Tag Archives: nonfiction

Review: Not That Kind of Girl

Recap: Lena Dunham is a woman who has something to say. Like her or not, she uses her platform to proudly proclaim her thoughts and opinions and is willing to use any medium available to do it. Her book of essays is no exception. After years of fictionalizing semi-autobiographical vignettes of women in their twenties on her TV show Girls, she put her pen to the page in this more honestly revealing look at her life to date. She acknowledges that she is young and has so much more to go, and reading her book five years after publication proves as much. In some ways, it’s dated already. Since publication, Dunham and her long-term boyfriend, who is openly written about in several essays, broke up. She also had several major medical emergencies and surgeries and became clean and sober. Her life proves that much of what you think you know in your twenties gets flipped on its head by the time you turn 30.

But as “dated” as the book is in terms of the plot twists of her personal life is how timeless the book is at the same time. She writes openly about losing her virginity, sexual assault, falling in love, falling out of love, breakup with guys, breakups with friends, the power of female friendship, the seemingly always difficult relationship women have with food and their bodies and her experiences with drugs, alcohol, family and the professional working world. Hers is a book and a story and a life that’s relatable for any woman. They’re experiences that, good or bad, that little girls and young women will continue to have for years to come, no matter what generation they fall into.

That may be what makes her book so powerful. This is not some celebrity memoir, dripping with scandal and salacious details of behind-the-scenes hookups and drug problems. Nor is it an opportunity to use her name to announce a political or social do-gooder platform. It’s also not a self-help book, pronouncing herself the knower of all things. It’s simply her story, her life as a person, a woman and nothing else.

Analysis: It’s her honesty that makes the book work, but also her writing. Her simultaneously self-deprecating and ostentatiously prideful humor seeps into every chapter in a way that made me laugh and sometimes shout “Yes! Exactly!” But in darker moments and depictions of assault and disordered eating, my heart hurt. She writes in a matter-of-fact way, not meant to incur sympathy. I respect that.

The book was divided by large sections: Love & Sex, Body, Friendship, Work and Big Picture. Each essay is placed in whatever chapter it fits best thematically. There’s no timeline. Everything’s out of order. Some stories are from college, some as young as when she was two years old. I found myself wondering if she wrote the book all at once or if she pulled from journal entries and essays she wrote in real-time throughout her life. They were just so detailed, it was impressive to me that she would still recall certain nuggets of information and deep emotions from 10, 15, even 20 years earlier.

Some essays were so brief, I was left to wonder what their significance was. But all together, it was a well-structured mess of stories paralleling the well-structured mess she tends to portray on TV, in movies, on red carpets and Instagram: the honest, well-structured mess so many of us are and try to hide, but Lena Dunham does not.

Get Not That Kind of Girl in paperback now for $9.89.

Or on your Kindle for $6.99.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: Wherever You Go There You Are

Recap: Being present. Being mindful. Less time aimlessly scrolling on your phone. These are all things you hear more people talking about these days. Aspirations as many realize how harmful, depressing and unproductive we can be around our phones. But saying that we’re going to do all this is different from actually doing it. The art of mindfulness is less an art and more a conscientious practice — a workout for your brain that develops over time through a lot of hard work. Typically mindfulness starts with meditation. 


I started meditating a few years ago during a tough time in my life and loved the little bits of time it gave me each day to simply relax. But after a while, my meditation practice plateaued, so I went on a five-day silent meditation retreat to really get my engines revving. And boy, did it work. I left refreshed and inspired, with a new outlook and shift in perspective on life. I had bought Wherever You Go, There You Are a while ago but never read it, so I finallyread it after my retreat in the hopes it would keep my meditation glow going. It did. Wherever You Go is the perfect book to not only explain what meditation is and why and how it can be so good for you –so cleansing, so nourishing — but it also explains explicitly how to do it. So many fear meditation because it can seem too “hippie-dippie” or “woo-woo.” Or they worry they won’t be able to do it, that it’ll hurt to sit still for so long, that they won’t be good at it and that their minds will race.

Newsflash: that’s kind of the point: to see how much your mind races and learn what that really means about you and your feelings and emotions. It can be powerful, and this book helps you to understand its value so you can put it in motion.

Analysis: Author Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of the best and brightest in the world of meditation. He’s science-based, so some of his writing can be a little heady. But his metaphors really work, like the mountain meditation. He explains that we should imagine ourselves as mountains, sitting tall with dignity, but still as various weather patterns and chaos happen around us. Some of the quotes and passages he pulled from other great meditators and literature also helped me better understand the power of meditation. Lines like “It turns out we have plenty of time, if we are willing to hold any moments at all in awareness” were a complete and utter revelation to me. Exactly! Yes! This is meditation’s value. But Kabat-Zinn’s ability to word it in such an understandable, simplistic way was incredibly helpful.

And then there was his honesty. He writes about how much he hates washing dishes or how he runs at rapid fire speed up the stairs only to catch himself and wonder “what’s the rush?” These were just what I needed halfway through the book when I thought “this guy is pretty enlightened and I will never be as ‘good’ a meditator as him” — though rightfully so, there’s no such thing as a “good” meditator anyway. But they showed that he has moments during which he lacks mindfulness too. We all do. We are not all walking Buddhas. And so it’s okay if you’re not mindful. Just catch yourself. Without judgement. And keep going in the moment. Wherever you go, there you are.

Get Wherever You Go There You Are in paperback for $8.40.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: The Four Agreements

Recap: Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best. These are the four agreements, the four promises that Toltec master Don Miguel Ruiz says will change your life, offer you personal freedom and make you a happier person with less suffering in this highly recommended self-help book. The agreements are simultaneously simple and difficult: simple in the sense that they appear to be common sense. Of course, if we always do our best, we will be happy. Of course, if we are impeccable with our words or stop assuming or don’t take things personally, we’ll be happy. DUH! But life isn’t quite so easy, and neither is making these changes. It’s one thing to promise to make these agreements; it’s another to actually follow through with them.

Analysis: Before Ruiz can make the case for the four agreements, he first must make the case for why we all have an often insatiable desire to be happy. He does this well, by explaining that we spend our lives raised by our parents, taught their lessons, experiencing the world and society around us and essentially accepting everything that’s thrown our way to be “true.” But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s up to us to decide whether we want to follow societal norms. It’s up to us to decide whether we want to fit in with the crowd or stand out in our own greatness. He explains that if we opt to not care what other people think. to do what makes us happy and to keep a positive outlook, we can be and remain happy. He explains that most of the suffering we each experience in life is self-induced.

For example, maybe someone cuts you off in traffic and you become enraged. You honk at them and start waving your arms and yelling in the car. The other driver sees you and starts yelling back or gives you the finger. The rest of the drive, you spend gripping your wheel, fuming. We’ve all been there. But what if, when that person cuts us off, we don’t take it personally? What if we realize that person is probably in a massive rush for some reason? What if we realize that their actions had everything to do with them and absolutely nothing to do with us? Then we’d just merrily continue driving to our destination, completely at ease. So why do we so often go down the first path? It’s because we’re causing our own suffering. We have the power to change this. We have the power to recognize that what other people do has nothing to do with us. We have the power to take a positive approach and fill the world with joy instead of anger. It will make you feel better and the others around you feel better too.

The concepts are easy. The actions are hard. But they are also worth it. Because we all want ease and joy. Ruiz’s book is at times a little heady and very spiritual, so it might be a bit much for some. But if you really want to improve your life and yourself, this is a book that will single-handedly get you there.

Get The Four Agreements in paperback for $7.49.

Or on your Kindle for $4.02.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Lara’s Top Picks of 2018

20181231_144316.jpgWelcome to my eighth edition of “Top Picks!” Easily one of my favorite blog posts of the year, this is where I tell you about the ten best books I read this year. Again, this has nothing to do with what year they came out. In fact, I’m pretty sure only one of the books I read this year was published in 2018. For a list of the best books published this year, check out The New York Times annual Notable Books list. For now, here are the best books I read this year (followed by the complete list of all the books I read this year).

10. Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. After my dad passed away, this was the perfect book to help me out of my slump and come to terms with my grief. Sheryl Sandberg is not just a Facebook COO here. She is a woman navigating loss like so many of us have. If she can do it, we all can, especially with her tactile, concrete advice. Buy it now. 

9. The Lost Family by Jenna Blum. It’s a novel that spans 30 years and three generations of a Jewish family in New York and New Jersey in the years post-WWII. The patriarch lost his first family in the war and starts a new one with an aspiring model. It’s a book that I really enjoyed when I read it, but since I finished it, I simply can’t stop thinking about it. Buy it now.

8. One More Time by Carol Burnett. Both an in-depth look at the iconic comedianne’s life and a book about life lessons, One More Time is a memoir that almost feels like a self-help book. There is so much to be learned from this strong woman who overcame trauma, failure and poverty to become the icon she is today. Buy it now.

7. Cujo by Stephen King. It’s scary to think that it took me this long to read a Stephen King novel (yes, it was my first!!), but everyone told me this was one of his best and it did not disappoint. More thriller than horror, Cujo brilliantly jumps between characters I legitimately cared for while making a dog scary to me for the first time in my life. The ending is something to be both celebrated and mourned — a bittersweet juxtaposition that makes the read all the more complicated and engrossing. Buy it now.

6. 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Dan Harris single-handedly got me interested in meditation, but it took me several years to finally read his book. Both memoir and self-help (is this a common theme here?), 10% Happier makes a case for changing yoru life and through meditation — even for the skeptics — while also telling tales of the fascinating network newsman life he leads. Buy it now.

5. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Set on reading it before seeing in the theater, I had high hopes for this one, and it surpassed them all. It was more than just a romantic story or an Asian story. It was also a funny store! So tongue-in-cheek in its prose and dialogue, it was a long book that turned into a quick read, and I’ve never been more excited to read a sequel. Buy it now.

4. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. Julie Powell needed something in her life. She surprised herself by finding it in Julia Child’s famous cookbook. So she set her sights on cooking the entire book in a year’s time. The book details the true story of Powell achieving this crazy and kind of obnoxious goal, even while it tears much of the rest of her life to shreds. She is a hilarious writer who had me laughing out loud. But she also learns a lot about life and herself through the process, and so do we. Buy it now.

3. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. A story from the point of view of a dog, Racing is a more dramatic tale than I expected. But it’s refreshing perspective gives us hope in both dogs and humanity, proving that there is nothing more important than the bonds of friendship and family. It’s a grand story about life trapped in a doggie fiction novel in the most beautiful way. It left me breathless. Buy it now.

2. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman. After seeing the sexy movie that so deeply resonated with me in its portrayal of first love, I found myself wanting more so I picked up the book the movie was based on. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book is even better than the movie with more details, more sexiness, more teenage uncertainty and more finality. Oh, and the prose is supreme. Buy it now.

1. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. As I turned 30, I thought a self-help book would help me better round the corner. What I found in Badass is a swift kick in my badass that left me empowered. Jen Sincero’s real-talk and tangible tips allow for a true journey in confidence-building and goal-setting unlike I’ve ever experienced before. Buy it now.

Here’s a link to the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018. 

BOOKS I’VE READ 2018

In the Studio with Michael Jackson – Bruce Swedien

Damned Good- J.J. DeCeglie

Wonder – R.J. Palacio

Julie and Julia – Julia Powell

A Wrinkle In Time – Madeleine L’Engle

Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

Soul Witness – William Costopoulos

Option B – Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

A Load of Hooey – Bob Odenkirk

Emma – Jane Austen

Cujo – Stephen King

Ann M. Martin – Margot Becker R.

The Last Dropout – Bill Milliken

How to Love the Empty Air – Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Strangers – Nigel Gray

Notorious R.B.G. – Irin Carmon

One More Time – Carol Burnett

On Becoming Fearless – Arianna Huffington

The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein

Choose Your Own Autobiography – Neil Patrick Harris

10% Happier – Dan Harris

The Gene Guillotine – Kate Preskenis

You Are a Badass – Jen Sincero

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan

The Lost Family – Jenna Blum

Sharp Objects – Gilian Flynn

A Simple Favor – Darcy Bell

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

The Day The World Came to Town – Jim DeFede

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: The Day the World Came To Town

911Recap: Seventeen years later, no one needs a book to tell them what happened on 9/11. But they might want to read one if it involves an aspect of that horrific tragedy that few know about, like the thousands of people who wound up stranded in Gander, Newfoundland in the days after the attacks. If you don’t know where Newfoundland is, you wouldn’t be alone. Author and journalist Jim DeFede takes care of that for us, describing the province, its people and the way they took in and treated the passengers who were flying to or over the United States when the attacks happened. As the planes were diverted to Canada, a small town became a town of many more thousands and opened its arms in their time of need.

The panic and chaos that ensued could have been much worse, but the truth it didn’t thanks to the helping hands of those living in Newfoundland. Families there invited these passengers — literal strangers — into their homes for a nice, hot shower. They offered them hand-me-down baby strollers. They showed them to the nearest bars, malls and stores. They cooked for them, clothed them, cared for their animals, ordered their prescriptions. Newfoundland essentially adopted the passengers who were so desperate to get home and so depressed over the recent events.

Analysis: Made famous more recently by the musical Come From AwayThe Day the World Came to Town is a beautiful take on the generosity of strangers, made even more beautiful by the fact that it’s a true story. A journalist at heart, author Jim DeFede does an incredible job of digging into every possible angle and acquiring hundreds of interviews to gather information for the book. The book is not flowery or eloquently written. As only a journalist would, it’s written very matter-of-factly. But it works. The content is so touching, the words don’t need to be.

The stories are woven in such a way, you are bound to connect with at least one of its characters — er, PEOPLE — whether it’s the New York state trooper who wishes he were home to help, the new parents that just adopted their daughter from overseas, the young professionals who rely on drinks and new friendships to get them through the pain or the woman whose firefighter son may or may not have died in the towers.

The Day the World Came to Town is one of those rare books that both taught me something AND made me feel. I truly cannot say enough good things about it.

Get The Day the World Came to Town in paperback for $13.59. 

Or on your Kindle for free.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: You Are A Badass

badassI had recently started a new job, hit the one year anniversary of my father’s death and was about to turn 30. There were so many things running through my mind, so much doubt, so much negative self-speak, so much worry about the future, reflecting on the past and wondering if I was meeting my proper potential in the present. It was the perfect time to finally read the highly recommended You Are A Badass. And I’m so glad I did.

Author Jen Sincero uses this self-help guide to not only get to realize your self-worth and gain confidence, but as an instructional aide explaining why we are the way we are. She explains that “faking it til we make it” just won’t work. If your subconscious doesn’t truly believe what you’re telling yourself to believe, then it will never come. So in order to achieve your dreams, gain confidence and find your inner badass, you have to start from the inside out. She gives both concrete active doable examples and more philosophical abstract ways to think about things to get you to love yourself, figure out what your dreams are, work toward them without self-doubt and realize your awesome potential. Meditation, time management, gratitude, offering kindness to others, pushing away fear — all of these are very doable things once we decide we’re going to do it.

But my biggest takeaway from the book (by far) is the concept that what you put out in the world will bounce back to you. If you are negative all the time, you’re only going to experience negative things. But if you are positive and put those positive vibes out there, believe you’re going to have good days and accomplish your goals, then you will. The universe will hear you.

Does all this sound hokey? Sure. It probably does. But the fact is Sincero believes so strongly in these ideas and is so passionate about them throughout this book, that it’s hard not to hop on board and believe it.

Shortly after I read this book, my husband and I were shopping and stopped in an art gallery. I saw a painting that I thought was really pretty, so I told my husband “look how beautiful that one is.” Then I heard a man behind me say “you just made my day. I’m the artist.” He then went on to show us some of his other work that was displayed in the gallery. To be nice, my husband and I started looking through the pieces and unexpectedly stumbled across the perfect painting and gift for my newborn niece. The artist then offered to sign the back of the piece for us and wrote a very sweet note for my niece. I firmly believe that if I hadn’t put the positive vibes out there and complimented this man’s work (without even knowing he was in the gallery), he wouldn’t have shown us his other work, we wouldn’t have found the piece, he wouldn’t have signed it and my niece wouldn’t be getting a beautiful gift out of it.

You Are A Badass is not just any self-help book. It is a perspective-shifting book. It has reshaped the way I view the world and my attitude. Whenever I find myself in a low place, this will be the book I turn to.

Get You Are A Badass in paperback now for $9.59.

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: The Gene Guillotine

gene guillotineRecap: Kate Preskenis’s world revolves around her mother. Diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s Disease, Kate’s mom struggles through family events, battles daily routines and loses herself from moment to moment. It’s enough to encourage Kate to adapt her life around staying home or close to home to care for her mother. Even though she has a lot of siblings, she wants to be there. It’s Kate who rubs her mom’s feet, who finds their own language to speak.

So it comes as a complete shock when, roughly two years into the diagnosis, Kate’s father dies of a sudden heart attack. But Kate and her siblings begin to wonder how much of a shock it really is. After all, he too had struggled with his wife’s diagnosis. He took on the burden — albeit willingly and happily — of his new role as “caregiver.” Now that role is left to Kate and her brothers and sisters. Together, they must take turns and make plans for their mother who’s getting progressively worse.

As Kate’s mom’s condition worsens, so does Kate’s emotional well-being. Caring for a sick mother is not easy for anyone, especially someone as young as Kate. She wants to be there for her mom and easily drops everything, including other relationships, to do it. But this is not where Kate’s story ends. This is only part one. Part two is the debate over whether she should be genetically tested for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Analysis: In her heartbreaking and honest memoir, Kate Preskenis tells the modern-day version of what Alzheimer’s has become: a haunting disease that so often affects the family members of the patient more than the patient. The disease is all the more bolstered in its chilling effects by the fact that science now enables people to be genetically tested for it. It’s a battle that anyone who has or had a loved one with Alzheimer’s can relate to.

I, myself, lost my father to the disease last year. I’d been lent this book years ago and had never had the guts to read it until now. Even now, I slogged through it; I found the content so relatable, it became hard to read. I was impressed by how closely Preskenis documented her experience. It was obvious that many of her journal entries were likely adapted for the book. She also relied on a tape recorder for conversations with doctors so they could be properly transcribed.

The book ends on a heavy note. She details the process of being genetically tested and debates whether or not to learn the results, and we are also left wondering. Of course, I can’t blame her for grappling with the decision. It’s something I think about every day and have — at this point — opted not to be tested for the disease. As there is currently no cure, there’s not much I or anyone could do about the results. But I do wish the ending offered some semblance of hope for the future of her, her family and the disease. When it comes to Alzheimer’s, we could all use a little hope.

You can buy The Gene Guillotine now in paperback for $14.95.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews