Books I read so you don’t have to

This time last week, I thought that I was nailing this Non-Fiction November business.

I read and loved Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, then Forty Autumns, and I finally got to Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, which, in hindsight, feels like an important and timely read.

But I also stumbled a little and today I want to talk about those.

First up: The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING Or, Why I’m Never Getting All That Glitter Off the Dog by Jen Lancaster.

The first time I read one of Lancaster’s memoirs (Bitter is the New Black), I remember laughing hysterically in the bathtub. It was one of the first times that I realized that non-fiction could be funny. I became a devoted fan.

Some of her fiction efforts, however, have fallen flat and I’ve recently sworn them off altogether.


Still, her non-fiction titles haven’t been an issue so I was excited to find a copy of The Tao of Martha when I was in Portland recently. The Tao of Martha is about Lancaster’s efforts to live more like Martha Stewart for a year as a way of boosting her own happiness after a difficult year. Her beloved dog, Maisy has been fighting cancer for a couple of years and that, along with a number of other personal issues, just seemed to be wearing Lancaster down. She decides to follow Martha’s edicts on how to have a beautiful home, cook, clean and entertain.

And it was kind of funny. I definitely cried reading about Maisy.

But somewhere in the middle I just got really irritated. It just felt so indulgent, especially those chapters about gardening and how the roses weren’t just right. I understand that Lancaster has worked really hard to have the life that she has. And I admire Martha’s hustle, I do. I just couldn’t get over how privileged it felt. It wasn’t what I wanted to be reading.

It could be me and the fact that I’ve recently read some really great non-fiction that challenged me a little more. Or maybe that I’ve just outgrown Jen Lancaster at this point, something that would be kind of sad.


And now, I’m about 60 pages away from finishing Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins. It’s subject matter should be fairly self-explanatory: it looks at England during Jane Austen’s lifetime. At what people wore, ate, where they lived, what they did for fun, how they travelled, what the laws were, how they worshipped etc.

And I appreciate that it actually manages to look at what life was like for the everyman – once upon a time I read a book that promised to look at every day life in the Tudor era but was really just about how the wealthy lived. I let it go because at that time, of course it would have been difficult for the everyman to keep a record of his daily life as most didn’t read or write.

But Jane Austen’s England is…stuffy. It started out strong but quite quickly became bogged down into excessively long quotations. Honestly, if you took out all the passages that were paragraph length quotes, I think the book would be half as long. It’s also maybe not the best time to be reading about at time when women were barely legal people, subject to the rules and laws of men.

I would stop reading it, but I’ve come so far, spent so much time on it already. To stop now would feel like a waste of all that time.

8 thoughts on “Books I read so you don’t have to

  1. Too bad about the pair of these, especially Jane Austen’s England. Your post is aptly named, and I am so glad that you read them…so I need not. I would have definitely gone for JAE, but I struggle greatly with stuffiness. I say skim the last few pages and put the whole thing behind you. 🙂

  2. Haha – I cannot ever imagine how trying to be more like Martha Stewart for a year would ever make me happy. In fact, it would probably make me miserable! I like cooking, but crafting and gardening, and making my house perfect?! No way.

    • Jen Lancaster felt like, because Martha has rules and instructions to follow, it would be an easy way to get on top of a lot of stuff that she’d been stressing over. And it did work. But for me, it just didn’t translate the same way other happiness projects have.

  3. Too bad about Jane Austen’s England – that one sounds perfect for you. Maybe someone else will come along and write a better one.
    Have you read the book about the woman who tried to live according to Oprah for a year? I have had that one on my shelf for a very long time, and whenever I see it I wonder if it’s actually good. It’s one of those books that I keep almost getting rid of but then change my mind.

    • I had really high hopes for it!
      I haven’t read that! It could be good. Jen Lancaster does make the point that you either love Martha or Oprah, not both. I happen to fall in with Martha so I wonder if I’d appreciate the Oprah version. But I like the kinds of books where an author tries to live like someone else for a period of time. I find a lot of really interesting insights come from them!

  4. I feel like the “do ____ for a year” format is really played out. I tried a popular book about everyday Victorian life and just couldnt get into it either. And i really wanted to!

  5. Beyond the fact that neither of these seems to have been a gerat fit for you, the idea of the two of them together makes them seem even less appealing. In fact, I can imagine the books nudging and poking at each other in the stack, each determined to have the primary position!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s