Must Read… Together

My book club recently read Beautiful Boy, a true story by David Sheff about his son’s meth addiction. I tend to gravitate towards these hard core drug memoirs, because there’s an intensity and frenetic energy to the voices that make for a compelling read. If it’s well written, I want to read it…. and in this case, Sheff doesn’t disappoint.

beautiful-boyIt is heartwrenching and scary, drawing the reader into the same cycle of denial/forgiveness/hope that he goes through as a father.  And moreso than other memoirs of this ilk, it brings up heaps of questions for debate and consideration: Is addiction a disease or a choice? Why does our society treat addicts as outcasts, and is that hampering the chance for recovery? Are current rehab options productive and viable? What can a parent do to help a child stay off the path of addiction?

When reading Beautiful Boy, there were times when I felt Sheff was holding back, or maybe only telling half-truths. It was only when I read Tweak, by his son Nic, that I grasped the power of perspective. tweak

Whether it’s in marriage, friendships, work situations or family interactions, there are always at least two sides to every story. If two people witness the same car crash, for example, their perspectives are bound to be wildly different. The one-two punch of Beautiful Boy and Tweak couldn’t illustrate this more clearly.

Did Nic have a fulfilling childhood of surfing, swimming, writing? Or was he pressured to grow up too early, always around adults? How did his parents’ divorce and remarriages impact him emotionally? This isn’t an exercise in blame; rather, it points to the fact that parents reading Beautiful Boy should not only rely on the father’s perspective, but should read Tweak as well, to get Nic’s viewpoint. Granted, the truth lies somewhere in between, but at least we are presented with the chance to seek more than a single narrative.

For more on David and Nic Sheff, check out these links:


Blog Slacker

I confess: I am officially a blog slacker. I have no excuses… but maybe a few explanations: e.g. reading Twilight to see what all the hype was about and then getting sucked into the entire series; discovering cross country skiing trails in my neighborhood; spending time with the perfect pair: a good book with a freshly brewed cup of green tea.

So, just in time to sneak in a “Best of” list before 2008 ticks away, I offer my favorite books, in no particular order, of the year:


1. When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa (Peter Godwin)

2. The World Is What It Is: the Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipual (Patrick French)

3. Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present (Peter Hessler)

4. The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (Daniel Mendelsohn)

5. The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life. His Own. (David Carr)


1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)

2. Serena (Ron Rash)

3. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (Murakami Haruki)

4. Out Stealing Horses (Per Petterson)

5. Loving Frank (Nancy Horan)

Always a good book on hand

Always a good book on hand


Peace, good health and quality books to all in 2009!

NYT ’08 Notable List

It’s that time of year, for one of my favorite book round-ups. The New York Times has published its annual “100 Notable Books of 2008.”

New York Times

Credit: New York Times

I’ve only read a couple this year, but do think that The Night of the Gun by David Carr earned its spot. I was less impressed with Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill. After reading a glowing write-up, I had high expectations, but wasn’t as impressed as the reviewer. Once in paperback, it will do well as a book club read, but I wouldn’t put it at the top of my 2008 list.

At the front of my queue from the rest of the NYT picks – Nonfiction: American Lion, Factory Girls, Hot Flat & Crowded.        Fiction: American Wife, Beijing Coma, A Mercy.

We’ll see soon which ones made the Top 10!

Ideas Needed: Fiction to Take Your Time With

In exactly 2 weeks, we leave for our Beijing and Japan trip. And of course, I’m preoccupied with what book(s) I’m going to bring on the long trip. I know exactly what I want: a good thick book that will take awhile to read…. beautifully written fiction with characters you fall in love with …. a story that you want to take your time with because you don’t want it to end….

The best examples I can think of for this are East of Eden, John Steinbeck; Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky; Stones from the River, Ursula Heigi; Angle of Repose or Crossing to Safety; Wallace Stegner.

So my question to you is: what else would you recommend that fits into this category?

Please send recommendations my way…! Xie xie…

Armchair Travel

Some of my favorite reads of all time fall into the “armchair travel” category. Check out the July issue of Women’s Adventure Magazine newsletter for my review of Rita Gelman’s Tales of a Female Nomad: Living Large in the World and Jamie Zeppa’s Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan.

If you want to get monthly book reviews – and other news about new products, gear, events, travel, etc. – sign up for their monthly newsletter.

And, for any writers and photographers out there, definitely check out their September Magazine Conference, which is focused on travel writing & photography. On a whim, I attended their Magazine Writers Conference earlier this summer and absolutely loved it… keynote from Pam Houston, networking with fellow writers (all at different stages of their writing adventures), insight from freelance writers and editors, and excellent hands-on writing workshops!

A new kind of “light” summer reading

Full disclosure: I am very picky about books. Very! I’ve never been a fan of chick lit, can’t justify taking up time with mysteries and romances, and won’t finish a book if it’s poorly written. But let’s be honest: there is nothing more satisfying than a well-written book!

So when I think about summer reading recommendations, I think about books that are easy to read, have characters that grab me and sentences that stay out of the way of the story. My summer reading books are not necessarily light in subject matter, but they’re light in required brainpower!

Loving Frank (Nancy Horan) – historical fiction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s affair with Mamah Cheney. Juicy, conflicted and very readable. People Magazine would have been all over these two!

The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls) – a memoir of a dysfunctional family, by a woman with an unbelievably sensible voice, perspective and wit.

On Beauty (Zadie Smith) – a story nestled in your classic New England college town, with storylines that challenge ideas of race and family expectations.

Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen) – solid character development is a must when your canvas is a 1920’s traveling circus! Gruen is whimsical and whacky, but she still hits your heart.

Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) – beautiful novel showing personal struggles illuminated against a greater political and historical backdrop: the Biafra, Africa civil war.

Garlic & Sapphires (Ruth Reichl) – in this memoir that playfully skips from one scene to the next, Reichl recounts her adventures as the New York Times restaurant critic, donning disguises – and figuring herself out – while dining at the city’s aspiring hot spots.

What are you reading this summer? Send along a reccommendation!