Book – About Joy Bergman: “Oh, they broke the mold when they made that one. People who loved her said it, people who did not love her said it, too, for the same reason.” I fall into the former category. Joy is in her eighties and caring for her beloved husband Aaron, who has dementia along with other serious health issues. They are New Yorkers and Joy misses their daughter, Molly, who is living in California with her wife. Their son, Daniel, still lives close by, with his wife and their two young daughters. This story is about family and the ties that bind us during good times and bad. It highlights the issues we are forced to confront as we age, both from the perspective of the parents and their children. Schine, who also wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport, explores these themes as she relates and finds humor in the most ordinary conundrums and routines. Joy laments about her physical deterioration, defends her take-out order meals and is determined to remain independent and upbeat. Molly feels guilty about living far away and she and Daniel search for ways (with sometimes hilarious results) to reassure Joy about her importance in their lives. Joy enjoys a special bond with her grandchildren and acknowledges that although she loves being in the midst of her family, she also finds them exhausting. This book reminded me that despite the differences in our individual circumstances, there is a shared commonality in our experiences as we face life’s transitions.
Book – Tig is a stand-up comedian. She experienced a streak of devastating personal tragedies in 2012, including C-Diff, the death of her mother, the break-up of girlfriend and a stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis. She turned to comedy to channel her grief. The result was a set that went viral and was released as the album “Live,” which was nominated for a Grammy. In her book, Tig recounts her journey. The first chapter depicts her early life and unconventional upbringing and was my favorite chapter of the book. However, after a promising beginning, the book went flat for me. Tig states her feelings, then gives examples, rather than illuminating truths through the story. Other memoirs I have read have been better at conveying difficult character traits of people in their lives, while also managing to express their redeeming qualities. Although I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, I admire Tig for overcoming the adversity she was confronted with and for sharing her personal story through stand-up comedy.
Book – Britt-Marie is in her 60’s, socially awkward and incapable of tolerating a mess. She has just left her husband, Kent, and is looking for a job. After haranguing the young unemployment officer, she lands a temporary position in the tiny, down-on-its-luck town of Borg as a caretaker of the recreation center. As she arrives into town, she is surprised to discover that the residents, particularly the children, are fixated on soccer. The children practice without a coach and proper playing field. Britt-Marie compulsively cleans their uniforms, as well as the recreation center and adjoining shop. Despite her very definite views on proper conduct (and correcting everyone’s lack of it), Britt-Marie finds that she is accepted and understood for the first time in her life. The story unfolds with hilarious antics and heart-rending moments. I loved these characters and their town. As stated in the book, “At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks him or herself are really just about one thing: how should you live your life?” Britt-Marie is finally able to figure out the answer for herself, as she learns to live life on her own terms.
Book – Arthur lost his wife, Miriam, a year ago and copes with his grief by clinging to his old routines. He takes tea at the same time every day, wears the same stiff collared shirts and uncomfortable pants and waters his fern, Frederica. He hides from the food-laden visits of his neighbor, Bernadette, and has infrequent contact with his two adult children, Lucy and Dan. But, when Arthur decides to clean out Miriam’s closet, he finds a charm bracelet that he’s never seen before. As he examines it, he impulsively dials a phone number engraved on one of the charms and is launched on a journey to learn the truth about his wife. Along the way, he learns truths about himself and his relationships. He discovers new friends and learns about their hardships and joys. This book is a cozy tale about life’s surprising twists and savoring what is in the present.
Book – Leo Plumb and his siblings – Beatrice, Jack and Melody – are due to receive a family inheritance when the youngest (Melody) turns 40. Their father had intended the inheritance as a modest supplement to their income. But, the value has soared and now the Plumbs are relying on the “Nest” to help them though various financial predicaments. Then, a few months before they are due to receive their windfalls, Leo is in an accident that upends all of their plans. As the siblings try to recoup their losses, they reconnect and rediscover the ties and secrets that bind them.
I enjoyed meeting this family. Bea is an aspiring novelist, despite a decades-long writer’s block, and mourns the loss of her former lover. Jack hides a huge betrayal from his partner. Melody anxiously tries to keep track of her teenage twin daughters and hold onto her expensive lifestyle. And then there’s Leo. Charming, smart and witty, he also has no scruples about pursuing his own wants and needs. This book captures family dynamics and how loss, need, love and support thread through our lives and relationships.
Book – Circling the Sun is based on the true life story of Beryl Markham. In the early 1900’s, Beryl, her parents and brother arrive from England to farm 1500 acres of untouched bush in Kenya. Two years later, when Beryl turns five, her mother and brother return to England, unable to handle the primitive conditions. Beryl remains on the farm with her father, running wild in the stable and with the nearby Kipsigis children, particulary her best friend Ruta. As Beryl grows up, she resists conventions and finds herself most comfortable training horses. After a disastrous marriage, she builds a life for herself among the decadent expats living in Kenya. Her circle of friends includes Karen Blixen and Karen’s lover, Denys Finch Hatton. (Blixen wrote her memoir Out of Africa under the pen name Isak Dinesen). Beryl also discovers the joy of flying, becoming a bush pilot and record-setting aviator. I was inspired by Beryl’s determination to follow her own path, despite many roadblocks and much hardship. Paula McClain also wrote a novel based on Hemingway’s early married life titled The Paris Wife.
Book – The One-Page Financial Plan: A Simple Way to Be Smart About Your Money discusses overall strategies for setting up a personal financial plan. Richards emphasizes letting go of the past and the need for perfection that often paralyze the process. Your plans should fit your goals and lifestyles; there is no one-size-fits-all plan. He guides you through analyzing your spending values and gives examples from his own life and clients. I liked his focus on examining your personal motives and setting your goals to reflect them. One person may have travel as their primary financial expenditure, while another person may direct their finances toward saving for a college fund. Richards also asserts that analyzing your spending habits will help you determine if you need to to redirect your funds. He stresses that this exercise is not to make you reduce money toward what you enjoy doing, but to identify and reduce spending on items you deem non-essential. This book inspired me with its emphasis on setting up a financial plan that makes sense for today and that takes the ups-and-downs of life into account.
Book – Best friends and college roommates at UC Santa Cruz in the early 1990’s, Anna, Kate and Georgianna share adventures, life-stories and secrets. Anna is the ringleader, who makes up games for every party they attend. A risk-taker and at odds with her austere, wealthy family, her life begins to spiral out of control. Kate is reserved and follows Anna’s lead. She hides herself in obsessive research about various and random topics, including mushrooms, redwoods and planets. George loves nature and becomes a forest ranger. A beauty, she easily attracts the attention of men, but often settles for unsatisfying relationships.
Twenty years after college, the women find themselves retracing the paths their lives have taken. The story alternates between their viewpoints and bounces back and forth from the past to the present. I slowly discovered that one evening in particular influenced the lives of all three. I liked getting to know these characters and how their interests, talents and personalities threaded through their friendship. Lisa Lutz also wrote the popular Spellman Files series.
Book – Deek Diedricksen travels around the world searching for the most creative and interesting tiny structures. His book highlights 59 small structures, including tree houses, tiny houses, caravans, cabins and playhouses. Their uses range from full-time living to vacation homes to backyard writing or zen retreats. Photos, floor plans and narratives offer showcase the clever uses of space and design ideas. Upcycling and recycling are components of most of the structures. Polycarbonate roofing was used for walls in some cases, pot lids and water jugs were used for a window in one structure. Sometimes height was used for additional space, with access through ladders or even staggered shelving. He also has led building and design workshops. Deek also includes chapters on the necessary tools, how to salvage and decorate and offers six plans with construction details. If you enjoy this book, you may also want to check out The Big Tiny by Dee Williams or Shed Decor by Sally Coulthard.
Book – Lisa Scottoline and her daughter Francesca share their witty observations and musings about the joys and trials of everyday modern life. They take on topics such as college reunions, leather loungers at the movie theater, diets, working out, family relationships, mice in the house, auctions, men and, as the title suggests, eating on the beach.
The collection of short essays kept me laughing out loud, but was also heartwarming and endearingly honest. I felt like the authors were sitting across the table from me, sharing their stories. Francesca writes “I feel like I’m the last of my friends to try two things: online dating and therapy. I think I need both. Or more specifically, I think I need one for the other. I’m just not sure in which order.” as she expounds on the challenges of being newly single. Lisa shares “I joke about getting older, but the truth is, I don’t feel old. On the contrary, at age fifty-nine, I feel as if I’m entering my prime. So I’m either delusional or insightful. I’ll leave the choice to you. But let me make my case.” in discussing the evolution of our lives.