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January 2020 Book Marks - Lee Woodruff
New year, new decade. By this point I’ve learned resolutions are futile. For about thirty days, the gym at my YMCA is chock full, friends order fizzy water instead of wine. People make bloated promises about waistlines, turning over new leaves and becoming better/leaner/healthier versions of their former selves. And then real life takes over. The Ben and Jerry’s calls to me from the freezer. All that unnecessary self-flagellation and loathing is déjà vu all over again. At the end of my sophomore year in high school, my parents announced we were moving. After the tears, despair and the “Best of Bread” album on repeat while I mourned my lost life in Delmar, New York, I fixed on one silver lining. Moving meant I could re-invent myself. Maybe instead of the flat chested, brace face, class clown, I could be a woman of mystery. I could change my personality amidst my future group of friends and be….”cooler.” You know where this is going. It didn’t work. I was hard-wired to be the same goofy, wise-cracking, outgoing, big American self that I’d always been. Life has a level set for all of us and while we can tinker at the margins (lose that five pounds, stretch, read a book a week, live more in the moment) most of us revert at some point to who we are. The realization of that fact is actually sort of freeing. So as I enter the next decade, this is what I’m thinking about: – Say “yes” more, but exercise the power of a guilt-free “no” – Spend less on “things” and more on experiences – Order fewer things from Amazon with its damned packaging – Reach out to old friends for no reason – Schedule “Me” days in my calendar and hold the line – Write more – tackle that book idea that sits on my desktop – Forgive myself for the days I don’t feel “in the moment” And while these smell a little bit like resolutions, I’m going to call them rules to live by. Health, happiness, home and new horizons are my wish for all of you this year. And, of course, many good books by your nightstand. Here are a few to get you going in the new year. Fiction: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates Reminiscent of Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” Coates weaves a bit of the fantastic with the harsh realism of slavery on a Virginia plantation. Hiram Walker has been born into bondage, the son of the master and half-brother of the some-day lord of the manor, a cruel and ignorant boy he must serve. When his mother is sold to another plantation, he loses his memory of the past, but instead is imbued with a mysterious power that can “conduct” himself and others on the journey to freedom. It’s a wonderful play on words that Coates employs with great effect. This dramatic story switchbacks between beautiful human moments and scenes so brutal that I had to set the book down and catch my breath. It’s a dramatic and beautiful story of a family ripped apart and the war that was waged by so many families to simply live with and rejoin the people they loved. Fiction: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid This novel tackles multiple topics with linebacker speed, even as the story slowly simmers to a boil. Alex Chamberlain is an accomplished white woman with a female-powered “brand” who is married to a TV anchor. When motherhood intersects with her career, she hires Emira to babysit part-time. A 25-year old broke college graduate who is still figuring out what she wants to do, Emira forms a special bond with two-year-old Briar. When a security guard who sees a black woman with a white child in an upscale grocery store accuses Emira of kidnapping, the incident is videotaped. The chain of events that are then set in motion, including the appearance of a bad high school boyfriend, are on a crash course that not only makes for a fun read, but illuminate many of the social issues of our time. The complexities of race, privilege, white guilt, transactional relationships, social media, motherhood, and how we define family are examined from multiple facets with clever dialogue and interior monologue. Non-Fiction: The Body by Bill Bryson For anyone curious about what makes us tick and how we were built, this is an exhaustively researched and sometimes disgusting, look at how our bodies work. For his latest book (and I’m a huge fan) Bryson takes us on a tour of ourselves, body part by body part, system by system. There are chapters devoted to the brain and guts and skin and hair, each weaving together history, expert interviews and anecdotes, which are the author’s signature moves. For example, did you know that one kiss transfers over one billion bacteria from mouth to mouth along with 0.2 micrograms of food bits? In the end, the take-away for humans is that bacteria may win. Because of our over-use of antibiotics, we haven’t kept up with eliminating new strains, which could lead to our demise by some dystopian superbug. Time for a wakeup call. And for those of you who want to take the same kind of up close and personal tour of the history of the home, be sure to read Bryson’s book “At Home,” which is one of my all-time favorites. Out in JANUARY 2020 Fiction: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell Vanessa, a bored hotel employee trapped in her hometown, is monitoring Facebook, where a student has accused her high school English teacher of sexual abuse. But Vanessa is keeping a deep secret. When she was just 15 years old, she also had sex with that teacher. And years later, she is still certain that the experience was love. In a story that is told alternating between the past and present, it explores memory and trauma with the powerful exhilaration of a …