13

Books That Make You Go “Hmmm”

Every once in a while you read a book that has a big impact on you.

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol is one for me.

This one started out as a not-really-joking option for book club. We ignored it the first time it was brought up but decided to go for it the second time. There were jokes about how this was going to turn our book club into a dry event.

I started reading it thinking “this isn’t going to affect me, I don’t have a problem with alcohol” and finished it thinking “holy f&ck.”

Not that I’m an alcoholic or anything. But I maybe don’t have as healthy a relationship with alcohol as I like to think I do.

The author Ann Dowsett Johnston starts out by sharing her own story. How she grew up with an alcoholic mother (relatively rare, historically you’re more likely to have an alcoholic father) and howshe grew up with a healthy appetite for alcohol until it wasn’t. Until, for various reasons, she was having 3 glasses of wine a night, alone in a pub, before grabbing another bottle to take home, sleeping in and being late for work because she was too fuzzy to get started properly, jeopardizing her relationship with her son and her partner, trying to stop on her own for three years before realizing that she did really need help.

And peppered through her own experience with alcohol is a social discussion on the place of alcohol in the lives of women. As women have agitated for change, to be considered as the equal of men, an unintended result has been that we now have our own problems with alcohol.

It’s not a perfect book by any means. Often Dowsett Johnston repeats herself, or explains things a second time when it’s already been covered, almost like she doesn’t think her readers can keep up. There is an element of “when women drink, they open themselves up to sexual assault” like it’s the risky behaviour that causes it instead of the fact that men rape.

But it’s a courageous book and it’s definitely started a conversation for me.

Here are some of the things that stuck out for me:

  • Women’s bodies aren’t able to break down alcohol the same way as men due to a combination of hormones, enzymes and the makeup of our bodies (we have more fat then men). This means that it takes less alcohol for us to get drunk and it also takes a shorter amount of time for women to become dependent on alcohol.
  • My generation of women is the first to have alcohol marketed directly at them. Wine as Mommy Juice, alcopops, ready mixed coolers and flavoured vodkas? Those were created to appeal directly to women and they work.
  • Binge drinking is considered to be 4 or more drinks in one “sitting” in the last 30 days. Put your hand up if that includes you. (*raises hand*)
  • Depending on where in her cycle a woman is, alcohol will affect her differently.
  • That alcohol consumption has become so normalized in our society, we look down on people who are more tee total, who don’t really drink when they go out. But that as alcohol is normalized, we up the limits, flirting with alcohol problems.

I expected to read this book and go “that was interesting.” I ended up reading this going “some things maybe need to change.”

15

Book Club Read: The Good Girl

It can be really difficult to pick book club books. First, there are the different personalities and reading preferences of the book club members. Then you really do want something that will illicit strong reactions, either way. You want something that isn’t difficult to make yourself read but you want it to inspire discussion.

Before book club I always take a look and see if I can’t find some titles that might appeal to us all, that has been tipped as being a good book club pick because something about it made it good fodder for discussion.

Which is how we ended up reading The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. I had seen it on The Huffington Post’s book section, on a list of books that your book club will love. I don’t think we’d read a thriller before so we thought it could inspire a different kind of conversation.

We haven’t met yet but I don’t think this is that book. Before I started reading it, at least one member had mentioned that the book wasn’t gripping them, that they found it difficult to make themselves get on with the reading. Not a good sign.

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Mia Dennett, a 24 year old teacher and member of a famous Chicago family, goes missing. The story alternates between the memories and experience of her mother, Eve, the search for Mia as told by Gabe, the detective assigned to find her, and that of Colin, the man who takes Mia. Certain chapters are labeled as before or after, depending on whether it is taking place before or after we know what happened to Mia.

This is another one of those books that takes advantage of its potential similarities to Gone Girl, which means that you spend the entire time waiting for the twist. When it comes, basically at the very end of the book, my reaction was “huh.” I definitely wasn’t blown away, I didn’t need a moment to collect myself, it certainly explained everything but it just wasn’t massive. It was disappointing that no real inkling had come before that there might have been more to Mia than met the eye. The only hint was that it was compared to Gone Girl but I didn’t think that Kubica herself had laid any kind of groundwork for us.

As for the characters, they all seemed dedicated to fulfilling their obligations as set forth by the central casting of books with mysterious disappearances. Eve is in an unhappy marriage, doing everything by rote, berating herself for being a disinterested parent, desperate for any kind of companionship; Gabe, who badly wants to solve this case while the media dissects the whole thing, falls for the attractive and damaged Eve; Colin is a good guy wrapped in bad guy clothes and Mia. Mia thinks she’s in control but mostly seems like she’s in a Stockholm syndrome situation.

I wanted to like this book. I wanted to be obsessed with what happened to Mia. But I didn’t really and I certainly wasn’t that invested in the outcome.

I’m curious what the rest of the girls made of it.

15

Book Club Pick: The Humans

When we last discussed our book club pick and I heard a general description, I admit my immediate reaction was “no.”

An alien sent to Earth to inhabit a math teacher’s body?? I am out. Aliens and math – two things that are not my cup of tea.

But I kept my mouth shut because sometimes I don’t know everything. Only sometimes. This was one of those times.

The Humans by Matt Haig is fantastic and I’m so glad I read it.

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The book is set up as a kind of instruction manual for other aliens that may be sent to Earth to help them understand humans and all their eccentricities. The unnamed narrator does take over the life and body of a math professor but it’s not nearly as sci-fi nerdy as I thought it would be. Right before Martin was taken up to the aliens, he had solved one of the oldest math problems in existence. It would revolutionize mathematics and the universe. Fearful that humans will find out about their existence, they send one of their own down to destroy all evidence of the solution. This includes killing the professor’s wife and son.

The problem is the alien starts to like being human. He discovers the beauty of music, that peanut butter is perfect food and that he loves dogs. He finds himself falling in love with the professor’s wife, a complicated process not least because he found human forms disgusting to look at but also because before his arrival, the professor and his wife barely spoke.

His mission is completely compromised as he falls in love, as he becomes human.

That’s what’s at the heart of this lovely book: love. The alien is kind of obsessed with what the point of humans’ lives is and eventually he discovers it’s love.

If you loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time or The Rosie Project you are going to love this. It has the same detached narrator, standing on the outside of society looking in and trying to make sense of facial cues and emotions and most of all this horrible habit humans have of not telling the truth or saying what they actually mean. In the Afterword, the author explains that he started writing this novel when he was in the middle of dealing with a panic disorder, when he really felt like the narrator and the world didn’t make any sense.

I’d say Haig did an amazing job of making sense of us. Read this book soon, it will make you smile.

9

Me Before You

I finally read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.

I don’t know that I will ever be able to recover from the heartbreak of that book. The last time I remember being this affected by a book was when I read Marian Keyes’ Is Anybody Out There? Did you read that one? It was the first book about the Walsh sisters that I read – Anna Walsh is recovering from all sorts of heinous injuries under the watchful eye of Mammy Walsh and she can’t get a hold of her husband Aidan. She can’t remember what happened but it’s not like them to go so long without talking. Finally she remembers what happens and why Aidan isn’t calling and she’s devastated and spends the next year of her life trying to reach him on the other side.

I was in pieces after that book.

Reading Me Before You brought on a similar sensation. I wish I had been on my own somewhere to read that and give in properly – instead I was in the car beside my other half trying to muffle the sounds of my sobs, knowing that he was looking over every so often. So embarrassing.

Anyway – the book. Louisa Clark is living a very ordinary (boring) life at home in the house she’s always lived in when she loses her job at a local cafe. Not being particularly trained for anything but reluctant to take a job as a stripper, she ends up as a kind of paid companion to Will Traynor, a quadriplegic. At first Louisa, very aware of her limited skills, pussy foots around him, checking in on him every 15 minutes as instructed by Will’s mother. Eventually though she gets tired of walking on egg shells and she starts treating him like a human being which, is exactly what Will has been missing since his accident.

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Louisa has been hired on for 6 months. Then she finds out what Will’s plans are at the end of those 6 months and she sets out to change his mind.

Obviously she also falls in love with him.

I’ve already said too much. I knew what the twist was when I was making my way through it so I guess it was fairly predictable. But the way it all unfolds was still so completely heartbreaking. I wasn’t prepared for the full range of emotions. The book is funny and captivating and so, so smart. At the end your heart will break (if you have a heart) but there is a curious sensation of hope.

I had just finished The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin, my book club’s selection, when I started Me Before You. I enjoyed The American Heiress but I think that Me Before You would almost have been a better book club book – seems like there is so much more to discuss.

Not bad for a book I initially thought of as Chick Lit.

1

Pride and Prejudice – The Rant

My book club has been meeting every 6-8 weeks for 2 years now. In that time we have covered So Much For That, A Fine Balance, One Day and the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena. We have encountered parents that abandon their children, virgin cures, Southerners rising up against racism and the tempestuous relationship between a writer and his naive wife.

And in all this time I had no idea that I was among Pride and Prejudice virgins.

I can’t remember exactly how it came up but it turned out that at least half of the girls had never read it! Which for me, amounts to blasphemy.

I should probably take this moment to let you all know that Pride and Prejudice is my number one all time favourite book ever. Nothing will ever usurp its place in my mind as being the single greatest book of all time. When I move and I get to set up my bookshelves again, it is the first book I put back. I have at least 4 different copies and always look for other pretty additions to add to my obsession. I watched the miniseries when I was 11 and my mom told me it was a book and I read it. And didn’t understand the whole thing. But I knew I was in love.

Since that time I have probably read it a million times. There was one summer when I was in Holland that it was the only book I brought that I could stomach reading more than once. I would finish it, take a moment to reflect on its most perfect ending, and start again from the beginning. When it was one of the books on the syllabus in grade 12 I re-read it for pleasure but didn’t have to attend the classes on the book because I knew it so well.

So, I just don’t understand how any woman can have made it to their late 20s without reading it at least one time! It’s the most perfect story ever. I mean, we’re all over reading Fifty Shades of Grey and apparently we have no issues with the eroticization of Jane Eyre (probably best not to get me started on that) but to never have even read Pride and Prejudice? The most perfect example of the manipulation of the English language to evoke love and feeling and human nature? I don’t get it!

If you haven’t read it yourself, please don’t tell me. My heart can’t take it. Just do yourself a favour and pick up a copy and read it. Then tell me how much you loved it. Book club is going to remedy this catastrophe by reading it. And then we all get to watch Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy.

The ultimate reward.