january 2021 books

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been making a conscious effort to limit social media time. Thirty days in, I can say it has been a smashing success. It is clear that I have replaced mindless scrolling with more reading time. Consequently, I have read 5 books this month, which I think is a record for me, at least since graduating from college. So let’s dig in:

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl

I decided to read this book after the references to it in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. I am generally interested in humans’ capacity for resilience. Much of this book details the many experiences Frankl had during his detainment in a concentration camp during World War II, and the many opportunities he had throughout that time to give up on hope and life. However, Frankl credits his survival to his active choice to respond with a kind of grit laced with positivity. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Overall, this was a well-timed read during an era when there is such tragedy all around us. We can dwell on the sadness of it all and feel helpless, or we can charge forward with optimism and light.

Rodham: a Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld

As indicated by the title, this book is a fictitious re-telling of Hilary Rodham (Clinton)’s life story…if she hadn’t married Bill. The concept had the air of a kind of choose-your-own-adventure book: when given the choice to stay with a charismatic but wayward politician or break off on your own, what would you do? First, I’ll say that devoured this book in about 48 hours, so it’s obviously riveting. I couldn’t put it down, mostly because I enjoyed the author’s artful intertwining of fiction and reality. The first half of the book has a LOT of “intimate” scenes, which made me feel weird since these are real people. I didn’t pick up this book to read about what Bill and Hilary’s sex life must have been like when they first met. Uh, no thanks. That being said, I think the author dwelled on that aspect of their relationship because it all contributes to his portrayal of Bill Clinton as an absolute sex addict. The latter half of the book focuses on Hilary’s political career, including multiple runs for the presidency. Spoiler: things end up very differently in the end than they did in real life, which dug up a lot of emotions for me from Election Night of 2016. How empowering and absolutely thrilling would it be for a woman to make it to the top? I hope I live to see that day, even if it’s not Hilary who wins it all.

All Adults Here by Emma Straub

This was a book I found because I was looking for a story about a family, and this certainly fit that bill. The book begins with the matriarch of the family, Astrid, witnessing a tragic traffic accident in their small town, an event that seems to spark a desire for connection to her three children and their families. In retrospect, the book covers just about every social justice issue you can think of, including homosexuality, single motherhood by choice, gender identity, and others. I’m sure there are families out there that struggle with all of the above, but this particular tale seemed to be exceptionally…tangled. Character development was a strength in this book, as I really felt like I knew some of the family members personally by the conclusion. This was a fun read but not one I’m likely to remember in a year.

Playing Nice by JP Delaney

This book focuses on one of parents’ ultimate nightmares–what if the child you’ve raised and grown to love is actually someone else’s? This genre of “switched at birth” stories was quite common in the Victorian era, but this was an engaging 2020 update. This set of circumstances may seem bad enough, but the author lays out a saga in which things could get much, much worse when a sociopath is involved. There is also a considerable amount of commentary in this book about the advantages afforded to the wealthy when engaging in matters of custody in the UK. The ending caught me by surprise, which is almost always a welcome occurrence!

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

I’ll just be up-front and say that this book is mostly fluff, and again, focuses a lot on sex. However, the premise of the book was promising. The protagonist is Bea Schumacher, who is a thirty-something fashion blogger who happens to be “plus-size.” (Side note brought up in this book–why do we not feel the need to describe men in terms of their clothing size like this?!) She is presented with the opportunity to be the star of the upcoming season of the reality show, Main Squeeze (a thinly veiled copycat of The Bachelorette). Despite much apprehension, she decides to do the show, and as you can imagine, a whole lot of awkwardness ensues, related to both her size-based insecurities and her emotional vulnerabilities from past relationships. This book could be about 30% shorter in my opinion, but then again, I am not a fan of The Bachelor or Bachelorette franchises…so I’m not exactly into the whole “let’s set up this romantic fantasy” scene. I like that this book sought to discuss some of the weight stigma that is so ubiquitous in our culture; from my professional experience, shaming people into losing weight is generally unsuccessful. However, I could have done without the reality show being the frame of the conversation.

Whew. I’ve already got three books lined up for February…let’s see if I can keep up the pace!

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