Plenty of Books: May 2017

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From Beth-Anne:

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

A scandalous peek into the headline-making glitterati and 1960’s Manhattan’s social elite and their beguiled, tumultuous and deceptive relationship with critically acclaimed author Truman Capote. If you’re a lover of historical fiction, be sure to keep wiki at the ready, for looking up the likes of Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Slim Keith and C.Z. Guest, also known as Truman’s “swans”.

Leave Me by Gayle Forman

Maribeth Klein does what many mothers have dreamed of doing. She leaves home. She leaves behind the pressures of an unfulfilling, high-pressure job, juggling the demands of two school-aged children (and all that entails) and living with a husband that feels more like living with an inattentive, unkempt roommate. The premise had me hooked but alas I just couldn’t connect with Maribeth and while Gayle Forman is a talented writer this story wasn’t for me. If you do enjoy Jodi Picoult or are looking for a breezy beach read, this may be the one for you.

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton 

I confess that I didn’t technically read this selection; rather I listened to it as an audiobook. If there is one of my selections that you do pick up, this one should be it. Nathalie recommended it to me and as always her suggestions are perfection. Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir is raw. She’s real and honest. And she’s not pretty. She doesn’t care if you like her. She doesn’t care what you think. And for this, I love her. I love that she is willing to unabashedly bare herself. To be so incredibly vulnerable about her childhood, her lover, her marriage, motherhood, being a chef, running a business, faltering, floundering, failing and yes, succeeding too. It’s her story, and read in her voice, it’s almost impossible to put down. I cried, and laughed listening to her and I have stalked the website of Prune ever since – dreaming of one day eating her stewed chicken.

From Nathalie:

The Weekend Effect: The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork by Katrina Onstad

This book should be required reading.  Period.  I was going to give you a list of the types of people who should read it, but it would be redundant.  Everyone needs to read and heed its advice: use your time off to unplug from your devices, connect to friends and family, play, get outside, and seek beauty.  Do not squander the weekends that people once had to fight so hard to protect from work.  Onstad gives a history of work and how the 40-hour week and weekend were created, how they have since been eroded, and tips for how to reclaim true leisure time.    My favourite passage: “real leisure isn’t just diversion, it’s making meaning.  A good weekend is alert to beauty.”  My favourite thing about the book: Onstad herself is not able to achieve all of the relaxing and unplugging and socializing and saying no that she advocates.  She is living proof of how hard it is to properly enjoy our weekends.  I admire that honesty.  I liked it so much, I devoted an entire post to it last week.

Mitzi Bytes by Kerry Clare

Kerry Clare is a friend and a contributor to Plenty.  Because I love her dearly, I had to keep making myself look up from my headlong reading of her book to ask, “Do I love this book because it’s Kerry’s, or do I love it because it’s just that good?”  It’s just that good.  It’s a clever page-turner of a novel with a powerful engine of a plot, some of the funniest dialogue you will ever read, and a sex scene with a ventriloquist.  The protagonist, Sarah Lundy, has a wildly successful blog, Mitzi Bytes, on which she dishes on the lives of those around her.  When anonymous messages arrive threatening to reveal her identity, Sarah has to deal with the potential chaos of her carefully ordered world falling apart.  Kerry deals brilliantly with the daily details of motherhood, playground politics, fractious female friendships, and marital secrets, and through it all, she resists making her protagonist fill the role of a chastened woman.  Sarah Lundy is unapologetically brilliant.

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

Rebecca Rosenblum’s So Much Love has been short-listed for the Amazon.ca first novel award, an accolade much-deserved.  She has published two collections of short stories, and, you, dear reader, are in excellent and expert hands in this telling of a woman’s abduction.  So Much Love tells the story of Catherine Reindeer before, during and after her abduction, and it is told from the points of view of her friends, family and acquaintances, as well as from her own perspective.  A kaleidoscopic narrative is in glorious tension with the charging engine of a plot.  As Catherine says of her favourite poet, who died young and whose death always colours readings of her work, “People’s lives are more complicated than just one thing that happened to them.”  What I so admire about this book is that it sets out to show how heart-breakingly true this assertion is.  Catherine is so much more than her tragedy, and we get to know a protagonist who is drawn with complexity and compassion.

From Carol:

The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby

Recommended to me by Nathalie, this quick read is a romp through a city girl’s travails as she tries to fulfill her longing to be a farmer. Her crew of allies are as unlikely as they come, and their misadventures are recounted in each chapter through a different point of view. Fun and funny.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I took this along with me on a trip and it was a perfect holiday read: with depth but not too heavy, and downright funny. It explores the dynamics between white women and the black women employed in their households in Mississippi in the late 1960’s. I didn’t highlight memorable sections as I went along, which I regret now, as there were some wonderful passages. But unforgettable is Aibileen’s kindness to the last little white girl she would care for, encapsulated in the mantra she tried to instill:  “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom by Amy Chua

I read this book years after everyone else did and enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I was able to take in Chua’s extreme tendencies with a grain of salt given self-doubt and self-mockery that she peppers throughout the book. I was also impressed by the author’s honesty – her younger daughter’s rebellion, which takes place loudly in a public place on a European holiday, is pretty awful. Its inclusion undermined the supposed assurance asserted by Chua, and this insecurity in parenting is pretty relatable.

Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

This is the first audiobook I’ve successfully listened to (usually I find them too fast; I don’t like losing the freedom to read at the pace and with the movement (backwards and forwards) that I like). But this collection of quotes by Halpern’s father was light and comedic, and was great on audio, probably because they originated with the spoken word. Lots and lots of laughs out loud here – I drew lots of glances walking down the street with this one.

2 thoughts

  1. Thanks for these ideas! I would like to add one by Plum Johnson – They Left Us Everything. Your audience will be interested in the journey of dealing with with parents’ belongings and their ageing too. This is a good read – nonfiction – for all ages about a mother daughter relationship and revelations when the daughter must go through the parents’ belongings, including hundreds of letters. Book was on the Canadian Best Non Fiction list for many weeks.

    1. Hi Judy,

      I also enjoyed Plum Johnson’s book – so much so that I suggested it back in November 2015. I had the opportunity to hear Plum speak as part of the Toronto Public Library’s speaker series. Her talk was full of humour and humility – and it brought home the importance of buying books and how these purchases greatly impact the lives of author’s. Thank you again for bringing this book to the forefront of my conscience. It remains one of my favourite memoirs and one that I have encouraged so many to read and gifted to many more.

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