This month flew by.
Suddenly, I am standing here on the cusp of 2018 wondering where the time went and how it is I started the year in sunny Arizona and am ending here in (thankfully) sunny North Carolina.
2018 is upon us.
One of the highlights of the year has been reading. I committed to reading more a few years ago, after becoming friends with two other moms who had serious reading habits and showed me that I did, in fact, have time to read stacks of books amidst the rest of my life. I've been slowly building up my reading habit since, and this month I got some quality quiet time even with all of the hustle and bustle of my daughter's rehearsals for The Nutcracker, out-of-town guests, school holiday parties, a sick kid and the holidays.
I read five books this month, one of which was The False Prince. That was a Maggie-read, and I liked the book plenty (fast-paced action and hero's journey) but loved reading it with her even more. We chatted and talked in-depth about the book; any window I can get into her 12-year-old world is a blessing for me. I'm glad we're doing books instead of some of the YouTube stars she watches instead. :)
The books I read on my own include:
Buddha's Diet: The Ancient Art of Losing Weight Without Losing Your Mind (Tara Cottrell, Dan Zigmond)
Death Comes for the Archbishop (Willa Cather)
Stay With Me (Ayobami Adebayo)
I Liked My Life (Abby Fabiaschi)
I liked (sometimes loved) all four of these books, each for different reasons.
Stay With Me was such a beautiful, tragic and rich story. I loved the story itself but also diving into a world so different from my own, to a new country, culture and perspective on life. The story takes place in Nigeria, and so many times as I listened (on Audible), I stopped and sat with the picture in my head, woven tight and neat with Adebayo's prose and descriptions. It was hard for me to remember this is her first novel. The story (about a woman who is unable to have children in a culture that expects large families and allows men to take multiple wives) was bold and heartbreaking and tender at all the right times. It would have been easy to make this overly dramatic or heavy in a way that feels cloying, but Adebayo always managed to side-step that tendency and to make it only human, never contrived. I can feel this story will stay with me (ugh...that is not an intended play on words) in a way other stories won't. I think this is because of the cultural context of the story, the richness of the images and the tone of the novel, haunting, yes, but not manipulative.
Verdict: 4 stars (out of 5)
Next I finally finished I Liked My Life (Abby Fabiaschi), which was recommended to me by a friend in the spring. I've had it on my bedside table for about 6 months, and these past few weeks I finally dug in hard. At first, it was difficult for me to get into this book because I didn't care for any of the characters. The plot revolves around a teenage girl whose mother just committed suicide. The story is told from the POV of the daughter, the mother herself (dead) and the father. Why did this seemingly happy, wealthy woman who lived a comfortable, pleasant life jump from the library of Wellesley College? At first, I didn't care. The daughter was cliched in her selfish teenage angst. The husband was a cardboard cutout of any successful professional man: workaholic, emotionally unreachable, blah, blah, blah.
But slowly, I began to like the characters, perhaps as they themselves changed in grappling with the death of their mother/wife. I began to notice witty/sharp/clever writing, which I always appreciate. I began to look forward to the read, and I won't lie in saying I related to many of the issues Fabiaschi addresses through her characters: distance in marriages, myopic teenage life, the value of just about anything, and what matters most at the end of the day. Toward the end of the book, I truly cared about why Madeline (the mother) jumped from the library roof. I wanted to know what final straw broke the back of a devoted mother and wife.
I won't say anymore because doing so would spoil it, but if anyone reads this book or has read it, I'd love to chat more. The ending left me with so much to say. :)
Verdict: 3 stars, but I can't really explain why
Buddha's Diet was great. At first I thought: here we go, another light-weight diet tips book with gimmicks and ploys, religious no less. But I was pleasantly surprised. It's a quick read with just the right balance of science/data, explanation and culture/history. The premise is that we eat far too much, over too long a span of time each day. We eat in dribs and drabs (snacks, I guess) all day and night. This, the authors argue, does us no favors. Aside from making us fat, it disrupts our sleep, spikes insulin and keeps our bodies (and digestion) from getting any rest.
I tend to agree. Having lived in a country where people snacked much less (often not at all), I am always shocked by the amount of eating going on in the US. In China, we ate pretty much three meals a day. Well, we Americans often snacked at home or while we were out, but the Chinese almost never snacked or did so sparingly and then ate something crazy and wild like a quarter of a pineapple on a stick, freshly cut, dripping down a slender hand.
What makes Buddha's Diet great is that the authors keep it light and simple but definitely show (with data) why snacking all day and night is seriously bad for our health. And by the end of the book, you're left not with a crazy fad diet but a gentle, slow, sustainable approach to overall health that feels doable and hopeful.
The website has a lot of information on the diet (you're basically cutting your eating hours down to 9, so you'd eat from 9 am to 6 pm and then no more until 9 am), but I think the book is worth reading even beyond what the website offers. I really did get a lot out of this and am thinking about trying it out in a more concrete way than I have in the past. I've always noticed that a huge contributor to weight gain is eating at night, but this book explains why and, more importantly, how to change it.
Finally.....Death Comes for the Archbishop. I have owned this book for several years. I'm not even sure how I came to possess it. Somehow, it was just sitting on my bookshelf, a little worn, unassuming. I began reading it a few months ago and have taken my time with it, and let me say: every second has been worth it.
This is a classic. This is the kind of book that reminds you that there are different kinds of writers and the best among them are truly set apart.
I'm not sure I've read anything else by Cather. It's possible I have, in literature classes, but after reading Death Comes for the Archbishop, I'm sure I would have remembered her writing. It's lyrical and strong and sparse, all in the loveliest combination so that suddenly you realize there are other people in the house or the bath water has gone cold or dinner is burning. I felt, as I read, like I was in New Mexico or Arizona, back beneath that enormous sky, underneath the beating sun, with nothing but wide open land for miles.
There is no rushing with this novel. The story itself unfolds. I realize now how rare this is in modern fiction. There is this feeling with new writers that one must grab the reader's attention immediately, set up the conflict, pounce. Cather has all of the restraint of a time when writer's didn't have websites and immediate sales data or digital leaderboards to contend with.
I realize I'm not saying much about the plot. Maybe this is because there isn't a plot but a life that meanders along until you feel, as the reader, like you've been living it right alongside the protagonist, a Catholic priest sent to the wild American west (from Europe) to provide religious stability to an unstable, unforgiving place.
It was magic. This was a gift. I feel like I was soothed by that book at a time when I needed it and in a way that wasn't available in anything else I read this year.
Verdict: 5 stars (more if possible)
That's it for books for 2017. For January, I've got a few on the list so far. Chasing Slow was a christmas gift from my son, and I'm eager to dig in. I've also got a growing list on Audible, one of which is about the art of negotiation from a former FBI hostage negotiator. Interesting.
I'm aiming for 4 books per month, a steady pace but not unforgiving.