Yikes. I know it seems like I’ve forgotten about this challenge, but I’ve actually read a lot of books recently (mostly over the holiday). So I’m heavy on the reading part, and maybe a bit too light on the reviewing part. However, I am here today, and the two month countdown to the end of this challenge (I started last March) is on—with 20 books to go, I’m kind of wondering how I’m going to make it happen, but fingers crossed! And, on that note, onto this batch:
Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
This book is a lot like Lena—you either love it or hate it. I know it got a lot of recent press for sections of the book that may have rubbed people the wrong way, but I will say that overall I found it to be a very brave and honest account of life as a (not-so-typical) twenty-something. I think it takes someone with a steel stomach, strong sense of self and unabashed pride to write a book like Lena did, and I really respected her for that.
Not That Kind of Girl hits on a lot of life experiences throughout Dunham’s 28-years. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the tone throughout the book overall was a lot darker than I anticipated initially. I wouldn’t say it was depressing by any means—just gritty…that sort of feels like the right word. It’s rare to hear anyone talk about topics that Lena hit on—sexuality, abuse, mental disabilities—as seeringly honest as she did. Our society often likes to glaze over these issues, but Lena got into the real meaty, nitty-gritty of things. I’d imagine this whole book publishing process for her was like one part therapy session, one part standing on the stage at Chicago’s Second City performing standup naked. I’d definitely recommend NTKoG to anyone that’s ever felt a little lost, a little misunderstood, a little ambitious. So basically any twenty-something. Rating: 8.7 out of 10
Favorite quote(s): “When someone shows you how little you mean to them and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself.” // “I can never be who I was. I can simply watch her with sympathy, understanding and some measure of awe. There she goes, backpack on, headed for the subway or the airport. She did her best with her eyeliner. She learned a ne word she wants to try out on you. She is ambling along. She is looking for it.” // “You will find, she says, that there’s a certain grace to having your heart-broken. I will use this line many times in the years to come, giving it as a gift to anyone who needs it.”
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
I may have mentioned it before on here, but Jodi is one of my favorite writers (we’ve been through like, 20 books together, so I feel like I can call her Jodi, right?). I was awaiting the release of her newest book, Leaving Time, anxiously this fall and it did not disappoint. Like a lot of Jodi’s books, the plot and characters were an amalgamation of a lot of things you think wouldn’t work together in a novel—in this case, elephants, teenagers, race issues, detectives and psychics. Like I said, random—but so, so good.
The novel is told from the point of view of several characters, including Jenna, a teenager on a quest to find her mother, who was once a world-renowned elephant researcher. What may be an over-used formula in literature (kid looks for mom, kid discovers self along the way) is turned on it’s head by Jodi’s engaging and emotional look at what it means to be a family, deep character development and—yes—affinity for unexpected plot twists. You will at once not see the ending coming, and not want it to end. I’m jealous you all will get to experience it for the first time. Rating: 9 out of 10
Favorite quote(s): “I think grief is like a really ugly couch. It never goes away. You can decorate around it, you can slap a doily on top of it, you can push it to the corner of the room—but eventually, you learn to live with it.” // “Don’t do any intentional harm to yourself or anyone else, and get happy.” // “If you think about someone you’ve loved and lost, you are already with them. The rest is just details.”
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
So I’m pretty sure this is billed as a young adult book, but I don’t care because I love Meg Wolitzer so I read it anyways. Belzhar follows a group of troubled teens through as semester at boarding school. The only thing Jam, the narrator, and her classmates have in common is that they’ve all been through their own version of an unspeakable trauma, and they’re all in the same English class, where they’re instructed to read The Bell Jar and write in journals.
And here’s where things get weird, because each time they write in the journals, something happens. I can’t tell you exactly what, because hello—that would ruin things and you should read for yourself, but the journey to discovering what “Belzhar” was—and what it mean for the English kids—was fun. I will say I’m not usually into supernatural-esque/suspended reality type books, but Wolitzer’s novel was still grounded enough that it kept me hooked. The language was a bit simplistic at times (as to be expected with a book geared towards a specific age-set), but it was none-the-less an enjoyable page turner. Rating: 8.3 out of 10
Favorite quote(s): “To find out what another human being feels, a person who isn’t you, to get a look under the hood, so to speak. A deep look inside. That’s what writing is supposed to do.” // “And I also know that pain can seem like an endless ribbon. You pull it and you pull it. You keep gathering it toward you, and as it collects, you really can’t believe that there’s something else at the end of it. Something that isn’t just more pain.”
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Boy oh boy, did I try my damnest to avoid reading this book. For some reason, I had it firmly in my head that I was. not. interested. Well turns out, I was very interested—I loved it, and now I won’t shut up about it. I want to go on my own backpacking/life discovery journey. I think people are starting to get annoyed by my incessant Wild chatter.
Wild is really an autobiography of Cheryl Strayed’s journey on the PCT (that’s Pacific Coast Trail, if you’re curious!), a 1,100 mile hike that she set off on, minimal experience be damned, the year after her Mom died. And while the book centers pretty much solely on Cheryl and her thoughts, feelings and actions, it ain’t no 127 Hours, watch-a-man-saw-his-arm-off situation. Her voice throughout the book is funny and sad and hopeful and regretful and wise all at once. I haven’t been through half the hardships Cheryl has (mainly a crippling drug addiction and gutting loss), but I felt as though I grew from her experiences.
Wild is so emotionally gripping, and Cheryl’s pain sometimes so raw that I felt like I had lost my mother and I had to step away for a bit in order to not get too emotionally torn down by the book. At 25, I’m seeing my parents more as their own people rather than just my parents, and it’s interesting that Cheryl had the same moment of awareness while hiking the trail. Whether you’re a wilderness buff, reeling from the loss of a loved one or just someone, like me, looking for a read with a little heart, Wild is for you. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m hoping to make time to soon! Rating: 9.7 out of 10
Favorite quote(s): “Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.” // “Saying Bobbi instead of Mom felt like a revelation, like it was the first time that I truly understood that she was my mother, but also more. When she’d died, I”d lost that too—the Bobbie she’s been, the woman who was separate from who she was to me. She seemed to come at me now, the full perfect and imperfect force of her humanity, as if her life was an intricately painted mural and I could finally see the whole thing. Who she’d been to me, and who she hadn’t. How it was she belonged to me profoundly, and also how she didn’t.”
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Maybe it was this book, or maybe it’s the fact that I’m currently hooked on Netflix-ing my way through Parks and Rec, but I’m obsessed with Amy Poehler, you guys. I have a real soft spot for brilliant, hilarious women (see: my obsession with Mindy Kaling and love for Tina Fey), and Amy has certainly checked both those boxes.
Yes Please was everything I had hoped it would be—part autobiographical account of how Poehler made it in the male-dominated comedy biz, part witty insight into everything from love to loss to getting drunk in dive bars in the middle of the week. Poehler’s voice was endearing and honest, and I love the “footnote” aspect of the book—several of the addendums she added to anecdotes made her off-color stories even more hilarious. Amy is kind of everything I hope to grow up into—smart, opinionated, motivated and sure of myself. But it was kind of cool to see that she wasn’t always that way. Life is a growing process, and sometimes you just need a successful, award-winning, brilliant, ridiculously rich actress to point that out. Rating: 10 out of 10
Favorite quote(s): “Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.” // “Sticking up for ourselves in the same way we would one of our friends is a hard but satisfying thing to do. Sometimes it works.” // “that is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.”