This is Where I Leave You

I started off this year with a list full of goals and a heart full of optimism and confidence that I could do what it takes to actually make those goals a reality, but as January turned to February, and then February to March, I figuratively let my eyes drift from the metaphorical prize and some of the goals I had set forth on New Year’s Day, were no longer a priority, like reading. I love to read, and anyone who has followed the blog for an extended period of time knows that because there are times when I’ve written multiple book reviews in a week, or consistently written about the latest book I’ve read on a certain day of the week, like Book Review Friday, but inevitably, after these periods of intense reading where books consume most of my free time, there comes a cooling off phase wherein I go a month or two without finishing a single book. It’s not that I get bored of reading, but it is a kind of solitary activity that can be isolating. While watching television together or playing a game can bring two people closer together in laughter and fun, the same cannot be said for reading a book because unless it’s a solo act that can only capture the attention and imagination of the reader, so it’s not the most ideal way to spend an evening with my wife, so the key is finding a balance. Instead of going to the extremes, reading maniacally through January and February, then not picking up a book in the month of March, it’s time I find a way to continue reading so that I can meet my goal of finishing a book per week this year, but also have time to do some other things that I enjoy doing, so that I don’t have to give up one thing for the other.

I tried to get back on track last weekend and finish a book that has been sitting in the same place for more than a month, completely unmoved since the last time I sat it down in February. On Saturday afternoon, while I was watching and getting bored with the NBA Playoffs, I decided my time might be better spent finishing the book, so that’s exactly what I did. Written by Jonathan Tropper, “This is Where I Leave You” is the story of a guy named Judd Foxmann, who after his father’s death travels back to his family home to sit Shiva with the rest of his family, which was his father’s dying wish. Some families love to spend time with their families and go to family reunions, but the Foxmann’s are not one of these family. The four siblings ascend on their childhood home each with their own baggage that has broken them in the years since they last lived here together, and it’s a constant struggle to get past some of the tensions that are always looming in order to respectfully mourn the death of their father.

There are moments that will make you laugh out loud, and moments that may have you crying, but through this emotional rollercoaster of a book, you will come to love the Foxmann’s, or at the very least, relate to their struggles. I read Jonathan Tropper for the first time earlier in the year when I read the “Book of Joe” and declared him one of my favorite new authors, and having just finished my second book by him, that sentiment still rings true. I love how one page can have you laugh out loud and the next page can have you deep in thought because of a brilliant line sitting at the end of a random paragraph. I have one more book sitting on my bookshelf with plans to order his others very soon. If you’re unfamiliar with Tropper, I would suggest checking him out, and “This is Where I Leave You” is a great place to start.

Advertisements

Every Last Time

IMG_E4950Earlier today I was reading a book when I came across a great quote, possibly one of my favorite sentences that I’ve ever read. The book is called “This is Where I Leave You” written by Jonathan Tropper, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. Before this year I’d never read anything by him, but I breezed through “The Book of Joe” in just a few days and I’m having a hard time putting this one down as well, so if you’re not familiar with Tropper, I would definitely recommend checking him out. Anyway, the premise of the book is that the main character’s father dies and the whole family gathers at their parents house to sit shiva, a jewish tradition where the family of the deceased gather in the home for a week to mourn and family friends drop by during that time to pay their respects to the family, their father’s dying wish. Perhaps you’ve heard of the movie based on the book that came out in 2014 starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fay, Timothy Olyphant, and Dax Shepard among others.

In the scene that I was reading today, the one that contained the line that will probably be etched into my brain for the rest of my life, the main character is talking to his younger brother Phillip and remembering how when they were children, the two of them would perform a ventriloquist routine for their father wherein Phillip would sit on his leg, acting as the dummy and how it made their father laugh hysterically every time. It was in this moment that the weight of the father’s death really hit home to him, that he would never hear his dad laugh again. They did the routine countless times but he doesn’t remember the last time they did it or why they stopped, whether it was because they got too old for it and thought it was stupid or maybe their dad didn’t find it funny anymore. That’s when Tropper writes the line, “If you could remember every last time, you’d never stop grieving.”

There are so many good things in life, but eventually there’s a last time for all of them, whether you realize it at the time or not, and it totally makes sense that if you could remember every last time you experienced something, you would never stop grieving. Recently I’d heard something that I’ve heard before though I don’t know where, but it’s the saying that goes “at one point your parents put you down and never picked you up again,” and while obviously that’s a true statement for everyone, it just seems so sad, your parents who used to carry you around everywhere, put you down, and then, most likely because you were growing older and more independent, never picked you up again, and that’s just one example. There are so many things we’ve experienced in life and yet a lot of them we’ve probably experienced for the last time, so it’s a good thing that we don’t remember every last time, because our world would be a constant cloud of sadness and grief at knowing that was the last time for a particular experience, instead of being able to live a life with hope. It also makes me think about the present, and how you never know if you’ll ever have these specific moments again, so it only makes sense to try to make the most of it. That sounds an awful lot like YOLO, a phrase I hate more than red onions, but perhaps there’s some merit to it. I don’t know, it’s just something I read and have been thinking about lately.

Little Fires Everywhere

IMG_4833.JPG
It’s Friday so you know what that means, it’s time for a book review! Okay, so maybe I haven’t been super consistent about the day on which I tell you about what I’ve been reading, nor have I done so every week. The truth is, I had to skip the review last Friday because I recently got an Xbox and that has kind of consumed my life as of late, not leaving me much time to get my reading done, so I apologize, but I’ll try to be more consistent about reading a book and reviewing it every week. Let’s just put this behind us and move on, because I’ve got a really good book to tell you about today, and if you read this review begrudgingly because you’re upset about not getting any book recommendations last week, then you’re really going to be missing out on a great read, a book that despite it only being the second month of the year, I’m quite confident will be somewhere on my list of favorite books that I read in 2018.
 
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, caught my interest as I looked through the bestsellers on Amazon at the end of last year as I compiled a list of new books that I would like to read, and even though it took me a little over two months to read after receiving it, I finally got around to it and the only regret I have about reading this gem is that I waited so long to do so. Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio in the early 1990’s, Little Fires Everywhere is the story of Mia and Pearl Warren, an artist mother and a teenager daughter who live the lives of vagabonds, staying in one city only long enough for Mia to finish whatever photography project she’s currently working on before moving on to the next town to start again. When the Warren’s arrive in Shaker Heights however, things are going to be different, and Mia promises her daughter that they won’t move anymore, a notion that becomes more and more appealing as she meets the Richardson’s, the family whom they are renting their home from, and becomes intertwined in their lives.
 
The Richardson’s, at least the four kids, welcome Pearl Warren into their lives with open arms, quickly making it a routine that the five of them find themselves most every afternoon watching TV and hanging out together, and on the surface, even the matriarch of the family, Mrs. Richardson seems to feel the same way, but deep down there’s just something that she doesn’t trust about the Warren family, and she’s determined to do whatever it takes to find out the truth about her tenants. Throughout the course of the book, multiple compelling storylines breakout, some of which are shocking and scandalous, and all of which will keep you intrigued and turning the pages as fast as you can read to find out what happens next. There are little fires everywhere, and in the middle of them all are two families. Will they both come out unscathed or will someone get burned? Pick up a copy of “Little Fires Everywhere” at your local bookstore to find out. It’s the first novel I’ve read by Celeste Ng, and having enjoyed it so much, I’m very eager to read her debut novel, the book she wrote before this one. Don’t make the mistake I made and put off reading this fantastic book, it will be well worth your while. You can thank me later.

The Haters: A Review

IMG_4780
It’s Friday so you know what that means, right? Well yes I guess it is officially the weekend, but there are a lot of people out there that have to work on Saturday’s and Sunday’s. You know that brunch place that you love to go to on Sunday morning? Without the hardworking and dedicated people that work there, you wouldn’t get to start your Sunday with a mimosa and an eggs benedict, so try to be a little more sensitive when taking guesses as to what today being Friday means. The answer I’m looking for doesn’t exclude anyone, because that’s just not the way I roll here on the blog. Any guesses? Anyone? Bueller? Alright, well it’s Friday so what that means is it’s time for my book review of the week, and I’ve got a good one for you today, “The Haters” written by Jesse Andrews.
 
If you’re unfamiliar with Jesse Andrews you are really missing out, but lucky for you, it’s not too late to rectify this situation. I heard about him a couple years ago when the movie came out for his first novel “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and although I didn’t see the film, the name stuck with me and when I saw the book by the same name sitting on the shelf of a used bookstore last year, I decided to give it a shot, and it might have been the best decision I’ve ever made. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but I am truly thankful that I decided to read it, because it introduced me to a new author who falls into the exclusive category of writers who can make me laugh out loud, and I don’t mean like a little chuckle, but a laugh so loud that my wife can hear me from the other room and wants to know what is so funny. Jesse Andrews and David Sedaris are the only writers I’ve read that have this effect on me consistently, and “The Haters,” Andrews’ second novel, was no exception.
 
The story starts at a summer camp for jazz musicians and introduces us to Corey and Wes, two high school students that are there, but not really all that thrilled about it and seem to think it’s a waste of time that they’re even there in the first place. After they get sorted into one of the worst groups, the one reserved for the least talented of all the musicians at camp, they meet Ash, and older guitarist who despite not playing the right notes at all, seems to be enjoying herself, so after an argument with the band instructor leads her to storm out of the classroom, the two boys, inspired by her bravado and their lack of interest in playing jazz music with the less talented students, they follow her out of the room where they jam together, playing not jazz, but whatever music they feel like playing. When they are finished playing they decide to form a band, and like all good bands, they need to go out on the road, on a tour to build character to see what they’re made of, so late that night they do just that, leaving the safety of the camp behind with only their instruments, a change of clothes, and a lot of wash cloths.
 
Over the course of the trip there are more negatives than positives, but the band doesn’t let themselves stay down for long before picking themselves back up and trudging onto the next town on their tour, determined to wow the world with their music. It’s a story of perseverance and at times is inspiring how these kids can continue on their way after things that they’ve been through, but even more than that, it’s a story of friendship, how Corey, Wes, and Ash, over the course of The Haters: Summer of Hate World Tour become more than just bandmates, but become genuine friends, where even if at times it might seem easier to leave the others behind, they always come back to help each other. It’s a book that I would highly recommend checking out and it’s a fairly quick read, so if you’re looking for a good book to devour this weekend, you won’t go wrong with “The Haters.” After you read it I would love to know what you think about it, and maybe like me, you’ll be inspired to start a band and we can go on a world tour of our own. I don’t really play any instruments or sing, but I think I would be pretty good at signing autographs. In all seriousness though, read this book because it is fantastic.

Fire and Fury

IMG_4763
Since it’s release date on January 5th of this year, Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” has been on the New York Times bestsellers list and is currently occupying the number one overall spot. The weekend it was released I ordered it on Amazon and it was already sold out, so rather than getting it in two days like I normally would, I had to wait two weeks for it to arrive, and in the meantime sped through every other book I was reading, in case it arrived early and not wanting to be stuck in the middle of one while the highly anticipated “Fire and Fury” was within arms reach and begging to be read. For those of you who don’t know, “Fire and Fury” is an inside look at the Trump White House, including actual quotes and stories about the president that by many accounts will be shocking and make the entire administration, especially Donald Trump, look like complete morons who have no business running the country. Of course I already knew that this man shouldn’t be running the country, which is why I didn’t vote for him, but I was a little bit beyond curious to find out what was actually going on behind closed doors in the White House, because if what got out weekly about Trump made him look like a complete idiot, I could only imagine what was kept hidden, hence my great interest in the book.
 
The night I began reading the book I stayed up later than normal, pouring through the introduction, the prologue, and the first chapter about the day of the election, and if I had stopped reading there, it would have been everything I’d hoped it would be. SPOILER ALERT!!!!! There were insights into the Trump campaign leading up to the election, and how most everybody on his team was making arrangements for other jobs once the election was over because nobody believed they could actually win, and then there were behind the scenes moments from election night of Donald Trump himself, and reports of him looking terrified, like he’d seen a ghost when he found out that he was actually going to win the presidency. Then the first chapter concluded with an eyewitness account of Melania Trump, crying, sobbing, when she found out the news about her husband winning the election, and they weren’t tears of joy. I went to bed after that, satisfied and excited that this book was going to be every bit as good as I’d anticipated, but the next day I woke up and started reading again, and things started going downhill from there.
 
I’m not exaggerating when I say that “Fire and Fury” is one the most boring books that I’ve ever read in my life. It was so boring in fact, that I couldn’t even finish it. There were occasionally things sprinkled throughout that showed the idiocy of the president and the discord in the oval office, but I already knew that Donald Trump was like a child in many ways and unfit to run the country, the point that kept being hammered into my head over and over with example after example throughout the two-thirds of the book that I was actually able to get through. Aside from being boring, there were many instances throughout the book where something would appear in quotes, without actually specifying who was actually speaking, arranged and placed in a manner that obviously was pushing the point that the author was trying to make, but without sources or even context sometimes, the credibility of some of these conversations is virtually nonexistent.
 
Another thing that made this book so hard to get through was the writing style of the author, Michael Wolff. I’ve never read any of his other books, but if they’re anything like “Fire and Fury” then I could not be less interested. It was written like the author had a thesaurus sitting next to him looking to replace as many words as possible with the most obscure synonym he could find, making it a chore to read through many of his sentences. At work I keep a book with me and when I’m not helping a customer I get some reading done, and I tried to do this with “Fire and Fury,” but I could only read a few pages at a time before wanting to pull my hair out in frustration at how boring the book was, before pushing it to the side and resigning myself to staring out the window, which was much more interesting and exciting than the words of Michael Wolff. I’m a liberal who cannot stand our current president, and I went into “Fire and Fury” expecting to enjoy all of the dirt coming out about Donald Trump and making him look bad, but after not even being able to finish it, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. I know it’s popular and at the top of the bestsellers list, but don’t be fooled by that. It’s an intriguing subject that has garnered a lot of interest, but trust me, it doesn’t live up to the hype and isn’t worth your time to try and read it. It took a week of my life, but finally I pulled the metaphorical plug which is the literal bookmark from between the pages. I’m now free to pursue books that don’t make me hate reading.

Observations in a Bookstore

IMG_4715
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved bookstores. Sometimes when my dad came to visit me as a child, we would go to the Barnes & Noble in Little Rock and spend hours there. We had nowhere to be, and were content to spend an afternoon lost in another world. Sometimes we would sit together at the little table and chairs in the children’s section and he would read stores to me, and sometimes we would pick out books to read on our own before retiring to the comfortable, overstuffed armchairs hidden in nooks and crannies of the big bookstore. It was great, but I’ve come to realize that while that was something I used to love doing, it’s not something I’ve done in a very long time. I can still spend a good amount of time in the bookstore, but all of that time is spent browsing, not sitting around reading or just observing what is going on around me, because as an adult, that goes against most everything else I am programmed to do. We’re taught to be efficient, not idle or wasting time, so if you’re in the bookstore, you should be making the most of that time, looking for books to purchase, not just sitting in a comfortable chair being content with your life at that very moment, but today I went to Barnes & Noble, and decided to change that. 

My brothers and I went to the bookstore this morning because they were in town visiting, and we were looking for something to do, and since it was very cold outside and we all love books, so we decided Barnes & Noble was the place to be. Upon entering we all split off, I towards the new releases just to the left of the entrance and my brothers to I don’t know because I wasn’t with them. I browsed for a while, falling into my regular routine of finding interesting books and taking pictures of them so I could search for cheaper copies later online. I’m the reason bookstores keep closing. After a while, out of the corner of my eye,  I noticed that one of the big comfortable chairs over in front of the windows was vacant, and as if being pulled by some outside force, I found myself being drawn in towards the chair. I sat down and was immediately engulfed in comfort, instantly taken back to a simpler time. I didn’t grab anything to read, because once I saw that the seat was open, I knew that I had to make my move immediately since those seats are a coveted luxury at the bookstore, and taking time to find a book would cause me to miss my opportunity. 

There were people in the chairs on either side of me, both with books that they weren’t really reading. Despite the fact that they had something to read, that they themselves had selected from the thousands of books in the store, both people were completely immersed in the cell phones they were holding. It seemed a little sad, because while cell phones have completely changed our lives, mostly for the better, they distract us from the little things that we used to love. I spent years sitting in chairs at the bookstore without having to have a phone in my hand, and was completely happy, but now it seems, at least from my observations, that people are no longer content just to read. I fantasized about a life where I could come to the bookstore every day. I could come first thing in the morning and get a cup of coffee and a croissant for breakfast, then find a book that interested me before retiring to my corner to read the day away. It sounds nice, but then again would it become too routine, the daily monotony of it all, making me grow to loathe it? I really don’t know, but I’m not going to be in danger of that anytime soon because I have a real job to go to, but maybe one day I’ll be able to try a new way of living, where the bookstore is the focal point of my day. There’s so much to learn, so much to read. Until then, I’ll make an effort to go back every once and a while and spend some time sitting in a big, comfortable chair, lost in a book, just enjoying life. 

Good Reads for the Long Weekend

IMG_4694
If your weather is anything like where I live, then it’s going to be the perfect weekend to curl up under a big blanket with a good book to read. There’s snow on the ground here in Memphis and the temperatures aren’t going to get above freezing tomorrow, so at least for the time being, it looks like my life is going to have that peaceful white backdrop, which is best complimented by staying inside the warm house, and with Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, I’m looking forward to a long weekend stuck inside with all my books. My goal for the year, as it has been for the last couple, is to average reading a book per week for 2018, which is 52 books, and as of right now, I’m ahead of pace having finished 7 books. I’ve told you about the first five, so I’m sure you’re all dying to know about the last two books I read this week. You’re in luck because we’re going to talk about them now.

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks: This is the story of a pushover mother who, finally tired of being stepped on, embarks on a trip back to her hometown with her rebellious daughter so she can confront the girl who bullied her in high school twenty years ago. Unfortunately, her bully wasn’t the only reason for her never wanting to return back home, but now that she’s back, she must confront everything. With her outspoken daughter by her side, encouraging and prodding her along the way, Caroline Jacobs does the things that she needs to do, and gains a new friend as her once tumultuous relationship with her daughter, is given a second chance. From the moment I picked up Matthew Dicks’ book, “Something Missing,” in a used bookstore several years ago, I’ve been captivated by everything he has written, and “The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs” was no exception as I stayed up a lot later than I should have to finish the book on a Tuesday night, because I HAD to find out the ending. If you’re familiar with and enjoy the writing of Matthew Dicks, you will certainly enjoy the story of Caroline Jacobs, and if you aren’t familiar with him, it’s time to do yourself a favor and get acquainted, because he’s quickly rising on my list of favorite writers.

I am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll: Imagine you are on a train, and you observe something taking place, like two teenage girls talking and becoming acquainted with two complete strangers who just got out of prison. This is how the book begins. As a mother, she knows that if her son was in a dangerous situation, that she would want a responsible adult to step in or to at least get in touch with her so she could try and intervene, but just as she decides to try and get in touch with the girls’ parents, something happens and causes her to change her mind. The next morning one of the girls is missing, and the guilt at not having tried to help is eating her alive. She tries to do what she can, recounting the story and giving descriptions as best she can, but it seems that it’s too little too late, so like the rest of the country, all she can do is wait, and hope for the best. A year has gone by since the disappearance of the girl, but someone is determined not to let her forget her part in all of it, sending her threatening cards in the mail. Told through several different perspectives, the witness, the friend, and the father of the missing girl, “I am Watching You” is a wild and suspenseful ride filled with lots of guilt and questions about what each of them could have done differently, not just on the night of the disappearance. I’m aware that we are less than two weeks into 2018, but I’m going to go ahead and put this book on my list of best books that I read this year.
You won’t go wrong choosing either of these books, or any of those that I’ve read previously. The important thing is that you find something that you enjoy and read. Winter is here, and there are few things as satisfying as sitting beneath a warm blanket with a mug of hot tea or coffee on the table beside you, and a good book in your hands.