I’m jealous that my step-daughter’s assigned summer reading for school is The Great Gatsby. I wish I could read it again for the first time. I was 15 and my family was packing to move the day I discovered it. We were in limbo awaiting moving day and all of my books were already packed. In my search for entertainment I found one stray, The Great Gatsby, my parents’ book, overlooked in a stack of paperwork in a closet. Maybe it was because I was moving, already anticipating the feeling of being an outsider like Nick. Maybe with my teenage world view I related to Nick’s moral superiority. Or maybe it was as simple as being drawn to a character named Daisy since my dog was named Daisy. I don’t remember why I started it but the pull was immediate and never stopped. Years later at the REDCAT Theater in Los Angeles I sat through the theater group Elevator Repair Service’s stunning six-hour cover to cover reading of The Great Gatsby. Six hours and I was still as mesmerized by Fitzgerald’s language and characters as the first time I’d read them. So if you’re looking for your summer reading I recommend The Great Gatsby, along with the summer reading list I compiled for the Los Angeles News Group.
Already six weeks into 2016. How can that be?! Well, now that we’ve all acclimated here’s my list of recommended books to start your year off right:
- The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph
- Brave Enough
- Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges
- Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up
Get the full scoop on all of these titles in my February Los Angeles Daily News column, “5 Books to Help Live Your Life with Intention.”
Actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, launched an online feminist book club this week: #OurSharedShelf. Rock on, Emma!
Top Feminist Reads for Emma’s Book Club
- Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. My love for Roxane Gay knows no bounds. This is the perfect
follow up to Watson’s first pick—Gloria Steinem’s
autobiography, My Life on the Road. Steinem
and Gay represent book ends to contemporary feminist history as well as
offering different racial perspectives (not universal obviously but their own anyway) as both a white woman and a black woman, respectively. And Gay is just funny and smart and generally
- Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society and Neurosexism Create
Difference by Cordelia Fine. Don’t be scared off by the academic title, Emma. This is a fierce, funny, important book about cultural stereotypes and
neurosexism, the myth that men and women’s brains are “wired differently” and
the subsequent dangerous repercussions caused by this belief in inherent gender
- The Handmaid’s Tale by
Margaret Atwood. Fiction may seem like a departure from the spirit of your
mission, Emma, but trust me when I say Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel—about
a society that has dissolved to a point where fundamentalism is thriving,
sexual violence against women is the norm, and women are subjected to institutional
misogyny that makes them second class citizens with no control of their reproduction—will seem all
too real in light of current events. #StandwithPP. #TheEmptyChair #YesAllWomen #YouOKSis #BringBackOurGirls
- The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler. Adapted from Ensler’s
one-woman show inspired by over two hundred interviews with women from all
walks, races, religions, and occupations talking about, you guessed it,
their vaginas. Powerful. Painful. Hilarious. Victorious.
- What Will it Take to Make a Woman President by Marianne Schnall. The executive director of Feminist.com set out to answer her eight-year-old daughter’s
question, “Why haven’t we ever had a woman president?” Featuring interviews with politicians, leaders, artists, and activists such as
Gloria Steinem, Sheryl Sandberg, Nicholas Kristof, and Maya Angelou, Schnall addresses
what may prove to be one of the most important questions of this election year.
(Added bonus: Schnall uses this opportunity to encourage women to be leaders in
their lives and in the world.)
- Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde. I consider poet and writer
Audre Lorde’s collection of essays to be required reading for feminists. Through
her personal perspective as a black lesbian she takes on a universal discussion
of sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class,
issues profoundly important to the feminist movement.
- The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used
Against Women by Naomi Wolf. I don’t know the origins of the bumper sticker, “If
you’re not outraged, then you’re not paying attention,” but this book inspires this sentiment. The book’s title says it all.
- We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This Nigerian writer is so smart and
so right on in her definition of feminism for the twenty-first century in this beautiful
essay adapted from her Tedx talk of the same name.
- I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for
Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. This is the autobiography of a young Pakistani
activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize
laureate. Her book offers and inspires discussion on a multitude of relevant topics including: the importance of education, global sisterhood, equality, female empowerment, and feminist activism.
- Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel. A provocative title by a provocative
writer, best known for her memoir about drugs and depression, Prozac Nation. Though the book suffers presumably
from the author’s admitted drug binge during its writing and research, its premise and its faults are worthy fodder for conversations and debate about defiance, self destruction and
- The Guy’s Guide to Feminism by Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel. This pick is in honor of HeForShe, the UN’s campaign to bring men and boys into the movement to end inequality toward women and girls. Kaufman and Kimmel explain how understanding and supporting feminism improves men’s lives, too. They even received a nod from Gloria Steinem: “From sexist ads to honor killings, there are seventy-plus feminist issues explained…a relevant, inclusive, funny, and straight-to-the-point explanation of how and why feminism improves life for the male half of the world, too.“ Sing it, sister.
Thanks, Emma, for starting this conversation. I’m a big believer that books can change people’s lives (”This Book Will Change Your Life”); here’s hoping a book club can help change the world.
This is my second annual blog post about what readers are looking for. The information is based on the utterly unscientific insight deemed from working the bookstore sales floor during the busiest book buying time of the year. Take note.
- “Do you have any books with creepy narrators? I love creepy
narrators.” (You are probably picturing a beady-eyed guy with
grey hair, maybe a mustache; the customer was a middle-aged woman with glasses, paisleys, and a big
grin.) I actually think this category was well covered this year (The Girl on the Train, Eileen, The Hand that Feeds You), but this customer argued, “You can never have too many creeps.”
- “Do you have any poetry books for teens?” The young adult market is booming and there seems to be a disproportionally high number of dystopian novels and teen romances; surely we can offer them some good ol’ fashioned teen angst in the form of good ol’ fashioned poetry. And I happen to still have my junior high poetry journal if anyone is interested in publishing it.
- “I read The Martian and I’m dying to know what that guy did when he got back. You know, how he’s doing. Is there a follow up book?” This isn’t really a trend, more like a favor: this customer was so sincere in his interest and concern about the fictional astronaut Mark Watney that I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he isn’t real. So I’d really appreciate it if someone can publish a sequel…”Former astronaut Mark Watnery has travelled the Milky Way but now he’s setting out on a new mission–this time in a RV called “Sam” with a dog named “Ruby.” And he’s about to discover the strangest planet yet, Earth.”
- “Do you have any inspirational or funny audio books for an 80-year-old?” Or 70-year-old. Or 90-year-old. I’m asked this question frequently. The request is always for a gift for someone else so I can’t confirm whether the 80-year-old actually wants an inspirational or funny audio book but I will speculate that by 80 years old, you probably need one, or the other.
- Multicultural children’s picture books. Please don’t make me say it again. #weneeddiversebooks
- Books about Greyhound buses. The customer who made this request seemed fairly confident that we would have an entire section dedicated to Greyhound buses. I was speechless for a few moments then I tried to recover: “Are you interested in the, um, design or, uh, the culture or…?” “Both,” she said, without hesitation. Admittedly if this is a trend, she’s way ahead of it.
- “I have a friend who’s a big reader and I want to get them a book but I don’t know what they’ve read. Do you have any books on reading? Or the love of reading?” One of the most common questions I get. (And it happens to be the topic of a book I’m working on…)
- “Do you have a good book to recommend?” Music to my ears. Still the most common question, one that brings me pure joy (and job security).
For the next three days I am on a writing and restoration retreat of my own making. (And that of my sweet husband’s, since he’s holding down the fort at home.) So in honor of my retreat I (quickly, because I’m supposed to be working on my book not writing a blog entry) offer you your own opportunity for retreat:
Five Favorite Mini-Retreat Books
- 8 Weeks to Optimum Health: A Proven
Program for Taking Full Advantage of Your Body’s Natural Healing Power by Andrew Weil. I woke up this morning and drank lemon water and
practiced yoga. I know these two things are the perfect way to start each day,
yet I never do them. Retreats are a good time to re-focus on our health and
healthy habits. Over the years I’ve often turned to this book to re-focus
myself. Dr. Weil is simple and elegant in his health advice and his steps,
though not revolutionary, are easy and effective ways to take care of yourself.
- Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out,
Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. This one’s for the ladies. A funny, intimate, irreverent, poignant, straight shooting, heart baring, girl power book that will jazz you. Rhimes is known for her hit shows: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get
Away with Murder but now she can add bestselling author and sisterhood
guru to her resume.
- Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There:
A Mindfulness Retreat with Sylvia
Boorstein by Sylvia Boorstein. Don’t you love this title? I’m a “doer” so Boorstein’s
book is a good reminder for me to just stop. Stop and Be. My favorite
meditation teacher/writer, Jack Kornfield, called this book: “Graceful, clear,
completely user-friendly instructions for mindfulness practice.“ And it’s true, Boorstein makes Buddhism and mindfulness
accessible; she also adds humor and stories to enliven and engage.
- Catching the
Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity by David Lynch. When I think of David Lynch I think of his surreal,
often violent, arguably brilliant and weird films, including Blue Velvet, the only movie
I’ve ever self-censored. (I started watching when I was 17 and quickly realized
that I was too young.) But Lynch is also a spiritual and philosophical being
with 30 years of transcendental meditation practice that informs his creative
process. His book of 85 brief chapters is random and somewhat incohesive but I
didn’t care; it was refreshing to have someone discuss spirituality and
creativity in a unique way and the panning for gold pays off. (There’s also a
scattering of biography, filmmaking, and gossip.)
- Anne Lamott.
If you’re a writer, you should read Anne Lamott. If you’re a human being, you
should read Anne Lamott. And if you’re looking for a retreat, well, Anne Lamott
is your facilitator, your guide, your new kick ass best friend. Read Bird by Bird as a reminder to take baby steps when things seem overwhelming.
Read Operating Instructions as a
reminder to let go of worry and control and allow events to unfold naturally.
Read Help Thanks Wow for a reminder to
ask for help, show gratitude, and ook for the sacred and extraordinary in
the everyday. Read any of her nonfiction books and you’ll be given the
gift of a funny, wise, entertaining teacher.
I’m off to write and restore…
Years ago I brought a guest with me to an art opening at the Hammer Museum here in L.A. I was deciding whether to date this man who was considerably older than I was and a little bit of an enigma. At the end of the evening I asked a couple of friends what they thought of him. One replied, “He seemed nice.” Another said he was “handsome and smart.” And my friend Stephanie Ford gave it thoughtful consideration, then described him as “curmudgeonly and urbane.” And in her two words I suddenly understood the strange push and pull I had been feeling toward this man for months. That’s what Stephanie Ford, my friend and poet, does. She simply and eloquently reveals the heart of the matter. And her new collection of poems, All Pilgrim, reveals our ordinary day to day lives here in Los Angeles. With titles like “If Every Point is an Origin” and “Temporary Assets of the Visible West” her poems manage to see through the smog of the city and honor its light with a surprisingly hopeful undercurrent and a wonderfully specific vantage point. And through her efforts our ordinary days spent merging with traffic or gridlocked seem suddenly extraordinary.
Five Favorite Addiction Memoirs
- Go Ask Alice by Anonymous. In terms of addiction memoirs, this one was my gateway drug. It’s categorized as fiction now but originally was published as a found journal by an anonymous teenager. Either way it’s a shocking account of a teenager’s descent into a hell of drug use, starting with one sip of a LSD-laced soda.
Jerry Stahl. Stahl’s down and dirty account of
addiction hits bottom for me when he describes leaving his infant daughter in the car during
a drug run. The successful television writer (Alf, thirtysomething,
Moonlighting) was “good” at doing drugs (prolific anyway) but he’s
even better at writing about them, bringing to his harrowing story an addict’s
skill for persuasion, embellishment, and drama.
- Lit by Mary Karr. The Liar’s Club is one of my
favorite books. In it Karr blends a poet’s way with words with the memories and storytelling style of a good ol’ girl from southeast Texas as she describes a hard knock childhood in the 60s with an alcoholic father, a crazy mother, and a humorous and heartbreaking cast of characters. Reading her first book I remember thinking how (amazingly) Karr had escaped her childhood’s destiny through her writing. Fourteen years later Lit proved me wrong as Karr describes her alcoholism and her own version of crazy. Though she still does so with Texas charm, AA honesty, and literary finesse.
- Dry by Augusten Burroughs. You may know the young Augusten from his bizarre childhood: his mother gave him to her psychiatrist to live with the doctor’s own crazy family (Running with Scissors). Now read how that worked out: Dry is the grown up Augusten’s memoir of dealing with addiction and the equally challenging sobriety. Both books, alternating between heartbreaking and hilarious.
- Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. When I lived in Boston I loved reading Knapp’s wonderful column in the (now defunct) Boston Phoenix, the city’s arts newspaper. Back then Knapp was a highly functioning alcoholic and she went on to write one of the most candid, insightful memoirs about alcohol addition out there.
In response to my recent Huffington Post essay, Let’s Write About Sex, Baby, readers have sent me their recommendations for steamy literary reads. I share them now with you:
Sex, I mean, Six Sexy Reads
- Endless Love by Scott Spencer. The classic novel that perfectly captures the intensity of first love includes an unforgettable “30-plus page love/sex scene,” according to one reader.
- Outlander. Fans of Diana Gabaldon are obsessed for good reason. These historical romps feature remarkable characters, fast moving plots, and, as one reader claims, great sex scenes: “Truly fun: sexy, chatty, playful, and explicit.”
- The Bronze Horseman trilogy by Paullina Simons. Reminiscent of Dr. Zhivago, these books are sweeping sagas of love and war filled with “sizzling sex scenes.”
- Bunker 13 by Aniruddha Bahal. Thrill seekers will rejoice in the dangerous life of a pleasure-seeking investigative journalist living in Kashmir and the surprisingly hot metaphor that compares having sex to driving a car.
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. It’s difficult to believe this extraordinary book and Booker prize-winner was a debut novel. The story of an affluent Indian family living in a charged political time and forbidden love. It’s the latter that delivers some “tender, romantic love making.”
- Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff promises to be one of the hot books for fall in more ways than one. The story of a marriage told from both the husband and wife’s point of view, the reviews for this stunning and ambitious novel have been raves and I can see why: the prose is beautiful and the story itself–how two different people experience the same marriage–is a voyeuristic pleasure. And to the point of my above-mentioned essay, Groff delivers a full monty view of marriage.
In honor of my six-week disappearing act from my blog, I give you these amazing titles that speak for themselves:
Top 5 Books on How to Disappear
- How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, And Vanish Without A Trace
- Darknet: A Beginner’s Guide to Staying Anonymous Online
- How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found
- Cover Your Tracks Without Changing Your Identity: How to Disappear Until You WANT to Be Found
- Vanishing Point: How to Disappear in America without a Trace
Who knew there was such a thing as home detention? And how do I get one so I can catch up on my reading?!
Top Five Books I’d Like To Finally Read If I Could Get a Home Detention
- The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty. A literary thriller about a woman who is robbed of her wallet and id while traveling in Morocco and suddenly finds herself with the freedom to be anyone she chooses. Time on my nightstand: 1 month.
- Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. The title says it all. Time on my nightstand: 2 years.
- The Criminal Justice Club. An insider’s look at the criminal justice system written by a career prosecutor. I’m fascinated by true crime, the legal system, detective stories, etc. so this one is right up my alley but it’s a little dark, violent, and complex to read right before I fall asleep. And at 400 pages it’s a time commitment. So it sits. Time on my nightstand: 1 year.
- The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years. A birthday gift from one of my favorite colleagues, even the cover is extraordinary. She says it’s one of her favorites and I can see why from the description: “From elements of myth, history, realistic narrative, and science fiction, Chingiz Aitmatov has woven a rich tapestry that blends cosmic speculation with the age-old legends of the Asiatic steppes.” Whoa. This one is going to be a wild ride so I feel like I have to be in the right mindset. Time on my nightstand: 3 months.
- The Drama of the Gifted Child. Since February, five people have recommended this book to me and it’s a perennial bestseller in our psychology section. I have to find out what the deal is. Time on my nightstand: 2 weeks.