I’ve had two summer obsessions–and it wouldn’t be fair or nice to keep them all to myself. These are books turned into TV shows that I can’t get enough of. They are so brilliant that they won’t let me sleep or even bother to watch my kids. (I exaggerate, but just a little.) I’ll just be honest, I also love how sexy these stories are.
I kept hearing about Orange is the New Blackfrom friends and in news stories online. I wasn’t too excited about it, but I thought I’d check it out since I have a Netflix account for my kids. Besides, did you see True Blood this season? It was barely watchable. Summer TV was a vast wasteland of bore. That was, until I binge-watched OITNB. It’s about Piper Chapman, a seemingly nice girl with a nice fiance who all of a sudden gets a call from the Feds. Her secret is that 10 years ago, she carried a suitcase full of drug money for her flashy, intriguing and sexually satisfying girlfriend who imported heroin. For her indiscretion, Chapman pleads guilty and must serve 15 months in minimum security federal prison. The main character is such a delightfully complicated mess on the show that I dare you not to watch. But even better are all of the supporting actresses–the women in prison with their own imaginative stories. Her fiance, played by Jason Biggs, dutifully visits her while her ex-drug-dealer-girlfriend (Laura Prepon) taunts her in their shared prison quarters.
Even better, I found out that the basis of the story is real. Orange is the New Black was a memoir first, written by the real Piper whose last name is Kerman. The book is fantastic, too, but it’s not nearly as dramatic. Kerman got herself together in real life. Her alter-ego Chapman has a very long way to go. I can’t believe I have to wait another year for season two.
My husband is jealous of my love of The White Queen–both the book by Phillipa Gregory and the TV show on Starz. I voraciously read it in two days, and then I sat down to watch the first three episodes on demand. OMG, if you are into crazy English history–war, blood, romance, plots, witches–you will believe you’ve hit the jackpot. The show follows the same arc as the book. The mostly true story is about the beautiful common woman Elizabeth Woodville who entrances the young King Edward during The War of the Roses in the 1400s. She reigns as queen and must constantly woo and scheme to keep her royal position and her head. The story is told through the eyes of women and suggests that they played more of a role in medieval politics than they’re often given credit for.
The White Queen book is part of a series, and I’m already onto The Red Queen. It’s every bit as addictive and good. I don’t know if Starz plans to follow Gregory’s brilliant writings into a second season, but I certainly hope that they do.
Books about women and alcohol are all the rage this summer. I recently posted about Her Best-Kept Secret. Today, I want to suggest a memoir about a mom who got toasted way too much and then worked hard to fix her life. Author Heather Kopp‘s Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk is a great book for any parent who’s interested in alcohol and how it affects our kids. It’s especially helpful for, well, drunks. Heather tells you more about her incredible journey from addicted to clean below:
“I recently got an email from a mom I’ll call Lucy who recognized herself in my book. Which is to say, she’s an admitted alcoholic who hides her problem well.
Lucy is married to a prominent doctor, the mother of two school-aged kids and involved in her church. She admits that by all counts, she has a beautiful life. “So why can’t I stop drinking?!” she wrote. “How the hell did this happen?”
My guess is what happened to Lucy is what’s happening to a growing number of moms. It’s become trendy these days to combine happy hour with play dates, or to reach for a glass or two of wine in the afternoon to take the edge off a hard day with the kids. For most moms, that’s fine. But for women predisposed to alcoholism, pretty soon happy hourturns into a daily habit—and every day becomes a hard day.
Once we realize we’re stuck, denial kicks in. “I know for sure that I’m a great mom,” Lucy wrote. “My secret drinking hasn’t ever harmed my kids. I never slur or stumble. Sometimes, I think it makes me a more loving, patient mom.”
I don’t doubt that Lucy can drink copious amounts of alcohol with nary a misplaced foot or word. Increased tolerance is a hallmark of alcoholism. Neither do I doubt that drinking makes Lucy less irritable with her kids. Nothing soothes an alcoholic’s agitation more quickly than a drink.
But here’s the rub. And I say this with love: We’re kidding ourselves if we think that our addiction to any mood altering drug or activity isn’t affecting our kids. And we’re dangerously deluded if we conclude that it can actually improve our parenting.
By the way, this was me to a T. My own kids were in junior high and high school when I spiraled into alcoholism. I clung like a cat on a curtain to this idea that what my kids didn’t know couldn’t hurt them—but if I didn’t get to drink, I just might.
What I failed to reckon was that kids sense it in their bones when you are not fully present. They know you’re numbing your feelings and some part of you has gone missing. Usually, they just can’t put it into words until later. My kids were grown before they could name the myriad ways alcohol robbed them of Mom.
Of course, many addicted moms aren’t so subtle in the havoc they wreak. I know plenty who have lost custody of their kids because of drugs or alcohol. Ironically, though, it’s those of us with the wherewithal to work hard to try to manage our drinking who often stay stuck the longest. We high-functioning, fine-wino types take first place in rationalization and image management, but we’re the last to reach for help.
I suffered for twelve long years before I finally admitted my life was unmanageable and got into recovery. Since then, I’ve struggled to name and grieve the losses—conversations I never had with my kids, intimate moments we never shared—because I don’t even know what I missed.
Of course, I would have done better if I had known better. Which is part of why I wrote Sober Mercies. If you’re struggling with an addiction or know someone who is, maybe my story can serve as a kind of catalyst for healing.
It’s never too late to reach for help. And more important, it’s never too soon.”
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.
Today is a good day to hug a dad whether he is the father of your children, the man who gave you life, your grandpa or your in-law. So go give a man a squeeze and then read this Father’s Day tribute. You’re sure to be flooded with memories from your own childhood.
“Back when I competed in middle school debate, my dad would rouse me early on Saturday tournament mornings. With night sky still hovering, I’d pull on my only blue suit, grab the thin attaché case that was once his, and he’d drive me to the waiting school bus. If time allowed, we’d pick up a box of glazed donuts for the team.
Roughly 12 hours later, the bus would pull back into the school parking lot. The sky would be dark, as if the day had never arrived. I’d spot my dad’s car, its dome light illuminated so he could grade papers while he waited. He graded a lot of papers those nights.
“So…what’s new?” he’d ask while I climbed inside. At the time, I thought the question had everything to do with my trophies.
“What’s new?” is how my dad greets me to this day, albeit slower and with slightly more vocal gravel thirty years later. I understand now the meaning with which these words are imbued. My dad expresses affection in sacrifice, devotion, and time–not in simple words so overplayed in greeting cards and the closing scenes of romantic comedies.
It was my dad who cut his thumb open making a birdhouse for my third grade cub scout project. As he hammered away, he continued bleeding into the house even though we begged him to stop. I’m not sure we were concerned for his safety so much as utterly grossed out by the splattering of bright blood onto the light wood. The only thing driving him was a determination to do right by us. That he was creating a Dexter-themed birdhouse wouldn’t stand in the way.
It was my dad who drove to the mall where I worked to hand-deliver my SAT scores, hot off the mailman’s truck.
It was my dad who supported my paper-thin rationalizations to start law school, and he supported me just as much when I left six months later, the first Schwartzberg to quit an educational endeavor since I dropped AP biology.
It was my dad who visited me at the tiny video store where, at 24, I competed for the title of Assistant Manager against a teenager who wore sports-themed ties. It was my dad who told me it was okay to quit three weeks in, with no other prospects.
It was my dad who opened his home and every possession to me following my divorce. He treated it like a routine event, even though it was the first divorce in our family. He insisted I wear his work shirts and pants–as if sensing holes the separation had left in me and trying to cover them with pieces of himself.
Throughout a childhood spotted with quits and failures, I’ve never felt like a quitter or a failure. That’s a parenting trick bordering on magic.
Sometimes on Friday nights, while I wait in my ex-wife’s driveway for the children to emerge, I think about the kind of father I am, about the pieces of myself I try to give to my own kids. I try to assess the cumulative effect of my fathering, and how it might be remembered years into their future.
The kids knock the ridiculous thought out of my head as they pile in.
For the guy who loves to read and write non-fiction, these Father’s Day books could be the perfect last-minute presents. (You’re welcome!) Five new daddy memoirs just hit stores–four of them really funny–and your man will definitely feel better about his parenting skills after reading these real-life foibles. These titles are especially good for the more involved fathers (who knew tough-guy Sopranos actor Steve Schirripa was hands on?) and SAHDs. And the last book on my Father’s Day list is brave and heartbreaking: A decorated military veteran learns he’s dying of cancer and puts together a collection of advice for his sons.
Find the right read for that special guy below.
Dude toDad: The First 9 Months
by Hugh Weber If you know a father-to-be, this is a straightforward and witty book written just for him. Blogger Hugh Weber breaks down everything the stages of pregnancy, childbirth and new infant in a way that guys will understand. About that baby, he writes: “Picture the worst possible imaginable disturbing (borderline criminal!) thing that could be done to you by a child, increase it by several orders of magnitude, and expect it to occur weekly.”
Dad or Alive: Confessions of an Unexpected Stay-at-Home Dad
by Adrian Kulp Based on his popular blog, Adrian tells his story of going from TV executive (he booked comedians for Chelsea Handler and The Late Late Show) to SAHD. He went to baby showers, farmers markets and learned how to accessorize his little daughter. He makes lots of mistakes, writes about them candidly and invites his readers to laugh at them.
Big Daddy’s Rules: Raising Daughters is Tougher than I Look
by Steve Schirripa Most recently, he starred in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but you may also recognize Steve from his role as Bobby ‘Bacala’ Baccalieri on The Sopranos. Now he’s come out with a hilarious book about being dad, AKA Big Daddy. He’s known to be overprotective, highly opinionated and painfully old-fashioned. He’s not into being a cool parent or praising every little thing a kid does. Instead, he’s devoted and completely involved. His motto: “Suck it up. Be there. Because you only get one shot at this.” His stories about his girls are totally relatable and irresistibly funny.
Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenting by Drew Magary If you’ve ever gotten drunk while trick-or-treating (or even thought about it), this book is for you. The author, a writer and blogger for GQ and Gawker, knows how to tell a story. He talks about head lice, retrieving his toddler from a treehouse, saying dirty words in the bathtub and more. Profane and passionate, his book is a touching read about parenting.
Tell My Sons by Lt. Col. Mark M. Weber Two years ago, at the age of 38, Mark learned that he had Stage IV intestinal cancer and was given four months to live. A former aide to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq, Mark resolved to fight—to soldier on—but his doctors soon helped him to understand that there was no winning this battle. Faced with this, Mark decided to write a letter to his sons so they would know the advice he would have given, the conversations they would have had, if he were still around. As Mark earned unexpected months, that letter became this book. Check out his video below: