Monday, April 23, 2018

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen
Published March 2018 by Random House Publishing
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
Some days Nora Nolan thinks that she and her husband, Charlie, lead a charmed life—except when there’s a crisis at work, a leak in the roof at home, or a problem with their twins at college. And why not? New York City was once Nora’s dream destination, and her clannish dead-end block has become a safe harbor, a tranquil village amid the urban craziness. The owners watch one another’s children grow up. They use the same handyman. They trade gossip and gripes, and they maneuver for the ultimate status symbol: a spot in the block’s small parking lot.

Then one morning, Nora returns from her run to discover that a terrible incident has shaken the neighborhood, and the enviable dead-end block turns into a potent symbol of a divided city. The fault lines begin to open: on the block, at Nora’s job, especially in her marriage. With an acute eye that captures the snap crackle of modern life, Anna Quindlen explores what it means to be a mother, a wife, and a woman at a moment of reckoning.

My Thoughts:
At one point in Alternate Side one of the Nolan twins scolds Nora over what she calls "first-world problems." That's sort of what this book hinges on, particularly the first-world problems of upper-middle class Manhattanites.

New York City itself plays big role in the book and some reviewers have pointed out that there will be readers who can't relate to the first-world problems this neighborhood faces or life in Manhattan. That may be true but it shouldn't necessarily stop someone from reading the book. After all, I've read, and enjoyed, many books set in the South, or California, or France and I've never lived there. It's one of the things that makes reading great: the chance to really learn about the way a different group of people live. Even if they are upper-middle class Manhattanites who think that paying $350 a month for an off-the-street parking spot is a bargain.

Quindlen uses parking throughout the book, in fact, to help tell a story about the have's and the have-not's, marriage, parenthood, and values. Alternate side refers to more than just a particular parking regulation in parts of Manhattan that has residents of the Nolan's dead end block scrambling on a daily basis; it refers to the different ways people can see an issue, the different sides of the socio-economic strata, the different ways parents and children view the world.

I'm a huge Quindlen fan and I sort of feel the same way about her as I do about Jane Austen - even one of her books that's not my favorite is still better than most. Alternate Side is one of those books. There are a lot of interesting ideas here; there was a lot that I felt really spoke to me or really put truth into words. But...it is not my favorite Quindlen book. Why, I keep wondering? Well, those people who said readers wouldn't be able to relate to these characters are right to an extent; I did have trouble connecting to these characters. Since this is a book that's so character driven, it's tough to connect with the story because of that. But, a week after reading the book, I'm still thinking about it and about what Quindlen has to say about communication between husbands and wives, parents and children, neighbors, coworkers, employers and employees.

I'm still thinking about what Quindlen has to say about society.
"The women were talking about people, the men talking about things. It was why so many of the men prospered on Wall Street and in the big law firms, where things could be turned into money and people were interchangeable and even insignificant, and there were hardly any women running the show."
I'm still thinking about what Quindlen had to say about marriage and relationships.
"Charlie, one-l no-d Nolan, literal, guileless, all the things that would eventually make her sometimes want to scream, on that night, in this city, made her feel like that moment when you walk out of the waves, teeth chattering, gooseflesh from shoulder to ankle, and someone wraps you in a towel. That towel is just a towel, ordinary, humdrum, but at that one moment it feels like fur, better than fur, like safety, care, the right thing."
"...they all assumed that if their marriages ended, it would be with a big band: the other woman, the hidden debts. Nora had had more reasons than most to imagine that, veteran of a grand passion built on a big lie. But now she thought that was an aberration. The truth was that their marriages were like balloons: some went suddenly pop, but more often than not the air slowly leaked out until it was a sad, wrinkled little thing with no life to it anymore."
So, while this might not have been my favorite Quindlen book, I'm happy I read it. Any book that keep you thinking long after you read it is a good thing, isn't it?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Life: It Goes On

Well, we're not quite to the picture on the left  yet; but, after getting snow again this week, the local weatherman did tell us that winter is dead. I can't eat on the patio yet, but there's hope.

And that's about all I've got for you this week. Seriously. That cold I was whining about last Sunday is still hanging around. It even made me miss book club on Tuesday and you know how much I love being with that group of ladies. At this point, I'm just hoping this crap is gone before I get on a plane later this week!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'm still listening to podcasts. This week I listened to episodes from Annotated, Criminal, Happier, Futility Closet, and Nerdette. I

Watched: While the television's been babbling away all week, I can't say that I paid much attention to most of it. I watched The Voice and this morning I watched my usual Sunday morning lineup of shows: CBS Sunday Morning followed by Meet The Press.

Read: I did get some reading done this week while I was curled up on the couch and will, finally, have a couple of reviews for you this week. I've pulled something off my bookshelves to read this week instead of moving on to my next Netgalley read on my Nook. I needed to have an actual book in my hands!

Made: I have only made two meals this entire week - chicken and noodles one night and a hearty breakfast for my gang yesterday morning before they headed off to Nebraska footballs Spring Game. Otherwise, The Big Guy did all of the cooking last week.

Enjoyed: Yesterday I got a call from a friend I haven't spoken to in fifteen years. She lives in Dallas now so we have arranged to get together when we are there next weekend. Before she left Omaha, we spent part of almost every day together; but, as people do once there are miles between them, we lost contact. Yesterday felt like we were back in her kitchen, having our fifth cup of coffee, and solving the world's problems. I can't wait to see her!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Our trip to Texas! The suitcases are out and things are starting to get set out on them. I think I've finally bought everything I need for the trip. Although, you never know - I might decide I need something else new to wear!

Thinking About: Gardening. I couldn't resist some plants at Costco the other day which will be the inspiration for the rest of my flower beds this year. We've also got some plans to redo our vegetable beds and for a compost area.

Feeling: Sassy. I got my hair done yesterday and I now have some violet red in it that I am loving. I wish I could get a decent pic to show you!

Looking forward to: Seeing my family, especially Mini-me and Ms. S, and to see my nephew get married.

Question of the week: Tell me something you've forgotten when you've taken a trip and how you solved the problem. A couple of years ago, I went to get dressed for a wedding and realized I had no pantyhose, necessitating an emergency trip to Walmart that I really didn't have the time for. I trooped into the store in my yoga pants but with my hair and makeup all wedding ready! I've got lists of my lists so I think I'm in great shape but there always seems to be something I realize at the last moment I don't have.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Life: It Goes On - April 15

Winter...cover your eyes, Mom...sucks. It needs to be gone two weeks ago. We dodged the blizzard that shut down roads north and south of us but our driveway is covered in ice and snow this morning after a day of cold temps, high winds, rain, sleet, and snow yesterday. This, mind you, after we were able to eat dinner on the patio three nights last week. Enough already - we cry "Uncle!"

So bummed to realize that Dewey's Readathon is the same weekend we will be in Dallas. I love the spring edition; for some reason, I always seem to get more read than during the fall one. I may just take a day next weekend and give myself permission to spend the whole day reading. Or not. It wouldn't be as fun as knowing I'm doing it with thousands of people all over the world and I have a hard enough time not feeling guilty about getting nothing done on the official days.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Podcasts including The History Chicks, Gretchen Rubin's Happier, and Terrible Thanks for Asking. I'm continuing work on my Spotify playlists and have been listening to everything from the playlist I put together for the bridal shower to The Offspring, AFI, and Muse.

Watching: I was poking around Netflix the other night for something to watch late night that wasn't too in-depth (you know, in case I dozed off in the middle of it!) and found BBC's The Great Interior Design Challenge. I'm enjoying it as much for getting the chance to see how different architecture is in Great Britain as for seeing what the designers can pull off.

Reading: I finished Anna Quindlen's latest, Alternate Side last night and I'm still processing my thoughts on it. I love Quindlen's writing and this one had some great thoughts. But...

Today I'll likely start Lisa Genova's latest, Every Note Played.

Making: Spaghetti with meat sauce, tacos, flatbread pizzas, steak salads. Saturday, in lieu of bundling up to go to a movie, we stayed in and I made a loaf of Outback bread and an Gooey Butter cake just for an excuse to run some extra heat in the house!

Sookie feels the same way I do!
Planning: I had lots of plans for the weekend but I've caught a niggling cold that kept me mostly home yesterday and may do the same today. If it were a beautiful, sunny day I might head on out and bask in the sun. But since it's still miserable out, I'm not sure I want to catch a chill (as Jane Austen might have said). If I stay put today, there is plenty to do here. My office has gotten out of control again and we are in the midst of making some changes in Miss H's room that need to get finished up.

Thinking About: My mom's cousin who passed away last week. Her funeral was on Friday and I can't help but think how much better off the world would be if more of us were like her. She was a sweet, giving, caring woman who had the most delightful ornery streak.

Enjoying: Helping Miss H put together a bullet journal. She's doing hers the way I did my first one, in a binder so it's more forgiving as she figures out what will work for her. She's had the stuff to do it since Christmas but, being a perfectionist, has put it off for fear of it not being perfect. She's got so much going on, though, that it's time to help her keep track of everything.

Feeling: Excited for my married kiddos! Ms. S has finally gotten the go for the job she's been waiting on for months and they will be moving the end of May. They will be sad to leave Milwaukee, having absolutely loved it there. But they are ready to start this new part of their lives and we can't wait to have them three hours closer!

Looking forward to: Leaving for Dallas in eleven days. Can't wait to be with family, get in a little vacation time, and, celebrate my nephew's wedding.

Question of the week: Dallas area friends, we have at least one day that's completely free. What do we absolutely need to see? And, how far from downtown are you? Maybe we could even meet?!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Published September 2002 by Knopf Canada
Read by Kristoffer Tabori
Source: my audiobook purchased at my local library book sale; I also have a physical copy, the origins of which I don't recall

Publisher's Summary:
In the spring of 1974, Calliope Stephanides finds herself drawn to a classmate at her girls' school in Grosse Point, Michigan. That passion -- along with her failure to develop -- leads Callie to suspect that she is not like other girls. The explanation for this is a rare genetic mutation -- and a guilty secret -- that have followed Callie's grandparents from the crumbling Ottoman Empire to Prohibition-era Detroit and beyond, outlasting the glory days of the Motor City, the race riots of 1967, and the family's second migration, into the foreign country known as suburbia. Thanks to the gene, Callie is part girl, part boy. And even though the gene's epic travels have ended, her own odyssey has only begun.


My Thoughts:
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl...in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy...in August of 1974."


Once upon a time, I suppose I had some inkling what this book was about. Then I forgot. I just knew that it was a book that people raved about. So I bought it. Twice. Then, shortly after I bought the audiobook, I read somewhere that it was the first popular book with a hermaphrodite as its main character; and, I'm ashamed to say, I moved it to the bottom of the pile. And then I listened to podcasts instead of popping in the first disc. I could not imagine 500 pages about a hermaphrodite that wasn't just sensationalized. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

If you've been reading my Sunday posts, or follow me on Instagram, Snapchat, or Litsy, you've been hearing me rave about this book for the past few weeks, "One of the best readings of a book I've ever listened to; Kristoffer Tabori is amazing,""just blown away by Eugenides writing. Why did I wait so long?!" When the end-of-the-year post goes up with my favorites for the year, it's going to be pretty tough to top this one as my favorite audiobook of the year.

But just how did I overcome my qualms about a book featuring an hermaphrodite? I'm not going to lie; some parts of the book made me a little uncomfortable. But, then I've been working the past couple of years to read more books that make me uncomfortable so I appreciate the ways that Eugenides made me learn about human sexuality. In the end, what he seems to be saying about all of that is that it is who we are inside that makes us who we are, not what we are on the outside.

But this book is about so much more than gender identity. It's a coming of age story that's also about war, passion, immigration and the immigrant experience, the rise and fall of a city, racial tensions, religion, nature versus nurture, societies, the American Dream, gender roles, and, most of all, it's about family. The characters in this book will stay with me for a long time: Lefty and Desdemona who escaped the great fire of Smyrna and pursued the American Dream while never leaving their Greek customs entirely behind; Jimmy Zizmo, who was married to their cousin and took them under his wing but who also exposed them to the seamier side of America; Milton, who worked hard to leave behind his Greek roots and become a big man with his Cadillacs and unusual house in the tony suburb of Gross Pointe; the aunts, uncles, and family friends who made up the Sunday dinner crowd. They all made Callie/Cal who she/he was as much by who they were as by genetics.

Does Eugenides sometimes get a little verbose? Oh, yeah, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness. But I'm willing to forgive all of that for the empathy, sadness, humor, and insight that he has imbued his story with. As I said when I was getting near the end, I'm going to miss this book.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Life: It Goes On - April 8

So, spring - that's a thing, right? Wednesday I wore my winter coat, hat and gloves into work as we recorded record low temps (I'm talking 12 degrees at 6 a.m.). Yesterday morning, record lows again. Today snow flakes swirled about. We are supposed to get a few days of spring this week but I'll believe that when I feel the warm sunshine on my face.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I finished Middlesex in the driveway on Friday and I'm sort of glad that I don't have another book to jump into on audio right away. If you've never read Middlesex, I can't recommend you listen to it enough. One of the best readings of a book I've ever listened to; Kristoffer Tabori is amazing.

Watching: I started typing that we've managed to leave the big box in the corner off a lot this week when it occurred to me that televisions are no longer boxes. I'm wondering how old are the young people who don't even remember a television that looked like a black box? Whereas I can remember rabbit ears, having to get up to change channels, and even when people only owned one (gasp!) television. I feel old.

Reading: Nook, Netgalley, and I have been having quite a go of it for the past couple of weeks. Numerous people from Netgalley have jumped in trying to figure out why I couldn't download books from their site to my Nook. I was pretty darn excited Friday to figure it out myself. Then Saturday night, Bluefire Reader wouldn't open, which is where I download all of the Netgalley books. Emailed their support system and got a canned message that they would respond in three working days. So I uninstalled it, reinstalled it and it works. Thanks all of you tech people.

Making: We've been making good use of Easter leftovers this week so I haven't cooked much. One night The Big Guy used leftover ham and made a ham and vegetable soup that (don't tell him I said this because I really hated the smell of it when it was cooking and might have been a little rude about it) was not bad. Back to the reality of having to plan meals this week.

Planning: Our trip to Dallas, another bridal shower in May, and a trip to Minnesota in June. My Milwaukee kiddos are finally getting moved in May and I can't wait to visit them in their new home. Although we are going to miss going to Milwaukee.

Thinking About: Blogging. I'm sort of terrible at it right now, especially the part where I visit blogs and let my friends know I've stopped by. So, is it time to give it up? Or is it the only thing that pushes me through reading slumps?


Enjoying: My first ever political fundraiser for a friend who is running for office. So excited for her and need to make sure I find some time to help her as she reaches out to people.

Feeling: Frustrated and, to be honest, more than a little bit stupid. Yesterday, without even thinking, I dumped a big container of rice down the garbage disposal. More than 24 hours later, we still cannot use the kitchen sink, after trying all of the tried and true methods to dislodge that clog. I'm don't even want to think what the plumber is going to charge us when he gets here in a bit. Luckily, I think we're getting the "my friend is your daughter's boyfriend" discount. At least I hope so. Because The Big Guy is not exactly my biggest fan just now!

Also, feeling very sad today. We got the call this morning that my mother's cousin, who has been more like a sister to her all of my mom's life, passed away in her sleep last night at 98. It is a blessing for her but the world has lost the sweetest person I've ever known.

Looking forward to: Did I mention spring-like days this week? This girl is looking forward to at least one dinner on the patio!

Question of the week: On top of being cold and damp here, it's also been grey almost every day. What's your go-to way to pick yourself up on grey days?