Books

Books Read in November 2017

I read seven books in November (three were audiobooks), which brings my 2017 total to 103.

These are the books I started reading in November but decided not to finish:

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Recommended

1) Unqualified: Love and Relationship Advice From a Celebrity Who Just Wants to Help, Anna Faris

Description: This comic memoir features Anna’s candid stories of love lost and won — including being “the short girl” in elementary school, finding and keeping female friends, and dealing with the pressures of the entertainment industry. This book reveals Anna’s unique take on how to master the bizarre, chaotic, and ultimately rewarding world of love.

I heard about this book when Anna and her husband (Chris Pratt) were in the news for announcing their divorce. Releasing a book on relationships right before getting divorced? Don’t worry, it still works. It’s filled with amusing anecdotes and entertaining stories about her life.

2) Jackie’s Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family, Kathy McKeon

Description: An endearing coming-of-age memoir by a young woman who spent thirteen years as Jackie Kennedy’s personal assistant and occasional nanny — and the lessons about life and love she learned from the glamorous first lady.

I liked this better than I thought I would. Kathy was a live-in personal assistant for Jackie Kennedy for over seven years, and continued to work for her when she moved out to get married. There were all kinds of details, like the particular challenges of caring for Jackie’s extensive wardrobe, and carving X’s on the soles of Jackie’s shoes to prevent her from slipping on marble floors.

Kathy paints a picture of a kind and generous woman but also one who demanded loyalty and hard work. In Kathy’s words: “[T]here wasn’t such a thing as ‘my’ time in her world, just her time bestowed on me when it best suited her. I had long ago lost count of the number of weekends off that had been appropriated without apology or compensation.”

The book covers tales from Caroline and John Jr.’s childhoods, family scandals, Jackie’s unexpected marriage to Aristotle Onassis, and later, the deaths of Jackie and John Jr.

3) At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe, Tsh Oxenreider

Description: In her late 30s and a mom to three kids under age ten, Tsh and her husband decided to spend a rather ordinary nine months in an extraordinary way: traveling the corners of the earth to see the places they’d always wanted to explore. This book chronicles their global journey from China to Thailand to Australia, Sri Lanka, Uganda, France, Croatia, and beyond, as they fill their days with train schedules, world-schooling the kids, and working from anywhere.

I read and enjoyed one of Tsh’s past books (Notes from a Blue Bike). I liked this one too, but it was less relatable since she was traveling around the world with three children – which I would never, ever do. I liked reading about the family’s downsizing process and how little they took with them (one backpack per person), and how even that was sometimes too much (like schlepping cold-weather clothing around when you spend a majority of your time in hot climates).

She is also realistic about the challenges of traveling with such a large group, especially when three of the five travelers are under the age of ten. While they saw and experienced a lot of exciting things, there were a lot of negatives: jet lag, unfamiliar foods, not being able to speak the native language, a constant feeling of discomfort. Their favorite locations ended up being the ones where they spent the most time (weeks instead of days) because they had time to settle in and enjoy their new surroundings.

4) How to Make a French Family: A Memoir of Love, Food, and Faux Pas, Samantha Verant

Description: When Samantha is given a second chance at love at the age of forty, she moves to southwestern France, thinking she’s prepared for her new role in life as an instant American wife and stepmom. It turns out, though, that making a French family takes more than just good intentions and a quick lesson in croissant-baking.

An American woman meets a Frenchman at the age of nineteen, they have a connection, but distance pulls them apart. They reconnect twenty years later; the man is now a widower with two children. They get married and the new wife moves to France. But not to exciting Paris…rural France. This story is about the stress of culture shock and battling a newfound lack of confidence, coupled with not knowing the language very well. These difficulties and assorted family drama helped keep the book from seeming too saccharine.

Okay

5) This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare, Gabourey Sidibe

Description: Gabourey skyrocketed to fame in 2009 when she played the leading role in the acclaimed movie “Precious.” Here she shares a one-of-a-kind life story and her unconventional rise to fame as a movie star.

I forget where I heard about this book. I only know Gabourey from Precious, but apparently she’s been on a few television series as well. In these essays, she addresses her childhood (including a cab-driving father from Senegal who wasn’t very nice, and a mother who made a living singing in the subway for tips), her interesting name, her weight (and eventual bariatric surgery), and a stint working for a phone-sex company before she landed a very unexpected movie role. She also talks about her struggle with bulimia and depression, but in general the tone of this book is comedic and upbeat.

6) Unstoppable: My Life So Far, Maria Sharapova

Description: In 2004, in a stunning upset against the two-time defending champion Serena Williams, 17-year-old Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon, becoming an overnight sensation. Out of virtual anonymity, she launched herself onto the international stage. Years later, she came up against the toughest challenge yet: during the 2016 Australian Open, she was charged by the ITF with taking the banned substance meldonium.

I enjoyed the first half of this book better than the second. It was interesting to read how her father brought them over from Russia – when she was six years old – with only $700 in his pocket, and how they persevered in the beginning through tenacity and sheer good luck. (Neither of them spoke English!)

I didn’t like her matter-of-fact tone (this may have been exacerbated by how she read it, as I listened to it on audio), and there was a lot of, uh…descriptions of tennis games. I know, this should be expected! But I’m not a tennis player or watcher, so I didn’t understand the terms she used, or the scoring, or many of the names she referenced (other than obvious ones like Serena Williams).

7) How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays, Mandy Len Catron

Description: In a series of essays that take a closer look at what it means to love someone, be loved, and how we present our love to the world, Catron deconstructs her own personal canon of love stories. She delves all the way back to 1944, when her grandparents first met in a coal mining town in Appalachia, to her own dating life as a professor in Vancouver, drawing insights from her fascinating research into the universal psychology, biology, history, and literature of love.

Mandy shares her personal love history, along with stories from her family. There are also opinion essays, like the Cinderella fantasy, and the impact of the movie Pretty Woman.

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