What I’ve Read This Summer – So Far

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, Helen Fielding

A friend of mine passed along her copy of this book to me and she endorsed it as a vacation read, which is when she’d picked it up. I was skeptical because, as much as loved the first two books, I’d read them at a different time in my life. There are some things that resonated with me when I was younger but didn’t quite hold up for me 20 years later (I’m looking at you, Sex and the City!)

When this story begins, Bridget is the widowed Mrs Darcy, who had been focused on raising her two young children but finds herself ready to start moving forward with dating and a new career. Her journey is fraught with hilarity.

My friend was absolutely right in her assessment. It was a good book to just be mildly entertained.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, Jessica Bruder

My husband and I occasionally romanticize about a retirement where we would live in an RV, spending our summers living on the Bruce Peninsula and then moving south for the winter. That’s not the kind of lifestyle this book is about though. This is about the growing number of Americans who can no longer afford to live in conventional homes so they’ve hit the road full time. It’s written by a journalist who immersed herself in this subculture for a few years.

These nomads live in all sorts of vehicles – from mass-produced RVs to converted buses and vans all the way down to people just living out of their cars. Many of them travel around the country doing short-term seasonal work to survive. The jobs are often physically demanding and sometimes dangerous and while these travellers are of all ages, many are older. For them, Freedom 55 has been replaced with 10 hour plus days in an Amazon warehouse in Nevada or harvesting sugarbeets in the Midwest for minimum wage.

This was such a disheartening story and ever since I read it I’ve actually felt a bit dirty shopping with Amazon. With the increasing gap between the haves and have-nots and I can only assume that the next step for the United States will see the poor and aged driven into Amazon run Dickensian-esque workhouses when those people can no longer sustain their life on the road.

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life: Essays, Samatha Irby

I’d never heard of Samantha Irby but I was drawn to her book based on the cover. Sometimes you can judge a book that way. She’s a comedian and blogger and this book is a collection of essays about her life. It’s great stuff. I really admire writers who can take their complicated relationships, less than perfect childhoods and most embarrassing moments and turn them into quality entertainment.

The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah

This was one of those books that people just won’t shut up about so I had to see if it lived up to the hype. It was very good.

Told mainly through the eyes of a teenage girl whose father, a Vietnam veteran with PTSD moves their family to an isolated part of Alaska to live off the grid. In a remote community where even the most experienced homesteaders and survivalists could perish with the slightest misstep, they struggle to keep afloat while her father’s mental illness worsens.

Garbo Laughs, Elizabeth Hay

I read the first 100 or so pages before asking myself: what is the book even about? Then, I read 100 more and was still asking that question. Despite the thin plot, I kept reading, as the characters were engaging enough and the writing was excellent.

I still don’t really know how to describe it. It’s about a group of neighbours drawn together by their love of classic movies. I think?

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Public Service Announcements

Here are a few fantastic things you need to know about if you don’t already:

Revisionist History has been around for a few years. In fact, it was the podcast that initially turned me on to podcasts in the first place.

In each episode, he reexamines an event in history and offers some hindsight, a unique perspective and some less examined and sometimes unintended consequences in that Gladwellian style that he is known for.

I highly recommend each and every episode from all 3 seasons but most recently the episodes called A Polite Word for Liar and Free Brian Williams where he talks about the fallibility of memory is – no pun intended, memorable.

This kept popping up as a recommended watch for me on Netflix and I kept ignoring it because I’d never heard of Hannah Gadsby and usually when I turn on Netflix I’m just looking for background noise. I often just watch a movie I’ve seen a thousand times or a few episodes of the IT Crowd or something. Then, a few friends mentioned it in Facebook posts so I sat down to watch it one night while I crocheted before bed.

About 15 minutes into the special, I put down my yarn and hook. I’d barely managed a single stitch since I’d started watching. The first half is funny as she recounts her foray into comedy but then deconstructs her self-deprecating humour. It gets unfunny very quickly but her message is important and she delivers it impeccably. It was tense, honest and poignant.

It also feels particularly relevant right now as our new provincial government may or may not be rolling back a new curriculum in schools that covers self-conceptualization respect, abuse, and acceptance for the world we now live in.

This just needs to be watched.

I’m not a huge pop drinker but ginger ale is one of my comfort drinks. I remember having it warm and flat to settle my stomach when I was sick as a child and then more recently, the nurses at the hospital would always bring me a cup when I would stop by the Labour and Delivery ward for fetal heart rate monitoring when I was pregnant with Little B. I was there a lot and would have just camped out there for months if they’d let me. Laying on that bed, hooked up to the monitor with my environmentally unfriendly, hospital-issued white styrofoam cup with a straw was the only time I felt safe and secure throughout my entire pregnancy. I also love anything lemony, so this is a perfect match for me. Comforting and refreshing!

Let me know what else I should be watching, hearing, drinking, or whatever.

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What I’ve Read This Spring

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain – Bill Bryson

I’d been reading so many dark and sad novels lately, I wanted to read something a little different. This was a sequel to Notes from a Small Island. The small island is the United Kingdom and the notes were regarding the author’s travels and observations of the country as he was preparing to move back to his native United States. That was 25 years ago. This time around he explored the UK from end to end, from the south, all the way up to the tip of Scotland around the time he became a British citizen.

For the first half of this adventure, he mostly complains about how crowded and expensive everything is which makes us kindred spirits (this is practically a hobby of mine) but doesn’t make for great reading. It did however, help me start a mental list of places to avoid if I ever make it to England again.

It gets better by the time he hits Shropshire though. His grumpy old man narrative continues but northeastern England seems to have retained some of that British charm he’d been nostalgic for. Next, he moves on to the Lakes District and Cumbria which is, incidentally, the land of my people (the Todd’s have lived in that area for as far back as I can trace – at least the late 1500s) and so I have a certain fondness for that area, despite the fact I’ve never been. Then, he seems to rush through Scotland.

Overall, it was ok. It wasn’t nearly as laugh out loud funny as his other work though.

No Safe House – Linwood Barclay

Every now and then I like to pick up a thriller. They tend to be formulaic but they’re quick and easy. Linwood Barclay is the gold standard of this genre, in my humble opinion. He also lives in my region, which is apropos of nothing.

This one followed a common theme found in many of his novels, where an average guy – in this case, a school teacher, gets unwittingly embroiled in something nefarious. It was creepy and suspenseful.

I was actually a bit annoyed with the story at first because there seemed to be a backstory that was often alluded to but never explained. Finally, I realized this was a sequel to another one of his books called No Time For Goodbye. Not having read it didn’t really prevent me from understanding this story, but if you do plan to read this one, I would suggest starting with the first book.

A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Goon Squad was unique because it’s not so much a novel but a collection of interwoven short stories. The book is centred around two characters, a music producer and his assistant. The chapters were different stories, taking place in various timeframes and from the perspectives of assorted characters but always tied to the lives of the core people.

It was an interesting concept and enjoyable read, although I don’t think it was Pulitzer Prize good (it won the award in 2011). Who am I to judge though?

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride – Cary Elwes

When I first picked up this book, I doubted I was going to read it all the way through. It seemed like a good idea when I downloaded it. I’ve always loved The Princess Bride but did I really care about the behind the scenes stuff? I generally have little to no interest in how movies are made. I actually did finish it though. It was a tad on the dull side, but reading about what a positive experience it had been for the people involved was so heartwarming.

My biggest takeaway from this book though was the knowledge that the movie was adapted from a novel. How on earth did I miss this? I’ve not only been a huge fan of this movie since it came out when I was a tween, but I spent nearly 8 years of my adolescence and young adulthood working in libraries and bookstores. You would think that it would have it would have passed through my hands at some point, The fact that I had absolutely no idea there was Princess Bride novel is, well – inconceivable!

Needless to say, I’ve added it to my reading list.

Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate

I choose to read this one based on good reviews and recommendations and it really lived up to the hype. So far, it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

The story is a fictional amalgamation of a family affected by the infamous Tennessee Children’s Home Society – a child laundering scheme that managed to operate for 30 years – from around 1920 to 1950. The system was run by a monster while being protected and supported on the legal end by corrupt judges and politicians.

It was an absolutely heartbreaking story that was made even more gut wretching with the knowledge that there were thousands of real families that were torn apart and children who were robbed of their identities and sometimes even their lives at the hands of people who lined their pockets at their expense. It’s the kind of story that will linger in the back of your mind long after you’ve read it.

On that note, I’m now looking something uplifting to read. Have you read anything happy lately?

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