A Little Summer/Fall Reading List

This summer, instead of working on my tan or my fitness or my blog producing skills (hello! Zing!), I’ve been reading. Like, not just US Weekly but actual books.

I’ve turned to actual books, in part, because I cancelled my subscription to US Weekly after about seven too many glowing cover stories on a certain family headed by a bumbling Nacho Cheese Dorito who, (and this makes me shudder every single day) will one day have his very own presidential library, even though he can’t even be bothered to read anything more complicated than a tweet.

Speaking of books: here’s what I read this summer. And all of them were longer than a tweet.

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April — For me, the summer reading season kicked off with the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize winners. As a former journalist, I love to read the stories that win this prize every year, but since I’d already glutinously consumed so much news this year, I decided to take a slightly different approach and read the Prize winner in fiction, Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less.”

I would describe it as “Eat, Pray, Love” with a gay protagonist. It was good, very, very funny.

May — Next up, since I needed some book recommendations, I decided to join the Girl’s Night In book club, which has a chapter here in Old Town, Alexandria. Unfortunately, the first book out of the gate was Meg Wolitzer’s “The Female Persuasion.” I’m afraid I didn’t like this one at all.

It’s ostensibly about womanhood, loyalty and ambition. I just kept thinking to myself, “How does this female protagonist end up writing a book, living in a Brooklyn brownstone, and becoming a key voice in the feminist movement by her mid-20s after literally having just one clerical job?”

June – This month, I plowed through three books, in part because they were all kinda fluffy, quick reads and in part because work slows down quite a bit for me mid-summer.

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I stumbled on Tara Isabella Burton’s “Social Creature” on Twitter. I think someone I follow mentioned it when it was published, and the way she described it totally hooked me in. It’s a story about obsession and status featuring a con-artist/grifter/murderer (sort of an Anna Delvey-type but more murder-ey, obviously) who uses Instagram and social media to continue her con and cover up a murder. Perfect summer read. Vastly unsatisfying ending.

Another GNI book club read. “The Ensemble” by Aja Gabel was ok, not great. It’s about a group of friends (but are they though?) who are in a musical quartet and how their friendships with each other change over the years. It was difficult to understand whether they really liked each other or whether they were only with each other because they needed the quartet to stick together. Needed more rock-and-roll.

Since we were still in the throws of the Summer of Scams, I read “Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director” by Gary Vikan. I’m actually a tiny bit obsessed with art heists. I blame it on Pierce Brosnan’s Thomas Crown Affair – still one of my favorite movies. I already read “The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft” and loved it.

But the main reason I read Vikan’s book is because of an art heist much closer to home. A few years back, a former PE teacher/driving instructor/blackjack dealer tried to anonymously sell a Renoir she had “discovered” at a flea market to The Potomack Company, an auction house here in Old Town. Major family drama ensued as “Renoir Girl” and her brother fought over who owned the stolen painting. Exactly who stole the painting back in 1951 is still unresolved (it’s got to be the mom, right?), as Vikan details in his book, but it has been returned to the Baltimore Museum of Art.

July – For the GNI book club, the powers that be selected Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. I had wanted to read this one for a while, but figured it’d be hard. While I did not grow up in a fundamentalist Mormon family in Idaho, I had a similar upbringing to Westover’s in a lot of ways. There was abuse, neglect, and (undiagnosed) mental illness. And like her, I knew from an early age that the way out of my circumstances was through education.

I also knew that the road to getting that education would not be easy, but like her, I probably wasn’t quite prepared for how difficult it would be or the costs that it would require. I personally have found that getting out in the world and changing your life can cause a huge chasm between yourself and those you leave behind, and sometimes that gulf is just too large to bridge. I’m different because of my experiences and education. There is no going back. When people say “don’t forget where you come from,” I just don’t get it because every single thing I did was specifically to distance myself from where I came from, which was a very bad place.

Anyway, this one really struck home and I really, really liked it even though it brought up a lot of bad memories.

The next book I read was recommended by another GNI book club attendee and since I was looking for something on the opposite end of the spectrum after “Educated,” it was a welcome relief to escape into “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou. Thankfully, I have no experience with Yale students who drop out of school to start a revolutionary blood testing startup in Silicon Valley, all while wearing black turtlenecks a la Steve Jobs and taking gobs of money from venture capitalists and investors while lying about the entire company, its technology and capabilities.

This book was head-shakingly, gob-smackingly good. I could not believe what Elizabeth Holmes got away with from a lot of smart people who should have known better. Seriously. If this was the Summer of Scams, she is the undisputed queen. The balls on this chick. Maybe my favorite book of the summer. Although…..

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August – I really, really loved “Rust & Stardust” by T. Greenwood. It’s a historical novel based on the true kidnapping story in the 1940s of 11-year-old Sally Horner, which ended up inspiring Nabokov’s “Lolita.” Not gonna lie: it was creepy, definitely was on the edge of icky, but it was so, so good and just heartbreaking. I could not put it down.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – This was another GNI selection and was also on the summer reading list of the two big O’s – Obama and Oprah (Oprah’s Book Club 2018 Selection). It’s about a newlywed man who is wrongly accused of a crime and ends up going to prison for five years before his sentence is overturned. Obviously, the marriage takes a hit and he returns home to try to reclaim his life and his wife. Another heartbreaker and also good, but a bit frustrating. It definitely made you think. What’s fair in a young, fledging marriage that’s been interrupted like this? What do people who were once in love owe each other? When is it ok to let go? Ever?

Finally, one of my favorite Instagram feeds, @notenoughhangers mentioned he was reading this book: The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married into the British Aristocracy by Anne de Courcy. It’s about the many, many American Gilded Age heiresses who married into British aristocracy at the turn of the century and how that worked out for everyone. Spoiler: mostly not great, but I did love hearing all about their amazing stately homes, fabulously over-the-top parties, and all other ways they blew through their daddy’s fortunes to console themselves.

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SeptemberThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn – Only got about 20 percent into it before I ditched it for my current read. Loved the history angle and the female empowerment idea of the story (based on the true story of female spy outfit in France during World War II), but couldn’t stand the writing and the way the story was being told.

Which brings me to my current read: Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Wall Street Journal reporters, Tom Wright, Bradley Hope. Someone on Goodreads described it as “Bad Blood” meets “Crazy Rich Asians” and I was hooked. Just started this last night and I’m excited.

 

 

 

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Book Clubbing (and Who Do You Think You Are, Anthropologie?)

Can we be uber-lame (besides just using the term “uber”) and start a blog book club?

You might think that such an idea was inspired by the Great Poe (not me, the other great Poe, that Edgar dude) or by the fact that I am, technically, a writer (as in: somebody actually pays me a wage based on writing. I know. Crazy!). And therefore, you might think that the first book of this new book club would be somehow Poe-related. But no. You would be wrong on all counts.

THIS is what has inspired my desire for a book club:

I’m not intrigued by the title, per se. Although, it is quite tantalizing. I need to lose a few myself, but I’m already familiar with how drinking can lead to weight loss and I’m really not interested in hugging toilet bowls, thanks.

No, I’m intrigued by the fact that Lady Gaga’s ex has a book out.

My first thought was, “Oh, it must be a pamphlet or a coloring book. Just look at his lovely outfit. That will definitely teach kids how to color within the lines.” But again, no. It’s apparently, 272 pages long!

AND, it’s about losing weight by running! In marathons!

Wait a minute. He’s a runner? I’m a runner! Mind? Blown.

The book came out on March 13 and he already has 41 reviews on Amazon, mostly full of praise. Here’s one of my favorite, less-favorable ones:

I’ve read the book and I know the author personally. I used to drink at the bar he worked at. He had a beer gut. He was maybe 20 pounds overweight. He wanted to look like his emaciated skinny-jeans-wearing clientele. So he cut way back on his drinking, and started exercising and eating better. Is that really book worthy? I mean it’s not like he’s Jared Fogle (the subway guy) and he lost 245 LBS. It’s not even really a “drunk diet.” About halfway through the book he concedes that he cut way back on his drinking. The only reason this was even published is that he used to date Lady Gaga.

He does look a bit chubby in this photo. But it could be the skeevy face pose.

I love the fact that that reviewer is (1) not at all impressed; (2) holds Jared Fogle up as a fitness guru worthy of following  (which he may be, but I still think it’s a funny criticism of Luc) AND he knows exactly how much Fogle lost; (3) thinks this guy only got published because he used to date Gaga (which was also one of my first thoughts); and (4) is offended because this isn’t really a “drunk diet.” Yes, sir, you should be ticked that he does not offer tips on how to drink your way to thinness.

So, color me intrigued, I’m ordering the book.

SIDE RANT: Anthropologie, we need to have a talk. I have a gift certificate for around $50. Anthropologie has many, many cute things, mostly for women much smaller and more Zooey Deschanel-ish than myself.  I saw someone today at work wearing a cute necklace that she said she’d gotten from Anthropologie a few years ago. “Hmmm, I thought. That’s a great idea. I should see if there are any accessories that catch my eye.”

Oh, they caught my eye alright.

What the hell, y’all? This necklace is $498 dolllars. That’s dollar bills for those of you who missed it. As in American money units.

Oh, I think to myself, why it must have super-rare precious stones with magical boy-catching powers and high-faulutin’ metals taken from the hot core of the Earth in a dangerous extraction process that kills those who even attempt it. Why, it must be one of those “blood necklaces.”

It says it’s made of brass, resin and horn.

OoooooooooooK, so it must be made by some poor indigenous ladies in Africa or Southeast Asia or something and that price tag would support her whole family for like five years AND help the village build a much-needed well and avoid malaria through clean drinking water (Disclaimer: I might not have that right. I might be confusing mosquito-borne illnesses with water-related ones).

No, it says it was made in Belgium. That $498 goes to some pomme-frites-and-mayo eating (yum) hausfrau scratching out a living in the hard-tumbling country of BELGIUM.

Seriously, Anthropologie. What’s up with that? Who do you think you are? (By the way, it’s not even a cute necklace!! )