Books I Read This Week 2020 – 01

Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! I also have an instagram account where I join my love of reading with my love of art. I tried to get all the 2019 books last week but I ended up reading two more in 2019. So only 4 of these are from 2020.

A Keeper (3 stars): I have no idea who Graham Norton is but it looks like he is famous (at least the other reviews seem to mention this.) I picked up this book because it got relatively good ratings and I had put off reading it all year. It’s the story of a daughter and a mother years apart. The story of how the daughter came to be. It was sad and heart wrenching and also managed to be touching at parts.

Guests of August (4 stars): “That was what marriage was sometimes like, she thought. Slights and moods, words unspoken, angers contained, toxic combinations that inevitably simmer and overflow. But it is also inevitable, she assures herself, that heat cools, that even caustic stains fade and are wiped away, leaving only the palest of scars.”

It took me a while to read this story and there were so many characters that it was sometimes hard to keep track of them all and their children. But I still enjoyed the time I spent with it and the best part, of course, was exposing all the human-ness we all have. How marriage is hard, how forgiving and being open and vulnerable is hard.

I especially loved the parts where the doctor and his wife kept forgiving each other and wanting to strengthen their marriages at different times when they weren’t together and then something would happen and change everything again. I think that’s such an accurate portrayal of how life and marriage is and how the chances of both people feeling and being in the same place at the same time is such a rare occurrence. It’s so much more often that we feel surges of emotion/love/forgiveness at mismatched times.

It was a lovely novel to end 2019 with.

Thank you to netgalley and Severn House for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Radical Compassion (5 stars): There’s nothing like starting out my year with Tara Brach. I have been a longtime fan and her podcasts have carried me through several very tough years. Tara’s ability to mix methodology, thinking, and storytelling is unparalleled. In her podcasts, she usually also tells some wonderful jokes that have stayed with me over the years. If you haven’t listened to any of her work, I cannot recommend it enough. Her other books are also phenomenal.

This book is focused on compassion as the title states. Specifically in the practice of her version of RAIN:
– Recognize what is happening;
– Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
– Investigate with interest and care;
– Nurture with self-compassion.

There is a lot more about Rain in her site if you’re interested:

The book explains the practice, gives examples and contains meditations that give you the space to do right then. I listened to it on audio which was perfect for practicing the meditations. A great way to start the new year and to hold my intention of more compassion.

You’re not Listening (3 stars): “For example, someone who has a critical inner voice will hear someone else’s words very differently from how someone whose inner voice tends to blame others will. It’s all your fault versus It’s all their fault. In other words, our inner dialogue influences and distorts what other people say and thus how we behave in relationships.”

I had mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, there was a lot of interesting information and data that explains how we listen, common pitfalls we fall into and why it’s important to listen better. All of which I totally agree with. That’s the reason I wanted to read this book to begin with. I knew I wasn’t listening as well as I could be and I wanted to do a better job.

There were some really engaging bits. For example, I liked learning about the right-ear advantage and how you might be able use (if you’re right-handed) to pick up up meaning vs using your left ear to hear more of the emotional feelings. It was new to me and an interesting concept. But overall, it was a lot of here’s why you’re not listening and here’s what happens if only you could listen better.

The author did a good job of making her case of how we’re not listening as well and why it matters. She had a lot of interesting studies and cited many resources. And if that’s all the book promised, maybe I would have rated it much higher. To be fair, it is the title of the book so maybe that should have been my hint.

“People’s inner voices have tremendous influence in part because they are perceived as louder.”

Even though the title only promised to tell me what I was missing and why it mattered, the blurbs promised that it would also teach me how to listen better. And this is where I felt the book failed me.

The continuous repetition of how phones, internet and social media is killing my listening skills and making me a worse person just got old. I was already bought in, but after multiple times, it just felt like she was lecturing.

I think maybe I could have tolerated that if there was more examples on how to actually be a good listener. She talked about “shifting” and “support” responses which I really liked reading about. Such illustrations around what you do when you listen poorly and how you could listen better were exactly what I was hoping the book had more of.

“In fact, smart people are often worse listeners because they come up with more alternative things to think about and ae more likely to assume that they already know what the person’s going to say. People with high IQs also tend to be more neurotic and self-conscious, which means worry and anxiety are more likely to hijack their attention.”

And in the end, because so much of the how was missing, the book felt more and more didactic to me as I read on. I felt I was being lectured at, scolded, and reprimanded. Her tone started getting to me and I couldn’t let it go. I was going to write: it might just be me but of course it’s just me. Book reading is a personal experience and this was my personal experience. I don’t read non-fiction as often as I read fiction but what I really love about non-fiction is that each time I read one, I learn something new, I grow, and I can look at the world and be in it a little bit differently.

This book did a good job of highlighting the importance of listening better. I’m sold. It did a less good job of how I could help bridge the gap and become a better listener myself. Maybe that can be her next book. 🙂

With gratitude to Celadon Books for an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.

Such a Fun Age (4 stars): This book peppered the internet over the last few weeks so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and see what I thought about it. What I found most interesting about this book is how light and breezy the cover and the narration are compared to the actual story. Well not even the story but the story below the story. On the surface, the characters and the plot also seem breezy, if maybe a bit on the neurotic side.

But underneath it all, this story is saying so much without saying it. This books covers issues around racism, savior complex, identity issues, socioeconomic disparities, choices we make around how we show up in the world and even parenthood. There are deep, serious issues covered without the author being heavy handed and the reader feeling like they are being lectured at.

The best part of the book is how 3-dimensional the characters are. Each of the characters is flawed but in all the human ways. Not a caricature. You can see how they are messing up and how they are making poor choices but you feel for them. You cringe on their behalf. You root for them and get disappointed in them, and expect better from them. Just like you would from real-world people. It’s a feat to pull off in any book, but exceptionally hard in a book like this, covering so many complicated societal issues.

I really enjoyed this one.

Recipe for a Perfect Wife (4 stars): This was a really quick read for me. Once I started it, I just didn’t want to put it down. The audio narration was excellent and I found myself attached to the characters right away. Even though I could see most of the twists coming (except for one) I still enjoyed all of my time with this story.

I liked Nellie’s story more than Alice’s just because I think Nellie was a bit more developed as a character and her motivations seemed a bit more clear. In the beginning of Alice’s story, it felt like she started lying or doing uncharacteristic things for no clear reason. Maybe out of ennui. It made it harder for me to connect with her. By the very end of her story, I did find myself cheering for Alice but still not as much as I would have liked. Alice’s husband was even more under-developed. He almost felt cartoonish to me.

Even though I can find many flaws with this book, I still found myself unable to stop reading it. Unable to stop caring about the characters. Unable to look away from the dark undertones of these housewives’ lives. I found it to be a very satisfying read.

And there we go, first week of reading in 2020.

Books I Read this Week 2020 is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2020 here. I am also tracking my books in real time on Good Reads here. If you’re on Good Reads add me so I can follow you, too! I’ve also started an instagram account where I join my love of reading with my love of art.

1 comment to Books I Read This Week 2020 – 01

  • Gypsy

    Graham Norton is a British Talk-show host whose guests include A-grade actors and performers mostly. Often he’ll have a few cast members from the same move. It’s a sort Ellen Show type format. He can be a bit funny but more than that he’s very good at getting his guests to tell great stories and show the relationships between them. You can find clips from his shows on youtube and facebook.

    Quick question while I am here- I used to get your posts via email but it stopped sometime around the middle of last year is there still an option to subscribe. I enjoy the book, art and memory keeping posts.

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