I just finished a new memoir that I want to tell you about. It’s called Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett, published by Celadon Books. From the description, I wondered if it would be such a troubled tale my HSP heart couldn’t take it, but, thankfully, I was wrong. Mikel writes with such beautiful sensitivity, making each part of his story alive and present to the reader, that even with the difficult subject matter, a courageous thread of hope runs through.
This is the story of a man who spent his first few years of childhood being raised in a group setting by people other than his parents in the cult Synonon. It’s how, after leaving the cult, he and his brother live with a mother who is mentally ill and abusive. It’s how Mikel interacts with and learns from his dad. How he makes it through his teen years with the pain he carries and ultimately, how he has to decide to keep hiding it or how to face it, work through it, and let it go.
And if you’re interested in musicians and bands, you’ll enjoy the last third of the book which weaves in and out of Mikel’s experience as a singer/songwriter and frontman for the band Airborne Toxic Event.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S., and Hollywood Park is a positive story about how mental illness (and addictions) can affect families as well as how healing can take place. I highly recommend this book!
(I received an ARC from Celadon Books for my honest review; all opinions are completely my own.)
Jennifer Finney Boylan’s new book, Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs, shares the story of her beautiful, complicated, transitioned life with dogs as constant companions. She starts with herself as Jimmy, a young boy who learns to hide who he wants to become from both his family and friends. The fear of being rejected keeps Jimmy from sharing his secret with anyone, even as he becomes an adult.
Jimmy’s transition to Jennifer is infused with humor so it’s not too sad or serious. Although I’m not a dog person, I truly enjoyed the cameos of her different dogs, their unbelievable quirks, and hilarious escapades. There is a dog person vs. cat person essay that is spot-on.
Good Boy is a story that will likely resonated with many people who are transgender or who are considering this step, as well as their families and friends. It gave me a lot of insight into the inner struggle a person has as they wrestle with this decision, and try to figure out who they can trust, who they can tell.
The author shares with such vulnerability and openness that I was immediately captivated and I think you will feel the same. If you’re interested or curious about transgender issues and/or if you love dogs, you will thoroughly enjoy this book!
(I received an advanced reading copy from Celadon Books in exchange for my honest review.)
When I plan my reading for a month, I typically add one too many books to my monthly TBR. And this is fine, unless I have a book review due and miss the deadline, as I’ve done with Netgalley reads. (Anyone else have this problem?) It’s been helpful for me to remind myself when I’m doing my bullet journal planning each week to list the books that have to be read and a review written.
This month I have two ARCs from Celadon Books (Thank you, Celadon!!!) that I’m reading. I just finished the first one, Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs by Jennifer Finney Boylan, and I LOVED it! I actually didn’t think I would because I’m not a dog person, but the main story is about the author with dogs woven throughout. (More on this book when I write the review.) The publishing date is April 21. The second one, Hollywood Park: A Memoir, is being released on May 6, but it’s a longer read, so I will start that one in a few days.
Then I have two books with a focus on sustainability that I’m reading for myself and as part of a community reading initiative for my job at a local nonprofit. The first one is From What Is To What If by Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement. I’ve been reading and following this movement for nearly a decade and all I can say is, I wish our town was a Transition Town–we’d have a lot more resilience in dealing with this new economic downturn and food supply disruption. But it’s better late than never, so I’m reading this book to help stimulate my imagination to think how life can be different. The second one is Wendell Berry’s The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings. These are essays critiquing modern American culture. In my mind, there is never a better time to read Berry’s words than right now.
I’m also reading a novel along with my husband, Alan. It’s called Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr. Did any of you see the tv series The Alienist that was out a few falls back? It was pretty freaky, and I don’t do scary books/movies/tv shows, but I was able to watch it with my hands over my eyes during some scenes. Actually we both watched it. So when Alan picked up this book, written by the same author, and had me read the first few pages, I said I’d get the kindle version so we could read along together. One chapter in, and I’m hooked.
I’m also reading poetry which I’ll share here, as well as a few other books I’ll get around to sharing soon. So what are you reading this month? Whether you are reading any of the ones listed here, or have a list of your own going, please share in comments!
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If there was ever a book that was written for our time, You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Mattersby Kate Murphy is one. It brings to light the modern epidemic of short attention spans and our lack of listening skills, shares why we need to be listening, and offers ideas on how to listen better.
Truth: I am not as good a listener as I thought I was. Sometimes I think about my to-do list when I should be listening. I’ve occasionally texted while someone was talking to me–something I swore I’d never do. There are times I finish my husband’s sentence, thinking I’m helping. I’ve interrupted and talked over the top of him or my kids.
All of this bad behavior has come on gradually, and although I wouldn’t blame my smartphone, I have definitely gotten worse since I started using one.
But I don’t want to be this person and I’m sure you don’t either. I want to show people kindness and courtesy by giving them my undivided attention, not to check out mentally if they meander or take longer than expected to answer a question. The good news is that listening is an art that can be improved upon with practice, just like any other skill.
One of the first things I learned in this book is that when two people are engaged in healthy conversation their brain waves sync up. And that this requires empathy which you learn or don’t learn in the first year of your life, based on how well your caregivers paid attention to your needs. Even if you didn’t experience this kind of attention as a child and develop good listening skills, you can acquire the ability to listen through deliberate practice later in life.
Another thing I learned is that if someone is boring you in a conversation, it’s most likely your fault for acting disinterested, or for assuming you already know what they’re going to say. If you approach every interaction with another person with curiosity, as an opportunity to learn something new, you will be surprised by what people tell you, and how interesting they can be.
One subject that is especially relevant in today’s polarized political climate is in the chapter on “Listening to Opposing Views”. The author writes that when we hear someone talk about something which we disagree on, our natural response is to get defensive because our brains experience this as we would a physical threat. But by working through that instinct and actually listening to the person with another view, we will expand our understanding.
We may never agree, but we can “embrace the possibility that there might be multiple truths” (p. 88), and that another point of view is just as legitimate as our own. Don’t we all need to grow in this area?
I think the other chapter where my eyes were opened to my lack of listening skills was in the chapter entitled “Supporting, not Shifting, The Conversation”.
I learned that a support response is one “which encourages elaboration from the speaker to help the respondent gain greater understanding” (p. 137) which is pretty rare. Most of us take a shift response “which directs attention away from the speaker and toward the respondent” (p. 137).
So, for example, if your friend tells you about something that happened to him, you can either ask him another question about it to get him to elaborate further (support response) or you can say something like “Yeah, I had that happen to me…blah, blah, blah,” (shift response) and put all the attention on you.
One of my favorite lines is “Listening is about the experience of being experienced” (p.32). Listening is about connection, which, as humans, we all crave and need. Connection banishes loneliness and gives our lives a greater sense of purpose.
It starts like a film, zooming in to the fictional Caribbean island of Saint X. It’s the mid-1990s. The reader is introduced to a well-to-do white family from New York vacationing at a luxurious resort for their New Year holiday.
Alison, the elder daughter, is eighteen, pretty, self-absorbed, bored, and typical of girls of that age. The unusual one and the heroine is the younger daughter, Claire, or Clairey, as the rest of the family affectionately calls her. She is seven years old, has an unusual appearance, is shy, socially awkward, and appears to display possible OCD tendencies. The parents remain on the periphery of the story, and what we know of them is seen through the eyes of Claire.
The other main character in the novel is Clive Richardson, a young man who was born and lives on Saint X, and who, along with his friend, Edwin, becomes a suspect in Alison’s death. In comparison to the comfortable lives led by Alison and Claire, Clive is without the advantages that wealth can provide. He grows up without many prospects for the future, so after high school, he and Edwin find employment serving the rich white people at the resort. Which is how they meet Alison and become involved with her on the night she goes missing.
As the novel unfolds, we glimpse some of what Alison gets up to and who she interacts with in the days and nights leading to her disappearance and death. After her body is discovered, Alison and Claire’s parents are frantic to find answers, to discover who is responsible for their daughter’s death. Although Clive and Edwin did spend some time with Alison on the night she disappears, not enough evidence is found to charge them with her supposed murder, so it goes unsolved.
The novel moves forward to when Claire is in her mid-twenties and living a fairly normal life in New York City complete with a good job and friends. She calls herself by her middle name–Emily–in an attempt to put the past behind her. Except she can’t. She still longs to learn more about Alison, and more about why and how she died.
We flash back in time to the months immediately following Alison’s death when Claire’s parents are wrapped up in their own grief and she feels forgotten. Then we see her as she grows up, through all the awkwardness of adolescence and into young adulthood, and how she must deal with the way people treat her when they discover who she is. And even though she wishes she could forget, Alison haunts her wherever she goes.
So Claire is in NYC, trying to live like other people do. As a way to assuage her guilt for her affluent background, she moves into an apartment in a part of Brooklyn that is mostly inhabited by economically disadvantaged people of color. She is still socially awkward, so she doesn’t interact much with the other tenants in her apartment building, but she wishes she could.
Then, out of the blue, while taking a taxi home one day, Claire looks in the rearview mirror and is shocked to find that her driver is Clive Richardson–the man that she has always believed was involved in Alison’s death! Everything she lived through as the sister of a murder victim comes flooding back in that instant. She becomes obsessed with getting Clive to confess. She relentlessly stalks him every night after work. She finds out everything she can about him. Then she pretends to befriend him.
What comes of this obsession with and connection to Clive? Will he eventually confess to his involvement in Alison’s murder? Will Claire ever be able to heal and let go of the past? Ah, but that would be telling! That is what you’ll find out when you read Saint X for yourself.
I was very fortunate to receive an Advanced Reading Copy of Saint X from Celadon Books; however, all opinions are entirely my own. Saint X, written by Alexis Schaitkin, will be published on February 18, 2020 and I absolutely recommend this novel to lovers of mysteries, crime thrillers, and really good fiction.