This is approximately what our lives looked like - wild toddler running around and bestowing kisses at random, placid baby just soaking it all in, burp cloths everrrrrywhere.
Oh wait, is this supposed to be a long overdue post about books? Let me get to that. As I was writing this I realized that I thought I'd already posted about the first half of these, but apparently I didn't get around to it before I left. Whoops. Gear up for a long post.
The Wilder Life - I thought I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books but compared to the author of this book I barely qualify as a fan. She sets out to recreate some prairie life experiences and makes pilgrimages to various sites. I have to say, I expected to love this book more than I did. It's a little meander-y and introspective and I think I was expecting Ingalls bootcamp. However, it's a fun read if you're a big fan of the Little House series.
Pretty Is - This is supposed to be a thriller but it's just strange. The premise is that two young girls are kidnapped and held together for a summer, eventually released, and then their lives intersect many years later. I kept thinking it was going to get interesting, but it's impossible to get over the fact that you never get any explanation for the kidnapper's (totally bizarre) actions. It felt unfinished, somehow. As I write this I'm wondering if that was a conscious choice, because it's true the girls would have had no way of knowing his motivations, but it felt more haphazard than intentional. It left me very unsatisfied, either way.
One Step Too Far - A mom steps out of her life and reinvents herself completely and we're supposed to try to figure out why. Look, I love suspense stories with twists, but I hate the gimmick of teasing the audience with the promise of a big reveal. This book does it in almost every chapter (just the publisher's description does it three times!). If suspense is done well enough, you can keep your audience interested without dangling the reveal in front of them constantly. I think the only redeeming quality this book had was that the reveal was actually pretty shocking, but even that wasn't enough to make up for the lead up.
Before the Fall - This novel about the aftermath (and lead up to) a small plane crash is written by the creator of the TV show Fargo, which I love. I heard the author interviewed on NPR and filed this away in my "to read" category. I really enjoyed the book, which has a little bit of mystery and a lot of human interest. It's a quick read.
Bastard Out of Carolina - I read Dorothy Allison's Cavedweller years ago and still remember it as one of my favorite books, but somehow I hadn't gotten to this one. This book touches on such deeply depressing subject matter (child abuse, poverty) that it should be almost too painful to read, but I just loved the main character so much that I didn't want to put it down no matter how heart wrenching it got. Bonus - I checked out the 20th anniversary edition and there is an afterword by Allison that is really interesting and wonderful. She discusses her feelings about the book being banned by some school boards and also has some really thoughtful things to say about memoirs vs. fiction (I am a huge memoir fan, but reading her take on the genre does make me think about it a little more critically).
This Life Is in Your Hands - Ironically, perhaps, the next book I picked up was a memoir. The author was raised by parents who were deeply involved in the back to the land movement in the 70s and she traces their family experience. I really enjoyed reading about the back breaking labor that goes into making a successful homestead but this book felt just a little off to me. I was hoping there was an afterword that explained what sources she was using as she wrote (I assume she spoke to her parents extensively, and she mentions reading her mother's journals, but I was wondering if she also tracked down some of the other people who lived with them). The memoir picks up shortly before the author was born and so for a good portion of it she's describing events that happened before she existed or when she was too young to remember them, but she describes emotions, motivations and backstories of many of the adult characters. And one tiny quibble - it drove me a little batty that Coleman refers to her parents as Mama and Papa throughout the book, which meant I kept forgetting their actual names and getting confused when they would occasionally get used.
The Monsters of Templeton - I loved this funny little almost fairytale about home and family. It centers around a young woman, reeling from an ill advised love affair, as she comes home to the small town she grew up in and begins a search for her father. There is a giant sea monster involved and a sort of Greek chorus comprised of an elderly male running club, so how could you not enjoy it?
The First Time She Drowned - An 18 year old girl checks herself out of the mental institution where she's been forcibly committed for three years and tries to build a life for herself, despite continuing interference from her narcissistic mother. This book was, unsurprisingly, very depressing. I also didn't realize it was YA when I checked it out, not that that would have stopped me. For a debut YA novel, this is pretty good.
A Spool of Blue Thread - I felt like I needed something a little more literary, so I moved on to this novel, which was short listed for the Man Booker Prize. This is one of those books that's easy to fall right into. It's about a family, and the house they live in, and the stories they've created to explain their lives. It's lovely.
Wondering Who You Are - I almost left this book off the list because I'm not sure how to talk about it, or if I'm even the right person to talk about it. It's a memoir written by a woman whose husband suffered a brain injury (always a topic I'm interested in hearing about, for obvious reasons) and while there were parts that I related to and understood so well that my heart hurt, I had a really hard time with the writing, which never quite hit a natural tone and felt laboriously poetic. There's also an upbeat finish to the ending that I had a hard time believing, since the author explains that at times over the years she had misrepresented her situation to friends, claiming to find meaning and positivity when that wasn't actually how she felt at all. That left me wondering if she was being honest at this time, or if she just wanted to pull everything together neatly for the book. It's also possible that I'm just bitter that her journey through brain injury involved a whole lot of house sitting at foreign villas, which is entirely my issue and not hers.
After a While You Just Get Used to It - And another memoir, this one about a woman growing up in a family of dysfunctional packrats. This is mile a minute funny, and at first I thought it might be trying too hard (the 90s cultural references aren't sprinkled in so much as dumped by the truckload) but once I accepted it and settled in I really, really enjoyed it. Note - probably not nearly as funny if you didn't grow up in that era. It felt a little David Sedaris-y to me, in a good way. She has a similar way of presenting her family fairly (although obviously emphasizing the crazy for comedic effect) but lovingly, and it's hard to resist.
Book club question of the day - do you feel like an asshole for criticizing someone's memoir? Y/N
Bonus - if anyone has read the afterword from Bastard Out of Carolina and wants to have an lit class style deep discussion about memoir vs. fiction, I want in. I tried to get D into it, but he reads non-fiction almost exclusively so it was really just me talking to myself.