The Potty Mouth At the Table

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I like to laugh, so I decided to read a Laurie Notaro book. It’s really that simple.

I have only read one other book by Notaro,There’s a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell: A Novel of Sewer Pipes, Pageant Queens, and Big Trouble, and it was funny. It was REALLY funny. So I figured if Notaro’s fiction is that hilarious, her memoir stuff was going to be even better.

Plus people told me, her memoir stuff is even better.

So I picked the most recently published of all of them,The Potty Mouth at the Table despite the fact that all the GoodReads snobs users seemed to think this was not her best.

If this is not her best? I need to make sure I am not drinking anything while I read her earlier stuff because liquid WILL come out of my nose.

Potty Mouth is a collection of personal essays that made me say to my husband, “I am pretty sure this sort of thing only happens to extremely funny people who can tell a good story. Otherwise these sorts of things would be lost. Why have someone get in a cab with someone with the worst breath ever if they can’t weave that into a story that makes you gag and laugh your face off?”

The essays range in topic from opera about Anne Frank to lists of the worst Foodie words and phrases ever. Because I was constantly chuckling out loud, I ended up reading a bunch of it out loud to Cortney. He loves when I do that. Ok he does not really love it, and he usually doesn’t really listen, but this time he actually chucked too and said, “what book is that?”

It’s totally a quick, easy read too. I basically read it over a weekend. And it was a busy weekend, so take it to the beach or to the pool or even just to the couch and get your giggle on.

Then come back here and thank me.

And you’re welcome in advance.

What authors make you giggle right out loud?

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I bought the book myself. The links are affiliate though and if you purchase the book through one of those links I may some day earn enough to buy one of my children something from the ice cream truck. No. Nevermind. That thing is creepy.

Open Boxes by Christine Organ

Book coverThe book Open Boxes by Christine Organ is not just another feel-good book meant to tell you how to connect with your inner spiritual flower child. It is an inspirational collection of essays that demonstrates how our every day lives are filled with beautiful grace, amazing wonder, and incredible miracles.

I will admit when I read the description of the book, I figured it would be one of those hippie-dippie books that gives me instruction about how I can meditate and self-love my way into a happier, calmer life. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it wasn’t so much didactic as it was inspirational.

Organ postulates that our lives are like a series of tightly sealed, organized boxes that we file away, keeping separated from other parts of our lives. In order to lead a more connected, spiritually peaceful life, we should open those boxes and make connections. She organizes the personal essays in the book into the three ways she imagines the boxes being opened and shared: Grace, Wonder, and Miracles.

Early in my reading, I found myself grabbing for my pencil, marking up the book as I read, dog-earring pages to come back to. Rarely do I identify so much with someone else’s spiritual journey. Mine has always felt very unique in that it all took place–is taking place–in my own head. Organ’s journey is very similar in that she embraces her doubts.

“We have doubts and questions. We see inconsistencies, and there are times when we don’t know what to believe. But there is no shame in admitting the presence of spiritual doubts. In fact, acknowledging doubts is a critical part of an authentic faith” (73).

She also recognizes the need to be vulnerable and take chances in order to be our best and produce our best. I struggle with this in my writing as well as in my teaching, mothering, and wife-ing I know that in order to do the great things I have dreamed about my whole life, I have to open myself up. I have to allow mistakes and criticism. But it’s so hard. Organ says, “The prickliness of vulnerability is a touch of pain accompanied by the feeling of freedom that comes from having done something truly authentic, personal, and unabashed” (61).

The other areas of the book, Wonder and Miracles, are no less inspiring.

“Sometimes the weight of wonder is just too much, the awe too overwhelming, for me to grasp” (127).

From her faith journey to her struggles with vulnerability to her miscarriage and learning to embrace self-care, I kept finding more ways to personally connect with Organ. But probably the most significant connection I felt to her was in the way she describes wonder and miracles.

Every day I marvel in wonder at a million things, but at the top of the list are my children. Not a day goes by that I don’t run my fingers over Alice’s sleeping face or Charlie’s fingers or through Eddie’s hair. The fact that I have them is a miracle, and watching them grow and learn is a wonder.

She even touches on prayer in the Miracles section, but it’s not in the way you think. Organ does not talk about times she prayed for miracles and they happened.  Nope. Instead she discusses the “tricky” nature of prayer–who is it really for? What is it supposed to do? She muses that prayer is not for changing circumstances, but for giving the person doing the praying a different perspective on those circumstances. For providing a peace. She even likens prayer to a form of therapy.

I could go on and on. This book is beautiful. I personally connected to so much. Not everything, but enough that it kept me reading and nodding and marking up the pages with “ME TOO!”

If you are in a funk emotionally or spiritually, I recommend Open Boxes. Even if you are not, it’s a lovely read that will reaffirm what you know and help you to believe in the miracles and wonder of this world we live in, this life we have been graced with. It will help you mentally open boxes and see all the ways we are all connected.

Open Boxes is available at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, nor are the links affiliate links. I was sent a copy of the book to read and review, but all opinions are my own.

The Shakespeare Conspiracy

51OXR+YUIIL._UY250_I’ve mentioned before that part of my story as a reader includes the years I was into mysteries. I haven’t really picked up a good murder mystery since Dan Browns’ The Da Vinci Code, so I was ready for one.  Plus, mysteries are just good quick summer reads.

I was sent a copy of The Shakespeare Conspiracy by Jeffrey Hunter McQuain to read and review which is perfect because A) mystery and B) Shakespeare!

Christopher Klewe and his best friend Mason Everly, a fellow Shakespeare expert, were about to make a ground-breaking announcement regarding the Bard at The Globe Theater in London when Klewe finds out Everly has been murdered in Washington D.C. by a secret society. As Klewe finds out about the murder a reporter, Zelda Hart, loiters around and ends up joining him as he searches for answers about the killer. The search leads the pair from D.C. to Paris, London, and Stratford Upon Avon.

I will admit that when I started reading the book, I found the names of the characters pretty cheesy, but as I continued to read, I really didn’t care. The Shakespeare Conspiracy is just a great, traditional murder-mystery that keeps you turning pages. All the chapters are super short, but end on some sort of cliff-hanger that makes you say, “eh, what is one more chapter? They’re short!” Before you know it, you’ve blown through the whole book in a matter of days.

McQuain has a PhD in Literary Studies from American University and is an expert himself on The Bard. The information he injects in the story is fascinating and helps to move the plot along. The information both Everly and Klewe have about Shakespeare and the announcement they planned to make about him is fed to the reader as it is fed to Zelda via Klewe. Like other historical or literary conspiracy-based fictional mysteries, this one is chocked full of research, but it’s not weighted down by it.

The only part I find lacking (besides the goofy names) is that the characters lack an emotional connection. The reader gets that there are friendships and romantic feelings, but it isn’t done very well. It’s not distracting, however, since few murder mysteries focus on the emotions, rather they feed on the logic of the reader.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it as an easy, light summer read. Especially if you want to learn a little something about one of the world’s greatest writers.

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. The book was sent to me for review, but the opinions are all mine. Links are affiliate which means if you click and buy I will get a few dimes thrown my way.

Jeneration X by Jen Lancaster

Oh my 518L04RBZJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_goodness I needed to read some Jen Lancaster. It seems like everything I have been reading has either been a super heavy topic or it’s long or it’s serious nonfiction.

I’ve read everything she’s written up to about 2012, so I went out and bought Jeneration X: One Reluctant Adult’s Attempt to Unarrest her Arrested Development; Or, Why It’s Never Too Late For her Dumb Ass to Learn Why Froot Loops Are Not For Dinner. I need to catch up with my Jen Lancaster.

I’m not usually a chick lit person, and I still stand behind Lancaster books not being chick lit. You know, other than I can’t imagine any guy ever wanting to read it. But she doesn’t write mushy gross romances, and she makes me laugh right out loud. So she is one of my favorites.

Just like all her memoirs, Jeneration X is a fast read. Instead of telling one long story like her previous autobiographical works, this one is more of a collection of essays all with some sort of lesson for “reluctant adults.”  Since I consider myself one of the most reluctant of adults, I figured I would either learn something (HA HA HA) or laugh a lot (YES). I laughed a lot.

Long-time fans have criticized this book as seeming like a bunch of blog posts bound together in a book, and yes, I suppose it could seem like that. But really they are essays, not blog posts. And they all have some sort of (loose) lesson about adulthood. And everyone one of them is told hilariously.

Even the posts that are about more serious lessons like estate planning and how friends are your family don’t take the serious, preachy turn they could. No, no. Lancaster would never do that. Rather she makes you laugh, nod your head and say “for sure” about whatever it is she is talking about.

If you need a quick, funny weekend read, I suggest anything by Jen Lancaster.

Apron Strings

apron-strings-newcover-351x351I love historical fiction. Some of my favorite books fall under this genre: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Red Tent, East of Eden, among many more. So when I was offered the chance to read/review a book that goes between the late 20’s/early 30’s era and the late 1950’s, I jumped on it.

Apron Strings by Mary Morony tells two stories. The main story is told by seven-year-old Sallee Mackey growing up in the late 50’s, in the South, smack in the middle of desegregation. Sallee’s family has their share of issues. Her Yankee father, Joe, quit his job as a lawyer to build and open a controversial shopping center. Her Southern mother, Ginny, is concerned about what people are saying and copes by drinking. And their maid, Ethel, who has been with Ginny and the family since childhood and has been Sallee’s touchstone and mother figure when her own mother couldn’t, has her own personal and family problems.

The other story is told by Ethel, the Mackey family’s black maid. Morony’s novel jumps back and forth between Sallee’s voice telling a first person account of her family and Ethel’s first person account (which seems to be directed at Sallee) about growing up and working for Sallee’s mother’s family.

I very much enjoyed Morony’s writing. I felt that she captured the confused and often times naive voice of a seven-year-old trying to make sense of racism and the judgment of adults very well. In fact, she seemed to capture all the voices of her characters well. I get skeptical when a white person writes a black character, but Ethel and her family members seemed to have dialect that would fit both the time and location for the story.

I think my one issue was, that after I read the last line and closed the book, I wondered what story I just read. I enjoyed reading it all the way through, but when I got to the end I wasn’t sure what the main take away of the book was supposed to be. Both Sallee’s and Ethel’s stories were interesting and fun to read, but that is all it felt like, just the life stories of two different people. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a statement against racism or drinking. Or maybe it was about the importance of family. It felt like maybe it was trying to do too much at once with a lot of characters that didn’t all seem necessary.

For instance, Sallee’s weird neighbor Mr. Dabney shows up in Ethel’s stories. We find something out about him, but I thought it would have a lot more relevance to the story. It did not. It didn’t seem to effect the outcome of the book at all, but I found it interesting. Like real life, I suppose.

So I feel like I am in a weird position. On the one hand, I very much enjoyed reading the writing and the stories these characters had to tell. On the other hand, I’m not sure all the characters or the details were necessary to the story as a whole. I wouldn’t tell anyone to NOT read it because it’s a nice little read, but I don’t know that it’s the first thing I would recommend to someone looking for a new read either.

I will say that in the end, I do wonder what happens to Sallee after the book is over. I wonder about all her siblings and her parents too. That is the mark of a good story and good writing.

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I was sent a copy of Apron Strings to read and review. I received no compensation. All the opinions are my own.

Gone Girl

21480930I picked up Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn completely due to peer pressure. That and I like a good mystery/suspense novel.

My mom got me hooked on mysteries when I was in middle school. By the time I was in seventh grade, I had read all that was available to me by way of Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High and all the other series that were aimed at my age group. I needed something more challenging.  That was when my mom introduced me to Agatha Christie. It didn’t take me long to read through ALL of Christie’s novels. More than once.

By high school, I needed something else. My cousin introduced me to Mary Higgins Clark and from there I also found John Grisham. I haven’t picked up too many mystery/suspense books since then, although when a good one comes along, I try to get to it.

That being said, I wasn’t going to read Gone Girl because I don’t tend to like books with a lot of hype. But everyone hated the ending and everyone was so mad when they finished, so of course I figured, “well now I have to read it because I will probably like the ending…or at least be able to defend it,” because I am snobby and full of myself that way.

Ok so I started it and I was bored to tears. It took me forever to get through the first third of the book. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters–not enough to care about them or root for them or anything. The story is an old one: wife goes missing; husband is a suspect; reader tries to figure out if he’s guilty before the book tells you. The challenge is to keep it interesting, which it was NOT for the first part of the novel. I liked that every other chapter bounced between first person accounts from the husband and the wife–his present-day thoughts and her past-tense thoughts from her diary, but it wasn’t enough. I quit the book.

I told all this to a friend of mine who then asked, “Well what part are you up to?” When I told her she replied, “Oh stuff is about to BLOW UP. Start reading again!”

She was right. I read another chapter and then BOOM! Plot twists and turns and bombs dropped. Just when you think you know what’s going on? Nope.  So I started binge reading.

Then I got all bored again once I knew what happened to the wife.

By the time I got within a few chapters of the end of the book, I totally knew how it was going to end, but I couldn’t put it down because this book had just enough surprises that even though I thought I knew, I wasn’t sure I knew. Ya know? I ended up being mostly right about the end, but I wasn’t angry like everyone else was.

I didn’t think the ending was “fair”, but it didn’t surprise me.

In fact, I likened Gone Girl to The Great Gatsby in the following ways: it’s sort of a boring basic plot, none of the characters are likable–or trustworthy, for that matter, and the ending pretty much makes you mad because that is NOT how it’s supposed to go.

The difference is that The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels of all time particularly because I know so much about Fitzgerald’s process and his writing style/word choice make my literature nerd heart happy. Gone Girl, on the other hand has Ok writing, but it’s not enough to make me want to re-read and love to hate the characters the way I do with Tom, Nick, and Daisy.

I’m not mad that I gave in and read Gone Girl, and despite this review, I would actually recommend that if you haven’t read it, maybe you should. I do want to see the movie too.

Talk to me: have you read it? Have you seen the movie?  Thoughts?

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry

91hvgvo-tlI love to read books that are super good, but are not the ones that are being talked about all over Facebook and the Today show. The ones that someone recommends to you because they loved it, but whenever you ask anyone else if they’ve read it, they say no.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin came to me in church. A friend came up to me with it and said, “Hey Katie, our book club just finished this book and I just think you will really like it. I always think of you and your classroom when I read a really good book and want to pass it along.”

I was busy reading The Giver and Animal Farm and getting ready to plan out those units before I went on maternity leave, so I put it on my To Read pile. Just before Alice was born, I picked it up and totally got hooked.

The title character, A.J. Fikry, reminds me a lot of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, only literary instead of sciencey. He is the ornery, particular, owner of the only bookstore on Alice Island, Massachusetts.  As a middle-aged widow (his beautiful, care-free wife died in a car accident), he talks to few and is rude to many.  Then a series of strange things happen–an almost priceless Edgar Allen Poe piece is stolen, a “package” shows up in his store–that change his life.

The book is separated into chapters with titles the same as short stories–which Fikry claims to prefer over novels–and a brief synopsis of what the short story is about.  Literature nerds like myself will appreciate all the literary references and allusions not just from the chapter title pages, but throughout the entire novel. And as cliche as it sounds, I really can’t give away more of the plot because it would ruin the magic of it unfolding for you.

It’s a quick read–especially if you do lean more toward the literary–but it’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking, if that is possible. There are times when you totally see what’s coming, but it’s not a bad thing. And then there are times when you are blindsided and you want it to be all cliche and happy.

I found The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry  to be the perfect read for helping me relax in the evenings as my csection date with Alice approached, and then for the evenings in the hospital before I went to sleep. It wasn’t too heavy, but it wasn’t just fluff either.

Because this book straddled my time between pregnant with Alice and her first week home, I’ll always remember it fondly.

Have you read this one? What are you reading right now?

 

Get The Behavior You Want…{Review}

51WlU9RnZLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I totally never read parenting books.

Ok that is a lie. I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting cover to cover when I was pregnant with Eddie. It was like my Bible.  And then his birth and everything was absolutely nothing like what I was told to “expect” and I chucked that book. I also bought a book about sleep training when Eddie was a baby who wouldn’t sleep (because colic and crazy baby!) and I wanted to stab the author, so I chucked that book too.

And then I stopped reading parenting books.

I may have parenting book PTSD. Whatever.

I do, however, love my friends with medical/nursing degrees. I try not to abuse our relationship by constantly texting or messaging them about ailments I or my family members may have. I’d like to publicly thank them and apologize to them for the pictures I’ve sent of rashes and/or the gross descriptions I have typed out.

Anyway, one of these friends happens to be the internet-famous Dr G. I call her Debi, but she Dr. Deborah Gilboa, MD. to you, and she wrote a book called Get the Behavior You Want…Without Being the Parent You HateAnd I read it…and LIKED it.

Even though I have little kids, I read the parts about tweens and teens too because, well, my boys WILL be that age someday. But really, more immediately, my students are that age. Since I have never taught 13-year olds before, I want to try to understand them a little better. No, I am not their parent, but man a LOT of my day revolves around behavior.

The book is set up to be extremely user-friendly. There are four major parts: one on respect, one on responsibility, one on resilience, and one on implementing the changes. In each of those sections there are numerous short, easy to read, chapters.  It is the complete opposite of daunting. In fact, when reading a book by an MD, the reader usually expects some jargon or medical terms to be thrown at them. Dr. G keeps it very simple and easy to understand. It’s much more like chatting with a friend than talking with a doctor. Yet at the same time, she keeps it very professional and because of her credentials, you know she can be trusted and relied on to give good advice.

One of my favorite sections was the one on resilience. We have had a lot of death in our lives and we have always been as honest as we can with Eddie (and now Charlie) about it. Some people have questioned why I would tell a 5-year old that his Papa died of cancer, but ever since he was small we talked about how Papa lived in heaven, then that he had died, and now that he died because of cancer. As he gets older and asks questions, we answer them as honestly and simply as we can.  This chapter reinforced how important it is for our kids to experience failure, grief, and loss.  It TOTALLY sucks, but it’s a part of life and if they can learn to be resilient from early on, they will probably be better at coping, and hopefully more empathetic to other people, as they get older.

There are a million tips and wise words I could share that I have underlined or marked, but really, you should read the book. If you are a parent, it’s a must-read, but I think even if you don’t have your own kids, but are a childcare provider, teacher, aunt, uncle, grandparent, etc. it’s a good book to have on hand.

The main message is right there in the title: you don’t have to be a giant jerk of a parent to have kind, well-adjusted kids. You don’t have to yell and lose your mind to have your kids behave.

Rare Bird {book review}

I must be in a memoir and memoir-style mood.

After reading the fictionalized memoir of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, I read a very real memoir by a good friend who lost her 12-year old son Jack in a freak accident.

Anna is the writer behind An Inch of Gray who wrote about life and refurbishing old furniture until the day her son was swept down a raging river and her world changed.

Continue Reading…

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Over spring break Cortney and I took Eddie to Chicago. We went to some of the typical fun tourist things like Shedd Aquarium and the Lincoln Park Zoo. While Eddie was swimming in the hotel pool (on the top floor), Cortney noticed a little new/used bookstore a couple blocks downs from our hotel. The next night, after dinner–and a few beers–Cortney suggested we walk to the bookstore. And then he bought us each one book.

ONE BOOK!

How do you decide on just one book when you are standing in an old, creaky building filled with words?

So I scoured the shelves.

I picked things up. At some point I had 10 books in my arms.

In the end, I chose Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I really didn’t know anything about the book other than I saw on Facebook that a group of friends had read it and discussed it and they liked it.

And the cover looked interesting.  Sometimes it’s just that simple.

Continue Reading…

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