My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands

by Chelsea Handler

Chelsea Handler’s tongue just might poke itself through her cheek, if the tone of this collection of anecdotes and vignettes is anything to judge by. A funny, candid, and at times tragically pathetic glimpse at single life with just a touch of neuroses, Ms. Handler’s work is incredibly readable, and compelling in the “I can’t wait to see what she does NEXT” sort of way.

It’s adult content, but that’s as it should be, because to tame it would be to ruin it.

Great beach reading.

Teach with your Heart

Teach with Your Heart: Lessons I Learned from the Freedom Writers by Erin Gruwell

Erin Gruwell, the teacher who inspired the Freedom Writers, wrote her own memoir, which was published in January, 2007. Much of it echoes what we learned about her in the movie – that she was a new teacher saddled with kids labeled “unteachable,” that she used her own funds to keep them interested and motivated, that her marriage suffered for it.

What the movie doesn’t show, but shines through in Gruwell’s writing, is the wonder she feels as each thing she needed clicked into place. A contact made once leads to funding for a computer lab, some of her kids getting jobs, etc., and every time something happens she’s squealing with as much – if not more – delight than the students in her classroom.

Gringos in Paradise

Gringos in Paradise: An American Couple Builds Their Retirement Dream House in a Seaside Village in Mexico

by Barry Golson

I found this book in the new fiction section at my local B&N, and brought it home even though it’s not fiction, because my parents also did the cash-out and move to Mexico thing. You would think I’d therefore be predisposed to like it, and while it wasn’t a bad read, the truth is that I spent more time being pissed because I feel my mother could tell her, similar story, with more humor and less of a patronizing tone.

Granted, Golson’s mission is NOT to be patronizing, and I’m sure any other reader probably wouldn’t see it as such. He relays slice-of-life stories about how difficult it really is to adjust to the Mexican culture, and provides an appendix with useful information.

It’s interesting how our own experiences color even the most innocuous books.

Freedom Writers Diary

by The Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell

It is rare when a book moves me to tears. It’s not that I’m not sentimental about things that have meaning to me, but that I can generally separate myself from what I’m reading enough to retain necessary distance. So when I say that The Freedom Writers Diary, made me cry, that’s saying a lot.

If you’re one of the five people in the country who hasn’t seen the film, read the book first, then rent the DVD. The book has 150 or so diary entries, designated solely by number, by the students in Erin Gruwell’s English classes from Wilson High School in Long Beach, CA, during the late nineties. They are frank, often brutal, glimpses into the lives of real kids living in a city that MTV dubbed “the gangsta rap capital of the world,” and they will tear at your heart strings.

Bookending the kids’ diaries are journal entries from Erin herself, the young teacher who manages to turn a bunch of disenfranchised teenagers into first a class, and then a family, teaching them about tolerance by using the diaries of Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic as well as other works she finds relevant to their lives.

It’s a moving book, made more so by the knowledge that these kids, now college graduates, have turned around and continued to teach the lessons Gruwell taught them.

The Martian Chronicles

by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is one of the icons of Science Fiction, which shouldn’t be surprising since he’s published something like 500 works, so when I added The Martian Chronicles to my list for the decades challenge, I did it in honor of his contribution to the field, as well as because I vaguely remember reading part of it as a child, and not really appreciating it.

Re-reading it was sort of disappointing. I’d forgotten about the sexism and racism – products of the time – that were in the various short stories, and that colored my appreciation of Bradbury’s version of Mars. On his Mars the canals actually hold water and the atmosphere is breathable. In addition, there are actual Martians, though, as in another iconic work of science fiction War of the Worlds a mundane human disease destroys the entire population quite accidentally.

Dated notions of society aside, I enjoyed revisiting this version of the Red Planet, especially because of the last tale in the book, in which a picnicking family boats down a canal, and their son asks where the Martians are, only to be told to look over the edge. What he sees is his own reflection.

True Believer

by Nicholas Sparks

Jeremy Marsh is a skeptic whose had some success with the media, and when he goes to a small town in North Carolina to debunk some graveyard ghost-lights, it’s pretty clear he intends to solve the mystery and beat a hasty retreat to his home in New York. Instead he finds himself falling in love with town librarian Lexie Darnell.

As with many of Sparks’s novels, True Believer is a gentle tale with earthy three-dimensional characters that seem like people any of us might know. Character is as vital as plot with him, and that’s good, because to be honest, I found the plot of this offering to be a bit predictable. I won’t outline it here, because I don’t like to offer spoilers, I’ll just say that it’s best to read this novel because you want to visit a cozy small town and meet interesting people, and not because you’re looking for a great surprise ending or plot twist.

As a cozy novel, True Believer goes well with a rainy day and hot tea, and in that light, it’s an enjoyable read.

Forever in Blue

by Ann Brashares

The fourth and final installment in the stories of the Sisterhood was the least juvenile of a series that really is universal, and shouldn’t be ignored just because of it’s YA label. In this novel, the girls are separate more than not, and the Pants are shared throughout their first year of college, not just during the summer. While not every story ends up completely happy, each of these young women grows and changes and sets the stage for what her life will become, and it’s great to watch them all deal with real issues, that real college freshman often encounter, and triumph over their personal obstacles.

I loved this series because the girls were so real.
I wanted to hate this book because it meant saying goodbye to old friends, but the beauty of books is that you can always re-read them.

Comfort Food

Comfort Food: A Novel (IPPY Award Winner for Best Regional Fiction, West–Pacific) by Noah Ashenhurst

When I posted my list of planned reading for the 11 Decades challenge, I included Comfort Food because I liked the title, and because I like reading new authors. Imagine my surprise when the author contacted me and offered a review copy – of course I said yes.

I’m glad I did.

This novel is the story of six Gen-X college students, and the way their lives interweave. We are introduced to all of them in the initial chapter, and then each section gives us a significant moment in each of their lives, finally coming full circle to connect the first person we met to the woman he loves. Because of this structure, Comfort Food reminds me very much of the improv game “Four Square” or “Pan Left” in which there are four players who form different intersecting pairs of relationships.

What I loved most about the novel, however, was the language. Ashenhurst’s descriptions of the Pacific Northwest let you feel the misty air. Whether he’s talking about the pot-stench floating in a cheap off-campus apartment, or the visceral moment when one character realizes his wife is cheating on him, the words chosen give a vivid picture of place, and of the people existing in that place at that time.

I’d love to read more from this author.