The first book I read by Anita Diamant was The Red Tent. I finished it in a few days and spent the next year touting its greatness to everyone who asked for a book a recommendation, and many who did not. When I read on the book blogs that her newest release, Boston Girl, was available I downloaded it to my Kobo to read while on our beach vacation. The Boston Girl is the story of Addie Baum, daughter of Jewish immigrants. Addie’s granddaughter, a Harvard student, interviews her about her life. Addie reflects on her early days set during a tumultuous period of change and rapid development for the United States. Her girlhood stories reveal the inner struggles she experienced while desperately seeking out her American dream but remaining tethered to her traditional, Jewish family. The pages turn quickly on this uplifting tale of feminism, family and history – worth the read this summer!
Alison Pick grew up going to church, attending Sunday school and singing “Silent Night” at the Christmas service. She had no idea of her Jewish roots – a carefully guarded family secret. Her paternal grandparents narrowly escaped the Holocaust, and upon arriving in Canada made the decision to live as Christians. When researching for her Man-Booker nominated novel (one of my favourites) Far to Go, she felt an undeniable pull to her Jewish roots. The feeling was so intense that Pick set out to convert – not at all easy despite having a Jewish father. The author is brave. She bares all and doesn’t shy from portraying herself honestly. She’s open about her nagging depression and the conflicting feelings that she has about her faith (faiths?). She wrestles with this overwhelming desire for Judiasm while being deeply committed to her non-Jewish fiancée but understanding how unaccepted interfaith marriages are during the conversion process. This memoir took a while for me to connect with but it did. The way Alison becomes almost obsessive about her family’s history is something I can relate to. Alison agonizes over the final days of her great-grandmother in Auschwitz, and the lives that could have been. I find myself thinking about my own could-haves and while my family’s history is not anything close to this horrific; I can understand her longing to know. Her connection to her ancestors is primal. It’s been a long time since I dreamt about a book, and a few nights ago I awoke drenched with sweat and a racing heart. Her story has stuck.
You guys, I totally binged on a mystery series this month! I read and loved SIX of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway murder mysteries. Ruth Galloway is a forensic anthropologist and she is one of the detecting protagonists I have loved most in a series. She is independent, down to earth, imperfect, clever and strong-willed. While reading the series I realized how much I really had been craving mysteries with strong female characters. I did something I never do, and I began in the middle of the series. This was a mistake because it gives away a big part of the plot that develops from book to book. So begin at the beginning with The Crossing Places, and enjoy the ride! The best news, the latest in the series is published this month.
I have a soft spot for the trend in publishing in which a famous author is matched to a classic and updates and rewrites it for the present day. Val McDermid’s rewriting of Northanger Abbey is especially brilliant. She updates Jane Austen’s hilarious tale of a young woman too much influenced by gothic fiction, and she makes the heroine a devotee of vampire lit. I am a sucker (!) for this kind of thing, always hoping to find in fan fiction something that approximates the joy that the original book gives me. Northanger Abbey is my favourite of Austen’s novels, not surprisingly, because it is a book about books, and McDermid embraces the metafictional and intertextual aspect of the project wholeheartedly. The book positively fizzes with it. It’s hilarious, timely, and pitch-perfect. (You can read my longer review of it here.)
My latest foray into Austen re-writes is Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma, which was enjoyable but did not knock my socks off. Emma is, admittedly, a much harder update to pull off. There is the problem of the governess, for one, and McCall Smith decides to preserve the role in the update. I don’t know how things are in your neck of the woods, but governesses are not thick on the ground in these parts. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book for its homage to Austen and for its wit.
I’m in the middle of a mindful meditation course and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn is basically the textbook. Kabat-Zinn is a leader in the field, and this big book covers all aspects of the benefits and processes of mindful meditation. Told in Kabat-Zinn’s careful, gentle and repetitive way, the narrative voice parallels the practice of meditation itself.
After reading this review of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, a Japanese de-clutter consultant, I knew I had to read it (the review describes Kondo as a fairy dominatrix in a prim little pink suit). I’m in the midst of trying to get our house in some real order, and Kondo seemed like the woman to help. She has committed her life to de-cluttering and organizing and has some basic steadfast rules. First, you must discard (or recycle) first, before any attempts are made at re-organizing. Second, you must hold every item you own and ask yourself whether it “sparks joy”. If the answer is no, or hesitation, the item should go. (She is ruthless about this, by the way.) She also advises that tidying and de-cluttering should be done categorically and specifies that order (you start with clothes, which are easiest, and end with mementos, which are hardest). There are many other suggestions, and I did in fact purge and re-organize my clothing using this method. Perhaps because I had fewer items to start with, or because I am quite loyal to the things I like over time, I did not purge a third to two-thirds of my things as her clients routinely do. I did rid myself of three bags of clothing though, and have a clean and spacious closet and dresser (using her upright folding technique to boot). It’s tidy, and I feel better. She doesn’t have that much advice for parents, clearly identifying more with the tidy hearts of children who still live with parents, but there’s still good solid value in this fun, internationally best-selling little book.