The holidays are always rough. As Sally says in "When Harry Met Sally": “A lot of suicides.” And while family is supposed to make things better, they can often make things worse. I have two younger sisters, and we’ve had difficult relationships at times. (We get along currently and I’d like things to stay that way.) So in preparation for Christmas, I downloaded Deborah Tannen’s You Were Always Mom’s Favorite! (do I even need to give you the subtitle? That title is so perfect, you’ve got to already know it’s about sisters. But if you insist, it is: Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives.) I listened to it on the way to my sister’s house, and on the way home (I will be seeing them again this weekend). Deborah Tannen is an academic so this is backed with real research, but she’s great at writing for a general audience and giving concrete examples. And she’s also a youngest sister. She’s done hundreds of interviews with sisters (why no brothers? Because they don’t talk to each other or to their sisters, and it’s hard to have communication issues when there’s no communication. You don’t have to like it, but that’s how things are.)
It’s been absolutely fascinating. For instance, it never occurred to me when I went away to college that younger sisters can see that as a “decision” that I had control over (it was absolutely assumed I was going to college and I really didn’t think I had a choice. And as for going away, my father was angry I went to a college “only” 400 miles away as he wanted me to experience life in another part of the country.) And I also didn’t realize that this “decision” impacted them. The family dynamics were different when I was gone. And even more so on the youngest sister when the middle sister left too. So sometimes the youngest child can be resentful of the oldest ones going away, but the older kids don’t necessarily have any idea why the younger is mad. (Would this explain why my youngest sister went as far away as geographically possible in the continental US?) Ms. Tannen herself felt abandoned by her older sisters when they went off to college and got married.
She also talks about the confluence of “competition” and “comparison” (what is more often the latter often sometimes gets confused with the former.) For instance, one thing that marginalizes the younger children is when people meet two sisters for the first time they’ll usually ask “who’s older?” Never “who’s younger?” By default that implies that “older” is what you want to be and therefore is better. Makes perfect sense although again, had never occurred to me before.
Another potential issue she brings up is that frequently when there are more than 2 sisters, the last sister is always assumed to have been conceived in hopes of having a boy. Many youngest sisters report that is normally the first question they are asked when their family is explained: “Did your parents wish you were a boy?” No one means to be hurtful in saying that but we should all watch what we say. (For the record, no, my parents actually didn’t want a boy when my youngest sister was born.)
While I lived in New York I was in therapy for a bit (everyone was. It’s THE thing to do in New York) and I learned that often just understanding where other people are coming from helps a relationship immensely. It affects the dynamic and when you change how you relate to people, suddenly you stop having the same disagreements. Now I’m not claiming this book fixed everything and my sisters and I will never exchange a cross word again, but it was enlightening. And I particularly feel vindicated when Ms. Tannen says after all her research, she is now very sympathetic and understanding to the plight of oldest sisters.
Ms. Tannen is an adequate narrator, but she runs things together at times so it’s hard to know when there’s a new chapter or a section break or if what she just read is a section header. I do like listening to books read by the author, but occasionally it can be obvious this person isn’t a professional reader.
I have been talking about this book for days to anyone who will listen. It is truly fascinating, particularly for anyone who has a sister.
I am done with Frank McCourt! Yes, I know this is book 2 of 3 but I listened to Teacher Man first. And I'm glad I did because while I did enjoy this book, I don't know that I would have gone on to a third book after this one.
So Frank has made it to New York. Thanks to a creepy priest he met on board the ship, he gets a job at a hotel, cleaning. He wants more but with his bad eyes and his lack of a high school diploma he isn't likely to get anywhere. So while his friends are trying to avoid getting drafted to Korea, he signs up. The army fixes his teeth and does what it can for his eyes, and send him off to Germany and he trains to be a clerk where he learned typing and organization. Back in America he talks NYU into letting him attend conditionally, given his lack of a high school education. Unbeknownst to him he's in the education school, but that's okay. He meets cute girls and is baffled by the young, privileged teens he's in school with who discuss Camus and drink coffee while he works on the docks in warehouses.
Naturally life goes on and he does eventually get a teaching job and marry and has a daughter. But after he's done with school, I didn't like the style of the book as much. It lost its narrative thread and instead the chapters towards the end felt more like essays, like they should be titled things like "Our buddy Frank" and "My new job at Stuyvesant High School." After all the nuanced detail we've gotten of his entire life up to here, it's disappointing to not know much about why his marriage broke up, or even be able to figure out exactly what year it is and how old he is. The essays jump around a bit and so in one his daughter will be 10 and in the next, he's talking about changing her diaper. It was good to get closure with his parents' lives. But I was a little disappointed at the end with the structure.
That said, it was still wonderful. As always, I really loved that Frank McCourt narrated it himself. Many parts were hilariously funny that I don't think would translate as quite as humorous in print. It ended abruptly without even a second separating McCourt's last word from Audible's tagline but that's a minor detail and Audible's issue, not McCourt's. 'Tis is an appropriate follow-up that finishes up the stories begun in Angela's Ashes.
Listened to this on audio which was good. Mr. Jacobs is a tad nasal, but it was authentic, and since the book is in first-person and nonfiction, it would have been weird to have another narrator. I especially loved when his wife Julie came in and did a Coda herself about one of his "projects" in which she featured heavily (A. J. doing everything she asked for a month.) It was pretty funny and filled with my favorite thing: useless trivia. I was worried that having this just be a series of essays on much shorter projects than his previous year-long projects would be disjointed and feel like a rip-off, but not at all. It was fun and on a long drive the changes in topics were welcome for keeping me alert.
For years I’ve been told I should read these books. For the most part I don’t like the sillier chick lit books, and I was kind of waiting for when I needed to read something super-light, but the audio book was on sale and I had a couple of short trips coming up so I figured it would work well.
I did like the story of Becky Bloomwood. She is appealing despite her many flaws, and I do like that she’s a little more of a grown-up than some of the sillier chick lit novels: she has a real job, her own apartment with only one roommate, and isn’t obsessed with boys or drinking. In fact, for a large part of the book, the fact that she doesn’t have a boyfriend rarely seems to cross her mind which I liked very much. The guy she was going to end up with was fairly transparent from the beginning, but there were moments when I wasn’t sure if Tarquin was going to prove underestimated or Luke was going to prove underhanded, and that was nice – keeping me a little more on my toes than I had anticipated. The other thing I really liked is that debt and shopping really can be a huge problem for young women just out on their own – and becoming more so for subsequent generations – and Becky’s problems are not only universal and identifiable, but hopefully she can act as a warning to others, and she does in the end come to realize she can’t just continue to ignore her money problems but she has to face them, and while her solution (have a great story fall in her lap, get on TV, be a natural) aren’t exactly the solution that will work for everyone, the bigger picture (pick up an extra job and if the first try doesn’t work out don’t give up) is a good lesson. And it’s subtle enough that it doesn’t feel the least bit preachy.
One thing I wasn’t crazy about was the audio. The narrator did a good job, but what should have been just a 3-4 hour book if I was reading it myself, was a 15 hour book on audio. That should have been a clue before I started listening to it. The trope that Kinsella uses of letters and notices throughout the book from Becky’s banks and credit cards I’m sure is cute and amusing in print, but on audio the poor narrator has to read the whole letter, both addresses, dates, salutations, and even the taglines for the companies, which really bogs things down. While reading in print, you’d skim all that if you even bothered to give it a look, and it really slowed down the story on audio. But I did like the accent particularly. While when reading a British book I often will hear the words with a bit of a British accent in my head, that accent is ME doing British, and so when listening to a real Brit read it with words like “dynasty” and “schedule” that have a completely different pronunciation in British English than American, it really jolted me back to London.
The book overall was cute and sweet but slight. Becky was sympathetic and grew as a person. I did enjoy it, but not enough to read the rest of the series. Good chick lit, and a great example of how an author at the top of her game can elevate a genre that’s often considered a rung below ordinary novels.
I do love Sarah Vowell. I think I prefer her on audio. I’ve now listened to two of her books on audio, read one in print, and she’s funnier in her own voice (and it doesn’t hurt that she has a funny voice. Before you commit to listening to her on audio I suggest you check her out from This American Life or somewhere because I know some people find her voice very annoying.) Another caveat: I’ve seen complaints about her political leanings when people who read her books weren’t expecting that. Since I agree with her, I don’t care about those, and since I know she’s an NPR-regular, I also wasn’t the least bit surprised that she leans left, but for those otherwise unaware, be forewarned.
That said, she is just about the biggest history buff there is. She’s also a lover of politics, but mostly I suspect because she knows that every event, in just a few minutes, will become history. This isn’t quite as cohesive a collection as Assassination Vacation or The Wordy Shipmates, her other two books that I have read. In particular the chapter about Pop-A-Shot seemed out of place. Also I’m forgiving the Tom Cruise chapter because it was just so funny. I get that the theme of all of these essays was What It Means To Be American, but since the vast majority of them are about history, politics, or personal memoir (with a good dollop of both history and politics thrown in), the occasional digressions into pop culture stick out. I enjoyed them, but they didn’t meld quite as well into a whole as the other books I’ve read.
This one does date a little. It was published in 2003, and both September 11, 2001, and the 2000 presidential election figure strongly. The material hasn’t become outdated or inaccurate, but the strength of her political views seems a little raw and now, 7 years later, with George W. Bush out of office, her outrage just doesn’t resonate. She does have some excellent points about Al Gore. She has a handful of guest stars read quotes in her book, such as Steven Colbert, Seth Green, Conan O’Brien, Norman Lear, and David Cross. I did not catch exactly who did which voices, but I appreciate very much that the men who did both George W. Bush and Al Gore did do subtle imitations of their diction and cadence, but they did not in any regard move into caricature. I think it was a good idea for her to use guest voices. Sarah’s voice is so unique, that to hear her quoting these politicians with whom we’re all so familiar, would be really weird. It doesn’t bother me when she quotes some students in New Hampshire, but I do think it would be weird to hear those well-known people’s words coming out of her mouth. I also appreciate her taking advantage of the medium of the audiobook. So many authors (or publishers via paid narrators) simply read the book, and that’s it. They seem to ignore the fact that this is in fact a different medium than a printed book. It has disadvantages (no pictures) and advantages (you can have guest voices!) over print books, and one should use the advantages since we have to live with the disadvantages.
Speaking of, Sarah Vowell also got They Might Be Giants to compose a couple of songs for the book as well as play the background music between segments. I loved it! I recently saw them in concert for the second time, and had I known I could have been the only person ever to yell out a song request for “It Could Be Worse”, from an anecdote where Sarah sometimes reminds herself of things like how a bad day for her is still better than the day Kennedy was shot (for Kennedy). Her irreverence for history is actually an offshoot of her reverence for it. Because she respects history so much, she’s not willing to accept at face value things we learned from stuffy high school history teachers wearing mostly brown (her characterization, not mine), and instead wants to explore on her own, and thinks we can only fully appreciate what happened when we know the whole story – the bad along with the good. She respects the Nixon library for having a Watergate display (even if it is a dimly lit small room) and she reminds us that Lincoln had a high, squeaky voice. I know I keep focusing on the parts of the book related to history as opposed to the amusing bits about her cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time and visiting with her sister and nephew, but that’s largely because Sarah does it herself – she drags her sister and nephew off to North Dakota and finds a large state park exhibit addressing Theodore Roosevelt’s time spent there. She talks about her first real job in California – working for a seller of antiquarian maps. History is such an integral part of Ms. Vowell’s being that it infuses every part of her.
I thoroughly enjoyed this audiobook. As I love, I learned useless trivia, plus it was amusing while it taught which is priceless. While I wasn’t laughing out loud (which is really just fine while out walking in your neighborhood), I did break out in a silly grin from time to time. I will certainly get her older books on audio too, and I am very much looking forward to her next one, which is about Hawai’i.
The author of this book, Dr. Taylor, is a neuroanatomist, and at the age of 37 (in 1996) she had a stroke. This book is the story of her stroke and recovery. While it was interesting, it was not for me.
She begins with two chapters of anatomy and physiology of the brain, which was starting to be a bit much for this English major (and she spoke too quickly through this section with a lot of medical jargon), but luckily she got into the story of the stroke just then. That part was fascinating. And then I was reconsidering my initial opinion that she should not have recorded her own book. When she had realized finally what was wrong with her and was struggling to get help, she managed to be both poignantly desperate, and also a little bit funny. It took her 45 minutes to remember a phone number and figure out how to work a phone (by matching the squiggles as numbers didn't mean anything to her at that point), only to discover that she couldn't speak! I really felt for her and was on the edge of my seat while she worked at getting help, as she struggled to remember to try to say, "This is Jill, I need help." Her recovery was also interesting, when her mother moved in and let her sleep and quizzed her incessantly in between. As opposed to what is commonly held to be true (anything you don't get back in the first six months is gone forever), Dr. Taylor took eight full years to recover all her knowledge, skills, and personality. Thanks to her background, she was basically a test subject as her and her mother frequently went against standard practices in her recovery. I do hope that her experiences have led to some changes both in the initial medical interventions as well as the subsequent therapy, but to my surprise she never addresses that question.
Finally, she spent a full third of the book discussing how this whole journey affected her emotionally. This section really turned me off. While I am thrilled for her that after the stroke she was no longer perpetually angry and found she could maintain that, which led to her belief that personality traits aren't ingrained in stone and can be changed, I didn't feel that merited the space or importance that it got. A single chapter would have been sufficient, not several. At this point the book changed from a memoir to more of self-help/New Age. She discussed how you can "attract" good feelings and even good events to you through the power of your mind, and how you can push away bad feelings and bad people, which is a theory I personally find highly suspect (a la The Secret) and not worthy of a physician. She's certainly welcome to believe that all she wants, but given that the first two third of this book are highly based in science, I was rather annoyed she'd give a New Age theory such prominence, as her background and the premise of this book will lend this theory more credence than I feel it deserves.
Mostly I was annoyed because I wanted to read a memoir, and it was only that for two thirds. I suppose if I had a better idea going into this book what it was going to be, I'd have liked it more. I should have done a little more homework, as I was interested in this book solely from the author's interviews on NPR, which focused on the beginning of the book. I think others who are fully aware of the mid-book transition in genre will like it more. The author's narration grew on me, and there were pluses and minuses to her reading it herself, but I think it did work well. But I was disappointed.
True, I don’t have kids. But I also don’t have dogs and I read Cesar’s Way, and I don’t cook but have read lots of food books. I am frequently forced to interact with children, and plus this book is almost more of a sociology/science book than a parenting book. I do plan to give it to a few friends who are parents, and if I were a parent there are certainly bits of advice in here I’d be taking, but it’s predominantly about parenting theories and then scientific studies done to see if they’re accurate (or not, mostly not) and why.
One issue I have with audiobooks is that I don’t get a table of contents. (I also don’t understand why I can’t get a photoinsert for histories/biographies but this book didn’t have one – that I know of.) But I did look up the ToC today so I could have a reasonable time writing this review. These are the topics the book addresses:
The Inverse Power of Praise
The Lost Hour – Sleep loss and its affects
Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race
Why Kids Lie - Most classic strategies to promote truthfulness just encourage kids to be better liars.
The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten – pre-K testing
The Sibling Effect
The Science of Teen Rebellion - arguing with adults is a sign of respect, not disrespect
Can Self-Control Be Taught? TOOLS classes
Plays Well with Others
Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn't
The ones I found most fascinating were about sleep (a 1-hour loss each night over a week makes 6th graders test on a 4th grade level. In other words, it has the same impact on their intelligence as lead exposure), lying (seriously, all kids lie. And when you teach them to tell white lies to be polite, they learn that all lying is okay), and the effectiveness of a school program for the very young called TOOLS which has an enormous impact on kids in nursery school and kindergarten. I actually first heard about this book though a front-page article in Newsweek titled “Is your baby racist” which was about the chapter on race. (No, babies aren’t racist, but while trying to figure out the world they do classify objects, including people, according to categories they can easily suss out, including by skin color. And classifications they don’t see all the time – including any race that doesn’t include their parents – gets classified as “unfamiliar”.) The lying chapter had also gotten a lot of press when the book first came out. Kids start lying as young as 4 though it’s not usually until 6 when they get effective (pre-6, they’ll often lie about something the parent saw and not get why that’s ineffective.) The next chapter also discusses why teenagers lie (and goodness, how often!) and how when they argue with their parents, it is actually a sign of respect. It means they think their parent might listen and they have a shot at convincing them. If they consider their parents unreasonable or inflexible, then there’s no benefit to arguing and instead they’ll stick to lying. The chapter on language acquisition has the simplest suggestions that are easy and very, very fast to add to ones repertoire. One other easy thing I might mention to my parent friends is how a lot of educational TV shows actually contribute to children’s antisocial behaviors. For instance a show about how an older brother and his friend exclude a little sister, while it does always have a good resolution, that’s only 2 minutes of the show while 20 minutes have been teaching the children new ways to exclude and insult siblings. Of course that’s not the intention of those shows, but that’s the effect. When they are imbalanced in the time devoted to each part of the story and the majority is spent on the poor behavior, that’s what’s been emphasized to small children.
One quibble about the audiobook: 3 times, the author (who was also the narrator) said things such as “while doing research for this audiobook we found….” No, you weren’t researching an audiobook. You were researching a book. Would you change the word from book to paperback book when the trade edition comes out next year? No. You also shouldn’t change it for the audiobook. Then not only is the text not exactly the same as in the print book, but it’s really jarring. Took me out of the listening experience and I lost a couple of minutes of comprehension while I was silently fuming about the pointlessness of that edit.
Otherwise, the book was fascinating and eye-opening. Several times I found myself gasping and saying “no way!” Half-way through I met up with three friends who are all mothers, and I just couldn’t stop talking about the book. Parenting instincts are pretty fallible, and now that there is a book that has analyzed, collated, and drawn inferences from a ton of scientific studies on different parenting theories, it seems like a no-brainer that this will be an easy primer for what to do and not to do to supplement the more conventional parenting guides. While Nurtureshock doesn’t tell you how to get your kids to sleep or when to be worried about late talking, it does tell you the consequences of children getting little sleep, and tips for how to encourage language acquisition (respond immediately when your baby makes a talking noise. Not for a cough or a giggle, but when a baby says “dat” or “oooo”.) I think this book will prove incredibly useful for years to come. As an added bonus unlike conventional parenting book, this one is also interesting and a good read.
Boy, Rhoda Janzen has bad luck. The schadenfreude alone would be reason to read this memoir, but luckily she also has a sense of humor and a way with words. I hope I'm not giving away too much but you have to or else there's no plot summary at all. Rhoda grew up Mennonite but as an adult, she strayed far afield, becoming a college professor (Mennonites do not approve of higher education), marrying an atheist, not having children. Then she has a medical issue, and the procedure does not go well. To her surprise, her husband is great at nursing her back to health. Then he leaves her for a guy named Bob that he met online. A week later, Rhoda is in a terrible car accident. Unable to really get around (and unable to afford her house payments alone), she moves back in with her parents, temporarily. Which means she becomes reimmersed in Mennonite culture.
Most of us are probably pretty unfamiliar with the Mennonites. They are not the Amish - in fact the Amish split with them centuries ago because the Mennonites were so liberal - but liberal is not a word anyone would use to describe them. Rhoda's church had an outhouse. Her mother had grown up wearing clothes made from flour sacks. Rhoda and her first boyfriend in high school dated for a year without even French kissing - because they had no idea it existed. As someone who has lived fully in the secular world for over 20 years, she is the perfect person to introduce us to Mennonite culture. Also it's refreshing that she didn't have any great falling out with the religion herself - it's just not for her, but she respects her parents' beliefs and still likes the food and hymns.
Throughout the narrative, as small incidents of everyday life are conveyed, Rhoda is healing both physically, and emotionally. We get details of her tumultuous life with her artistic, bipolar husband. Returning home was obviously soothing to her soul as well as her body. And her mother is hilarious. Hilary Huber does a good job is giving the different characters different voices (although all fairly nasal though that's not her normal voice), but Rhoda's mother's voice is the best. The slightly childish aspect of the tone matches up perfectly to her upbeat, effervescent personality.
There is an explanation of the Mennonites at the end of the book.
This slight memoir was touching and lovely. Lynne was a teenager, training for a Channel swim off the coast of California, when she discovered she was being followed by a baby Gray Whale who had lost his mother. She swims with him for where the pod of whales was heading (sailors have called in spottings of the whales once the plight of the Baby Gray was relayed), to reunite him with his mother. An abandoned or lost baby whale will only survive a few hours, so this was a race against time and against the odds.
Lynne felt an immediate empathy towards the large baby she started to call Grayson, almost seemingly able to communicate with him. They were separated a few times, and Lynne tested her stamina and fortitude in her efforts. I doubt I am giving away anything big by saying they were successful, although given the ending of every other animal-related memoir I've read, that might in fact be a surprise. But it was a tender and beautiful story. Very short, the story of just a couple of hours' time, the audio is the same length so it's like it was occurring in real time. The audio is read by the author, who has a languid and calm tone, even when relating worry and confusion. I think if the book had been longer, her tone might have had a somnolent effect, but in this brief tale, it was perfect.
Not a great epic, not action packed or filled with excitement, this story nonetheless kept me riveted, hoping against hope that somehow in the vast Pacific Ocean, Lynne would manage to pull off a miracle, which she most certainly did in this memoir.
I actually managed for once to have both the audio and print versions of this book, and I thought - score! I can actually see the photo insert on an audio! Only to find out that for the first time, a PDF of the photo insert was included as a second download when I got the audio! Wow! Way to go Hachette Audio - you really stepped up with the technology and I hope other publishers follow. I have been complaining about this limitation to audio books for years but need to no more!
I thought this would be a good audio for me and my boyfriend to listen to on a long car trip, but he deemed it too girly and put in ear plugs so he could read his own book, although he did pop up and listen to parts, such as the chapter about "30 Rock" and the one about Ms. Fey's Sarah Palin impersonation. For the Palin bit, they used an actual clip from Saturday Night Live, showing once again the superiority of audio for certain types (humor, memoir) of books.
She reads clearly and with humor, if a little fast. Instead of a celebrity book about how fabulous her life is, Bossypants is mostly about how Tina is a pretty ordinary woman, with a life much like mine, albeit with a larger income (although in Manhattan it doesn't go much further.) She's very relatable, especially to women in her cohort. Her stories about her professional life are interspersed with stories about growing up, and those were mostly the ones that lost my BF. He didn't care about awkward adolescences, nursing, or other "girly" bits (his word), and I could see how certain stories were bound to lose him. But I enjoyed the book quite thoroughly. It was funny and self-deprecating, and I felt like Tina was a friend from elementary school telling me stories. Her background was familiar and homey. Perhaps it is simply because we are somewhat close in age, but I really felt like if I met her (especially back then), we would be friends.
I did periodically poke the BF to listen to funny parts like her honeymoon cruise that went terribly wrong, early days working in Chicago improv, and her inventive swearing. Hilarious, down-to-earth, and without a celebrity cliche to be found, Ms. Fey has written a thoroughly enjoyable memoir that women everywhere will love.
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