REVIEW: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Paperback, 334 pages
Published January 30th 2007 by Penguin (Non-Classics) (first published February 16th 2006)
ISBN: 0143038419 (ISBN13: 9780143038412)
primary language: English
original title: Eat, Pray, Love

2 stars 

Goodreads Synopsis:
In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want–husband, country home, successful career–but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she felt consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and of what she found in their place. Following a divorce and a crushing depression, Gilbert set out to examine three different aspects of her nature, set against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.

My Thoughts:
Not keen on her definition of God, or Christian for that matter, but she is a good writer, and despite her shallow understanding of Christianity, I am enjoying her journey of self discovery so far.

UPDATE: Not so keen on her India section – she seems to take a rather superior attitude about her approach to spirituality, which is quite off-putting.

I QUIT! The only reason this book doesn’t get one star is because I enjoyed the Italy section. Her self absorption was tempered by the focus on food and friends, which was enjoyable. However, moving into India, she became so focused on herself and her “higher” state of enlightenment that it truly overshadowed anything rewarding about the setting. I found her overblown sense of self-importance so off-putting that I quit. Blech. No more for me.


REVIEW: Lucky by Alice Sebold

Paperback, 246 pages
Published September 16th 2002 by Back Bay Books (first published August 4th 1999)
ISBN: 0316096199 (ISBN13: 9780316096195)
primary language: English
original title: Lucky
4.5 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:
Enormously visceral, emotionally gripping, and imbued with the belief that justice is possible even after the most horrific of crimes, Sebold’s compelling memoir of her rape at the age of 18 is a story that takes hold and won’t let go.

My Thoughts:
Sebold’s story is wrenchingly, brutally sad, but thankfully it is not hopeless. She writes an honest and unflinching account of being violently raped and her existence in the wake of it. She does not shy away from describing the weaknesses in her family, including her own weakness of needing to prove time & again that she was fine, that she had surivived (even thrived), and that she was not the emotional basket case people expected her to be. When she had to deal with her closest friend being raped, she took the lead – at first – in helping her friend through it. She was experienced in this arena…she had done this before…she could shepherd her friend through the legal process. And this is the point where she begins to fall apart.

What Sebold didn’t realize at the time was that she thought she had moved on, but she had really allowed herself to be defined by her rape. She was the girl who pressed charges against her rapist and one. She was the one who was the good rape witness. She was the strong one…the savvy one…the survivor.

We don’t typically think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as something that affects those who haven’t been to war, and yet it is very clear that Sebold does (or did) indeed suffer from it. She was functional in her day to day life, but not without the crutches of alcohol, drugs, men, the bravura she felt in “surviving” in New York City. It was only when she reads a self-help book in which she was quoted that she finally began to come to terms what the realities of her life, because she was finally able to truly see herself, to see the damage she lived with (and nurtured) for ten years, and to see that she defined herself in terms of before and after her rape. This is also when she began to make substantial and substantive changes in her life…and truly began to heal.

I loved this book, not only because it was well crafted, but because it lent an additional level of understanding to Sebold as an author. It’s obvious, having read her own story, that the fiction she writes is cathartic and hopeful both for her and for her readers. I look forward to reading more from her in the coming years.

REVIEW: Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family, and Finding the Perfect Lipstick by Molly Ringwald

Audio CD, 5 disks (6 hours)
Published May 1st 2010 by HarperAudio (first published April 16th 2010)
ISBN: 0061836710 (ISBN13: 9780061836718)
3 stars overall / 5 stars audio narration 

Goodreads Synopsis:

The iconic Molly Ringwald shares intimate stories and candid advice in this fun, stylish, and sexy girlfriend’s guide to life.

To her millions of fans Molly Ringwald will forever be sixteen. As the endearing and witty star of the beloved John Hughes classics Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, Molly defined teenage angst, love, and heartbreak. While remembered eternally as the enviable high school princess Claire, or the shyly vulnerable Samantha, Molly is now a wife and mother, and just celebrated her fortieth birthday. Facing a completely new, angst-inducing time in her life, she is embracing being a woman, wife, mother of three, actress, and best friend with her trademark style, candor, and humor.

In this book Molly encourages every woman to become “the sexiest, funniest, smartest, best-dressed, and most confident woman that you can be” by sharing personal anecdotes and entertaining insights about the struggle to get through the murky milestones and identity issues that crop up long after prom ends. Whether she’s discussing sex and beauty, personal style, travel and entertaining, motherhood, or friendship, Molly embodies the spirit of being fabulous at every age, and reminds us all that prettiness is a state of mind: it’s “the part of you that knows what you really want, that takes risks.”

Getting the Pretty Back is sure to charm women of all ages with its unforgettably personal, refreshingly outspoken take on life, love, and, of course, finding that perfect red lipstick. . . .

My Thoughts:
I was hoping this book would be more about Molly and less a self-help(ish) book, but ultimately that was not the case. She has lots of advice – some of it good, most of it ok, none of it great – and she sprinkled in some interesting anecdotes about her life, but overall this was less about her than about what she has learned now that she’s a 40-something. Interestingly, not much different from what most other 40-somethings who are reasonably accomplished have learned, albeit in a more glamorous setting (and with more money).

What I liked most about this (audio) book is that she narrated it herself. As with most books that are personal stories, they are much richer for having the author relate the stories in his/her own voice, as that factor lends a uniquely intimate quality that any other narrator would be hard pressed to duplicate. There were certain anecdotes that held more poignancy for me because she was relating them personally…particularly the story of her grandmother’s issues with food and weight, because it seemed evident that the eating disorders and the dysmorphic view of her body consumed her, and that her interactions with (and judgments) of others were borne out of her disproportional focus on food and body image as compared to the rest of her life.

I was somewhat gratified that she didn’t seem to take the typical laissez-faire approach to parenting that so many Hollywood types seem to have. She is clearly devoted to her family, and she & her husband seem to have rules and guidelines that they enforce. Even more importantly (to me) is her dedication to making sure her daughters do not have a distorted image of what their bodies should be, and that they have a good relationship with food. I think this is one of the great gifts we as mothers can give our daughters – a healthy body image, a healthy (and guilt-free) relationship with food, and an understanding of how bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and what is right for one person is not necessarily right for everyone.

Here’s what I didn’t like:
She seemed a little over-confident that she was the go-to person for relationship advice, particularly given that any good sense she had seemed to fly out the window in certain of her relationships.

She had a very casual attitude about sex, and it made me wonder what she will teach her daughters when they reach the age where sex starts to become important. Her definition of playing hard to get (i.e. not giving it up on the first date) was to wait until the third, or maybe the fifth, date. Really? What about waiting until marriage? I know that is an unpopular concept with a lot of folks, but it’s not a crazy idea.

I don’t believe Molly is shallow, but she focused on so many surface issues (clothes, skin care, make up, shoes, handbags, hair, etc. etc.) that I wondered if she really truly got (even though she says it) that being pretty is much more about what is inside than what is outside. Some of the most physically unattractive people can be lovelier than the sexiest model when their beauty emanates from inside. In addition, one of the most important aspects of happiness, contentment, and true beauty was something she never really touched on…spirituality. To me you can’t define beauty adequately without that element.

Overall, it was a reasonably entertaining read. Most of the “advice” she doles out is basic common sense, though there are a few goodies in there. I enjoyed her personal accounts more than the other stuff, and I’m glad I know a bit more about her.

REVIEW: Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Audio CD, 8 disks (9 hours)
Published 2002 by Borders (first published 1947)
ISBN: 1402523777 (ISBN13: 9781402523779)
original title: Het actherhuis
setting: Amsterdam, 1942 (Netherlands)

5 stars overall / 5 stars audio narration

Goodreads Synopsis:
The diary as Anne Frank wrote it. At last, in a new translation, this definitive edition contains entries about Anne’s burgeoning sexuality and confrontations with her mother that were cut from previous editions. Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl is among the most enduring documents of the twentieth century. Since its publication in 1947, it has been a beloved and deeply admired monument to the indestructible nature of the human spirit, read by millions of people and translated into more than fifty-five languages. Doubleday, which published the first English translation of the diary in 1952, now offers a new translation that captures Anne’s youthful spirit and restores the original material omitted by Anne’s father, Otto — approximately thirty percent of the diary. The elder Frank excised details about Anne’s emerging sexuality, and about the often-stormy relations between Anne and her mother. Anne Frank and her family, fleeing the horrors of Nazi occupation forces, hid in the back of an Amsterdam office building for two years. This is Anne’s record of that time. She was thirteen when the family went into the “Secret Annex,” and in these pages, she grows to be a young woman and proves to be an insightful observer of human nature as well. A timeless story discovered by each new generation, The Diary of a Young Girl stands without peer. For youngreaders and adults, it continues to bring to life this young woman, who for a time survived the worst horrors the modern world had seen — and who remained triumphantly and heartbreakingly human throughout her ordeal. 

My Thoughts:
Incredible story.  This should be on everyone’s “must read” list. 


REVIEW: The Only Girl in the Car by Kathy Dobie

Paperback, 240 pages
Published March 2nd 2004 by Delta (first published 2002)
ISBN: 0385318839 (ISBN13: 9780385318839)
primary language:English
original title: The Only Girl in the Car
Goodreads Synopsis:
Bookworm and dreamer, Kathy Dobie was a young girl with a tender heart, an adventurer’s spirit, and a child’s terrible confusion about her proper place in the world. As the oldest daughter in a family of six children, she seemed trapped in her role as Big Sister and Mommy’s Helper. Then, one day, teetering on the brink of adolescence, hormones surging, she heard someone call her “cheesecake,” and suddenly saw her path.
“Cheesecake, jailbait, sex kitten” -the very words seemed to be “doors opening” to a splendid new self. But from the moment she decides to lose her virginity and reels in her prey, a “full-grown man,” fourteen-year-old Kathy is headed for trouble. One cold, raw March night some months later, parked in a car with four boys on the outskirts of her small suburban town, she finds it.
Though she could never have foreseen the outcome of that night, the “boys in the car could just as well have been Gypsies foretelling my future,” she writes. Girls who break the rules in small towns like the one she lived in are expected to pay a very high price for their transgressions – and she did.
And yet… this young girl, as scrappy a protagonist as any in our literature, manages to transform her fate. The story of how she came to be in that car, and how she stepped out of it forever altered, to be sure, yet not forever damaged, is the theme of this extraordinary coming-of-age tale.
My Thoughts:

This was such a sad story, but so understandable. I ached for this girl who had such a gut wrenching need to be loved for herself, and who went about finding that love in the wrong ways with the wrong people. I understood her need to be who she wanted to be, and the claustrophobia she felt when she saw the “type” that many around her expected her to be. That this created friction in her family that eventually deteriorated into volatility was unsurprising, as was her search for acceptance among peers…not realizing at the time that those to whom she turned would damage her in ways she could not imagine. What does seem somewhat surprising (to me) is the short amount of time it took for her to really hit bottom. You don’t envision that situations like what Dobie described can develop so fast…but they can, and the fallout is enormous. Twenty plus years later, the effects are still apparent. What is comforting here is that she survived without more damage…and that, even at age 15, she understood that she could change her life, and set about to do so.