Monday, April 29, 2013

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

When I pick up an Anne Tyler book, I know that I am in for a solidly good read. She writes about ordinary lives and families with such detail, precision, clarity that it makes me think, "I know that look or that silence, etc." She writes about lives and relationships that are broken but have moments of hope, and conversations between family members where there is such connection and oftentimes disconnection.

This book of hers is no different. It's about the Tull family. There's the mom and three kids. The father left, and Pearl, the mom, never talks about it. The kids grow up, Pearl grows older.

It actually took me awhile to get into this book, but once I did, I finished it quickly.

Give Anne Tyler a chance if you haven't already.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst

Paul's wife dies after falling from the top of their apple tree. The only witness to her death is their dog, Lorelei. Determined to figure out exactly what happened, Paul decides to try and teach Lorelei how to talk.

This story goes back and forth between the present day struggles of Paul to teach the dog how to talk and the story of his relationship and marriage with his wife.

It's also about grief.

My friend gave me a copy of this book with the promise that I would love it. Seeing that there is a dog in the story, I asked, "Is there any animal cruelty?" She said, yes, but that it was inferred and not a main part of the story. She was right.

I really liked this book. I started it on a airplane flight, and finished it about 24 hours later. It's easy to read and the characters are likeable and well-developed, and unique. There aren't extra words that make the writing distracting. It was definitely a page-turner for me.

Also, I only keep books in my personal library that I know that I'll want to read again, and I think I'm gonna keep this one. And after I post this, I'm headed to Amazon, because the paperback is only $5 and I'm gonna buy a copy for a colleague.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen

It took me the better part of a year to finish this book. It's a collection of very short essays on life, love, and healing. Remen is a physician who started out as a pediatrician, and then did more work with end-of-life care. I read one essay a day, and it was enough to think about each day. Very thoughtful and challenging. It helped me think more about life and what's important.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

Published in 1949, this book is an engaging old-school, clean and fun read.

Brat Farrar is an impostor who tries to steal the identity of Patrick, the twin brother of Simon who is about to inherit money and land. If Brat pulls it off, he'll be the one to inherit the money, land, and, best of all, horses.

I found this story to be clever, and each chapter had me on the edge of my chair. Would Brat be able to pull it off? Or would he be discovered??

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives by Becky Aikman

Aikman's husband of 20 years died, and she attends a spouse loss support group which really does not work out for her. In fact, she is asked to not return. She decides to form her own support group with five other widows who are grieving and trying to figure out their lives. She writes about her own grief and also about the five other women in her group.

This book had potential, but it tried to do too much. If it had focused solely on Aikman's grief, I think that would have been enough. But adding in five other women made it more confusing. It was difficult to differentiate between the five women, and they never became separate, distinct people in my mind. Thus, I never really came to care about any of them.

I did appreciate some of the candid conversations among the women about socially taboo topics like dating and sex after spouse loss. I haven't read any grief memoirs that go very near those topics at all.

I also liked how she wrote, "...grief is a process of finding comfort." Very true, but this book tries to tell too many stories of too many ladies trying to do so.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More by Bruce Feiler

The author has taken things that all families do (fight, eat, play, take care of the house, vacation, talk about difficult things - well, okay maybe most families don't talk about difficult things, but they should?) and has researched ways to improve the experience. He interviewed experts (but stayed away from marriage & family therapists) and experiments with his own family. There are a lot of specifics included like how to write a family mission statement, how to re-arrange furniture in your house, and how to determine an allowance, etc.

There's lots of good ideas in this book. At the same time, it was tiring as well. There's a lot of do this, do that, do more of this, and not a lot of resting. Families need time to re-charge and have downtime as well. Maybe that's what Sunday afternoons are good for.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

I felt scared to read this book. I heard about it while reading Robin Ann Fabros's blog, and it sounded a bit too challenging so I delayed my reading of it.

I wish I hadn't delayed!

Jen Hatmaker was confronted with her family's excessive lifestyle when a ten-year-old boy, an evacuee from Hurricane Ike who was going to temporarily live with them, walked into her house and exclaimed, "Dad! This white dude it RICH!"

Hatmaker takes seven months to confront seven areas of excess: Food, Clothes, Possessions, Media, Waste, Spending, and Stress. For instance, during the Food month, she only eats seven foods (chicken, eggs, whole-wheat bread, sweet potatoes, spinach, avocados, and apples). During the Possessions month, she gives away seven items a day for a month. The book reads like a blog/memoir detailing the days of each month, the struggles, the lessons learned, and the blessings.

What I liked about this book:
There's no shaming. Hatmaker really just shares her own experience. There's no pressure for you to do exactly what she did. She doesn't list bullet point ideas of ways for you to take action. 

I did think of ways to curb my own excess like making sure things in our fridge didn't go to waste. Also, I was determined to buy a couple more spring like blouses for my work wardrobe, but I decided to go shopping in my own closet to see what I had. I found several outfits that I had not even worn yet. I also wanted to go to a rummage sale this morning, but thought twice about whether or not I wanted to buy more and bring more things into my house. I decided to not go this time.

This book made me more mindful and thoughtful about my lifestyle and what I'm valuing.

What I didn't like about this book: 
There's an over-the-top look-at-me-I'm-so-quirky-and funny aspect of the book which gets grating at times. In general, Hatmaker comes off as a pretty grounded person who would be easy to talk to, but the frequency of the irreverent hahaha I'm-so-weird comments distracted from the content and point of the book.

Overall, I really liked this book. I'm thinking of people that I can give it to. It is challenging to think about how we find our happiness and how we distract ourselves with things and food, TV, and Facebook, and what would happen if those things were more restricted.

Caution: This is a book from a Christian perspective which might not sit well with some of you out there.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

"...Introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function. Introverts feel 'just right' with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book. Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes, and cranking up the stereo." --Susan Cain

As some of you might know, I am a pretty introverted person so when I heard about this book, I immediately went to check it out. Yes, I actually left my house and went to the library. And it wasn't even a Tuesday!

Quiet discusses how extroversion is idealized in our culture and why introversion has its creative benefits as well and shouldn't be devalued. Temperament is also talked about and how much of introversion/extroversion is nurture vs. nature. There's also tips on how to be an introvert in an extrovert-idealized world.

There's also a section on "Do all cultures have an extrovert ideal? Asian Americans and the Extrovert Ideal." Basically, it's a chapter on Asian-American kids growing up in Cupertino, California. This section seemed out of place. It's like the author finished the book, had someone read it, and that someone asked "What about different cultures?" So this chapter seems like an afterthought and an attempt to include other cultures into the book which could be another book in itself. I enjoyed the chapter and don't have anything against Asian-American kids who grew up in Cupertino (I even married one), but the chapter just seemed like a feeble attempt to add some ethnicity to the book.

Overall, this was an interesting read, especially for me, an introvert. There's neat stories and research, and it's just nice that introverts are finally getting some attention. The organization of the book was a bit unwieldy though and that chapter about Asian-Americans seemed randomly thrown in there.

Cain writes, "If there is only one insight you take away from this book, though, I hope it's a newfound sense of entitlement to be yourself." So, introverts, pick up this book! And then we can have an introvert party at my house and discuss it. Just kidding. I'd rather discuss with you each one-on-one.