Shelf Life: Spring 2015

ShelfLife

These are by far some of my favorite posts. Without them, I would never be able to remember everything I’ve read. And lately that’s been a lot…since a lot has happened in the last three months. I’ve been flying through books just to escape I think. Just to be somewhere else or someone else. It’s a pretty handy trick for anyone trying to avoid things! Cheaper than therapy!

Okay, all kidding aside, it has helped me.

I don’t have pretty photos of flowers for this Spring. Just a few phone pics taken on my walks with Bella.

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Fuzzy tulips?

See, Spring was in full force way earlier this year. This was Utah’s warmest winter on record (a point Joe and I rejoiced often) and flowers were tricked into blossoming weeks before their normal schedule. And then this happened a few weeks ago…

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Over six inches of snow in mid-April. *head drops* The day the storm rolled in was so windy and because it had been so dry, there was a major dust cloud over the entire valley. It was seriously scary looking and dangerous–causing fatal accidents even. You couldn’t see anything. Then it started to rain, which looked like pure mud due to the amount of dust in the air, and then it snowed! Another record was set that day: We dropped over 40 degrees in 2 hours. It was awful.

So now it’s warm again, but we have little to no flowers left. Yay, Utah!

Here are the books that have kept me sane through these hard 12 weeks. Not pictured are the 20+ dusty Entertainment Weekly magazines that I let pile up next to my side of the bed. That’s like two books, at least!

1. Becoming Sister Wives, The Brown Family

No judgement zone: I watch TLC’s Sister Wives. I watched it before we knew we’d be moving to Utah, but now that we’re here, I’m even more enthralled. And weirded out. And curious. And whiskey-tango-foxtrot’d. It’s like most TLC shows…so disturbing you have no other option than to just watch.

The show chronicles the life of a polygamous family led by Kody Brown and his four wives. They have 17 kids—one of which goes to USU. I’ve run into her a few times, and by run in I mean take pictures unbeknownst to her. Creepsville.

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Honestly I didn’t even know they wrote a book, instead only watching their drama unfold each Sunday and stalking their kids on Instagram. But! They were in the news recently and the stories I read alluded to confessions in their book that they’ve never discussed on their show. Fast forward to requesting it from the library and then reading it in a day. Not because it was good…but, again, because it’s an accident from which you can’t turn away. All four relationships are disturbing to me, but you gotta give it to people who have such strong convictions to their faith–no matter what book they’re holding. My absolute favorite part was when Kody was sharing his doubts on marrying Christine as she devoured convenience store nachos in his car. I was wheezing and proceeded to read the excerpt over the phone to all (three) of my Sister Wives-lovin’ friends.

File this under Guilty Pleasure.

2. Running to Normal, Sandra Clark

I met Sandra Clark in 2005. She was a friend of Joe’s from when she taught his early drum corps days and when she would fill in for his horn teacher at EMU. She was also the Principal Horn of the Toledo Symphony. We would meet up with her at drum corps shows, Joe played assistant to her for concerts, and she helped us celebrate our wedding at our Detroit reception. She was a great friend, and incredible teacher, and after 18 valiant months succumbed to brain cancer last July.

Oh, and Sandra was born Stewart.

I knew of Sandra’s Gender Identity Disorder before I met her. Joe, after all, worked with Stewart until she made her change in the early 2000s. It was never an issue for him, so it would never be an issue for me. This is someone he greatly respected and admired. When she died, I felt a lot of sadness to have not taken the opportunity to tell her how much she meant to Joe, and, therefore, me. She was the most encouraging person of his career and always knew just what to say any time he found himself discouraged or questioning the path. She did the same with our friend Sean, and I had always wanted to thank her as a wife and a friend for helping and encouraging two of the most important men/horn players in my life.

Here she is with Sean at our reception.

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In my search for her obituary last summer, I found that she had written a book about her lifelong struggle and eventual gender change. I immediately bought it and, am sad to say, just now got around to reading it even though it took me less than 24 hours to do so. It was heartbreaking to have this incredible back story unfold, written just 10 years before she died. Obviously one could assume hers was a story of pain and confusion–Sandra left behind an ex-wife and two daughters from when she was Stewart–but what floored me was her unbelievable courage and her signature compassion.

There were many passages that made me catch my breath:

  1. When contemplating suicide as the answer: “Is it always better to choose life? Would not my family be better served by the $350,000 insurance money than by some freak of a father who wears women’s clothes…and is not even a resident in the same house with his own children?”
  1. On deciding whether to transition: “I had everything one can possibly have in this world: I was white, male, in a decent marriage, great kids, good job in a career I love, the respect of a majority of my colleagues, some national recognition for my work…and I wanted to kill myself. How much worse off will I be if I transitioned?”

The section where she tells his children and leaves their shared home just about broke me to pieces. It was so brutally honest and painful to read, much less experience, that I found myself needing to take a break.

I already thought the world of Sandra and who she was as a person, but now I have a much greater respect. To know that she probably felt like she had won the hardest battle of her life and came out happier than she could have ever imagined, only to face an even more staggering, futile battle less than 10 years later…one she couldn’t change anything to win…it’s heartbreaking.

The topic of transsexuals is alive and well. Amazon’s show Transparent won big this year and celebrities like Bruce Jenner and Brad and Angelina’s Shiloh are demystifying the disorder. I know Sandra would be proud of the awareness it’s receiving, even in tragic stories like Leelah’s and uplifting ones like Ryland’s. The world can be so cruel to anyone who appears less than “normal.” If everyone was half as compassionate and accepting as Sandra, it would be an infinitely better place.

Here is Sandra’s obituary and be sure to click on the Photos & Videos tab to watch a slideshow her family put together of her incredibly brave life.

3. It Was Me All Along, Andie Mitchell

I relate on some level to most books I read. I mean, that’s why I read them, right? Each story can uncover something about yourself; each character can provide a glimpse into something you’d rather not recognize in your own skin. Never have I felt that connection more than in reading Andie’s book about her weight journey.

I’ve followed her blog, Can You Stay For Dinner?, for years. In fact, it’s where I found the Sweet Potato Chili recipe that is Joe’s absolute favorite. I was familiar with her incredible 135-pound weight loss, but was not aware of her entire {painful} story until reading this book, where I found myself on every page. Her addiction to food and how it eased pain from her childhood and adolescence–these are all things that spoke directly to my heart. I’ve used food to silence, to celebrate, to bond, to comfort, to love…you get the idea. Andie writes poignantly about her struggles and desires to be thin “one day,” only to discover that by losing the weight she also lost herself and her best friend (food).

“I was certain that with thinness came release, relief. I imagined happiness just behind it. I imagined that the journey…would lead me to some peaceful paradise. I’d finally be able to shed the backpack that burdened me. …Instead it was rain. The sadness, the isolation, the loneliness, the dullness in color palette. The heaviness of being.”

Spoiler alert: Andie does come out of her depression and form a healthy relationship with food and herself. This is an illuminating read for anyone who loves food.

4. We Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas

I swear I just look at Entertainment Weekly for its book reviews. They called this the next best American novel. A family saga for the books. And you know how much I love generation sagas.

I think every generation wants the next to have a better life. It’s part of that American Dream, but Thomas puts this Dream under the microscope to examine its seedy underbelly. He eloquently depicts what happens when people are crushed by the weight of their ancestor’s expectations and the belief that nothing’s ever good enough. Later in the story you find yourself as blinded by the Dream as the main characters and suddenly feel as though you are facing unexpected disease and disappointment alongside them as the agonizing reality of a marriage of one healthy, one doomed careens towards inevitability.

I read this book while spending a week in Texas with my family and it was a little hard, I won’t lie. I’ve seen the 50+ (in two cases 60+) year marriages in my family tested by health issues and it was too much at times to read about it while seeing it happen.

This story took ten years to write and it was well worth the wait on his end. This is a beautiful, yet tragic tale that really sweeps you into a world we probably all know too well but could never put into words. Luckily, he could.

5. Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

If Eleanor & Park perfectly captured high-school romance, then Fangirl nails the freshman year at college. Especially from this generation that grew up in the Harry Potter realm, not wanting to give it up.  Though mostly light and carefree, its themes touch on leaving home, first love, family dynamics, siblings, mental health, and growing up fast.

6. I’ll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson

After Fangirl, I wasn’t really up for reading more about teenagers (thinking that it couldn’t get better character-wise), but this was phenomenal. The story about twins Noah and Jude, a dramatic tale of family ties and the immortal bonds between siblings, is told through both of their eyes, but three years apart. This was another recommendation from Annie and she was spot on. This story will permeate your memory, the characters jump off the page and your heart will soar and break alongside theirs. This is beautifully painful with quite the ending. Read, read, read.

7. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

Slowly but surely I’ll chip away at my classics-I-still-haven’t-read list. If you look at Amazon reviews for Frankenstein you’re going to see/read a lot of confusion. For someone whose Frankenstein knowledge mostly derives from Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder, I, too, was a bit confused. I knew this was written in a gothic, romantic style, so the exquisite writing was no surprise, but the story is nothing like what Hollywood has told us. The tale is tragic, the emotions run deep, but the monster is not a grumbling, stomping creature that’s unable to emote. By the end you might not even know who the real monster is, and that’s pretty amazing. I absolutely loved this and am glad I didn’t read it in high school. I think I appreciated it much more now. Jane Eyre…I’m coming for you!

8. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

If you look at any “Best Books of 2014” list, nine times out of ten you’re going to see Station Eleven listed and most likely in the very top spot. Set in a post-apocalyptic America after a rare flu wipes out 99% of the population, Mandel’s tale deftly weaves hope and humility through a survivalist’s world. The spine of my library book has it categorized as “Sci-Fi” and “Fantasy,” but that’s not accurate at all. There are no monsters, dragons or sorceresses — just real people with real lives that Mandel writes in the most real way. I absolutely loved-loved-loved this book. Easily one I could see myself coming back to again and again. Of all the books I’ve read in the last year, this one might top the list as a must-read. It’s absolutely {surprisingly} breathtakingly beautiful.

9. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

If anyone listened to the Serial podcast, you’ll find a familiar story in Ng’s plot: Asian teenage daughter found dead, a family left reeling, an unknown side revealed, shady characters unearthed. But, unique to Ng, is the truth behind the unseen baggage that rests in every home, the weight of hopes and dreams that parents place on their children. The lifelong effect of wanting to be someone you’re not. After reading Station Eleven, any fiction would have its work cut out for it, so I wasn’t really thrilled with this choice–the writing sometimes getting heavy and sluggish–but the tale was chilling and poignant and, by far, relatable.

10. The Maze Runner, James Dashner

I had heard of this series, but opted to see the movie before delving into the books. You know I’m a fan of YA lit, but I was hesitant to jump into yet another post-apocalyptic survival series for teens. The movie, though, was really good. I was intrigued enough to wait for-ev-er on the library wait list to get the book. It differs from the movie in so many ways, but overall I really enjoyed it. It’s like the Lost Boys meet the Hunger Games. There are two more books in the series, hopefully I’ll get those before the next movie comes out later this fall. Worth the reads, I promise.

11. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo

This book is all the rage right now. I first heard about it through this Wall Street Journal article (here’s another one) and was instantly intrigued. I’m hesitant to write about it because I want to buy copies for everyone for Christmas. But, it’s spring and the time for cleaning is NOW, so get your own copy and go nuts!

Marie Kondo, or KonMari (kon-MAR-ee) as she prefers to be called, has a detailed plan of attack that goes through clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, sentimental items, and photos. I didn’t agree with everything she suggested—I mean, you know I can’t throw out photos…wha?…maybe phone photos?—but, for the most part I could immediately recognize myself in her descriptions of past clients who hold on to things out of sentiment, an attachment of the past, and, also, guilt. Her whole premise is to keep only things that bring you joy. I can only imagine the transformation that would take place if everything around me brought me joy. A cluttered home or office is said to have far more psychological effects than physical, and I totally believe it. You’ll gain much more when you lose the mess.

“When we face the things we own one by one and experience the emotions they evoke then we can truly appreciate our relationship with them. If we acknowledge our attachment to the past and our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us.”

I don’t know anyone who couldn’t benefit in some way by her approach to pairing down the home. Joe and I are not hoarders, we don’t even have a lot of stuff, and we hardly ever shop for ourselves, but we definitely feel overwhelmed at times by the amount of things we’ve accumulated—especially compared to our Florida days. I know we could fill our fair share of trash bags.

When reading I would glance over at my open closet or quickly scan my bookshelves immediately recognizing items I could discard, but I held off. The KonMari method is calculated and precise and requires you to remove everything of one item from its current home–so clothes off hangers, books off shelves–to better examine their worth. It’s simple, but genius. You probably don’t realize how many black shirts you have until they are all next to each other on the floor, or how many books you’ve kept that you’ve read and will never read again. Thank them and give them a new home. How freaking liberating! I’m so anxious to start this!

I have so much more to say about this book, but plan to blog about my adventures putting her tactics in place for each category with before and after shots. Get ready!

12. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

I devoured this book, absolutely devoured it. I had even wrapped up my book list for this post, but I snuck it in at the last minute. This has been hailed “the next Gone Girl,” by just about everyone. It’s definitely a thriller, but I wouldn’t say the characters are as developed as they are in Gone Girl. But, whose are?

It’s still a really intriguing, quick page-turner that makes you think about how you examine other’s lives, how you might judge them. It’s very Rear Window-esque, but updated to the 21st century. Hard to believe it’s the author’s first novel. I highly, highly recommend this one too.

Next up in the on-the-brink-of-ridiculous queue:

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt (apparently my new Anna Karenina)
Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (reread)
Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert (currently reading)
Better than Before – Gretchen Rubin
Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule – Jennifer Chiaverini (didn’t I say no more books set during Civil War?!)
The Scorch Trials – James Dashner
We Were Liars – E. Lockhart
Where They Found Her – Kimberly McCreight

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One thought on “Shelf Life: Spring 2015

  1. Pingback: Friday Five: Playing Catch-Up | hashtag marci

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