My friends are already asking me what to read on their summer vacations. The truth is, I have no idea. Unlike this time last year, there are no breakout books like Wild and Gone Girl. June looks like a slower month for book releases, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find something amazing. We all just have to look a little harder (and consult the experts on these things). I checked out best-of lists from Publisher’s Weeklyand The New York Times and O Magazine, and here are my faves:
Kiss Me First
Lottie Moggach PW writes: This disturbing, engrossing psychological thriller will keep you up nights as the founder of a website that discusses philosophy lures a lonely young woman into a twisted scenario involving identity takeover via social media. A wild and wicked debut novel.
The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living Wendy Jehanara Tremayne PW writes: Summer is a perfect time to ponder—and try—living with less. Tremayne’s whimsically illustrated back-to-the-land memoir and DIY manual, which PW called a “rollicking, inspiring tale,” convincingly advocates for a “decommodified life.” Readers will be moved to consider everything from the concept of the gift economy to recipes for homemade toothpaste and kombucha.
Gail Godwin PW writes: Charismatic Helen Anstruther, the wry adolescent narrator of Godwin’s new novel, is left in the care of the “hopelessly effusive” Flora, a young family friend. The isolated and rambling house they share once served people recovering from tuberculosis or alcoholism. It’s 1945, Helen’s father is away on business and her mother is long dead, and the summer she spends with Flora—full of boredom, desire, and ultimately heartbreak—profoundly transforms them both. Godwin knows how to deliver rich, textured tales.
The Silver Star
Jeannette Walls O writes: Twelve-year-old “Bean” Holladay and her older sister, Liz, aren’t immediately concerned when their mother abandons them to “make some time and space for myself…to find the magic again”; she’s done this before—to chase a man, or her dream of being a singer. But when she doesn’t return after two weeks, the girls, who’ve been subsisting on a diet of chicken potpies, revert to plan B—buying bus tickets from California to their mother’s hometown in Virginia—to avoid being taken away by social services.
And the Mountains Echoed Khaled Hoseinni O writes: And the Mountains Echoed opens like a thunderclap, with a fable of sacrifice told by a destitute Afghan villager to his son and daughter. What makes his sad tale even more searing is that the children are unaware their father is about to sell one of them. From this dramatic opening spins a constellation of star-crossed characters.
Sisterland Curtis Sittenfeld NYT writes: The high-concept gimmick at the heart of Ms. Sittenfeld’s new novel, “Sisterland,” is the premise of twin sisters who have strange psychic powers that enable them to foresee the future. One twin tries to suppress her ESP; like Samantha, the nose-twitching witch in “Bewitched,” she just wants to live life as an ordinary suburban housewife. The other sister cultivates her unusual gifts and becomes a professional psychic; she gains national fame when she warns that a terrible earthquake is going to hit the St. Louis area and is interviewed on the Today show. In both books Ms. Sittenfeld’s gifts for portraying the inner lives of her heroines manage to transcend the silliness and contrivance of her plots.
Bad Monkey Carl Hiassen NYT writes: A washed-up monkey, sex in a morgue, a severed arm at the end of a fishhook and other Carl Hiaasen capers make Bad Monkey his funniest novel in almost a decade.
This all reminds me of the movie The Notebook. The main character, Allie (Rachel McAdams), realizes that she has stopped painting since she’s been with her new rich boyfriend. She used to paint all of the time before she broke up with her first love. Who does she choose to be with at then end? (Duke, Ryan Gosling’s character, of course!) She winds up painting in the nude on her front porch!
Allie knew what her passions and talents were, but what if you don’t? Sir Robinson says it’s imperative that you find out what they are not to start living a happier and more fulfilling life. It doesn’t matter how busy you are–there’s always time for what you love to do. I sent Sir Ken Robinson some questions via email. He gives tips for finding your Element–and helping to foster your child’s passion and creativity, too.
KK: You say our traditional schools can stifle creativity. How can parents with young children encourage it at home? KR: If parents reading this have two or more children, I’ll make a bet that their children are completely different from each other. All children are unique. As a result, there are two main ways in which schools can stifle creativity. If there’s a narrow curriculum it limits opportunities for children to explore their individual talents and interests. If there’s too much emphasis on standardized testing, it can inhibit imagination, play and original thinking, all of which are at the heart of creativity. Parents can help by providing a range of activities outside school that stimulate and engage their children’s imagination and creative energies. They can help too by watching for and encouraging the different sorts of activities that absorb them as individuals.
KK: In Finding Your Element, you suggest practical exercises for figuring out what makes you tick. One of these is very simple—just defining “what you are good at” and making a diagram of circles around your name. How important is it for moms to find their elements while they’re busy working and raising young children?
KR: I think it’s vital for you to do this. Among the sleepless nights, frantic activity and constant multi-tasking of being a parent, raising children can be wonderfully rewarding. At the same time, it can be easy for parents to lose sight of other things that may fulfill them and that are essential to a balanced life of their own. It’s important in all stages of our lives to develop our own talents and passions, and to take care of ourselves as well as our children. Part of the safety announcement on airplanes says, “Before helping others, put your own oxygen mask on first.” There’s a basic truth in that for our lives in general.
KK: Do you think making the diagram of circles with your children’s interests could eventually determine what their calling in life might be? KR: Yes, I do. My original book, The Element, explains that the Element is where your natural talents meet your personal passions. When you’re in your Element, you feel that you’re really “in your skin:” that you’re doing something you were just made to do. I wrote the sequel, Finding Your Element because of the various questions people asked when they read that first book. One was whether it’s possible to have more than one Element. Of course it is, and your Element can change over time too, as you discover new talents or your interests and enthusiasms evolve. The same is true for your children. Encouraging your children to go back from time to time to review their talents and passions is a good way of not only finding their Element but of staying in it as they grow.
KK: Parents can be micro-managers of their children’s lives. How do you suggest we step back and learn to let children find their own element while also offering encouragement?
KR: There’s a definite temptation for parents to over-program their children and have them dashing from one activity and social gathering to another. For the reasons I’ve given, it’s important to give your children a range of opportunities to explore their talents and interests. It’s also important not to overdo it. We all need time to be ourselves, away from the pressures to conform or perform. So do your children. They need time to rest and to play, to read, doodle, experiment, make things and to go wherever their imaginations may take them. If you keep a watch on them, you’ll begin to see what sorts of activities they’re most drawn to and that’s often the time to look at other opportunities you can provide to enhance and extend those interests.
KK: If your child excels at several things, how do you help them hone in on one area? What do you do if your child is better at something they don’t love than something they do love? KR: As children grow up, their interests naturally evolve. Some may take the place of others and new ones form too. Often some interests do naturally come to dominate the others. It’s not necessary to force this process. It’s better, to guide and advise. I’m often asked what to do if someone is passionate about something they may not be very good at. In my experience, passion is the driving force. A moderate talent combined with powerful enthusiasm will normally take you or your children further than a strong talent with little passion. You should remember too, that ability grows with practice. The more you love something, the more you do it and the better you’re likely to become. That’s all part of being in your Element.
You’re seeing The Great Gatsby this weekend, right? It’s Mother’s Day, so you should be taken on a golden horse-drawn carriage if you wish. You should eat all of the Milk Duds you please and stay out way past your kids’ bedtime. This is what I might do considering how much I love F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic book that comes out with my boyfriend Leonardo DiCaprio tomorrow.
If you can’t make it–or even if you can–check out these Gatsy-inspired cupcakes. Book Expo America’s Book Bliss and The Huff Post Books teamed up to make these book-inspired desserts. I’m going to suggest The Great Gatsby at my next book club–but only if we agree to serve these chocolate yummies.
I haven’t met anyone who isn’t fascinated with names. Whether you’re currently pregnant, have a 7-year-old or are 93 and living in a nursing home, I dare you not to get sucked into the delightfully detailed book called The Baby Name Wizardby expert Laura Wattenberg. It’s the carry-it-everywhere companion to her wildly addictive website also called The Baby Name Wizard.
You can look up your picks, your hates, and find out which ones are cool in different parts of the country. (Why are there so many Ezras in Brooklyn? Why do my friends from Indiana pick names like Kyren?) You can fall in love with your favorite monikers and make fun of the others. The opportunities for fun and procrastination are endless in this new, revised edition of this must-have baby-name tome. I asked Laura how this book is different from her previous installments, and she said, “I’ve aimed for a thorough revision and expansion with new features like regional name-style maps and prominent examples and associations for each name. I’ve added style categories, too, including video game names. Yes, parents are naming kids after video game characters!”
I devoured the whole book but particularly enjoyed Laura’s spirited introduction. Who knew there were rules to naming babies? She explains that Americans overwhelmingly look for unique names, and then we all choose the same ones anyway. This explains the proliferation of Peytons and Aubrees. Laura emphatically reminds readers that “parents are the ones who worry about a name standing out; kids are happy to fit in.”
She says to drop the idea of having three or four middle names–that’s not cool for the kid. She also says to go ahead and ask others for their opinions on your top choices. “Don’t let them bully you, but don’t completely ignore them either. As a group, they represent the society that’s going to be hearing, and judging, your child’s name for a lifetime.” Whoa! Her last bit of brilliant wisdom involved siblings and friends who have the same favorite names. (This always seems to happen, she explains.) Whoever has the kid first, gets the name–end of story.
Then there are the maps! OMG. Where I live in New Jersey, steady guy names like Jack, Thomas, Matthew and Adam are popular along with saintly classes such as Nicholas, Lucas, Joseph and Anthony. Meanwhile, in my homestate of Indiana, they prefer smooth gents such as Owen, Miles, Blake and Cole along with preppy cowboys like Dalton, Trenton, Brantley and Easton. See where I’m going with this? Once you start with Laura’s brilliant, curated collection, you just can’t stop.
The Baby Name Wizard includes well-researched and entertaining details on every single page. Laura truly goes above and beyond the call of baby name duty to give her readers the scoop. This book is like eating a delicious sack of potato chips except it won’t make you fat. Thanks to Laura, I know exactly what to buy for two upcoming baby showers.
Macmillan books gives you this challenge: Download their audio books and workout while you listen! Don’t wait, do this now. I’ve written before about how much I love Audible books–they will change your life. And if you walk or run while you enjoy them, you’ll get healthier, too. I can’t think of a better way to make sweating more fun.