are totally irrelevant. But, at the end of the day, I think the main message I got from the book (which I have been trying to embrace) is that we each need to figure out what we want - what we want from our careers, what we want with respect to our families and children - realize that there needs to be some give and take - and then we need to give up our guilt and go for it. I also like that Sandberg acknowledged the value of people who have made different decisions than her. One story that stuck out was her thanks for the parents who do all the volunteer work at her kids' schools - she identified them as the SAHMs though in my experience many of them also work outside the home, and some are dads. But, just that we all benefit from the time and commitment that they give to the schools and to our children when we can't always be there because we're on a business trip or a late meeting - and so while we might not make that same choice for our careers and families, we benefit from their choice and we should recognize that. Anyway, that was just one small point in a book of much larger points. I did not agree with everything, of course, and I certainly would not make the same choices as Sandberg, but I appreciated her thoughts - they really got me thinking about what I can do in my life to better find the balance that I want, to be happy, and not to succumb to martyrdom.(less)
After The Kite Runner, I'm not sure Hosseini could write a book that I wouldn't fall in love with. Though, I suppose, sometimes I love books so much t...moreAfter The Kite Runner, I'm not sure Hosseini could write a book that I wouldn't fall in love with. Though, I suppose, sometimes I love books so much that nothing else that I read by the same author ever seems to live up (The Lovely Bones comes to mind). But, there is just something about Hosseini' storytelling that grabs me - and moves me to tears - every time. And the Mountains Echoed begins with a brother and sister - joined by a tremendous bond - but separated due to circumstance. The book initially follows the path of the children, but quickly splinters out into myriad stories of family, always questioning why we make the choices we make in the name of love. At times, the book would go in a direction I hadn't anticipated or necessarily wanted- I wanted to learn more about a given person, but the author had a different plan. I found myself initially annoyed, but after a few pages suddenly completely invested in the new story being told. It happened over and over. I have to admit that I was saddened by the end of this book and felt like it really could have gone in a different direction without being too Hollywood. But, Hosseini's storytelling ability is like no other I have encountered - I can picture him sitting around a table after a big meal and enchanting adults and children alike - like a modern day Arabian Nights. I really can't get enough of his words and can't wait for his next novel to arrive!(less)
My brother recommended this book after seeing it listed as one of the best of 2013 in The Economist. Given the publication, I anticipated a heavy read...moreMy brother recommended this book after seeing it listed as one of the best of 2013 in The Economist. Given the publication, I anticipated a heavy read with global implications. The novel was not as weighty as I would have expected from The Economist staff, but it certainly introduced some thought-provoking issues. The book opens with the death of Kweku Sai, a renown surgeon. His children gather in Ghana bringing with them the baggage weighing down the relationships as children, siblings, and as a family. The book is the story of modern families - how we each establish our own identities as individuals and necessarily in relation to others - and how we hide the darkest secrets from those we purport to care the most about. I found some of the secrets kept by each of the characters a little too much, but overall, I liked the moving pieces in this book - getting to know each of the characters, learning more than each of the other characters knows about the other. The author tried, I thought, to be too enigmatic and clever at times, but all in all an interesting read set in a country I could stand to learn more about.(less)
In general, I am fascinated by the memoirs/biographies of Supreme Court Justices - it's such an incredibly accomplishment to be named to the Court and...moreIn general, I am fascinated by the memoirs/biographies of Supreme Court Justices - it's such an incredibly accomplishment to be named to the Court and the work ethic of each justice, even the ones I don't agree with politically, is bound to inspire. Sotomayor's book chronicles her life up to her Supreme Court nomination, so does not include details about the intricacies of the Court, which probably wouldn't be appropriate so early in her tenure. This is amazing story of a Latina growing up on the wrong side of the tracks with distractions all around her and no expectation of her amazing achievements. At times, I was a little disappointed in her writing style - it seemed a bit too sensational, and her portrayal of herself as a naive girl from a small town in the shadow of the Ivy League towers was a bit incredible at times. While I have no doubt that going to college was an incredible culture shock, some of her "humble-brags" were a bit annoying. That being said, I loved this book for the consistent examples Sotomayor noted of her benefactors and mentors. She contrasted the sacrifices made by her mother for her education, with the opportunities provided to her cousins. It made clear that so much goes in to achieving this level of success- it is not simply luck, or affirmative action, or whatever excuse people want to give for discounting her incredibly hard work - or denying the opportunities they themselves are given every day, but may or may not take full advantage of. Sotomayor is an absolute role model and inspiration - not just for minority girls growing up in New York, but for all of us who strive to be better and who are constantly evaluating what it takes not just to be a great person, but to also be a good one.(less)
I feel like I should start every review of a Sedaris collection with, "Well, it's not as good as Me Talk Pretty One Day, but..." So, given that caveat...moreI feel like I should start every review of a Sedaris collection with, "Well, it's not as good as Me Talk Pretty One Day, but..." So, given that caveat, no surprise, but I enjoyed this. I had the pleasure of seeing Sedaris do a reading recently, and he read one of his essays from this book, plus one of the pieces he claims are meant for teenagers to memorize when they need to present monologues at school. That explanation (while made slightly in jest, I think) made some of the pieces in this book a little more understandable, but in general, I didn't enjoy those ones as much as the personal essays he is known for. What I love about Sedaris is his ability to go from completely inappropriate to completely poignant in a matter of paragraphs. His recent piece in the New Yorker about his sister's suicide is a perfect example. While there weren't any essays in this collection that stood out for me, for anyone who adores Sedaris, this is along the same lines of most of his work and certainly good for a laugh or two.(less)
It doesn't matter how much worse and formulaic these Grisham novels get as the years go on, I will still read them as fast as he can write them. The R...moreIt doesn't matter how much worse and formulaic these Grisham novels get as the years go on, I will still read them as fast as he can write them. The Racketeer features an inmate at a Federal Prison, Malcolm Bannister, who has information about the killer in the recent homicide of a judge. As law enforcement's leads grow cold, Bannister's information becomes all the more valuable - and he's willing to trade it for his freedom. There are some pretty clever, and not all that predictable twists and turns that kept this one an interesting and worthwhile read (especially for fans of Grisham and a good mystery).(less)
When the author's son was about two years old, he stopped talking and developing at a normal rate. After taking him to a number of doctors, he was dia...moreWhen the author's son was about two years old, he stopped talking and developing at a normal rate. After taking him to a number of doctors, he was diagnosed with autism and his parents were told that he would probably never talk. He was viewed as mentally retarded and his parents were counseled to manage their expectations. But, his mother knew that there was something else going on. As Jacob spent hours staring at sunbeams or creating complex designs out of yarn, she knew there was something inside that she just needed to unlock. A daycare provider by profession, Barnett began opening her home to other children with autism. Instead of forcing them to abandon the areas they were interested in to focus on practical life skills, Barnett found ways to incorporate their true passions as a way to unlock their hidden genius. In her son's case, he truly was a genius. As the years passed, it became clear that during all the time staring silently seemingly into nothing, Jacob was actually working out complicated theorems. By the age of 12 he began working on an original theory in astrophysics. While every child (or hardly any) actually possesses this type of genius, it is really Barnett's attitude about how children learn that shines through in this book. This is a great book for anyone who has a child or who works with children - an excellent reminder that sometimes we need to let go of our ideas of how children are "supposed" to learn or what they are supposed to be learning - and just let them explore. I went to an elementary school that really gave students the freedom to explore the things they loved to learn, and several of my friends from that school are now parents who are homeschooling or unschooling their children and really allow them to pursue their passions. I am one for a little bit more structure of traditional schooling, but think there is a lot I can be doing at home to help my children really unlock and pursue their inner passions.(less)
I don't have as much time as I'd like these days to read fat fiction books - but one of my favorite books is Half of a Yellow Sun, so when I heard the...moreI don't have as much time as I'd like these days to read fat fiction books - but one of my favorite books is Half of a Yellow Sun, so when I heard the author had come out with a new book, I knew it would be worth the time investment. Americanah is about a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who moves to the United States. Once here, she finds herself confronted often with the issue of race - in a way she never was at home - not only is she black in America, but she is also African, with all the importance that distinction holds for herself, and often more importantly, for others. While Ifemelu goes about her everyday life - falling in and out of love, finding and losing employment, spending time with friends, family, and the internet, she observes issues of race in each interaction. Ultimately, she moves back to Nigeria and is reunited with a childhood love. At times this book seemed simple in its story-line, but at the same time infinitely complex in its observations about identity and what defines who we are and how we view ourselves. Definitely worth a read and a re-read.(less)