Review: How To Save Your Own Life by Michael Gates Gill

I’m a sucker for lists. “Best of” lists are big this time of year and I love looking at them, but I also enjoy any type of round up. Boil something down to a few essential elements and give me the bullet points! “5 Easy Ways to Get Organized” or “8 Steps to a Better Sex Life” on a magazine cover immediately gets my attention. So when How To Save Your Own Life, with the subtitle 15 Lessons on Finding Hope in Unexpected Places, came up on tour over at TLC, I was all over it, even though it didn’t promise to get me organized or teach me how to be sexy(er). <— Those who know me can now stop laughing.

Author Michael Gates Gill writes about what it was like to go from being a high powered, highly paid advertising executive with a privileged lifestyle to a guy who lost everything later in life; the job he’d held for 25 years, his decades-long marriage, and his health. His world was in turmoil and seemed to be crashing down around his ears. Change was forced upon him yet that turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. At his lowest point, he walked into a Starbucks on a day they were recruiting new employees and met a young woman named Crystal who turned his life around by offering him a job (even though he wasn’t there looking for one); a job in which serving others is priority #1. He surprised himself by accepting the offer. Learning to serve others was pivotal in fundamentally changing who he was on the inside, and now he is a much better and happier human being for it.

This is a short little memoir-ish book (about 200 pages), yet it took me more than two weeks to read it. I kept it on my nightstand and read one “lesson” per day, savoring the lessons and ‘saving my life’ in bite sized chunks. Gill writes plainly and simply about his experiences and what he learned from them, and offers others ways in which they can apply these lessons to their own lives.

None of this is rocket science and I didn’t encounter any earth shattering new ideas or experience any Aha! moments. However.. this book came at a good time for me. Basic ideas like being grateful, simplifying and letting go of material things, unplugging (from cell phones, pda’s, watches, computers, etc.), laughing more, leaping with faith (rather than over-thinking everything), following your heart, etc. are things I’ve been giving quite a lot of thought to lately as I do my annual resolution making for the incoming year and reflection on the outgoing one.

Leaping with faith and not over-thinking is something I’ve always struggled with. I tend to over-analyze and worry things to death. However, leaping with faith was one of the best things I ever did when, in 2008, I asked someone I trust and consider a friend to start a business with me, even though we’d never actually met in person (we’ve since remedied that). Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first!) but sometimes you just have to go with your gut. I’m so glad I did.

This charming book full of inspiring thoughts and good reminders will have a permanent spot in my nightstand. I’ll take it out whenever I need a pick-me-up of positivity or a little nudge of courage because let’s face it, change can be scary. It can also be great.

Here are the rest of the stops on this TLC Book Tour:

Monday, January 4th: MidLifeBloggers

Tuesday, January 5th: Life and Times of a “New” New Yorker

Wednesday, January 6th: Books on the Brain

Thursday, January 7th: The Written World

Tuesday, January 12th: TexasRed’s Books

Wednesday, January 13th: It’s All A Matter of Perspective

Thursday, January 14th: A Novel Menagerie

Tuesday, January 19th: Confessions of a Book a Holic

Wednesday, January 20th: Thoughts of an Evil Overlord

Monday, January 25th: Silver and Grace

Tuesday, January 26th: Inventing My Life

Wednesday, January 27th: Write for a Reader

A big “Thank You” to Anne at Penguin for sending me this book to review.

The Sunday Salon – May 31, 2009

TSSbadge3It’s quiet around here today- the hub’s out of town on business and daughter #2 went to a sleepover birthday party last night.  Daughter #1 is still in bed, so it’s just me and the dog, hanging out.  And of course, lots of book bloggers are out of town at BEA.  The silence is deafening!

images-1This has been a good week for reading.  I finished Truth & Beauty, read and reviewed The Virgin Suicides, got about 2/3rds of the way through Beach Trip for our Summer Reading Series, and read about 100 pages of The Local News for an upcoming TLC tour.   My youngest and I started reading The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan together for our newly formed mother/child book club, inspired by Julie at Booking Mama.  Our first meeting will be in July with 11 kids (boys and girls) and 9 adults- we’re excited.  It’s amazing how much reading you can do when you turn off the tv.

9780316025270_154X233A lot of books made their way into my hands this week.  I received The Art of Racing in the Rain from Harper Collins- it was a win from a book club website.  I also won The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society from Random House.  Both ‘Racing’ and ‘Guernsey’ are books I’ve been wanting to read since they first came out; I can’t wait!  Love Begins in Winter, a collection of short stories by Simon Van Booy, also came from Harper Collins.  I’m not sure about this one.  I love short stories, but in looking over the book I’m not in love with the author’s style.  I was going to use it for a Teaser Tuesday post, but the sentences are all super short and choppy, and not just in one area.  I looked at probably 20 sample pages.  So I don’t know.  The Skinny:  Adventures of America’s First Bulimic by Rayni Joan came from the author, and last but not least, Sheri from A Novel Menagerie let me borrow Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea.  I’m really looking forward to that one.

9781439102817And I still have to buy a couple of books!  Still Alice by Lisa Genova is my book club’s July pick, and Life of Pi by Yan Martell is our pick for August.  Must get my hands on those.  I will never have enough time to read all the books in my house- unless I stop working and ignore the house, the laundry, my friends and my family for a month or so and do nothing but read.  As tempting as that sounds, it ain’t gonna happen.

Last night, though, I took a break from reading and had a movie night with my 11 year old daughter.  We watched Mean Girls and Legally Blond 2 and pigged out on cookies & cream ice cream.  It was nice spending some one on one time with my oldest.  My kids can be a handful when they’re together, but separately they are angels (well, mostly..), and I think they crave and really need time alone with me and with their dad.  They get sick of being seen as a unit and don’t always want to vie for our attention.

After my girl fell asleep I watched Rachel Getting Married with Anne Hathaway and sobbed like a baby!  The tears were just streaming out of me like a faucet, soaking my face and neck, and I didn’t even try to stop them.  I totally get why she was nominated for Best Actress for this role. She’s come a long way from The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted (loved those, too, but in a different way).

Well I hope everyone has a great week.  June, already!  It’s hard to believe.  For us that means 6th grade graduation, 2 more weeks of school, and then a gaggle of kids in and out of the house every day for 12 weeks.  I’m not ready!!!!!

Leave me a note and tell me what you’re reading this week.  Happy Sunday!

Interview: Catherine Brady, author of The Mechanics of Falling

catherine-brady

Today I welcome the lovely and talented Catherine Brady, author of The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories (reviewed HERE).  I wanted to find out more about her after reading her outstanding collection of short stories, and she thoughtfully answered all of my nosy questions for your reading pleasure.


BOTB: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

CB: I was born in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in a suburb just a little further north from Chicago, Northbrook.

mofBOTB: When did you start writing? How did you get interested in it?

CB: I started to write just about as soon as I learned to read. I’m not sure that counts, though! I started to get serious about writing when I was in college, and then only because a writing teacher drew me aside and encouraged me to apply to a graduate writing program. I grew up in a working class, immigrant family, and it was hard for me to feel that I could dare to be a writer.

BOTB: Along with short stories, you’ve also written a biography. Which type of writing do you prefer? Which is more difficult?

CB: I prefer to write fiction, because I think it uses every resource you have. Writing about fictional characters is rooted in an effort to empathize—to try to see into someone else’s heart, to try to make sense of the mystery of other people. And then you have to strategize how to make a story both convincing and surprising, and you have to think about using language that is both precise and suggestive. It’s like playing a game where you can’t say what you actually want to say but have to give only clues, so that the reader is the one who says, ah, that’s what’s going on here. So you have to use your analytical mind, your creative mind, and your heart, which makes writing fiction the most completely satisfying.

bbok_eb_oThat said, I really enjoyed writing the biography, because I had to learn so much in order to even attempt it. The book is about molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, whose research has important implications for human health (including cancer treatment), so I had to attempt to understand the science. But what really captured my attention was how to find a dramatic arc for her life story, and I was so curious about how she has managed to succeed in such a competitive field when she is such a modest, deferential person. If you met her, you would not imagine what she has accomplished. On the other hand, if you talked to her about science, you’d quickly realize there is a steely mind underneath that sweet exterior. So writing the biography was something like writing a novel, with the difference that my main character was alive and well and fully able to contradict my assumptions or interpretations.

BOTB: Is there a novel in you waiting to come out?

CB: I am working on a novel right now, and I’m really enjoying it. I think that writing the biography has really helped me to think about a character’s life in terms of this longer arc.

BOTB: When you write your short stories, do you start with an idea about a character, an incident, a place, or something else?

CB: Different stories start with different triggers. Usually, a story comes from a glimmer in the corner of your eye. A detail that is just an aside in a story someone else tells you or an image that interests you for reasons you don’t understand. I began The Mechanics of Falling & Other Stories when I saw one of those flyers people post when they’re looking for a room-mate. This one had a spelling error: Looking for a Female Tenet (instead of “tenant”). That slip in language really interested me, and it was only after I wrote a story with that title and a few more stories in the book that I realized there was a thematic issue that really encompasses all the stories in the book. I’m fascinated by the mistakes people make, how much they reveal about what is at the core of a person, and I’m especially interested in the mistakes that we just refuse to admit are mistakes in the face of all kinds of pressure. What you won’t surrender to practicality or reality says so much about what you most need to believe.

BOTB: Do you think a short story collection would be a good choice for a book club, and if so, why?

CB: I think book groups are sometimes reluctant to tackle short story collections, for two reasons. One is that people worry that stories are going to be literary, difficult, and not deliver that basic satisfaction of storytelling and intimacy with a character that you can get from so many novels. But I think good short stories always deliver that, and anything literary is an extra that can intensify this sense of connection, even if you don’t particularly want to analyze it. The second reason that story collections are difficult for book groups is that it’s hard to discuss all the stories in a book at one meeting. Each one offers a whole different set of characters and different themes. But if you realize that you can “browse” a story collection, picking out just a few stories for longer discussion, instead of reading and discussing the book straight through the way that you would a novel, you can have a lot of fun reading story collections. If you discuss even a few of the stories in more depth, it gives you a sense of what’s working in the book as a whole, how these different life predicaments might be connected.

BOTB: Have you had the opportunity to talk with book clubs about The Mechanics of Falling? If so, what was that experience like? Were you surprised by any observations or comments made at a book club meeting?

book_cbl_oCB: I haven’t spoken to book clubs about Mechanics, but I have done so with my previous book, Curled in the Bed of Love. It’s always fun to hear what other people saw in the stories; your readers bring their own experience to the book, so they are always adding something to the meaning –showing you something you couldn’t even have anticipated. My stories are largely concerned with the lives of women who juggle work and family, who aren’t so sure we’ve come a long way, baby, and aren’t so sure they’ve made the “right” compromises in their lives. So if I’m talking to a book club that is largely women in my own age range, we’re talking about ourselves, our lives.

BOTB: What do you like to do in your free time?

CB: Read. And hike.

BOTB: Read any good books lately? Anything you’d like to recommend?

I was just rereading Alice Munro’s story collection, The Love of a Good Woman. Like so many writers, I love her work. And I recently read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which is a wonderful novel, told in such an amazing vital voice.

For more information about Catherine and her work, please visit her website.

Many thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for coordinating this tour and another big THANK YOU to Catherine Brady!!

Review and Giveaway: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

With the success of HBO’s Big Love and the recent raid on the polygamist compound in Texas, there is a lot of interest in the subject of polygamy.  The idea of a harem:  one husband married to multiple wives, underage girls marrying much older men, huge households filled with children, a community cut off from the outside world, women in prairie dresses and braided hair, husbands keeping “marriage manager notebooks” to keep track of how often they visit their wives’ beds- it’s fascinating and titillating subject matter.

David Ebershoff takes on this sweeping topic in his book, The 19th Wife, giving the reader both a contemporary murder mystery and a historical view of plural marriage.   The stories are parallel and not totally interconnected, allowing the reader to get the big picture- the history and it’s effect on current times- without confusion. 

There is the historical story of Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young’s wives, who divorced him after 5 years and went on to help end polygamy by speaking out about it.   Told with depth and clarity, from many viewpoints and with various fictionalized documents, letters, and research papers (even a wikipedia entry!), we get a good sense of the history of the Mormon religion, the early days of the church and its Prophets Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and the divine revelation of celestial marriage that nearly caused it’s downfall. 

There is also the modern day story of Jordan Scott, a gay 20 year old who was turned out of an FLDS polygamist household, ordered by his father to be dumped along the side of a highway by his mother at age 14 because he was caught holding the hand of his step sister.  Jordan, living in California, sees a news story on the internet about his mother, also a 19th wife, being arrested for killing his father.  He travels back to Utah to see his mother in prison to find out what happened.  He becomes convinced of her innocence and proceeds to investigate, with the help of his mother’s attorney, his secretary, Johnny (a street smart 12 year old, also turned out by the sect), and Tom-also gay and estranged from the Mormon Church because of it. 

I liked both stories very much and think that together they make for an intricate and well rounded portrayal of the complex issue of polygamy; the reasons it existed in the past and why it is still around on the fringes of society today.  While reading The 19th Wife, I wasn’t clear on what was fact and what was fiction, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.  It wasn’t until I read the Author’s Note and Acknowledgements at the end that I understood that the documents were entirely fictionalized, which was fine except I wished I’d known that from the beginning.  It was all very realistic and believable.  

The 19thWife is a great book.  It drew me in and put me into the minds of people struggling with their faith, questioning their beliefs and their leaders, and wrestling with difficult decisions, something we all do.  And isn’t that what excellent historical fiction should do-present differing viewpoints and make you think?  This book is wildly successful in that area! 

You can visit David’s website for all kinds of fascinating info at The19thWife.com.  It’s interesting to note that in 1875, Ann Eliza Young really did write a bestselling and controversial memoir, Wife No. 19, and you can download and read the original memoir from David’s site. 

So, have I piqued your interest?  Want to read the book yourself?  If you’d like a chance to win a hardcover First Edition copy of The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, leave a comment here by Friday, November 7th.   So sorry- this is only open to residents of the US and Canada due to shipping expenses. 

I received this book as part of David’s TLC Book Tour, and he also generously sent me a 2nd signed and personalized copy to keep (thanks, David!) but what’s up with that date?  My calendar says 2008! 

David Ebershoff has been all around the blogosphere doing interviews and guest posts.  Here’s his schedule if you’d like to follow his tour:

David Ebershoff’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Wednesday, Oct. 15th:  Maw Books (Natasha got to meet David at a book signing!)

Thursday, Oct. 16th:  Maw Books (review)

Friday, Oct. 17th: Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement (guest post and review)

Monday, Oct. 20th:  She Is Too Fond Of Books (will have another post soon with David answering questions from readers)

**Check out this post at She Is Too Fond Of Books about a book signing with David

Tuesday, Oct. 21st:  Age 30 – A Year in Books

Thursday, Oct. 23rd:  A High and Hidden Place

Monday, Oct. 27th:  It’s All About Books (guest post) and review

Tuesday, Oct. 28th:  Musings of a Bookish Kitty (review and author interview)

Thursday, Oct. 30th:  Books on the Brain (giveaway)

Monday, Nov. 3rd:  The Cottage Nest

Tuesday, Nov. 4th:  B&B ex libris

Wednesday, Nov. 5th:  Anniegirl1138

Thursday, Nov. 6th:  The Tome Traveller

Friday, Nov. 7th:  Educating Petunia

Monday, Nov. 10th:  The Literate Housewife

Wednesday,  Nov. 12th:  Diary of an Eccentric

Friday, Nov. 14th:  Book Chase

Guest Review: The Best Place to Be by Lesley Dormen

Ellen, a very cool New Yorker from the very cool blog Wormbook (please stop by!), wrote an excellent review of Lesley Dormen’s The Best Place to Be, currently on a virtual book tour through TLC Book Tours, which I am publishing here with Ellen’s permission.  Enjoy!

If you somehow haven’t read it yet, Melissa Bank’s instantly successful novel THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING presents a chronicle of a woman growing up through various episodes, mostly involving some man, which don’t so much build as layer over each other to deliver a portrait. Often imitated but never duplicated, Bank’s work is also probably the most popular contemporary novel in stories, but retains the chronological orientation of a more classic novel. Much more interesting — and more difficult to pull off — is the out-of-order sequence of Lesley Dormen’s book THE BEST PLACE TO BE, in which each story acts simultaneously as a self-contained story and another shade to the portrait of New Yorker Grace Hanford.

The first inkling I got that this book wouldn’t be just another Bank pretender was the mention, in the opening story “The Old Economy Husband,” of… well, a husband. Dormen doesn’t try to build suspense over whether her character, who in later chapters is single, attached and having affairs, will ever reach that conventional chick-lit milestone of getting hitched. And honestly, Grace’s relationships with men in THE BEST PLACE TO BE often take a back seat to other relationships in her life, from the disappearance of a close friend in college to the strain she feels trying to communicate openly with her mother. Each story is built up over a string of sensually evoked moments, from an early dinner of lobster tails to the sight of her husband reading late at night in a hotel tub.

Grace’s career is secondary to the novel, true, but her life is not without event, albeit the kind of small turns of which most lives have been built. But as we travel back in time, a portrait develops without the self-consciousness of “explaining” how Grace ended up the way she is in “The Old Economy Husband.” Her rocky rapport (often lack thereof) with her father and stepfather are turns in themselves, not (or not merely) insights into her future relationships with men. These causal relationships are so often forced in the service of epiphany or drama, it’s a relief that Grace herself isn’t able to reconcile all these stories of her past into her current self. That might not be the best place to be, but it’s a place we can all get to.

Wormbook was the first stop on Lesley Dormen’s blog book tour for the paperback release of THE BEST PLACE TO BE. You can download a PDF excerpt from the book at Dormen’s Website, LesleyDormen.com

Janeology by Karen Harrington


It’s strange the way books come into our hands sometimes.  There was no way I was NOT going to read this book, because the author has the same name as my sister!  I ran across Karen Harrington’s name at Pump Up Your Book Promotion where she did a virtual book tour in May, and before long I was emailing the author to tell her of this odd coincidence with her name and wish her well with the tour.  She offered to send me the book, which I’ve been referring to as JANE-ology (Jane is the mother’s name in the book), but perhaps it’s Jay-Nee-Ology, which is more similar to geneology and would also make sense for this story.. I’m not sure.  Anyhoo, I started it yesterday and whipped through the first 60 pages-  let’s just say I *think* the kids had dinner and took baths before going to bed!  

Janeology has a book trailer, much like a preview for a movie.  Is this a new thing, or am I just stupid? Don’t answer that.  Let me rephrase it:  Am I simply the last to know about book trailers??  Anyway, it’s quite dramatic– check it out!