Tuesday, December 10th, 2013
What were your favorite reads of 2013? I’ll list my Parents picks in the next few days, but today I’ve been having fun with are everyone else’s. Other editors and reviewers from Oprah and The New York Times don’t agree on many of the Best Books of 2013, as you’ll see below. Publisher’s Weekly culled through 9,000 reviews (15 I wrote myself) to come up with their choices–most I haven’t even heard of. So what should you read? I’m thinking about The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner which showed up twice–so did Good Lord Bird. The Interestings gets one nod, and that’s one I loved it this summer.
So stop what you’re doing–work and watching kids can wait. Take time to peruse these awesome reading choices below. I’m sending this list to my book club. (Hi girls!) We need a great new read to ring in 2014.
Oprah’s 10 Best Books of 2013
1.The Isle of Youth
By Laura van den Berg
The gist: A quirky story collection filled with unique and strong female protagonists.
2. Country Girl: A Memoir
By Edna O’Brien
The gist: A memoir by one of Ireland’s most famous fiction writers that has been compared to Angela’s Ashes.
3. The Signature of All Things
By Elizabeth Gilbert
The gist: This one about a strong 19th Century botanist proves that the Eat, Pray, Love writer is at the top of her game. Gilbert makes moss a fascinating subject, I hear.
4. Vampires in the Lemon Grove
By Karen Russell
The gist: This hugely creative collection of short stories–one about a vampire who’s afraid to fly and another about U.S. presidents reincarnated about horses–proves that the author of Swamplandia has staying power.
5. The Flamethrowers
By Rachel Kushner
The gist: The award-winning saga of an electric young woman’s full-throttle pursuit of love amid the class war and cultural upheaval of the late ’70s.
6. The Good Lord Bird
By James McBride
The gist: A slave boy and abolitionist John Brown change the course of American history in this novel that is inspired by real events.
7. The Interestings
By Meg Wolitzer
The gist: Through well-tuned drama and compassionate humor, Wolitzer chronicles the living organism that is friendship, and arcs it over the course of more than 30 years.
8. The Cuckoo’s Calling
By Robert Galbraith
The gist: A book for mystery lovers by J.K. Rowling.
9. Dog Songs
By Mary Oliver
The gist: This Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s combo of woman’s best friend and poetry is irresistible.
10. The Woman Who Lost Her Soul
By Bob Shacochis
The gist: What is the legacy of war—and how long does it last—are the questions behind this brilliant and gripping novel.
Publisher’s Weekly Best Books (gathered in no particular order)
1. See of Hooks
By Lindsay Hill
The gist: “Pure reading pleasure on every single page, not to mention a wallop of pathos.”
2. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief
By Lawrence Wright
The gist: Wright’s prodigiously researched investigation of Scientology does what good reporting ought to do: examine something in search of truth, lay out the findings, and let conclusions be drawn.
3. Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield
By Jeremy Scahill
The gist: The Nation’s national security correspondent surgically exposes how the War on Terror is actually conducted: secret prisons, torture, extralegal assassinations, drone surveillance and warfare, gamesmanship with corrupt regimes.
4. Men We Reaped
By Jesmyn Ward
The gist: Critically acclaimed novelist Ward (Salvage the Bones) bravely enters nonfiction terrain in this starkly honest and deeply tragic account of the deaths of five important men in her life.
5. People in the Trees
By Hanya Yanagihara
The gist: In this novel, a ccientist who, after graduating Harvard medical school in the 1940s, travels to a remote Pacific island chain where he may or may not have stumbled upon the key to immortality.
6. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery
By Robert Kolker
The gist: “Even hardened true crime readers will be haunted by New York magazine contributing editor Kolker’s provocative tale of five young escorts who became linked by the tragic circumstances of their disappearances, and the discovery of their remains on Long Island’s Oak Beach.”
7. Miss Anne in Harlem
By Carla Kaplan
The gist: In this beautifully written, empathetic, and valuable addition to the history of the Harlem Renaissance, scholar Kaplan (Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters) presents the untold story of six notable white women (including Fannie Hurst and Nancy Cunard, members of a larger group known collectively as “Miss Anne”) who embraced black culture—and life—in Harlem in the 1920s and ’30s.
8. Constellation of Vital Phenomena
By Anthony Marra
The gist: A Chechen village, a young girl watching her father taken by Russian soldiers and her house burned to the ground: so begins Marra’s startling debut, in which a tough doctor ponders the extent of her obligation to help Havaa, an eight-year-old girl who has been brought to the doctor’s wretched and abandoned hospital by Akhmed, the girl’s neighbor.
9. The Silence and the Roar
By Nihad Sirees
The gist: “Sirees’s deeply philosophical and satirical novel echoes Kafka and Orwell.”
10. The Good Lord Bird
By James McBride
see details above
The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2013
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi
2. The Flamethrowers
By Rachel Kushner
3. The Goldfinch
By Donna Tartt
4. Life After Life
By Kate Atkinson
5. Tenth of December
By George Saunders
6. After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead
By Alan S. Blinder
7. Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House
By Peter Baker
8. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
By Sheri Fink
9. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
By Christopher Clark
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By Sonali Deraniyagala
Best Books of 2013, Good Lord Bird, Oprah, Publisher's Weekly, The Flamethrowers, the New York Times | Categories:
Best Of Lists, Best Sellers, Fiction, Memoirs, Mom Must Read, Must Read, Popular Books
Wednesday, October 16th, 2013
Author Ellen Stimson‘s memoir Mud Season recently hit shelves. It’s about her family’s move to gorgeous, rural Vermont after one magical vacation. Things pretty much go south from there in her witty and bittersweet book.
Ellen had a lot of ideas about parenthood that went south, and she shares them with us in this most excellent essay below. Find out what happens when well-meaning pacifist, gender-neutral parents come to blows with their feisty kids’ personalities. Would you let your kid have a Barbie? A toy gun? They didn’t think so until…
Parenting 101 by Ellen Stimson
“When our kids were little we had very definite ideas about what their raising was going to look like. There would be no gender biases in our toy purchases for one thing. We were not going to fall into the truck and gun or pink and purple trap. Our house would be free of the stereotyping messages that our culture bombards little boys and girls with on TV and on the playground. Our house would be a gender-neutral zone, where preferences and natural identity were respected and exploration of biases examined. Multiculturalism would be taught and thoughtful discourse would be encouraged. This was the way we made our way in the world, and it was the way we would raise our children, by golly.
We had spent lots of time thinking about these issues and planning our parenting styles. Our ideas had been long-considered, and we were going to wind up with balanced kids who treated everyone they met with kindness, dignity and respect. They would not be bound by society’s notions of male and female. Their lives would be fuller and richer as a result. I’m sure we saw them bringing peace to the Middle East and curing cancer while they were at it.
In the whole nature versus nurture debate we fell squarely on the nurture side. We figured if parents would just provide loving experiences and offer up ideas at the supper table, kids would gravitate toward tolerance. What debate? We had this whole thing figured out. Only then, we actually met the kids. We had forgotten that they might come to the party with their own ideas. (more…)
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Friday, October 4th, 2013
For mothers who weep despair, I am a mother raising a child diagnosed with debilitating mental and developmental illnesses. I share an intimate glimpse of this journey with other parents in my book, Evolution of Cocoons: A Mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s Bipolar and Asperger’s. Through my writing, I find my voice and hope to be a source of inspiration and comfort to other mothers walking a similar path. I want to share a slice of my life through this essay:
It happened again, another mass shooting, another mentally ill individual succumbing to demons trapped within. A man, tortured, plagued, debilitated by chemical imbalances in his brain exacted his twisted sense of justice upon the innocent irrelevant to his pain. Like Newtown, Aurora and Tucson, we witnessed the destruction of the human soul forged in the mind of the mentally ill. We vilify, shake our heads, wonder how those so disturbed are ever allowed to feel the warmth of sun upon their face, certain the world would be a better place if such people didn’t exist. Shame on them for indulging their insanity; shame on society for casting such stones without understanding. Isolated events on behalf of the few does not provide an accurate representation of the whole.
As I watched the story of the naval yard massacre in Washington D.C., I considered the shooter’s family, as I do each time such an event occurs. I harbor a level of empathy for their plight cannot be fathomed. I listened to the interview with shooter Aaron Alexis’ mother, heard her sorrow infused voice as she struggled to understand the actions of her son, her attempts to explain his erratic and destructive behavior, all while cloaked in secrecy, obscuring her identity in order to preserve what little sanctity remained in her life. My heart ached, as it does for all the faceless parents of the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, for I too am the vessel of society’s shame, the mother of a daughter infused with the breath of the devil, a bipolar girl with Asperger’s syndrome, plagued by an unbalanced mind.
With words, I illuminate our existence, mothers who dwell in shadows, fearful of our discovery. We suffer in silence, frozen inside, observers to the devastation of our children, isolated by a world who does not grasp the concept of difference. I shatter assumptions of the mentally and developmentally ill and their families. I expose my truth so others know they’re not alone. Why should we be sequestered from the rest of humanity because of a slip in chromosomes that no one could control? We are good parents, strong women, devoted to the care and well being of our children. Thousands of us exist. We deserve a voice.
I do not profess to have the answers; I have no sage advice. I offer comfort, friendship, and compassion, a guide from darkness into light.
Janna Vought is a writer who is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in education. Her daugther, Kamryn, is diagnosed with Bipolar I and Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, making her intimately qualified to write on parenting a special needs child.
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Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
Looking for a good momoir? I have one for you. This one chronicles one cynical woman’s path of infertility. Spoiler alert: It has a peachy keen ending.
5-Second Book Review–here I go:
If you or a friend has lived with fertility issues, check out the new memoir, Breeding in Captivity: One Woman’s Unusual Path to Motherhood. Author Stacy Bolt skips the usual trappings of sentimentality and conviction. Instead, her bold and candid writing guides the reader through the disappointment and agony of trying to have a baby with no luck. Her dark sense of humor keeps her going through failed prescriptions, IUI treatments, endometrial surgery and adoptions. She’s so relatable because she’s never sure what she should do next. In the end—with support from her great husband and friends—she finally gets what she’s looking for. She provides solace to women who are struggling and lets everyone else know exactly what it’s like.
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Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and one mom has written a memoir in the hopes that her story will save someone else’s child or loved one. Her son, Tim Schenke, committed suicide at age 18 in 2008 when he stepped in front of a moving train. The boy suffered from depression but was highly functioning at school as a student and an athlete. Of course, his mother, Lisa Schenke, wishes she had noticed more and done more. That’s why she wrote Without Tim. She’s spent years healing from her devastation and giving advice to other parents. Sadly, her son was one in 10 kids who committed suicide in Southern Monmouth County, New Jersey, in a four year period. The area reeled from sadness. This is her story.
Through writing and reaching out, Lisa has slowly started to pick up the pieces of her life. She had to–she has other children to love and protect. Here’s what she has to say about her new book, Without Tim.
KK: September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day (and September is Suicide Prevention Month). How are you bringing awareness and changing families by sharing your son’s story?
LS: I am truly grateful that suicide prevention is getting more and more attention each year. The takeaway message from the awareness campaign is: Suicide IS preventable. I feel that the idea of a particular day/month continues to raise awareness and that is very important because it spreads information about the warning signs and treatment options, and helps decrease the stigma surrounding suicide.
KK: Is there a checklist you would like to share with parents on the signs of mental health issues in their children? What do you now know about the important “TO DOs” about depressed children?
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LS: As a mom and parent, I would recommend trying to stay as positive as possible — i.e. continue to reinforce that everything will be ok, that you are there for them, that things will get better. Sometimes when I was under stress, I don’t think I stayed as positive as I would have liked to be. It’s hard. Try to help your child understand that it’s ok to have fears and insecurities and that there is a way to get to a better place. Try to remain calm and patient; something I wish I would have been better at. (more…)