Madam Secretary: A book that is more than 500 pages

It took a while to read it but I finished Madeleine Albright’s memoir 20 years, to the day, after Madeleine K. Albright was sworn in as the first female Secretary of State–what a day to finish this book! A great read for anyone interested in foreign affairs or #WomenWhoLead!

“Women have to be active listeners and interrupters – but when you interrupt, you have to know what you are talking about.”

“I was taught to strive not because there were any guarantees of success but because the act of striving is in itself the only way to keep faith with life.”

What an accomplished life and this is a woman who was a two time refugee! She is my hero. It makes me want to name my daughter Madeleine.

 

Samantha, Daughter

14/20

 

How to be Single: A beach read

I wish I had saved my beach read for when I get to Old Orchard Beach later this week, but I just needed to know how to be single, I guess. It couldn’t wait.

I heard the movie (which I haven’t watched yet) wasn’t great and if you read the feedback for this book on GoodReads it’s next level negative, but for a book that has “single” in the title, I thought it was pretty good. I liked the ending, which I won’t spoil for you but isn’t the neat and cozy ride-off-into-the-sunset finale. I think any book with a satisfying ending can be a satisfying read.

It’s by the author who co-wrote He’s Just Not That Into You, which I consumed as a single woman and applied to my life like gospel; Gospel of Liz Tuccillo.

IMG_2853[1]This book could be a little depressing but I loved the interesting characters (maybe bordering on caricatures) and the whirlwind world tour of singleness across cultures, including a trip to Hobart, Tasmania, where dating is worse than anywhere else in the world (which explains why I didn’t do much dating when I lived there for my study abroad semester).

It was a fun book without being too light. Obviously, it’s not Tolstoy but for a book that is chick lit to the core, it has some particularly dark and intense moments, which is just how I like my beach reads: light and dark in equal measure!

Samantha, Daughter

12/20

 

Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York: A book that has a place in the title

I seek out a book to satisfy #19: A book with a place in the title. I came across this book listed online when I was hunting down some research material for a novel I’m writing called Ghosting. It’s all about haunting and being haunted and is set in none other than New York City. So, you really can’t find better material to help contextualize than a collection of essays about being haunted by New York, which is essentially what this book was all about: the idea of being a writer in NYC, the build up, the perception, the failure of leaving or the release of escaping.

The thing I really liked about this book was reading a book about writers made me want to write more, with more passion, determination, to apply more gusto to the craft. Another thing  I really liked about it was the irony from one story to the next. Some writers romanticized the grim and squalor while others were disenchanted by it. For some the crumpling of the glitzy illusion of New York, literary center of the world, was devastating. For others, disillusionment wasn’t an option. Escape wasn’t an option. It was like the idea of New York trapped them and they could never truly exist anywhere else.

When I worked on cruise ships I had a banner from Urban Outfitters that said Home is where you are and I would put it up in my cabin wherever I moved. I thought that was comforting. You don’t need to be in a place that you have always identified as home to be home. You are home wherever you go as long as you make it home. Reading some of these essays in Goodbye to All That made me feel almost claustrophobic because it was like they were confined to Manhattan indefinitely. Even when things were ugly and hard, they still held fast to the idea that they needed to be there. Home is where you are doesn’t apply to everyone, I guess. And in the words of Sheryl Crow, “if it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.”

The back-to-back-to-back recounting of September 11th made it feel sometimes like the book was more about 9/11 than writers loving and leaving New York but I guess that’s par for the course in our post-9/11 world. You can’t have one without the other.

As in any collection, some stories are better than others. That might be why it took me a while to read this book in it’s entirety. We’re naturally drawn to some stories and writing styles more than others. Some stories required me to take a couple runs at them before I came down on the other side, while there were quite a few twinkling gems that left me wanting more, which is what a short story should do: satisfy you but leave you wanting more!

I loved Minnesota Nice by Cheryl Strayed; perhaps because I feel like New Yorkers tend to see any politeness I exhibit as a Canadianism. No one likes to be stereotyped. There was another story about taking off for New Zealand by Ruth Curry that I loved because it reminded me of my own journey to that hemisphere. The juxtaposition between beautiful landscape and an inability to feel the happiness you seem responsible to feel when you’re somewhere to close to paradise, it really hit a cord. I love reading books that are sentimental because life is sentimental, even if you pretend to be super jaded and nonchalant – it’s just the way it is, but (somewhat counter-intuitively) I don’t like to read works that seem cheesy or cliche. There’s an impossible sweet spot between sentimental and cheese, which is exactly where this story fell on that spectrum.

There was also a quote in the book from Lauren Elkin, which was so poignant it required instagraming, as exhibited below.

There were a lot of great stories in this book. There were some good stories. And others I didn’t like at all. I think that’s the point of an anthology. If it gives you a good mixture of perspective you aren’t going to relate to or like all of the essays, but that just means it’s appealing to a wide demographic (because someone else is reading it loving the ones you hated and hating the ones you loved). You’re pushing yourself outside your reading comfort zone a little and that’s right where you are when you discover new things you never knew you would like.

In conclusion, which I use to preface this final paragraph, because like a long sermon I’d like to get your attention back in case you’ve been skimming… This was the perfect book to satisfy #19: A book with a place in the title because the place wasn’t just in the title, the place (New York) was so expertly dissected, developed, dreamed, deconstructed, and deliberately explored in this book. There was just a place in the title, this was a intentional and contemplative study of New York.

Samantha, Daughter

8/20

Z: A book that is based on a true story

Of all the sights and sounds we have been privy to since moving to New York almost a year ago, my favorite sight has to be Zelda and F.Scott Fitzgerald’s Long Island home in Great Neck, NY. It’s pictured above and it gave me a chill to imagine F.Scott on the balcony with a cigarette and a glass of whiskey or strong black coffee or imagine old fashioned cars parked all over the lawn and sidewalks at one of the Fitzgerald’s legendary parties. It was a powerful place to exercise the imagination and I have more information to inform my imagination now after reading this gem!

The Paris Wife has met its match. How that historical “fiction” illuminated the other side of the beginning of the Hemingway legend was duplicated here for Fitzgerald. I read and read and read about Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and while I consider myself a thinking person, I don’t read critically enough, think critically enough, or create a critical enough interpretation of the reality. Books like Z (and The Paris Wife) are fiction sure, but it reconstructs my preexisting view of the reality of those literary legends.

And the times. Oh, the times. What a time to be a woman. Ambition is a bad word for a wife. Being a wife and mother has to be priority number one. I suppose I knew that would be the twenties and thirties protocol but I forget what that truly means. Funneling this “fiction” through my modern feminist point of view helps me piece together an outrage that I suppose isn’t entirely fair to Fitzgerald but how does marriage function without egalitarian values? How can anyone be happy in that setup?

This is rhetorical, but begs one of the greater questions posed by the narrative. The ultimate question being how well do you understand the Fitzgeralds when you think, you really truly think, about Zelda? What about Zelda?

Hemingway was against her and spread propaganda about how she sabotaged Fitzgerald’s talent, but when you actually work through his campaign against her, the facts of their lifestyles and dispositions, and finally create your own opinion about the truth, it all shakes out to say nothing is as simple as what we are presented. The agenda of biographers aren’t interested in the wives and their lives. They are interested in the heros, the talent, and that preconceived greatness inhibits biographers from writing the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help so help me God. What biographer wants to commit months, years, or a lifetime researching and writing a person if that person isn’t a hero?

It is amazing the function of fiction in creating a more honest illusion of the truth than non-fiction.

Samantha, Daughter

4/20

Postscript: This novel pushed me to investigate Zelda Fitzgerald’s artwork and, my gosh, I actually love it! I want to buy a coffee table book with a collection of her work and attend an exhibition of her work. Three Ballerinas is very vintage Picasso. The biblical works are intense, passionate, and convey so much. And, of course, the New York City works are probably my favorites. I included a few fan favorites here but this is a tip of the iceberg type situation. Zelda Fitzgerald’s talent may have been eclipsed by her husband but I am enjoying the delightful uncovering of layer after layer of her complex character and life’s work.