THE YEAR of MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion⠀ ⠀

It would appear to be a morbid book to read, yet this memoir about the year following Joan Didion’s husband’s death, was a systematic, matter-of-fact approach to try to make sense of the common process of grief. I mostly found it fascinating that our mind tries to make sense of something our heart cannot easily process. ⠀

Didion’s husband (John) had a sudden heart attack and died at home one evening. Didion recalls simple things like going to the hospital with the paramedics and her husband’s body to take care of the paperwork…’the regularization of death’. At the NYC hospital she recalls looking at the time and realizing that John had not died yet on LA time. Didion wondered, for a brief moment, if she could somehow stop him from dying before that California time arrived.⠀

The Year of Magical Thinking would be particularly fascinating to anyone who has grieved the loss of a loved one as they would surely find similarities in the way Didion processed her husband’s death. ⠀

As is common, she spoke of wanting to tell John something important, only to realize she could not. “It was as if I put the arrow in the bow, pulled back and just before shooting it realized he was not here to listen to my story, and I would release the arrow and set the bow back down.”⠀

Didion recalled the many times in their marriage that after having a dream she would tell John about it in the morning when they woke up “…not to dwell on the dream but to let it go.” As a reader I wondered how therapeutic this memoir must have been. To write about her process of grief. Not to dwell on death, but to let it go.⠀

After a year of grieving and looking back on what was happening the previous year between she and John, she realized that while his death occurred on December 30, December 31 would be the first day in which John was not a part of the previous year. That is when she began to move forward and her way of thinking shifted. “I began to allow him to simply be the photograph on the piano.”⠀

This was a fascinating book about the process of grief – universally experienced but very uniquely felt.⠀

A highly recommended book.

ABODE: Thoughtful Living with Less by Serena Mitnik-Miller and Mason St. Peter⠀

This book sits on our coffee table, not as a decorative piece (although it certainly falls into that category) but as a reference book. Since purchasing it a few months ago, I have come back to it again and again for inspiration and ideas.⠀

Serena and Mason are the owners of General Store in San Francisco. In Abode, they encourage their readers to live intentionally and in a gracefully simple way. Their home is filled with wood and stone and always with an eye to the outdoors. Their storefront celebrates artisan goods with warm tones and beautiful focal- point items.⠀

I also appreciate that they write about pieces they desire but cannot yet afford; this resonates with all of us to some degree. But keeping our eye on the ‘ideal’ is not a bad thing as it motivates us to hold the end result in mind even while using a ‘place maker’ until the final product can be acquired.⠀

Dual purpose items and editing your possessions are some of the common themes throughout this book. I am grateful for their approach to creating a welcoming home filled with beautiful items that doesn’t overwhelm the senses or the environment.⠀

I have been guilty of buying ‘pretty books’ because I liked the way they looked around my home. I was definitely drawn to the warm tones of this book cover, but its content is what sealed the deal. This will be an oft-used book of reference links and idea inspiration. (I also can’t wait to visit their California storefront!)

LET’S JUST SAY IT WASN’T PRETTY by Diane Keaton⠀ ⠀

I listened to this book on Audible and now I can’t imagine reading it in its physical form. Diane Keaton’s narration made it all the more wonderful.⠀

Let’s Just Say…, Keaton candidly discusses non-conventional beauty, aging gracefully (and not-so-gracefully at times) and embracing the person you truly are. She offers encouragement and support for women who want to push back against the normative definitions of beauty.⠀

Diane also dishes about her complicated relationships with men like Jack Nicholson (hint: he’s still a very dear friend), Warren Beatty and Al Pacino to name a few.⠀

With wry wit and self-deprecating humor, Keaton reminds us that the best beauty tip we can embrace is to enjoy a life well-lived.⠀ I highly recommend this book for all of us that have a wonky sense of style, desperately desire to wear amazing wide-brimmed hats and have settled into a comfortable place of beauty as defined by our own standards. This will be a book I return to often for encouragement and gutsiness.

POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo

“The pages of my notebook swell from all the words I’ve pressed onto them. It almost feels like the more I bruise the page, the quicker something inside me heals.”⠀

Poet X is about Harlem high school student, Xiomara Batista, discovering the art of slam poetry. Batista doesn’t seem to fit anywhere in her world but instead lives within the words of her journals and poetry. An attentive English teacher at her school convinces quiet Batista to join the slam poetry club. After much hesitation, she finally joins and finds not only friends and acceptance but ultimately finds her voice. And once she has discovered this liberating method of communication, she will no longer be silent.⠀

As Batista emerges from her shell, she eventually finds new love in Aman. “Every time I think about Aman, poems build inside me. Like I’ve been gifted a box of metaphor Legos that I stack and stack and stack. I keep waiting for someone to knock them over.”⠀

This book is replete with thrilling word imagery. Acevedo manages to take our shared human experience and make it sing. “When she asked how I was doing, the words trip and twist their ankles trying to rush out of my mouth.”⠀

I listened to the audio version of Poet X. There is only one other book I would suggest people listen to the audio over the written word: Ava’s Man by Rick Bragg. Poet X is enhanced by listening to the author’s reading of it. She reads it in an almost spoken word style. It is melodious and inspiring. I cannot recommend it highly enough.⠀

I am a fan of the performance art of spoken word. Many decades ago, my mother ‘gave readings’. The art of performing words is unique and celebratory and deeply moving. My mother (a career, 7th grade English teacher) was often asked to perform her pieces and I was honored to give one of them at her funeral. Poet X brought back many happy memories and increased my appreciation of such a compelling method of communication.⠀

One final quotation of personal interest. I am referred to a ‘g’ by my friends so imagine my delight at her own nickname reference:

“X. I love this new nickname. How it’s such a small letter but still fits all of me.”

PLENTY LADYLIKE by Claire McCaskill

“You’re too young. Your hair is too long. You’re a girl. Go find yourself a husband.”

Thus began a 35+ year career of public service, as Claire McCaskill knocked on the door of a potential voter in 1983.

Claire McCaskill is a former state senator from Missouri. Her influence in the Senate has been one of strength as a moderate voice.

While reading this memoir, I was especially intrigued with the sisterhood relationship between the female members of the Senate. They regularly met for a bipartisan dinner – no press or staff allowed. It was a safe place to discuss the unique position in which they found themselves: as mothers, wives, senators and all the competing forces that surround those roles. Periodically, the female Supreme Court justices also met with them. Oh to be a fly on the wall…

While women in political office is becoming more and more acceptable, and blatant gender biases aren’t as prevalent, there are still passively used phrases that are unique to women in the political arena. McCaskill was accused of not being ladylike enough and that her actions were unbecoming of a woman. These comments are a little less abrasive than earlier in McCaskill’s political career when a male legislator asked her if she brought her knee pads(!!) to a one-on-one business meeting.

McCaskill wrapped up her book with a somewhat new challenge for women: Women need to invest in their future by donating money to charities and political campaigns. This is a way in which we can make our voices known about the areas that affect our lives and those of future generations.

I recommend this book to all persons interested in the political trajectory of candidates and how local elections evolve to national elections. Whether it’s a local election or a school or community role – position yourself to do the most good and have the most effective voice for your cause. You can’t use your clout to change the things you’re passionate about unless you have the clout.

I’ve never met a political candidate I agree with 100% and that also applies to Claire McCaskill. But I am proud of her representation of Missouri’s moderate political ideals. As with McCaskill, Missourians are often more willing to cross party lines when it leads to an equitable solution. (A lesson desperately needed in our current political environment.)

This memoir is filled with unflinching honesty, a quick wit and insightful wisdom from one of our country’s leading senatorial politicians

THE LAST ROMANTICS by Tara Conklin

102-year-old, Fiona Skinner had been out of public life for 25 years. Questions about her body of work were numerous at her first public appearance. Wanting to skip ahead to the end of the evening, Fiona was not prepared when a question came from one of the audience members, “Who was your inspiration in your book, ‘The Love Poem’?” Fiona tells an intimate tale of familial struggles and sibling rivalry; a personal story with universal appeal. Who hasn’t said the wrong thing or felt betrayal and disappointment within the confines of the people with which we share DNA? The question then becomes: how do we move forward?⠀

The Last Romantics is ripe with beautiful word imagery, deeply held secrets and recognizable familial challenges. The story is told from Fiona’s viewpoint, the youngest of four siblings. Readers are entranced by her stories that shaped and molded who she has become. The book details each sibling’s intersecting story and the way in which they forged their survival after loss and love and time. It is a celebration of siblings as well as an insight into the struggle that arises from this deeply connected bond. As family members we fall into roles that we both cherish and resent. We have shared stories that can, at times, be very differently interpreted. What keeps us together? What will pry us apart? What lengths will we go to protect each other?⠀

You will introspect. You will love. You will find a hard gulp in your throat. And then you’ll call your sibling and thank them for putting up with it all and for being a beautiful, integral part of your life story.

The Crown

Have you started yet? Are we ready for the new cast?

Between seeing the Downton Abbey movie last week and refreshing my memory on The Crown (we watched the last two episodes of season 2), I am feeling all sorts of royal lately. We Americans sure worked hard to set up our own government, but we’ve been fascinated with royalty since. ⠀

The Crown, season 3, starts today on Netflix. How do you handle seasons? Binge watch all at once or spread them out over time? (Hint: my answer is the same for a sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mints)⠀

Lifting a cup of tea to you, today (pinky finger properly crooked.)

Kiss the Cook

I don’t want to miss #stacksaturday with some of our favorite cookbooks. ⠀

It seems the cookbook pile in our kitchen changes seasonally, but not purposefully. It just depends on what we’re into at the time. ⠀

I am VERY lucky to have a spouse who loves to cook (he claims it’s therapeutic for him) as I love to read recipes and find new tastes to experience. Also…I love to eat! ☺️⠀

Are you the cook in your household or do you get to experience someone else’s meals?

THIS TENDER LAND by William Kent Krueger

I’m reposting this book, This Tender Land, because I’ve been voting for it all over the place lately. End-of-year polls on Goodreads and Book of the Month, for example. It’s been nice to revisit the characters in my mind. ⠀

This Tender Land transfixed me and swept me right into the storyline, feeling as if I lived this epic tale right along with the main characters – four orphans making their way from a difficult school situation up the river toward the Mississippi River. The disparate people they meet along the way will permeate, haunt and forever change their journey – to the Mississippi and beyond. Perhaps it’s my Missouri roots, but this epic tale felt very Mark Twain’esque.⠀

I normally try to give a book review and leave followers to decide if that description fits their reading preference or not. But I’ll take it a step further this time and ask you to please consider this book. It is tender, beautifully written, and leaves me wondering if I have just read the next American classic.

THE GIVER OF STARS by Jojo Moyes

I’m excited to dive into my Book of the Month selection for November. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes looks like one of those burrowed-into-the-couch, throw-blankets-on, what-time-is-it-anyway, just-one-more-chapter type of read.⠀

Here’s a brief overview:⠀

Alice Wright marries in order to leave her life in England and moves to Kentucky during the American depression era. She quickly realizes this small town was much too claustrophobic for her liking so she jumps at the chance to join a new traveling library team of women, established by Eleanor Roosevelt. A personality potpourri of five women soon learn their own strength and independence as well as their dependence on each other as they confront gender restrictions and relationship difficulties. They are committed to the task at hand: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts and ideas that will forever change their lives.⠀

Team of women – library books – Eleanor Roosevelt – traveling the countryside – female friendships ⠀

*breaks into song* – ‘…these are a few of my favorite things!’

The best part is that it is based on a true story. The description hooked me and I can’t wait to dig right in. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres so I know we’ll get along just grand. ⠀

Have you read this book or are you reading it now? Is it on your TBR list? Tell me your thoughts below. Let’s discover this epic story together.⠀