Tag Archives: books

I Have A Problem.

I’m turning into my mother. THAT is not the problem. The problem is that I’ve inherited her book addiction. I truly think book-addiction is a genetic condition. And it affects millions. And no one talks about it.

As kids, my sister and I would just be waaaalking down the street with our mom…and we would come across a bookstore…and we knew we wouldn’t be going home (or to the Gap) for a loooooong time. Time to settle in on the floor, or if we were lucky, in a chair (once Border’s started making it okay to stay in a bookstore for more than 10 minutes).

We got wise and would scout out bookstores along our chosen path. As we approached the store, we would start talking and walking faster, gently pushing our mother along the sidewalk, hoping she wouldn’t see the books in the window. That worked, sometimes.

Our mom even got a job at a bookstore one time – at Brentano’s – which is always funny to think about the “this book has been flagged” episode of Seinfeld….but it didn’t last too long. She was more interested in reading the books than stocking the shelves, and I’m pretty sure all of her paycheck and more went back into keeping Brentano’s afloat a few months longer than it otherwise would have.

I used to be the kind of person that would read one book through at a time. I HAD to finish one book before starting another, and only once did I ever give up in the middle of a book and not finish (Wuthering Heights: wanted to like it, but so boring; maybe I should try it again).

Somehow over time I started adding an extra book here and there – one on my Kindle, one on the bedside table (fyi the same one’s been there for like 4 years….I WILL finish it: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCollough), one next to a recliner in the living room.

Now I have at least 4 books going on the Kindle alone, not to mention all the physical books in the shelves that I haven’t yet read. My 12 year old self would have felt very overwhelmed by all this. And yet…I keep buying more books. Memoirs, essays, novels, histories, cookbooks. I’ve even somehow agreed to borrow two books from a complete stranger I met at a bar…I mean, we did talk for hours…but still.

Anyway, it makes me happy, so what. Different days call for different types of books. Sometimes within the span of the hour before bed, I’ve read one chapter in each of three different books. Sometimes I open The Greater Journey when I need to fall asleep quickly (jk it’s not that boring. but it does make me fall asleep).

Okay, here’s an abbreviated rundown.

The Valley of Amazement – Amy Tan

Bad Feminist: Essays – Roxanne Gay

Get in Trouble: Stories – Kelly Link

Think Like a Chef – Tom Colicchio

My Drunk Kitchen – Hannah Hart

Hidden History of Detroit – Amy Elliott Bragg

Also my Kindle Wish List is super full and I watch it almost everyday. If a book price drops, well then I just have to buy it, right?

Suggestions welcome.

Winter Reading List 2013-2014

As a kid, didn’t you just love when the school’s summer reading list would be sent home with you?  You’d go to the bookstore, list in hand, and come away with a towering stack of shiny new books to last you all summer.  If you were lucky, you might actually find a yellowed tattered paperback, like Night by Elie Wiesel, among your parents’ book collection, and you would enjoy knowing that you were making an intellectual connection with your parents by stewarding one of their old possessions.

But somewhere along the line non-work-related reading slowly slipped to the back burner in the over-scheduled workweek, relegated to vacations and ten minutes before bed, hardly enough time to move through the ever-accumulating pile of books on the nightstand.

I do love reading for pleasure and being unemployed has afforded me the luxury of making it a priority instead of something to be squeezed between teeth brushing and a comatose state.  I take magazines to the gym; I take my Kindle to coffee shops for prolonged lattes nestled in a corner with my down parka scrunched around my back; I have the requisite stack of books next to the bed and on the coffee table.

I’ve realized, however, that I’m all over the board in what I enjoy reading: anything from Harry Potter to political biographies.  There are a few genres from which I tend to steer away from in general: fantasy including time travel (yes, I realize Harry Potter’s not real – although it would be awesome if it were – and I had to be drug kicking and screaming into the series, only getting involved once my sister and dad had already read books 1 through 4), scary books (my scary movie and TV show avoidance is well documented, to the point that I will change the channel during a commercial for a scary movie if I can get to the remote in time, and the same goes for books…sometimes I cannot even read Harry Potter before bedtime, especially the last two books), and sad books because why am I going to read something to make myself feel sad on purpose (overly sad novels are the worst, but I can make an exception for time-to-time sad scenes and/or some non-fiction).

So with that preface, here is a list of what I’ve been reading this fall/winter and what’s on my “to read” list for this winter/spring:

Already Read:

The President’s Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy – Took me over a year to finally finish this one but enjoyable political non-fiction that I wrote about a bit during our Texas trip.

Setting the Table by Danny Meyer – A business book/autobiography about his NYC restaurant empire.  Great read all around, but particularly for the role of hospitality in all businesses, no matter the industry.  Good life lessons.

Taste by Anthony Terlato – Autobiography of Terlato’s journey to become a leading wine importer/distributor/producer was good but writing was a bit dry.  Sentences like: We always enjoyed the water, so we bought a boat.  Not literally that sentence, but very matter of fact with little discussion of struggles/missteps/etc….um, hello, not everyone who enjoys water can just purchase a boat.

Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah – Her memoir of moving to Paris to follow a diplomat husband’s career and learning about French cuisine that I wrote about in this post on trailing spouses.

Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah – A thoroughly enjoyable novel about a second generation Chinese-American that moves to China to discover herself (particularly through food writing).

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton – Reading about cold, bleak, New England winter somehow seems appropriate.

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I’m drawn to Fitzgerald’s Baltimore connection and had bought this for 50 cents at a used book sale.  Themes of an outsider looking in/trying to fit in and the mental machinations around that.

Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky – Quick and funny read about what goes on behind the scenes in the hotel industry.  Some incredible non-fiction stories that will make you think differently about tipping/valet parking/drinking from those glasses in a hotel room.

A Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton – Hillary’s 2003 memoir about her time as First Lady and her Senate race.  A bit like the Terlato book in that any misstep is explained and justified as correct at least at the time, but written in a straightforward and engaging way.  I liked learning more about what was going on behind-the-scenes of a period in history where I was generally but not acutely aware of politics and the nitty gritty debates since I was all of 12 or whatever.

In The Middle Of:

Decoded by Jay-Z – I’ve had this book on my Kindle for sometime but always found another book that I preferred to read instead.  Just about a quarter of the way in, and it’s not at all what I expected in a good way.  Jay-Z’s autobiography, kind of, written not in a linear form, but in the context of his song lyrics.  “Decoded” meaning that he’s explaining the lyrics in many layers, most of which are not literal to the words, like a poem, which is sometimes about the beat and the rhythm rather than the words themselves.  Interesting.

The Bostonians by Henry James – I loved Portrait of a Lady but so far The Bostonians is a bit slow going.  I’m just at the point where the three main characters are meeting and setting up their relationships with one another, so we’ll see how it plays out.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough – Again, a book I’ve been at for at least two years, which is really odd because I love David McCullough, the well-known political biographer.  I especially have fond memories of reading his book on Teddy Roosevelt at the pool during one high school summer.  Maybe it was just the sun was creating higher serotonin levels in my brain.  This book is a long historical look at Americans in various industries who traveled to live, learn and work in Paris.  Maybe the disjointed stories: one chapter on art, next chapter on doctors hasn’t wrapped me in yet.  I will keep trying.

To Read:

Last of the Pirates: The Search for Bob Denard by Samantha Weinberg – Non-fiction about a French mercenary in The Comoros (islands off the coast of Mozambique).

The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon – “The Wire” is one of my all-time favorite TV series (5 seasons on HBO), and this is the book on which it was based.  David Simon was a Baltimore Sun reporter who wrote this book about some of Baltimore’s most prolific drug corners, following a particular community there.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain – The book that put Anthony Bourdain on the map in pop culture.  He has since described the book as “obnoxious” so it should be juicy!

Talking with My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater by Gail Simmons – Director at Food & Wine Magazine, “Top Chef” judge and Jewish foodie.  I’m excited to hear about her upbringing and food memories.

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald – It’s 99 cents on Kindle so why not?

Henry VI (Parts 1-3) and Richard III by Shakespeare – I forget why I originally wanted to read these.  Hm.  Any other Shakespeare suggestions instead?  Assume I’ve read the typical complement of works one covers in middle/high school.

The Asylum: A collage of couture reminiscences…and hysteria by Simon Doonan – An inside look at the fashion industry through a series of essays.

Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo by Anjan Sundaram – I saw him interviewed on one of these political talk shows.  He up and left his Goldman Sachs job to travel to Congo just to see for himself and write about it.  No book advance.  No nothing.

Any other suggestions of good reads?!?!  I’m always looking to add to the pile! 🙂

This American (Unemployed) Life

Do you ever think a book finds its way into your life at just the right moment, when it seems  it was written for you?  Or maybe it’s that you’re able to pick out relevant themes from any book you happen to be reading?

This is how it was for me in reading Ann Mah’s Mastering the Art of French Eating.   I had seen Ann Mah’s blog recommended on the French Word-A-Day email I receive, and upon further investigation, it turned out that Ann was getting ready to publish a non-fiction on French cuisine.  Well, loving all things French (some of my favorites outlined in this prior blog post), and especially a good memoir of an American abroad in Paris, I downloaded her book to my Kindle as soon as I could.

I was expecting a lot of food descriptions, recipes, textural images of the Provence terrain and Parisian location-spotting.  And I got all that.  But what I also got was a story.  The story of why Ann moved to Paris in the first place, and how she coped being there alone much of the time.

She moved to Paris for her husband’s diplomatic career.  Sounds enchanting enough.  She quit her publishing job to become the “trailing spouse,” something I didn’t know was an actual identifiable person/job/thing.  But this idea spoke to me.  (Her matters were further complicated when her husband was soon sent to the Middle East on a solo assignment, leaving her alone in Paris for their first year there.)

She writes about leaving her job to “leap into nothing.”  I never thought of myself as someone whose identity is wrapped up in their work, but nevertheless I felt disconnected, disoriented and out of the loop after leaving my job and home to follow my fiance to Ann Arbor for his career.  I felt a little worthless and unidentifiable.

I didn’t realize that “trailing spousehood,” where one person follows the movements of the other’s career path, is common, and reading about someone else’s experience trying to sort out their life somehow legitimized my choice.  Perhaps it’s the unusual few where both partners have the corporate-ladder-climbing careers in the same place at the same time.  I haven’t done any research whatsoever except for reading and talking with other trailing spouses, so this is all just my observation and in no way rooted in evidence, but it seems to me that oftentimes the trailing spouse either already has, or develops, a creative, entrepreneurial, individual, freelance, secondary or family-oriented life’s work for themselves.  Even if it’s the kind of profession that is easily transferrable from place to place (teaching, banking, etc.), career progression may still be halted/stalled/regressed by moving.

This is what Ann did.  She parlayed her publishing background into a journalism career that she could do from anywhere.  Even though she had writing experience with articles in numerous publications, she still struggled to find the freelance writing jobs she wanted in Paris, agreeing to chronicle orchid care, instead of expounding on her preference: food.

Right after the move, I felt like, “What am I doing with myself?” in that heavy way your ribcage gets when a bit depressed, but I knew in my head that this was the perfect opportunity to explore all sorts of other activities and relax a bit, which, for months, was really difficult because I felt like I should be doing some sort of work.  There may have been a mid-dinner break down or two in the early days.

I know they say children are happiest with routine.  That’s certainly the case for me too.  Pulling myself together, I made written schedules.  Even if it just said, “Wake Up, Read at Starbucks, Grocery Shopping, Laundry” that got me moving with tasks to accomplish and a purpose to my days.

Now that I’m finally stationed in Ann Arbor for a while, after traveling to and fro over the past few months, I’ve got a few different routines depending on the day and am genuinely happy with my existence as it is.  Everyday I practice the art of doing what I want to do and not doing what I don’t.  It’s hard not to obligate myself to tasks and activities that I think I ought to be doing, but each day I start over in striving to do what makes me happy that day.

My ideal day is filled with things that I enjoy doing (and a few things that are necessary but not necessarily enjoyable): I wake up, make a cup of coffee and check emails.  Then I might choose one room or chore to tackle right away; I find that I have the most energy right when I wake up and can usually clean the whole bathroom quickly, or at least make it presentable.  Then I might go back to any follow up emails concerning the wedding or sorority volunteer work.  I might take some time to work on this blog (which takes a surprising amount of time for me to finish), or run some errands.  I’ve gotten in the habit of going to Barnes and Noble for a Starbucks holiday beverage (fyi, if you are a B&N member, you also get a discount at the store’s Starbucks cafe!!) and to work on the blog or comb through wedding magazines (so much fun but so expensive….better to just read them, take notes and put them back, only purchasing if there are a lot of good pictures that need to be ripped out).  In the afternoon, I go back home and either do another round of follow up emails if necessary or make a snack, put in a load of laundry, and catch up on some DVRed or Netflix shows.  Right now I’m marathoning through “Gossip Girl” and “Scandal” and “The West Wing” complete box set is on deck.  Maybe I’ll start to feel bored when there aren’t any more addicting shows to watch!

Since Mark gets home relatively early, I usually start dinner on the early side, and I love watching “The Chew” on DVR while cooking.  For those that don’t know “The Chew” is a talk show slash cooking show on ABC with Daphne Oz (Dr. Oz’s daughter), Carla Hall (“Top Chef”), Clinton Kelly (“What Not To Wear”), and chefs Michael Symon and Mario Batali.  The hosts are kooky and silly, and it’s just a fun show with good recipes, cocktails and crafts.  It’s the kind of show I would like to be on if I could host a daytime talk show!  Also, if you fast forward through the commercials (and cooking segments that involve items I would never eat in a million years), an hour-long show is really only 30 minutes – perfect timing for prepping dinner.  Sometimes I think I can’t get a real job because I don’t want to be stuck at work until 6pm while Mark is home hanging out at 4:30!

I’m also excited to continue exploring Ann Arbor – the restaurants, the museums, and the surrounding towns  (I’ll write more about what we’ve already done in another post).

On the other hand, the seemingly continuous grey sky, cold temps, and perma-snow-coating make me feel not in the least bit obligated to go outside everyday.  Lounging (hibernating) on the couch with tea and a good book sounds like a great way to spend the winter months to me.  I just downloaded Ann Mah’s first book, a novel entitled Kitchen Chinese and am also in the middle of Taste by Anthony Terlato (on wine) and This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (using this downtime to catch up some classics).

I think I’ve come around to this idea of trailing spouse, and I’m looking forward to going with the flow and finding happiness everyday in life’s little treats like craft projects, chopping vegetables, glossy magazines and pumpkin spice lattes.