Books I read this week: January week 5

These are the books I read this week.

hands free

Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters! is one of the books that I bought this month. One of my resolutions for the year is to spend less time in front of the computer and on my phone, and this book was a good kick in the pants. There’s nothing revolutionary in here- put the phone down, connect with your kids while you’re waiting for things rather than pulling out the phone, figure out why you’re seeking a distraction, figure out what’s really behind your frustration- but it’s really good, common sense stuff, and it’s written well. It’s intended to be read and used over a year, but I just read it straight through and found it very useful. A new mantra:

To notice the good-always the good-before anything else… and above all else.

 

greta wells

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer is a great example of why I’m trying to read the books I have rather than buy new ones. This book hasn’t been on the Haunted Kindle that long, but I saw it earlier in the week and could not, for the life of me, remember what it was about or why I bought it. So I looked it up and realized that it in fact looked fascinating, and that was why I originally bought it, and started reading it.

The story begins with Greta, who lives in the 1980s and whose twin brother Felix has recently died of AIDS. During his illness, she has neglected her long time lover Nathan, who has an affair and then leaves both his new lover and then Greta. Greta falls into a deep depression that medication and therapy can’t touch, so her doctor prescribes electroconvulsive (a modern word for electroshock that “doesn’t sound better”) therapy.  After her first treatment she finds herself in an alternate version of her life- in 1918. She is still herself, with her same memories from 1980, but she has taken the place of the Greta who lives this life. 1918 Greta has also started having electroshock treatments, and the next treatment sends 1980s Greta into yet another alternate life, this time in 1941. Each subsequent treatment sends her, and the other versions of herself, cycling through these three different lives, so she gets to live in an alternate life until the next treatment, when she goes to another, and then back to her own. There are obviously differences in each life, but Felix, Nathan,  Greta’s aunt Ruth, and a young man named Leo all play a part in each one to different degrees.  There are parallels in all of the lives; war in 1918 and 1945 and the AIDS epidemic in the 80s which all took the lives of a slew of young men, grief from loss, infidelity, loyalty, love.  Greta comes to realize that there are fundamental pieces of a person that don’t change, regardless of circumstance, and tries to use her knowledge of the people she loves to help them in the other lives. It really is a fantastic book, I really really enjoyed it.  A couple of quotes, the first to give you a sense of the style, the second  which has had me thinking since I read it:

My aunt sat very still and regarded me with the simplicity of someone who is deciding whether to take you either very seriously, or not seriously at all; there is no halfway anymore.

There is a truth that everyone knows but you. Each of us has it, no one is immune. Not a secret, not a scandal, but something simple and obvious to everyone else. It can be as simple as losing weight, or as difficult as leaving a husband. How awful, to sense that everybody knows the thing that would change your life, and yet no one is friend enough to tell you! You are left to guess, all by yourself. Until the moment comes when it reveals itself to you, and of course this revelation always comes a moment too late.

 

language

The Language Inside by Holly Thompson is another book that I just bought, and it made me realize that I don’t think that books about Japan are going to count in my resolution. I am all about loopholes.

Anyway. This book is gorgeous. It’s about Emma, an Caucasian teenager who has lived almost her whole life in Japan. So when, just after the 2011 earthquake, her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer and the family has to move to the States for her treatments, Emma is understandably upset to be leaving her home. In the States, no one at her new school understands why she says she’s from Japan, and why she’d rather be back there, helping her best friend’s extended family deal with the destruction of their homes, because she is home, and why isn’t she happy about that?

Add to all of this debilitating migranes brought on by the stress of culture shock and her mom’s diagnosis, a new volunteer position helping a quadriplegic woman write poetry, and an unclearly defined relationship with a new male friend, and Emma’s got a lot on her plate.

There are so many lovely themes running through the book- Emma feels that the language inside of her (Japanese) doesn’t match the outside (English); Zena, the paralyzed woman she helps, has no outside language unless someone is there to notice her eye movements; Samnang, Emma’s friend, feels trapped by his Cambodian heritage and wants to be more American. There are themes about feeling betrayed by your body, of struggling to communicate, of coming to terms with a new situation.

The book is written in verse, which fits, as one of the main elements of the book is poetry and its role in expression. A lovely, heartbreaking moment :

but later we learned

that the first floor of her grandparents’ house

was ruined

one cousin’s school

was gone

one uncle’s fishing boat

was gone

one uncle’s factory

was gone

one aunt’s sister

was gone

one uncle’s wife

was gone

and the list

of gone

went on

and on

I should note that while it’s in verse, it doesn’t rhyme- I just realized that passage makes it look like it does. Anyway, it’s beautiful and you should read it.

life

I had planned on reading Life After Life by Kate Atkinson right after The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells because it seemed like the themes would work well together. And they kind of do- while the idea of Impossible Lives is one woman in different lives, Life After Life is one woman in the same life, over and over again. Ursula is born, and dies during her delivery. Then she is born again, and this time the doctor makes it in time. At five years old she drowns in the ocean. Then she is reborn and lives the same life again, but this time an onlooker saves her. And it continues. It’s an interesting idea, and it was working for me, until Ursula started to subconsciously remember her previous lives and act to change events. I don’t know why that pushed it too far for me, but it did. But I kept reading, because the writing is good, and it was on a ton of “best of 2013” lists, so I figured I’d keep at it. And then, about 25% through the book, after a number of deaths and rebirths,

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

sixteen year old Ursula gets raped by a friend of her brother’s, and is possibly pregnant, and I was done. Not because it was done poorly- it wasn’t- it was just so sad. And though I’m assuming that in another time or two through that experience she’ll do something to change it, I don’t want to read it. My feelings about it are complicated and it’s hard to make statements when I haven’t finished reading the book, so I don’t want to make assumptions about what the author does or doesn’t succeed in doing in regards to that, I will just say that it’s not for me right now. So I’m moving on.

I just started Oh, Dear Silvia by Dawn French, which I’m only pages into, but am enjoying greatly. 

So that’s 11 books finished this month (4508 pages, because I’m randomly keeping track of that), and 2 that have fallen by the wayside. (I’m not keeping track of those pages read- perhaps a flaw in this plan.)  I’ve bought 4 Kindle books and 2 physical books, and put 19 books on my wishlist. Overall I think I’m succeeding in the spirit of my readolution. We’ll see how it goes as the next month starts.

Here are links to the previous weeks’ posts, if you missed them:
January Week 1
January Week 2

January Week 3

January Week 4

What are you reading?

 

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