A letter to my daughter

You are nine years old and are beginning to see things that you do not understand.  Please know my love, that it is not something lacking in you,  it is because they are not understandable.  Through life you will be given explanations, rules, laws and social mandates. These will feel wrong or somehow biased and harsh. That is because they are not for you.

You will hear statistics that 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted and that in 1 in 5 women are raped in their lifetime at least once.  You will hear ideas about how to get women to report these assaults, you will hear about rape kits and a woman’s social responsibility to stop rapists from raping again.  You will not hear what men must do. Because you see, not all men are rapists.  As if until they are, this is not their problem. At some point, you will hear that it is not routine in many counties and states around the country to process rape kits. You will see man after man defended and given light sentences even when the case is a noted triumph for women.  You will see that we cannot ruin men’s lives or reputations or careers, they are too important.  In many states, if your “courage” to come forward took too long there will be no remedy in law because you are late and waited.  Because even after a woman has been attacked she has responsibilities and those are hers alone.

You will be given solutions. You will be told these are for your protection. Don’t drink too much so no one takes advantage of you, carry your drink everywhere so no one drugs you,  walk in numbers so no one attacks you, dress your body to not draw attention.  All of these things because we live in a world that you must always be on guard against.  Because even if something happens justice will find a way to make this about the one rule you might not have followed.  These rules are really not to protect you, they are a checklist that your performance will be evaluated with.

There are other things that will seem unfair.  You will be told over and over that men fight in a candid way where they can say whatever they want to each other and then get over it.  But know, if you engage with a man in the same candid way you will be found insulting and inappropriate.  You will be put in your place.

You will likely not make that same amount of money even with the same education and qualifications as the man across the office from you.  If you have a baby you will not be given significant time to physically heal, emotionally bond or find a balance to your life, because you cannot be a woman at your job, you must be like a man. In all ways.  That is how feminism has been twisted and claimed by men, this type of feminism is not for you.

You will be told that you cannot feel injustice because you are not in a third world country being physically mutilated or restricted from owning property or burned alive. You will be reminded about how grateful you must be.  Always remember, in our country, we like to tell marginalized people how bad it could be so we make it clear that they have enough and the rest is for white men.

You will hear jokes about women that you will feel like you need to laugh at to fit in. Don’t.  You will be told there are more women in government then ever before so you should be happy with that. Don’t settle.  You will hear that there can be no sexism because women can get college degrees and graduate degrees.  Don’t buy it.

There are things I cannot change for you and that has been a bitter pill for me.  You will have to make yourself physically small everywhere you go because drawing attention is dangerous. You will have to know everywhere you walk who is behind you, beside you, in front of you.  You will have to hold your breath when you walk by groups of men because it will feel bracing and nerve-racking.  You will have men sit by you in movie-theaters, planes, buses, restaurants. They will invade your space because they do not see it as yours.  More than once in your life you will be called hysterical, slutty, a ball-buster, a prude, a cock-tease, shrill.  Don’t let these words move you, they are used by others when women are taking ownership of their lives, bodies, opinions, and spaces.

I have been thinking about what I can change for you.  There is time and there is much possibility.  But we have to  name the problems before we can face them.  In some ways, this letter helped me do that.  I hope when you read this years from now, there have been shifts. I hope you will be able to feel safe in your unfettered choices and your unruled body and your beautiful, full life.

Know I love you always.

 

 

 

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October 8, 2018 at 9:09 am Leave a comment

Filling the void – “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens

I will begin by saying when I read the description of this book I was not particularly won 51c9IKSZT9L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
over.  But for some reason, it still landed in my book pile.  Perhaps my concern was about the natural world focus which is not typically my favorite kind of book. I am not usually a fan of long rambling descriptions of the natural world and how it preys on the lives of the characters.   So when the jacket said the main character found her friends “in the seagulls and lessons in the sand” I may have rolled my eyes.  But what I am admitting is that after finishing this book my prejudice against this type of book is now just embarrassing.  This book was fascinating, heartbreaking and quite simply amazing.

Kya is the youngest in a large family of Swamp trash, living in the marshland in North Carolina.  At a very young age, she watches the tides, the turtles, the frogs, feeds the seagulls with her sister, runs barefoot in the marsh grasses.  Her father is a drunken-abusive veteran  who one by one drives the other family members away – first her mother, then each sibling, leaving just six-year-old Kya and her father.  Eventually even her father leaves.  And so, Kya is alone finding ways to make money to survive – mussel digging and smoking fish to deliver to the local store down on the water.  To the small town several miles down the marshes, she becomes the legendary “Marsh Girl” uneducated, dressed in rags, and solitary.

Over time, two boys appear in her life. One you know from the first page of the book is killed years later and the other becomes her greatest advocate.  The death of the one serves as the suspenseful element of the book but seemed less important to me than the story of Kya’s life itself.   Truly, what makes this book so beautiful is not the suspense of a “who-done-it” thriller but rather the stark loneliness of Kya’s life which leaves her to became a great observer of  the natural world around her.

Delia’s writing of Kya and her life in the marsh, her survival, but also her understanding of the magic of things, that other people take for granted in a land that was cast-off as unsustainable for valuable life, is really what makes this book.  Kya knows feathers and the value of the rare colors of birds that leave the feathers behind. She understand shells and sand patterns.  She can tell what the sky will bring later in the day and what tides are safe to navigate.  Some of these passages remind me of the beautiful passages in “All the Light We Cannot See” where you could feel the sea shells in your hands.  Here you can smell the salt-air and hear the wind.  Delia writes beautiful observations that softly land on the page and take your breath when they do:

“Autumn leaves don’t fall, they fly. They take their time and wander on this their only chance to soar.”

The author’s background in writing about the natural world serves her ability to develop Kya’s character in an unexpected way.   Because of Kya’s existence in this wild life, you can feel how raw she is, how innocent and unassuming, but also how resilient.  She is gritty and real, living on the constant edge of her fight or flight instincts.

Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would. If consequences resulted from her behaving differently then they too were functions of life’s fundamental core.

I really can’t say much more because to get into the plot would truly diminish the magic of the writing and the book.  Again, not because the plot is poorly crafted but because to write it out will sound far more simplistic than it truly is. I will say the last 20 pages of the book my heart was twisted in knots, desperately rooting for Kya and an eventual end to her lonely existence. But, conflicted because I also wanted that end only in the way that would make her connection with others meaningful to her because that is what seemed to matter most.   The kind of character that moves you that deeply is rare and I am so grateful she landed in my to-read pile despite my earlier reluctance.

As I listen to the crickets outside, autumn is in the air with its foggy mornings, brilliant leaves, pumpkins and crisp air. And so I can only hope your days are full of sweaters, cups of tea, and pages of wonderful characters.  And if you run across those characters let me know where I can find them too.

September 30, 2018 at 9:58 pm 5 comments

The Waning Days of Summer Reading

Our summer days are limited and we will soon need sweaters, blankets and hot tea on hand (which is exciting for me and I have my supplies at the ready). But regardless of the weather, there is reading to do my friends. Some of my reading this summer has been a bit rough. There are truly some really bad books out there being thrown at us by the marketing gods. But that said there have been three books that I have read recently that, even as whiny and critical as I have been, I really enjoyed.

“The Book of Essie” by Meghan Weir is a fast read and is really engaging.  Essie is the youngest daughter of a religious reality show family.  She finds herself at 17 years old pregnant and the family very quickly has to deal with the potential PR nightmare.  That in and of itself makes this book interesting but Weir digs quite a bit deeper. There is so much social commentary in this book that makes it really compelling – not just about religion but also about our fascination with being sold glossy stories by our media. Balanced, as always, with how quickly we swarm when we find out a star is about to fall.

“The Nix” by Nathan Hill is not a fast read. It is a beast of a book. Simply put the story is about Professor Samuel Andresen-Anderson whose mother walked out the door when he was ten years old. It seems she has reemerged in a fairly dramatic way by throwing small rocks at a political candidate.  Sam has been asked by his mother’s attorney to write a letter to the judge detailing what a good citizen and mother she is – which, considering he has not seen her in over twenty years, seems a bit presumptuous.  This book is just so much more than a simple story.  It is packed, and I mean packed, with funny vignettes, uncomfortable characters who eat stringy nachos and don’t shower, and cringe worthy critiques of academia and politics (which are also hilarious and/or disturbing).   It will take time to dig through but it is well worth it.

“All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother” by Danielle Teller is a part of a genre that I admit to often snubbing my nose at. Telling a well-known story from a different character’s prospective seems overdone at this point. That horse has been beaten, buried, dug-up and trotted around too many times (poor horse). All of that said, this book is exceptionally well written.  It would be a good story regardless of the Cinderella tie in and, frankly, it really doesn’t need it except those darn marketing gods.  It has a historical fiction feel to it and Teller truly has the ability to balance good character development with a solid descriptive narrative.  I am excited to see what she does next and I am hopeful it will be an original story all the way through. Her writing really deserves is on story.

I hope to stumble on more books that make me smile as we finish our days of warm sunshine.  Enjoy your weekend – hopefully there is a pajamas only, sunshine-filled, deep-breath taking, book-in-hand kind of day in it.

 

 

 

August 31, 2018 at 11:01 am Leave a comment

The Perfect Beach Book – Whatever that means

I am not typically a big fan of the largely acclaimed beach books. They are often overrated books that come out in late Spring/early Summer with a lot of marketing and fanfare. For me they often fall flat and are disappointing.  Below are some books that have better alternatives, books that were fine, and books that were super fun and you should read anywhere (even the beach).  And here’s to hoping better books get fanfare and the marketing Gods shine on them as well….Unknown-5.jpeg

  1. Tangerine by Christine Mangan: This book was really set up for great success.  The setting is Tangier, Morocco. The tension is between two old college roommates, Alice and Lucy, who attended the all girls school in Vermont a few years before.   Lucy shows up uninvited to Tangier where Alice is living with her new husband, John.  The question for the reader is what happened between them in Vermont and why is Lucy in Tangiers suddenly.  So, we have some really good elements at play. But truly the characters are stereotypical and either entirely lackluster or just ridiculously flagrant in their character flaws.  There are no unexpected twists or turns and even the interesting setting doesn’t help this book.  Think Single White Female meets Sheltering Sky meets The Talented Mr. Ripley but you also don’t care about anyone in the story. For a Book about friendship gone wrong in an interesting backdrop with suspense (it exists!) read instead: The Unforgotten by Laura Powell.  Quite honestly, I have not even finished this book  but it is again about two young women who have a sorted past with each other.  It is set in a small English fishing town where Betty lives with her bi-polar mother who manages a boarding house on the days she is herself and able.  Mary, her best friend, is constantly jealous of Betty seemingly unable to see how complicated her life is.  In the midst of their town, there is a serial killer and dead girls’ bodies keep popping up.  Every character so far is complex and trying hard to balance their better natures with their faults.  The setting is also interesting. The tension in the story is carefully built between many of the key players as they try to just get through their days, while the town is in disquiet around them.  There are multiple questions for the reader to contemplate which makes me feel like this writer might actually think we all have the ability to understand the complexities of life.  See, sounds better already right? Even if the end falls apart the rest of the book is far superior so I stand behind this partially read recommendation.
  2. The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy: This has been described (marketing Gods again) as an addictive thriller. That, it is definitely not. I am not even sure this is a thriller to be honest.  A group of new mothers who get together weekly in a Brooklyn park find themselves in quite a pickle (yep, I said pickle) when they go to a bar leaving their babies at home with sitters, spouses, etc.  Not only do they spend the night judging each other, but then one of the babies is stolen while the mother was at the bar and the sitter was at home napping.  Who stole the baby? Who is the mother? Do any of these new mothers really know each other? Who has cracked nipples? Is anyone sleeping through the night and if so, how are they doing it? All of that sarcastically said, I will give the book credit for looking at the crazy, awful, stressful, and psychologically damaging world that new mothers create for themselves and each other. I have been in that crazy upside world and I am happy I got out alive. But the other pieces of the book are pretty routine and not all that interesting – including the ending which I finished and then went about my day unaddictively and not at all thrilled.  For an Addictive Thriller read instead: I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara.   It is a very real account of the Golden State Killer. Sometimes truth is much better than fiction and here that is definitely the case.  I listened to this one on audible and it is scary and awful and intriguing.
  3. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: This book has no “read instead” because I loved it.  It is a fun, interesting and crazy story about rich people so I was totally in.  Rachel Chu and Nick Young have been dating for two years while they both teach at NYU.  For their summer break, Rachel agrees to fly to Singapore with Nick so she can meet his family.  Nick failed to mention that his family is one of the richest families in Singapore and Rachel finds herself in the bizarre world of petty rich people – their expectations and all of their competitions.  There is really no deep lesson from this book (except I would like my own plane), it is just fun and at the time I read it that was exactly what I needed.
  4. The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka: I need to first say this author is from my hometown of Columbus, Ohio so I wanted to love this book.  I didn’t love it but I enjoyed it. There is a lot of potential here that I think will get better in the next book.  Roxanne, a woman with a sorted history of bad choices and daddy baggage, is hired to investigate a 15 year old case.  The parents of teenager Sarah Cook were murdered in their home and the body of Sarah Cook was never found.  The easiest suspect was the African-American boyfriend, Brad, who consequently has been in jail since his guilty verdict and has two months until he is executed.  Brad’s sister is positive that she saw Sarah Cook, presumed to be dead, at a gas station and wants Roxanne to find her to try to save Brad from execution. Lepionka’s story has some nice touches and some interesting twists.  I get the impression that it was not originally written for a broader audience because of the way she names places around Columbus with minimal explanation for an audience unfamiliar with our city (like what does living in Bexley mean?).  But, there are also some nice name dropping in the book like the restaurant Wings, which made me smile.  I would like the character of Roxanne to be fleshed out better so hopefully that will happen in the future. Just making her bi-sexual or the daughter of a flawed cop doesn’t make me care about her.  Her relationship with her brothers seemed very real though and some of her own personal issues are very relatable – hence the earlier referenced hope. The overarching story carried me through and had some really good twists.  So you should read it because (a) it is a pretty good book and (b) we should support our Columbus writers (even if you aren’t from Columbus, come on be a mensch).

Otherwise have fun at the beach, enjoy a gin and tonic or a martini, take deep breaths, watch a sunset, and read. Always read.

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June 29, 2018 at 1:22 pm Leave a comment

Truth has its own path – “A Shout in the Ruins” by Kevin Powers

There is some debate about Kevin Powers debut book “The Yellow Birds.” I thought it was well written, particularly for a first novel, and did a great job of putting the reader right where none of us want to be but need to be to understand our complex presence in Iraq. So I really liked that novel but in his second novel “A Shout in the Ruins” Powers has taken his writing to a new, beautifully rounded level.

36204340.jpg“A Shout in the Ruins” follows a complex story of a multi-generational family and its slaves from the beginning of the American Civil War through the 1970s.  It is set on a plantation outside of Richmond, Virginia and the story weaves backwards and forwards chapter to chapter between the war, the Antebellum period, Jim Crow, and on and on. I cannot sum it up in a clear way because there are a lot of characters and a lot to unpack for even a quick blurb. Needless to say, it is also a lot to take on for the author.  I must admit to being a little tired of this constant lack of linear writing in the novels that are being published right now – every other chapter is a flashback or flash forward or different character (anyone else tired of this tread). BUT all of that said, this book is brilliantly done.

The novel does not gloss over the harshness of slavery, the pain of war and ruin, or the subjugation of women in the 1800s.  It addresses pride, revenge, hopelessness and the desolation of all of those things.  The characters are in some ways one dimensional but this does not hinder the story telling or make the path the novel sets seem shallow or lacking.

Perhaps most stunning, is the author’s set of truths that seem to place themselves within the story.  The most important of which seems to be how our own truths are merely ours but that does not make them any less and, in fact, they frame our entire lives, set our course and perhaps the courses of those who come after us.

This book pairs well with a fire pit and a starry night so you can contemplate some seriously deep things because this isn’t your standard beach book.   Happy Summer Reading Friends!

June 14, 2018 at 10:25 am Leave a comment

The “what if it really is Spring?” reading list

Let’s admit it has been a long, long snowy, cold and dark (did I say long) winter.   I believe this means we need to tip our customer service people more than usual because likely they are Unknowndealing day in and day out with the cranky lot of us.   But this also means I have been reading a lot of mysteries just to keep me awake in the evening and get my adrenaline going (the gym works too, but reading is usually more fun).

Here is what has kept me sane through this crazy weather of random:

  • A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch – This is the first in the series of Charles Lenox mysteries.  Lenox is a wealthy, upper-crust gentleman in Victorian London who also seems to have a good handle on sleuthing.  The mystery itself in this first book wasn’t what kept me captivated, though it was well done, it was the societal descriptions, the cups of tea, and the rules of priority that made this fun.  It is best enjoyed with a glass of sherry, if you can handle the stuff, or just admit that sherry is terrible and just have a glass of wine while you imagine gaslights and rustling petticoats.
  • Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker – I need to just throw it out there that I love Jane Eyre like the rest of you love Pride and Prejudice.  That is not to say that I do not love Austen (I absolutely do) but nothing has ever grabbed my imagination like Thornfield hall and poor, resolute Jane.  I say all of this because maybe this retelling of the story through Edward Fairfax Rochester’s perspective is not as good as I think it is.  I am pretty sure I would latch onto every retelling of this story and love it.   The critics of this book complained that it was slow but the way Shoemaker matches her style to Bronte’s, as well as the writing of the period, is really well done.   No, it is not exciting at every turn and no this is not a traditional mystery.  But Jane Eyre is one of the best gothic novel of its time and this retelling is just fun.
  • Arrowood by Laura McHugh – This is the second book I have read by McHugh and I like her style.  While playing outside on a summer day, Arden Arrowood’s twin sisters disappeared without explanation  and with only 7 year old Arden as the unreliable witness. After searching everywhere for the twins, the Arrowood family moves away from their family home in the small Iowa town to try to forget all of the terrible memories.  But as Arden comes to examine her life in her twenties she finds that she is directionless and again newly single.  So she returns to her family home and begins trying to examine her own memories of the day her sisters were lost.  As she begins piecing together things that as a child seemed unimportant, she finds that those same events reveal that there may be a way to find out what really happened. And Arden quickly realizes that finding these answers seems the only way to help her move forward in her own life.
  • The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton –  This book is everything I love in a quirky story.  Agatha Raisin has spent her life building her own firm in P.R. in London.  In her early fifties she decides to sell her firm and retire to a quaint cottage she has found in the Cotswolds.  Not exactly a warm and fuzzy person, Agatha finds that her neighbors in the village are not as easy to get to know as she had hoped.  In an
    effort to assimilate, she enters into the local quiche baking contest.  Of course, Unknown-2.jpegnever having baked a quiche in her life, Agatha trains up to London, purchases a quiche at the award winning bakery, and returns to the town to submit it as her entry.   The judge after eating a piece of Agatha’s quiche dies and the police discover that he has been poisoned.  Obviously, Agatha has to shamefully admit that she did not make the quiche but this leaves the interesting question of who wanted this small time judge of quiches, jams, dog shows, and flower arrangements dead? This book is just fun and should be read while also googling sales of Cotswold cottages so we can all dream about moving there but not entering into local bakery contests.  I already found my cottage and of course you can visit.

Don’t despair friends, as happens every year, I feel almost positive that warm weather has to be on its way. But until then I wish you warm cups of tea, sightings of snow drops and violets, and cozy reads.

April 15, 2018 at 5:23 pm 2 comments

The World that We have Created – “The Hate U Give” and “Between the World and Me”

I listened to both of these books back to back on a drive from Ohio to Missouri and then from Missouri to Ohio. There is a time when reading becomes more than an exercise in relaxation. Where you run smack into a book, or here two books, that resonant as strongly as a punch in the stomach and you continue with the book because you know there is something important in that feeling that is needed and even necessary to be a fully engaged member of our country, our community, our families, our today.

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas is the story of Starr Carter, who lives in the ghetto where her family is trying to stay engaged with their African American community.  But Starr has to balance the life of being a black girl in a black community and also being a black girl in the private white school that her parents have her attending.   It is a careful balancing act and Starr often finds her self split between the two worlds where on one side her failure to adequately create a tough exterior can make her vulnerable and the other where failure to properly fit the stereotype of being the appropriate level of black in a white world can make her vulnerable.  One evening she finds herself riding in a car with her childhood friend, Khalil, when they are pulled over by a police officer.  What ensues is what so often, too often, happens.  Khalil is pulled from the car and as the officer is walking back to his cruiser Khalil bends down to make sure Starr is okay.  And he is shot not once, not twice, but three times by the officer.  We know this story.  The cop blames Khalil, society questions who this kid is that was obviously shot for a reason, and Starr becomes the witness whose only power is in her voice and the truth she can tell.

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Neishi Coates is framed as a long letter to his son who at the time of the writing is a fifteen year old black boy.  It is a letter about the black body and how we have stripped, used it, beaten it, and forgotten it all to continue in our quest to believe our American selves to be righteous and exceptional. While all at the same time clinging strongly to our whiteness and pretending that our privilege is earned and deserved.   It speaks to our inability to see what we have created honestly and with the proper accountability. Because once we do, our world, as the white dreamers of our own construct will come crashing down around us and we will not recognize ourselves any longer.  Because how can we be defined if not by our own lies and creations of reality? And our expectations, or requirements, of those who do not fit our narrative and speak truth – truth of history, truth of how we have gained, truth of how we continue to thrive while others do not – are woven so tightly that they kill and strangle those who do not conform. And even conformity is not enough. We will still segregate our schools by a classist based suburban drawing of districts, turn a blind eye to the enormous number of black men incarcerated, and watch as grand jury after grand jury does not hold the police officers who kill black men accountable to the same laws that apply so heavy-handedly to those they have killed.

“So I feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give the police a reason. All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good,” which is to say “accept half as much.” These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile.” – Ta-Neishi Coates

Coates writing is beautiful, harrowing and the best examination of our truth within the confines of race that we have created for America that I have ever read.  I cannot explain how important this piece was for me and I am still mulling it over.

Both of these authors created a space that left me bereft and with a feeling that I could not name for several hours. And then I recognized it and knew I felt shame. It is uncomfortable to be shamed. It makes us defensive, with the quiet, gentle chant of “not me, I am not racist.” But shame comes out of guilt and complicity.  As I too have bought into the dream of the stories we tell ourselves about our America.  I too forget what my whiteness has afforded me. I too forget the stories of those black bodies that we have broken.  Each and every one of them had a mother, a first step, a scary dream that woke them up at night. Each and every one had their favorite shoes or ice cream flavor or song. Each one lived and there is a time where, just like the white children we lose and cannot imagine how it happened, we should be just as shocked and enraged by the black bodies that we break and use and then refuse to become accountable to our actions but call names of drug dealer, welfare queen, disrespectful thug.

I find myself at the end of all of this at a loss for next steps.  I wish I could wrap this post up with a list of to dos that would make me feel better. But that is really not the point.  I, in my white suburban world and privilege, am not the point.  And for once that is just going to have to be okay.

“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?” – Angie Thomas

February 25, 2018 at 1:03 pm Leave a comment

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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