Review: ‘Broken (in the best possible way)’ by Jenny Lawson

If you want to know about anxiety and depression and how it impacts you mentally and physically, then look no farther than Jenny Lawson. She has a way of taking such a serious topic and writing about it in the most hilarious way.

Lawson takes a lightened attitude when it comes to her mental health because I think she knows that there is nothing she can do about the craziness that is her life other than laugh about it. And while her antics may seem improbable to most, many others probably find themselves relating to her in more ways than one. I know I do.

“Broken (in the best possible way)” follows the same path of her other books – funny anecdotes with a hard mix of reality. However, I found that Lawson opened up a little more in this book about the more serious parts of her disease. Her letter to her insurance company, lamenting about the prescriptions they refuse to cover that keep her from committing suicide, is a real eye opener. It is a cry for everyone who suffers from mental health and has to decide whether to put food on the table or whether to pay for medicine that can keep them alive. While Jenny is lucky to be able to afford the absurd prices, it makes one wonder how many people have succumbed to their disease because they couldn’t afford it.

Lawson also delves more into the demons that plague her – from the cycle of depression that runs so deep that she is bed bound for days, the pharmacy of medications that have a domino affect on her overall health, to her tumultuous relationship with her husband, which she jokes has only been salvaged because she is too lazy to get a divorce. And because she is so honest about her life, it makes me realize that I could have it so much worse.

My husband suffers from anxiety and depression and is also medicated. Once in a while he says that he is glad that I didn’t know him when he wasn’t medicated – that it was really bad. I have seen him once severely depressed due to a lapse in his prescription at the pharmacy and I never want to ever see him that way again. But even though we deal with his ups and downs, we know that there are others – like Lawson – who have it so much worse.

I am glad that Lawson that is so open about what she goes through because whether she knows it or not, she is helping people who are dealing with similar issues. Hell, I may only suffer from anxiety but I find that I can relate to her – I also step out of my shoes, though none have taken a ride in an elevator.


Have you read “Broken”? What did you think? What other books about mental health would you recommend? Let’s discuss!

‘American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic’ by Andrew Cuomo

It’s hard to believe that it has already been a year since the coronavirus changed our way of life. For New York, the invisible threat was a little late, with our first case starting in March, but we were one of the first major outbreaks in the country. Yet, I can still remember it like yesterday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo began his daily press conferences, updating New Yorkers on what was happening in the state, how many new cases there were each day, the number of deaths and how they were trying to handle it. For four months, I watched every single press conference along with our County Executive’s press conferences so I could provide updates to the members of the County Legislature, so they can be better informed for their local constituents.

Cuomo’s book “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” starts with inevitable early morning phone call on March 1, informing him that New York had its first confirmed cases of COVID-19 and then goes from there. In a diary sort of setup, each chapter is an important date, with the number of cases and death. He recaps the major points in the COVID-19 journey from the first cluster that hit Westchester, NY and caused the first “lockdown” to the shutdown of the entire state, what he ends up calling New York on PAUSE.

What makes this book interesting is the behind the scenes decisions that were being made as New York had to deal with each new crisis as it unfolded, even as Cuomo has to deal with his own family and staff that were being exposed or infected. Cuomo goes into detail about his negotiations with the federal government, particularly with President Trump and he doesn’t hold back on his derision for the decisions that were being made. He goes into the conflicts he had in making certain decisions and how at times he didn’t agree with any of the options laid out before him.

Cuomo has gotten some criticism for writing this book before the pandemic was officially over, but I think the intention of the book was not to take a victory lap but merely to describe how New York got over the first wave. Of course this book is a bit subjective as it is his personal account and there are a few times where he seems to be patting himself on the back, but honestly this book is merely a recap of what happened during those first few months.

Recently, there has been more and more news that has come out about those decisions, particularly about the nursing homes. Some of it he explains in the book, but it will be interesting how it plays out.

To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of Cuomo previously, but I think he did step up and lead during the crisis. I honestly believe he was doing the best he could given that this was an entirely new virus, and that goes for a lot of our officials – at least the ones that acknowledged that the virus was real and was trying to stop it. He was a calming voice who was trying to reassure people who didn’t understand what was going on. No one knew what they were doing. So were mistakes made? Most definitely. But that is what happens when local officials have to figure it out as they go along.

This is just one individual’s perspective and I am sure more and more books will be coming out about what has happened. Cuomo’s book is just a part of the narrative. Whether you choose to read it or not is completely up to you.

“84 Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff

This is such a charming and endearing book that I was quite sad that it had to end. I am so glad that this is a book club pick because I had never heard of it before and would have been missing out.

Helen Hanff is a writer in NYC in 1949 who begins a correspondence with a used book dealer in London seeking a list of books. A back and forth commences. As their correspondence continues through the years, the two begin to develop a friendship based on their love of books. They never meet and are separated by a whole ocean and yet, they are so familiar with each other.

I laughed at some parts and cried at others as the letters make those who are reading them feel that they are part of the company. I loved watching how Helens relationship with Frank grows beyond a book exchange and they begin to share their lives and it even extends to other employees in the book store.

I particularly loved the parts when Helen was outraged at something or when the book store was too slow in getting a book she longed for and she would blast them with a snarky letter, that was all in good fun.

“SLOTH. i could ROT over here before you’d send me anything to read. i oughta run straight down to brentano’s which i would if anything i wanted was in print…

what do you do with yourself all day, sit in the back of the store and read? why don’t you try selling a book to somebody?”

Helen Hanff, February 9, 1952

Every letter is unique. Some of Helen’s letters are well thought out and grammatically correct while others, such as the one above, lack capitalization and correct punctuation. Given that she is a writer, I would assume it goes to show how much she was in a rush to send off the letter at the time.

I liked how the letters revealed what is going on in the world at that time. The correspondence starts at the end of World War II, when Britain still has food rations and things are still hard to come by. There is another letter that signals the death of the King and then the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Then another shows how tourism begins to pick up in Britain by how busy the bookstore is.

I also liked knowing what books she was requesting and what books were popular at the book store. We have a few used book stores here in upstate NY and I now want to take a stroll through one and see what they have in stock. Better yet, maybe I should write them a letter and tell them to mail me a copy.

This book will make you long for the days of letter writing, something I actually enjoyed when I was younger. There is something to be said about sending a letter to someone through the postal service and waiting to hear back. For a while, I had a pen pal who lived in Oregon, on the opposite site of the United States, and I loved hearing from her. I also wrote back and forth to my uncle in Pennsylvania too. Why don’t we write letters anymore? We have email but but it’s not the same. More often than not, we just shoot off a reply to the person that contacted us.

If you want a quick nostalgic read that you can curl up with in an afternoon, then “84 Charing Cross Road” is the perfect book.


Have you read this book? What other charming books would you recommend? Let’s discuss!

‘Relish: My Life in the Kitchen’ by Lucy Knisley

Every year for November, the Society for Avid Readers Across the Hudson Book Club chooses a book that revolves around food. Sometimes they are really good and sometimes they are really bad. It’s always a mixed bag.

My initial thoughts when they selected “Relish” was that this book is going to be fun. That is purely going by the cover. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but I just couldn’t help it. Look at it.

Then I realized that it was a graphic novel and some of that excitement faded. I am not one to read graphic novels. I don’t know why but for some reason they just don’t appeal to me. Maybe the layout is too distracting for me, I don’t know. But I bit the bullet and guess what, I liked it.

I blew through it in an hour and I must say that it was fun. In the past we have read food books which were more about the industry or what you should or shouldn’t do when it comes to food or the types of food to eat. However this was just a personal experience with food, sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes just outright hilarious.

Knisley talks about her childhood in the kitchen with a mom who was a chef and how food played a huge role at each stage of her life. She talks about how the dinner menu was a bit different than what normal kids would eat – all high end food that you would normally be served at a restaurant. I mean if it was me, I might have starved, since I am picky eater, or, maybe, I would have learned to appreciate food at an early age like she did.

My favorite parts were when she was finally introduced to the world of processed food at a friend’s house and when she ate Mexican food in Mexico. I will say, there is something about eating food from another culture that is unforgettable. I still think about the food I ate in Spain.

If Knisley doesn’t make you hungry enough, at the end of each chapter she includes a recipe, which is a complete bonus. Not going to lie, some of the recipes I might even try, though some others are way too involved for me and I fear that I would just make a mess of things.

The fact that this was a graphic novel only served as a benefit and I actually enjoyed the imagery that accompanied the narrative. Perhaps I should give graphic novels more of a try.

I didn’t make it to book club for the discussion but I think I would have enjoyed it. I’m really interested to hear what everyone else thought. The organizer gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. I didn’t think it was that amazing but it was definitely 4 stars. But then again, to me five stars equals absolutely amazing, can’t stop thinking about it, everyone needs to read it.

Let’s just say, if you are looking for a light, fun read, this is definitely a good one. But make sure you have a snack nearby because your tummy might get hungry before you’re through.


Have you read “Relish”? What did you think? What other foodie books would you recommend? Let’s discuss!

‘The Library Book’ by Susan Orlean

I wasn’t able to make the book club discussion in October due to work but I felt like I should still write a review about this book, even if it is a few weeks late. Even more so because I am still thinking about it.

I wasn’t expecting to like this book. I was excited when it had first come out and then I saw that it was nonfiction. For some reason, I immediately thought it was going to be a snoozer. It didn’t help that I saw mixed reviews about it, some of which said that it was hard to get through.

Well yet again, book club wins. I swear I am more and more appreciative that I am in book club because I feel like every month I am saying that if it wasn’t because of book club I wouldn’t have read the book. I absolutely loved “The Library Book” and with Orlean’s descriptive writing style, I kept turning the pages for more.

“The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality, in the library we can live forever.”

-The Library Book

Through little snippets like the one above, Orlean shows her appreciation for libraries and what they stand for. While “The Library Book” focuses on the San Franscisco Library fire of 1986, Orlean weaves her personal experience with libraries into the narrative. She delves into its operations, not just at the checkout counter, but behind the scenes, from the process of bringing in new books to keeping track of the inventory to the process that goes into shipping books between branches as well as the myriad of other services a library has to offer.

More importantly, Orlean highlights how critical libraries are to the community and why the fire of 1986 was so devastating to the staff, the community and even the city. She even goes into the financial aspect of a library. While the local city does contribute to the funding of a library, it is a constant negotiation to get more funding to support the services they offer.

In each chapter, Orlean provides new information about the fire and its aftermath, the hunt for the guilty party and then when you begin to tire of the history lesson, she segways into either a story about going to a library when she was growing up or a generalization about the affect libraries have on the areas they reside. It leaves you with a newfound respect for the institution.

I will say after reading this book I definitely wanted to go out and support my local library.


Have you read “The Library Book”? What did you think? Let’s discuss!

‘Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers’ by Mary Roach

You must be thinking, “What in the world possessed you to read a book about cadavers?” The simple answer: curiosity. You can’t read a title such as this and not think, what lives do cadavers have? They are dead people. Plus, my book club mentioned that they had read this book previously and I figured it must be interesting if it was discussed in such a setting.

Honestly, I thought I knew everything I needed to know about cadavers. People die and they either get buried or get cremated. Some donate their organs to science. But as Roach points out, in a very unexpected detailed way, cadavers actually do a lot more than just that.

In fact, now that I have read this book, I feel I know everything I need to know about cadavers and the curious lives they lead, from being test dummies to improve driver safety and being subjects for medical students to practice skills on, to helping understand the different stages of decay and being part of experiments to see if cadaver parts can be used for transplants.

This was a surprisingly easy book to read. Usually with books about science, a reader can get bogged down with trying to understand all the scientific terminology, or in this case, medical terminology, that often has words so long, they make you tongue tied. However, Roach breaks everything down in layman’s terms that is easy to understand and sometimes, a little too detailed.

With such a morbid topic, it is inevitable that parts of this book were going to get a bit gross. If you are squeamish or get grossed out easily, you may want to forgo this book or enter with caution, especially the chapter called Eat Me. That’s right, Roach even goes into the history of cannibalism. Let’s just say I made sure I wasn’t eating when I reached this chapter. I’m actually glad she names the chapters to provide some bit of a warning of what you are about to get.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting book to read and I did learn some stuff I didn’t know. However, I don’t think it is a book that I would return to over and over again. I’m glad I read it but honestly, it’s a one and done.

‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama

I have been wanting to read this “Becoming” by Michelle Obama since it came out. I am not sure why. I will admit, I wasn’t particularly a huge fan of the Obamas when they were in office. Yet, I was curious what Michelle Obama had to say.

And boy did she have a lot to say. If you go into this book thinking that you are simply going to read about her life, you are sadly mistaken. It’s more than an autobiography. It’s a message for women, it’s a message for those who have struggled through life, it’s a message for everyone.

I enjoyed this book way more than I thought I would. I was particularly surprised by how relatable it was.  There is no doubt about it, Michelle Obama is an strong, independent woman and has been since she was a child. I found myself smiling at some of things she went through because it was like looking into my past. Proving that just because you’re a female, doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve the same opportunities as a man.

“Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It’s vulnerability that breeds with self doubt and then is escalated often deliberately by fear.”

This quote early on in the book really resonated with me. And Michelle proved time and again that even if you’re afraid of failure, you still have to go for it. More often than that you can succeed. All you have to do is try.

Although I am not African American, as she discussed affirmative action after being accepted to Princeton, I felt like I had had that conversation before. My best friend, Carmen, who is Colombian has echoed Michelle’s doubt plenty of times. Had she truly deserved the slot at the college or that promotion at her job? Or was she simply filling a slot because the color of her skin was darker? But like Michelle, the doubts would soon go away and she would start doing things better than everyone else. She would find her niche and prove that she deserved to be there.

I also enjoyed reading about Michelle’s relationship with Barack and it was a relief that it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. I mean, every relationship isn’t perfect, but Michelle’s honesty was a bit surprising, considering she was talking about the former President of the United States. It was really interesting to read how Michelle struggled to stay true to herself while supporting the man she loved, and at the same time not becoming an extension of his shadow. I loved her take charge attitude and made sure that her voice was heard.

She learned to see the positive in things, even if she didn’t agree with them, like politics. I wasn’t expecting her to actually be so honest about how she didn’t want Barack to go into the Senate and then run for the presidency. Yet, through all of it, she stayed true to her own vision and tried to make the most amount of difference in the roles that she had.

I could probably go on and on about this book, but I will let you read it for yourself, if you haven’t already. What I realized while reading is this is only one of the First Ladies out of 45. I suddenly wondered what the other First Lady’s lives were like. I bet some of their stories are actually more interesting than their husbands. And so a new reading list was born.


Have you read “Becoming”? What did you think? What other memoirs would you recommend? Let’s discuss!

 

The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

*Warning: This review contains a lot of references to “vagina”. Don’t be scared. It’s a medical term for crying out loud.

I had heard about the “The Vagina Monologues” by Eve Ensler, but honestly I never thought I would actually read them or go see the play. I had a vague idea what it was about and I could take it or leave it. So I was seriously surprised when one of my book clubs chose this for February. They have a general rule of not picking thinks that are estrogen fueled. Yet, they seemed to think it would make for a good conversation. I was curious enough so I shrugged and went for it.

All I can say is WOW! I definitely see why this book, or play as it really is, needs to be read. Because even though it was written in the 90s, it’s message still applies today. I am guilty of feeling all the ways Ensler accuses society of feeling when they hear the word “vagina”, and boy does she say it a lot.

“I say it because I believe that what we don’t say we don’t see, acknowledge, or remember. What we don’t say becomes a secret, and secrets often create shame and fear and myths. I say it because I want to some day feel comfortable saying it, and not ashamed and guilty.”

What she says is so true because even reading this book in the year 2020, I couldn’t help feel a bit uncomfortable reading it. I could only think of my own family where anything that has to do with the female body is supposed to be a secret. Forget “vagina”, my father thought it blasphemous to even say the word “period” in front of him. When I did finally get it, my mom told him “your daughter became a woman” and when I had cramps I had to refer to it as having “women’s issues”. I had to wait for the men to leave the room just so I could talk about it with my mom. So imagine, getting into a long-term relationship with a man, where inevitably the topic is going to be brought up. I was embarrassed at first to even mention it, but thankfully he was understanding, and knowing that it didn’t bother him was reassuring to me.

Each monologue delves into a different issue that has to do with that all knowing body part. Ensler forces you to get downright personal with it. Some of the interviews are outright hilarious. I particularly like the answers to the questions, “If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?” and “If your vagina could talk, what would it say in two words?”

We have come a long ways since this play was first written. We are more accepting to women’s issues but there is still more that we need to do, which is why this play will continue to be important. It also brings to light some of the more serious consequences of having something like a female body part become taboo. By not acknowledging that woman have vaginas and what that body part does or doesn’t do, you are also not acknowledging the things that shouldn’t be happening, such as sexual violence. It’s an issue the continues to plague women across the world.

“And as more women say the word, saying it becomes less of a big deal; it becomes part of our language, part of our lives. Our vaginas become integrated and respected and sacred. … And the shame leaves and the violation stops…”

Did this review make you feel uncomfortable? All the more reason why you should probably read it. This will be really interesting to talk about in our book club discussion, especially with the guys. I wonder how many will actually read the book.

 

 

 

 

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollen

Given that November is all about food, “In Defense of Food” was this month’s pick for the Society for Avid Readers Across the Hudson (SARAH) Book Club and to be honest I was a little hesitant about it. I really didn’t want another book to tell me what I should be eating and why. But this book was a bit different.

For the most part, Pollan goes into the history of the food industry in the United States and how it has changed since the 50s. Why even though we claim to have “healthier” food, we have become more of an unhealthy society. He discusses how food has changed from what our mothers used to make, to food that is now loaded with preservatives and artificial ingredients that even though they claim to be “low fat” “low carb” “sugar free” etc., they are actually the opposite.

Early on in the transformation challenge that I joined at my gym this fall, my trainer actually gave us food advice. One tip was not to read the packaging on food because it was all false. Rather, she encouraged us to read the nutrition labels and the ingredients to see what we were actually eating. It is amazing all the unknown ingredients that we put into our bodies every day and don’t even realize it. So reading this book reinforced what my trainer was actually saying and went into further detail how the food industry, the media, and the government all played in a role in how we think about food.

In addition, Pollan talks about the healthy food that we have in our supermarkets, i.e, produce, which is not as healthier as it was 50 years ago. Between the pesticides and the stuff that we put into it so that we import it from other countries means our produce has lost some of its nutritional value. Furthermore, meat has also changed given that animals are now fed on a corn and soy diet. Our beef used to have marbling, aka fat, that is actually good for us. However, because scientists seemed to think at one time, that this type of “fat” was the sole reason for our rising heart disease, animals were fed a leaner diet to become …you guessed it…lean. He goes on to explain why this happened and even uses a term called Nutrionism, which is too complicated for me to explain so I will just read it for yourselves.

I am not going to lie, halfway through this book, I seriously wanted to throw my hands up in the air and say, “Well, we’re just screwed! What do we eat then?!” But I after continued to read, the second half became a little more positive. Pollan gives us some tips or “rules” for us to move away from this “unhealthy” eating. Besides reading food labels, he also suggests shopping at farmer’s markets or eating like our ancestors aka making our meals, enjoying our food, and eating slower. Though the front of the book says it all: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

The one thing I didn’t like about this book was that it could have actually been a bit shorter. Pollan repeats a lot of points over and over again in multiple chapters, to the point that it is actually annoying. There were a few times, I was like “yeah I know, you already said that in the last chapter. What does that have to do with this one?” Yet, I was willing to overlook it because the book brought to light things I didn’t know. When I got done, I had to sit there and think. It definitely made me reevaluate how I approach food.

The book did generate a great discussion during book club as half the group didn’t like the book. Some took issue with the fact that Pollan seemed a bit preachy and pompous. The suggestion of shopping at farmers’ markets as the only way to buy healthy food rubbed a few the wrong way since market food is typically more expensive and many can’t afford that option. They felt that he should have considered the socio-economic factor a bit more. However, as some others pointed out, he has other books where he explains that. I think there were some, who after discussing Pollens points a bit more, ended up liking the book more than they thought.

It was definitely an interesting read and I was glad I gave it a chance. Now I should go make up my grocery shopping list for the week. Until next time…


Have you read In Defense of Food? What did you think? What other books about food would you recommend? Let’s discuss!

Educated by Tara Westover

“To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s.” – Tara Westover

img_2080Educated by Tara Westover has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for 69 weeks. Everyone that I know who has read it has only positive things to say. I am happy to say that I can now add my name to that list. I finished it last week, but I am still thinking about it and already recommending it to anyone that I know.

Tara Westover grew up in a Mormon survivalist family in Idaho, which doesn’t believe in the government or the medical establishment. Anything that can be manipulated by the government is seen as a danger, including schools. Any illness or injury is treated by their mother, who is an herbalist, and the little education they do get is done at home. However, one by one, Tara’s siblings leave the house to either find jobs or to get the education that they couldn’t get at home.

At first Tara doesn’t understand why her siblings would want to leave and be “under the government’s control”, but as she gets older and the illusion that her father has built begins to fade, Tara begins to yearn to get off the mountain. She begins to study so she can take the ACT exam and at the age of 17 she enters a classroom for the first time at college.

While Tara’s story is not necessarily new (e.g. The Glass Castle), it is still just as powerful, because it is yet another example of why education is so important. It is hard to believe that there are families that still don’t believe in education in the 21st century and it made me appreciate the opportunities that were offered to me.

What I loved about this book is seeing how Tara grows once she does go to college. It makes your heart squeeze every time her eyes are opened to a new thing. And yet, you can’t help but feel bad for her, especially in her first year as she goes through many of the hiccups that most of us get over in middle or high school. While you know that her education is limited during her childhood, you don’t really grasp it until her ignorance is put on display. I was shocked that she didn’t even know about the Holocaust, and found myself getting protective over her. I got angry at the other students and the professor who thought she was making a joke and I quietly soothed her as she subsequently researched it and learned the truth. She has many more of these moments and it was heartwarming to see the curtain fall away.

“I had discerned the ways in which we had been sculpted by a tradition given to us by others, a tradition of which we were either willfully or accidentally ignorant. I had begun to understand that we had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others—because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward.”

Despite her ability to make great leaps and bounds at school, she inevitably falls a few steps back every time she goes home. It is the constant struggle that Tara deals with as she tries to make a life for herself without severing ties with her family. She loves her family despite all their shortcomings and every time she is forced to make a choice between them and her education, it is devastating and causes a setback.

“It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you.”

This book will make you angry. It will make you sad. It will make you happy. The fact that Tara didn’t step into a classroom until she was 17 and she was able to not only graduate college, but go on to get her doctorate degrees is absolutely mind blowing. It just reinforces the old adage that you can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it.

“The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self.
You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal.
I call it an education”


Have you read Educated yet? If so, what did you think? Let’s discuss!