Books Read in September/October

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“Rainey Royal” a novel by Dylan Landis

The patron saint against temptation sits straight-backed in an Italian convent as if mortised into her chair, and she is dead, dead, dead.

I fell in love with Dylan Landis’ writing when I read her novel-in-stories, “Normal People Don’t Live Like This.” So, I was thrilled when I heard one of those characters would be taking center stage in her own novel. I had the pub date written in my calendar for months and went out and bought it that day.

It didn’t disappoint. Rainey Royal is a lush yet brittle, hard yet soft, brutal yet vulnerable teenage girl learning how to be an artist and a woman amidst the ruins of her adolescent life: her mother abandoned them, her father’s best friend has a creepy obsession with her and her father is a narcissistic musician.

This line brilliantly sums up Rainey’s relationship with her father, Howard:

“Howard’s attention is like the sun. Too much burns the edges of her leaves, yet the atmosphere is thin without it.”

This is not your average coming-of-age story. Rainy is too complex to be reduced to such a cliché genre. Throughout the pages I wanted to look away but just could not as Rainey veered down one dangerous path or another. I also wanted to alternately slap her and hug her.

I think I read through Rainey’s story too fast, eager to find out how she fares, hungry for Landis’ mesmerizing prose. This is one I will go back to, reading slowly, savoring each luscious sentence, every tender and brutal scene.

What I learned: To let your character make bad, shitty, scary choices. in fact, I think I will pin BSS above my computer to remind me of that.

“Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me- the Pursuit of happiness, One Celebrity at a Time” by Rachel Bertsche

The simple act of preparing to be Jennifer Aniston is hard work.

The premise is simple: in an effort to get all areas of her life together, Bertsche decides to emulate the seemingly flawless lives of certain celebrities. From Jennifer Aniston for her body, to Sarah Jessica Parker for her style, Bertsche attempts to glean what habits, tips and tricks she can fit into her own life, career, marriage and budget to live a more perfect and happy life. But is perfection all it’s cracked up to be? Does it even exist?

I’m a fan of Bertsche’s social experiments. I really enjoyed her previous book about making friends after you are out of school. I admire her tenacity in sticking with these projects she sets out for herself and the realistic results of her efforts.

What I learned: Not every thing works for every body. We really have to find our own way in the world and find what works for us.

“Afterworlds” a YA novel by Scott Westerfeld

The most important email that Darcy Patel eve wrote was three paragraphs long.

This is actually, literally, two books in one. And I loved both of them. They combined two of my favorite subjects: writing and YA fantasy.

Darcy Patel writes a book in a month (a la NaNoWriMo). She is still in high school when the book is accepted for publication. She convinces her parents to let her move to NYC for three years to make a go of this writing thing.

The second book is the YA fantasy that Darcy wrote. Her character, Lizzie, survives a terrorist attack in an airport and in doing so, finds herself able to cross over to the Afterworld filled with lost souls, ghosts and evil entities with all the responsibilities and dangers that entails.

The chapters alternate between Darcy and Lizzie. We see Darcy learn to navigate the world of YA publishing, book tours, publicity and the actual hard work of writing and editing a book on a deadline. We also see Lizzie learning to navigate an entirely different world than the one she inhabits as well as the world she does inhabit where she is now a pseudo-celebrity since surviving such a brutal terrorist attack.

Totally worth the 600 pages it took to read these compelling stories.

What I learned: I felt like he really had fun with this book, weaving the structure and stories together. That’s what I intend to do in my current YA WIP- having fun with the story and structure.

“May I Be happy- A memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing my Mind” by Cyndi Lee

There’s something wrong with my knees.

For anyone who has struggled with their body, body image, self-esteem, this lovely and intimate memoir will be guide on your own journey to self-acceptance. Lee is a well-known, international yoga teacher but I don’t think her struggle with her own inner critic and struggle with her body image was well known.

It seems incongruent that a woman famous for practicing yoga was also a war with her body and the mean, critical voice in her head. I find it incredibly brave of her to share her story.

Lee shares the raw details of how her inner voice demanded perfection, demands that were slowly crushing her. Not only do we hear her journey of discovery and striving for acceptance but she also shares experiences of teaching classes as a yoga teacher which I loved (as a student and teacher myself).

After closing the book I realized that I not only had seeds to help sow my own path of self-acceptance but I had many seeds that I could plant in to the yoga classes I teach.

What I learned: That we all have those shaming voices inside us and the only way to silence them is to hear them.

“Men Explain Things to Me” essays by Rebecca Solnit

I still don’t know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen.

In this title essay, Solnit looks at the phenomenon of how men so often wrongly assume they know things and that women don’t. It sounds fairly simple but she explores the real complexities of such a view and how it silences women, and how even if they do speak up, they are not heard.

Each essay takes the reader into topics we may think we are familiar with like marriage equality or violence against women but in Solnit’s wise and skilled hands, the territory becomes disturbingly unfamiliar. And that’s what a great essay or any writing does- it crack open our own preconceived notions about the world and offers us a glimpse of something different.

Should be required reading for all.

What I learned: In the United States there is a rape every 6.2 seconds. Let that statistic soak in.