Book #31: A Girl Walks Into A Bar by Rachel Dratch

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This book comes from my obsession with Tina Fey. I love Tina Fey. She’s so incredibly funny. She’s smart, sassy, and above all, unapologetic. I found this book, Rachel Dratch’s, on audible.com as a recommendation because I downloaded Bossypants. Dratch writes about her experience as a female comedian, actor, and writer on Saturday Night Live.  Continue reading

Book #30: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The-Art-of-FieldingThere have been a few books that I’ve read in the last year that I’ve had a hard time writing about. Some because I disliked them, but more because I adored them completely and totally. I loved The Night Circus so much that I read it in two days. And The Solace of Leaving Early left me feeling totally inadequate to describe how lovely it was. The Art of Fielding belongs on that short list. It’s truly a remarkable book, and I picked it up at the store completely by accident. Continue reading

Book #29: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

15790837It’s time for yet another book of David Sedaris’ essays, which I have to admit–I absolutely adore. I remember when I was in high school and a friend gave me Me Talk Pretty One Day, which I read in exactly one night. I was immediately enamored with the way that David Sedaris tells stories; he’s so approachable and honest in the way that he remembers things and shares them. When I went to college and began my obsession with This American Life, I discovered that David Sedaris is a regular guest, and I listened every week. There’s this one episode where David Sedaris discusses his father’s interest in having musicians for children, and David impersonates Billie Holiday singing local shopping mall jingles, and I’ve probably heard it 50 times since. It never fails to leave me doubled over with laughter. Continue reading

Book #26: The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

prodigal_summerI have to confess something. In celebration of reaching the halfway mark in my 50 books goal, I bought myself a Kindle. I know, I know. Trust me, I KNOW. My mom has a photo of me with my arms crossed, just after I proclaimed that I would absolutely NEVER read a book on a screen of any kind. I officially retract that statement. My head is hung in shame as I admit that I was wrong; I read a book on a screen. It happened. And the worst part? I LOVED IT.  Continue reading

Book #22 The Commitment by Dan Savage

41zA3XSCpyL._SL500_I first heard Dan Savage on This American Life, telling the story of his son announcing that marriage was for GIRLS and BOYS, not for BOYS and BOYS. He informed his dads that he did not, under any circumstances, want them to get married. He was glad that they were his dads, and glad that they loved each other, and that they loved him, but he was definitely not down with BOYS marrying BOYS. This is especially hilarious because Dan Savage is a major gay rights activist. He writes for the advice column for the Seattle Newspaper The Stranger. His column, “Savage Love,” is certainly not for the faint of heart, and I’m almost positive that there is nothing that Dan Savage could be asked that would throw him off his game. He’s open, honest, and frank with his readers, and that sort of straight-forwardness is really refreshing. Anyway, this isn’t about his column, it’s about his book, The Commitment. Continue reading

Book #20: Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

remarkable-creatures1Tracy Chevalier’s novel Remarkable Creatures is not entirely fictional. The novel tells the story of two women living in Lyme Regis, a small coastal town in England. Miss Elizabeth Philpot meets Mary Anning when Mary is still a young girl and Miss Elizabeth has just resigned herself to spinsterhood. The two share an interest in collecting fossils, called “curiosities” or “curies,” on the beaches surrounding Lyme Regis. Mary collects them to sell them to tourists, while Miss Elizabeth keeps them for her personal collection. The two become close, spending their days combing the beaches together. Continue reading

Book #19 Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

rules-of-civility-uk6It’s really amazing how NOT LONG a year actually is. I’m behind. But I still think I can catch up. For a long time, I was in this mindset where I knew I had to read a lot of books, so I would find time to read–at lunch, before bed. Then, I got a little ahead, and then it was Christmas, and then it was halfway through January and I’m still not back to reading like I was. I do think, however, that this book is helping me to get back on track. Continue reading

Book #18: Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz

08-05-2012-06_59_56pmI’ve already read Julia Child’s autobiography this year, and I’ve been referring to her two cookbooks about French cooking for almost everything I’ve cooked since I got both books. I made macaroni and cheese at Christmas that was much improved thanks to Julia’s advice on making a great roux to begin a bechamel sauce. I can’t say that I’ll ever be as devoted a cook as she was–she understood the chemistry of each dish, and kept voluminous notes in order to perfect everything she made–but I think I’ll always turn to her for information on the basics.

After I read her autobiography–it really focuses mostly on her time in France and the first of her cookbooks, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, so it doesn’t necessarily give a full portrait of her life. It’s also, of course, her perspective exclusively. In this exhaustive autobiography, Julia’s entire family history is outlined, helping to understand her family dynamics, her relationship with her sister Dort, and even her husband, Paul Child. The author relies on accounts of other people as well as Julia, and the resulting stories are just great. I think 85-year old Julia, while writing her memoir, may have downplayed her own loud, profane, bawdy nature for a more demure audience, but her biography truly embraces all 6 foot 3 of her, foul mouth and all.

Even if you have no interest in French food, Julia Child was an extraordinary American. She was incredibly motivated, undeterred by her own shortcomings, and truly self-made. Her life, almost accidentally, changed the way that Americans thought about cooking, and I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that her influence has something to do with the homegrown, local, organic, slow food movements of our age… it’s because of people like Julia that we wonder where our food came from, and question what in the world makes instant mashed potatoes possible–and why would we want to eat it?

Read it, and the next time you’re at the grocery store or farmer’s market, think of Julia, out “marketing” in the streets of Paris, befriending her butcher, farmer, cheese woman, and milkman. She was on to something.

The list so far:

18. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz

Book #17: Jerusalem Gap by T.R. Pearson

Jerusalem-Gap-T-R-Pearson-9780615398655Yesterday, I took a sick day. I was legitimately feeling terrible, but I have a really hard time NOT doing something. Sure, I can stay home from work, but I’m still going to answer work emails all day. I can also stay in bed, but I’m probably going to set up some sort of command central where I can reach my cell phone and computer at all times. I’m also going to make lots of lists about the things that I would like to do. Then, when the sun comes in through the window and illuminates the dust on the dresser that I haven’t noticed, you’d better believe I’m getting up to clean it. Luckily (for me, not so much for him) Jason was off work yesterday, so he stayed home with me. He put up with my complaining  for a while, then he finally set up up outside (it was like, 70 degrees yesterday!), handed me a book, and told me to stay put. After some eye-rolling, I settled in and started Jerusalem Gap.

T.R. Pearson’s novel is only 136 pages long. It was the perfect sick-day book to read. The little novel tells the story of a divorced man living in the Shenandoah Valley who seems to be trying to disappear. He’s almost like a transplant from an Ernest Hemingway novel: he’s quiet, stoic, in touch with nature, and cut off emotionally. The novel opens as he stands on the side of the road, tinkering with his truck to try to get it to start, when a Chevy Nova pulls up and dumps out a mangy-looking collie. The man puts the dog in his truck with the intention of taking it to the pound. Then, the way she looks at him and sleeps on her back with all four legs straight up in the air gets to him, and they never make it to the pound. He names her Nova.

For such a short novel, Jerusalem Gap packs a punch that is often missing from novels 5 times as long. It’s a touching story of the everyday life of a man and his dog, for the short while that they have together. Nova helps the man meet people that he wouldn’t have otherwise met, and she plays an important role in finding a woman lost from a nursing home. Together, Nova and her owner discover a place called Jerusalem Gap, a forgotten graveyard where a yellow orchid grows wild. Nova brings the man back to life, and he loves her the way you can only love a dog.

The cast of characters certainly bears mentioning. From the vet who plays a cello in his shed in his spare time, to the “cow man” who only ever wants to talk about the weather, to Agatha, the woman who calls our man “Mr. Prickly,” to the zebra that is inexplicably kept behind the vet’s office, this novel is full of characters that make the story sing. They’re all charmed by Nova, and in turn by her owner.

As you can imagine, this story ends like most dog stories do. It’ll always be cruel that dogs don’t live as long as people. This story is even more heartbreaking because Nova and the man only have a little more than a year together. If you’re a dog person like me, this book is for you. It’s My Dog Skip and Old Yeller and Lassie all wrapped into one. You can read it in an afternoon, and I hope you will. (With tissues close by, you’ll need them.)

Book #15: A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

I’m struck by how many memoirs I’ve read so far in this 50 book adventure. If you had asked me if I read a lot of memoirs before, I would probably have said no, which is clearly not true (4 of the 16 books I’ve read so far have been memoirs). I don’t really know why I like memoirs so much, but it’s definitely a genre that I go to pretty frequently. It probably has something to with the way that it feels like sitting down to coffee with someone who is totally willing to open up to you completely and expect nothing in return. They’ll tell you stories that will make you cry, some that will make you howl with laughter, and others that leave you speechless. All you have to do is snuggle up, drink your coffee and listen. 
In A Girl Named Zippy, I met young Haven Kimmel: a girl so fiercely independent and funny that I could hardly believe her stories. I especially love kid memoirs, but a major pitfall of the genre is the tendency of the author to use the book as an opportunity to analyze their relationship with their parents, to view their childhood through a decidedly adult lens. I feel like that isn’t really necessary (or even all that interesting). Zippy really does force you to see the world that the story takes place in through the eyes of a child. It’s a world where a mom could sit on the couch and eat cheetos and read sci-fi novels without ever leaving the house and no one needs to stop and explain why. Where a story about a Christmas like any other kid’s Christmas could fall just after a blunt list of all the things a girl’s father won and lost in a lifetime of gambling (we’re not talking small potatoes, an engagement ring was on the list of lost things). This memoir could easily become a sad story of a poor middle-American family: a distant father with a gambling problem, a depressed mother, a child who permanently sleeps in a sleeping bed for lack of enough bedrooms. Instead, it’s a series of sweet, small tales of a happy young girl zipping around town on her bicycle, learning how to make friends, how to be a friend, and confronting the bully next door.
The list so far: