52 Books in 52 Weeks of 2010

Week 43: Lift – Kelly Corrigan

This week’s book came to me in padded envelope, a most unexpected gift from a friend I have recently reconnected with thanks to facebook. I had seen this book before and loved its cover and size (more than perfect for this project) but just couldn’t come around to plopping down the money for such a tiny hardcover or even $9.99 for a Kindle version, which wouldn’t leave me the gorgeous dust jacket. So I just did what I did with it what I do a lot of things. I forgot about it.

Imagine my surprise when this showed up from the very friend that I promised to send a book to and without me telling her what it was (just that I love-love-loved it) she ended up checking out that very same unmentioned book at the library. Wowzers, right? Or even a bit cooky? Perhaps there are NO coincidences, Oprah. And for those of you wondering what other book I was talking about, take a look over here.

So back to this lovely little book, LIFT by Kelly Corrigan. You can read it about as fast as you can watch an episode of Glee or Parenthood, but I promise LIFT will be so much better. And I love Glee and Parenthood. LIFT is a letter to Corrigan’s daughters, 6 and 8, an attempt to make sure her daughters understand how they came to be. This seems driven by the fact that Corrigan once heard “the average person barely knows ten stories from childhood and those are based more on photographs and retellings than memory.”

What? That sounds crazy and totally right all at once.

It’s heartbreaking that I am going to remember more of my kiddo’s childhood than he will. How will he not remember lying in bed and playing Two Truths and One Lie? Or just today volunteering to be the lead vocal on Beatles’ Rock Band I Want to Hold Your Hand? Or cutting just about all of his hair off right before his fourth Christmas? Well the last one I do have a picture of; but she’s right. I don’t remember much of my own childhood unless I am flipping through a photo album, and then it’s as fuzzy as the insta-matic prints staring up at me through the cellophane sleeves.

The stories Corrigan shares are a bit of a hodgepodge, which I think they would have to be when you sit down and put pen to paper for something like this. This book really is wonderful and yet it leaves me wanting more. Corrigan’s writing style is conversational and in reading it I really felt like we were chatting on the phone or nestled into a really comfy couch. She’s introspective and funny and cool and just the bees knees. That’s why I wanted more. Reading LIFT, is like talking to the best of your friends.

I haven’t read Corrigan’s first effort, THE MIDDLE PLACE, which chronicles her and her father’s bouts with cancer. However, I can tell you that after reading LIFT, I want to pick it up.


Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 96
Genre: Non-fiction

Week 42: It’s a Book – Lane Smith

A couple of weeks ago I read some article, online of course, stating that all books would be gone by two thousand something or another and that ebooks and other technology was killing the book much faster than ever predicted.

Now, I am an ereader and an actual book reader and I personally think we can live in a world that supports both environments. But I am not an economist, a technology innovator or a biz wiz, so what do I really know?

Well, I am a consumer and I know a good book when I read one, however I read it. As it so happens, the good book I am referring to is of the official book variety, with paper and a cover and dust jacket and everything. IT’S A BOOK by Lane Smith is a funny and delightful reminder for children and adults everywhere of the beauty of an actual-hold-in-your-hands-and-flip-the-pages book. Lane uses a reading monkey, a digitally crazed jackass and a mouse (the animal kind not the clicking kind) to tell the story of the value of books. With books, he imparts, we can unplug and disconnect from streaming video, tweets a plenty and a moving screen and get lost in a captivating story. He even puts in a plug for libraries while he’s at it. Nice!

Now, part deux… I am certain there are individuals that will have issue with the jackass (who is only called out for his jackassiness on the very last page). I actually found this the funniest part of the book and a great opportunity to remind my own kiddo of why books – real, live books – are so wonderful. I also got to explain why we don’t want to use any words to name call or hurt another person. A bonus parenting moment from this clever little book!

The reality is we are moving into a world where it’s highly possible that kids will grow up without much exposure to actual books outside of text books. Will they know the pleasure of reading a book for pleasure or see the value of cracking open a new book and getting lost flipping the pages on a lazy Saturday afternoon?

I certainly hope not.

Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 32
Genre: Children’s

Week 41: Theology: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land – Joe Frascella

This week my BFF and I are in Beantown for a girls week away. It’s her first time and my second to what’s fast becoming one of my absolute favorite places to visit. Boston has history, fantastic food and so much to do. In the spirit of this trip and a great tour of Fenway Park we just took (one of the best tours so far), I decided to pick up THEOLOGY: HOW A BOY WONDER LED THE RED SOX TO THE PROMISED LAND by John Frascella. If Helen Fielding was the queen of chick-lit, I think Frascella may be on the high court for dick-lit in this breezy book about baseball for boys.

Not to say that women won’t like this, but it’s heavy on details and stats on the rise of one smart and quirky Theo Epstein as the youngest major league General Manager in the history of the game. Appointed at 28 in 2002, the Boston Red Sox broke an 86 year old curse to win the National Championship. Shockingly, he resigned in 2005 and was rehired just 3 months later. Since then, the Sox won another ring in 2007.

Frascella’s writing is a bit light and airy and his book comes off more as a tribute than a non-fiction account of an interesting person of note. Epstein is apparently tremendously private and I understand did not participate or cooperate with the publication of this book. That being said, most of it appears to have been obtained by information you can Google about Epstein or the Sox.

I found Frascella’s story to take on almost too strong a tone of adoration. Certainly, Epstein is bright and has done a lot to help the Red Sox franchise, but the high praise is a bit syrupy sweet for my taste. True baseball fans, and Red Sox aficionados for sure, might really enjoy the flavor of Frascella’s writing.

For me, Frascella’s THEOLOGY is no book wonder, but an enjoyable read for anyone interested in covering the bases on some recent Red Sox history making.

Rating: 2 stars
Pages: 208
Genre: Non-Fiction

Week 40: The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems – Billy Collins

Right before heading out for vacation it seemed a perfect week to revisit one of my favorite authors; a poet, no less. I love Billy Collins and after reading two of his collections (Ballistics this year and Nine Horses a while back) I was anxious to pick up a third. THE TROUBLE WITH POETRY AND OTHER POEMS was the lucky winner. The title alone cinched this week’s selection for me.

I mean, there’s so much trouble with poetry, isn’t there? Or maybe it’s there’s so much trouble with me and poetry. Poetry and I have a long and sordid history. One that involves a lot of not getting along and total misunderstandings. Then Billy came along and he was like the new poetry boyfriend that really “got me”.


That all being said, the trouble with THE TROUBLE WITH POETRY is that overall, it’s not my favorite of his collections, yet it has my all-time favorite poem of his in it: The Lanyard.


Trouble, indeed.


In simple words that evoke real emotions, Collins is able to show the attempt a child makes in saying thank you to his mother for all that she has done (including giving him life) by making her a lanyard at summer camp. It’s funny and poignant and nothing short of wonderful. You, Reader; On Traveling Alone; On Not Finding You at Home; Class Picture, 1954; Fool Me Good and The Trouble with Poetry are my favorites after one reading.


While there are a handful of great poems in THE TROUBLE WITH POETRY, there are a number that I didn’t connect with. Despite this, I am not sensing trouble in paradise just yet. I am finding that poetry is often something to be contemplated and considered and may not hit the spot after the first reading and I am okay with that. This reconciliation poetry and I have going on is still very much in the beginning stages. It’s definitely too soon to throw in the towel. I think we are both willing to spend some time on it and see where it all goes. I might even start reading other poetry because of it.


Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 112
Genre: Poetry

Week 39: To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

It’s Banned Book Week this week and I am going back into the vault to dust off and return to a classic, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. How this book was ever banned, I just don’t understand. Well, unfortunately, I do. Fear, ignorance, control, and whatever all that mess is that goes into limiting the scope and viewpoints and minds of people, that’s what. And it’s such a shame, because this is a glorious book.

At a time when people weren’t writing like this, Harper Lee put out a beautifully written book about the coming of age of young Scout and Jem Finch the summer their daddy Atticus Finch was set to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman in the small southern spot of Maycomb County, Alabama. And if that isn’t a lot to consider, consider this: It was published in 1960 at a time when race relations where top of mind across the country. Wait now. It’s 2010 and race relations are still top of mind across the country. And 50 years later, this book is still painfully and so importantly relevant.

Now, I know for a fact that I am not likely to shed any new light on Lee’s masterpiece for which she earned the Pulitzer Prize. This book has been read and dissected far too many times and ways for me to have a new little nugget. And while I think everyone has read it, perhaps that’s not the case, so I don’t want to give away any spoilers. Just know this: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, to me, is a story about relationships.

“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something, and don’t you forget it–whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.” Atticus Finch

It’s about how we are supposed to treat one another, not how we aren’t.

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,” said Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by a majority rule is a person’s conscience.” Atticus Finch

It’s about the similarities people share and in how much greater abundance they are than our differences.

“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” Scout Finch

I would encourage anyone to pick this up again; and if you haven’t, don’t delay. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a masterpiece.

Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 336

Week 38: A Virtuous Woman – Kaye Gibbons

Fall is the craziest time for me at work. It’s my busy season if I were an accountant. My three months of Black Fridays if I were in retail. And it’s a time that I don’t need anything extra going on, but there always is something a little extra. This time it’s an upcoming week off in Boston (timed for the change in season, not my workload) and, of course, this project. So I reached this week for a book I have had for years: A VIRTUOUS WOMAN by Kaye Gibbons.

I fell immediately into this slender love story, told in alternating chapters by Jack Stokes and Ruby Pitt Woodrow, seemingly mismatched lovers with about 20 years separating them. Jack was nothing to look at, but knew the moment he set his eyes on Ruby that she was a girl he could marry. Ruby, having just come out of an abusive marriage was looking for someone safe and kind. It was this connection, a desire to love and be loved, that seemed to work for them.

At the start of the book, we learn that Ruby has succumbed to a difficult and much to early battle with cancer. Jack is stumbling through this loss and it is through his memories and her narrative prior to her death that we learn what a rich love they had, despite or in spite of their circumstances.

A VIRTUOUS WOMAN is a lovely story told with a southern lilt that I always enjoy reading. It’s not a book that will change your world, but one that can take you away from it, if only for a few hours, and expose you to an uncommon but richly told story of enduring love.

Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 176
Genre: Fiction

Week 37: The Table Where Rich People Sit – Byrd Baylor

It’s confession time. I am reading many more children’s books for this project than I anticipated. They are a great pick when it’s a hectic week. I also have a six year old son that I am trying to mold and shape into an avid reader in a world where video games and TV rule. And, I am actually finding that some of these books provide a nice shift in focus and perspective, reminding me of imagination, wonder and the things that really matter. Byrd Baylor’s works fill that need perfectly.


I first read Byrd Baylor with the kiddo this summer (EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK) and fell in love with her words and the illustrations of Peter Parnall. Then through a decades-old friendship rekindled on Facebook, I received a recommendation of THE TABLE WHERE RICH PEOPLE SIT, another Baylor/Parnall partnership that is both endearing and beautifully told.


THE TABLE WHERE RICH PEOPLE SIT concerns Mountain Girl, nicknamed for her birth place, a young girl troubled by her parent’s disinterest in acquiring more money and things for her and her brother. Her disdain for her parent’s seemingly simple-minded approach to living is broached at dinner while sitting at “our old scratched-up homemade kitchen table.”


As I turned the pages, a beautiful story focused on the riches that come from nature, relationships and experiences unfolded. The illustrations are as critical a component to the storytelling as the poetic verse, with gorgeous water colors randomly and sporadically filling in the hand-drawn shapes. I think the message went a bit over the head of my six year old. And, in full disclosure, he fell asleep before I hit the last page. But I kept reading Baylor’s words aloud, savoring them along with the illustrations that truly are amongst the most creative I have ever seen.


I wholly recommend this book for children (probably eight and older) and adults. I am anxious to dig into the other Baylor/Parnall books I picked up while buying THE TABLE WHERE RICH PEOPLE SIT. I wouldn’t be surprised if I am back again reviewing their other collaborative efforts.


Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 32
Genre: Children’s

Week 36: Hector and the Search for Happiness – Francois Lelord

I think this was the first near miss of a week in the project so far. Not bad, considering I am past the halfway mark. It should be smooth sailing from this point on, right? I should have this whole book-a-week thing down to a science! Not so, dear readers. Not so.

I started the week fully intending to read a certain book that, try as I might, I could not get into. After five days of scratching at the surface of this book, something had to be done. So last night at 5:30 p.m., I made an executive decision. I dumped the once-intended book and headed over to the local neighborhood bookstore to pick up a gift for a friend and hoped to find a workable replacement.

I established just two requirements: It needed to be slender in size and of a subject matter that was easily consumed in less than six hours (not counting sleep and some errands I had to run was all I had until the kiddo came home and I was back on full-time Mommy duty). I know, my options where whittled down between slim and none. Imagine my delight, however, when I came across the very thin spine of this lovely little number with the whimsical cover design and super cute title font. Shallow, I know. But, hey, what’s a girl on a mission (and a rapidly approaching deadline) to do?

Well, this girl read the back cover and snatched this little beauty right up! And she can tell you that judging this sweet little book by its cover worked out like a gem because not only did she finish HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS just in the nick of time, but she found it utterly charming! Okay, enough with the third person weirdness.

HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS is French psychiatrist Francois Lelord’s child-like fable about a fictional psychiatrist Hector’s concern with the amount of unhappiness he sees in his patients. So concerned is Hector, that he sets out on a tour of China, Africa and the U.S. (which is never named and only described as “the country of More”) to try and understand what it is that makes people happy in hopes that he can better help his own patients. It is through conversations and experiences with his international friends–and strangers he meets along the way– that he is able to glean a handful of nuggets about happiness.

While written as a fable, HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS is not a children’s book. Hector encounters real issues faced by adults everywhere, himself included. I found the simplistic style endearing and it made the book work. At the end of the day, many of the things that make us happy aren’t earth-shattering discoveries. They are simple things like being with the ones we love. They are things that, when we allow ourselves to live in the moment, jump out and come into full color and clear focus.

And stay tuned for more Hector. I have just learned that this is the first of a series of Hector books that are soon coming to America!

Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 192

Week 35: Still Missing – Chevy Stevens

Want to get away? I mean really away? I mean so away that you won’t even know that the place you have been transported to could even exist? I am not talking about alternate universes or some sort of fantastical made up world. No, I am talking about a modern-day, hair-raising thriller that will have you flying through the chapters, while double checking your locks at the same time. I am talking about a great recommendation for your next book club meeting. I am talking about STILL MISSING by newcomer–and one to watch–Chevy Stevens.

STILL MISSING features Annie O’Sullivan, a 32 year old realtor closing up shop after an ill-attended open house when a pleasant looking prospect pops in for just a peek. Knowing that her boyfriend Luke is patiently waiting on her for dinner, Annie hesitates to spend any extra time on an unlikely buyer. But a warm smile and friendly demeanor causes her to take the few extra minutes for one last showing. It’s that split second decision that changes everything for Annie. In just a matter of minutes, she’s being directed at gunpoint into a van, drugged and taken to a remote cabin in the mountains where she will remain missing for a year.

So have I just given everything away? Hardly.

The book actually opens with Annie having returned from this harrowing ordeal and recounting all of the events in counseling sessions to a therapist. Details that include her new life under the controlling arm of “The Freak”, as Annie calls him, a crazy psychopath who dresses her, bathes her, rapes her, tells her when she can go to the bathroom and directs what and when she can eat.

So what’s left to tell? A lot, actually.

Stevens’ second story line–Annie’s life in the present, seeking therapy and working with the police to solve her mystery–is chock full twists and turns that had me guessing until the end. In fact, no one in my entire book club was able to figure it out. A great sign of a good thriller, go figure. Many of us said that STILL MISSING is so frighteningly real that we had to keep reminding ourselves that this was a work of fiction and not a story ripped from the headlines. Most of us couldn’t read it at night, but were quick to pick it right back up during daylight hours. More signs of a good thriller.

It isn’t often that I am so repulsed by the actions of a story’s villian, yet so compelled to keep reading. I think that was due in large part to Stevens’ ability to capture the anger, fear and vulnerabilities a person like Annie would undoubtedly experience after such an ordeal under her crazed captor. It was fascinating to see how it would all eventually unfold. My only complaint with the story was around the very predictable interaction Annie had with the lead investigator on her case. It was completely unnecessary and didn’t do anything to propel the story forward. With that said, STILL MISSING is a highly engrossing read and one that leaves you thankful it’s a complete and total fabrication.

Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 352

Week 34: Let’s Take the Long Way Home – Gail Caldwell

For the past 33 weeks I have chosen a book to read and write about for this yearlong reading project. Sometimes the selection process is a thoughtful one; other times there’s not much more than a single thought in my brain as I reach up and grab the next book off of the shelf and attempt to dive right in.


This week, however, something different happened. I didn’t choose a book. A book chose me.


I am not saying that a book flew out of my bookcase and into my hands. Nor did one come to me in a dream or some kind of vision imploring me to read it. No, it was as simple as a spontaneous late-night online shopping excursion fueled by the discovery of a long lost gift card in my in box. It didn’t hurt that amazon.com had it sitting in the “We have recommendations for you” section of their site, or that it was a memoir. But it was the title, simple cover and summary that drew me in. And that’s how LET’S TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME by Gail Caldwell came to me.


But that’s not how it chose me.


I downloaded the book to my Kindle within seconds and then left it to wait until I was ready to read it. The truth is that I rarely, if ever, read a book right after I buy it. Sometimes I do, but not usually.


Well, welcome to sometimes.


After just a few days of having purchased LET’S TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME, I found myself eager to start this book that was already garnering solid buzz. Within the first two paragraphs, though, I caught my breath and had to stop.
[blockquote]It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too. … For years we had played the easy, daily game of catch that intimate connection implies. One ball, two gloves, equal joy in the throw and return. Now I was in the field without her: one glove, no game. Grief is what tells you who you are when you are alone.[/blockquote]
So very sad. And, yet, so beautiful.


And so goes LET’S TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME, a sad yet beautiful account of Caldwell’s friendship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp. The two had been set up through a mutual acquaintance that was certain their love of writing and dogs would bond them. As it turned out, they had even more in common than a life of writing, they both loved the outdoors (Knapp a rower, Caldwell a swimmer) and both battled decades-long addictions to alcohol that were long left behind at the time their friendship formed.


As similar as the two were, differences abounded. Caldwell achieved literary acclaim as a Pulitzer prize winning book critic with her audience and those around her unaware of her alcoholism. Knapp came into the fray with her critically lauded, DRINKING: A LOVE STORY an intimate and candid look at a woman’s affinity for the bottle. It’s only now, through this book, that Caldwell is comfortable sharing her addiction and it seems as this book is as much a tribute to friendship as it is a mechanism through which she can process her own grief and come clean about her own demons.


Heavy stuff for sure. But there are also moments of humor and candor that had me quietly smiling in agreement or laughing out loud.
[blockquote]Men don’t really understand women’s friendships, do they?” I once asked my friend Louise, a writer who lived in Minnesota. “Oh God, no,” she said. “And we must never tell them.” [/blockquote]
Caldwell captures the ebb and flow of seriousness and brevity that makes friendships–especially those between women–so rich and dynamic. Despite her loss, Caldwell knows she is a better person for knowing Knapp and having shared the intimacy and connection that a rich and deep relationship affords, even if only to lose that friend far too soon.
[blockquote]I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures.[/blockquote]
At the end of the day, LET’S TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME is a sentimental and gracefully told story. I was eager to write my review and share this gem of a book with all my female friends, but found that I couldn’t immediately do so. I needed time for Caldwell’s words to settle into all nooks and crannies of my heart. I needed time to reflect on my own friendships and was reminded how very fortunate I am to have them. I needed time to wrap my head around what I wanted to capture here and I am almost certain my words fall entirely too short.


So I will leave you with a simple request: Read this book. Step away from all the responsibilities of your world and find a few hours that you can immerse yourself with an exquisite account of life, loss, friendship and all that falls in between.


Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 208