Rash: A Memoir

April 20, 2018

Rash: A Memoir
by Lisa Kusel

Rash 2

Genre/categories: memoir, Indonesia, travel, expat

Summary:

In the midst of living a comfortable life in California, Lisa Kusel encourages her husband to consider a teaching position at an international school in Bali. In six weeks, the family makes a “rash” and radical move to “paradise.” Looking for happiness and inspiration for writing, all Lisa finds in Bali are challenges that threaten her peace of mind, her marriage, her husband’s professional happiness, and her daughter’s safety. Throughout her candid, engaging, and well-told memoir, Lisa explores the difficulties of relocation and assimilation into a different culture and the pursuit of happiness. Adding to the pressure, Lisa’s husband’s position as a teacher in a start up international school is not all that had been promised. Will Lisa find happiness? Amazon (early reviews) 4.8 Stars

My Thoughts:

“Eat, Love, Pray” gone wrong…

The grass is always greener…

No matter where you go, there you are…

Privilege….

Memoirs always intrigue me! Thank you to Lisa Kusel for sending me her memoir in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

How many times have we each thought how much happier we’d be if only…. If only I had a different house….. If only I could lose 10 pounds….. If only I could take a vacation this year…… If only I could win the lottery…..  If only…..

This was Lisa’s frame of mind as she contemplated a move to Bali:

“I would reinvest myself. I would find contentment. I would be present. Victor and I would fall in love all over again. Bali would make that happen. Bali. How tropical and flowery that sounded. Yes, if we moved to Bali, all would be light and golden and I’d……..

I think if I moved to Bali, I’d learn how to stop searching for something new all the time and be grateful for what I have.”

Although I have enough life experience to predict where this memoir would likely lead, I was pleasantly surprised by the conversational, casual, chatty, and witty writing style. Lisa has an incredible ability to tell an engaging story filled with humorous details and vivid descriptions. Reading it felt like meeting her for coffee and hearing the story in person. On a few occasions, I laughed out loud. My only difficulty with the narrative was her use of profanity. I realize that this is a personal preference and that other readers may be fine with it; however, I prefer to experience a more limited use of profanity in my reading.

Readers who have expat experiences or have visited Bali (not the resorts) may find this memoir especially interesting as Lisa provides a great deal of cultural details and observations in her honest and reflective narrative.

While Lisa’s husband and five-year-old daughter take cultural adjustments in stride and try to make the best of a difficult and new situation, Lisa dwells in unhappiness. She fears that they might have made a “rash” decision to relocate to Bali but also worries that her daughter might develop a “rash” indicating dengue fever. Lisa’s excessive and persistent unhappiness and her inability to assimilate lead to tension in her marriage and a less than positive reputation among the locals and the school staff. Readers can appreciate her predicament based on her idea that moving to Bali would make her a happier person. Many of us realize that circumstances cannot provide real happiness because it’s an inner state of being. Can one choose to be happy in a difficult cultural environment and in a less than ideal living situation?

I appreciate the author’s honest reflections and her struggle toward rediscovering happiness:

“When had I stopped being just happy? …..  I’d been moody. Too quick to anger and accusation. I was often a dark presence, hovering over Victor’s life like a bitch balloon; a Pigpen cloud of ugliness following me around. Sometimes, I remembered, no one, not even me, wanted to be with me……I no longer knew how to appreciate all that was good and beautiful in my life. I was stuck. Could that be why I was so desperate to move to Bali?”

Have you, too, chased happiness? I think the theme of happiness is one to which most us can relate. In my younger years, as a mom with littles, struggling along trying to make ends meet on my husband’s meager salary, I remember thinking one Sunday that if only we had money to go to a fast food place for tacos after church (as many of my friends did) that I’d be happy. It seemed like that would be the secret to my happiness and a well-lived life. I wasn’t asking to win the lottery–just a few cheap tacos. I was sure that the happiness quotient of my life would greatly increase when we could drive through and get tacos after church instead of going home to make lunch. I clearly remember feeling cheated and miserably sorry for myself.

In addition to a theme of happiness, there is also the theme of cultural differences and privilege. As the author describes the Bali culture in great detail, readers can imagine themselves living in that environment. Lisa has a difficult time accepting the lack of air conditioning and flushing toilets, windowless huts, inadequate medical care, spotty electricity and internet, etc that she is privileged to have access to in the U.S. I follow the blog of a missionary in Haiti and she often writes about her happiness and contentment factor and cultural assimilation as she reflects on safety concerns and what her family may be missing by not living in the U.S. Her family proactively works on creating experiences within the Haiti culture that will meet the needs of their growing family. I admire expats who experience a few rough years of adjustment in the beginning and can create a lifestyle of contentment and happiness despite very difficult circumstances. Lisa reminds us of the challenge.

“I must stop looking to others for happiness. It’s right here, always available for the taking, and I have to stop blaming Victor and the rest of the planet’s inhabitants for any and all that goes wrong. There was only this one moment. This now. And I needed to embrace it.”

In the memoir, Lisa comes to an intellectual grasp of happiness; however, she falls short of showing the reader what that looks like in her life when she returns to the U.S. I wonder today if she is truly happy. Is she able to put into practice the insights she gained? Can happiness be learned through disciplined practice or will it always elude us?

Rash: A Memoir is recommended for readers who appreciate candid, reflective writing exploring themes of happiness and cultural differences, for expats (especially those who have lived or traveled in Bali), and for readers who love engaging memoirs.  ***Language***

My Rating: 4 Stars

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rash

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Lisa Kusel

lisa kuselLisa was born in New Jersey two miles from where Thomas Alva Edison first recorded sound. She went to college and studied biology and theater arts. She went to graduate school and studied environmental anthropology. After years of writing copy for non-profits, selling surplus cosmetics in Russia, and living off rich married men, she accepted an editorial position at that little-known Open Office competitor, Microsoft. There she created MATTER, the company’s first online magazine read by the 34 people who were patient enough to wait the twelve minutes it took the GIFs to download through their 56K modems.

She got married. Left Microsoft. Went to Africa. Moved back to California. She wrote two books: “Other Fish in the Sea” and “Hat Trick.” Wrote another one after that about WWII–not yet published. Then she moved to Bali to save her wounded marriage, and wrote a memoir about her time there. It’s called “Rash,” and it’s a funny poignant tale about a woman who mistakenly believes that running away to paradise is the only way to find true happiness.

She presently lives in Vermont, where she is writing her first young adult novel. Follow her writing at http://www.lisakusel.com. Feel free to drop her a line at lisakusel<@>gmail.com because she loves to hear other people’s stories.



Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection!
Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text



Extra:
The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel

room on rue Amelie

“Cruelty is the weapon of the ignorant.”

If you’re looking for an easy reading WW11 histfic selection, you might enjoy “The Room on Rue Amelie, a story of people who see injustice and have the courage to stand up and fight against it. For me, it was mediocre compared with other reads in the same genre. Although the dialogue could have been better written and the events better developed, the topic of rescuing downed English pilots over war town France was interesting and seemed to be well researched. I felt that the insta love story lines (2 of them!) were definite weak points of the story (insta love is more common in the YA genre and is usually stereotypical). Even though I would rate the writing 2.5 and skimmed several sections, I’ve rounded this to 3 stars for a compelling topic. Overall, it’s an enjoyable read.

My Rating: 3 stars

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Buy Here



Links I Love:

Modern Mrs Darcy: 15 Literary Novels That Will Have You Compulsively Turning The Pages
(How many have you read? Even though this genre is made up, it’s my favorite: great unputdownable literature!  I’ve read 6 on the list [some I liked better than others: e.g Homegoing, The Mothers, and Little Fires were my favorites; I DNF Americanah]. I would add News of the World to this list!)

The Novel Endeavor: A Gift Giving Round-Up For Book Lovers



Looking Ahead:

Next week, I’ll be highlighting my favorite, most compelling character from my April reading and offering a Link Up opportunity.



Sharing is Caring

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



 Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear all about what you’re reading!

What are your reflections on finding happiness? Do you think it’s found within or can it be chased?

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A Way Out: A Memoir of Conquering Depression and Social Anxiety

February 16. 2018

A Way Out: A Memoir of Conquering Depression and Social Anxiety
by Michelle Balge

A Way Out

Genre/categories: nonfiction, memoir, mental health

Thank you Michelle Balge for an ARC (advance reader’s copy) of A Way Out. I received this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Summary:

Through memoir format, Michelle Balge shares her personal experiences towards conquering depression and social anxiety. It’s a story of Michelle’s perseverance,  fighting spirit, determination, hardships, courage through the ups and downs of treatment, and bravery as she strives to live a productive and fulfilling life with a mental health diagnosis. She holds nothing back (*trigger warnings) and in her own truthful words, she shares “about the hardship of living with mental illness, the road to recovery, and the spaces in-between.”

My Thoughts:

***trigger warnings*** If reading this book causes anxiety, please connect with someone to talk.

A personal memoir is extremely powerful as it helps readers build compassion and understanding and helps us all not to feel so alone in the world. There were many times in reading her story that I thought “Oh, I’ve felt that way, too!” Or thought that as a teacher, I have observed students with similar patterns.

I  deeply appreciate Michelle’s transparency and honesty in sharing her story from early childhood to present day. As she relates her story, she gives special emphasis to the signs and symptoms which are invaluable to parents, guardians, caregivers, teachers, etc. Some of the symptoms she excellently articulates include speech and comprehension becoming slower, early bedtime, lack of appetite, staying in her room, risky behavior, feelings of guilt, extreme shyness, overly worried about making mistakes, etc.  Most of these are symptoms we’ve seen listed in textbooks or pamphlets; however, hearing about them in her own words as she experienced them is a powerful aspect of her story.

Of the myriad strategies she tried, a few seemed particularly helpful for her: group therapy, meditation music, an accountability partner (friend) whom she promised to contact if she felt like she might hurt herself, and becoming involved at college with a mental health awareness group for which she “won the Spirit of Brock medal for the one undergraduate student who best exemplified the spirit of Sir Isaac Brock through their courage, inspiration, leadership, innovation, and community involvement.” I was struck by the fact that being a highly sensitive person who didn’t want to hurt or disappoint others kept her from hurting herself on many occasions. This was a powerful section of the book that helped me realize the value of close family and friend relationships and connections for any person struggling with depression and anxiety.

Her personal memoir is a story I will never forget and I’m honored to have read it. I rooted for Michele through every sentence, paragraph, and page as she grew to love and value herself, tried various strategies and medications, and ultimately realized what a special gift she is. Her story brings hope for many living with depression and social anxiety.

Michele’s mantra: “Continuing to do my best is the most I can do, and the most I can do is good enough.”

An especially important section in this book is the list of strategies and resources that Michelle used and found helpful and included for others at the end. Also helpful in reading Michele’s story is hearing that she lied to a therapist in the reporting of the severity of her mental health symptoms. This puts more responsibility on concerned adults and friends to act on and trust their careful observations and provide intervention.

One Important Take Away. As a teacher, (she said stepping on her soap box) I strongly feel that we can do more for children at a young age whom we observe struggling with extreme shyness and other social anxieties. How much easier it would be on everyone to provide strategies for intervention during the formative elementary school years. During my teaching years, I stayed in close contact with our site psychologist and/or counseling intern and referred many students to a professional to address red flags that concerned me. My regret is that I could not have referred more children for mental health services….students with extreme shyness…..students who are bullied…..students who live with traumatic family dynamics…..students who are loners…..etc. I am a strong advocate for early and accessible mental health services. I see this as one of the most important and urgent needs in our public schools. A lack of mental health services is an area that I felt most frustrated with as a teacher.

Heartfelt thanks to Michelle for sharing her story with the world! Her goal in writing this is “to help people who are struggling with their own mental illnesses and show them that there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.” Her story is so important to read that I think every psychology and/or counseling student needs to have her memoir right alongside their textbooks.

Recommended. Highly recommended for individuals who might be traveling the same journey of depression and social anxiety as Michelle (her  experience and strategies might be helpful), for ALL teachers and/or professionals that work with children or young adults, for ALL counselors, counseling interns, psychology students, and psychologists, for parents who are concerned about signs and symptoms, and for ALL readers who seek to gain understanding and compassion in the field of mental health.

My Rating: 5 Brave Stars

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A Way Out

Preorder and/or Buy Here    Release Date: 2/27/18

About the Author, Michelle Balge

michelle balgeMichelle Balge is a mental health advocate, web designer, and animal lover. She has won awards thanks to her dedication to mental health, and has spoken about her experiences to students, the community, and professionals in the field. Michelle holds an Honours BA in Sociology with a Concentration in Critical Animal Studies, and will receive a Web Design Graduate Certificate in June, 2018. She was born and raised in Ontario, Canada, with a taste of city and small-town life.

For more info, visit michellebalge.com.


Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society



Looking Ahead:

I’m continuing to read Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (from my 2018 TBR).

Prairie Fires

Amazon information here

Join me next Friday (2/23) for February’s Most Memorable Character link up! 
Reviews of “As Bright as Heaven” and “Out of the Dust” coming soon!
What are you reading this week?


The BUZZ

A Wrinkle in Time coming to theaters on March 9! 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society coming to theaters April 20! 



Sharing is Caring

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

If you are a mental health professional or someone concerned about mental health, would you consider sharing my review of Michelle’s book with a colleague or friend?



Let’s Discuss!

I’m eager to hear your comments about this week’s review.

If you are a mental health professional, can you envision this being useful for your clients?

What are you reading this week?

This Must Be the Place

January 12, 2018

Complex, complicated, and multi layered…

This Must Be the Place
by Maggie O’Farrell

This Must Be the Place 2

Genre: Literary Fiction

Summary:

This Must Be the Place is a story of a collapsing and reawakening marriage.  Daniel, a young American professor, travels to Ireland on holiday and family business and to stabilize his life after a failed marriage and a difficult custody battle. By chance, he meets Claudette, a world-famous actress who dramatically left the public eye for a reclusive life in a rural Irish village. Daniel and Claudette fall in love and create an idyllic life in the country and have two children of their own. A secret from Daniel’s past threatens to destroy their carefully constructed and quiet, happy life. As Daniel leaves to make peace with his past and himself, he also reunites with the American son and daughter he has not seen for several years. His story is told from his own voice and other multiple voices as he wrestles with the complexities of loyalty and devotion, family, and an extraordinary love. Amazon Rating (January): 4.2 Stars

My Thoughts:

At first I was less than enthusiastic about the book and set it aside on multiple occasions. Although the writing was beautiful, the structure was complicated and jarring as the story jumped perspectives and time periods. If I wanted to continue with the book, I knew I had to focus and invest some hard reading work. Somewhere around 50%, the persistence paid off and I started enjoying my reading experience. After that switch in my attitude, I grew to admire this complex and multi layered literary fiction work.

If you’re looking for a challenging and complex read and appreciate literary fiction, you might consider this book. I think what I enjoyed the most was the fully developed character study of a complex and flawed human being who really is trying to get things right in his life. If you’re in the mood for something light and easy reading, you might want to skip this one.

As always in well-written literature, I appreciate the meaningful themes presented. In this read, you will find substantial themes that include family relationships, choices, love, regret, and courage to make changes. Daniel is certainly a flawed character; however, I appreciate his determination to do the hard work in his life of becoming sober to work toward regaining that which is most important to him.

I read this book as part of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club and this is how she applied one concept in the book to her personal life.

My rating: 4 stars (based on my analysis after the half way point)
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This Must be the Place

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie OFarrell

MAGGIE O’FARRELL is the author of four previous novels, including the acclaimed The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, which was a B&N Recommends Pick, and After You’d Gone. Born in Northern Ireland in 1972, O’Farrell grew up in Wales and Scotland. She has two children.

 

 

 



Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society



Extras: Links I Love

Are you interested in Christian Fiction? Check out The Caffeinated Bibliophile: If You Loved This, Read This book recommendations.

Are you an educator or work in an environment that promotes children’s literacy? Check out The Loud Library: Best Faculty Meeting Ever post. She is a literacy leader and I know you’ll be inspired!

For all things children’s books, check out Miss MaGee’s Reads: A Literacy Blog. She’s a third grade teacher who provides reviews for all the newest and greatest in children’s literature.



Looking Ahead:

This week I’m reading Left Neglected (an inspiring story of a woman living with a traumatic brain injury) by Lisa Genova (author of Still Alice). 

Left Neglected

Amazon Information Here

What are you reading this week?



Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



Let’s Discuss!

What are you reading this week?

Wait Till Next Year

This book is loads of fun for baseball fans (especially Dodgers, Yankees, or Giants fans)! (Might even be a great Christmas gift!)

baseball, glove, bat

From loyal baseball fans, the refrain “Wait Until Next Year!” can often be heard after suffering a disappointing loss. In fact, it was after the Dodgers’ loss in Game 7 of the recent World Series that a fan vehemently shouted these exact words captured by a reporter’s microphone and camera. At that time, I was reminded of Goodwin’s book that had been on my TBR list for some time and that it had been declared one of my husband’s favorite reads last year. In honor of the recent, well-played, and highly spirited 2017 World Series, I decided it’s timely to read and review this popular memoir.

Wait Till Next Year
by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Wait Till Next Year

Genre/categories: Biography, memoir, baseball, small town life

Summary:

Doris Kearns Goodwin writes an endearing memoir of growing up in the late 40s and 50s as family, baseball, neighborhood, and church provided the secure and stable foundation for her life. Memorably, her Long Island neighborhood was divided between Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees fans. Through baseball she learned how to tell a great narrative and to keep hope alive, from her mom she grew to appreciate the joy of reading, and from her father she experienced the joys and disappointments of baseball. During the Dodgers’ scrappy early years, Doris and her father were ardent and loyal fans and they lived out the slogan “wait until next year” over and over again.

“It was that October [of the’49 World Series] that I first understood the pain, bravado, and prayer woven into the simple slogan that served Dodgers fans as a recurring anthem: ‘Wait till next year.’ ”    ~Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris tells of meeting baseball heroes, of nail-biting games, of having to confess at Confession that she wished the other team’s players would be injured so Dodgers could win, of the exciting World Series win in 1955, and of her sorrow as the Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1957.  She was so devastated by the loss of her team that she avoided baseball for years after the Dodgers left, and when she was convinced as a young adult to attend a Red Sox game, she transferred her loyalties, started keeping score again, and passed on her love of the game to her son. In addition to the loss of the Dodgers, she also tells of the loss of her mother at an early age.  Amazon Rating (November): 4.5 Stars.

My Thoughts:

Doris Kearns Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize winning author, a role model for women, and well-known and respected for her presidential biographies . Some may know her from the Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary on PBS.

This is more than a great memoir; it’s a nostalgic, tender, humorous, and kind-hearted reflection on family and suburban living, current events, and social issues in the late 40s, 50s, and 60s. She describes a time when baseball was the national pastime, when parents didn’t worry about their children playing outside until dark, when children knew all the local shopkeepers, and ran in and out of their friends’ homes throughout the long summer days. She bonded with her father by learning to keep score in an official score book and then recounting the game for him (like an announcer) when he arrived home from work. Kearns Goodwin enjoyed a special relationship with her father (described later) and this helped form her interests, abilities, and skills as a historian and story-teller. In addition, as a youngster with spunk and an activist spirit, she devised a plan for her entire neighborhood to seek shelter in case of a bomb during the Cold War, and she wrote a heartfelt letter to President Eisenhower during the Little Rock Nine desegregation crisis.

Kearns Goodwin was encouraged to discover that her hope in the next game and the next season (wait till next year) could be applied to life in general and this idea helped her gain hope after the devastating loss of her mother.

Thoughts From the Hubs:

My husband thoroughly enjoyed Kearns Goodwin’s memoir because he loves history and because he spent his early years in New York and some of his fondest memories are listening to baseball games on the radio and attending a few games with his grandfather. Also, he’s an ardent baseball fan. He wants readers to know that if you’re not a die-hard baseball fan or the mere mention of baseball’s greatest players are less than thrilling, you can still enjoy this memoir because it’s about so much more than baseball. My husband suggests that for Kearns Goodwin, her memoir describes the excitement of an era where family life is centered around parents and small town communities, and the pursuit of the American Dream, including corner store business opportunities for entrepreneurs, first time home ownership, and later, the purchase of a television. Children strongly identified with their parents’ opportunities and pleasures and were brought into an adult world via sports, not so much for children to pursue their own opportunities but for them to appreciate and imitate character traits and to identify with the opportunities of others. Her father quietly used love of the game, the discipline of record keeping, loyalty to the team, and attention to detail to shape her character. Loyalty was a virtue alongside the American Dream…loyalty to family and friends and teams. Her early life was local and very much centered in the town and neighborhood in which she lived. Her self concept and self-worth were tied into her role in the family, her Catholic religion, and her team.

“I was a Catholic, a resident of Southard Avenue, a Dodgers fan,
a Rockville Centre girl.”     ~Doris Kearns Goodwin

My husband’s rating: 5 Stars.

Recommended?

I enthusiastically and highly recommend Wait Till Next Year for readers who love reading about a curious, enthusiastic, highly spirited, and thoughtful girl, who appreciate the retelling of history from a personal perspective, for baseball fans, and for those who love a well written memoir. It is sobering to think about her memoir next to J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy because they certainly didn’t share the same types of experiences. My Rating: 4 Stars

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Wait Till Next Year

Buy Here.

Meet the Author, Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns GoodwinDoris Kearns Goodwin won the Pulitzer Prize in history for No Ordinary Time, which was a bestseller in hardcover and trade paper. She is also the author of Wait Till Next Year, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, and Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with her husband, Richard Goodwin. More information here: http://www.doriskearnsgoodwin.com/

 

 


Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


Extras:

Readers might be interested to know that two books I have reviewed on the blog were recently listed in the ‘top 20 books for far in 2017’ according to Amazon editors.

Ginny Moon (review)

Beartown (review)

In other news, will you be seeing Murder on the Orient Express this weekend?! Have you read the book?

Murder on the Orient Express

Book Information Here.

Movie Trailer Here.

Last, Wonder is soon to be released! (November 17) I can’t wait!

Wonder

Review Here.

Movie Trailer Here.

 


Looking Ahead!

Gah! I indicated last week that I had planned to read The Other Alcott….it’s still on my TBR and planned for a future review. In my reading life, I operate better from Inspiration than Demand. I do indicate all my current reads on Goodreads if you want to see what I’ve listed there. This is all to say that next week remains undecided. Except that on Tuesday I’m working on a special blog post titled “Top Ten Books I hope My Grandchildren Read.” (You might glean some ideas for children’s or young adult’s gifts!)


Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow. This week we reached approximately 2,000 overall views! Thank you!


Let’s Discuss!

Have you read Wait Till Next Year? I’d love to hear your reflections.

Will you be seeing Wonder or Murder on The Orient Express in theaters?

What are you currently reading?

 

Hillbilly Elegy

August 18, 2017

Do you love memoirs?

Hillbilly Elegy
by J. D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy

“I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact
that spiritual and material poverty has
on their children.”

Genre: memoir, nonfiction, biography, sociology, poverty

Summary:

This is an observant, powerful, and sincere memoir about growing up in a poor white working class family in a poor Rust Belt town in Ohio. A Yale Law School graduate and a former marine, J. D. Vance was originally from Kentucky’s Appalachia region. His grandparents who were “dirt poor and in love” moved the family to Ohio in the hopes of escaping devastating poverty. Throughout the memoir, we learn that despite a geographical move, the family was never able to entirely escape the hillbilly culture of alcoholism, poverty, abuse, and trauma. Even though J. D. Vance beat the odds and graduated from law school, he still struggles to come to terms with his chaotic family history. The memoir is filled with detailed, humorous, dramatic, and colorful examples of what his life was like. Amazon Rating (August): 4.4 Stars.

My Thoughts:

Book clubs and friends could discuss this book for hours. The following personal thoughts represent only a few of the many discussion topics this book offers.

Love

Primarily, it struck me that the impact of his grandparents’ love affected his life. All through school, he was a bright student; however, when his grades started falling in middle school he states that it wasn’t the teachers or the school that was at fault, rather it was the chaos at home (living with his mom)  and in his community that affected his school performance. After he went to live with his grandparents officially, this is what he writes: “What I remember most of all is that I was happy–I no longer feared the school bell at the end of the day, I knew where I’d be living the next month, and no one’s romantic decisions [mom’s rotation of boyfriends or husbands] affected my life. And out of that happiness came so many of the opportunities I’ve had for the past twelve years.” J. D.’s description of the stability his grandparents offered him caused me to reflect on the importance of the home in a child’s life and education. His grandparents were certainly less than perfect, in fact they had serious flaws which would make one question his placement in their home. However, J. D. Vance lied to the case workers so that he would be ensured of being placed in their home because he didn’t think he could make it in life without their love and the stability they offered. Children can endure a lot if they feel loved. This doesn’t make the neglect right but it does make a difference. This reminds me of the story of Jeanette Walls in The Glass Castle…even though she suffered extreme neglect, I think she felt that both parents loved her which most likely made a great difference in her ability to achieve success. Another similarity between the authors is that both Jeanette and J. D. had an older supportive and nurturing sibling which added to the love and stability in their lives.

Upward Mobility and the Family

Hillbilly Elegy offers an in-depth look at the struggles of America’s white working class. J. D. Vance describes one incident when he was in a primary grade (I think 2nd but I don’t have the book here to look it up) that helped the reader think about how important  family support is in upward mobility. He recounts sitting in class while the teacher was asking students to solve mental math problems. He felt great about his answer and was delighted when the teacher recognized his brilliant thinking. However, the next student to offer an answer explained how “times” could be used to reach the same answer. J. D. was shaken. How did this child know about “times” when he had never heard about “times.” He knew it couldn’t have been taught at school because he would’ve remembered and learned it. After some thought, he realized that the child who knew about “times” must have learned it somewhere other than at school and realized he must have learned it at home. He offers this profound reflection, “There existed a massive ignorance about how to achieve white-collar work. We didn’t know that all across the country–and even in our hometown–other kids had already started a competition to get ahead in life.” As a result of his classroom experience, J. D. went home and asked his mom and grandparents why he didn’t know about “times,” and grandpa spent the weekend teaching him “times” and division. His point in explaining that situation is that the competition starts at home with the support and “extras” that parents offer. He realized as early as 2nd grade that his poor community was already finding it difficult to compete in this area.

No Blame for Public Schools

J. D. Vance is clear that neither public schools nor public school teachers were to blame for his declining grades in middle and high school. He describes the situation as follows: “We didn’t live a peaceful life in a small nuclear family. We lived a chaotic life in big groups of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.” He describes again and again how this chaos affected his education, “The constant moving and fighting, the seemingly endless carousel of new people I had to meet, learn to love, and then forget–this, and not my sub par public school, was the real barrier to opportunity.” Officially moving in with his grandparents provided the stability he needed to succeed in school.

Optimism vs. Pessimism

J. D. Vance related throughout his stories the pessimism that permeated his community. Not only pessimism but blame. People he knew were always blaming someone else for their situation (the president, the government, taxes, etc.). When he came home from the military, one of his first observations was that he felt like an outsider, “For the first time in my life, I felt like an outsider in Middletown. And what turned me into an alien was my optimism.” He goes on to reflect that perhaps getting out of the community and entering the military and going away to college was the action he needed to take to achieve success, “It’s no surprise that every single person in my family who has built a successful home…married someone from outside our little culture.” The culture strongly defined by pessimism.

The Message From Home

Even though his chaotic childhood was filled with turmoil and trauma, J. D. Vance states, “Despite all the environmental pressures from my neighborhood and community, I received a different message at home [his grandparents’ home]. And that just might have saved me.”

Yay for grandparents!

Companion Reads

As I read Hillbilly Elegy I thought of two memoirs (among several) where the authors were able to rise above poverty and their communities: The Glass Castle and We Beat the Streets.  In The Glass Castle, we also see the hillbilly culture mentioned as Jeanette’s family moved in with her father’s mom in Appalachia. From this move, we see that the way her father treated his children could in part be due to an influence from the hillbilly culture. We Beat the Streets is a middle school read and I often referred my boys who were reading at grade level to this inspirational story about three kids who “beat the streets’ and became doctors. Theirs wasn’t a hillbilly culture but they were from a poor black community.  Information about The Three Doctors Foundation can be found here.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot more to talk about in Hillbilly Elegy! If you read it, I’m certain you’ll need to discuss it. In fact, at times your discussions might be heated because of different reactions to one person’s analysis of a culture in crisis. I love that the insights and ideas in this book can be applied to communities around the United States. The discussion is much broader than simple hillbilly culture.

Finally, this book gave me additional insight into the chaotic lives of students at my Title 1 school. It’s difficult to learn when children are preoccupied with what drama is going on at home and in the community.

Recommended for women and men (especially those working with poor communities) for its thoughtful themes, discussion possibilities, and its ability to build empathy and understanding for different cultures and communities. Rating 4 stars.

Hillbilly Elegy

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Meet the Author, J. D. Vance

J. D. Vance.jpg

J. D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and is a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Vance lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs.

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, Reading Ladies will reflect on our reading roots…and in two weeks we’ll review Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate if you’d like to “buddy read.”  In three weeks I’ll review the long anticipated (at least by me!) Glass Houses, a new installment in the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny (release date: 8/29 …. happy birthday to me!)

Before we Were Yours

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Please Share:

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog. It helps us grow.

Discussion:

Please share your reflections on Hillbilly Elegy in the comments section. Did any of the themes mentioned challenge you in your thinking? How does this book compare with other memoirs you’ve read with similar themes? In addition, I’d love to hear what you’re reading.

The Glass Castle

August 11, 2017

As Reading Ladies continues to focus on women authors writing about strong women, we’re using the occasion of the newly released movie to revisit/review an old favorite….

The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls

Glass Castle

Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction, Biography

Summary:

This is a tender, tragic, and unique story of a girl’s remarkable resilience as she survives a childhood in a dysfunctional family who lived like nomads. The father is brilliant and charismatic and taught his children about imagination and living fearlessly as well as some physics and geology. A dreamer, he often worked on elaborate plans for their future home nicknamed “the glass castle.” However, he was also dishonest and destructive when he drank. On the other hand, Mother was a free spirited artist who didn’t (or couldn’t) take responsibility for the care of her children. For the most part, the Walls children took care of themselves, demonstrating ingenuity, determination, bravery, and fierce loyalty. As the children became adults, found the will and resources to leave the parents, and enjoyed some success, the parents followed them to New York city choosing to remain homeless. The adventures are remarkable, harrowing, memorable, and quirky, all the while demonstrating themes of fierce loyalty, triumph against the odds, the power of hope, unconditional love, determination, and protectiveness. Amazon rating (August): 4.6 stars

Read the first chapter free here.

My Thoughts:

For me, an indication of a remarkable book is one that is remembered years later, one in which I learned something new, and/or one that allowed me to make a personal connection. All three criteria are true for The Glass Castle. First, it has appeared for years on my list of recommended reads. In addition, this story allowed me to gain new insights into the often unstable personal lives of my students at a Title l school and also allowed me to reflect on the homelessness situation in that some choose this lifestyle. Finally, Jeanette reminded me in particular of one former student of mine as she and her mom often sought out different places to sleep for the night and often relied upon school resources for personal supplies, food, housing, etc. Like Jeanette, this student was determined to achieve despite her circumstances, a hard worker, and kept a positive (even cheerful) attitude–but unlike Jeanette, she had my support as a teacher and the support of the school (all of the staff were aware of her circumstances).  This student came back to visit me after she graduated from college (she was actually rescued in high school by an aunt). While reading the book, I wondered why a teacher or community members were not more alarmed by the family situation or notice her hunger. Of course, Rex did keep the family on the move.

Even years later, I remember enjoying this well written, engaging, and inspiring memoir, and its reflection on homelessness. One thing that struck me during the reading is that it was written with an attitude of forgiveness and surprising affection for the parents.  Some critics would argue that she seemed to condone or excuse her parents’ behavior; on the contrary, I remember thinking that it was written remarkably free from anger and self pity. When asked in an interview with the New York Times Magazine if she forgives her mother, she states, “It’s really not about forgiveness in my opinion. It’s acceptance. She’s never going to be the sort of mother who wants to take care of me.”

From reading an interview with Jeanette (on Amazon) we discover that her mom is now living with her after she initially refused but Jeanette said she needed help with the horses, an offer Mom couldn’t refuse. Jeanette states, “I get along great with Mom now. She’s a hoot. She’s always upbeat, and has a different take on life than most people. She’s a lot of fun to be around–as long you’re not looking for her to take care of you. She doesn’t live in the house with us–I haven’t that level of understanding and compassion–but in an out building about a hundred yards away. Mom is great with animals, loves to sing and dance and ride horses, and is still painting like a fiend. ”

The Class Castle is highly recommended for readers who love memoirs and stories about individuals overcoming difficult circumstances. My rating 4.5 stars.

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Glass Castle
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The movie:

I was at the first showing today (release day!). Movie goers who’ve read the book are often difficult to please! To me, the movie adaptations seem to be the “Flat Stanley” version of the book, much of the depth and details of the story are sacrificed. This image sums it up!

a film and a movie

First, allow me to focus on what I liked. I thought the casting was good….especially Woody Harrelson as Rex Walls. In addition, I appreciated the portrayal of Jeannette’s unfailing hope that her dad would come through for them. Finally, I noticed the love that both parents had for their children even though they couldn’t provide the care they needed and deserved.

The weaknesses include the feeling that this was the Disney or fairy tale version of the real story. Although the real version would’ve been a difficult movie to watch! However, I thought they could’ve shown a few more examples for the audience to gain a true appreciation of the neglect. Otherwise, the audience wholeheartedly buys into the glorification of Rex at the end of the movie.  Yes, he loved them and shared some endearing moments with the family and those facts can certainly be acknowledged; however, the overall neglect cannot be overlooked or swept under the carpet. A glaring omission in the movie included the part about the children making their way to New York City one by one and establishing a life together there apart from their parents. This venture took a lot of determination, planning, and courage on their part (of course Rex taught them to be fearless and to be dreamers!). In addition, nothing was mentioned about the youngest child, Maureen, who seemed to suffer the most from the neglect, especially after the older ones leave home.

One striking connection that I made during the movie is the similarity to Hillbilly Elegy. In fact, reading Hillbilly Elegy before reading The Glass Castle would certainly add depth to the reading experience. They would make great companion reads (more on this next week). Both stories involve Hillbilly culture and the understanding gained in Hillbilly Elegy helps me better understand the Walls family. Another important similarity is the theme of love. J. D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy wouldn’t have made it without the love, support, and stability of his grandparents, even though the grandparents had many flaws and were less than perfect guardians. In The Glass Castle, the children felt Rose Mary’s and Rex’s love for them despite not being able to care for them. The deep love that parents or grandparents have for their children in spite of their flaws can make a significant difference in the ability of children to cope, survive, and perhaps overcome their childhood circumstances.

Would I recommend the movie?

Generally, yes. I think you’ll find the portrayal interesting and the chaos and the neglect are not as evident as in the book. I thought it was a simplistic portrayal of a very difficult story. I have the biggest issue with celebrating Rex at the movie’s end when he neglected to care for his family 90% of the time. I felt the ending sanitized the story. I encourage you to see the movie and then let’s engage here in the comments!

Movie Trailer

Meet the Author, Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls

Jeanette Walls lives in Virginia and is married to the writer John Taylor. She is a regular contributor to MSNBC and has worked at several publications, including Esquire, USA Today, and New York.  I think it’s interesting that the impetus for writing The Glass Castle occurred when she was a gossip columnist and her lack of transparency and honesty about her own life caused her to feel guilty as she was exposing other people’s lives in her gossip column.

http://www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Jeannette-Walls/19723841

Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, Reading Ladies will review the memoir Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance if you’d like to “buddy read.” I think it’s a fascinating companion read with The Glass Castle!

Hillbilly Elegy

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Please Share:

I’d be honored if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog.

Discussion:

Please share your reflections on The Glass Castle (movie and/or book) in the comments section. I’d love to hear about what you’re reading, too!

Linked Up:

This post is linked up with Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit here.