Saturday, November 24, 2012

Everyone Is Beautiful

Everyone Is Beautiful, by Katherine Center
Everyone Is Beautiful is a sweet, easy read, about a Texan woman of Colombian origin who's transplanted to Boston because of her husband's job. She has three young boys who are extremely close together and full of mischief. She feels bereft at leaving behind her supportive parents in Houston. She hardly ever has any alone time with her husband, and she has no romance in her life.

When a stranger at the park supposes her to be pregnant, she decides she must make a change. She begins going to the gym every day and she also takes up photography. As expected, soon her marriage is in jeopardy.

I appreciated the fact that this was a story about a stay-at-home mom with a brain and a mission to bring meaning to her life. She has a true friend who supports her and accepts her for all her faults. Her husband loves her and although we do not see it at the beginning, he adores her. She comes to peace with her body and appreciates the beauty in women of all shapes and features around her.

It's a simple message and a simple story, and I actually cried at the she realizes how much she loves her husband and how lucky she is.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

Oh my...what a wonderful book! I first heard about Wild when I was at Holden Village this summer, when two friends were reading it at the same time. I remember April telling me about how crazily misinformed and naive Strayed was about backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail...she didn't even test out the weight of her backpack until the morning she set out. She packed such strange choices as a full-size camera and fancy lens, even though she's not a photographer. She included items like a foldable saw, just in case she needed to cut wood. The only thing she included for protection from predators (man or beast) was a loud whistle. And she set off completely alone.

In the beginning, Strayed (a name she chose for herself) was not a particularly likable character. After her beloved mother dies suddenly of cancer (described in a completely heart-wrenching, daringly vulnerable chapter), she went off the rails. Married way too soon at 19, she began having irrational flings, cuckolding her wonderful husband and best friend, feeling guilty but unable to keep herself from doing it. She started shooting heroin with a guy she hooked up with in Portland while visiting a friend. Her siblings and stepfather, to whom she previously felt close, scattered and grieved in their own ways. In another heart-wrenching chapter, Strayed and her brother had to shoot their mother's neglected horse because she was too old and sick and they couldn't afford to hire a vet. She was a complete mess.

But something about the Pacific Crest Trail called to her. At the age of 22, wracked by grief, Strayed set out on a 1,100-mile hike all by herself...woefully unprepared for what she would face. Beginning in the Mojave Desert, she hiked up through California and Oregon, concluding at the Bridge of the Gods on the Oregon-Washington border. She hiked through blazing heat, record snow levels (when she couldn't find the trail), and drenching rain...and faced down severe dehydration, treacherous conditions, bears, rattlesnakes, coyotes, and a predatory hunter.

Strayed lives in Portland now and has become a local celebrity writer. She's moved beyond the devastating grief and wretched self-destruction of her early 20s and now has a husband and two school-age daughters. In this interview with Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin, Strayed talks about how happy she is now and challenges anyone who is feeling unhappy to get out and walk for 20 minutes:
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Cheryl: Walking. Doesn’t it make everyone happier? I challenge you to walk for twenty minutes and not feel better by the end of it. It’s the cheapest, healthiest cure on earth.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Cheryl: That we can survive anything, even if we don’t want to. Even in the face of great suffering, there is joy.
Masterfully and honestly told, Wild is a story I will remember for a long time. Check out this book trailer with photos and Strayed's description of the book:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, by Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess)

You need to avoid this book if:

--You are easily offended by foul language.
--You are an ardent animal lover.
--You are a literalist. (Did it bother you that Dan Brown took liberties with history in The DaVinci Code?)
--You take things or life too seriously.

Jenny Lawson, otherwise know as The Bloggess, has written a hilarious memoir about what it's like to:

  • Grow up in the wilds of Texas, with a father who is a taxidermist
  • Be so poor she wore bread sack shoes (still trying to picture those)
  • Become completely accustomed to running into the interior of a deer carcass, acquiring pet raccoons, having a just-killed squirrel turned into a puppet named Stanley, and having your dad throw a baby bobcat at your prospective husband on his first visit
  • Be spoiled rotten by her grandma
  • Feel socially awkward and like an outcast throughout school
  • Be loved intensely by her parents and have a happy, although extremely crazy, childhood
  • Try to rescue her just-died dog from swarming vultures
  • Lock her husband out of the car while he battles a supposedly dead but very alive rattlesnake--and then get mad at him!
  • Battle an anxiety disorder
  • Try to convince her husband to pee around the house to keep out the snakes
  • Set her oven on fire at least twice
  • Keep her beloved dead dog from being devoured by hungry, aggressive vultures
  • Buy a huge metal chicken because she's so annoyed with her husband who didn't want her to buy more towels
  • Be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and struggle with treatment
  • Suffer from three miscarriages before carrying a baby to term
  • Have silly, nonsensical fights with her husband via post-it notes

As Lawson describes herself in her author bio, "Author Jenny Larson relaxes at home. Her husband glares off camera and asks whether that's his toothbrush. Her husband should probably get his priorities straight. And go get her a margarita. Even if it's three a.m. Seriously, Victor, go get me a margarita. Also, the people who published this book probably shouldn't have let the author write her own biography. Poor planning on their part, I'd say."

If she's to be believed (which is questionable), she and Victor treat each other horribly, frequently with foul language. But I don't really believe much of that. After telling many a wild story, she confesses that only one tiny piece of the story is true. I tried this exaggeration-of-the-truth tactic recently myself, and it's not easy! It seems to come fairly easily to Lawson, though. She's a master!

The writing style is very casual (ADD-like, really), with frequent parenthetical phrases, postscripts, and notes from "the editor." She talks about her vagina fairly frequently and has a sentimental yearning for tacky taxidermy such as dead Cuban baby alligators and mice in Shakespeare outfits (see cover). She also has a tendency to tell wild, inappropriate stories at dinner parties, especially those involving her husband's employer or colleagues.

I really enjoyed this book, but it's not for everyone! Check out her blog if you're curious. If it makes you laugh, you'll like the book.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Book of Dahlia

The Book of Dahlia, by Elisa Albert

Dahlia Finger, a selfish, shallow, foul-mouthed, and stoner Jewish American princess who was conceived on a kibbutz, has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor at the young age of 29.

In search of answers, she finds a self-help guide in an effort to help her grapple with her cancer and impending demise. And she begins looking back on her shambles of a life.

Dahlia is not particularly likable, but as her childhood memories come forth, it's clear why she got to be the way she is. When her flaky Israeli mother and American father break up, her previously loving and adoring older brother Dan turns on her. He becomes her worst tormentor, treating her horribly and humiliating her constantly, while she only wants his approval and love. She feels abandoned and confused, and along with the absence of her mother during her formative years, this abandonment and cruelty shapes her life and personality.

There's no question where the story is headed, and if you're looking for an upbeat, happy story, this isn't it. I wouldn't even say it has much redemption in it. But it does make you think about your own life and where it's headed. Are you making the most of each hour you have?