Gale Massey, Rising and Other Stories (2021)

This is the ultimate (most cruel) test. Given that I’ve started reading this collection of short stories at the very end of August and finished it over a month ago, would I still remember them (all)? Or did they not stand the test of memory, eclipsed by fresher books? I love reading short stories but I detest writing about them, and in this case I procrastinated way too long…

The result is… yes, most of them are still fresh in my memory! (A little problem is that I don’t feel they have very memorable titles, but that’s editing, not writing: Gale Massey’s style is effective and evocative). I remember the story of the girl whose father has left during her early childhood because he was gay. She counted the time she was under her deeply religious father-in-law’s roof until she could get out of town. She enlists, finds some freedom but her stint in Iraq is cut short… I remember the story of the girl who lives in foster care where she somehow takes care of the younger girls. She thinks it’s a good idea to apply to a hostess job to get out of there but the place she gets to is a terrifying trap. I remember the title story, where a middle-aged woman, a depressed empty-nester, decides to fly solo to Peru. She wants to see a puma, an elusive and mythical animal, as if only the puma could give sense to her life. In the first story, a young daughter witnesses the rift between her father, a veteran whose best friend is a black man, and her racist mother who doesn’t see this friendship with a kind eye. I wondered when the story was supposed to take place, but I couldn’t get any clue if it was supposed to be present time or in the past. I remember many more stories, probably most of the 13 in the collection.

I’ve never been in the American Southeast, or in Florida where many stories are located. Still I feel that Gale Massey gave me a good impression of the land, especially the importance of water (sea or river) which is present even on the cover of the book. Many stories are dramatic, with young women confronted to tough choices or life-altering events. Most found a way to survive (but not all). I haven’t read anything else by Gale Massey, but I would gladly read more stories of hers.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley. I received a free copy of this book for review consideration.

Pod Review October 9-15

This week flew by at high speed, because of a 3-day business trip across France: it was the first time I traveled for work in 1.5 year, and it was both great and exhausting. The good thing is that I had some time during transit to listen to my current audiobook and to podcasts, but I was too tired to focus on anything. I look forward to a restorative weekend with apple pie, crisp fall leaves… and perhaps the latest James Bond movie?

  • Science Diction The Rise of Myers-Briggs, Chapter 3: What is it good for?
  • 99% Invisible #456 Full Spectrum. Lots of random science on colors.
  • The Future of Everything (WSJ): Outhacking the hackers, the future of cybersecurity [new to me]
  • 💙 Decoder Ring: Unicorn Poop
  • This American Life #749 My bad. Some embarrassing stories made me cringe.
  • What Should I Read Next #293 Streamline your (digital) TBR. I don’t have that many unread digital books, but I enjoyed the friendly advice about matching the right mood with the right book.
  • Sorta Awesome #349 Awesome list for fall 2021!
  • ICYMI We are all the bad art friend. A fun explanation on a recent controversy on Internet, but why it got viral is beyond me.
  • Everything happens with Kate Bowler: No cure for being human (and other truths I need to hear)
  • The Lazy Genius #229 How to magic question the rest of 2021. Start planning as soon as the leaves change color!
  • Maintenance Phase: Rachel Hollis. I’m not a fan of Rachel Hollis at all, but I know enough about her to enjoy this gossip and analysis.

Only one new podcast this week, and it wasn’t a success. The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything podcast has an enticing title, but the tone of the episode I tried was totally patronizing (or at least that’s the way I perceived it). Because of my job I have some knowledge of the subject and I found the show too superficial. I will attempt a second episode some time in the future, but not too soon.

My favorite podcast episode this week was the Decoder Ring about Unicorn Poop. Granted, I might never have the chance to use any piece of knowledge I learnt from this show in a polite conversation. But it was really fun to tell the kids about it, even if they are past the stage of bathroom humor (or are they really?). I’m a grown woman and yet this cracked me up.

Caitlin Moran, More than a Woman (2020)

I haven’t read anything by Caitlin Moran before this one, but my husband did (How to be a woman), and he enjoyed them both a lot. He practically pushed this book into my hands, but I had plenty to read at the time (when have I not?). When I found the book on my nightstand over and over again, I knew my husband wasn’t going to take no for an answer. I had heard him laugh out loud several times, so it was a good sign, wasn’t it?

Did I laugh? A little bit at the beginning, because apparently Caitlin Moran and I share a list problem, and it rang very true! We also put things on the stairs expecting the 3 men in my household to take them upstairs without me having to nag (it doesn’t work, nor does it for her, so I’m just… normal). We have roughly the same age, a husband and kids and a never-ending to-do list. Caitlin Moran argues that it’s the same for every woman in her forties, and I’m not so sure about it. A lot of the book reads like one of those internal monologues I have when I am stressed out and overwhelmed, but perhaps it’s just because I’m in the same demographics as the author and nothing more. I feared that the book would be another of those men-are-shit books, but it’s more intelligent than that. Caitlin Moran encompasses everything in a middle-aged woman’s life experience, from the shallow (the neck, à la Nora Ephron, the hangover, a very British topic imo…) to the deeply moving, from the joys, to the outrage and the social and political aspects.

I felt a bit uneasy at the unlikely mix between the public, universal vindication for women’s rights, and the private, intimate confession of her daughter’s eating disorder. The laughs from the first few chapters turn into tears as we readers progress into the book. I hope that her daughter was/is on board with this part of her mother’s memoir, because otherwise it would be very disturbing. Women in the 40s are indeed the sandwich generation, and this book is a moving witness account of the terrors, glory and power of this stage of life. It reminded me of Judith Viorst‘ poetic vignettes of the 40s (How Did I Get to Be 40 & Other Atrocities) and later years, which is a compliment in my mind. I appreciated that she ended it with a note of hope.

Pod Review October 2-8

This week I started an audiobook of short stories, which limited my free time for podcasts. I did listen to a good number of shows, but I still craved a change of pace in my earbuds. After checking on my old favorites’ feed, I discovered that my beloved Heavyweight (with Jonathan Goldstein) is returning with a new season and released a number of short episodes, which I binged on during last weekend. I would have done the happy dance, but for the news that as a Gimlet show, they will become Spotify-exclusive. I’m on the fence about this move, even though I do have a Spotify account… I will probably do the jump but reluctantly. Have you installed Spotify on your phone for podcasts or are you still sticking with another app?

  • The Mom Hour Small Steps toward Sustainability in the Kitchen: guilt-free recommendations with various levels of difficulty. What we can do is very dependent on where we live and what is the cultural norm around us, but things are moving in the right direction in many places.
  • Invisibilia: Nun of us are friends. About peculiar rules of friendship among convent nuns. I finally give up on this season of Invisibilia, it’s really not for me.
  • This American Life #748 The end of the world as we know it. About a father who takes climate change activism way too seriously and turns abusive: rather disturbing, and with more nuances that I’d expected.
  • Sorta Awesome #346 Q&A with an awesome teen
  • Sorta Awesome #343 Gift Guide: awesome photo gifts and more
  • A Heavyweight short: Hallie
  • Decoder Ring: The Soap Opera machine – as recommended by Sorta awesome host Meg Tietz, an interesting piece of pop culture analysis in the context of the 1990s (even for people like me who haven’t watched soap operas and haven’t heard of One life to live).
  • A Heavyweight short: a Canadian tale. How far can we go to ascertain a memory from 20 or 30 years ago?
  • Heavyweight: Brandon. Why the awkward nerd was chosen by the class queen for prom night? It was so sweet and hopeful.
  • Dressed: Fashion history now #32 Dressed in Paris. Weirdly enough, I enjoy listening to what some very knowledgeable strangers do when they’re coming to my neck of woods. Hint: I have learnt some things!
  • Doing it right with Pandora Sykes: Why do we hate change, with Julia Samuel
  • 10 Things to tell you with Laura Tremaine: #136 3 changes I’m making to find balance
  • Doing it right with Pandora Sykes: Introverts and extroverts with Arthur Brooks

This week, a new podcast I tried was “Doing it right with Pandora Sykes“, and I managed to fit 2 episodes almost back to back. I heard about it through the “Girls’ Night In” newsletter, and I had no clue who Pandora Sykes was before (I’m no clearer now actually, and I’m glad I didn’t look at her website and picture before trying the podcast, because I might have passed as “not for me”). The first episode I tried didn’t really interest me. But the second one, with Arthur Brooks, is full of valuable information, so much so that I wish I’d taken notes! Not only does he clarify that people are unique combination of extroverts and introverts. He spoke about the value of faking it (to a certain extent) and how introverts fared better during the pandemic but that it’s totally independent of boundaries and propensity to burn-out. This episode was so rich!

Philippe Sands, The Ratline (2020)

I started by listening to the BBC podcast series, but it was so rich and fascinating that I thought listening (while cooking, taking the train or doing chores) was not good enough. I wanted to learn more about it, so I bought the e-book, which is a bit unprecedented for me. I usually buy books I hear about on podcast about books, never before had I bought a book that was the exact object of the podcast. The title is a bit misleading, because it’s not really about the Ratline, but it is so engrossing that I can easily forgive this. It kept me turning the pages during September, and for those who have read this blog for a while, that hardly ever happens to me for nonfiction books.

The Ratline is the story of two people, Otto Wächter and his wife Charlotte, Austrian citizens born at the beginning of the 20th century and who were early ardent supporters of the Nazi movement. We are so used to have Nazis made into cardboard evil characters in movies that it’s hard to read about “normal” people being genuinely enthusiastic about this ideology and adhering to this way of life. Wächter tried to overthrow the Austrian liberal government and suffered a momentary setback, but a few years later as Austria was absorbed into the Nazi empire there was almost no limit to the social climbing of these two. Wächter became a SS General, the Governor of the district of Kraków Government (in Poland) and then of the District of Galicia (in Ukraine nowadays).

Charlotte became the wife of the governor and the mother of his children, and because of his rank and career she got to choose any kind of available villa she fancied when Jews were expelled from the country, and she got to choose any kind of paintings in the museums of the district his husband ruled over. And she did it without qualms, and even with glee, as we see in pieces of her diaries and letters. She had fun, and no regrets whatsoever, and probably remained so until the end of her life. Little by little we get to see the heartless monstrosity of their attitudes but they never seem to realize it.

It’s rare and a bit of a surreal experience to get a glimpse of what Nazi rulers’ daily life. That part of the book was well before the Ratline (i.e. the escape route to South American Nazi officials found after their defeat thanks to friends and sympathizers, among which high-ranking prelates of the Catholic church) and this makes up for about half of the book. Wächter escaped at the end of the war, went into hiding and took false identities, making his way to Rome with the hope to find this route abroad. But money was lacking and connections didn’t fully deliver on his hopes, and he died in 1949 in Rome. The book takes a sharp turns when Sands ponders the causes of death, going into CSI-like details of post-mortem etc. Was Wächter death natural or suspect? If so, who would have killed him?

The book also explains how Philippe Sands came to this very strange investigation project. Otto Wächter’s and Charlotte’s younger son Horst collaborated with Sands to an extraordinary extent, while remaining convinced throughout the book that his parents were fundamentally decent, good people. He gave Philippe access to private papers and information even though the rest of the family didn’t agree. Philippe and Horst have a weird relationship throughout the investigation, going to the same places his parents lived and seeing radically different things. This book is a fascinating combination of biography, spy novel, scientific and historical research, and so evidently it is rather long (400+ pages), but I am convinced it is worth every minute of it.

Akiko Higashimura, Blank Canvas 2 (2013)

Original title: かくかくしかじか 2 / French Translation 2020

I’m always on the lookout for mangas that are not typically for young men (seinen) with lots of muscle and violence, or for young girls (shojo) with cutesy love stories. Luckily, a sliver of the manga market is for other artistic endeavors. This one is categorized as a josei, a manga for adult female readers, but I guess it could talk to anyone who has struggled as a student, which makes for a lot of people! It is also an autobiography, which is pretty unusual for mangas.

In the first volume, which I read in December last year, young Akiko managed to pass the very competitive university of arts by cramming for the exams with a very unconventional teacher. She’s now at university far from her family, her teacher and her usual environment (she’s from the tropical beaches and she got a northern university). It’s really hard for her to adjust and to get back to work, all the more as painting is not really what she wants: her secret dream is to be a mangaka.

Akiko is a very frustrating, annoying older teenager, and I totally reacted to the book as a mother of a young teenager (and future college student?). She does everything wrong: drink too much, spend her allowance, skip her classes, flunk her exams, lie to her parents and her teacher. The book is both honest and humorous. She also tells the story as an adult Akiko who knows better and reflects on her mistakes. The ending of this volume, when her former teacher comes to visit, is quite moving. I can’t wait to read the next volumes to see how Akiko manages to turn her bad habits around.

Pod Review September 25-October 1

So I’m ten months into this experiment, and I can say now (but only now) that I’ve reached a somewhat satisfying system. Or almost. I have now one place where I put the names of podcasts that are thrown here or there and that I wish to investigate. These go into my phone (the notepad app), because notes jotted down on paper in my agenda are often forgotten forever. In my phone I also write down where the suggestion is coming from (because I’m like that). And then I take a moment at the start of my weekend to go through these recommendations and downloads those who seem relevant and don’t run for more than 1 hour for each episode. I download 2 or 3 episodes and I cross it off my phone list. Boom! And then comes the limbo of waiting for the mood to strike and to listen to those episodes… But that’s another story.

  • 10 Things to tell you by Laura Tremaine #134 10 Tips for wardrobe confidence with Alison Lumbatis
  • Radiolab In the Running
  • Science Vs (Gimlet) Childbirth, are doctors messing it up?
  • Dressed: 18th century fashion and etiquette at Versailles [new-to-me]
  • The Mom Hour #331 Envisioning your week of ideal meals
  • Under the influence with Jo Piazza: I wiped my kids from my Instagram. A slightly disappointing end to the podcast season.
  • Surviving Sarah #270 Shelly Robinson, Learning to raise yourself
  • Dressed: Creepy, crawly contraptions from fashion history with Holly Frey
  • Sinica: The paradox of vast corruption and fast growth in China’s “Gilded age”
  • You Must Remember This with Karina Longworth #96 Veronica Lake. It had been a long time since I’d listened to Karina Longworth.
  • Radiolab: The Unsilencing, about autoimmune diseases among women
  • Science Diction: Knock on wood and Tsunami [new-to-me]
  • The Mom Hour #332 House Rules for kid hygiene
  • Science Diction: The rise of the Myers-Briggs, chapter 1: Katharine
  • Science Diction: The rise of the Myers-Briggs, chapter 2: Isabel
  • The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman #191 What we’re learning

This week I tried Dressed, a podcast on fashion history, which was both fun and informative. I don’t think it really shows in this blog, but I’m something of a fashion history nerd (I’m not wearing period costumes though). The show is quite promising, I will investigate their back catalogue with pleasure.

I also tried Science Diction, which was advertised on Radiolab, but I haven’t got the right understanding of it yet. As an ethymology podcast (the know on wood episode), it didn’t really hold my interest. But their 3-part series on Myers-Briggs is fascinating. I had no clue that neither Myers nor Briggs were scientists, and that the test was as disputed as it is popular and widespread.

Lastly, I made another attempt at the show Surviving Sarah, but it left me a bit “meh”, and I don’t think I’ll add it to my regular rota.

The most informative episode of the week: Sinica podcast on corruption in China. The scholar Yuen Yuen Ang makes an argument for 4 different types of corruption that don’t impact an economy and society in the same way. Also, this analysis shows how corruption does exist in Western countries as well, but in other forms.

The most practical episode of the week: 10 Things to tell you, Wardrobe tips. Very timely for me. The idea that I should put aside clothes that no longer work for me but remain dear to my heart is genius. I used to agonize over those to donate them or wear them, both options I am not ready to do.

The most inspirational episode of the week: The Next Right Thing. Recording what we learn is precious. I’ve done it several years ago and I should probably do it again.

What podcast is making your days more awesome?

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit (2003)

Mr. S. bought me this book for my birthday after he saw it on my Goodreads wishlist for years (2017 to be precise). In retrospect, I’m surprised how much of a reference this book is. I didn’t know Twyla Tharp’s choreographic work before I started reading, I had never seen her dance or any of her shows. I knew that her book was universally recommended on creativity, and sometimes assigned in courses. I was expecting something similar to Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, one of my favorite books, because they are often listed together.

This was different from what I expected. It was more like an autobiography and an explanation of Twyla Tharp’s own method to keep creating new shows year after year, decade after decade. She sure does give examples and some exercises at the end of each chapter but it’s really not a how-to guide. The subtitle “Learn it and use it for life” is clearly misleading. But the title itself is very meaningful: creation is not seen as the produce of miraculous inspiration (where’s the muse?), but the result of hard work and ingrained habits. Conclusion which I wholeheartedly believe in, but it wasn’t really ground-breaking for me.

I appreciated that Twyla Tharp gave examples from a wide range of arts and creators. I much too often limit myself to writers, and I’d never thought about creative habits when it comes to visual arts or physical arts like choreography. I also liked the idea of “spine” that would support a whole creative project (to find what the spine is would help to build the rest of the work).

But I didn’t really fall in love with the book, in the way that other books about creativity seemed to reveal themselves to me. I believe that’s because I didn’t really learn much, which I’d be able to use for myself. And secondly, the tone of the book was a bit harsh and condescending to my taste – probably because dance is a very exacting discipline. The tone of the book wasn’t full of kindness and compassion. For that, I’d refer you to my two favorite books: Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Elly Griffiths, The Postscript Murders (2020)

Is there a part of me that’s bemoaning the start of fall? Certainly, but that’s no reason to hang to summer, and especially to the reviews of the books I read in August for the 20 Books of Summer challenge. Especially when I enjoyed those books! I’ve discovered Elly Griffiths earlier this year and I really liked the two books I read from her series with Ruth Galloway, a Norfolk archaeologist who always gets embroiled into murder investigations. I was happy to see that she has another series underway, with police detective sergeant Harbinder Kaur.

Harbinder Kaur is a 30-something Sikh woman who still lives with her somewhat meddling, ageing parents who hold a grocery shop. Harbinder can’t really tell her family that she’s gay, but it is clear to all that she’s gutsy and ambitious. Although she’s a great character, she hardly takes center stage in this cosy mystery, there’s a large cast and they are all good!

The Postscript Murders take place in a retirement home on the seaside. Now, didn’t I read just another murder mystery set in a retirement community in England? Yes, it was The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, which I’d liked a lot. It is rather an unfortunate publishing coincidence to have those two out almost at the same time, because it leads readers to play the comparison game and that’s not fair.

In both books, a group of mismatched amateur investigators are trying to discover the truth alongside the official police work. In both books, one of the old people clearly has some past linked to secret services. In both books, the “invisible” people who provide care to the retired people have a lot more back story and complex motivations than what one generally expect. In both books, you have elements of romance and a very sweet and perfectly British tone that makes my heart melt. Don’t make me choose one, I actually loved them both!

What I liked most is probably the tongue-in-cheek writing. Elly Griffiths is having fun, and knows that her readers share a lot of knowledge of classic murder mysteries and of Miss Marple tropes. Some dialogues are priceless and really made me laugh. She also pokes some fun at writers and publishers and writing conventions. This book is the second in a series, but it really holds well as a standalone. Still, I might go back and read the first one next time I need a dose of British cozy mystery.

Pod Review September 18-24

Nine months into my quests for new podcast shows, I’m starting to get serious mommy brain syndrome! To my shame, I “discovered” a show this week which I enjoyed a lot: The Happiness Lab, only to see that I’d actually already discovered it back in June… and also quite enjoyed it. Ahem… I was sure to have seen that little yellow smiley logo somewhere before… 🙄 But at least I’m consistent with myself, and this show is a keeper 😋. Perhaps I should get myself a few vitamins or supplements while I’m at it? Sorta Awesome show was gushing about them, and I’m usually reaching Halloween pretty exhausted.

  • Under the influence with Jo Piazza Ep. 8 It’s time for a reckoning / Ep. 9 is this the end? / Bonus: in the Michael’s parking lot. Sigh… I felt that the few last episodes were a bit of a let-down after the very intense beginning. And the Michaels’ parking lot episode made me roll my eyes. Yes, some women are just ready for anything to be noticed, but devoting a whole episode to them will only highlight the problem.
  • Invisibilia: A Friendly Ghost story. Interesting story about ghosting, but far too long… I may end up ghosting this show… but I saw loved the previous hosts that I’m feeling all guilty about it…
  • The Happiness Lab: Dump your inner drill sergeant; about making resolutions in kindness
  • Sharon Says So Ep. 24 Changing ideologies with Jen Hatmaker; I liked the tone of the conversation, but I felt that Jen Hatmaker remained so high level about what she went through that I had some difficulty to connect.
  • Everything Happens with Kate Bowler: Cecily Strong, Embracing the Yes/And. About the coexistence of big emotions in time of loss, or love, and we don’t need to choose one only.
  • Surviving Sarah with Sarah Bragg [new-to-me] #274 Will Hutcherson, Helping kids and teens feel seen when they feel despair. I’d feared that the conversation would be preachy and religious, but instead it was surprisingly hands-on and good.
  • This American Life #746 This is just some songs
  • Next right thing #193 A soul minimalist’s guide to autumn. Even though I’m not a Christian, Emily P. Freeman is so soothing and caring that she does good to listeners of any faith.
  • Movie Therapy I’ve accomplished nothing on my to-do list [new-to-me]
  • Movie Therapy I’m hurting over my fair-weather friends
  • 💙 The Happiness Lab Dial D for Distracted
  • Sorta Awesome #336 Go through our empties with us

I tried (for real) 2 new shows this week. I haven’t yet reached the 2 episodes’ mark with Surviving Sarah, but on the other hand, I was instantly fascinated by Movie Therapy, with hosts Rafer and Kristen. These two have a real chemistry and I love their thoughtful cinematic advice!

My favorite episode this week was Dial D for Distracted from the Happiness Lab. I learnt really amazing science facts! Have you heard of inattentional blindness? Apparently, some people who are focusing on counting some sports action are missing that a gorilla is actually walking in the middle of the game. Do you think you’d never miss something so big? 30% of people do, and it goes up to 70% when these people are talking on the phone at the same time. The podcast’s show notes are awesome, check the weird gorilla video out!

As we’re officially in fall now, I’m in the mood for some spooky mysteries and investigations. I read somewhere from Laura Tremaine (who loves true crime) that CaseFile was a good show, but when I saw that most episodes were well over the 1 hour mark, I didn’t want to invest my precious time. Anyone tried it yet? Am I missing out and should I bend my own rules? Any other true crime shows that would be shorter but equally engrossing?