Book Snap #114

Title: This is How it Always Is

Author: Laurie Frankel

Date Read: July 16, 2022

Two Sprited Snaps!!

This is how it is: a brilliant fairy tale of the unpreictable, messy, complicated, joyous journey of parenthood and family.

Once upon a time there was Penn, a doggedly-determined and haplessly romantic writer, who willingly sits in the hospital waiting room where Rosie is doing her residency to disabuse her of the idea that a medical student has no time for a boyfriend. “Her shift was twenty-eight hours, Penn sat and wrote for every one of them. They took a coffee and breakfast break together toward dawn. Penn tried every flavor of corn chip in the vending machine.” (p.20). They do fall in love, and marry, and start a family, adding four rambunctious boys to their Wisconsin farmhouse. But Rosie can’t help but want one more try: for a girl.

Claude, their fifth child, it turns out, is not a girl: despite applying a myriad of old-wives tales to her furniture arrangement, eating habits and choice of sexual positions. But Claude is very much unlike his rough-and-tumble brothers: he wants to grow up and be a princess, he wants to wear fairy wings and have his hair long.

Penn continues to weave fairy tales: his boys pick up the adventures of Grumwald (the hero-prince of the bedtime stories first told in the emergency room) — and they help all of them to see themselves for who they truly are. “Bedtime stories were a group activity. And because showing the pictures all around to everyone involved a great deal of squirming and shoving and pinching and pushing and get-outta-my-ways and he-farted-on-mes and you-got-to-look-longer-than-I-dids, Penn often resorted to telling stories rather than reading them. He had a magic book he read from. It was an empty spiral notebook. He showed the boys it was blank so that there was no clamoring to see. And then he read it ot them. Like magic” (p.28).

And sometimes, thoughtful, complicated fairy-tales that buck the Disneyfied arc are exactly the princess stories we need to hear.

“You find out you’re not alone. And so does everyone else. That’s how everything gets better. You share your secret, and I’ll do the rest. You share your secret, and you change the world.”

“It’s not that easy,” Grumwald felt his lungs stiching to become one in his chest. “I can’t just share my secret. It’s hard to explain. It’s hard to understand. It’s complicated.

“Of course it is. It’s life.”

“So how do I do it then? How do I share my secret? What do I tell?”

“Your story.” The witch didn’t even hesitate. “You tell your story. That is what we all must do.”

“That’s not magic,” said Grumwald.

“Of course it is,” said the witch. “Story is the best magic there is.”


Book Snap #110

Title: A Nearly Normal Family

Author: M. T. Edvardsson

Dtae Read: July 19, 2021

Two snaps.

A great recommendation from my friend and former colleague, Janet Sloan. Eighteeen year-old Stella Sandell is accused of murder, and that changes everything.

The story is divided into three parts: the first told by the father, a pastor, who believes his daughter can only be innocent. The second part reveals the story from her mother’s view, a defense attorney, who believes no one is telling the truth. And finally from the perspective of Stella herself. Each shift in perspective is jarring–just when you think you understand these characters, the way others view them opens up new understandings of their skewed sense of reality. What lies will they tell (or believe?) to just be a normal, ordinary family again? Two snaps.

I believe this is deeply human. There's no understanding it if you've never experienced a direct and serious threat to yourself and your loved ones. You make irrational decisions and overstep boundaries as you never would otherwise. A person who can no longer flee must fight.
(Edvardsson, A Nearly Normal Family)

Book Snap #109

Title: West With Giraffes

Author: Linda Rutledge

Date Read: July 16, 2021

Two snaps.

Another wonderful recommendation, this one from my colleague Catherine Tait.

Woodrow (Woody) Nickel takes us along for his journey of a lifetime to deliver two traumatized giraffes saved from a tumultous Atlantic crossing in New York to the San Diego zoo. Our 105 year-old narrator takes us back through the twelve-day journey that ever changed his life.

It opens…

...I'm older than dirt.

And when you're older than dirt, you can get lost in time, in memory, even in space.

I'm inside my tiny four-walled room with the feeling that I've been... gone. I'm not even sure how long I've been sitting here. All night I think, stirring from my foggy mind to find myself surrounded by other old farts staring at a fancy TV. I remember the man on the screen talking about the last giraffess on earth and rushing over in my wheelchair to punch him. I remember being pushed back here quick and a nurse bandaging my bleeding knuckles. 

Then I remember an orderly making me take a calm-down pill I didn't want to take.

But that's the last time I'll be doing that. Because right now, pencil in this shaky hand, I aim to write down one singular memory.

Fast as I can. 

I could spend what I feel in my bones is my life's last clear hours to tell you of the Dust Bowl. Or the War. Or the French peonies. Or my wives, so many wives. Or the graves, so many graves. Or the goodbyes, so many goodbyes. Those memories come and go here at the end, if they come at all anymore. But not this memory. This memory is always with me, always alive, always within reach, and always in technicolor from deadly start to bittersweet finish, no matter how old I keep getting. And-- Red, Old Man, sweet Wild Boy and Girl-- oh, how I miss you.

All I have to do is close my worn-out eyes for the smallest of moments.

And it begins.

Book Snap #108

Title: The House in the Cerulean Sea

Author: TJ Klune

Date Read: July 8, 2021

Two (loud) snaps.

I loved this book! The quote on the cover reads: “It’s like being wrapped up in a big gay blanket. Simply perfect.”

Reccommended to me by my colleague, Gabrielle Maillet, she said it gave her Schitt’s Creek vibes– and I ran with that! (Love me some Rose Motel feel goodery.) It did not disappoint.

Linus Baker is rule-following case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world. Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is a beautiful story with fantastical characters (a sort of blobby slug want-to-be-hotel porter; a bearded female gardening gnome; a fairy sprite; a wyvern; a werewolf crossed Pomeranian and the purported son of Satan, nicknamed Lucy.) They live on a beautiful, secluded island where the inhabitants outwardly hate them, make up stories and rumours about them, and hang signs that say: “If you see something, say something.” Arthur arrives determined to do his job and report back on the intricacies of the orphanage, the children and Arthur– but he is taken up by the magic of the island and the love of a family. A saccharine-sweet cotton-candy-novel. Love wins.

Humanity is so weird. If we're not laughing, we're  crying or running for our lives because monsters are trying to eat us. And they don't even have to be real monsters. They could be the ones we make up in our heads. Don't you think that's weird?

Book Snap #107

Title: On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous

Author: Ocean Vuong

Date Read: July 4, 2021

Two snaps.

A compassionate and unflinching queer coming-of-age story. Little Dog writes a series of letters to his mother in order to make sense of his place in the world. She cannot read a word of it. Vuong is a daring writer– he goes where the hurt is, creating a novel saturated with yearning and ache. He stares down the violence, trauma, and pain and somehow uncovers the innocence, compassion and tenderness. Loved every minute of this story.

In that room, among the Star Wars poster (Empire Strikes Back) peeling above his unmade bed, among the empty root beer cans, the twenty-pound dumbbell, one half of a broken skateboard, the desk covered with loose change, empty gum packets, gas station receipts, weed crumbs, fentanyl patches and empty dime bags, coffee mugs ringed brown with old water and joint roaches, a copy of Of Mice and Men, empty shell casings from a Smith & Wesson, there were no questions. (Vuong, p.110)

Book Snap #106

Title: The Pisces

Author: Melissa Broder

Date Read: July 1, 2021

Oh Snap!

Ummm. This one was weird. Really weird. It’s hard to write about why I struggled with it. Suffice it to say, I felt weird reading it and wanted to hide it from my son when he looked over my shoulder while I was reading. The main character is relatably flawed, awkwardly vulnerable, and at a white-wine- guzzling-rock-bottom when her boyfriend leaves her and she uproots to house and dog sit in Venice Beach. She is terrible to her sister’s dog, I hated that part. She is cutting and pointed in her observations and summations about others. Again, made me uncomfortable, but okay. But the merman erotica? Just couldn’t get into it.

Broder is best known as the woman behind the Twitter account @sosadtoday, which has six hundred and forty-nine thousand followers. Recent tweets include “in a threesome with anxiety and depression” and “unfortunately i’m very self-aware.” On her personal Twitter account, @melissabroder, she offers similar sentiments: “i’m gifted at finding ways to never seem like enough,” she wrote last month. She has also written four books of poetry, most recently “Last Sext.” In 2016, she published a collection of personal essays called “So Sad Today,” in which she grounded the universalized Internet sadness of her Twitter presence in concrete individual experience. She was twelve when she started dreaming about her family burning up in a house fire, thirteen when she started obsessing about the Holocaust. During adolescence, she could only orgasm when she imagined people vomiting. (The New Yorker, 2018.)

Book Snap #105

Title: Less

Author: Andrew Sean Greer

Date Read: June 25, 2021

Two snaps.

Less was reccommended by my friend, Bonnie Creber. It was the perfect, lighthearted way to begin enjoying summer break. There were a few things appealing about this story– Arthur Less is a failed novelist who is trepidatiously celebrating his fiftieth. A wedding invitation to attend his ex-boyfriend’s nuptials has him seriously reflecting on his life, decisions, and ultimately moves him to try something bold. What ensues is a madcap tour around the world (feverishly accepting all of the piled-up invitaions and cobbling them in to a grand voyage). It is slightly silly, and then full of sadness and longing. It is written beautifully (it won a Pulitzer). 

There is no Arthur Less without the suit. Bought on a whim, in that brief era of caprice three years ago when he threw caution (and money) to the wind and flew to Ho Chi Minh City to visit a friend on a work trip, searching for air-conditioning in that humid, moped-plagued city, found himself in a tailor shop, ordering a suit. Drunk on car exchaust and sugarcane, he made a series of rash decidions, gave his home address, and by the next morning had forgotten all about it. Two weeks later, a package arrived in San Fransisco. Perplexed, he opened it and pulled out a medium blue suit, lined in fuschia, and sewn with his initials: APL. A rose-water smell from the box summoned, instantly, a dictatorial woman with a tight bun, hectoring him with questions. The cut, the buttons, the pockets, the collar. But most of all: the blue. Chosen in haste from a wall of fabrics: not an ordinary blue. Peacock? Lapis? Nothing gets close. Medium but vivid, moderately lustrous, definitely bold. Somewhere between ultramarine and cyanide salts, between Vishnu and Amon, Israel and Greece, the logos of Pepsi and Ford. In a word: bright. He loved whatever self had chosen it and after that wore it constantly. Even Freddy approved: "You look like someone famous!" And he does. Finally, at his advanced age, he has struck the right note. He looks good, and he looks like himself. Without it, somehow he does not. Without the suit, there is no Arthur Less. (Greer, p. 25). 

Book Snap #98

Title: The Rose Code

Author: Kate Quinn

Date Read: Spring 2021

Two snaps.

After just bingeing the Netflix series “The Crown” I fell in love with Kate Quinn weaving the story of Osla, a debutane World War Two codebreaker and girlfriend of Prince Philip of Greece, in two vacellating stories: 1940 and 1947; allowing the reader to see past come to future, and, spoiler alert: Prince Philip doesn’t marry Osla. Three women’s stories are shared: Osla, Mab, and Beth are the codebreakers united at Bletchley Park past (1940), and now (1947) must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together before Philip marries Elizabeth.

Kate Quinn is also the author of The Alice Network, which I have not yet read, but it has been recommended to me, and I likely will.

"If you were a man and you wrote funny pieces about daily life, they called it satire. If you were a woman and you wrote funny pieces about daily life, they called it fluff." (Quinn, The Rose Code).

Book Snap #95

Title: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Author: Mariel Barbery

Date Read: January 17, 2021

Two snaps.

Always take second chances. This was a novel that got reshelved a long time ago, when I couldn’t see it’s pure loveliness. When I got to the bottom of the books on my nightstand I went searching for abandoned soldiers and uncovered The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Twelve year-old Paloma simply crushed my heart with her Profound Thoughts 1 through 15, and a final One Last Profound Thought in which she wrestles with her decision to end her life on her thirteenth birthday, having deciding firmly that life is nothing more than a miserable act of futility.

Renee, the frumpy, plump, widowed, concierge is put upon and dismissed out of hand by the inhabitants of the posh five-floor apartment building in the heart of Paris. Exchanges with each of the apartment dwellers serve only to reaffirm what Renee knows; they cannot detect her intelligence, for it doesn’t seem plausible to them. Carelessly, she slips a few clues to her love and keen knowledge of art, philosophy , and music– and Paloma sees her for who she really is, a kindred spirit.

When the arrogant food-critic from the top floor dies, everyone is suprised that the widow is selling, no one has sold an apartment in the 27 years Renee has been in their employ. The new owner is a kind, elegant, Japanese man in his sixties named Kakuro Ozu.

Renee’s expansive reading diet is complimented by an impressive catalogue of Japanese films– in particular ones by a director called Ozu. “Monsieur Ozu. Could it be that I am in the middle of some insane dream crafted with suspenseful, Machiavellian twists of plot, a flood of coincidences, and a denoument where the heroine awakes in the morning with an obese cat on her feet and the static of the morning radio in her ears?” (Barbery, 138).

What unfolds is a delightful and vulnerable unmasking of both Paloma and Renee. Barbery unspools their knots through beautiful prose, translated from her original French, into short and delightful meditative essays back and forth between the two heroines.

I loved every minute with this book, this time. I am so glad I gave it a second chance.

This is a novel that celebrates the gut feeling, the inspired moment when life changes forever because of a gesture, a laugh, a step off the pavement, or even a glimpse of a beautiful flower. A warning, though: This story, like all great tales, will break your heart, but it will also make you realize — or remember– that sometimes the pain is worth it, that there’s also enough beauty in the world, but only if you see beyond yourself.

Book Snap #94

Title: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Author: Heather Morris

Date Read: December 30, 2020

Two snaps.

There are tattoos that people decide to get because they hold meaning to them. There are also tattoos imprinted on people without their consent. Their meaning is beyond the ink that is crudely etched on their skin; lasting reminders of hate.

Martin Luther King Jr., said that: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” This is a story of love that vanquished the darkness.

The atrocities of the Nazis during the second World War are innumerable. Reading this book in the current political climate surrounding us in the United States, it also illuminates the use of dehumanization in the name of hate. Dehumanization is a mental loophole that lets us harm other people; it was present when the Nazis convinced the political soldiers (SS) to conduct unethical medical experiments; physical and mental torture; and worst of all, mass genocide. How we judge others and make inferences about them is fundamentally a social process. Dehumanization is the same tool Trump used throughout his presidency to explain away treatment of immigrants; banning of Muslim travellers; his misyoginst remarks about women; or just a general mailgning of anyone in opposition to him.

The Tattooist at the heart of this story saw the human person in everyone he encountered. Tasked with placing an identifying tattoo at prisoners arriving in Auschwitz, he tried to be as gentle as he could and when his job brought him priviledges, he shared them with the friends he had made in the camp. He falls in love helping a young woman in the camp– and theirs is a remarkable love story that champions against all odds.