In the Unlikely Event: A Novel by Judy Blume
It may be semi-illegal to dislike a Judy Blume book. Who does that??? Well, then I will whisper to you really quickly. (I didn’t care for this one.) What? Hmm? I didn’t say anything! When a book starts with a cast of characters, in sections, a la Vanity Fair (or was it War and Peace?), you know you’re in trouble. I simply could not keep up with who was who! Skip it.
The Fifth Avenue Artists Society: A Novelby Joy Callaway
I got caught up in this story of love, family, and a writer’s determination to be published when not many women were. This story reminded me in many ways of Little Women… 4 girls loved and yet rather poor, interested in artistic pursuits, going in and out of relationships. The entire thing was utterly enjoyable. Recommend.
“Perhaps it was a vain and foolish ambition, but the desire for someone to read and cherish my stories as I cherished Irving’s swelled in my chest. I closed my eyes and ran my hand over the worn cover, imagining it as a threadbare hardback on the dresser of a girl I would never know. That possibility eclipsed the hole in my heart with a strange new sense of purpose, and I knew that the feeling alone was worth whatever would come next. I would make something of this manuscript—somehow. I would find a way to learn what it would take to transform my scattered words into something of worth.”
The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth Church
“I began to feel as if I weren’t truly married, not in the sense of any marriage I’d ever seen. I told myself that other women lived alone while their husbands were fighting overseas, and I suspected they didn’t receive regular letters, either. Still, no matter how much I rationalized the situation, tried to talk myself out of a funk over Alden’s relative silence or berated myself for being selfish, the truth was that I felt sorry for myself.”
A promising ornithology student meets a brilliant physicist in 1940, marries him, and eventually gives up her own career to follow him to New Mexico, where he is secretly working on the atomic bomb. She lives a lonely life with him, as he does not understand what she has given up to follow him. She begins to study a local community of crows over the next 30-40 years, meets someone she deeply identifies with, and has to decide how much of herself to sacrifice to commitment. This book highlights the restrictive role women played in traditional 1950s society and how some challenged convention to slowly change the world. Church’s characters are realistic, both admirably loving as well as disappointingly human. I loved this book!
Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Jewish Questions by Paul Citrin
This is an anthology of essays by 39 Reform rabbis. Each rabbi has chosen to respond to questions under one of three categories: (1) On God, (2) On Our Humanity, (3) On the Jewish People. The essays are meaningful and personal. This was rather dense material to work through, but I found many concepts helpful in better understanding ritual, interfaith dialogue, prayer, and more.
“More than just the stamp of a common humanity, we are stamped with the image of God. Every human being shares this commonality, yet in God’s image we are each unique, completely different from anyone who has ever lived or who ever will live. We each exist as one of a kind, experiencing God’s world, and contributing to it, in our own way. This is God’s promise to us, the spark of the Holy One within us, and it lends us the overwhelming sense of the precious nature of our lives. Humanity becomes the vessel through which Echad is projected into this world. Our task is to live with this awareness and conduct ourselves in a manner that is worthy of this image.” ~ Rabbi Micah Citrin
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
This one was immediately a delightful shock and an absorbing read. I think Danler has that kind of talent that doesn’t manifest in too many writers in a generation. It’s sort of telling that I didn’t even know the main character’s name until page 216… it’s not really the things that go on at the surface that are important in this novel. Danler is fresh, ascerbic, and very good at describing emotional contradictions. I wish I could quote every other passage in this one for you. Recommend for a 40s and under reader.
I guess this is sort of a rags-to-riches story, only we don’t get to see the riches part and it’s probably not money but rather self-assurance and self-knowledge that she’s gained. We learn about the entirely-unto-itself world of a famous upscale restaurant, about New York City after midnight, and about wine, relationships, and coming-of-age. I can’t say enough about this one. It’s shocking sometimes in it’s language but the writing is superb.
Life on Earth: Understanding Who We Are, How We Got Here, and What May Lie Ahead by Mike Dooley
The basic premise: thoughts become things. Visualize your happiness, take baby steps toward it, try lots of new things. Your actions are your thoughts in motion, so start with your thoughts. My favorite part is when Dooley says that happiness is a choice and we always have a choice. “Just as you can choose perspectives that will yield anger, guilt, excitement, or fear, so must this be true of happiness. That no matter what may be going on in your life, you can choose perspectives that will be optimistic, favorable, loving, accepting, and ultimately happy.” If you are not happy, it’s because you choose not to be. You decide what emotions most serve you. I LOVE THAT!!! What freedom! Why do we let anything tap into the happiness we could have?
Always you choose, directly or indirectly. And by seeing this, you finally realize you can choose otherwise, and your power begins to return. It’s safe for many people not to be happy, otherwise their lightheartedness may give the appearance that they’re OK with any disappointments in their life. By being depressed, heartbroken, jealous, regretful, unhappy, it’s as if you’re saying to others, “Please, this is so not my choice! I’m powerless to these awful circumstances and crazy people! I’m vulnerable! Can you blame me? I’d be so much more successful if it weren’t for all these idiots. This is what I have to deal with!… just as you can’t blame someone else for what’s happening in your life, neither can you blame them for how you feel about it.
“If you’re breathing, you’re now filling that one sacred, special niche that no one else could ever fill. Your eyes see what no others will ever see, your ears hear what no others will ever hear, and your perspective and feelings will never, ever be duplicated. Without you, the Universe would be less. This is your highest offering. Being “you” is a sacred role that no one else could ever fill. And so if you’re here, you’re doing it. Your “purpose” has no more to do with your profession or calling than the color of your socks or what you had for breakfast. It’s not what you do or don’t do, whether you love it or hate it or change it a hundred times. As long as you’re here, you’re filling that niche—being who no one else has ever been.”
The Girl from The Savoy by Hazel Gaynor
A rags-to-riches historical tale of Dolly, a maid now yet a dreamer of much more for herself. This book has so many elements I love… yearning and succeeding, romance, glitz and glamor, a historical post-WWI setting, and choices between past and future. I recommend for an easy but heart-tugging read.
Look at me. I’m as dull as a muddy puddle. When I watch those girls on the stage, I want to be there with them. I want silk stockings on my legs and silver Rayne’s dance shoes on my feet. I want Chanel dresses against my skin. I want to cut my hair and rouge my cheeks, not flinch every time I hear footsteps following me down the back stairs. I want to be appreciated, not discarded like a filthy rag. I feel like a stuck gramophone record, going round and round, playing the same notes of the same song over and over. I want to dance to a different tune.
Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood’s Messy Years by Catherine Newman
Maybe you’ve read Waiting for Birdy about the early childhood craziness? This one was just as entertaining and enlightening, but about raising kids ages 4-14. It covers all kinds of topics with a sort of pre-nostalgia for the days when these will be over. A parent’s fears, a child’s fears, how we put a happy face on tough moments, the funny things kids say, the annoying things they do. I found it completely reassuring that the years seem to get better and better for her. The things she and her family discuss seem so interesting and gives me hope for a dinner conversation beyond “what’s your favorite memory of today” and more about interesting words or imaginative questions and scenarios. Of course, when you are a parent, your heart is always on the line, but one of her main points is that we are quite fortunate to have so much to lose.
With chapter titles like “How to Throw Another Tantrum” and “How to Make Do with Abundance,” how can you not be interested? If I had to compare Newman to someone, I’d say she is similar to Anne Lamott… maybe her younger sister or something. I’m pretty sure I used to read Newman’s blog and articles before she wrote her first book or started writing for Real Simple. But who can remember? I like her comic wit, her perspective, and her down-to-earth way of looking at things.
“I live in anticipation of my own broken heart, and I’m trying to learn how to move through the world like that, with fears fluttering after me like streamers. I’m trying to believe that I won’t be punished for my happiness – that we aren’t jinxed by the very fact of our healthy, joyful lives.”
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
I really wanted to like this book! Honestly I’m not sure where Semple was headed with this one. I forced myself to get through it, mostly out of loyalty to Bernadette, her previous heroine. The antics of and thought-stream of the main character are just odd. I didn’t particularly care for her or her actions. I loved her son and her husband, but as far as main characters go, I prefer to be on their side, not wondering if they are sane.
“If I’m forced to be honest, here’s an account of how I left the world last week: worse, worse, better, worse, same, worse, same. Not an inventory to make one swell with pride. I don’t necessarily need to make the world a better place, mind you.”