Les livres de 2011: round 5

Day 1 of the honeymoon in Powell's.

I can't remember where I heard it, but I recently read something along the lines of "you can never be lonely when you're reading a book" and it weirdly choked me up! I've been working hard on a couple of presentations for tech conferences lately, one of whose thesis is that design is communication. It's based on the fact that writing is communication. So I've been writing and presenting and talking out loud to empty rooms about how writing is an author sending ideas and stories to the reader on the other end of the line. And boy, sometimes I really feel that. Sometimes, with great books, I really feel that an author and I are chatting on the phone together.

A bunch of these are for the Biography semester which is just... well, it's awesome. And yet it's totally overwhelming. Because here's the thing about reading the life stories of people: YOU WORRY THAT YOU HAVEN'T WRITTEN ENOUGH LETTERS. What the heck is going to happen when our grandkids write the biographies of people of our time? What will they reference, Snooki's tweets?! What's that source material going to look like? A chat session between Prince William and Princess Kate? Gah! 

Oh, world. You just have no blueprint for the next generation, do ya?

Let's review some books.

32. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
Alright, alright. It's comical how many times Lizzie G is on this blog. But I can't help who I love. I read this book in the three days before we left for our wedding. It served its purpose of relaxing me, keeping me focused on the MARRIAGE and not the NAPKINS, and was a perfect example of feeling like the author's on the other line. 

You know how there's that secret list of people whose blogs you read or whose books you read, how every time you read them you think "WHY ARE WE NOT BEST FRIENDS ALREADY?" The reality is that they have no idea who you are, but you just know that you two could totally become BFF over tall skim chai lattes. Lizzie G is the top of that list for me.

The point: this is a good book for anyone in a relationship. Good refresher, healthy dose of perspective. 

33. The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
One of these years I'll write about our honeymoon, but in the meantime I'll share that Chris and I had a honeymoon registry. Along with a couple of material goods registries, the honeymoon registry was a total win for everyone involved. We got to do fun things on our trip, our friends got photos of us doing said fun things, the money was well spent. I recommend. 

One of the items on the registry was a shopping spree at Powell's in Portland, a gift offered by the lovely Eliza. So while I'm running around Powell's like a beagle on the hunt, I decide that I need something cheap and fiction-y and new. Something light to read by the pool. 

Enter a totally random book about a one-room schoolhouse in Montana in the early 1900s. It was a charming little read, particularly for an East Coast girl. I am somewhat geographically challenged when it comes to anything west of Chicago, so it was good to add a story and a state to my understanding of the world. 

34. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
I've been hearing about this book since Chris' stepmom read it for her book club a couple of years ago. It was on my holds list at the library but, because of its popularity, I wasn't due to read it til 2040. Enter Powell's shopping spree. 

This is a nonfiction book about a black woman named Henrietta Lacks who lived in Baltimore in the 1950s when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Through a random chain of events involving local scientific studies and an absence of patient permission laws, her cells found their way to a research facility. These cells are still alive today; they're called HeLa cells and apparently anyone who's ever worked in a lab knows about them (and has probably worked with them!).

This is the fascinating story of an uneducated family who struggles to understand what it means that their mother's cells are still alive, the history of patient privacy laws and the story of a woman whose cells have paved the way for tons of scientific discoveries since her death. Gripping and compelling; I read it in 24 hours. 

35. How I Planned Your Wedding by Susan Wiggs and Elizabeth Wiggs Maas
My Mom read this book while we were wedding planning and bought me a copy for my shower. As anyone who's gone through the wedding process well knows, one's threshold for wedding info has a low ceiling in the final months. Though I'm happy to report that post-wedding, I can once again stomach wedding stories! Hooray!

This is a cute story about a mom and her daughter, the ways they tangle and their perspectives as they get closer to the daughter's big day. It gave me some good perspective on how my mom was probably feeling and I'm sure it did the same for her. A good book to read early in the process... or post-wedding. It made me relive ours, for sure.

36. The Greater Journey by David McCullough
Having had the "today is the day I'm moving to France" moment three times in my life, I recognize the feelings. Excitement, nostalgia, disbelief at opportunity, and a deep knowledge that it may get worse before it gets better, all make up the 24 hours before you move across the ocean. The amazing thing about The Greater Journeynails that abroad feeling. 

He describes their hesitation at taking ships across the ocean, a relatively new way to travel. Packing trunks, preparing for many years away from their families, they were artists, med students, politicians. He paints the picture of the anticipation, the hope and the anxiety. Then, he clinches it in one breathless sentence to close the first chapter: "Not all pioneers went west."


This book is Paris porn for anyone who knows the city. It makes you want to be there, it reminds you of the time you spent there. It taught me so much about who America was back in the day (hint: a young, inexperienced nation). It provided a healthy reminder that Americans have been standing on the shoulders of foreign giants for a long, long time- and that it's not some kind of crippling lack of manhood to admit that.

McCullough is an amazing storyteller, a diplomatic historian. I just love him.

37. Bossypants by Tina Fey
I had dinner with Kelley last week and she mentioned reading this book. "It's so funny," she said, before admitting to laughing out loud on the R train. I couldn't wait.

Chris offered up his iPad so I could have my first e-reader experience and I figured this was a good book to try it out with. I didn't love reading on the iPad - but I DO love Tina Fey.

Here's the thing: it's not as funny as I expected. I think lots of that was the hype (other than Kelley, at least 5 other people assured me that I would die laughing. I am still alive.), but part of it was also the context. Tina starts the book with a couple of grim stories from her childhood and I wasn't sure if I should laugh or sympathize. It picked up towards the middle though, particularly one story about shooting a magazine cover. 

Either way, I remain a loyal Tina Fey fan. We got out the old 30Rock DVDs and I spent a few hours heartily giggling. Is it just me or was that show the most hilarious in the first season? 

38. Mrs. Astor Regrets by Meryl Gordon
I found this gem in the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble last weekend. Though I'm a sucker for 17th and 18th century New York stories, something about this 2005 drama hooked me. Brooke Astor, the widow of Vincent Astor, was a famous philanthropist and beloved New Yorker who lived to the ripe old age of 105. Towards the end of her life, her only son (and guardian) got into hot water for not taking care of her. And by that, I mean that he started taking expensive paintings off her walls and selling them, then keeping the money himself. 

I just love that, in this day and age, we still have Rockefellers and Astors. I find it so fascinating. Forget the Kardashians; these people are just as gossipy. A decent book if that's what you're in the mood for. 

1 comment:

Kenneth said...

Re: Bossy Pants: