Review: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Non-fiction NovemberSeeing your parents grow old is a universal — and difficult — experience. In 2001, cartoonist Roz Chast could see the writing on the wall. Her parents were in their 90s, and not doing well. Her mother was in the hospital after a fall from a step stool, and her father’s senile dementia kept him homebound.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a chronicle of two lives at their end and a daughter’s attempt to make that end dignified — while not losing her mind along the way.

Quite the read

I picked up Chast’s memoir at an interesting time. My husband’s grandmother and my own are both well into dementia, and we’ve had many conversations with our families about their challenges.

The thing that struck me hardest, and yet wasn’t surprising, was how much the experience exhausted Chast. Dying is messy, expensive, and often takes years. It’s awful for the person dying, of course, but can be soul-sucking for their caretakers as well.

I see a lot of myself in Chast, particularly how she handles her father’s dementia. She tries to be a good daughter, but frustration gets the better of her often.

The book left me shaken. It gave me glimpses into my future that I don’t want to dwell on. Not only may I someday end up caring for an aging relative…I will someday be that aging, dying person. Will I be a good caretaker when the time comes, and will I end up in a home myself someday?

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? isn’t what I would call a fun read, but I do think it’s valuable. Not only is it excellent storytelling, it also focuses on a taboo topic that should be talked about more. Even if it makes us uncomfortable.

(I read this book for the Monthly Motif Challenge. November’s challenge was to read a book I’ve been meaning to get to all year but haven’t yet.)

Quickie Reviews: Time and Space

Yesterday on the way home from work, my car said it was 102 degrees. It’s officially too hot to do anything but sit on the couch and read. Here’s what’s been keeping me from melting for the last few weeks.

Cloud Atlas

Cloud, Atlas, David MitchellSome sadist recommended David Mitchell’s novel for our book club, and we’ve all spent the last month trying to wrap our heads around it. While I wouldn’t call it a “fun” read, I really enjoyed getting out of my comfort zone. Our club’s discussion on it was awesome! It was cool to talk about what we liked and what we didn’t, and to puzzle out the mysteries together. The stories are interesting — Sonmi for the win! — but you shouldn’t tackle it if the phrase, “I really love reading” has never passed your lips.

Minding the Manor

Minding the Manor, Mollie MoranMollie Moran’s memoir of her time as a scullery maid and cook in 1930s and 1940s England. Down-to-earth tone, excellent storytelling, and tantalizing glimpses into the lives of those working “below stairs” at the end of an era. Perfect for fans of Powell’s Below Stairs.

The Spirit War

The Spirit War, Rachel AaronThe continuation of the stories begun in The Legend of Eli Monpress, and one of my two current reads. It’s been a couple of years since I first picked up Rachel Aaron’s series, and I’m playing catch-up. So far this novel is just what the doctor ordered.

What are temps like in your neck of the woods?

Review: We Bought a Zoo

We Bought a Zoo, Benjamin MeeLife takes you strange places. Benjamin Mee always loved animals, but he never thought it would lead to buying a zoo. He also never imagined embarking on such an adventure without his beloved wife, Katherine.

But that is where he finds himself: elbows deep in paperwork and big cats, working with his family to revitalize a failed zoo in the south of England.

We Bought a Zoo is Mee’s chronicle of his family’s two-year journey toward zoo ownership. What started as a lark soon became a vocation, a calling to save the animals and the people at Dartmoor Zoo.

Talk about a bold move

You know what probably doesn’t make life easier? Sinking all your money (plus your siblings’ and mother’s) into buying a zoo.

It started out as a pipe dream, a wild hare that no one imagined would take over their lives. But the more Mee learned about the zoo — its animals and its people — the more he saw his ownership as stewardship.

While it’s always better for animals to live in their natural habitats, sometimes zoos are the only thing standing between an animal and extinction. A zoo closure means stressful travel or even death for animals. Mee was determined that that wouldn’t happen.

We Bought a Zoo is a timely reminder to care about the world around me, to follow my passions, and to do what makes me happy, even if other people think I’m crazy.

Book vs. movie

We Bought a Zoo was adapted into a film starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson in 2011. The filmmakers decided to set the script in Southern California, probably so it would appeal to an American audience and so they could cast top American talent.

It also introduced the love interest angle. It made for a nice movie, but wasn’t more interesting than Mee’s original story. That said, there are some great moments that made the film a truly wonderful experience.

I can’t say whether the book or movie is better — they’re too different for direct comparisons. Suffice to say they’re both wonderful, and you should check them out.

(I read this book for the Monthly Motif Challenge. May’s challenge was to read a book that has a movie based off it.)

Review: Smile at Strangers

Smile at Strangers, Susan SchornSusan Schorn began taking karate in order to conquer her temper and anxiety; along the way, she discovered that her studies were bleeding into her personal and professional life. Smile at Strangers: And Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly is an exploration of how discovering a way to empower one part of your life can make your entire existence more wonderful and meaningful.

What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?

Fear and worry rule my life, and it sucks. They keep me from doing stupid things (like driving too fast), but they also keep me from doing things that are important (confronting people, applying for that dream job, etc.).

There are many people like me out there, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the majority of those people are women. We don’t want to cause trouble, ruffle feathers, or be called a “bitch.” We’re sometimes afraid to make noise, say “no,” or take up too much metaphorical space.

Smile at Strangers takes lessons from some of history’s best martial arts instructors and puts them in a contemporary context, explaining how readers can use them — on the mat and off — to improve their lives in whatever ways they choose.

And it might have inspired me to do a few new things, too.

(I read this book as part of Non-fiction November. Click the link to see posts from this and previous years!)