Thursday, December 19th, 2013
After reading and skimming more than 100 books this year it’s no easy task to tell you which ones are my favorites. But I sat down, poured a beer and perused my overflowing bookshelf. It was so much fun to revisit Pamela Druckerman‘s Bebe by Day, Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train and Kristine Barnett‘s The Spark. They are easily among my top 12.
But if I absolutely had to whittle it down, here are my Top 5 Books of 2013. These are the books that stayed with me all year long–the ones I went on and on about until my husband’s eyes glazed over. These titles were so fresh that I fired off Facebook statuses and emails about them.
What about you? What are your favorites of 2013?
Here are mine:
1. Lean In
by Sheryl Sandberg
She stepped up to the plate this year and said what hasn’t been said before to women. Just because women want to have families and careers doesn’t mean we need to start planning for it straight out of college. She encourages women to go out there and claim what’s ours in the workplace. Wait to figure out your next steps until you’re actually pregnant. That’s advice I wish I’d had when I was getting started in 1999. Sheryl is a cool chick who has her gender’s back on every page. Take this: “’Ask a man to explain his success and he will typically credit his own innate qualities and skills. …A woman… will attribute her success to external factors, insisting she did well because she ‘worked really hard or ‘got lucky’ or ‘had help from others.’”
2. The Still Point of the Turning World
by Emily Rapp
I’ve wondered for months how Emily Rapp is doing. She lost her dear son Ronan to Tay-Sachs earlier this year around the time her memoir came out. This wasn’t the run-of-the-mill tragedy. She was unapologetically angry and fiercely sweet. Her frustration and struggle–without the religious backdrop and sentimentality–made her achingly real. She’s real in a way that I will never forget. I’m not sorry for her. I’m inspired by her book that drips with meaning and poetry.
3. Let Them Be Eaten by Bears
by Peter Brown Hoffmeister
Thanks to this book, I’ve taken my kids hiking this year for the first times ever. Right in the beginning, he writes, “With kids, we don’t get out much. It’s too hard.” That resonated with me. I’ve been saying this to my husband since my babies were first born. Now they are 8! And they had never really been outside beyond the backyard or park. Thanks to Hoffmeister’s playful and inspiring approach, we even got our butts off the couch and went camping. I let the kids wander the playground, too, and with bare feet just to make Peter even more proud of me.
4. Orange is the New Black
by Piper Kerman
If you’re tired of books and shows about desperate women chasing dreams of men, careers and babies, this one is for you. It’s got very little to do with anything you’ve probably ever read before. This memoir, which formed the fictionalized–but equally awesome Netflix TV show–is about a nice girl who graduates from college and goes buck crazy. She lands a hot, rich girlfriend who just happens to smuggle drugs internationally. Piper runs cash in this operation just one time, and she soon leaves the relationship. She becomes a nice, normal straight woman again. But the feds catch up with her 10 years later, and she winds up in federal prison for a year while her real-life fiance waits for her. The inner workings–and indecencies–of the prison system are fascinating. Her life isn’t as whack as it is in the show, (Piper and Pennsytucky became friends for real) but Piper blasts your thoughts right open. This was a unique read.
5. Until I Say Goodbye
by Susan Spencer-Wendel
Whenever I’ve felt kind of bad this year, I reminded myself of Susan Spencer-Wendel. She lives with ALS everyday, but she isn’t sad. Instead, she does everything her heart desires, including getting makeup tattooed on her face for when she could no longer apply it herself. While she still can, she goes on an epic trip with her longtime best friend to see the Northern Lights. She takes her teenage daughter wedding dress shopping because that’s something she doesn’t want the two of them to miss. Susan’s book did make me weepy–just once–but mostly she made me laugh. Her life has purpose and meaning, and it makes me more aware of what I’m doing with my own. Her book was optioned, and a film sounds like its in the works.
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Best of 2013, Bringing Up Bebe, Christina Baker Kline, Emily Rapp, Kristine Barnett, Lean In, Let Them Be Eaten By Bears, Orange is the New Black, Orphan Train, Pamela Druckerman, Peter Hoffmeister, Piper Chapman, Piper Kerman, Sheryl Sandberg, Susan Spencer-Wendel, The Spark, The Still Point of the Turning World, Until I Say Goodbye | Categories:
Best Of Lists, Best Sellers, Celebrity Books, Mom Must Read, Must Read, Parenting Advice, Popular Books
Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
What if you knew you only had a few years to live? That’s what happened to working mom Susan Spencer-Wendel when she was diagnosed with ALS (commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) at age 45. In her bestselling memoir, Until I Say Goodbye, she quickly sets off on special trips with her kids, husband, sister and best friend and vows to live joyously. Susan and her publisher, HarperCollins, have teamed up with Princess Cruises to offer Susan’s readers (that means you!) a 5-day Caribbean cruise called the “Experience of a Lifetime.” Princess Cruises is sending one lucky winner and her guest on a 5-day Caribbean cruise! Enter the sweepstakes before April 30, 2012 to win.
Susan’s book, Until I Say Goodbye, shows what one determined woman does to make the best of life under terminal circumstances. She goes to the Yukon to see the Northern Lights with her lifelong best girlfriend. She’s an adopted child, so Susan ventures to California and Greece to uncover her biological parents’ pasts and try to recover the family Bible. Friends help her organize thousands of family photos so her two boys and teenage girl will receive a special scrapbook. She builds a tiki hut in the backyard by her pool where she rests, socializes and writes this book with her only working finger–her right thumb–on her iPhone. Her husband, John, shows big, devoted love as he cares for her while working full time and rounding up their children ages 9, 11 and 15, plus the dog.
This book is not about dying. It’s a beautiful tribute to living with purpose. Susan proves to be a strong, determined, wise and witty woman. Her journey will make you want to do something special with your family and friends right now. Until I Say Goodbye will make you laugh and cry (just a little).
John Wendel, Susan’s husband, answered some questions for me about his family’s journey. Currently, he lovingly takes care of Susan.
KK: Do you have a mantra that has helped you cope in this difficult time that might provide inspiration to other parents in your shoes?
JW: My mantra is, “Be happy.” I figure if she (Susan) can be happy, I can be happy. Very early on Susan decided to “live with joy.” It may sound simple, a bit hokey even, but it gets us through. Being happy isn’t like flipping a light switch. It’s hard. An interviewer once asked Susan, “How do you live with joy?” Her answer: You try.
KK: What was the most surprising thing you learned about your family during this ordeal?
JW: I think what surprised me most is the resilience that our children have shown. Susan and I didn’t rush to tell the kids of her diagnosis. Why drop the bomb on them? The progress of her disease was so slow and nearly imperceptible that they didn’t seem to notice that Susan went from healthy and fit to unable to move and barely able to speak. When they did ask if Mommy is going to die, I answered simply and honestly. I think they already knew the answer, but were just confirming. Their responses have been very matter of fact and accepting — like their mother’s. In fact my 11-year-old son Aubrey recently told me that one of his teachers had spoken to the class about our situation on a day that he was absent from school. Aubrey was upset and told me that he knows what’s happening to mommy and doesn’t need any special treatment from the other kids at school.
KK: What was Susan’s favorite memory from the cruise she took with her sister?
JW: Susan said that the best part of the cruise was the opportunity for her and Stephanie to just talk without any interruptions or distractions. Even though we lived on the same street as Stephanie, it seemed that kids, work, and crazy schedules kept them from having any time alone to just talk.
KK: How do you communicate what is happening to your children? Do you have any advice to offer others in a similar position to you?
JW: Before we communicated anything to the children, Susan and I talked with each other about what would be best. We also sought the advice of counselors. We knew we wanted to be honest with them. The counselors advised us that the children would ask when they were ready. Many friends and relatives seemed concerned that we hadn’t sat the kids down and had “the talk” with them. Our philosophy was that they were going to have their worlds turned upside down regardless. Why not let them go along blissfully unaware as long as we could. As it turned out we never really had to have “the talk”. They asked. I answered, and that was that. They asked two follow up questions: How much longer will she live, and is it contagious?
My advice to anyone in a similar situation would be to seek advice from a counselor, have a plan, and be honest.
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ALS, Caribbean cruise, experience of a lifetime, Getaway Contest, John Wendel, Lou Gehrig's Disease, Lou Gerhig's Disease, Princess Cruise, Susan Spencer-Wendel, Until I Say Goodbye | Categories:
Best Sellers, Memoirs, Mom Must Read, Must Read, Parenting Advice, Popular Books, Q&A With Authors