Non-fiction


I’ve been reading about 7 books per month this year (which is not on pace to hit 100 books, but isn’t terrible), in June I actually managed to read 9 (bringing me to 43 for the year so far)! But, I didn’t manage to blog about most of them, so here’s a quick round-up:

I’ve been reading a few from the Tournament of Book Summer long list, first up was Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken (this actually made the TOB short list for the summer, the other two I’ve read so far did not). This is a rather strange book. It’s not exactly magical realism, some reviewers say it’s ‘twee.’ The premise is that a woman (Bertha Truitt) is found, alive, in a cemetery with a candle-pin bowling ball and pin, and she goes on to build a bowling alley and introduce the town to candle-pin bowling. The novel actually spans a few generations, and you learn ON THE BOOK FLAP that Bertha dies in a freak accident. I really found the book less interesting once she died, I wasn’t that interested in most of the rest of the characters. I don’t regret reading this one, because I did sort of enjoy the ridiculousness of it, but I wouldn’t exactly recommend it unless you’re really interested in a long narrative centered around a family owned bowling alley.

I also read Kaddish.com by  Nathan Englander from the TOB long list. This novel tells the story of Larry who, when the novel opens is no longer spiritually Jewish but his family is orthodox Jewish. His father has just died, and so because he’s the son, he’s supposed to say the Kaddish (Jewish prayer for the dead) every day for 11 months.  Larry isn’t going to do this, so instead to appease his orthodox Jewish sister, he finds a website called Kaddish.com to recite the daily prayer for him. I’m not Jewish, I’m sort of Jewish adjacent because my husband’s family is Jewish, and in general what I know of Jewish rituals around death I really appreciate. I’m terrible though because since it isn’t my religion, I tend to use the things that are helpful to me, while not taking part in the things that aren’t, so I did sort of sympathize with Larry — he no longer feels connected to this religious practice, it’s just not how he wants to mourn his father. But of course, his sister is so sincerely upset that Larry is dooming their father’s soul.

The novel immediately takes a twist in part two, jumping ahead significantly, and I was actually kind of disappointed by this, I was really interested in the Larry/sister dynamic as they were grieving, and the book moves on from that pretty quickly. But, that said, overall I enjoyed the quirkiness of the novel from that point on. Also I’m fascinated by the fact that Kaddish.com is real website, I wonder what their views are on this novel?

Finally from the TOB summer long list, I read If, Then by Kate Hope Day. This is one of my favorites of this entire year. I just really enjoyed the characters and found myself completely invested in each story. The novel takes place in Clearing, Oregon, which sits on the flanks of a ‘dormant’ volcano. There are three different stories of three neighbors on the same street – Cass, a PhD student who is taking a break from her program and has just had a baby, Ginny and Mark who are in a difficult marriage, and Samara mourning her mother’s recent death. As per the book flap (I’m a firm believer, if it’s on the book flap, it’s not a spoiler), their lives are upended when they start to see themselves in parallel realities, and as you read, you realize the characters all appear in each other’s stories, but you’re not reading three stories set in the same reality. It adds an interesting layer to the novel.

Maybe I liked this so much because it was really easy for me to identify with the characters – Samara’s grief over her mother’s death felt exactly right to me, often she can hear her mother’s voice, but sometimes it’s frustratingly silent (“But for once Ashmina’s voice is silent. She can’t think of a single thing her mother would say.”). And Cass, dealing with adjusting to motherhood and getting so much judgment from those who she certainly didn’t ask for advice (“Don’t take too much time off … I had a graduate student a few years ago. Very talented. Brilliant even. She took a year off to have a baby. Or maybe it was to take care of a sick baby… Doesn’t matter. The point is, the year turned into two years. And then I never heard from her again.” Thanks for that helpful person…).  I marked a lot of passages in this novel, and I really commend it to you as a book with enough heft, but can still be a great summer read.

Additionally read a few more books about birth/child rearing — The Big Book of Birth by Erica Lyon, Cribsheet: A Data Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting From Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster, and Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond by Nancy Bardacke.

The Big Book of Birth is actually pretty regular sized, and I thought it was a nice overview of labor and postpartum. Mindful Birthing is much more about whether you’d like to bring mindfulness and meditation into your labor prep and parenting — I’m personally pretty sold on this, but it’s not for everyone. This is not a super hippie book, but if you’re not interested in meditation at all, you won’t be interested in this book. I also really like Cribsheet, mostly because Oster’s main thrust is that you need to think about what’s right for your family and everyone needs to get as much sleep as they can — lots of horrible things people tell you (if you don’t breastfeed you’re dooming your child, sleep training is torture, etc etc etc) just isn’t borne out by data, or is more complicated, and it’s interesting to really dig in on these issues in an academic way.

Coming up in June round up part two: The Ash Family, Born A Crime, and Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Currently reading: Trust Exercise and Lost Children Archive

Although this book, What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence, edited by Michele Filgate, came out in time for Mother’s Day, I don’t know that it would have been a great gift for your mother. It is very much as advertised, essays about what the authors don’t discuss with their mothers — not all bad, and some of them have lovely relationships with their mothers, but all pretty intense essays.

For me, reading this collection was a form of Mother’s Day self-care. A reminder that relationships with mothers and motherhood are complicated, and that I’m not alone in not celebrating Mother’s Day and having no desire to do so even when I become a mother. I could definitely see how for others, reading this would not be an act of self-care. Most of the authors have come to a place of acceptance, or at least a place where they can put their feelings into words. And I too have come to a place where everything isn’t so raw; my Mom has been gone for nearly a year and a half, I’ve gotten through all the first holidays, and she was sick for years. Do I still have regrets? Did I still cry when people at work casually asked what everyone was doing for Mother’s Day? Sure. But somehow, for me, this book was like spending time with people who get it.

The book is a collection of fifteen essays, and the intro makes clear that what the editor was going for here was talking more about how complicated mothers can be, breaking you silence about what your relationship is with your mother, because you aren’t alone:

For even a brief instant of time, every single human being has a mother. That mother-and-child connection is a complicated one. Yes we live in a society where we have holidays that assume a happy relationship. Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, I brace myself for the onslaught of Facebook posts paying tribute to the strong, loving women who shaped their offspring. … There’s a huge swath of people who are reminded on this day of what is lacking in their lives – for some, it’s the intense grief that comes with losing a mother too soon or never knowing her. For others, it’s the realization that their mother, although alive, doesn’t know how to mother them.

I also thought the various essays did a lovely job of acknowledging what a difficult thing it is to be a mother. Society puts so much on mothers, we want them to be everything, so that even when they are wonderful, they can still fail to be everything:

We were talking about the impossible position [mothers] are placed in, the ways in which they are our models; we were talking about what little space moms have to also need and also want. … There is a gaping hole perhaps for all of us, where our mother does not match up with “mother” as we believe it’s meant to mean and all it’s meant to give us. What I cannot tell [my mother] is all that I would tell her if I could find a way to not still be sad and angry about that.

There is a lot of what I would call child abuse and child neglect and mental illness in these essays. Some of these people were horribly abused by their mothers. Others, have beautiful relationships with their mothers, which read together is kind of a perfect balance:

When [my mother] arrived in the hospital after my daughter was born, I sat there on the starched sheets holding my baby, and she held me, and I cried uncontrollably — because I could finally understand how much she loved me, and I could hardly stand the grace of it.

For those with terrible relationships with their mother, some of the happier essays might be more difficult to read, but even though for me, that passage above hurts to read (my mother won’t be meeting her grandchildren, we won’t have this moment), inside the whole collection, it works so well to tell all these very different stories. What you don’t talk about with your mother is different for everyone. For some, it’s something unspeakably hard, her cruelty or her inability to love as you should have been loved, but for others, the love was there, and things were still complicated. You were still separate people, and there were (or are) things you didn’t talk about.

Strong recommend, if you’re in the right place.

Currently reading: Totally skipped over to The Mars Room last night, and put everything else aside for the moment.

Okay, I have read six books in April, and blogged about none of them. Some of them were pretty terrible books, I can tell you, I think you can skip When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri. I stupidly thought that this book was related to a short story I read in The New Yorker (The Prairie Wife) because I mixed up Cassidy and Casey and was kind of looking for something a little lighter. This was too light. And honestly, I’m not in the LGBTQ community personally, but this book really seems to deal in stereotypes. It is basically a not-great romance novel, but happens to be about lesbians.

I’ve also been reading a lot about pregnancy, birth, and child raising, so if that’s of interest to you, you might like Motherless Mothers by Hope Edelman or Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin. Edelman’s book really deals with everything from pregnancy to having teenagers, and if you’ve lost your mother, I definitely recommend at least skimming this book. I found it really helpful just to hear other stories somewhat like mine. Gaskin’s book is kind of like the bible of the drug-free “natural” childbirth movement, so I’ll just say, even if you are, like me, somewhat skeptical about a group of people who live at a place they unironically call The Farm, this book is worth some of your time if you’re having a baby. (You can skim, I read it all, and you can definitely skim). It’s a little out of date (although it was updated around 2012, things just keep changing), although some things she’s been pushing since the 70’s really now have the backing of the scientific community (for example, routine episiotomy is actually a terrible and harmful idea).

On to the main event – I also read Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward, and it was well worth your time. It’s a memoir of her life, but it’s also the story of five African American men she lost, including her brother. The book works forward through her life, but the different men’s stories are interspersed in the story in reverse chronological order so the man who died last is discussed first. This works perfectly, because she works her way both forward and backward towards the loss of her brother.

Ward is from a small town, DeLisle, Mississippi, and here we gradually learn about these five men who are lost to drugs, accidents, murder, and suicide. I kind of went into this thinking their deaths would all be related to police brutality or drug overdoses, but it’s a more complicated story. As Ward weaves the narrative, she shows you how these five different lives and deaths were all connected — all five of these men died because of different disadvantages that really stemmed from their skin color (as well as poverty, the place they were from).

And the book also does a beautiful job highlighting the thankless job that many African American women have, talking about her mother, Ward writes:

This was what it meant to clean. This was what it meant to work. This was what it meant to forget whatever she had dreamed before and to stand up every day because there were things that needed to be done and she was the only one to do them.

I am not African American or southern, so some of this book was just an education for me. But, I was kind of blown away by one thing — after my Mom died, she felt just gone. I knew, in a powerful way that is hard to explain because maybe we overuse the word “know,” I just knew that I would never see my mother again. Which might sound horrible to you if you think we’ll all meet again in heaven, or obvious if you think this is all there is and then we’re worm food. But finally, what helped me start to feel a little better was the idea that if nothing in this universe is created or destroyed, then my Mom has always been here, and she always will be, just in a different way. I guess this is a more common coping strategy than I thought? Because Ward puts it so beautifully when talking about trying to find the right words for a sister at another funeral:

What I meant to say was this: You will always love him. He will always love you. Even though he is not here, he was here, and no one can change that. No one can take that away from you. If energy is neither created nor destroyed,  and if your brother was here, with his, his humor, his kindness, his hopes, doesn’t this mean that what he was still exists somewhere, even if it’s not here? Doesn’t it? Because in order to get out of bed this morning, this is what I had to believe about my brother …  But I didn’t know how to say that.

This is a beautiful and sad and powerful book, and you should read it.

Coming soon – blog posts about Warlight and The House of Broken Angels.

Currently reading: Women Talking and The Happiest Baby on the Block (yeah… I should do a post at some point of all the pregnancy/kid books that are worth your time).

I did finish a few more books in February (not on pace to read 100 this year, but 7 in February wasn’t bad), but I’ve been bad about updating here. Perhaps because I didn’t really love any of them (strong endorsement to keep reading, I know!).

I did finally finish Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb. Unless you really love nature writing, you can probably skip this one. Unlike Spineless, there isn’t too much memoir here, the book is certainly based on his trips around the country and the UK meeting people working to help beavers, but it’s not his story. Really, the whole book reads like a series of articles profiling various “Beaver Believers” and telling you about their work.

Also, SPOILER, I did not find much in here about the surprising or secret life of beavers. I kind of assume that was the sexy subtitle that was supposed to just grab people’s attention? Beavers are pretty much what you thought they were – great engineers, with a tendency for some destruction that is displeasing to many in populated areas. I did learn about the importance of beavers — they are a keystone species, because their dams help store water and create healthy streams, their presence can both assist with droughts and support many other species.

I found the historical parts towards the beginning the most interesting, although rather depressing since it’s all about you know, people killing a ton of beavers so they could make warm hats. I will say I learned that beaver hats did not look at all the way I thought they might — people used beaver because of how dense their fur is and how well it keeps in warmth, they didn’t walk around with like a giant beaver on their heads. This makes much more sense, but still an impressive number of beavers were killed.

Current reading: Keep and eye out for discussion of Book Thief coming soon — still finishing up There, There. Not sure what’s up after that… I have quite a few stacks :/

So I technically returned from vacation late Wednesday, but it’s taken me until now to kind of get back to east coast time and to sit down and let you know what all I read on vacation.

In case you don’t follow it, The Morning New Tournament of Books (The Rooster) released the short list of books that will be in the tournament for 2019, so I’ve begun trying to read at least half of them before the tournament starts. I’m still smarting over the fact that An American Marriage didn’t make it into the tournament, but I’m putting that aside since it means that I have read literally none of the 16 books in this year’s tournament.

So, first up on vacation was Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. I took this one on vacation because it sounded like it might not be too heavy, which since the main character is a slave, should tell you how heavy a lot of the books in the tournament are this year… Washington Black (Wash) is an eleven year old boy who is a slave on a Barbados plantation. The master is cruel, but it turns out that his brother is an abolitionist and a scientist. He ‘borrows’ Wash from his brother to be his assistant with getting a flying machine to work — and in the process teaches him to read, a little about science, and discovers that Wash has a gift for drawing.

The book is not exactly light hearted, but it really is an adventure story that spans the globe — after a man is killed, a price is on Wash’s head, and he and the brother travel to America, to the Arctic, and ultimately London and Morocco also play a role.

Wash is a fabulous narrator, and completely sucks you into his world, and he’s apparently telling the story later so he has a little more insight than one expects from an eleven year old:

I could not have described him so then, but [the master’s cousin] was merely a man of his class, nothing more. His great passions were not passions but distractions; one day was but a bridge to the next. He took in the world with a mild dissatisfaction, for the world was of little consequence.

I think I mostly bookmarked that as a note of how to not live your life, but what an interesting comment on an Englishman at the time that the sun had not yet begun to set on the British Empire.

On a similar note, Wash considers the life of a slave hunter:

He was a wretched man… He too had been a boy once, desirous of understanding the world. And how he had wasted all his talents, all his obvious facility for learning, twisting every new fact and arranging it into senseless cruelty. … he had lived his whole life in avoidable savagery.

How easy it is, to waste a life.

How true. Both of the quotes I’ve picked focus on the white men in the story, which isn’t quite right, although a lot of this novel is focused on how each of these men are different, and yet how each fails to see Wash’s full humanity. Wash really comes into his own in the end however, and stops being an eleven year old who is completely controlled by the world he lives in.

I read this entire book in one sitting, so I can definitely recommend it. It reminds me a bit of The Underground Railroad, because the flying machine and some of the science give it a bit of a sense of the fantastical (most slaves did not escape slavery in this exciting manner, they lived and died as slaves) although there’s no magical realism here.

Next I read The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling which I also enjoyed. The story is set in California and takes place over ten days. The main character, Daphne is a young mother to Honey a 16 month old. She works for an Islamic Institute affiliated with a university in San Francisco. Although she herself is not Muslim, she speaks Turkish and is married to a Turkish man, who was intimidated into giving up his green card and through a ‘click of the mouse’ error has so far been unable to get another — resulting in their 8 month separation. Daphne basically has a nervous breakdown on Day 1, and spends the next ten days in a fictional high desert town where she meets secessionist activists (who want the northern part of California to leave the Southern part) and an elderly woman named Alice who is trying to visit the camp where her long dead husband worked during WWII.

I spent a good chunk of the book identifying with Daphne while also being kind of annoyed with her for not pulling up out of her tailspin, until I kind of admitted that, this is what tailspins are like. If you could just realize, oh my behavior is irrational, sure you can right yourself, and at time Daphne tries, but really, when you are just at your breaking point, you break.

The book jacket told me that “more than anything, this is a story about motherhood,” but I (who read almost everything as a story about motherhood) really felt there was more here than that. Maybe because it delves so much into the unrest of the world we currently live in — state’s rights and authoritarianism, racism and discrimination against the ‘other.’  I strongly recommend this one, and it’s another pretty quick read.

A rounded out the week with non-fiction – Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper. I would say the downside of this book is that I’m not exactly sure what the thesis was. It’s not exactly a memoir, it’s more of a collection of essays. But parts of it were very powerful. Parts of it were also kind of hilarious, in talking about her love of the Babysitter’s Club books growing up she writes, “They fought sometimes, but always made up. And in the end, no matter what, they rode for each other.” Not how I, an extremely white person, who also grew up reading the books ever thought about it.

The chapter White-Girl Tears was one of the more powerful parts for me:

White-lady tears might seem not to be a big deal, but they are actually quite dangerous. When white women signal through their tears that they feel unsafe, misunderstood, or attacked, the whole world rises in their defense. The mythic nature of white female vulnerability compels protective impulses to arise in all men, regardless of race.

I am definitely the beneficiary of being a very non-threatening looking white woman. I try hard not to forget this, and to be honest I have at times been quite grateful for it. Although this book also makes the point that this, the power of white-lady tears really stems from patriarchy, the idea that white women need to be protected. And when you lean into that power, are you really leaning into power?

This was one of many, many books written about rage in the last few years, and it’s the first one I read, so I kind of feel like I need to read This Will Be My Undoing before I can definitely recommend this one.

I also read Expecting Better, which is  a great evidence based pregnancy book. But, if you’re not pregnant, you’re probably not that interested. If you are though, skip What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Read this and Like A Mother. Then call it a day, there aren’t any other good books out there.

Currently reading: Conversations with Friends and The Interestings.

So, this is very delayed – last week I read Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward and Can You Ever Forgive Me: Memoires of Literary Forger by Lee Israel.  First up, Can You Ever Forgive Me (which was recently made into a movie) the true account of how Lee Israel during the 90’s forged and sold letters purporting to be from Noel Coward, Dorthy Parker, and several others. Israel is actually pretty likeable in print, although you get the sense you might not really want her as an officemate. The story itself is more of a short story than a memoir — I think it clocks in at 126 pages, and the font is not small. This might be one instance where you’re fine just seeing the movie or don’t get much out of reading the book and seeing the movie. I enjoyed the movie more than I expected to, so I requested the book from my library back in November. I’m still trying to figure out what the heck the person who had it out before me was doing for 6 weeks with the book — using it as a primer on how to become a literary forger???

I really liked Salvage the Bones — although that feels a bit strange to say since the book is about Katrina. I recently had the amazing opportunity to meet Jesmyn Ward and hear her read some of Sing Unburied Sing (and get my copy signed !). And that prompted me to decide it was high time I read the rest of her books.

Salvage the Bones is set in Bois Savage, Mississippi and begins about two weeks before Hurricane Katrina strikes. The main character is Esh, a fifteen year old girl, and her three brothers (Randall, Skeetah, and Junior) all play main roles as well. Their mother died giving birth to Junior, and their father isn’t great — although he takes storm preparedness pretty seriously so that’s good, although, against a category 5 hurricane, it doesn’t really end up being quite enough… Their lost mother is definitely a presence in the story (although not a ghostly presence as with Sing Unburied Sing):

When [Esh’s grandmother] died, Mam told me that she had gone away, and then I wondered where she went. Because everyone else was crying, I clung like a monkey to Mama, my legs and arms wrapped around her softness, and I cried, loved running through me like a hard, blinding summer rain. And then Mama died, and there was no one left for me to hold on to.

I miss her so badly I have to swallow salt, imagine it running like lemon juice into the fresh cut that is my chest, feel it sting.

I checked, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that Esh is pregnant because that fact is included in the book flap summary. So there’s a fair amount of pre-storm drama – and I worried over this motherless soon-to-be mother especially knowing Katrina was coming. The storm doesn’t actually show up until page 215. There’s a lot of sort of dread in reading most of the book because you the reader have a sense of what’s coming and the characters very much do not. Hurricanes, they are somewhat used to. But not Katrina.

There is a lot of sadness in this book, and that sadness is beautifully conveyed. But, I will say that while the end was hardly happy, it was redeeming enough that you didn’t finish this book feeling nearly as bad as I expected to going in.

Read Salvage the Bones, skip Can You Ever Forgive Me.

Currently reading: Eloquent Rage and The Interestings.

This past week I read two memoirs, both of which cover very specific periods of the author’s life — in Glynnis Macnicol’s No One Tells You This we hear about Macinol’s early forties as she creates her own way to be a woman alone and okay with it and in Peter Sagal’s The Incomplete Book of Running we hear mostly about Sagal’s rebirth as a runner in his 40’s as he was getting divorced.

I enjoyed both, and although there was sadness in The Incomplete Book of Running it was a nice counterbalance to No One Tells You This, which I found quite sad. Now, don’t get me wrong, Macnicol’s book is very powerful as well — about how we live in this moment where for the first time really women have choices and can choose to be alone and childless and not be say, doomed to be eaten by their cat. That’s not the life Macnicol lives and she is not at all worried about being eaten by her cat. BUT. Her mother dies, of Parkinson’s, but of a variant of Parkinson’s that presents very strongly with dementia. And that hits me hard. Usually when I read about other people struggling with losing family members to dementia, I don’t relate all that much. My Mom was very young, I was very young, and her illness while interminable while it was happening, moved very very quickly and took her in only four years. But crappily for both of us, Macnicol’s mother’s illness had a lot of similarities, and well, it seems like we just really saw the illness in similar ways. That made this a very sad book for me, even if I was bookmarking every page like, SHE GETS IT.

So most people I think will read this as an interesting and powerful story of new options that are open to women. Macnicol takes us through the years where she started figuring this out:

I reveled in the fact that I was being jetted away on someone else’s dime and that I’d finally reached the point in my life where my career, and to some degree, financial has aligned to produce the life I’d fantasized about, though I couldn’t help but lament the fact that I was likely going to be doing it alone. All my other halves now had their own other halves to travel with or young kids who made travel difficult. Just as my life was catapulting me into some great beyond, theirs were tying them down to routines and caregiving – decades of both. … I had to be prepared to have adventures alone.

I loved her take down of, you’re going to regret not getting married, not having a kid, etc:

I wasn’t going to have a baby as an insurance policy against some future remorse I couldn’t yet imagine. I had more respect for myself than that. The truth was, no one knows what they’re missing in the end. You can only live your own life, and do your best with the outcome when you roll the dice.

This is sort of the crux of her book — no choices are bad. The power of this book is in telling the story of a woman choosing differently, and realizing there are different paths for women than have ever truly been available before. Although she is very honest about the emotional labor that is expected of a woman, and how sometimes when you don’t hit your own milestones, it can feel difficult to keep showing up for others again and again. But not because she’s bitter, or because she wants what they have, so much as because, when you have a baby, people know what to do and how to act (sort of…). But when you’re just sinking for some other reason, it can be hard to ask for help, and there’s no automatic jumping in of your friends as there can be for other life events.

Additionally, Macnicol isn’t anti-kid, and her story shows just how much kids and caregiving can be a part of your life, even if you don’t choose wife/mom — I loved her description of her nephew:

Babies are like that. They appear, tear themselves a hole in the world, and somehow it becomes immediately impossible to remember a time when that space did not exist.

If you read and enjoyed Rebecca Traister’s All The Single Ladies, this feels very much like a companion book to that to me.

Peter Sagal’s book is perhaps not as funny as you’d expect if you’re only familiar with him from the NPR news quiz Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me. But I happened to catch him talking about this book on RadioTimes (yeah… I listen to a lot of NPR and I read The New Yorker, I am very much that person…) and it was a great interview, so I found this book at my library.

There’s a fair amount of sadness in the book because of Sagal’s divorce (“Instead of a ‘conscious uncoupling’ it was turning into a brush war”), his honestly about his depression and body image issues, and the fact that he was about a 100 yards away when the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon in 2013. All that said, Sagal doesn’t want to force you to look at his pain, he kind of wants to make you laugh. So this somehow is not that intense of a book.

I am a runner, and so I enjoyed reading about Sagal’s love of running, and I related to some of what he says (but not all, despite not being a 50 year old man, I am much slower than he is, I do not think I will ever run a sub-5 hour marathon let alone a 3:09):

By the time I got to mile 22 … I would have quit happily, except that if I ever wanted to finish a marathon, I’d have to run twenty-two miles allover again and that seemed far more painful than the measly four miles I had to limp through now. … [At the finish line] I said to myself something I did not expect to hear myself say, something that became a hinge between my former life and my present, and led to, among many, many other things, the writing of this book.

“I wonder if I could do that faster.”

I totally relate to wanting to give up at mile 22 of a marathon, but I didn’t finish and decide to do another. I finished and decided half-marathons were great and you can finish them, take a nap, and feel fine! But, I did end up running my one and only marathon because I finished a half-marathon and thought, huh, I could do more.

I think a lot of people,sadly, will also relate to Sagal’s feeling about his body, although I love how he can make it sort of funny:

“If you’ve ever been fat, you will either be fat for the rest of your life or you will worry about being fat for the rest of your life.” I came across those words in the manuscript of the place Fighting International Fat, by Jonathan Reynolds, a pretty obscure place to find the underlying thesis of your waking life … That casual observation struck me then and now with the profound power of its obvious truth, much like Kafka’s observation: “The meaning of life is that it ends.” But of course, Kafka did not add that once you’re dead, you won’t gain weight. Which is a comfort to me, sometimes.

This is pretty much the tone of the whole book, walk up to a serious subject, poke it with a stick, and get out with a laugh. But maybe if that’s the way to be honest about how you feel, that’s the way to do it. The book doesn’t feel raw and honest quite the same way as Macnicol’s does, but well, they are rather different people.

Currently reading: Salvage the Bones and The Interestings (yeah, going back a few years to read more by Wolitzer and Ward).

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