Erica M · Fiction · Short Stories

The Artist of Disappearance | by Anita Desai

The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011, 176 pages)

This collection of short stories is melancholy but interesting. Set in India, the stories all explore people who have avoided the past, or have avoided making anything of themselves in the present. They all have regrets or something to hide from, although the thickly veiled stories make it hard to figure out what that is sometimes. The best story in the collection was about a young writer who translates a book from its native language into English, and is then disappointed by the author’s next work. Trying to rewrite the book, the translator effaces both herself and the author, and her career disappears.  This book was a nice change of pace from more straight forward narrative accounts, but requires quite a bit of interpretation by the reader.

Erica M · Memoir · Non-Fiction · Religion

Heaven is for Real | by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back
by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent
(Thomas Nelson, 2010, 163 pages)

Heaven is for Real is a pastoral family’s account of their 3-year old son’s visit to heaven. Colton, the center of the story, became very ill while the pastor and his family were on vacation in Colorado. After several days of violent sickness, and bouncing from hospital to hospital getting no answers, Colton was finally operated on for a burst appendix. After a long recovery Colton was fine, but something remained with him from the sickness…he said he had visited heaven during his operation.The family believes his story is credible because he was able to give the details about people in their lives who had died long before he was born. He was also able to tell his parents what they were doing while he was in surgery. He gives incredible details creating a visual of heaven for the reader.

Overall the book was a good account that will help burgeon people’s personal Christian faith. The issue I had with the story, was the absolutely horrifyingly long time it took for the family to take the boy in for medical treatment. The lack of the parents’ reaction to their son’s grave illness, somewhat left a shadow over their whole account for me. I would like to treat these parents to a course in first-aid if I could. However, I would still recommend the book to anyone who wants to hear some convincing details about the existence of heaven.

Audiobook · Erica M · Money · Non-Fiction · Self-Help

Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money | by Geneen Roth

Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money by Geneen Roth
(Viking Adult, 2011, 224 pages)

The second title of its kind by author Geneen Roth, Lost and Found is not as well fleshed out as the first title, Women, Food, and God. The story and resulting meditations on the human relationship with wealth and money, is based around the unexpected loss of the author’s entire savings which she had invested with Bernie Madoff. When she and her husband lose “everything” (they still had good jobs, a home to live in a nice neighborhood in California, etc.) Roth begins to examine her relationship with money. Why had she not paid off their home, or donated to charities more often? Why had she invested with someone she really knew nothing about and who looking back on it seemed shady? How did her relationship with money stem from her experiences with money growing up, and how did money relate to her self-worth or lack thereof? Why did she feel the need to shop, buying a surplus of things she didn’t need to feel full and worthwhile?  In my opinion these are all good things to examine, but the author did not sell me on her own ability to live in a more satisfying way given her self-exploration. It seemed to me she still cares too much about money, and it was not lost on me that she was going to make a boat load of cash off the book she was writing about losing all her money. I found her concerns to be uppity and could not pity her in the least for her “terrifying situation.”  My take away from the book is to more closely examine the root of my feelings when I am choosing to make a purchase, just as Roth taught to be aware of the underlying reasons we are eating in Women, Food, and God. However, I do not trust in the least that Roth has a different relationship with money now than before the Bernie Madoff failure, which ultimately makes her an untrustworthy pen and the book disappointing.

Erica M · In the Library · Memoir · Non-Fiction

The Year of Magical Thinking | by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
(Knopf, 2005, 227 pages)

This memoir tells the story of the year after the author’s husband died suddenly from a heart attack. The death was not perhaps entirely unexpected as the husband had a history of heart problems, and the couple was not young. Still, the author said… “You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” Both accomplished writers, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne had literally spent every day of their long married life together working from home. In the year after her husband’s death Didion was forced to deal with another tragic event, the near death and long recovery of their only daughter from a brain aneurysm. The brain aneurysm situation had, ironically, started as a bad case of the flu.

Didion calls it the year of magical thinking in retrospect because she does not believe the grief of losing a spouse is as we think it will be. Her magical thinking is going on a walk and thinking of telling her beloved about the changing leaves, or reading a passage from the newspaper and thinking to share it with him, forgetting, that he is no longer there. You simply cannot change the patterns of thinking and doing things that you’ve done your whole life she writes. This first year without her husband was magical because she still had these moments, moments that she suspects will fade as the years pass, and slowly life without him becomes her routine.

The book doesn’t really go anywhere, it sort of just is. A quiet pause for the reader, this memoir recounts the nothingness and the everythingness of losing a loved one. It is somber but not depressing, comforting but not uplifting, and reflective but not esoteric.

Erica M · Non-Fiction · Self-Help

Women, Food, and God | by Geneen Roth

Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth
(Scribner, 2010, 224 pages)

While this book is centered around the experience of a group of women at an obsessive overeating retreat, the practices are universally applicable to any obsessive situation. The facilitator and author teaches her students, and the reader, how to uncover what is actually beneath their eating behavior – pain and emotions from childhood. By becoming aware of these emotions through actively paying attention to our bodies and thoughts, we can gain control over our obsessive behaviors, Roth says. The story is peppered with the personal stories and struggles of her students which help to support her message. I would definitely read another of Ms. Roth’s books.

Audiobook · Erica M · Memoir · Non-Fiction

Almost There: The Onward Journey of a Dublin Woman | by Nuala O’Faolain

Almost There: The Onward Journey of a Dublin Woman by Nuala O’Faolain
(Riverhead Trade, 2004, 288 pages)

This surprising memoir by a late-middle-aged Irish woman tells the tale of a broken woman, who learns to deal with a life of pain the best way she can manage, and goes on living much after she thought her life was over. The book opens surprisingly on a late fifty-something woman who has just ended a ten-year relationship with another woman, Nell. The first thing she does is get a dog. Then she gets a friend. Neither of which she wants to do, but she knows that she must form some relationship outside of the books and the bottles of wine she drowns herself in nightly.

Eventually, Nuala, a writer is taken to write a memoir, not this book, but her first book. This book tells the story of writing that book, and of growing into herself, even at what she calls a ‘ripe old age.’ The author says it was groundbreaking for any woman, let alone a woman as scandalous as herself, to write a memoir in Ireland. Secrets were just not told in Ireland. Nuala, however, precariously unpacks the mysterious pains her unloving alcoholic mother caused her, and her inability to have a normal romantic relationship because of it. She manages to have several affairs with men, tries online dating, and even falls in love. The tale doesn’t turn out all happiness and roses, however. The tale turns out real. It is an exercise in dealing with our demons, and trying to make a small place of contentment within our own hearts, in whatever circumstances life has given us.

You wouldn’t think that a 27-year-old reader would have much in common with an author writing so late in life, but I indeed found solace in her words. My favorite part of the book was the genuine love she found in her dog, Mollie. I will likely read her other memoir, and perhaps her novel in the future.

Erica M · Non-Fiction · Self-Help

Changes that Heal | by Dr. Henry Cloud

Changes that Heal: How to Understand Your Past to Ensure a Healthier Future
by Dr. Henry Cloud
(Zondervan, 1992, 267 pages)

This inspiring self-help title is different than some, in that it combines a psychoanalytic viewpoint with Christian principles. Interspersed with the real life stories of some of Dr. Cloud’s patients, this book focuses on making healthy shifts in your frame of mind. The author’s goal is to have the reader connect more deeply with others, develop healthy independence, understand the good and bad in themselves and others, and to grow emotionally and spiritually to feel fully like an adult. Cloud says it takes grace, truth, and time for these things to happen.

While the book was a little slow moving at some points, overall it was highly readable, and extremely relatable. I have definitely used Cloud’s shifts in my everyday life since reading the book. It would be a good addition to a spiritual or self-help section of a collection.

Architecture · Audiobook · Erica M · Non-Fiction · Philosophy

The Architecture of Happiness | by Alain de Botton

The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
(Vintage International, 2008, 280 pages)

The Architecture of Happiness is one part philosophy, one part architectural history, and one part personal nostalgia. Through a learned view of different major architectural monuments of the past, and the retelling of individual personal stories of residency, this book examines the way in which architecture defines our identities. The author refutes the idea that to engage in meaningful relationships with our things, and homes, is frivolous; and states that our dwellings are a reflection of who we are, or who we want to be. Identity, Botton says, is the most profound purpose of architecture. Peppered with beautiful quotations on the self and architecture from a plethora of scholarly and culturally diverse sources, this book is a true gem; one that I would surely place on a shelf in my home… a small expression of my own version of beauty.

Erica M · History · Non-Fiction

Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women| by Rebecca Traister

Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women
by Rebecca Traister
(Free Press, 2010, 352 pages)

A self-proclaimed feminist journalist, located in time between the second and third waves of the movement, Rebecca Traister has collected here a disparate but impressive bunch of observations and insights about how women’s history was changed forever during the 2008 presidential elections. Her subjects range from why Elizabeth Edwards or Michelle Obama would have been excellent candidates for president, to Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Amy Poehler, and Katie Couric.  Her interviews also range a wide gamut, with personal quotations from feminist icons like Gloria Steinem and Nora Ephron, to the other end of the spectrum, young college-aged women who felt they didn’t need to vote for a woman just because she was a woman.

In the beginning Traister is all in for John Edwards, and her insistence that she is not a Hillary person gets a little old throughout the book. Ultimately though, she finds herself crying in a hallway at the Democratic convention when Hillary finally concedes. It seems crying is something a lot of women did that day. This book could have been better organized, but overall, it is an excellent attempt to describe on paper all of the sexism, racism, and simultaneous breakthroughs, our country made during the 2008 election.

Autobiography · Erica M · Music · Non-Fiction

The Truth Is… My Life in Love and Music | by Melissa Etheridge with Laura Morton

The Truth Is… My Life in Love and Music
by Melissa Etheridge and Laura Morton
(Villard Books, 2001, 229 pages)

This autobiography was perhaps underwhelming because of how absolutely regular Melissa Etheridge’s life seems from behind the scenes. The writing was simple, and left a lot to be desired, although the thoughts behind the words were sound. The book follows the star from Leavenworth, KS to Boston for music school, to Hollywood, where she becomes one of the most famous lesbian rock’n’rollers of our time.

Largely important to the plot is her ten year relationship with her partner, Julie, the two children they have together via a gift from singer David Crosby, and their slow and painful demise. This book ends as the couple’s relationship ends… sorting out CDs and shipping their lives off to separate houses with adjoining backyards.

Smattered with lyrics from Etheridge’s songs throughout, one of the most enjoyable elements of this book was discovering what her intended meaning of the lyrics were. Also included in the book are black and white photographs from throughout the singer’s life. I’ll look forward to reading her next autobiography, but I hope that the writing will be more complex.