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Posts Tagged ‘Alison Bechdel’

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Mother’s Day is on the horizon, and after some recent excellent reading, we feel the need to recommend some good books for gift giving. However, we have done this many times in the past, and don’t want to be too repetitive.

So instead, today we review some new books about motherhood that perhaps everyone should read in preparation for honoring – and remembering what it’s like to be – mothers.

All of these titles would make great gifts for the mothers in your life – they feature edgy, introspective, smart, honest, and fun writing. And, if you are still looking for more ideas for gifts, you can find some great titles in all our past reviews, including the ones where we tried to cultivate a specific list for mom’s day gifts.

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

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FC9780062838742.jpgAmateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words by Kimberly Harrington (2018) – This collection of essays features a distinctive voice (one that is often seen in The New Yorker, and McSweeney’s) that applies humor, tears, cursing, love, and unique insight to almost every aspect of motherhood/life: a failed pregnancy, relocating across the country, a request to end “mommy wars” steeped with insight from both sides, grandparents/Florida, to do lists, meal-train etiquette, participation trophies, parenting experts, plane rides with kids, and partners. You will grin throughout this collection, as each essay is graced with humor and humility. You will tear-up a bit reading many of the essays as some are poignant and unsparing (e.g., a retelling of a failed pregnancy, and/or a story of a fight over divorcing – they didn’t – that uses FB “likes” to score points). Quick note: we found this book because one of its chapters was a recent Op-Ed in The New York Times.

My new short-term goal – to meet this author. Since we are both Vermonters, achieving it may be as simple as just driving the state asking who knows her; eventually, with this method, I will find her. So be forewarned Ms. Harrington, I may exhibit stalker like tendencies soon. But more likely, I will merely ask the fabulous booksellers at the Norwich Bookstore to let Ms. Harrington know she has a new fan. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780316393843.jpgAnd Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell (2018) – The catchy title of this new memoir immediately begs the question: “But is anyone ever ready for motherhood?” O’Connell initially thinks that she is, though her positive pregnancy test does come as a surprise to her and her fiance. With this book, she bravely charts her physical and emotional journey from single New York career woman-writer to the end of her first year with a toddler. Nothing is off limits: her pregnancy anxieties, a difficult labor, her maternal ambivalence, sex (or lack thereof) after delivery, “to daycare or not to daycare?”, or finding new, true mommy friends. In a nutshell, O’Connell describes the wonder-filled but very rocky road to becoming a family of three in a timeless yet contemporary way. Even as a mother with adult children, I fully related to her emotions – the raw, honest way that she writes made my own experiences feel close and fresh again.  I even found a tear of recognition rolling down my cheek in her final chapter. As soon as I finished, I ran out and purchased a copy for a friend who is newly pregnant. It is the perfect gift for new mothers.

We found our way to this book because it was featured in an excellent New York Times piece about recent books about motherhood. ~ Lisa Cadow

BONUS PICK

FC9780544002234.jpgAre You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel (2012) – One of us read this graphic novel years ago when it first published; one of us is in the midst of it now.  Thus, neither of us can review it in detail today. However, it immediately sprang to mind when we thought about this post. So, for today’s review, we will use the words of Jonathan Safran Froer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything is Illuminated,Are You My Mother is a work of the most humane kind of genius, bravely going right to the heart of things: why we are who we are. It’s also incredibly funny. And visually stunning. And page-turningly addictive. And heartbreaking.” We both found our way to this book because we are huge fans of Ms. Bechdel (note: a fellow Vermonter).

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Last Tuesday we published Part I of our list of books to help us all have conversations about difficult topics. Today, we tackle Part II. Both parts are in response to a recent conversation during which one of our teens lamented, “Why can’t I have parents who don’t talk about uncomfortable things?”, a conversation that has us thinking — How does one develop comfort talking about uncomfortable topics?

Our answer, of course, is reading great books helps get these conversations started. So today, we are again recommending more books to help you think, and ideally talk, about some uncomfortable topics – this time race, grief, sexual identity, gun violence, and politics (with another bonus book for mental health already tackled in Part I). May they all lead to great conversations

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Grief

FC9781555977412.jpgGrief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter (2015) – Imagine a 5-foot-tall bird knocking you over when you answer your front door. This is not only how we are introduced to the book’s actual avian character “Crow” but also how the author invites us to think about the power of grief. This very original novella provides a snapshot of the year following the sudden death of a young family’s mother and wife. At once poetic and profound, it is a journey through loss and healing. It is beautifully written, funny, immensely sad, and true. Fans of the poet Ted Hughes will appreciate the frequent references to his work. I missed this when it was first published in 2015 and am grateful for the wise friend who put his feather-light masterpiece into my hands. ~Lisa Cadow

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Sex and Sexual identity

FC9781629560892.jpgSexploitation by Cindy Pierce (2015) – Ms. Pierce tackles the issues surrounding the fact that today’s teens are immersed in porn culture everywhere they look — Internet porn, gaming, social media, marketing, and advertising. This exposure means that teens today have a much broader view of social and sexual possibilities, making it difficult to establish appropriate expectations or to feel adequate about their own sexuality. This book will help you talk to the teens in your life about sex and more. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780763668723.jpg It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris (2014) – A SUPERB book for pre-teens. Provides excellent fodder for conversations if you read it together. We sincerely hope it helps your family discuss sex as much as it helped ours. Thank you Dr. Lyons, and White River Family Practice. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780618871711.jpgFun Home by Alison Bechdel (2007 – We hope someone does a ten year anniversary edition soon) – This graphic memoir by Vermont’s own Ms. Bechdel bravely tackles how sexual identity is formed, the costs of suppression, and well, “coming of age” for lack of a better phrase. We also highly recommend the Tony Award winning Broadway play now on tour in the USA~ Lisa Christie

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Mental Health

FC9781592407323.jpgMarbles by Ellen Forney (2012) – Forney’s brilliant account of her experience with bipolar does not shy away from sharing  intimate details in her life from the diagnosis of this condition in adulthood, to her exhausting manic episodes (including hypersexuality), to the long struggle to manage her multiple medications. She grapples deeply with whether or not she needs the bipolar to feed her artistic creativity and how it has effected other artists throughout history. This unique format invites readers to engage with subject matter through pictures and images. I find graphic novels actually help me to remember stories more vividly, the words pictures lodging themselves differently in my memory than mere words. This memoir does a great service by educating readers about a prevalent condition and expands the conversation about mental heath support in our society. Excellent, excellent for book groups. ~Lisa Cadow

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Race

FC9781501126352.jpgThe Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward – Ms. Ward, a 2017 McArthur Genius award winner, recently collected a essays from prominent authors of color on race in the USA. A great way to approach how the color of your skin affects your lived experiences. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780307278449.jpgThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970) – Probably one of the most powerful fictional books about life inside black skin we have read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

 

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Gun Violence

FC9781481438254.jpgA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017) – Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in an unique and powerful novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride when Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he thinks killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. ~ Lisa Christie

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Politics

FC9780062300546.jpgHillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (2016) – This was first recommended by DAILY UV founder Rob Gurwitt during the Holiday 2016 Pages in the Pub, this best-selling memoir by a prominent conservative thinker Vance. In his six-word review Rob said – An afflicted, troublesome America, piercingly explained. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780062684929-1.jpgUnbelievable by Katy Tur (2017) – An up front and personal account of the 2016 presidential race from a MSNBC and MBC reporter who followed Trump from the time when everyone thought his candidacy was a long shot all the way through his election. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.” ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780393608717.jpgThe Long Haul by Finn Murphy (2017) – A trucker offers insights into life on the road, the intersection of blue collar and white collar work over a moving van and observations of how humans interact in the USA. Mr. Murphy’s perspective is rather unique to American literature, and one that may help us think more often about the people on the other side of the border (states, or jobs or..). ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Displays at the Norwich Bookstore and the Norwich Public Library during last month’s Banned Books Week reminded us that many beloved books would not have reached us had banning succeeded. Thus, we write today’s post in gratitude for those librarians, booksellers, parents, and teachers who keep banned books circulating. And now, we review SOME (and only some) of our favorite banned books. (Honestly, the lists of what has been banned are pretty incredible and this post could continue for awhile if we had more space, and you had more time.)

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Cover ImageThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon (2003) – This book was banned due to “profanity and atheism”. We caught the profanity when we read it, and didn’t really blink. But somehow,when we think back to enjoying this book, we can’t remember the atheism. What we do remember is a compelling main character who reminded us that being different can be a gift, and that disabilities challenge but also are only part of what makes people amazing. We are grateful this book made it to our reading shelves. And, we know of quite a few lovers of Broadway shows who are grateful as well.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Cover ImageFun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006) – The banned book site states Fun Home is most often challenged due to “violence and graphic images”.  This information produced chuckles because Fun Home is a “graphic” memoir. We also chuckled often while actually reading this memoir because Ms. Bechdel treats the fraught material of her childhood with humor and grace.  We understand some readers may be squeamish about her unabashed look at suicide, homosexuality, and other themes. But honestly, we believe any squeamishness reinforces the need to read this poignant novel. We note that Broadway also loved this book. Suddenly, we sense a theme in this post — wish to create an award winning play? Adapt a banned book.

The Bluest Eye Cover ImageThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1994) – This book makes one of the Lisas all time best book lists; so, banning it feels personal. We have a hard time understanding how a novel exploring how racism makes a girl wish she had a different color skin could possibly be anything other than enlightening. However, The Bluest Eye is often banned due to “sexually explicit” material, and “containing controversial issues”.  We say bring on the controversy and learn.

To Kill a Mockingbird Cover ImageTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – This all-time “must read” for the Book Jam Lisas is often banned due to “offensive language and racism”.  To this we counter, isn’t talking about (and eliminating racism) the point of this book?

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Cover ImageNickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001) – This book is banned due to its “political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint”.  We argue that reading something written by those who don’t share your political views is worthwhile, and perhaps especially helpful during this US election year. More importantly however, we argue this book about Ms. Ehrenreich’s struggle to make ends meet while earning a minimum wage is a must read for anyone making policy, employing people, renting apartments to people, doctoring those without insurance, etc…

Of Mice and Men Cover ImageOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937) This was banned “due to offensive language, racism, violence”. We love it for its ability to inspire sobs in a few pages.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter, Book 1) Cover ImageHarry Potter series by JK Rowling (assorted years) – Banned “due to satanism”; somehow we missed the satanic references while reading this series. Perhaps we were having too much fun with the magic and the lessons of friendship, loyalty, and standing up to bullies (after all what is Voldemort but an extreme bully?). We are grateful that these books survived banning so that thousands of children around the world could learn that reading is fun.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Cover ImageRoll of Thunder Hear My Cry  by Mildred Taylor (1976) – This Newbery Award winning classic makes the banned lists “due to offensive language”. We feel learning from this story and the abuse suffered by the main characters due to their skin color overshadow any offensive language. We also believe the banners definitely missed the fact this book provides an intimate look at life in the USA as an African American girl.

Well, we could keep going; but, we will stop here, with one quick closing thought. While we love the fact everyone uses reviews and recommendations to determine what books to consume (hopefully, the Book Jam helps you with this), we truly abhor the idea of someone deciding that controversial books will be unavailable to anyone rather than merely reviewed. So, thank you again to all those educators out there who ensure books remain on shelves to influence all of us.

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