Book – Fifty-year-old Alice Howland is an accomplished Harvard psychology professor. A published author, traveling lecturer and beloved teacher, she is content with her life and work. But she begins to worry about her forgetfulness. She loses things, forgets words and then, one day when she’s out for a run, she doesn’t know where she is or how to get home. A visit to the doctor results in a devastating diagnosis: Alice has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alice, her husband and three grown children must cope with the ravages of the disease. This book is told from Alice’s perspective and gave me a sense of her growing confusion, panic and sadness as the disease progressed. She tries to live in the moment, but also recognizes and mourns the loss of the life and memories that meant so much to her. Still Alice also deals with the varying reactions of her family, friends and colleagues as they struggle to address and accept the changes in Alice.
Book – After living happily in the city as a newly married couple, Mark Falanga and his wife relocate to the suburbs to raise their young family. The Suburban You: Reports from the Home Front is a compilation of stories about suburban life in the North Shore of Chicago. I laughed out loud at Falanga’s descriptions of neighborhood block parties, Halloween costumes, family Christmas cards and father-son outings. His stories gently poke fun at the hierarchies and unwritten rules governing life in the suburbs. He also tackles issues in commuting to work and being married with kids with deadpan humor. Although this book was written in 2004, it’s still a relevant and entertaining trip into the suburbs, even if you live in the city.
TV series - I was hooked on Homeland from the very first episode. Nicolas Brody (played by English actor Damian Lewis) is a marine returning to the United States and his family after eight years of captivity in Iraq. Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), an Intelligence Officer for the CIA, spent several years in Iraq trying to infiltrate terrorist organizations. Both Brody and Carrie carry psychological scars from their experiences in the Middle East which continue to plague them. Carrie suspects that Brody may not be what he seems and has her own secrets to protect as well. The cast of interesting and conflicted characters, including Mandy Patinkin as Carrie’s boss and mentor, contributes to the depth and intrigue of the show. The plot twists and turns, the characters grapple with difficult choices and their own vulnerabilities and the result is a riveting TV drama. Season 2 has just been released on DVD. Since its first season aired in 2011, Homeland has won five Golden Globes.
Book - Fin & Lady is a story about love and finding your family. When young Fin is orphaned, his free-spirited half-sister Lady becomes his legal guardian. Practical Fin and glamorous Lady have only spent a brief time together previously, but Fin adores her. They move to New York City and become part of the counter-culture of the sixties. Fin struggles to understand Lady’s turbulent relationships with several admirers and the new world around him. A cast of entertaining characters including the admirers, a spunky housemaid and a gentle dog move the story through many humorous situations. Lady is obsessed with being “free,” and this book explores what being “free” and loving someone really means. If you enjoy books by Elinor Lipman, you may enjoy this book centered on a family dealing with unconventional situations. I found this book to be a delightful read, with interesting dilemmas and some laugh-out-loud moments. Cathleen Schine also wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport.
Book – Bit was born in a commune in the 1970’s. Arcadia traces his coming-of-age in this idealistic setting. While his parents have big dreams, the reality of living in a communal setting is much harsher than they anticipated. Projects are delayed due to lack of participation or follow-through, drug use is rampant and the commune’s residents are often hungry and cold. However, the bucolic setting and the genuine love of his extended family hold Bit and his family to Arcadia House and the rise and fall of its fortunes. Bit falls in love with Astrid, the daughter of the charismatic leader of the commune, and as they grow up, he is forced to confront the truths about his beliefs, himself and those he loves. This book made me think about human nature and how things might play out in a communal setting. Through Groff’s writing, I could vividly picture the place and the characters.
Book – When Paul and his wife Claire meet another couple for dinner at a fine restaurant in Amersterdam, tensions run high. As the meal and conversation progress, the reader is pulled into an undercurrent of old wounds and treacherous secrets about the couples and their children. The dark comedy that unfolds through the voice of the narrator contrasts sharply with the posh setting of the dinner. Social conventions, the justice system and family dynamics are probed during the courses and the discussion forces the reader to ask “How would I react in this situation?” Fans of Gone Girl and Defending Jacob may enjoy this disturbing tale. This book is translated from the Dutch.
Book – I listened to the audiobook of Tiny Beautiful Things, which was read by the author, Cheryl Strayed (who also wrote the bestselling memoir Wild). The book is a compilation of articles from her online advice column, “Dear Sugar.” Her readers seek advice on topics ranging from relationships to self-loathing to addiction. Strayed interweaves her own personal experiences in her replies and her emotional availability and perception is what makes this book different from a typical advice column book. Strayed’s unflinching honesty and her interesting perceptions intrigued me. As the story of her personal life unfolds, from her mother’s early death to her experiences with love, drugs and sex, she relates it to the knowledge she gained and its relevance to the issue at hand. I found myself reflecting on the dilemmas of her readers, the issues discussed and their applications to situations in my own life.