So here's the list of books I have read since June, when I started keeping track and the pregnancy with Meatball slowed me down:
1. Autobiography of An Execution: For death penalty advocates and opponents. This book taught me that if you struggle with demons and spend your days mired in grisly facts involving murders and other crimes, your kids may have nightmares. I couldn't live with that. I have done my one and only death penalty case. (We won during habeas proceedings at an evidentiary hearing; the state appealed. And, so it goes.)
2. Girls From Ames. This book confirmed that I am extremely shitty at keeping in touch with highschool friends, Facebook shout outs notwithstanding. So touched I was by the bonds shared by these women who grew up together in Ames and stayed friends for decades, I reached out to my favorite friend from highschool who I still dream about twice a month. It feels good to reach out, but my heartfelt emails may be a poor substitute for having stayed in touch for these past 2 decades. I also became willing to attend my high school reunion.
3. Mennonite In A Little Black Dress. I learned what a Mennonite was from this book. It wasn't as hilarious as I thought it would be-- college professor's husband leaves her for a man named Bob. Should have been a riot, right? It was a light memoir, which did a good job of driving me to more fiction, because how many goddamned memoirs can I really read?
4. Lit. Ok, well, gratefully I did at least keep reading memoirs because Lit was amazing. I think I read it in about 2 days. From this book I learned that I am an awesome mother. I have never consumed a bottle of Jack Daniels while "keeping an eye on" Sadie. It was inspiring to see how a flat-out drunk could turn her life around and become a successful teacher and writer, but mostly, it was fun to feel sober and smug about my mothering.
5. The Help. The greatest thing I have ever bought at Costco was a copy of this book. It was extraordinary. It confirmed my love for nicknames (major protagonist named Skeeter) and it left me with a sense of power possible in female friendships. It also confirmed that I have a pretty good job since no one has ever wrongly accused me of stealing or tried to sabotage my entire existence. Another good boost for my self-image as a mother since the white mothers in there treat their children like tarnished silver. If I was having a baby girl, I might name her Mae Mobley. Good thing we are having a boy.
6. Book Thief. I learned that I could cry quietly during nap time and not wake up Sadie. Yes, this was the summer's great tear-jerker for me. It shouldn't be suprising that a Holocaust book might have some grief/sadness included, but this was so clever and well written, and the ending was so climactic, I just bawled my eyes out. I have always liked books about children and this is one of the greatest. This is up there with Olive Shreiner's The Story of An African Farm.
7. Still Alice. I bought this book at Target on the way to the gym one day and it was one of the most lackluster of the bunch. I learned that I will probably get Alzheimer's since my paternal grandfather had it. So, that was a super happy read.
8. Her Fearful Symmetry. Hated. This. Book. I also really wanted to love it. Really. Like Niffenegger's Time Traveler's Wife, there were some fun scenes set in the Chicago-land area. But, then the action transferred to England and turned too weird for me. Turns out, I do not believe in ghosts or apparitions or hanging out in cemetaries. Good to know.
9. Born Round. Holy God, I can still remember feeling nauseated while reading Bruni's account of his mother's meals. Nothing like a book full of food references during the first trimester to really leave a mark. It's an excellent book. I was impressed at how humble Bruni was throughout the story about his remarkable accomplishments. I learned that men can have savage eating disorders just like women.
10. Father of the Rain. A beautifully written story about a daughter's ties to her abusive and very sick father. I loved this book and believe I shed some tears about it along the way. The protagonist's self-sabotage was excrutiating at times, but seemed believable. I loved the ending, which signaled redemption. More good reading for feeling like a good mom and for appreciating my dad, who is nothing like the dad in this book. Thank god for that.
11. I'm Down. I have wanted to read this memoir for a few years. I finally got it and it was definitely an enjoyable read. I read it in one sitting on a flight to San Francisco. It wasn't as slap-stick funny as I was hoping. It was actually heart-wrenching to read about the protagonist's insane father and bewildering family situations. It's very difficult for me to read about children being mistreated or flat out abused. I learned that having employed parents and being an employed parent and providing for children is a giant step towards good parenting.
12. Outside the Ordinary World. Utterly forgettable. I finished this and turned it into my office's lending library. I learned that having an extra-marital affair with a new-age divorced man is a bad idea.
13. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. This book was amazing. The part that stuck with me the most is that Alice Waters, the owner of one of the greatest restaurants in the country, ran Chez Panisse for years in the RED. I loved reading about her vision and her antics and her quirky business acumen. The author was very clear that one of Alice's greatest achievements was her ability to get support and enlist others in service of her vision. I pray for vision as clear as Alice Waters'.
15. Half-Baked. I snuck around reading this book because, given my disposition, I am pretty sure NO ONE would sign off on a pregnant Christie reading about a baby born at week 25 and the struggles through the neo-natal unit for 3 months. This book, however, really opened my eyes to perspective. The author, whose daughter Simone was born before the third trimester, was brutally frank about all the emotions and trials she endured during the months her daughter was in the NICU. At end end of the book, she talked about how she's different from other mothers now that her baby is home: When her baby wakes her up in the night, she's grateful that her baby is home and capable of screaming at the top of her lungs. She wasn't in a position to fret over sleep patterns or feeding schedules because she was just grateful her daughter made it through the surgeries and the dozens of scares during her first months of life. Even now, sometimes when Sadie is crying out, I feel thankful for her healthy lungs and for her full-term-ness, C-section or no. And, now that Meatball is 35-weeks young, I am so grateful that he is inside me growing and getting stronger. It's a privilege and this book helped me see that anew.
16. Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. This book of short stories was utterly delightful. Each story made me want to write a short story. They were crisp and face-paced and made me want more. I still think about one of the stories where a lonely cowboy fell in love with a teacher. I can picture the diner where they ate and the cold streets covered in ice and snow. From this book, I learned that less is sometimes more. You don't need 500 pages to learn about a character; sometimes 20 will do.
17. Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The other day someone told me he read this and that he hated it. He hated everything about it. I, on the other hand, really liked the story and how the author was able to weave the science with the personal interest. I learned about cells and how no one was able to grow cells until Henrietta Lacks' cancer cells were harvested (without her consent). It was painful to read about her family's saga and the ironies that while Ms. Lacks' cells contributed to some of the greatest health advances of this century, her family members cannot afford healthcare.
18. Sarah's Key. My mother-in-law gave me this book and it looked so innocent on the cover: two young children running in what looks like a European city. But, alas, this Holocaust book was more devastating than the Book Thief. I am STILL haunted by some of the images of the French round-up of Jewish families during the Vichy regime. I remember learning about this horrible chapter in French history during college, but this story made it personal and gave details that I think I will never forget. I am pretty sure if the government ever rounded me up in a similar way, I would grab my babies and jump to my death. Let's hope it never comes to that.
19. Peace Like A River. You had me at child narrator. I loved the protagonist's "voice" in this book. The writing is superb and unforgettable. I remember wishing I could write like him. Excellent children's characters and a very compelling portrait of the west. I learned that I can't get write as well as the author, but maybe someday.
20. The Corrections. With everyone going on and on about Franzen's Freedom, I decided to read his earlier work. I think this is the book that Oprah wanted to pick, but Franzen rebuffed her. (I already knew I would never have those kind of balls.) I was also waiting for my friend Krista to finish Freedom and give me a copy. I thought the Corrections was a little bit long-winded, but with hindsight, I really remember the characters and themes vividly. My boss can't say enough how much he hated Freedom, but I am going to read it in 2011 and decide for myself. Franzen is a smart guy. I wouldn't call it a page-turner, but it's a great piece of American literature.
21. Born to Run. Holy God, I should have read this when NOT pregnant. It's the most inspiring running book I have ever read. (Ok, it's the only one, but it's the literary equivalent of listening to Chariots of Fire on a Bose sound system.) When I am ready to get back into running, I am going to re-read this and next time I get an injury, I am going to consult some of the principles in this book. I learned that it's possible to hate Nike even more than I did before reading this book.
22. Pretty in Plaid. Don't judge. After reading Franzen and Holocaust literature, I needed some levity; a break. This was a good respite from the heavy literature. Lancaster is insanely sarcastic and witty and self-aware, so it's fun. It didn't change my life, but it was a fun weekend sitting around with her book and laughing at her antics.
23. The Other Side Of the Bridge. This was a weird little book about two brothers growing up in Canada during World War II. Parts of the narrative were very well done, but it didn't grab me like I was hoping it would. I learned that I am not suited for remote Canadian living.
24. Manhunt. This book taught me that I don't really know that much about Abraham Lincoln and the intensity of the Civil War. I read Cold Mountain in 2003, but this added a great deal more color and the primary resources consulted on this piece of non-fiction added some heft to the whole project. Basically, this book was a chronicle of the almost two-week hunt for John Wilkes Booth after he shot Lincoln at the Ford Theatre. One thing is for sure, as soon as my kids are told enough to pee pee in the potty, we are going to DC to see some of the sites that are so central to Americana.
25. At Nightfall. Tried to love it. I did. But, I didn't really like the characters and Manhattan art world and the angst about being at the top of one's career just didn't appeal to me in this story. I did appreciate the perspective of how stressful it is to be an art gallery owner, as I mostly know artists who have their own angst to wrestle with. Basically, I learned that owners of art galleries are people too. I guess that's a worthwhile lesson.
26. Hotel At The Corner of Bitter and Sweet. This story is more sweet than bitter and I am totally enchanted with the main character, Henry. (So much so that during this read I was sure it was my favorite name for Meatball.) It's outrageous to think about the American government rounding up innocent people-- the Japanese and Germans-- during WWII. I haven't read anything else that deals with this subject, other than some footnotes in history books. I learned that our country likes to forget its bad deeds and to stuff them away under a blanket of collective amnesia.
27. The Room. OH. MY. GOD. This book blew me away on many levels. The story is so well done and the narration, again by a 6-year old boy, was expert. When I read the review of this book months ago, I assumed that the Room was a prison of the legal or governmental variety. I didn't realize it was a prison made by a lunatic who was holding a woman and her son hostage. There are so many heartbreaking elements to this story. The most cringe-worthy aspects occurred once the hostages were liberated from the room. I could not believe how idiotic and lame the grandparents were; their selfishness stung. I will never ever forget the little boy, Jack. I learned that I would suck at being a hostage, which is not really a revelation.
28. Just Kids. Again, I read this review and thought it sounded so-so. Patti Smith....hmmm. I don't really know her music, but I have vague recollections of that song with Bruce Springsteen, "Because the night." It took a while for me to see the point of this book-- I was irritated by all the name-dropping and the coincidences: Some guy mistakes Patti for a young boy and tries to pick her up. Allen Ginsberg. Of course. Over and over some super famous person has a walk-on role in the book, which was distracting me from the core story about her intense friendship/loveship with Robert Mapplethorpe and about the creation of art and artist. I learned from this book that reading about a beloved person dying of AIDS will prompt lots of public crying if I finish the book in public.
29. Open. I am about to finish Andre Agassi's, Open. I love it. He says over and over again that he hates tennis and so far, not one person has let him just own that. Everyone seems to say to him, "but you don't really hate, HATE, tennis." I believe him. I would hate it too. His relationship to tennis is complicated and complex and it's not something he chose for himself, so I definitely believe he hates it. (Funny, no one seems to stop me from declaring that I hate the law; most people just agree.) Anyway, it's a great book about finding support, separating from a parent, becoming a physical and mental champion, self-sabotage, fame, fortune and competition-- all things I really love. I do believe that Mr. Agassi had a very smart and experience ghost writer. (Are you telling me that someone who graduated from 9th grade can organize this narrative and use phrases like "impertinent upstart"? No way.) In this book, I learned that tennis games last forever. I also learned that Roland Garros is a grand slam tournament in France; I thought he was a French artist.
FINAL NOTE: I have a little scrap of paper at my office with all my books written down. I miscounted a few days ago and thought that Open was my 30th book. OOps. I only remember ready 29 books. Unless, I finish Open tonight and read an entire book tomorrow. Maybe this is the beginning of the new me: Good bye perfectionist and hello approximation!