Commentary to follow… but for now, if you’re wondering what I’m reading this summer vacation, here goes:

“Love in the Time of Cholera” By Gabriel Garcia-Marquez –  Started May 22, Finished July 2

“the girl who stopped swimming” by Joshilyn Jackson – started July 3, finished July 9

“American Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld – started July 9, finished July 13

“A Short History of Women” by Kate Walbert, started July 13, finished July 16

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trinny and susannahBook 28: “Trinny and Susannah: What you wear can change your life” By Trinny Woodall and Susannah Cnstantine (2005) 264 pages; Started and finished on June 19.

More inspiring than the home organization book that I read last week, this one is also full of stuff that I already know. But its much more enjoyable to look at the good and bad pictures of Trinny and Susannah and be reminded that no matter how cute and fabulous you are, or how many flaws your body may have (plenty, if you are a normal person), or even if you have gained weight due to current or recent pregnancy, wearing clothes and accessories that suit you can make a huge difference. If you don’t already know this– ie, if you always think you look like crap– then you should get this book, or any of the others by these two Brits who started the “What not to Wear” franchise. They are very smart when it comes to this topic of looking good. And if you think looking good doesn’t matter–or that you can’t look as good as they do in the “after” pics– you are probably wrong. Yes, I got through this book in a day because its full of pictures (and large text) but it was way more satisfying and empowering than flipping a fashion magazine, and more fun, too.

beverly-hills-organizers-home-organizing-bible-linda-koopersmith-paperback-cover-artBook 27: “The Beverly Hills Organizer’s Home Organizing Bible” By Linda Koopersmith (2005) 168 pages; Started and finished on June 17.

OK, I know it has been ages since I have posted (other than this morning’s update) and it probably seems like I haven’t been reading anything at all. Well, the good news is that isn’t true– but the bad news is I probably will not even make it to 40 books, let alone 50. But I did make some headway this week….  Anyway, here is what’s been going on, reading wise: Way back in May after I finished “The Ladies’ Man”, I stated reading this great book called “Angels and Ages” by Adam Gopnik. I love reading Gopnik in the New Yorker, and I was excited to read this book because it is probably the most clever birthday gift I ever received– it’s about Charles Darwin and Abe Lincoln, it was released on the 200th anniversary of their (same) birthdays, and my friend David gave it to me on the 33rd anniversary of mine. But the problem is, it’s not a quick read. So I was making my way through it, and enjoying learning more about Lincoln and Darwin… and then I found myself with a few extra minutes at the library and the next thing I knew I had a stack of fiction (it is summer after all) and I started reading “Love in the Time of Cholera”, which I’ve been wanting to read forever. Thinking that would be a faster read than Gopnik, I vowed to come back to “Angels and Ages” later on, and started reading the Marquez book. Which I love. But I am still only about halfway through. (Mainly because I’ve just not had all that much time do devote to reading lately… and as I am pregnant, every time I read in bed I fall asleep within 3 minutes.)

Speaking of being pregnant: while still enjoying “Love…” I also have started nesting (prematurely, I think– this is a bug that didn’t bite  me  until well into my 7th month the first time around; now I’m barely at month 5 and lo and behold, all I want to do is organize my house….) so I borrowed this organizing book from my friend Tammy. When I was pregnant with Ben, I spent HOURS watching “Clean House”, but didn’t actually do that much cleaning of my own house. Now that I have to make room for a fourth person in a house that already seems too small, I think I had better start being creative. I hoped this book, by the former organizer/co-host of “Clean House”, would be a great start.

I loved watching Linda Koopsmith in action on the TV show– crazily wielding her labeling machine and making every closet and drawer look perfect and gorgeous– so I was expecting this book to make me want to get to work. But here’s the problem with the book (and the reason I was able to read it in one day flat… really, more like two hours) is that every chapter is exactly the same. She shows some nice pictures of a really good-looking, well organized closet/drawer/cabinet and then gives these instructions: Take everything out. throw out what you don’t need. put like with like. Use my favorite organizing tool. (Lazy susan/shelf divider/drawer divider/spice rack/etc etc). put everything back neatly. ugh. those are awful instructions! I already know I am supposed to do all of those things– the problem is I just never want to! Or, I already do do those things, and then in one week the drawer looks like crap again. So, not much help at all. Thanks a bunch, Linda. (And about that silly labeler– this is one case where I think Linda doesn’t go far enough: who needs a labeler when with your printer and some clear tape you can create gorgeous labels, any size and any font you want?)

But there is one shred of a silver lining. In the introduction– all of one page– I got some unbelievably useful advice. My problem is that when I do try to organize, I try to do it marathon-style– “I just need to spend this weekend organzing my whole house!” Well, of course I don’t even get through one room. Linda identifies this exact problem and says that a novice has to train for organizing like you are training for a marathon. OK, sounds silly, but she recommends– no, insists– that you can only take on a 15-minute project if you are just getting started. If you spend 15 minutes, twice a day, getting your stuff in order, not only will you not get burned out, but you will actually see results, and be so enamored of the fabulousness that soon you’ll be addicted. Then you can work up to 20, 30, even 60 minutes of organizing at a time. Linda brags that she can go for 17 hours straight, but that is one goal I have no interest in reaching.

Josh laughed when I told him that this was all I learned from the book– because he says he tells me the same thing every day. Actually, what he tells me is to pick up after myself, and spend 30 seconds throughout the day cleaning up the trails of stuff that I seem to leave everywhere. But actually, it’s not the same thing. “All day, every day” is too depressing and not something that I would find addictive. And putting away and cleaning would be easy– if everything had it’s place. Which it doesn’t until the house is organized! So, not only can I see the logic in this 15-minutes/twice a day plan but I have even started to make some progress. (Last night, for example, in one 15 minute spurt I worked on one shelf in the playroom; today in 10 minutes I re-arranged some stuff in the cereal cabinet, and even did some of the wonderful throwing away that is so desperately needed…) I know for people who are inherently good at this, this sounds either obvious or pathetic, but trust me– this is really good advice for me. OK, maybe the book was worth it after all. I’ll keep you posted.

ladiesman“The Ladies’ Man” By Elinor Lipman (1999) 260 pages, Started May 2, finished May 9.

I love Elinor Lipman’s fiction. It’s much better-written than crappy chick-lit, but they are fun books and usually quick reads. This novel wasn’t as good as my favorite work by Lipman (“The Inn at Lake Devine”, which I highly recommend) but it was cute. There’s really not all that much more to say… it’s about three sisters, early-middle-aged and single, who are living together in Boston. The guy who left one of them at the alter 25 years ago comes back to town. Hijinks ensue. One thing that struck me was that when 1999 technology is described in a novel, it seems really dated and kind of funny when read a decade later. (A CD rom to find “a map of anywhere!”? Wow!)

OK, obviously I’m falling a bit behind here, and it’s appearing less and less like I will make it to 50 books before July 25. But I’m not giving up (entirely) yet! Especially because the small piece of good news is that I’m actually further behind in the posting than I am in the reading. But since the pressure of writing 3 long reviews is just going to drag this out further, I’m going to do a bit of consolidating here. Short commentary tied together with a nice theme…(if by “nice, I mean “guilty”). No, I did not set out to read three consecutive books about guilt/Jews, but once I finished them all– and had yet to post– the element tying it all together was glaringly obvious…

book-thief

Jews & Guilt.1 “The Book Thief” By Markus Zusak (2005) 550 pages, Started March 16, finished March 27.

My friend Ruth lent me this one at the very beginning of the book project, but I was slightly daunted by the length… 500+ pages did not seem doable in one week. But a couple of people assured me it was a quick read (one voracious reader friend said she read it in one day!) so I was optimistic that this wouldn’t slow me down too much. And it didn’t– once I got into it, this novel was very absorbing: A German girl, Liesl, moves in with a foster family in 1940s Munich. The family is not Jewish– although they are far more sympathetic to the plight of the Jews than some of their neighbors. A friend of the family comes to hide in their basement, Liesl steals a lot of books, and the whole thing is narrated by Death. Not happy material, but like many young-adult novels, I found this one to be both fascinating and gripping. The narration-by-Death device took a little while to get used to, but this was a very, very worthwhile read. This book provides some interesting answers to the question about what regular German citizens were doing and thinking during the war. Yes, something like 90% of them were members of the Nazi party, but how did they feel about that? (For at least some of them, the short answer was: guilty.)

Plot_against_usaJews & Guilt.2 “The Plot Against America” by Philip Roth (2004) 391 pages, Started approx. April 1, finished April 25

I typically wouldn’t have jumped right from one WWII historical novel into another, but this one was for the Jewish Book Discussion series on Alternate Histories, and my goal was to read it by the group meeting on April 5 (alas, did not happen…) although by that point I was at least far enough along to join in the conversation. What if Charles Lindbergh ran against– and beat– FDR in 1940? Philip Roth tells this story from the perspective of 9 year old Philip Roth, and it is SCARY.  The first third or so of the book focuses on Roth’s family (complete with actual names of actual relatives) and their hometown of Newark NJ– and it is so evocative of real life that by the time things take a turn for the worse, I was already sucked in, completely convinced that this could all be true. It is precisely because this novel is so plausible (at least until the end, anyway) that it is completely terrifying. There’s also plenty of guilt here to go around, mainly having to do with the major sub-plot regarding the family and their neighbors. Despite this being a made-up story, there are many real-life elements worked into the plot (you probably already knew that Lindbergh was famous for being anti-semitic) so it’s also somewhat educational. When I finally finished it, I had a ton of questions and handily, the book has a long section at the back that answers a fair number of them. One last thought- I really did not like the ending. Unlike the rest of the book it felt contrived, and although I mostly liked the first three-quarters, I was also pretty glad to be done with it. There’s only so much energy I can devote to a horror-story version of 1940s America.

guilt

Jews & Guilt.3 “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt” Edited by Ruth Andrew Ellenson (2005) 304 pages, started mid-April, finished May 1.

I broke my rule of finishing a book before starting another with this one– I needed a break from reading about World War II and my mom returned this to me at just the right moment– along with her recommendation: “You’re going to really like this”.  I’ve owned this book for a few years– a friend sent it to me when it came out, and unbeknownst to me until I started reading it, my husband actually knows the editor. (Yes, it is a small Jewish world indeed….) Not surprisingly, I loved this collection. Reading these essays was like having a series of wonderful conversations about family, dating, marriage, kids, work, etc. etc. with a bunch of really close girlfriends. (It actually made me miss a lot of my old (long-distance) friends, many of whom I don’t get to spend nearly enough time catching up with these days.) Some of the essays were heavy and intense, some were humorous, but I related in some ways to almost all of them. Especially the last one, by Susan Shapiro, whose essay on “Quitting Guilt”  felt it could have been a letter written directly to me. (Although I suspect I’m not the only person who feels that way when reading about learning to say No…)  I’ve read material by some of these women before (and the new-ish novel “Book of Dahlia, by one of the writers, Elisa Albert, is something I’ve been looking forward to reading for close to a year)  but now I have a whole new list of authors to look for.  It was fun to read this incredible group of Jewish Women writers all in one place and now, assisted by the detailed bio section at the end, I have some new additions to my list of what/who I want to be reading next.

snicket latke“The Bad Beginning” (Book the First of A Series of Unfortunate Events) By Lemony Snicket (1999) 162 pages, Started March 14, finished March 16.

So I wanted a fast, fun read (especially after “The Last Jews of Kerala” which was neither fast not fun.) And I guess this qualifies as both, if you consider reading about three children who just lost their parents in a fire, are forced to wear itchy clothes and then have to move in with an evil thespian to be fun. And if you think a lot of little word-definition asides are fun, and not irritating. (I went back and forth on that one.) Considering that this is a YA (possibly even childrens’) book, it is very dark, but you can’t say you weren’t warned, I mean, look at the title. There are 13 stories in this series (all of which have been sitting on my bookshelf for quite some time) and the first few were consolidated into a movie a few years ago. I am not sure if it was because I saw the movie, but I had a continual sense of deja vu while reading this one.  I knew I had started it a few years ago, but I was about 90% sure I hadn’t finished it. Although why I thought that, I have no idea– the pages are very small, the print is rather large, and its a pretty hard book to put down once you start. So once I finished it this time, I became rather certain that I had actually read it before. But no matter. I’m counting it as one of the 50 anyway. One other aside– the author, Lemony Snicket, is really Daniel Handler, the accordianist for the Magnetic Fields, one of the all-time best bands in the whole world. And he also wrote a really funny (and also very dark) Chanukah book called “The Latke who Wouldn’t Stop Screaming”, which really is a kids’ book; because its only about 20 pages and is mostly pictures, I probably shouldn’t count in the final tally.

last-jews “The Last Jews of Kerala” By Edna Fernandes (2008); 222 pages- Started March 1, finished March 14.

This was another one for our local Jewish Book Discussion Series, and it was just OK. The group met to discuss this one on March 8, before I was even halfway finished, and it took me a fair amount of energy to actually make myself complete this after hearing the discussion. The general concensus was: good topic, poorly written book. I can’t say I really disagree, although I did actually think it got better as it progressed. One very irritating thing about this book was the glaring lack of images: no maps, no gorgeous landscapes of India, no photos of the people described in the book. So it seems to have been published on a low budget, was poorly edited, and parts of it were boring and confusing. The book group concluded that this have been a few long articles instead of dragged out into a full length “history”.

But despite all that– I didn’t hate it. Some sections were better than others. Fernandes is OK at interviewing peeople and describing personal histories, it’s just that when she tries to tie together the big picture things start to fall apart. The story is sad, but also interesting: two separate communities of Jews in Kerala (a region in the southwest of India, that I would have been able to tell you more about if there had been a map in the book. ugh.) are both dying out. One is a group of native Indians (The “black” Jews) and the other is a community of Europeans ( the “white” Jews) who migrated to India hundreds of years ago. According to this account, the white Jews treat the black Jews pretty horribly, and Fernades’ theory is that if they had only been willing to intermarry, it would have saved both populations from their imminent extinction. My own opinion is that it only would have postoned the inevitable… there are less than a dozen white Jews left, and maybe 50 black Jews. Although if the white Jews hadn’t been so exclusionsary, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt. Curiously though, in the past generation these communities did start to intermarry (although not without a lot of horrendous behavior from their families) and it doesn’t seem to have helped much. On the bright side, though, many of the offspring of the Kerala Jews have migrated to Israel and are doing OK there– they are at least trying to keep their unique Jewish/Indian culture from dissapearing entirely.