|Get the best of Oprah.com in your inbox. Sign up for our newsletters!|
Leigh Newman (186 posts)
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, we've been riveted by the courageous memoir:
By the Iowa Sea
by Joe Blair
Some memoirs you read for the feelings they inspire, and some you read to find out how in the heck they'll turn out. By the Iowa Sea manages to do both with an understanding of so-called ordinary life so raw and true you'll gasp, and a situation so pressing you'll tear through the pages. The book begins just as the Iowa River is rising (it's soon to overflow onto the small town of Oxford). Alongside this natural disaster, however, is a family crisis—Blair own doubts about his marriage and life. Fifteen years earlier, he and his wife Debra had arrived, dreaming of lives filled with globetrotting and adventure. Now he works as cooling technician; Debra is a paramedic; and they are spend long, brutal days raising their four kids, one of which has autism. What he longs for is freedom, yes, and youth, yes, but also "a passionate type of love. A fearful love. A hungry love. Jealous and violent." As the couple sandbag and change diapers and try to save their relationship (warning to the reader: their intimacies are described in exceptionally intimate detail), Blair reflects on his past, even as he takes risky, even self-destructive steps to alter his future. Some of the most moving, honest scenes are between him and his autistic son Michael, but it's the writer's unflinching reflection about himself and his choices, that make this book. "I had glimpses of the kind of man I should be," he writes. "Such are the reflections we are afforded. Passing glimpses, like small hidden ponds you pass by on your motorcycle while driving on a road you've never traveled before, a pine forest suddenly opening up and then closing again."
Jodi Picoult's rules for life
18 fresh fun reads for March
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, we've been haunted by the powerful, spare memoir:
by Sarah Manguso
This slim and swift-moving book is subtitled as "an elegy" rather than a memoir." And in many ways it is one—written in memory of Harris, a close friend of the author, who ended his life in 2008 after escaping from a psychiatric hospital and throwing himself in front of a train. Interestingly enough, we don't learn that much about Harris, save for his genius for math, music, and soul-splitting jokes. For ten-odd pages, you may think the book is, instead, about the author and her own brush with insanity and mortality. That is, until you realize that what the book is really about is grief—not describing grief, not explaining it, but feeling it, from the anger to embarrassment to the searing ache. "Nobody understands how I feel," we often think (mistakenly) in times of loss. But Manguso not only understands, she can articulate it in the precisest and most unexpected of images—an unrelated car accident, a bowl of Italian candies, a swim in the ocean. What results is a memoir that reveals not the just intimacies of the writer's life, but of your own. Most moving is that The Guardians covers a subject so rarely recognized in our society, the grief from the death of a friend, (another notable exception: Let's Take The Long Way Home). "It doesn't sound like much when I say my friend died. He wasn't my father or my son or my husband," writes Manguso. "Yet there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother, says an Old Testament proverb."
18 books to read this March
New books for nature lovers
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, we're in love with a paperback release of the comedic English novel:
The Old Romantic
by Louise Dean
Just about everyone who turns 18 dreams of changing their name and running off into the night, never to be seen again. But what if you actually did it and ended up, not on the mythical open road, but at the one of the best universities in the country? What if you became, not a rock star or famous painter, but a divorce lawyer, with all the stereotypical trappings; Range Rover, flashy flat, spa-addicted girlfriend? Deep into middle age, Nick finally comes home to confront/forgive/survive his long-abandoned father, Ken— one of the crankiest, cheapest, sourest, most foul-mouthed men on the planet, who's also begun to question his own life choices, due to a new friendship with an obese undertaker. What ensues goes far, far deeper than the repair of one familial relationship as Nick's brother, mother, stepmother, sister-in-law, girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, and old roommates from Cambridge get involved—each with his or her own versions of what happened when Nick disappeared in the past and each with his or her own role to play in his future. As a writer, Dean's gift is to make totally unappealing people intriguing, funny, vulnerable, and even lovable. You'll end up laughing (with glee!) as Nick, Nick's brother and his father Ken hit the road to chase down Ken's trod-upon ex-wife and his supposedly stolen 40,000 pounds, only to have your heart broken when Nick admits finally, "He wanted to be in the car with his family," remembering a childhood trip when "they came back from that cherry-pie pub....mouths full of After-Eight mints, his mother dispensing them from her handbag, fairly and squarely, and how he and his brother slept the sleep of angels in the back of the car, how sleep was never as good as that ever again, a rocking contentment, well fed, happy... lurching in and out of his tubby little brother and ending up at their favorite arrangement, where he had his head on his brother's back and his brother had his head on his lap." This is the genius of The Old Romantic, which captures so acutely those moments when our golden looks at the past brush up against with our black, bleak visions of the present, leaving us to decide which view, exactly, will permanently color the other—and ourselves.
9 Other Paperbacks to Love and Leave Behind
Check out now: Girl Reading
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, we're fascinated by the year-long marital experiment described in:
No Cheating, No Dying: I Had A Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make It Better
By Elizabeth Weil
Maybe you've looked at the couple next door and thought, "Wow, those people seem to have such a great, loving marriage. Does that mean they never fight? Or does it mean that they fight all the time, horribly, in secret?" Maybe you've looked at your own relationship and thought, "Gee. I"m happy, but I'm not over-the-moon. Does that mean I have a good marriage or a good marriage that's about to crumble if I don't pay attention?"
The underlying idea is: How do you know when a relationship is as solid as it can be, not just as solid as you have time or the emotional stamina for? Writer Elizabeth Weil addresses this head on, creating her own social experiment by shepherding herself and her husband to psychotherapists, sex therapists, and marriage counselors in order to unearth the dicier, undiscussed subjects in their seemingly contented life. The engaging story that results is about two people who love and respect each other, but who have a lot differences when it comes to religion (she's Jewish, he's Christian), dependence, friends outside the marriage, and some past events that haven't been fully dealt with. At times, the reader may long for more detailed revelations (for example: about Weil's teenage battle with anorexia and her relationship with her mother, which are mentioned but only in passing). At other times, however, such as while discussing an emotionally wrenching pregnancy that ended up in termination, Weil and her husband have you spellbound—and desperate for them to work things through. Although dealing with heavy subject matter, Weil has a voice that charms, full of wit, intelligence and compassion—qualities that no doubt come to great assistance in marriage as well as writing a thought-provoking book.
Books to get you through hard times
One wonderful quirky novel...about divorce?
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, we're in complete awe of the wholly original, heartbreaking novel:
First You Try Everything
By Jane McCafferty
McCafferty's gift is character, and she creates such singular, riveting personalities that you're laughing and puzzling out whole new understandings of the world (all while thinking, "ow"). Middle-aged Evie steals the show with her endearing oddball approach to existence which includes writing letters to Senators about animal cruelty that go: "Dear Senator, How are you, I'm OK though it's been raining for 8 days here" (letters which Ben describes so accurately as "like a kid at summer camp writing home to mom and dad.") Evie gets so happy that she jumps out of tree into a lake with joy—and breaks her legs. Evie gets so grim that she thinks "she needs an auditory shelter from the storm of her own thoughts."
She, like all the people in this book, is so unlike anyone you've ever met—or even just read about before—and her always unexpected turns of mind also creates turns in yours, leaving you with a fresh understanding of what we want love to mean, and what really love means, and what it really requires of us (most especially when it fails to turn out the way we'd hoped).
My husband and I frequently bicker about taking pictures. He—a man eight years older than me, mind you—believes that regular photographs are obsolete. In his view, all we should ever take is video—long, cinéma-vérité videos that relive it all, from the kids opening Christmas presents to the falling of a pine needle to a shaky pan of our trashed kitchen and living room.In my view, nobody wants to sit through great stretches of our non-essential family life, and, further I love the capturing of a single moment with single photograph—one that doesn't re-live it all but let's me do that job, in full color detail, in the my head.
A few weeks ago,a n ordinary guy named Mike Matas put up some of his vacation shots on Vimeo. He went to Japan with his girlfriend and took 4,000 (!) sill pictures. Then he spliced them all together into what appears to be a running video—except that it's not, the film jerks a bit in between pictures, reminding us that it's made of stills—as you can see:
Living in the moment, the how to guide.
Quiz: Who Am I Meant to Be?
The world can look a little dark and ugly sometimes. I think what we're supposed to do when we lose perspective (I'll never find a job I don't despise! I have no real friends anymore!) is to say bright, inspiring things to ourselves like, "You're healthy! Be grateful!" Or, "Somebody somewhere loves you!" Or "You're not starving in drought-ridden country with no medical attention!"
This never works for me.
Which is why I was so happy to stumble onto this Sightseeing Heat Map of Popular Spots Around the World on Peta Pixel yesterday.The map is generated by a site called Sightsmap that takes "the geographic data from the photos uploaded to Panoramio...and uses it to generate a..map."
The point here for most of us is to visualize where the most popular sightseeing places on the planet are, and where people are taking the most amount of photographs. (If you were traveling and wanted to really get away from the hustle and bustle of it all, for example, you should go to gray Northern Russia). For those of us who are having a lack-of-perspective day, though, the map can help out. Barring war journalists and experimental artists, why do people take photographs? Because they see something beautiful—be it the Eiffel Tower in Paris or a mud puddle in Victoria, Texas or their mom, smiling in front of rickshaw in Bombay, India. Each dribble of purple or red or orange or yellow is a concentration of strangers realizing hey, there's something out there I want to remember, there's some wonderful worth looking at a second time. I'm just saying...that many people can't be wrong.
The New and improved way to happy
Dr. Oz's 28-day plan to mind and body renewal
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, we're obsessed with the novel:
Come In and Cover Me
by Gin Phillips
Thirty-nine-year old Ren is working on a dig in New Mexico, searching for Mimbres pottery that dates back to the 12th-century when she meets Silas, a fellow archaeologist whose methods are radically different that hers. While Silas dates objects by, say, counting the carbon in preserved prehistoric corn, Ren relies on a slightly less scientific method—visitations by tribal ghosts who show her how the bowls and jars were created. Novelist Phillips brings the culture and lives of these ancient people to life, as well as the fascinating details about the art of archaeology—from how a fallen bit of adobe can preserve a parrot feather to why coroners are required to examine bodies that date back 800 years. Interestingly, though, it's the personal details in this book that resonate. Ren's relationship with the past is more than professional: Her brother's death during her childhood has left her unable to connect to others, even Silas who, if things were different, she might be able love. It's this tension—between her belief that "The past was solid, weighable as cement...that it was done and over, and could be wrapped and stored without fear of it ever changing" and her awareness that she must re-examine what really happened 20 years ago in order create some kind of future for herself—that connect you to the book, both due to the subtle, evocative flashbacks and the relief at seeing for once, a woman character who is emotionally unavailable and a man who has to crack her tough shell, instead of the other way around.
11 books you'd never thought you'd read (but will love)
How to write when you think you just can't
The International Telecommunication Union's Radiocommunication Assembly (the organization that keeps time for the world) has also been paying attention to that particular unit of measure, as I found out yesterday on NPR. Apparently, every now and then, it's necessary to stop the clocks and add an extra second, in order to keep the world's clocks in time with the "the Earth's imprecise orbit." This second is known as the leap second, and many countries (including ours) want to get rid of it because it forces companies, airports and cell phone networks to, as the AP phrased it, "worry about stopping their systems for the length of a heartbeat every year or two."
The downside of its elimination, of course, is that time on earth would not longer reflect the turning off the earth. I am small, loud woman in a big, much louder civilization. But I would like to advocate for the leap second. Not because I want more time and will do anything to get it (though that is probably true) but because I have to believe that it's okay to stop all our rushing and earning and doing for a tiny, random ritual that connects us to the physical—and literal—world, otherwise known as the big ball of water and dirt that supports our existence. Further, I have what would happen if we introduced a leap second into our own lives. If we stopped for "that length of a heartbeat"and recalibrated our minds to our bodies, our hearts to our lives. Perhaps we could put an end to all kind of crises, midlife and otherwise.
Living in the moment
The case for doing nothing (even with kids)
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, the unique short story collection:
In this collection of eight vivid stories, Melissa Pritchard introduces you to the most fascinating people you've never heard of, placed in situations that seem stolen from fairy tale...except that they really happened. For example, meet Norbert Pearlroth, the researcher for Robert LeRoy Ripley (as in: Ripley's Believe it or Not) who spent a lifetime in the New York Public Library, leafing through 364,000 books into order to come up with earthy splendors like a timetelling horse and a world champion chicken picker. Or Pelagia Ivanovna Surin Serebrenikova, a 19th century holy "fool" of a girl who spun around Russia, raising her skirts to every man in town (only to become, later, a local saint). The star of the book, however. is ho-hum Captain Brown who is put in charge of the Royal Victoria Hospital during the invasion of Normandy in World World II—a mammoth dinosaur of a building with therapeutic swimming pools and a museum-quality taxidermy collection, but no heat or medication. Brown's efforts to save not just the American and English wounded, but also the life of a female French Resistance Fighter—end up presenting him with the hardest kind choices: to love or not to love, to be courageous or sit by. Though all the stories in the collection display the whimsy and intelligence of a writer at the height of her powers, there is novel in the short tale of Captain Brown, one that illustrates how even the most ordinary feelings are sufficiently fantastical to transform a life.
January's best reads
Novels to inspire a new you in 2012