August 2020 Book Marks
In a normal world, one without pandemics or ugly discourse, without high anxiety and general insecurity about “what’s next?” we’d be thinking about Autumn. Back to school shopping, Labor Day plans, college drop-off, the very tips of leaves turning hot orange and fire engine red. Up here in the Adirondack mountains, I already hear that symphony of late afternoon crickets that signals the end of summer in my back brain.
Except that now life feels like an endless loop. I’m stuck in ground hog day, striving for something to get excited about.
Seasons used to mark time, like a sun dial. We made plans, organized holidays and vacations. But now, I feel a sense of sameness every day. There’s nothing new to talk to my husband about. We’re not meeting new people or having new experiences. Nothing exciting here, friends. Even my streaming shows have lost some lustre. Maybe I’ve just had enough of screens.
My day job has morphed into talking to humans on a flat computer screen and trying to connect with them from the shoulders up. No one has torsos or legs. Maybe they are all naked from the waist down? My brain hurts from projecting and receiving. My shoulders are somewhere around my ears. Look, I know I’m lucky to have a job, but I’m not afraid to admit that I’m fighting to feel some joy.
Books are a big part of my answer. While I feel like I have less time to read now (or maybe my attention span is impaired) the stretches of time when I crawl into a good book are the one respite (besides music) that’s allowed me to escape the world for a slice. I hope you’ve found your escape too.
Here’s a few recent selections that might jump-start your August mojo!
The history of cannabis is multi-faceted and interesting, from ancient medicinal use to the Jazz Age’s mystique of the “evil weed.” Did you know that a majority of America’s farmlands once boasted hemp as a bumper crop? And who can forget Reagan’s “War on Drugs” and lengthy prison sentences? But that past history is only the framework of Cabot’s well-researched and fascinating book. She begins a few years ago as states began green-lighting cannabis, once considered a “schedule one” drug. The book then delves into how we got to a place where “Mommy nights out” contained edibles and tea, rather than the hang-over inducing glass of wine. By focusing on a few key characters that define the movement to legalize and industrialize the cannabis industry, Cabot delivers a wonderful read that instructs as it entertains. From Martha Stewart pairing with Snoop to create culinary delights, to a hard driving New Jersey business- woman who built a licensing empire, to the explosion of cannabis products for seniors’ aches and pains, this book is a fun romp through America’s current “green rush.”
The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
We first got to know Kline with her break-out book “The Orphan Train,” excavating a story that few of us knew. She delivers an equally engrossing novel about the early days of Australia’s “colonization” by the British and their attempt to populate the new land with prisoners. Particularly compelling is her re-telling of the journey of female convicts in their search for freedom in an unfamiliar land. Evangeline is a young governess in 1840’s England who is duped and impregnated by her employer’s son and ends up in the notorious Newgate Prison. Sentenced to “the land beyond the seas,” she knows her child will be born on the months-long voyage. Befriending a young midwife named Hazel on the repurposed slave ship, Kline has done her research on the brutal voyage so that you can almost smell the slop buckets sloshing. She weaves in the story of an orphaned Aboriginal girl, taken to the home of one of the local British rulers who is determined to “civilize” her. The story is a fresh lens on the experiences of the indigenous people who were forcibly relocated, but also a story of female friendship, survival and finding redemption in a new land.
The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson
In the vein of the movie H.E.R, this sci-fi novel takes the reader into the near future where technology has created a fully sentient female sex robot designed to please and cater to every whim or need. Sylv.ie has been programmed to love, obey and delight her husband, operating under a code called “The Hierarchies.” The female robot lives alone on the top floor of a luxurious home, where, barely tolerated by the man’s wife, the husband visits her six days a week. Unable to leave the house, she stares down at the family in the garden, captivated by their human interactions and their newborn baby. She tries hard to “absorb” all that she sees, secretly confiding her observations, fears and hopes in a diary. As she becomes more aware of her place in the world as a “Created” in relation to the “Born,” something is changing. Her husband is displeased with her newfound curiosity and she senses he may send her back to the factory to be reprogrammed. The diary may be the only way to remember her old self. This novel is less about fearing what lies ahead and more about the ways in which humans can exploit. It asks the question, what does it mean to “own” someone and how much has power and gender really changed, or are we simply animals?
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
The book is one big, audacious “sounding of barbaric yawp” as the author unwinds herself from the constraints of religion, patriarchy, gender bias and racism. Doyle speaks straight up, almost in a stream of consciousness writing mode, with a brutally honest voice that makes her truth-telling and vulnerability endearing, not preachy. An author initially known for her Christian writing, she has undergone a total metamorphosis, taking us into the basement of her soul through her addictions, the break-up of her marriage to her husband and the mike-dropping moment when she spies her future wife in an audience and “just knows.” The ensuing story, which is more like a bunch of disconnected chapters or essays, is text-book Glennon. I underlined whole passages and dog-earred pages. Strap in for the ride.
Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman
There has been a spate of WW2 historical fiction books published in the past two years and I was prepared for this one to follow the same arc. What I wasn’t prepared for was a different twist on the story of forbidden love between a Nazi officer and Charlotte, a somewhat mysterious woman who is working and living in a Parisian bookstore. The story alternates between wartime Paris and the Manhattan book publishing world of the 1950’s. In Paris, the senseless violence escalates under Nazi occupation as the tide of the war has turned. Back in Manhattan, Charlotte has escaped Paris with her young daughter and been granted a new life and lodging by Americans eager to help the devastated European Jewish community. As her daughter comes to terms with quietly veiled anti-semitism, Charlotte has to face some of the truths she has kept hidden all this time. But can you really put your past to rest? The novel is about a smart heroine whose ethical and moral dilemma causes the reader to think about what challenges our sense of right and wrong and what you would do to survive.
28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand
Take the iconic “Same Time Next Year” movie with Ellen Burstyn and Alan Aldo and move it to Nantucket in the 90’s and you have the basis for the perfect summer beach read. I polished this baby off on audible during a college-kid-drop-off round-trip drive. The author gives us a taste of the news headlines, music, books, movies and more as she begins each chapter representing yes, you guessed it, 28 summers of clandestine love between Mallory Blessing and Jake McLoud every Labor Day weekend until the tear-jerking end. This could have been a frightfully formulaic read, but Hilderbrand’s deft story-telling abilities and the perspective of other characters moves things along with some surprises as she buckles and extends time in just the right places.
*These are books I genuinely love and am thrilled to recommend to my friends. These are Bookshop.org affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I get a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Alternately, if you prefer to rent books at your local library or buy from your local bookstore, I very much support that!
Lee Woodruff Speaker-Author-Executive Media Trainer