September 2017 Books
4 books that I recently read (and ONE I'm currently reading)
10% Happier: 5/5
This might be shelved in the self-help section, but to me, it was a fascinating and deeply relatable memoir of a young journalist trying to get ahead in the crazy New York media world. Dan Harris is neurotic and unsatisfied and it drives him crazy yet he can't chill out, out of fear that he'll lose his professional edge. So he tries to get some help in the form of reading (and thanks to his line of work, meeting and interviewing) a bunch of NYT best-selling self-help authors but just can't with the woowoo-ness (and exploitative nature) of it all. Everything he wrote about, down to how described his own religious views (in college “I decided … that agnosticism was the only reasonable position, and I hadn't thought about it much since.”), felt like he was in my head. I took longer for me to read this book than usual because I was hanging on to every word in his stories. Spoiler alert: Eventually he's able to relax (kinda) through meditation practice and doesn't hate on it because he realizes it's not a crazy cop out and is actually hard work. Maybe I'll try meditation again, but maybe not because I'm still Dan Harris of page 50, not Dan Harris at the end of the book.
20 years ago I read "Pride & Prejudice" and didn't really love it. 10 years ago I tried to read "Prep" and couldn't get though it. So it's a bit odd that I would enjoy a Curtis Sittenfeld retelling of the Jane Austen classic. No one is really likable in this story, which to me was the whole point. The Liz Bennett/Mr. Darcy relationship was...strange. Darcy's a total dick and kind of a flat character in this book. Plus, his declaration of love was ridiculous. But I never really cared for Mr. Darcy in "Pride & Prejudice" either—I only liked Colin Firth's character in the movie adaptation of "Bridget Jones Diary." I thought the genius in the story was Sittenfeld's critique of middle-America culture that was a nice parallel to all the commentary Austen was making about 19th century countryside British culture in the OG novel. The writing was also easy to read and led me to pick up another one of Sittenfeld's novel, "The American Wife."
The Secret History: TBD
I'm only on page 250 out of 600 in this book and about 25 years late to reading it. Embarrassing admission: I wanted to read Donna Tartt because the *fictional* character Charles Brooks in "Younger" said in one scene that he loved her writing (his wife was picking a bone with him, saying he loved Tartt herself). Regardless, this book is very good. The first 200 pages are kind of slow, but the writing is beautiful that you still find yourself able to get through 100 pages at a time. Now that I’m past that, shit’s really picking up so full review to come.
All things considered, I’m still a newlywed (4 years at the end of the month), but I’m the last person to spew magic fairytale, lovey-dovey stuff when I talk about my relationship. It might make for some awkward looks during dinner conversations when I launch into the realities of marriage, but reading this book just made me realize that I’m not alone in how I look at my relationship. You can feel that you’re with the right partner yet still struggle to reconcile what you thought life would be like (as a pair, what you expect out of your partner, what you expect out of yourself) with the challenges you actually face. Shapiro does a wonderful job weaving together vignettes of different times and memories. I will probably reread it as I feel that I’ll get even more out of the book the second time around.
The Year of Magical Thinking: 2.5/5
The thing about grief: It's a deeply personal experience and it feels inappropriate to judge a widow after her husband’s sudden and traumatic passing. As a book, however, this was whiny, self-indulgent, repetitive and frequently annoying to read. But when I think about that, I remember about how annoying I’ve been just talking about my own issues ad nauseam, so of course Didon should get a pass for how she reacts, seeing that her husband just fell over and died while she was making dinner. That said, it was hard to feel empathy for Didion—despite the fact that death and all the emotions surrounding death is something we all encounter. Even though the premise of the book is about losing her husband, the only thing that kept me going till the end was wanting to know about her daughter’s plight. There are much better books that deal with death. I would say even just the epilogue of "When Breath Becomes Air" blows this entire book out of the water.