My Favorite Books So Far This Year Have Inspired Me To Get Away With Murder And Sprout Wings

Inspired by a recent Facebook thread and Outlaw Mama’s summer reading suggestions, I decided to share my thoughts on the books I’ve read this year so far.  Most people ask me how I find the time to read so much.  I could tell you that I never go anywhere without a book in my purse (which is true) and how I take every opportunity that other people spend on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter and use that time to digest a page or two (also true).

But the real reason I read so much is because the New York Public Library brings the competitive beast out of me.  I recently added The Vacationers to my queue and I was number 472 on 92 copies.  Why didn’t I sign up sooner?  That could take months!  And you never know when your hold will become available — which means I refresh my position like I’m waiting for Ticketmaster to fetch me something under two benjamins.  When you get your new release you have 7 days with no opportunity to renew.  You’d have to go to the end of the line if you don’t finish.  So by damn it, whatever book comes to me, I WILL be finishing it and finishing it fast.  Here’s what I’ve read so far this year:

GONE GIRL – After years of friend’s raving, something made me finally pick this up even though I’m not a murder mystery type of person.  PS – I didn’t know anything about the plot before I read it but *SPOILER ALERT* there was no way in hell I ever believed she was dead.  I just wanted to know how and why she faked her death.  She’s a fucking sociopath that I relate to more than I care to admit.  That’s why.  I swear I started “hearing” the voice from that book in my head for days after I was done reading it.  Which is technically longer than I took to read it — I devoured every page in less than 30 hours, including two of them with it hidden under my desk at work.  The story, the writing, the characters – I worship thee Gillian Flynn.

Rating: are you HONESTLY still holding out on this book?   READ IT.  Now.  Seriously.  Or I’ll have to kill you.

SHARP OBJECTS – I became instantly obsessed with Gillian Flynn and picked up this older book of hers.  It wasn’t as swoon worthy as GG, but it was a good read.  But it did confirm that I’d pay any amount of money to get in Flynn’s head for 30 minutes.

Rating: if you’re on the fence, do it.  She won’t disappoint.

SISTERLAND - Curtis Sittenfeld – I thought the beginning was ok, the middle almost lost me, but the end?  As predictable as the act that kicks off the 3rd act is, the way she handles the consequences was fresh, interesting and real.  Life is a lot more gray than black and white — and I appreciated that dose of reality in my fiction.

Rating: I’m torn.

THE ONE & ONLY – Emily Giffin – I was soooo excited for this book to come out.  Football, TX, a spunky girl, forbidden love — this is what cult stuff was made of.  It didn’t quite live up to my hype, but EG really got her vibe back.

Rating: the book was faithful to Giffin’s style and better than her last few.  Baby Proof remains my favorite.

THE HUSBAND’S SECRET – Liane Moriarty – is there anything more intriguing than the premise of this book?  A woman with the perfect life and the perfect family randomly finds an old letter in the attic.  The envelope is addressed to her but she’s instructed to open only upon the death of her living husband. WTF?  The author keeps you hooked as you wonder what’s in the letter, but even once we know the tension doesn’t ease up a bit. She’s also got some great gems about the complications of marriage weaved through the story lines.

Rating: Read it.  Put it at the top of your list.  And then tell me which of her other books I should devour next.

ME BEFORE YOU – Jojo Moyes – I know most people have moved on to ONE PLUS ONE, but I was slow to jump on this bandwagon.

Rating: torn again.

THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES – Allison Winn Scotch – I fully admit I picked this up because I read Jen Garner’s production company optioned the rights.  Couple my Jen sized crushed with my compulsion to read anything set for the big screen and this was a no-brainer.

Rating: if you like the genre, this is a solid read.

STILL LIFE WITH BREADCRUMBS – Anna Quindlen.  I love me some AQ so I couldn’t pass this one up.

Rating: a little dry but unlike most books that sag in the middle, the center pages of this book sprouted some marriage-is-hard tears in the corners of my eyes.

A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD – Jennifer Egan.  I give the author SO much credit for writing from multiple points of view, in various tenses, in 2nd and 3rd person narrative — not to mention an entire chapter in Power Point – she’s got some god damn talent.  Period.  Full stop.  But if I were to go on, I’d say this:  the book was too damn pretentious for me.  It was show boating just for the sake of showing off.  I really wish there had been a lot more of Sasha.

Rating: I don’t care if you read the book or not, but you must — MUST — go get the hardcover and read the inside flap.  If you can read that description of the book and Egan herself and explain it to me in a way I can comprehend, I’ll give you $100.  It’s the worst abuse of purple prose I’ve ever seen.

ALL FALL DOWN – Jennifer Weiner – Jen’s a solid storyteller who takes on a big subject — addiction — without any soul crushing personal experience.  She clearly did her research but I wished it had gone even deeper.  All in all she does a great job doing what she wanted to do — show exactly how a “normal” person can find themselves in a world of trouble.

Rating: read it, but then read Marian Keyes book Rachel’s Holiday.  She killed the rehab journey with her humor and insight.

THE INVENTION OF WINGS – Sue Monk Kidd.  Kidd gets me again.  I admit I didn’t want to read this book.  Like REALLY didn’t want to.  But I had been on the waiting list for six months at the library and when it finally came in when I had nothing to do over the 4th of July weekend I thought what the hell.  Oh. My God.  Don’t ask me how I could love a book about slavery and the fight for abolition so much, but I did.  I so did.  The two main characters — Sarah and Hetty — gripped me from page one.  I loved their fire, their confusion, their losses and their conviction.  Every single page of this book was worth reading and when I was done I felt profoundly changed.  I don’t know what or how, but I felt a shift in me and knew I would never be the same.  The book was that good.  I read it in 48 hours.

Rating: really?  Did you read any of this?

So what’s in my queue now?  We Were Liars, Cutting Teeth, Housekeeping, I’m Having So Much Fun Here Without You, and Catching Air so far.  Any recommendations for me?  Has any book every changed you or impacted you the way The Invention of Wings did to me?  New or old, I’d love to know.

Baking and Motherhood

I vividly remember watching Like Water For Chocolate on VHS from the library.  The themes in that movie reflected back to me a reality I had never identified outside myself.  It was like the moment the fish swimming in his bowl finally understands this is water.  Though my roots are Italian and Puerto Rican (not Mexican, as in the movie), all of those cultures place an emphasis on food.  And like the main character Tita, it felt that the women who cooked in my family — my great-grandmother, both my grandmothers and my mother — poured their emotions into their creations and their charges were immediately infected with their feelings.  Love was as real and as substantial an ingredient as flour or milk or butter.

When I became a mother, I realized instantly how important feeding my children would be to my happiness.  I fretted over breastfeeding (is he getting enough?) and eventually I served up mashed fruits and vegetables by hand.  Even today my husband will tell you that nothing lifts my spirits like a clean plate handed to me by my 3yo or 5yo.

So when I’m inclined to go above and beyond what a busy mother can “get away with” at school functions, it typically revolves around a baked good.  But sometimes it’s just about showing up.  My actions – every little thing I do for my kids – are my expressions of love.

A few months ago Lauren Apfel and I began this debate for Brain, Child Magazine with a focus on Superwoman Syndrome — I had it, she didn’t.  At the time, I was explaining why I felt the need to do so much, especially around my family, especially when I had a full-time out-of-the home job.  But as our drafts progressed, my life changed.  I reduced my work schedule and I started to let go of some of the less significant things (like a clean house).  Yet that pull to go above and beyond, to perform to perfect standards (even if they were only my own or my child’s as opposed to society’s ideas) remained.

I also refused to believe Lauren lacked ambition by any definition of the word (this woman is a phenomenal writer), which is typically thought of as the “opposite” of Superwoman Syndrome.  So when she used the metaphor, “ I never wanted fingers in lots of pies. I wanted one cake at a time so that I could properly enjoy the eating of it,” we knew this conversation would revolve around the symbolism of baking and motherhood.  Of course, it’s about so much more than that.  I hope you will read the entire debate here:

Making the Perfect Birthday Cupcakes for Our Kids: Two Perspectives

Cupcakes specially requested by my daughter for her 3rd birthday

Cupcakes specially requested by my daughter for her 3rd birthday

Who Do You Love? (When Your Family Are Your Friends And Your Friends Like Family)

Yesterday my parents rescued my children from their viral 102.2 temperature mother and even though I could barely say my name or knew where I was, the way these four greeted each other was a moment instantly burned in my fevered mind.  My son dropped my hand and ran to his nana with a quiet joy and ferocious hug that is part of his silent and strong nature.  My daughter hopped up and down at the curb waiting for my dad to come around from the driver’s seat shouting, “grandpa, grandpa, I’m so excited!” with her usual over-the-top bravado.  The scene was the definition of love.  Of family.

It’s hardly a secret that I’m close with my family.  They are everything to me.  Emergency babysitters.  Voices of reason.  Whispers of contradiction.  Gut-checks, head-checks, lice-checks.  Secrets, laughs, frustrations.

When I need inspiration, everyone knows I call (ok, text) my little brother.  He’s a seeker like I am, but he leans into it whereas when I was his age I tried to plan against it.  He was in high school and I in my late 20s when he told me about this amazing book he’d read: Siddhartha.  That book changed my outlook on life even as I flipped the pages.

When I’m about to make a big move in my life, everyone knows I call my other brother.  He will raise every point as to why I shouldn’t do exactly what I’m about to do and I know if I can live with everything he’s said (because he’s always right) then it’s time to make whatever crazy jump I’ve dreamed up.  If not, it’s back to the drawing board.

When I’m trying to make sense of things in my life, everyone knows I call my dad.  My first spiritual guide, my dad sees a world washed in gray.  He knows that black and white is easier, but nothing in this life is that simple.  As a scared little girl, then as a know-it-all college chick, and even as an adult who has lost her way from time to time, my father has always given me comfort from the uncertainty of life – somehow, someway.

And then there’s my mother.  Everyone knows I call my mother every damn day.  For big reasons, for little reasons, sometimes for both, or sometimes for no reason at all.  My mother is my best friend.  She always has been, always will be.  It’s simple to say someone is your best friend, but writing about someone who is so close to you, who knows who you are at your core — not just who you are with the mask of “student” or “lawyer” or “mother” on your face — is almost an impossible task.

Nevertheless, it was a task I was willing to take on when Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, the editors of The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship, asked me to be a part of their book.

I could have written a story about any one of my girlfriends – the ones who show up to surprise you on a random, insignificant birthday just because that’s what friends do, or the ones that make plans with you even if it’s at 7am on a Tuesday because that’s the time they have on a quick business trip to your neck of the woods, or the ones you haven’t seen in years that you still wish the best for every single day.

(Of course it must be said that I could have easily written about my husband, who has every single one of the qualities I relish except the book was about female friendships.)

I chose to write about my mother as my best friend.  Others wrote about childhood friends, changing friendships, or those rare gems we meet later in life.  These stories represent the best, the most complicated, and the most relatable parts of female friendships.  I’m so proud to be a part of this project.

And even though I buy in to all this junk, I still hate the Sprint Framily plan commercials.  

Combining friends and family should be a slam dunk, so how do they get it so wrong?   Why are all their friends so creepy?  I promise none of the stories in Herstories are like that.  Seriously.

The Things I Know To Be False Help Me To Know What’s True

I’ve always been a positive person.  Annoyingly optimistic.  Eternally grateful.  A lot of fun.  I haven’t been that way for the past few months.  Not here on this blog, not in emailing with friends, and certainly not at home.  I know it’s wearing on my family — my short fuse, my constant restlessness, my absence as I take on too much.  But I sense I’m discovering a lot of important things about myself and the way I operate.  I am reinforcing what works to really motivate me and make me happy.  I am noticing — and slowly shedding — what keeps me small, scared and stuck.   Continue reading

They’re Not All Gems, But Sometimes They Are

I write a lot.  Empirically it’s true.  For the past few weeks, I have been writing 1000 words a day for Mommyish (Monday through Friday — and if you’ve missed any, check out the WTTM Facebook page, I post them all there).  I also write a fictional story (1200 words) a month for my beloved writing group.  I scribble my crazy thoughts down in my journal almost every day. I am slowly working back to my novel in my mind (I will get there soon, I just know it!).  And yes, I am still a full-time lawyer (more on that soon I hope).  But the point is, I write a lot.  It keeps me sane.

Most of the time, my writing is just in the ordinary course of my life.  Meaning, I spout my opinion about one thing or another, fill in all the SEO requirements, add an appropriately credited picture, hit publish and submit an invoice at the end of the month.  But sometimes I write something that makes me stop and say, “yes!  This is good stuff!”  Sometimes I look at my finished product and I think, “Wow, I really had something to say here.”  Because when I start writing, I never know how it will turn out.  Some pieces I love more than others.  Some just flow almost like an out-of-body experience.  Others I feel so strongly about, but the passion I feel doesn’t come across on the page.  Some things I care less about and just need content.  But I never really know until it’s done.  In the words of one of my favorite funny bloggers, Wendi Aarons, “they’re not all gems.”  And they’re not.

But sometimes they are. Continue reading