Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mary Karr, LIT

Unlike BOSSYPANTS (see previous blog entry), I did NOT read this memoir in two hours on the plane ride home. It is a brilliant, poetic, and at times harrowing account of Karr's early adulthood, post-college, marriage, first five years of motherhood, and years of drinking and getting sober (several times over). "Lit" in the title means both "literature" and "drunk," and the two categories of experience are profoundly intertwined. I'd put this in my top 5 for this year so far. I liked it better than Glass Castle or Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight or Dry--and I loved all those.


A very very fun read, and just what you'd expect from Fey. She's willing to show pictures of her terrible shag haircut and tell ridiculous stories about her childhood (the one about getting her period and not knowing what it was--because she thought it was blue like laundry detergent--that's what the ads on TV made it look like--that story made me howl). But she also sketches portraits of people she loves, makes light of how hard she works, fesses up to her worries and mistakes, and pretty well lays waste to those who sustain the sexism in her industry. I read it in two hours on the plane ride home, quick and enjoyable.

Friday, March 29, 2013


Sandberg, the COO of Facebook (and formerly a top exec at Google), has written an inspiring, engaging book that challenges women to recognize, examine and question the ways they unconciously hold themselves back--the way they keep themselves away from the discussion table instead of leaning in, the way they hesitate instead of jumping in. She mixes research with anecdote; there's something of Malcolm Gladwell's style to it. Most of what she has to say is very smart, although some of what she has discovered along the way (her "aha" moments) seem a bit simplistic (like when there are two people in a room, they each have a separate, but valid truth). I have to say that her story about coming from a high school in Florida ("think Fast Times at Ridgemont High") to Harvard resonated and made me laugh: she tells about how she's sitting in a class and the professor asks them if they've read two books--I think they were the Odyssey and the Aeneid; a bunch of kids raise their hands (she doesn't). Then he asks if they've read them in the original. The original what? she wonders. That was so like my experience ... getting to Cornell just miles and miles behind other students.
But I loved the book, tore through it in an evening. I think it should be required reading for all young women, somewhere around age 20, as they're beginning to find their place in the world and claim their autonomy. I'll ask my daughter to read it eventually.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


I have to confess I was both fascinated and horrified by the premise of this book--that a mother, concerned about her 7-year-old's weight (she is medically obese) puts her on a rigorous and rigid diet, with red light, yellow light, green light foods and constant monitoring of weight, calories, portion sizes, and the foods she eats on playdates. By the end of the year, the 8-year-old girl has lost the weight to bring her to the borderline of normal/overweight; and she can name the calorie count for every food in the camp cafeteria.

Ok, so I need to own my backstory here. I wrestled with my weight until my 30s, when I came around to thinking that diets don't work (for me--and according to some statistics, approximately 97% of the people in America who diet gain it all back) and when I read most of Geneen Roth's work (as well as books by other writers and therapists who think food is too intimately tied up with issues of femininity, power, deprivation, and emotional drama to solve with simple calorie counts). So I began this book by thinking that I am worried for this daughter. She's being set up for an emotional relationship with food; an eating disorder; a perpetual obsession with food ...

But I think Weiss makes an interesting point--that society needs to open up about this issue and face the fact that there is no winning until we start having honest, extended, non-judgmental conversations about childhood obesity. The fact is, Weiss was damned for letting her daughter become overweight and then damned for trying to do something about it. And that's pretty crazy. My heart went out to her when this became clear. 

I did find myself wondering, if she'd read Roth (or any of the other theorists about emotional eating--and she may have, but she does not mention them anywhere), if she might have found a different approach. But I applaud her willingness to share her experience. She doesn't ever say that "this is the way to deal with your child's weight issue"; she is very good about claiming her experience as her own without foisting it off as a solution for anyone else. This is a very readable, humble, and intimate memoir about loving a child and trying to do the best she can. God knows I've made plenty of parenting mistakes myself and am always glad to hear I'm not the only one who's not sure what the heck I'm doing. 

Erin Morgenstern, THE NIGHT CIRCUS

A fanciful, entertaining, imaginative read, set in late Victorian England (mostly ... although the circus travels by magic train all over the world, so we end up in cities from Budapest to Boston). Two children, Marco and Celia, who are pitted against each other by two master-manipulators, grow up to be extraordinary magicians; alas, it's a contest to the death and they fall in love with each other. I confess that at times I found the descriptions of the circus overly elaborate, and the inventions almost too clever. At other times, conversations that felt important were glossed. But there are some great characters--particularly the secondary characters of the circus, a very entertaining bunch. I'd love to have dinner with them : )

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Andrew Miller, PURE

1785 Paris. A young, ambitious engineer named Jean-Baptiste Baratte is commissioned to remove all the bones from the cemetary Les Innocents in the middle of Paris to the outskirts. A broad cast of characters and some brilliant writing. My favorite description of a man's visage: "Two black nails hammered into a skull." This is not a plot-driven book; but it's a book to savor. Won the Costa Best Novel Award 2011.

Ruta Sepetys, OUT OF THE EASY

A very good YA, set in 1950s French Quarter, New Orleans. Seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine's mother is a prostitute who's as narcissistic and selfish and foolish as they come. So Josie's grown up early, with the help of Willie (the benevolent Madame) and a few other interesting characters (generous older man, kind prostitutes who look out for her). Man comes to town, ends up murdered--and Josie's mother has something to do with it. With the help of an Uptown girlfriend, Josie discovers that she wants to go to college, far away from the Big Easy; and while the obstacles are somewhat predictable, the book doesn't take the easy way out. Loved this one.

Alex Grecian, THE YARD

A good first mystery novel, set in my fave time period ... late 1800s London. Plenty of sordidness ... dead bodies hacked to pieces and put in chests, corruption, a medical man on the verge of figuring out fingerprints, a twisted tailor, abused children ... but at times the plot felt unwieldy, too many Inspectors running around, duplicating their roles. But a fun read, lots of historical detail.