This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This is the Story of a Happy MarriageThis is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Published by Harper

From the publisher:

The New York Times bestselling author of State of WonderRun, and Bel Canto creates a resonant portrait of a life in this collection of writings on love, friendship, work, and art.

“The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living.”

So begins This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, an examination of the things Ann Patchett is fully committed to—the art and craft of writing, the depths of friendship, an elderly dog, and one spectacular nun. Writing nonfiction, which started off as a means of keeping her insufficiently lucrative fiction afloat, evolved over time to be its own kind of art, the art of telling the truth as opposed to the art of making things up. Bringing her narrative gifts to bear on her own life, Patchett uses insight and compassion to turn very personal experiences into stories that will resonate with every reader.

These essays twine to create both a portrait of life and a philosophy of life. Obstacles that at first appear insurmountable—scaling a six-foot wall in order to join the Los Angeles Police Department, opening an independent bookstore, and sitting down to write a novel—are eventually mastered with quiet tenacity and a sheer force of will. The actual happy marriage, which was the one thing she felt she wasn’t capable of, ultimately proves to be a metaphor as well as a fact: Patchett has devoted her life to the people and ideals she loves the most.

I don’t even know what to say about this gorgeous book of essays. First, I will say that Patchett was already one of my favorite authors (Bel Canto being one of my favorite books ever), but having now experienced her nonfiction as well as her fiction, she cemented her place as one of my favorites. I also closed this book and immediately had the urge to buy her entire backlist, as I wanted to experience more of her beautiful words and, in the case of her nonfiction, more of her life experiences.

There’s so much to love in this collection. Her musings on so many aspects of life will speak to just about every reader out there. She has something for everyone here – she talks about building and owning a business, the love she has for her dog, the time she spent as a caregiver for her grandmother, the mistakes she’s made in her career and in her personal life, triumphs in both her career and personal life, and the craft of writing itself, plus more. Patchett is a wise person but also a very real person, someone I connected to and wanted to keep getting to know even after I finished the book.

If you are a fan of Ann Patchett’s, you MUST read this book. If you are not, read it and become a fan. :)


Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan

Click: When We Knew We Were FeministsClick: When We Knew We Were Feminists edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan
Published by Seal Press

This collection of essays features many prominent young feminists explaining that “click” moment – that moment when the light bulb turned on, when they understood with absolute clarity that they were feminists.

Most people identify with some kind of ideology – a religion, a political belief, a specific stance on something – and there is almost always a pivotal moment in a person’s life that makes that belief cement itself, that brings it to the forefront of one’s mind with perfect clarify. I personally have several things that I believe that are absolutely critical to my identity and sense of who I am, feminism being just one of them. So I appreciated this book, a book about women (and one man) who, just like me, at some point in their lives, came to the realization that feminism is where it’s at.

I liked how varied these essays are – the many contributors come from different backgrounds, educationally, racially, socially, in pretty much every way. So many of these authors came to feminism in nontraditional ways. I personally had my “click” moment in a college women’s studies class – so predictable – but many of these writers had theirs in such interesting and unique situations.

And everyone who contributed to this collection is a GOOD writer! I was engaged and interested in every single one of these essays.

I highly recommend Click for those who enjoy thoughtful essays and/or get why feminism is still important and relevant (hint: it is). This is a great collection edited by two smart and talented women.

Seriously … I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres

Seriously … I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
Published by Hachette Audio

In this collection of short, humerus essays, Ellen shares with the listener her trademark witty commentary on a wide range of topics.

I love Ellen DeGeneres, I really do. She never fails to make me laugh and this audiobook was no different. She narrates herself which makes it all the better because she really performs to her audience. The subjects she chooses to talk about sometimes have a serious note, but she always goes back to making the essays funny. So the book is about 80% humor and 20% actual commentary on life.

There’s not much to say about this one. It’s short, which is great for those little spurts of time you can either read the print or listen to the audio. I think the audio is somewhere around three hours and it goes very fast.

If you are a fan of Ellen, like I am, Seriously … I’m Kidding is a must read. It is everything you’d expect from Ellen and I loved it.

The Heroine’s Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore

The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder by Erin Blakemore
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins
Review copy provided by the publisher in conjunction with TLC Book Tours

This delightful essay collection explores the literary heroines of our time as well as the female authors who created them. Scout Finch, Scarlett O’Hara, Jane Eyre, and the rest – each of these characters has something to teach us about our own lives, and their creators’ stories are just as important.

Can I just say how much I loved this little book? I tried to read it slowly, one essay at a time, but by the time I got halfway through I just devoured the thing! Each essay is such a gem – I honestly don’t know that I liked any one best, they were all so entertaining and surprisingly profound.

The way Blakemore chose to write these essays was just perfect. Each essay was focused on one literary heroine, but also on the author who created her. She showed how what the author was going through, personally and professionally, at the time she wrote the book reflected back onto her character. Each essay also has a life lesson, based on both the heroine and the author, that we can each take something away from. These lessons, to be honest, were actually very well done and I personally got a lot out of them.

Reading this book made me want to go back and revisit all the novels that Blakemore referenced! I highly recommend The Heroine’s Bookshelf, in fact I think it is a must-read for the heroine in us all!

Crush by Andrea N. Richesin

CrushCrush: 26 Real-Life Tales of First Love edited by Andrea N. Richesin
Published by Harlequin Nonfiction, an imprint of Harlequin
Review copy provided by the author

This fabulously romantic collection has twenty-six bestselling authors telling the reader about their first crushes. This book will have you delighting in these tales of first love, and also have you remembering with fondness your own first crush.

Essay collections can go either way for me. Sometimes I love the fact that I am reading short bursts of nonfiction, enriching my mind without really giving too much effort (sounds terrible, but it’s kind of true), but sometimes I feel the collection drags on without much purpose and I end up being bored. Thankfully, Crush was of the first variety for me. I loved getting a peek into these authors’ first crush stories and hung onto just about every word written here.

What I most loved about Crush is that Richesin got some really big-name authors to contribute to the collection. This was great for two reasons. First of all, it gives the reader a little peek inside a favorite author’s mind and life, and second of all, it makes for some very well-written essays.

I definitely recommend picking up Crush – it is sweet, funny, and reminded me what it felt like to have that first crush. I think it will have the same effect on you!

Giveaway of Crush edited by Andrea N. Richesin

Remember last year when I told you all about the essay collection What I Would Tell Her? I really enjoyed that collection of essays, edited by Andrea N. Richesin, written by a bunch of dads who love their daughters. Since I so loved that collection, I was thrilled when I was contacted by Ms. Richesin herself telling me she has a new book coming out, called Crush: 26 Real-life Tales of First Love. I haven’t finished reading the book yet, which is why you haven’t seen a proper review, but I’m partway through and I can already see that this is another awesome collection of essays. There are some amazing writers who share in this book about their first crushes – Jacquelyn Mitchard, Ann Hood, and David Levithan, just to name a few.

For those of you thinking, “wow, that sounds like an interesting book, I’d really love to read that” I have the perfect gift for you! A big thank you to Andrea N. Richesin for offering to give away one copy of Crush to one of my lucky readers! To make this giveaway a little bit more fun than your average contest, I’m going to ask for your crush stories. Whether it was your first crush or the crush you have right now, tell me about it! I will choose the winner with the best crush story and repost the story here when I announce the winner on Saturday, June 4th – which just so happens to be the 4-year wedding anniversary of my crush/hubby and I! I thought that was appropriate timing. :)

This giveaway also coincides with Armchair BEA‘s giveaway day! If you haven’t yet checked out all the happenings at Armchair BEA, please do! The coordinators of it have put together a fabulous event with tons of fun things going on. At the very least, head on over and check out what other giveaways are happening.

I can’t wait to hear all of your crush stories! Good luck!

EDIT: In order for your comment to count toward the giveaway, you must give me your crush story! I have had several readers enter without this, and you will be disqualified unless you tell me about your former/current crush! :) Thanks everyone!

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
Published by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

In this collection of essays, Chuck Klosterman takes on pop culture like no one else can.

That is the shortest summary of all time, but how can one possibly summarize a book such as this?  Klosterman’s essays cover a wide range of topics, but they are all pop culture related, and they all have his trademark wit and cynicism in common.

Honestly, this is not a book I would have picked up on my own.  However, my friend Sara (hi, Sara!) suggested reading it, and even loaned me her copy, and when friends suggest books I always like to try them.  Because honestly, I don’t have a whole lot of friends who are readers (besides bloggers, of course) so I always enjoy trading books with those few who are.

Having said that, I ended up enjoying this book more than I would have expected to.  Chuck Klosterman is actually very funny, and his observations are just spot on.  I found myself nodding in agreement with him throughout several of the essays and laughing out loud throughout some too.  Some of the essays were a little dated, dealing with such topics as Saved by the Bell, the rivalry between Celtics and Lakers fans, Pamela Anderson, and the importance of The Empire Strikes Back, but as I am a child of the late ’80’s and ’90’s, I found myself really getting invested in these essays.  I’d be interested to read a newer version of Klosterman’s thoughts on some of the current events happening today in pop culture, for sure.

I would definitely recommend Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs for the reader looking for an entertaining and witty essay collection.  This book was a surprise for me, it wouldn’t have necessarily been my first pick for an essay collection, but I enjoyed it quite a bit!

What I Would Tell Her edited by Andrea Richesin

What I Would Tell Her What I Would Tell Her edited by Andrea Richesin
Published by Harlequin
Review copy provided by Basil & Spice

What I Would Tell Her is a collection of essays written by fathers who love their daughters.  The topics of the essays are all over the place, but they all have one thing in common:  these dads love and cherish their daughters and want to nurture them, protect them, but most of all help them grow up to be intelligent, happy, self-aware women.

What an awesome concept for a collection of essays!  And without exception, I enjoyed each and every one of the contributions in this collection.  I loved how much the fathers cared about their daughters and their families, I loved how devoted they were to raising their girls, but most of all I loved how all of these fathers truly respected their daughters.  I was nervous that the book was going to be sort of Purity Ball -ish, with the fathers concentrating on the protect and shield aspect of fatherhood some parents focus on, but it was exactly the opposite.  These dads love their girls to pieces, but they also respect their autonomy, their own decision-making capabilities, and the fact that one day their daughters will become women.

As a daughter with a tumultuous relationship with her father, these stories brought me hope.  They made me realize that many girls are lucky enough to grow up with fathers who actively adore them, cherish them, and respect them.  I may not have grown up with a father like these, but reading these essays helped me look at my own father and pick out what he has contributed to my life, and how he has always loved me the best way he knew how – it may not have been perfect, but he certainly tries.

This book reminded me a lot of Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs and if you enjoyed that, you definitely need to pick up What I Would Tell Her.  It’s a winner for sure!

Mini-Reviews (TSS edition)

Well another week has come and gone and not much happened for me blogging-wise.  There are a few reasons for this; primarily, my job is sucking the life out of me lately.  I have been working long hours and the days have been stressful.  I work in sales, and as anyone else who is in sales will tell you, when your team is behind on your goals it is just a nightmare.  At least the company I work for is pretty great about giving us overtime and things like that, but still – we feel the pressure, big time.  So I’ve been coming home from work exhausted every day, not feeling like doing much except read or watch TV.  The other thing going on in my life is that I’m trying to get in better shape, so I’ve been committed to hitting the gym 3-4 times a week.  I can’t say I’ve been too successful at this but I’m certainly trying.  So that takes up some of my extra time too.

Anyway, I figured a cure for getting so behind on reviewing is throwing a bunch of mini-reviews out there.  Besides knocking them off my list, I will feel better knowing that I got to tell you about all these great books I’ve been reading!  Because for the most part, they really have been great. :)

Bermudez First, I read The Bermudez Triangle for the GLBT challenge and also just because I’d been meaning to try Maureen Johnson for awhile now.  This young adult novel is about three best friends – Nina, Avery, and Mel – and when Nina goes away to college prep camp one summer, Mel and Avery fall in love.  That’s the premise, but it’s about so much more than that.  It’s about friendship, and crushes, and first love, and figuring out who you are, and navigating the treacherousness that is high school while being different, and so much more.  This novel was extremely refreshing.  The relationship between Avery and Mel was full of issues, just like any other relationship, and while some of the issues had to do with their being gay in a straight world, many of them did not.  Much of what happened was typical stuff that happens when teens find their first love.  The friendships between Mel, Avery, and Nina were about as authentic as possible, and it’s clear that Maureen Johnson really gets teens.  She so accurately portrayed real teens without being too angsty and/or annoying, and although this was my first Johnson it will definitely not be my last.  I really loved this one – YA fans, this is a must-read.

Next we have There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene.  This is a nonfiction read about the AIDS epidemic in Africa, specifically about one woman,Haregewoin Teferra, who in Ethiopia has taken in dozens of AIDS orphans and created a sort of orphanage for these children.  The book is part memoir, as Greene herself had adopted two AIDS orphans before meeting Teferra, part political and social history of AIDS in Africa, and part journalistic investigation of Haregewoin’s life and what she’s done for kids in Ethiopia.  For me, this format worked extremely well.  I learned a lot about the AIDS pandemic and for that reason alone, I highly recommend the book.  But also, Haregewoin’s story is remarkable – she is an amazing person with this incredible gift for selflessness, for taking in those who have no other opportunity or chance at life, and for turning their lives around, and it is inspiring to read her story.  I really can’t recommend this one more enthusiastically – it is a must-read for lovers of nonfiction, for lovers of learning, and for those of you who deeply care about some of the more important world issues.  Although I must warn you, it will make you want to adopt an AIDS orphan – I definitely had visions of adoption dancing in my head after finishing the book.

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell is a compilation of many of the pieces he wrote for the New Yorker and it is very typical Gladwell.  He writes about the obscure, mundane stuff that people normally don’t think twice about, yet he makes it interesting.  I listened to this one and as I’ve said before, Gladwell could read me the phone book and I’d be happy.  There’s just something about his narration that I adore.  Having said that, I found this to be the weakest of his four books simply because there wasn’t a core theme tying everything together.  I more enjoyed his other three books, where he was trying to make a larger point which ties everything together.  This one was just more random, and although I enjoyed many of the pieces, others bored me.  So, okay book, but as usual for Gladwell and me, great listening experience. :)

Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen was one I got on impulse, downloaded to my iPod, and began listening immediately.  This novel is about Van and Linny, Vietnamese-American sisters whose parents emigrated from Vietnam just before Van’s birth.  This is a character-driven novel at its best.  The book is not full of action, of plot twists, nothing like that.  Rather, it is about the relationships between the sisters, their parents, their significant others, and their heritage.  While both Linny and Van believe themselves to be regular American girls, free of their parents’ ties to Vietnam, over the course of the novel they realize their heritage is more important to them than they may have believed. Short Girls is an extremely accomplished novel, and I enjoyed every minute I spent with Van and Linny.  I absolutely recommend picking it up.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick was a recommendation from Eva, and what a fantastic recommendation she gave.  I’d never read a book about North Korea, and probably because the country is so closed, I knew little about it before reading this.  Of course I knew the basics, but Nothing to Envy really gets in there and exposes the hidden realities of what life is really like in this isolated place.  Demick actually spent time in North Korea, but the meat of the book is taken from conversations and interviews she had with several people who defected and now life in South Korea.  I don’t know what else to say about this one except that it is fascinating and eye-opening, tragic and heartbreaking, yet it is a must-read.  I feel like a more educated, knowledgeable person having read it.

Last, I picked up Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart because of the huge success it had around the blogs last year.  This novel is told from the point of view of high school student Katie D’Amore, who lives alone with her dad in their big house ever since her mother passed away last year.  The book is about Katie’s attempts to put her life back to normal since her mom’s passing, but also about a mystery she is trying to solve at her summer job working at a local estate.  The book is multi-layered and written beautifully.  Katie comes across as a completely authentic teen dealing with the loss of her mother, and yet there is so much more to Katie than grief.  She is a complex personality and much growth happens to her throughout the course of the novel.  I really enjoyed this one; it was a quick read but the writing was lush and beautiful and the characters were fully realized.  I now understand why people love Beth Kephart so much!

Well there you have it.  I’m caught up on much of my review backlog.  I still have three more to review, but those will all get their own posts, and I’m really hoping to finish another book today.  We might hit the beach later which is sure to give me some reading time in the hour’s drive there and back.

What are you up to today?  What are you reading this weekend?

Mini-reviews (the trying to catch up edition)

Okay folks, I am currently 7 reviews behind, and while that’s usually okay, I haven’t been feeling much like writing lately so at this rate I will literally never catch up.  Therefore, I present you today with several mini-reviews.  These are all library books, so no review commitments involved, and I don’t think any of them qualify for any of the challenges I’m participating in.  So here goes.

The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley was an impulse grab at the library, and what a great find it was!  This book kept me on the edge of my seat the ENTIRE time I was reading it, and I can’t recommend it enough.  It is basically the story of the nightmare scenario of a world-wide flu epidemic, and one family’s quest to survive it.  Many things happen in this novel that will terrify you, and will make you think that it’s entirely possible that a flu pandemic could happen for real, but that is what makes the novel so great.  In addition, these characters are written very well, and I promise you that they will get in your head and you will root for them despite the fact that you KNOW there’s no way they can all survive.  So, yes, read this one.  It is pretty awesome.  

All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab was an audiobook find, and I didn’t know anything about it going in.  So I was surprised to realize that it is an honest-to-goodness mystery, a young adult mystery yes, but definitely more of a mystery than anything else.  As I don’t read a lot of mysteries, it took me awhile to get involved with the story, but involved I did get eventually.  It is about a girl named Carly who was murdered a year ago, and her ex-boyfriend Neily and cousin Audrey coming together to attempt to solve her murder.  They both have an interest to do so because Neily was suspected to be the culprit and Audrey’s dad actually was convicted for the crime (and was in jail for life because of it).  I didn’t love this book but I didn’t hate it either.  It was just sort of a mildly entertaining way to pass the time in the car for me, to be honest.  But if you like young adult fiction and you like mysteries I suppose you would enjoy All Unquiet Things.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon is a book that’s gotten a lot of love in the blogosphere, and with good reason.  Chabon is an extremely talented writer, and his observations and explanations of his own experiences are spot-on and so fun to read.  I particularly enjoyed the chapter about circumcision (his discussions with his wife, Ayelet Waldman, about deciding whether to have their son circumcised are laugh-out-loud funny) and the essay about how when he was a child, children were given much more freedom just to play and enjoy the outdoors (so true).  I highly recommend this book to anyone, woman or man, and I dare you not to love it.  Now I plan to go out and read Ayelet Waldman’s book about similar topics (I think) entitled Bad Mother.

SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner was another audiobook selection, and I listened to it because years ago I listened to its predecessor   on a long roadtrip with my husband and we both really enjoyed that experience.  This is one of those books that I was highly entertained by, yet after finishing it I can’t tell you anything specific about it.  Is that bad?  Either way, I liked it, even though I didn’t find it as compelling as the first one, and I recommend reading it if you enjoyed Freakonomics.

Finally, The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone was another impulse library find.  It is a book about veganism (she is obviously a vegan), and the first half is all about why you should be a vegan, and the second half is recipes.   I have been flirting with vegetarianism (though not veganism – not sure I can go that hardcore) for pretty much my entire life, and this book definitely gave me a lot to consider.  I especially liked the section where Silverstone listed out many of her favorite meat and dairy substitutes, by specific brand, flavor, etc.  It is a really helpful guide for those completely new to veganism or even vegetarianism.  I don’t know a lot about vegan cooking, but the recipes sounded extremely good, and perhaps for the experienced vegan the book might be worth a look just for the recipes.  I plan on cooking at least a few of the recipes in the near future, and although I’m not a vegan convert yet (or even a true vegetarian), Silverstone has definitely given me a gentle push to try out more vegan recipes and products.

So there you have it!  It certainly feels good to get those books reviewed and cross them off my list.

Also, happy July 4th to those of you here in the U.S.!  Enjoy a day filled with fun, family, friends, and fireworks!