I read six books in September (two were audiobooks), which brings my 2017 total to 89. There was less reading than usual (on the bright side, I recommend them all!), but that’s because I recently made a big move and my daily life is quite different. More details on that soon.
This is a book I started reading in September but decided not to finish:
- Girl in the Woods: A Memoir, Aspen Matis
A girl who walks from Mexico to Canada? Sounds like my kind of story! Except it wasn’t. I listened to about half of this audiobook. I tried to push through so I could place it concretely in the “Not Recommended” category, but I just couldn’t do it. It got worse and worse. Could not finish.
I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.
1) The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Description: Crime, even the darkest acts, can happen to any of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s case, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of his childhood. By examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky’s crime. An intellectual and emotional thriller that is also a different kind of murder mystery, this is a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed — but about how we grapple with our own personal histories.
This is an in-depth look at a murder case, but rather than simply reporting the facts, Alexandria goes back and forth between the murder case and her personal story. It was a good mix. I listened to this on audio, which I also recommend.
2) The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir, Ariel Levy
Description: When Ariel left for a reporting trip to Mongolia in 2012, she was pregnant, married, and financially secure. A month later, none of that was true. Levy picks you up and hurls you through the story of how she built an unconventional life and then watched it fall apart with astonishing speed. Levy chronicles the adventure and heartbreak of being, in her own words, “a woman who is free to do whatever she chooses.”
Ariel received a lot of attention (and I believe she won some nonfiction awards) for her essay that appeared in the New Yorker four years ago and later led to her book deal. It’s pretty intense.
This book wasn’t what I was expected, but it’s okay to be taken by surprise. I didn’t like all of her life choices and there were things she could have handled differently, but she’s a terrific writer and her observations are worth holding out for.
3) Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, Dani Shapiro
Description: This is an inquiry into how marriage is transformed by time — abraded, strengthened, shaped in miraculous and sometimes terrifying ways. Dani opens the door to her house, her marriage, and her heart, and invites us to witness her own marital reckoning — a reckoning in which she confronts both the life she dreamed of and the life she made, and struggles to reconcile the girl she was with the woman she has become.
This isn’t long; I flew through it pretty quickly. I enjoyed Dani’s three previous nonfiction books so I knew I’d like this one. Like any good memoirist, she is honest and open, which is instrumental to writing something people can relate to.
At the time of writing this book, Dani’s marriage was 18 years old (she’s now at 20 years). I appreciated her perspective on how difficult it’s been for two creative people — basically freelance writers, working from home on a wide variety of projects — to hustle for work. They have no 401k or other retirement savings. Her husband can spend months working on a screenplay which doesn’t get picked up. There are flush years when work pours in, but they end up using any extra money they bring in to sustain them during the lean years.
She also goes into the way a marriage changes over time, and the hard times they’ve had, but there is a focus on being committed for the long haul — despite her concern that one of them hasn’t stepped up to be the “responsible one” (it’s generally preferable if at least one person in a relationship provides stability by funding a retirement account and providing health insurance).
4) Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, Barry Estabrook
Description: Tomatoland combines history, legend, passion for taste, and investigative reporting on modern agribusiness and environmental issues into a revealing, controversial look at the tomato, the fruit we love so much that we eat $4 billion-worth annually.
I read a book about the tomato industry, but here’s a fun fact — I can’t stand raw tomatoes and never eat them. (I use diced and crushed canned tomatoes in my cooking all the time; as long as they’re mixed with other ingredients, I’m fine with them.)
This isn’t about taste though (at least not entirely). Estabrook delves deep into many aspects of the industry, focusing heavily on the low-paid, undocumented workers who do the planning, pruning, and harvesting; slave-like living conditions; and pesticide exposure. What surprised me the most was learning that Florida, with its warm climate, does not actually have ideal growing conditions for tomatoes — far from it, actually. Tomatoes are grown in sand, not soil, and nutrients and water are a highly regulated science to get to the desired yield.
I may not buy raw tomatoes, but the conditions in which they reach our grocery stores should be of interest to everyone.
Description: Torre is at rock bottom following a breakup and her father’s death when she crosses paths with Masha, who is pursuing her dream of walking the world. When Masha invites Torre to join her pilgrimage through Tuscany, Torre straps on a pair of flimsy shoes and gets rambling. But the magical hills of Italy are nothing like the dusty and merciless roads of India where the pair wind up, improvising a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Gandhi along his march to the seaside. Coming face-to-face with their worst fears, they discover the power of friendship to save us from our darkest moments.
I’ve read a number of books over the years about women who go on long walks, and I always find them interesting. I dream of doing the same myself one day.
Several bad things happened to Torre in a short period of time (her father died, a long relationship ended), but she takes a lighthearted approach to her situation and learns some life lessons along the way. I envied her friendship with Masha, her walking partner. Except for a short period of time on their second walk, they had a closeness and easy banter that seemed to make the miles pass quickly.
6) All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, Jennifer Senior
Description: Thousands of books have examined the effects of parents on their children. But almost none have thought to ask: What are the effects of children on their parents? Award-winning journalist Jennifer Senior analyzes the many ways children reshape their parents’ lives, whether it’s their marriages, their jobs, their habits, their hobbies, their friendships, or their internal senses of self.
I read this book two years ago, but sometimes a childfree woman likes to remind herself of the stark realities of raising a child. (Another reason: I needed an audiobook to listen to and this one was available.) You can find my first review here.