August 25th, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

school busForget January 1. As the parent of a school-age child, the first day of school rings in the real New Year where the optimism shines as brightly as the new first-day-of-school outfit.  My son, though, has never been able to fully revel in this joyful season.  Instead of inspiring him with talk of a new start or lofty resolutions, his ever cynical mother can offer only real-life, social-doom-related adages, such as never ever leave your lunch tray unattended at any time for any reason or let your cosmetologist cousin “fix” your hair the day before class pictures.

This summer, I resolved to rediscover the magic of a new year by reading and watching characters reinvent themselves. My favorites included:

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
Rebecca, a once famous photographer, finds herself stuck in a raccoon-infested cabin in rural New York consumed by worries about money and her stalled career.  Relaxing into daily life with her quirky neighbors and the roofer who traps the rampaging raccoon, Rebecca leaves her old self behind, finding inspiration and a late-in-life second chance in the upstate woods.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Once renowned L.A. architect Bernadette Fox finds both the people and weather of Seattle eroding her sanity. Attempting to plan a long promised family trip to Antarctica hilariously derails as Bernadette is forced to ever more eccentric means of hiding her agoraphobia. Bewildered by his wife’s behavior, Microsoft guru Elgin Branch attempts a mental health intervention, during which Bernadette mysteriously disappears. Compiled by her daughter, the story uses Internet postings, emails, magazine articles and FBI reports to trace Bernadette’s journey back to her family and a rediscovered life.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
A former stay-at-home dad whose wife has left him, Ben takes the job of caregiver to Trev, a teen with muscular dystrophy, hoping to find a purpose in life. Their subsequent road trip in search of Trev’s estranged father (during which they pick up a runaway, a pregnant farm girl and a tail in a Skylark) points the way to forgiveness for Ben’s past deeds.

Doctor Who: The Second Series – DVD

The poster child of reinvention, Dr. Who’s regeneration in “The Christmas Invasion” features murderous Santa robots, a deadly spinning Christmas tree and a plot by the alien Sycorax to enslave the human race.  Putting his own stamp on the beloved character, David Tennant’s debut as Dr. Who encapsulates both the confusion and excitement wrought by a brand new start.

Busy Monsters by William Giraldi
Jilted by his fiancée for a giant squid hunting oceanographer, Charles seeks to win her back by embarking on a manhood-proving quest of his own. Confronting Bigfoot, alien abductees and other questionable creatures, he fights his own self-created monsters on a comic road trip to true love.

All good intentions aside, as my son left the car to wait at the bus stop all I could think to say was to sit toward the front, keep your eyes forward, ears closed and hands to yourself. I was rewarded with a massive eye roll and just the hint of a smile. I guess there’s always next year.

What’s your favorite back-to-school advice?


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May 29th, 2014

Best Books of Summer

beachAnnouncing my intention to attend a work conference in Detroit was my most successful dinner time conversation starter in years.  My son was confident the TSA would waive its rules for carry-on personal protection items in such circumstances, even when their website proved him wrong.  My husband insisted I take time to investigate the local real estate market for a $100 “investment” house with views of Canada.  Even having backpacked through Europe in my day, the conference’s promotional tagline “Detroit—it’s not as bad as you think” gave me pause.

After four days, I was missing both sweet tea and the sight of trees and green grass, neither of which downtown Detroit appeared to have.  But, in return, I’d found the Astoria bakery’s heavenly baklava, sky-high views from the People Mover and my long buried sense of adventure.  Detroit—it deserves better.

If an adventure into the unknown is not on your radar this summer, go along for the journey in one of these titles voted best books of the summer.

Lucky Us—Amy Bloom
Eva and her newly discovered half-sister leave depression-era Ohio for Hollywood only to be detoured on their epic road trip by a needy orphan, an accused German spy and their unrepentant father.  A comedic road trip that proves distance and fate need not tear a make-shift family apart.

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street—Susan Jane Gilman
Adopted by a guilt-ridden Italian ice cream vendor, Lillian leaves her Russian Jewish heritage behind as she ascends to the self-proclaimed role of America’s Ice Cream Queen.  A cooling rags-to-riches story designed for a hot summer day.

Carsick—John Waters
When the indie filmmaker of Hairspray and Crybaby decides to hitchhike from Baltimore to California holding a sign saying “I’m Not Psycho,” nothing can go wrong, can it?

Mr. Mercedes—Stephen King
Where would any self-respecting sociopath hide in a Stephen King novel released in the summer–the local neighborhood ice cream truck, of course.  The question is what path will lead to discovery and how many will be hurt on the way.

The Book of Unknown Americans—Cristina Henriquez
The Rivera family makes the journey from Mexico, where they ran a thriving construction business, to Delaware hoping for help for their brain-injured daughter.  Finding work at a local mushroom farm does little to ease the family’s fears as they have little English or money to sustain them.  A perspective on the American dream with roots close to home.

Vacationers—Emma Straub
Fired for dallying with an intern, Jim begins his two-week island vacation on the losing end of the silent treatment from his wife Franny.  Planned to celebrate their 35th anniversary, the trip gathers family and friends preoccupied with their own secrets and ambitions set to be revealed under the hot Mallorca sun.

Where are you headed this summer and what’s on your reading list?