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I can’t remember if I’ve previously read The Catcher in the Rye, and therefore I’m not sure if I cheated when I put it here in “Books I Should Have Read Before.” When I opened it for what I thought was the first time, I vaguely remembered some details as if I’d dreamed them: Pencey Prep, the phonies, some ice skating. Maybe everyone was right when they answered my, “I”ve never read it!” claims with, “That’s impossible — they force you to.” “They,” of course, are our teachers, the ones who have made this assignment fiction for as far back as anyone can remember. I wonder if that’s why I can only remember fragments. Did I never finish it? Did I get bored halfway through because Holden, that prissy dip, couldn’t just man up and do his homework like I was every day? Whether I made it through to the end or not, it’s obvious why the book failed me then and why it probably fails so many other kids: it’s not a book for kids.
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A coworker of mine, when he heard I was having a little girl, and discovering that I was the owner of two dogs, told me about this book. 

“I read it every night to my daughter, who is allergic to dogs, but wants one so badly” said Dave.

“I ADORE this book,” said Jessica.

And I do. I was head over heels, from the very beginning:

“The end of Kate’s bed was a lonely place. Tiger the cat no longer slept there. Tiger died last winter, so there were only Kate’s two feet to keep each other company.”

Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones, or the still fresh wound of my favorite cat’s death last summer, but I’m not ashamed to say that before the book even properly started I was bawling in that most cathartic,  poignant way that we all need once in a while.

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baby-name-wizard2Those of you who read my other blog know that I have this thing about baby names.  I grew up with a really crappy last name, one that invites ridicule and snide remarks, and it is only now, when everyone I know is having a baby, that I realized how traumatic that was.  I implored them to think about their choices, to say them out loud, perhaps even go so far as to run it by a handy eight year old.  So far they have listened to my pleas and not branded their children with anything horrible, but it was touch and go there for a while.

In May I’m going to be an aunt for the first time, when my sister in law has a baby.  I’m very excited for her and my brother both (and for my two best friends who recently gave birth to Jacob and Dylan respectively).  They aren’t really talking names yet, until they know the gender, which is smart move (it removes half the names to fight over).   Like most other couples I know, Tim and I started that fight years ago and have since narrowed it down to a short list for each gender.  And I’m not even pregnant.

Since I’ve got my own future children taken care of, I’ve been thinking about names for my future niece or nephew, especially since my brother’s child may have my last name (poor thing!).  On a recent visit to my favorite independent bookstore, I found Baby Name Wizard in (obviously) the baby section, a place I heretofore did not visit in bookstores, but which, since everyone I know has gotten pregnant, has become like beckoning siren to me.

The first page had me hooked.  I love you Ms. Wattenberg!  Here is a woman who is so obsessed with baby names that she created a computer algorithm that puts names into families for easy cross referencing.  Created. Her Own. Algorithm.  It still gives me chills.

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david-sedaris1It might seem to you readers that Jesse, Devin and I can’t be on this blog together.  However, I can assure you that despite our Clark Kent/Supermanness, we are indeed different people.  Though with our glasses and our geekiness I can’t imagine which one of us would be Superman.  Jesse is more like Charles Xavier in his (sometimes scary) ability to read people. Devin is quite the enigma – she’d probably be the Invisible Woman.  And personally I have always leaned more toward being the Hulk.  But I digress. . .

I waited a while to post since I wanted Devin and Jesse to have some time center stage.  Recently and not so recently this blog has been entirely too much about me and my reading.  But now that they’ve had their fifteen minutes I’m stealing back the spotlight.  If they want it back they’ll have to read.  And post. 

Fitting then, that my post should be about David Sedaris, someone entirely self involved and constantly focused on where the spotlight is (and attempting to get it back where it belongs – on him). 

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“The Middle Place is about calling home. Instinctively. Even when all the paperwork — a marriage license, a notarized deed, two birth certificates, and seven years of tax returns — clearly indicates you’re an adult, but all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you’re still somebody’s daughter.”

So yeah, those little blurbs on the book jacket are supposed to make you buy the book.  But I’m stronger than that.  Maybe for most books, but this one pulls you into a big bear hug, like I imagine the author herself would do if I met her on the street.

I’m a huge fan of memoirs of “regular” people, by which I mean not Burroughs or James Frey but instead people like  Judy Blunt, Alison Smith or Abigail Thomas.  Woman with complicatedly simple lives which they live with extraordinary ordinariness.  Real people.  With real problems. 

I read memoirs because they contain that spark of surprise – someone is like me!I like reading things that feel instinctually right, even though when I hear them in my own head I fear they are oftentimes weird or wrong.  Call it my need for external validation but to see oneself in another is comforting, no matter who you are.

I was drawn to Kelly herself, but more importantly I was also drawn (as she said I would be; she’s so smart) to her father, George.  He reminded me a lot of my late grandfather or at least how I like to remember him.  At least I know that my mother felt similarly about her parents, her kind, easy going and fun-loving father and her capable, tough and pragmatic mother.  As Kelly suggests, if you want to feel good or need twenty bucks, go see George.  If you want something done, go see her mother.   I remember thinking the same about my grandparents.  My grandfather always had candy, though he was diabetic.  My grandmother always had advice, usually of the unwanted variety.

While my relationships with my parents are quite different, I do feel Kelly’s need to be someone’s daughter.  To know, that even when you are a parent yourself, there is someone in your corner willing to help you out.  That you don’t need to have all the answers because someone else does.  She thinks of this as a delaying of growing up, of staving off adulthood.  But I think it gets to the heart of familial relationships.  It’s certainly hard for parents to see their children as adults, but I think perhaps it’s harder for children to see themselves as such.  It’s such a relief to let someone else take control, to know that someone else is in charge.  It’s a dynamic that all children and parents work through.

Kelly’s story of her family and her life is inspiring and I don’t say that lightly.  She’s a real person with real fears and needs and triumphs.  I won’t tell you any specifics, because I expect you to go out and read it.  Now.  Because it was with regret that I put down this book. 

I’ve been reading like crazy lately, so it seems strange that I haven’t had time to blog.  It looks like I haven’t done anything, if I assume that anyone’s actually reading this.  I may have been quiet, but I was cranking through some serious bookage these past weeks.  Unlike the industry, which seems to think that summer reading is more prolific, winter is, for me, the best time to stay inside and warm, snuggle up with some good stories (besides I hate sand in my books).

Here’s a quick summary to keep you posted:

I’m not a huge fan of what may be called Chick Lit, but I did read two books lately which could be considered as such.  One is a charming little fantasy novel called Garden Spells.  Though it probably borrows too heavily from Like Water for Chocolate and often seems to be a new rendition of the terrible movie Simple Irresistible,  it is a cute read, worth it if you borrow it from the library or from a friend (sorry, I gave mine away already).    The other, is a deceptively simple novel called The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.  I read this book in an afternoon and enjoyed this story of two sisters and a granddaughter.  The Esme of the title resurfaces into society after 61 years in a mental institution, but it’s not about her reintroduction to the world, it’s about delving into the past to see how she got there in the first place.  The desultory ramblings of her sister, well within the iron fist of Alzheimer’s, adds the necessary counter opinion.  This book is good in the reading, but where it hits you is later, when you’ve put it down and tried to move on.  It just won’t leave you. I found myself thinking about the implications of this books for weeks afterward.  Is that what reviewers mean by “haunting?”

In retrospect it seems I was trying to cleanse all that estrogen by picking up Dennis Lehane next.  He’s someone I summarily dismissed for many years because he’s so popular and well, I’ve seen the movies.  But Sacred and A Drink Before the War were all the fun of watching a movie without the $10.00 ticket fee (or Sean Penn’s ugly mug).  Lehane obviously writes in a certain genre, with movie dialogue, but I can embrace a good PI story, especially one set in my home state. 

Finally I picked up Anna Quindlen.  I just finished her book Good Dog.  Stay. and of course bawled my eyes out when the dog dies (I didn’t ruin it for you, of course it’s coming).  I’ve decided I want her career of writing small books that capture people’s emotions.  How Reading Changed My Life isn’t so much about how it changed her life as how it forged her life.  In this Anna and I have much in common.  We’re both that girl who would rather squish into an over-sized armchair with a book about far off place, then squashed into a plane seat on our way to said faraway place.   She’s the kind of reader I was and am and will be and it’s good to know that there are more of us in the world.

I don’t usually have any embarrassment about what I’m reading in public.  One notable exception was when I realized that I was reading The Position while in the waiting room at a pediatrician’s office.  Oops.  Fortunately all the patients were too young to read (or were too enthralled with Sponge Bob).

Since I started reading it, I’ve been quietly tucking One Perfect Day away in certain company and deftly hiding the title when on the subway. I carry it back cover out as I walk down the street.

 I feel so guilty about hating weddings.  

No one wants to be that asshole who rains on someone’s parade.  And not just any parade – a wedding is the biggest ticker-tape, socially acceptable,  self-congratulatory parade we have in our society. No other event (except perhaps the birth of a child) holds so much sway over everyone.   

Hating weddings is like hating baseball, babies, apple pie or the Bush Administration. Admit it and you’re sure to be on a list of dissenters somewhere.  You’re considered the worst kind of anti-American.  You’re dangerous and must be stopped.

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Cover Image

 

Sometimes in a split-second, implusive decision you can pick up a book that is exactly what you are supposed to be reading at the very moment in your life.  Sometimes you find a book that you are ready to listen to, even though you wouldn’t normally be open to what it has to say to you.  You don’t, as usual, ignore the importance of the messages it contains.  You find the book just when you can use it most.

For me, now is that sometime.

Families are something we all struggle with, not matter how “good” or “bad” our upbringing and current situation.  There are conflicts and tensions so tightly interwoven with our psyches that some never know what are their own ideas and what is their reaciton to their family.  Creating our own families is likely the only thing scarier than dealing with the ones we already have.  Particularly if we feel insufficiently prepared, as most of us do.

Delving into these issues, this book addresses the question what is family?  And not surprisingly it does not give any answers.

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Jessica’s Reading

Jesse’s Reading

Jesse and Jessica are Both Reading

Devin’s Reading

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