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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Safran Foer’

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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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books-colorful-stackThe Book Jam Lisas have a favorite gift to present when significant events arise in the lives of loved ones (e.g., 10th, 20th, 50th anniversary, or 20th, 40th, 60th birthday). Yes, of course this gift involves books, but the key to this gift resides in the selection. For this gift, you as the giver, select one best selling book from the year of the original event (wedding or birthday), and then one for every subsequent decade, finishing with a book from the year of the current gift giving occasion. We recognize this description may make no sense at all, so we play out two examples below.

Rest assured we have given this gift to many, and it has been LOVED, LOVED, LOVED by recipients everywhere. Bonus for this gift — as you pick titles to give, you will discover some books you missed reading when they were first published, and the stack of great books to read on your own bed side table will grow.

GIFT-GIVING SCENARIO #1 — Your parents/grandparents/neighbors celebrate their 40th (or you celebrate yours)

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Pick #1 is from 1975, the year they married

Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurty – Before the Academy award winning movie, there was a novel revolving around two women – Aurora and her daughter Emma, and their struggle to find the courage and humor needed to live through life’s hazards. This is something we are certain any long married couple can relate to.

Pick #2 hails from 1985

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is also a romantic. This book is their story. We think it will be fun for any married couple to read.

Pick #3 was published in 1995

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – Mr. Hornby is reliably funny as an author, and his books almost always inspire a movie that can be watched once you finish the book. In this outing, the life of a record store owner, who spends his life making top five lists (e.g., top 5 Elvis Costello songs), changes a bit when his girlfriend leaves him. He actually finds this a relief as “how can he have a future with a girl with a bad record collection?” Then once single, life with the girlfriend looks so much better. Bonus– the book will make married life look superb for the gift recipients.

Pick #4 is from 2005

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – Nine-year-old Oskar has an urgent mission to find the lock matching a key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on September 11. This task becomes an emotional, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey throughout New York City. 9-11 was a huge event in any marriage that lived through it. This book will help the couple receiving this gift talk about it in a new way.

Pick #5, the final selection is from 2015, the year of this special occasion

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)  – The next Gone Girl (from a British perspective), will make the gift recipients’ own relationship and its endurance seem that much more special. We can not say much more as almost any description of the plot will ruin the experience of reading it, but we recommend reading it before the inevitable movie based upon its prose arrives in a theater near you.

GIFT-GIVING SCENARIO #2 — Your girlfriend/niece/daughter/goddaughter turns twenty in 2015.

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Pick #1 comes from 1995, the year of their birth

Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama – The current President, the one people born in 1995 remember most clearly at this point, published this autobiography during the year they were born. So, that seems like a great place to start this gift to people born in 1995. In this memoir, President Obama explores what it meant to him to be the son of a black African father and a white American mother. His book takes you from small town Kansas, from which President Obama retraces the migration of his mother’s family to Hawaii, to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, and places in between. Note: President Obama won a grammy for his recording of this memoir; so, an audio-book version might be a great option.

Pick #2 was published in 2005, when they were ten

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Many high schoolers across the country have read this as part of required reading lists because it is an amazing book of the Holocaust with an unusual narrator – Death. You should read it and give it because it 1) will change you and the gift recipient, 2) is well-written, and 3) reminds you that in the heart of the worst darkness there is hope and there are good people. And ultimately, this novel is about the power of books and stories.

Pick #3, the final pick, is from 2015, the year of this special occasion

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015) – A superb, superb book about love and life told from the perspective of two teens – Violet and Finch – living in Indiana, trying to figure out what their senior year of HS means, what colleges to attend and how to play the hands they have been dealt by life (him – abusive father, indifferent mother; her – she survived a car wreck, her sister did not). We can not recommend it highly enough; but, be warned you will be very, very sad, as well as happy, while you read this book. Your gift recipient will be thrilled to be reminded that High School and all its angst is behind them.

You get the idea.  And, what is truly, truly great about this idea, is that it works for anyone, for any occasion, year after year. Have fun finding the perfect books for the loved ones in your life.

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Listen Now Stories for Old Men Waiting  or download http://www.box.net/files#/files/0/f/0/1/f_732747352.

The fact that 1) Lisa LC picked up and enjoyed Rules for Old Men Waiting, and that 2) we both have recently read and loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand  by Helen Simonson led us to a discussion of what we see as an emerging trend in books: those in which men are reflecting upon their lives and, well let’s face it, are doing so as they wait to die -ahem, we mean living out what’s left of their golden years!

So, since we love a challenge, we spent this BookJam attempting to paint an upbeat yet truthful picture of these books while actually discussing narrators who are “waiting to die.”  The books we chose to include are:

Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncey

This novel shows us an 80-year-old man who loved his wife and is passionately missing her since she died.  The plot finds him waiting to die so that he may join her again.  Lisa LC says it is beautifully written and completely atmospheric – you will tremendously enjoy the time you spend in the novel’s Cape Cod setting. And you enjoy the time you spend with the man while he waits.

Old Filth by  Jane Gardam

“Failed in London try Hong Kong – FILTH” is a description attached to the main character in this novel – Sir Edward Feathers, a barrister who has divided his life between Great Britain and Asia.  The big question for the reader as you learn about his life is -does this nickname actually apply to Sir Feathers? We both enjoyed the humor, the wit, the knowledge gained from Old Filth as he looks back on his life as a barrister and his loveless (unlike in Rules for Old Men Waiting) marriage.  As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that this marriage was to a woman, now dead, whom he did not truly know at all.  The cause for all this reflection?  Well, his life’s rival moves next door to the secluded home Old Filth chose for an uneventful retirement.

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson – The randomness of neighbors jump starts the reflections in this novel as well (See Old Filth above).  When the brother of a childhood friend moves next door to Trond Sander, a man dwelling in self-imposed exile on the edge of Norway, it causes Trond to think back on a day in his childhood where Trond and the childhood friend chose to spend the day stealing horses.  The entire book is beautiful, but bleak.   It also has you questioning what decisions you have made that will become the point (apparent only in retrospect of course) that your life turned.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – Lisa LC describes this novel as “full of energy and youth” with writing that is “unusual and brilliant”.  Do we need to say any more to get you to read this book after that?   In case we do, here is a bit about the plot.  This book is about a book – a long-lost book that  reappears and connects an old man  – Leo Gursky – searching for his son and a girl seeking a cure for her widowed mother’s loneliness.  In the present, Gursky is merely surviving, tapping his radiator every day to let his upstairs neighbor know he’s still alive. But years ago, in the Polish village where he was born, Leo fell in love and wrote a book. This book lives on in the life of the girl of this novel.  Read it for details of how these stories connect.

To help those of you who made it through the melancholy and would now just like a book that makes you laugh, we both recommend Family Man  by Elinor Lipman.

The narrator – Henry Archer, a divorced gay man – in this novel has seen fewer years than the men in the books discussed above, but is never the less reviewing his life.  And yes, again the review is instigated by a change in neighbor. (Maybe this podcast should be titled Old Men and Their New Neighbors.)  In this case, his long-lost step daughter moves in with him rekindling a relationship he loved long ago and causing him to reflect on many of his decisions and past loves. If you like screwball comedies, you will enjoy this book. And, if by chance you love Manhattan, you will like the fact that NYC comes across as a character in the Family Man.

We also briefly mentioned Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer as part of the discussion of The History Of Love.

Hmmm Maybe this podcast will inspire some Father’s Day reading/gifts.

Happy Reading!

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