Book Review: All Adults Here

All Adults Here Book

All Adults Here is the title — but perhaps its all the children in the adults that are here.

It is summer! Well, not officially, but unofficially in my book this sweet little season has arrived. And with that, I find my reading mind craving bright, easy books that take me away from any cares and into the world of relationships that feel quirky, frothy, yet still give me something to ponder over. Even our beach reads offer us a look at relationships that hold our interest — perhaps we’ll even take away a nugget of something that is meaningful. Sometimes, it is just a sweet, quick read that breezes on by.

All Adults Here by Emma Straub is a novel that is a contemporary look at a family, through the 68 year old’s matriarch’s eyes regarding her children and how she sees each of them and their struggles — to the extent that any parent can see her progeny and try and set some things right for herself and for them. As you can guess, things are going to get complicated fast.

However, it is an interesting family that threads multiple story lines across the generations and how each has its own particular struggles and yet holds together across the entirety of the family system. As one who enjoys looking at how families function through the generations of families, even a fiction family has something to offer me to grow further understanding of myself, my own family, and other families.

It’s a fast read — very now. It feels like a perfect read to kick off the summer season. All Adults Here offers the idea that we are all adults, yes, but we are also all children who grew to be adults. Together, we can find the children inside ourselves and our families long past age says otherwise.

Antiracist Books To Read Now

Antiracist Books to Read Now
Americans Need to Start Reading Antiracist Books Now

Antiracist books to read now? Like right now? Yes, there is urgency!

Once again, Americans are being faced with the systemic racism that the United States was founded on hundreds of years ago. No, the traditional slavery system is no longer in place, but many new systems have come along to replace it right up until today. This past week has been horrible as all of us in America have had to face multiple racially charged acts of violence – from fellow citizens to the police who are charged with protecting all citizens whom they serve.

This has sparked how tired People of Color (POC) are at having to explain to the white people what their experiences are living in America – a racially charged, hate-filled nation. Being black is a crime in America. It is as simple as that and until all of us check how we criminalize black people on a daily basis – in big and small ways – this is going to continue.

For me, a bi-racial person in America, who operates under the privilege of “passing” as white, and yet knows the personal story of my brown self being invisible and my family, many who pass as more brown than me, I have experienced racial hatred targeted at myself and my family. I also have the experience of American society – even the most woke people – placing me either in the white bucket or the POC bucket. There is little to no capacity to hold people with two equal, differing racial identities as a whole. America wants to see people as black or white – including folks like me.

In this spirit, I want to point you to a list of antiracist books that white people should begin to read now. During some of the protests, I heard POC saying loud and clear it is not their responsibility to educate the white people on all of this and their experience. First off, white people can never know this experience, but they can desire to learn about systemic racism and how this shows up everyday in our lives. From there, change behaviors. Stop making the little racist statements that are actual micro aggressions against your neighbors. Stop thinking about “good neighborhoods” to live in with good schools, which basically means no black people to intrude on your kids’ education. Don’t run our mouths in defense of how we are not racist. Just be quiet. Listen. Read. Educate yourself.

From there, act with intention to move the American dial away from the systemic racism that plagues the United States. Each one of us can do this work. If you choose not to, that is your privilege in action.

Book/Movie Review: Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere

Awhile ago, Celeste Ng published her book Little Fires Everywhere, which is a story that takes place in an eastern suburb of Cleveland, Ohio known as Shaker Heights. As soon as I heard where this story took place, I knew I needed to read this book. Not only were my friends who were living in Cleveland reading it, but it seemed the whole country was as well.

This book did so well, that a show was made from the book featuring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington – two heavy hitter female actresses whom I trusted would bring these characters to life in an authentic and fruitful way. I subscribed to Hulu to watch. Both the book and the movie explore topics that are confounding in society. Even though it takes place in the 1990s, we are wrestling with the same issues in 2020.

Some of the issues include:

  1. Should a woman always have a child even if she is married and feels her family is already complete?
  2. When does being a mother overshadow one’s career and how does the mother deal with her professional losses that motherhood have taken from her?
  3. What about the man who gets away because you let him get away but can’t quite get over to the detriment of your marriage?
  4. How do we see our children, i.e. the way we want to view them or for who they actually are? What is the cost to either of these choices?
  5. Is a surrogacy pregnancy ever truly that or does the child always belong to the birth mother?
  6. Should a child born of another race be raised by parents from another race — does such an adoption ever do the child justice? If so, how?
  7. What does being a Mother actually mean?

So much of this story — of the little fires bursting forth everywhere — has to do with a woman’s identity as a mother. Whether she looks to be perfect from the outside with the beautiful home, four children, and perfect career or is a bohemian artist rambling from town to town with a daughter who does not know from where she comes from or is a mother who is desperate to raise a baby of her own, but can only find this fulfillment via adoption, to the socio-economically poor mother who feels forced to give up her baby for a better life than she can offer — all of these types of mothers and their meanings are explored in the book and show.

It’s quite masterful the many ways that Ng weaves all of these maternal stories together in an explosive tale that leaves all lives upended in many surprising ways by the end. For me, it has provided me fodder to think of mothering in a way that is not known to me for being a child free woman who chose to not take a motherhood path. For me, mothering feels like I sit outside of these narratives.

However, Ng seems to invite even me in to think about the various ways mothering plays out in our lives, whether we are actually a mother or not. I have been mothered, I have many friends and family members who are mothers, I have patients who are mothers — mothering feels universal on some level. Yet, Ng shows the various threads and unique paths women take toward it and live it out.

Worth a read and/or a watch to perhaps see where you find the mother in you.

Best Books to Read During Quarantine

Books to Read
What’s on Your Reading List?

So, what are the best books to read during quarantine?

The answer is simple: whatever you are drawn to — and perhaps, with more time on your hands to read, this is the moment to break out and read in a new genre. Say you love reading literary fiction. This may be the moment to try a mystery or something funny to change up what you are reading. Or you could just pick out a bunch of books that you read in the genre you love and dive in.

I always appreciate reading the Book Review section of the New York Times to inspire my reading choices, especially these days. I am not only sending books off to others that I think they may enjoy, but also downloading Kindle books that catch my interest, both in my field and just for fun. I am trying to bring in the new to my days that keep on and on one after the other in quarantine. A book takes me away from my world and envelopes me in another

Also, I find reading is different to watching a show. My mind gets to imagine the world that the author paints for me in my own way. It is not completely prescribed and so my imagination comes into play more when I read. And when I find an author who writes so well that I can’t put the book down, that is just so satisfying in a way that watching something does not deliver for me.

There are many lists of books to read during this quarantine time. Here are some:

  1. People Magazine
  2. Time Magazine
  3. Refinery 29

And there are many, many more lists like these that encourage you to read and give your mind a break from the quarantine many of us are still living in across the world. This also may be the time to revisit all of those books you were supposed to read in high school and college. You know, the classics! You may want to revisit the authors of the past to hear their tales of wisdom, even the master Shakespeare may be calling your name.

Read! Take time to read for fun, pleasure, to escape, to relax. Then share with me — what are you reading?

Book Review: Coronavirus: A Book For Children

Coronavirus A Book for Children

The longer this pandemic hangs on across the globe, the more there is a need for good books to help explain what is going on to the children, who have been impacted greatly by this virus. Children of all ages are now at home with their parents full-time. There is no going to school, playing with friends, outdoor activities and sports, Birthday parties, or even seeing caretakers outside of Mom and Dad. Their worlds have shrunk as all of ours have.

As adults we have a sense of what is going on in the world, the affects this is having on people’s health and pocketbooks, and can make some sense of the situation. Even though it is exhausting for adults to stay-at-home, it is stressful to be parenting, working, and home schooling all day long, and the “not knowing” when any of it will end. Adults have a lot to deal with even understanding the facts.

Now take the situation and give it to children, who may not really know at all why, what, and how this is all happening. At this point, it has been going on long enough for parents to have talked to their kids, for kids to have talked to one another, and for there to be some sense of the situation. However, I like the idea of a book that lays out the facts of this situation in a way that is easy-to-read, access, and understand for children. Even the title, Coronavirus: A Book for Children, tells you exactly what this book is about.

The illustrations are bright and colorful. The facts and recommendations are given in an easy-to-read and understand manner. I particularly like the part that focuses on how children may feel at home cooped up on their own. This part provides an opportunity to parents to hone in on how their own children may be uniquely feeling this situation, as well as share their own feelings.

A book that provides context and hope to children during this pandemic is an excellent resource. There is also more books that may be helpful to your child during this time. Here is an excellent round-up of these types of books. The more the better, especially for the littlest ones. Books help us understand our world and it also helps to slow down for a little while to tune in and process together what is happening in the world, in our homes, and in ourselves during this trying time.

Book Review: Women Rowing North

Women Rowing North Book
Rowing North as We Age

Women Rowing North not only focuses on women over the age of 50, but actually targets women, in my opinion, who are over 70.

I have to admit I loved Mary Pipher’s book Reviving Ophelia that was published back in the 1990s and looked underneath the surface of what adolescent girls experience during this time in their lives. Back then, I was closer to adolescence and had barely settled into young adulthood and so it felt like a thunderbolt to have someone take interest and speak truths about what I and my friends had experienced. It was ground-breaking and revolutionary in many ways for me.

So, when Pipher followed up this book with her new book published at the beginning of 2019, Women Rowing North, I was interested as I was now firmly in middle age and rowing north toward old age myself, but not quite there yet. I also bought a copy for my Mother, who is in her late 70s. I was curious to hear her take on this book as she was living this time in her life and I was still gazing at what is to come for me from a distance.

Pipher, in all honesty, paints a rosy, upbeat picture for women over the age of 60 who are still looking to find joy and happiness in their lives. I am taken aback that the target audience for this book is women over 60, because as I read the book it felt more like women over the age of 75. For me, gazing down the path toward old age, I was struck by how small life becomes and where we must look to find our joy and pleasure.

I remember one passage from Women Rowing North encouraging women to take time during their days to look at their pictures and play music that takes them to happy times in their lives. For some reason this idea depressed the heck out of me. That as I row north, it will be more about recalling memories rather than creating new ones during this phase of my life. When I discussed it with my Mother she agreed that it is pretty bleak in that way — that life becomes smaller, especially with health considerations on board. Hmmm…the ideas Pipher came up with seemed to overwhelm me.

For my Mom, not so much. She found it interesting, truthful, held some solid ideas for how to manage one’s time, but all-in-all she felt that it was a little too pollyanna even for her. It can’t all be rosy days as you age. So, she felt, at her age, Pipher was painting somewhat of an optimistic look at this stage of life. For me, squarely in middle age, what Pipher speaks to scared me beyond belief.

Is this a book I would recommend given all of this? Well, I respect the author and what she is trying to provide to elderly women, but I am not at all sure she really hits the mark and speaks to their experience. For those of us not in this stage, I would just keep it on the bookshelf for a few decades and pull it out around the age of 65 to 70 for some hopeful anecdotes that surely will be tempered as we row north.

Book Review: In Our Prime

 In Our Prime Book

I like the idea of “In Our Prime” — that prime means aging and not youth.

Currently, I am watching a show on HULU called Mrs. America, which takes us to the era of the early 1970s when the ERA movement was active, strong, and fighting for equal rights for all women in America. Phyllis Schlafly is the nemesis who fights against the big names, like Gloria Steinem, who we all know fought for the ratification of the ERA across all states in America. It is an interesting look at the era and how women fought one another in a fight that seemingly should have united the sex rather than divide.

It is out of this context of thinking about this era and these great female leaders that I have picked up the book In Our Prime How Older Women are Reinventing the Road Ahead by Susan J. Douglas. The book focuses on women of the Baby Boomer generation and how they are perceived by society, politics, and media today. It has been close to 50 years since the fight to ratify equal rights for women played out. This book takes a look at where the movement is today for older women, i.e. post 50 years old.

As an aside, one thing that bothers me about this book is she groups everyone 50+ as a Baby Boomer. This is not accurate. It is about 56+ for women to be in this generation today. Perhaps this is because I am nearing the age of 50 and am proud to be a part of Generation X.

Douglas is looking at the perception of women from the different angles of society. American society has a “throw away” concept of older women, which is referred to as “gendered ageism” — that makes sense. It follows the old adage that men only get better with age like wine, unlike women. Douglas points to movies that perceive women in these ways. Old or older women really have no place.

The estrogen is dried up and gone, the woman’s baby factory is long since shut down — so now what is her use to society? I believe that this thinking hasn’t changed much even as the fearless women of the 70s fought to be seen as more than a choice to marry and have children. And, yet, as women age this is exactly the reason we are disregarded — the purpose of our sex is over. Men get better as they age especially if they can find a woman who is still alive with the potential for mating and reproduction.

This book argues for women to be seen equally in society as we age. Much like the women who fought in the 70s for women to have choice personally and professionally, now the fight is on for the older woman to be seen as one with dignity, purpose, and as an active, valuable part of society. The author provides some quick ideas for late age activists, like groups of women coming together to figure this out and then rallying around equity, particularly around healthcare.

It seems that we women will always have a fight on our hands with society and other women to try and establish a place in society that is fair and equitable throughout the lifespan. This book reminds us that the battle has never really been won, but is a continual one that needs attention, persistence, and activism throughout life.

It is worth a read — and there are a few more books that I want to highlight regarding aging woman, particularly one that focuses on elderly women and where we go when the end of life is near and the time is more for reflection and less about action. That time is also on its way.

Book Review: Hidden Valley Road

Hidden Valley Road

Hidden Valley Road Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker is a newly published book that looks at one family, the Galvins. The parents of this family had 12 children together – ten boys and two girls – and six of the boys were mentally ill with schizophrenia. Often a scary mental health diagnosis, schizophrenia is a pervasive illness across the entire world. It is a mental illness that the field and society are trying to understand happens when a person has this diagnosis.

This is a compelling family saga, chronicling the family’s history right alongside the history of how mental illness has been treated in America and how schizophrenia has been understood historically and into our modern day. The Galvin family, given six of their children had schizophrenia, were a pioneering family in mental health research. Their DNA aided science in understanding the disease, treatment, and perhaps even the ability to stop it from ever taking hold. This family’s contribution to research in this area is undeniable.

However, I most appreciated the Galvin’s family story and how this tracks alongside illness progression. So often mental health illness cannot be understood or tracked in such a linear fashion, but the Galvin provide a backdrop for not only reading about the history of schizophrenia, but also provided a case study in how it appeared and functioned in real life in their family. Also, given six children were not schizophrenic, the cost and pain on other members of the family is an angle explored and given credence to, which is often the forgotten part of schizophrenia, i.e. how others related and/or involved are affected. Of course, with six children in one family sick with schizophrenia the impact was great on the children and parents who were not.

This book offers a difficult story of one courageous family and it is worth reading for greater understanding of the illness both from those who suffer from schizophrenia and those who suffer living with a loved one who does. It also provides a very good historical lesson on how mental illness is seen and treated, particularly a disorder like schizophrenia.

When I was working on the local crisis lines in my community, each week during my one four-hour shift, I took a phone call from a person regarding a person having his first psychotic break. What was described to me on these phone calls was harrowing, disturbing, and radical. I could not believe how pervasive the illness is nor could I understand what these people were now on a journey to face with their loved one for the rest of all of their lives. It is real and it deserves our curiosity so we can be better prepared to understand the illness and those whom suffer with it and their lived ones.

Book Review: A Weed By Any Other Name

A Weed By Any Other Name Book
Learn to Love the Weeds!

I love the name of this book: A Weed By Any Other Name; The Virtues of a Messy Lawn, or Learning to Love the Plants We Don’t Plant. The whole title seems to embrace the imperfections we find in our yards this time of year and all through the summer. We set out to plant beautiful bulbs, trees, bushes, and more to make our yards beautiful and with that come the weeds. Those plants that we don’t plant, but are there and often everywhere. Glaringly in our face, making us realize that gardens and yards, like life, are imperfect.

If you are looking for a book on weed ecology or a scientific books on where they come from, how to care for them, and more, this is NOT the book for you. Instead, this book is about the author’s journey in her own backyard as both a suburban mother and a weed ecologist as she discovers weeds and how she interacts with them.

How do you interact with the weeds that pop up on your yard each year? Do you take pleasure in pulling them each day? Would you rather spray them with chemicals to kill them? Or do you tolerate them and take a natural approach, welcoming them in to your yard alongside all of your other plantings?

My guess is how we tolerate and interact with the weeds in our yards reflects how we interact with the imperfections in our lives. For me, I don’t see many weeds in my yard, more due to the fact that there is very little grass and more mulch on the slopes, but I do buy Petunias each year and love to spend my morning time picking off the dead heads of these flowers each day. This obviously says something about me and my personality. However, the flowers really seem to appreciate it by growing in even fuller each day. Flowers love being tended to!

A gardening book that pays attention to the weeds is admirable. The author, Nancy Gift, shares her own little stories in an inviting narrative on how her life is weaved with imperfection — yes, it extends beyond her yard. Her ability to be curious about the “weeds” is an admirable quality. How we understand the weeds and grow tolerance for them is a good sign.

What do you do with the weeds you find — in your yard and in your life?

Book Review: Separation Anxiety: A Novel

Separation Anxiety: A Novel Book
Separation Anxiety, by Laura Zigman

Ah, another book for the middle-aged woman in me. Separation Anxiety: A Novel by Laura Zigman is another book targeted at women my age today. I have to say I am wondering if there is just a huge onslaught of these books all of a sudden, or I am just noticing them because I am the target audience. Hmmmm….

Anyway, I read about this book in the New York Times Book Review section and immediately downloaded it on my kindle. I am middle-aged and own a dog. Perhaps there was something I could truly relate to in this book. Perhaps not?

The story is about a 50-year-old woman who found her baby’s sling in the basement as she attempts to get organized and begins to wear her dog around in it almost all of the time — first in private and then in public. Sort of like an emotional support dog tied to her hip. The dog’s weight, about 20 lbs, provides the character with comfort and a sense of being needed by a living being in ways that her husband, who she is estranged from, and her tween son no longer seem to need her.

It’s a light-hearted book that can be read in a few hours. If you are a middle-aged woman looking to escape from your own distress at your situation both professionally and personally speaking, Judy Vogel, the title character, offers a brief respite into her world that may be different to yours, but that you may feel resonates with you. Such as,

Did you have a shining moment in your career and now can’t seem to find not only success, but any type of spark toward it?

Are your children too old to be held and yearning to be more independent, all the while you want to hold them a little bit longer — or like a lot longer?

Are you taking to doing quirky things to get your emotional needs met? Maybe not carrying a dog around in a sling, but perhaps over exercising, over eating, fining yourself at every salon in town all the time, chasing the elixir of youth?

Judy Vogel offers you a journey into how she is trying to make meaning of her world at this time in her life answering these questions in her own way. This is a book about middle-aged anxiety, but it is not a serious book, but rather a light and frothy one about how these things slowly creep up on us all and then how we are slammed with the truth we are living. Where we go from there is anyone’s guess.

My hope with reading this book was to give me a sense that there is no quick answer, but rather a capacity to live into what is unfolding and make peace with it and one’s self. If a dog on one’s hip helps? Hey, why not!