Sunday, February 26, 2017

Faith by Jennifer Haigh

So, when I read the inside jacket on Faith by Jennifer Haigh, I was intrigued but also unsure as to whether I actually wanted to read the book because at some point, I just got exhausted about hearing about the Catholic sex abuse scandal.  I grew up Catholic, which gave me the cultural perspective if you will and spent a lot of time in the Greater Boston area, having gone to college there and then relocated just North of there as an adult.  I was hesitant because I didn't want to re live the same stories and reactions over and over and over again - I thought that there were only a certain limited number of ways that one could tell this story. But I was very much mistaken.

Jennifer Haigh has written three novels previously but this is the first one that I have read by her and it told, what I thought was going to be, the same old tired story in a completely different, humanitarian and refreshing manner. The story begins from the perspective of Sheila McGann, an Irish-American Catholic that grew up in a devoutly Irish Catholic family in Boston (along with all the assumptions that this entails!) two years after the events that she is talking about have occurred. She had taken a vow of silence about the events - more of a promise to her older half brother Father Art - that she's breaking by telling us readers about what happened. Art's early life is laid out by Sheila - their mother was abandoned by Art's father when Art was an infant and when their mother remarried Sheila's father, he was very distant from all of the children and not just Art. So when Art learned that he enjoyed the Catholic rituals and the comfort it brought him, he became a priest - not expecting that it is a burden in addition to a shield.

The biggest question that was presented by Sheila was how does a priest navigate being human in addition to being a priest because priests have to deny a big part of what makes people human - their sexuality, marriage and connection, sometimes even family. She handled it deftly and intelligently in big part because her narrator - Sheila - was fantastic. She was candid about her biases and faults. Sheila talks to us about regret and the book actually contains a fair amount of suspense for what it's about - in many ways it reminded me of the movie Doubt starring Meryl Streep in that regard. I thought that it was masterful to navigate a scandal of this magnitude from the perspective of a sympathetic and flawed (but not in the way you  may suspect) defendant who is seemingly apathetic as the faith of his family is tested and shattered and which forces his family to decide who and what to believe. This is a truly amazing book and one that I think I will revisit at later and different points in my life. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

You Are a Badass by Jennifer Sincero

Self-help books, I think, tend to get a bad rap - they're touchy, feely hippie type of things that no one can get any help from or guidance from.  And some of them are completely like that, don't get me wrong.  But there are some that are gems that can completely feed the spiritual side of you and teach you things about yourself and those are the ones that should be grabbed on to with two hands and never let go. This is one of those books - even though it's really focused on career, the advice that Jen Sincero provides in this book can really and truly be applied to every aspect of ones life.

Sincero provides advice that, while not new, is refreshing in the way that it is provided. She has a very forthright and direct manner that I found easy to comprehend and which got the message through to my, at the time, addled brain. I also really enjoyed how she explained why we often get into the places that we get - which is really important to me since I am totally one of those people that needs to know why everything happens and I'm never really truly satisfied until I get that explanation. She debunks any and all possible excuses and leaves the reader - at least this one - feeling very motivated to move forward and feed the soul. She punctuates her advice with personal stories of how things did and didn't work for her, establishing a connection with me at least - if it worked for her and she's like ME in some ways, then it can work for me too.

This book is one that I purchased because I will be revisiting it and journalling about it for the foreseeable future.  It's definitely a keeper and one that you should add to your library. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

So, Star Wars has always played a huge role in my life.  Episode 4 - the original Star Wars for those of you that don't know anything about the Star Wars universe - came out two years before I was born. One of my earliest memories of movies was eagerly awaiting that opening credit with the theme music and the scrolling words.  Also, pretending to be Han Solo shooting TIE fighters as the Millenium Falcon blasts out of the Death Star.  AWESOME. And honestly, the Princess Leia character was the first legitimately tough, commanding, badass woman that I saw - she in some ways was a feminist role model to me before I was conscious of what feminism and its role models were (followed ten years later by Ellen Ripley of Alien fame, but that's another story for another time), so when I learned that Carrie Fisher wrote a memoir about her time on set at Star Wars, I was super excited.  This was compounded by the fact that Ms. Fisher passed away Christmas week, devastating me in the process.

Carrie Fisher, for those of you who live under a rock, is the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. She literally grew up in the spotlight - she was a toddler when her father left her mother for Liz Taylor, so there was never really a time when Carrie Fisher wasn't in the spotlight.  That type of associative fame - fame that was derived by being associated with someone else famous - was completely different from being famous in her own right and she was thoroughly unprepared for it. This memoir looks at how, at 19, she dealt with being thrust into the spotlight as an overnight hit and with sex and intimacy.

I loved Carrie's voice in this memoir. She was sardonic and witty when it came to her fame and amused when it comes to her love life.  Her big secret was that during the filming of the Star Wars movie, she had an affair with Harrison Ford, who was then a married father of two. We learn that the 33-year old Harrison Ford seduced Carrie in the back of a cab while she was seriously inebriated and after having rescued her from the clutches of some really drunk crew members at George Lucas' birthday party.  My eyebrows were certainly going up at that point. She includes excerpts from the diaries themselves, which I wasn't all too fond of. I skimmed through them. They were boring quite frankly and very "woe is me."  I wish that she had just stuck to telling the story because she is smart and funny. Generally a good read. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I'll be honest - this wasn't the first time that I had read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The last time I read it was 9 years ago, right after my son was born - I can't believe that it has been out for that long. I'm glad that I re-read it now, because I found myself in a place where I could relate more to Ms. Gilbert and her experiences.

At the start of this book, we learn that the author is not in a good place. It's the middle of the night, she's on her bathroom floor sobbing and her marriage is literally going down the toilet. She enters quickly into another relationship that is very stressful for her and ultimately very heartbreaking. She was hurt, depressed and anxious. In order to heal, she decided to spend one year of her life traveling in order to get to know herself.  For the first third of the year, Ms. Gilbert spent time in Italy. For the middle third, Ms. Gilbert spent her time in India and in the last third, she went to Bali.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  Ms. Gilbert is self-effacing, humble and quite frankly, funny and relatable. Books like this can go so wrong so quickly - it's a good thing that she was brutally honest.  I was also very impressed that she set boundaries and stuck to them. For instance, she was honest about having marital problems and the divorce but she was very up front and clear about not wanting to get into the reasons and the fights and I really respected that. There were parts of this book that also really led me to re-evaluate my own life and what was going on in it.  I couldn't have read this book at a better time- without getting too much into it, it reaffirmed my drive to really learn more about who I am as a person now and alone.  I felt like I learned something from this book and it let me do a ton of soul searching (and led to a few journal entries) that would not have occurred had I not read this book.

Definitely read it. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Book 1: Superficial by Andy Cohen

I have to be honest - I started this book in 2016 but completed it in 2017.  I still feel like I can totally count it towards my total in 2017 though since I didn't actually finish it in 2016.

This is the "sequel" to The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Superficial Year. Thanks to my sister, I now am the proud of owner of Superficial as well. For those of you that don't know who Andy Cohen is, he is an executive producer at Bravo TV best known for his role in the "Real Housewives" franchise - he is their executive producer and hosts the infamous reunion shows. He began his career in 1989 at CBS and also hosts his own late night TV show - "Watch What Happens Live."

I have to say that this was one of the most annoying books that I had ever read.  It was totally superficial - which I should have figured from the title. Ha!

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

This novel is my favorite novel and is written by my favorite author of all time. And the fact that it was written in 1985 just blows my m...