Warning: the first two things "you need to know" about Gabriel Tallent's *My Absolute Darling (listed below) aren't exactly ringing endorsements for reading the book.
But you should DEFINITELY read this book (IF the first two things don't apply to you).
I really loved this book, but given the reviews at Goodreads, it's clear that this book wasn't everyone's cup of tea (shot of whiskey?), and in fact, the book was quite controversial. Given the book's subject matter relating to sexual trauma and a minor, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.
Fourteen year old Turtle Alveston is being raised by her father Martin to be a survivor — he's taught her how to fire weapons, sharpen knives, navigate the coastal wilderness around their northern California and mistrust the outside world.
But Turtle isn't at all safe from the outside world — the kids at school, teachers who want to help, curious adults who knew her mother when she was alive. None of them could ever guess at how much her father loves her — or how terrifyingly manipulative he is.
Eventually, several events in Turtle's life force her to interact with the outside world, and she begins to open up. She begins to question her father's world, which puts her in danger — but also opens her eyes to what true friendship and caring looks like. In the end, Turtle must choose between the known force of her abusive father's love — and the unknown power of her own inner strength.
The most important aspects of this book
It involves sexual trauma, so as previously mentioned, it's definitely a trigger warning for women who have experienced their own sexual trauma. But I also have to emphasize (again) that the story is beautifully written, both in language and in its plotting. I couldn't put this book down!
1. Don't read this book if you get triggered by sexual trauma.
This is a terrifying book for just about anyone, but I can't imagine how bad it might be for someone who has been sexually assaulted or abused, especially by a loved one.
But then again, maybe this is just the book you need — because this is definitely a survivor's story. Turtle's journey is powerful allegory on survival. Gallant doesn't sugar coat anything, but I think that's one of the reasons I loved it. Talk to your therapist first if you're not sure.
2. Don't read this book if you're offended by vulgar language.
Gallant uses the c-word and the p-word pretty regularly throughout the book. Although I hate that kind of language in "real" life, in this context it served to sharpen the prose and create a very real world for the readers. It served to highlight the danger and emotional abuse that was depicted in the book.
Maybe just knowing ahead of time that the language is vulgar is helpful (I hope so — I think you should read this book if you can). Perhaps that way you can decide that you aren't going to let the language bother you like it would if someone used them in front of you.
The violence and the language in this book reminds me a little bit of the show "Breaking Bad." I remember being deeply disturbed at the violence of the show — but also thinking that the violence clearly (and compellingly) moved the plot forward to serve the story. I hate violence for violence's sake (I stopped watching The Walking Dead for that exact reason), but I can get on board if the violence serves the story in a way that's compelling and not overdone.
3. The setting is just as much a character as Turtle and the other main characters.
I love books that feature the land as character. Two books (that I loved) that come to mind are *Mink River by Brian Doyle and *The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (read my review of Hannah's The Nightingale here). Interestingly enough, both of these books are set at least partly in the Pacific Northwest. The rocky shoreline, the redwoods, the ocean and the various plants and animals Gallant lists throughout the book serve to create an experience of being alive and right next to Turtle as she picks her way through the wilderness.
4. You will love this book if you love stories about strong women outdoors.
Turtle has been raised to be the consummate outdoorswoman. She knows how to survive in the woods, how to butcher animals, find food and stay drive. She can fire a weapon and use a knife. Knowing all these things both keeps her trapped and saves her — this may be one of the overarching themes of the book. Nature is a bitch, but she's a powerful force for good as well.
5. This book is very polarizing
If you read the reviews, there are lots of polarizing views.
But for me, this book was a reminder of all the things I love about great literature: It asks us to confront difficult choices; it gives us an opportunity to understand the deep fears, dreams and motivations behind people who, from the outside, look just plain awful. It uses real language, and depicts scenarios that no doubt actually happen in our world.
Some of the reviewers accused the book of profiting off of pain. Literature is art, and for some people who read this book, and see a character who fights a good fight, it is inspiring.
Honestly, this book reminded me of how I felt reading *All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Like a terrible, beautiful, very important thing had been put in the world, and my whole life was consumed by it the moments my eyes flashed over the text.
Read this book if you love great writing, and feel that tragedy can serve a purpose. Don't read it if you just can't handle any more terribleness in your life (and these days, there's a lot of terrible stuff going on in the world, so I completely understand).
Other book reviews at Outdoor Book Club you might enjoy:
Have you read the book? Do you have questions about it?
Leave a comment below and I'll answer it!
5 Reasons to Read: Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr
It's unclear as to how I first came across *Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr. I want to say it was through the Women At Work podcast (another HIGHLY recommended resource) but I can't be sure.
However it just showed up in my life (just before the holidays in 2018), it's now been kicking around in my head ever since. I've bought four additional hard copies from my local bookstore (Books and Mortar!) to give away to friends. I've also downloaded the *audiobook so I could listen to it again and again while driving or getting ready in the morning (more on this later).
This book has significantly changed how I think about my goals, my interactions with others, what I feel called to do professionally and how I frame professional and personal challenges.
So it makes sense I want to share it with as many women as possible!
(DISCLAIMER: Other than Amazon's standard affiliate payout if you buy the book through my links — which isn't much — I'm not getting paid anything to hype this book. It's just that good.)
So here they are — Five reasons to read Playing Big:
Reason 1: Call a staff meeting with the voices in your head.
There are lots of pervasive, cultural roadblocks that hold women back — a long history of gender discrimination and lack of access to resources are two that immediately come to mind — so many of which are out of our control. What's nice about Mohr's book is that she gives back some control to women in the forms of voices that are already talking in our heads. That's where your inner critic and inner mentor come in (the first two chapters of the book).
Mohr is the first person (resource?) to give me a clear, tactical roadmap on how to best deal with my inner critic. As women, we've been raised with certain ideas about how the world works, and those ideas and perspectives are so ingrained into our thinking that it's extremely difficult to overcome — even if those ideas and perspectives are flat out wrong (not to mention mean!).
In a nutshell, here's what she helped me do:
Many women say the inner mentor work is some of the most powerful work they've done, and for me, it was worth the price of the book.
"Playing big doesn’t come from working more, pushing harder, or finding confidence," said Mohr. "It comes from listening to the most powerful and secure part of you, not the voice of self-doubt."
Reason 2: Name and own your fear
Chapter 3, "A Very New Old Way of Looking at Fear" uses two Hebrew terms for fear which has been extremely helpful for me to name and identify my feelings of anxiety when it comes to taking risks:
You really need to read the book to get the whole explanation, because I can't do it justice, but I know that by being able to look at fear differently, I have been able to make stronger, more confident decisions (plus help council my friends and students on how to move past the things that scare them).
"That’s the problem with pachad—it fires way too frequently, often simply in an attempt to protect us from emotional risks that we don’t really need (or want) to be protected from. When we feel pachad, we need to work on shifting away from responding out of fear so that pachad doesn’t dictate our actions."
Reason 3: Take the Leap
A lot women I know (who admittedly are mostly white and upper-middle class) are control freaks. Certainly I am. So often when our jobs, relationships, health, spaces and families feel out of our control, we desperately try to lock down and manage the chaos so we feel less anxious about it.
But often that control shows up as hiding and stalling: Saying we're not ready, that we need to get more money or education (that's a BIG one — check out this NY Times Opinion Why Girls Beat Boys at School and Lose to Them at the Office for more on how women often use education as a sort of shield against playing bigger).
"The antidote to all that hiding and stalling is a special kind of action called a leap," says Mohr. This chapter took some time to really sink in for me. On some levels I'm good at leaping, but if I'm honest with myself, most of my "leaps" are pretty safe. Mohr has said that many women end up reading the book more than once (*hand raised*) and the chapters that resonated the first time through are different than the second time. Chapter 7 definitely felt this way to me.
"Leaping changes your concept of self from I want to be a woman who . . . to This is who I am."
Reason 4: Let yourself off the hook.
As a writer, Chapter 4, "Unhooking From Praise and Criticism" resonated so strongly with me I kept listening and reading it over and over again, each time amazed at what new thing I learned and absorbed.
In this chapter Mohr talks about her personal experience of growing up being praised as for her writing skills, but then later on became so paralyzed by praise and criticism she had to stop.
As Mohr grew older she started to become obsessed with getting praise for her work, while at the same time going to great lengths to avoid even the most constructive criticism. Her writing process became so fraught with anxiety that she stopped writing entirely for seven whole years. This follows my own path so closely that I fell to my knees in the shower listening to Mohr speak about it. I'd never realized how much being hooked into praise and criticism held me back.
As an entrepreneur, writer and even professor, I am forced to deal with criticism all the time. And yet I still hate it. I often avoid reading student feedback because I can't stand the feelings that are wrapped up with their comments. This chapter really helped me reframe praise and criticism so that I could actually benefit from reading feedback.
"Playing big is a kind of bold and free motion, and both the fear of criticism and seeking of praise limit that movement. When we are petrified of criticism or are in need of constant approval, we simply can’t play big. We can’t innovate, share controversial ideas, or pursue our unique paths."
Reason 5: Easy is the new hard.
Mohr's advice in Chapter 10 is a breath of fresh air. As women, we are always striving, always working so damn hard to prove we're okay, that we're good enough (if you struggle with this, you should check out Brene Brown's *The Gifts of Imperfection, another book which changed my life). Being everything to everyone is really, really hard work.
Mohr gives us several other ways to frame and think about our goals, so that goal-setting feels less like a burden and more natural, more fulfilling, more in service to both ourselves and the world.
“I’ve come to know, in my own life, and in the lives of the women I work with," says Mohr, "that where we think we need more self-discipline, we usually need more self-love — not just self-love as an attitude, but self-love manifested through the routines and rituals that we set up to enable the changes we desire to happen naturally and with ease.”
"We want to set up plans for action that work for 'the most exhausted version of ourselves' not an idealized version of ourselves."
Have you read *Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr? Are there other books you've read that you've found helpful in your journey to more fully step into your life? Leave your comments below!
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So you've been out of the reading habit for awhile; life has gotten away from you and although you used to read voraciously, these days it's just harder and harder to find the time. But you're committed — you want to get back into books and the escape they offer. You also want to be smarter and nicer.
But to kick off this renewed habit, you want to read something really good. Really juicy. I mean like, grabs-you-and-doesn't-let-go kind of amazing. Look no further — I've compiled a list of some of the very best books that have compelled lapsed readers and nonreaders alike to leap back into the reading habit, reigniting their love of books.
I've categorized them a bit so you can make decisions based on what you like to read. I haven't read all of them, but you can bet the ones I haven't are on my TBR list. If you want even more suggestions, be sure you check out Goodreads' Popular Fast Reads.
I know that I've missed some — be sure to add your favorite fast reads in the comments!
And so without further ado...
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (Dark)
If you like dark, ambitious, slightly creepy fair tales, Neil Gaiman is your man. I haven't read this one, but for my friends who love Gaiman, many of them recommend starting with this one. Amazon calls it an "imaginative romp;" Booklist calls it "a lovely yarn."
Lamb by Christopher Moore (Humor)
The subtitle says it all: "The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal." The Philadelphia Inquirer called this book "reminiscent of Vonnegut and Douglas Adams" and a guy I used to date was a big fan of this book as well (which means this might be a good starting point for guys looking to read more literary fiction). If you think you've read everything there is to know about Jesus (and really, who has?), this might be something new to add to your list.
She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb (Literary fiction)
I read this years (and years and years) ago, and despite it's considerable length, I plowed through it. The book was listed as an Oprah Book Club pick way back in 1997, if that says anything. A coming of age novel and a redemption story, She's Come Undone tells the story of overweight 13-year-old Delores Price. Described as a "dysfunctional Wonder Years," the book eloquently (and often with humor) deals with issues such as divorce, mental illness and forgiveness.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (YA)
This is a book I picked up for my then-15-year-old daughter, who is probably one of the toughest reviewers I know. So many people who love Young Adult fiction have recommended this book because of its writing and its new take on teen angst. The book tells the awkward love story between two "star-crossed misfits," the wild-haired, new kid in town Eleanor, and the nerdy but loveable Park. I picked it up last summer, then got distracted with another book (happens all the time), but I definitely plan on picking it back up soon.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Thriller)
There are very few books that I tell people that they have to read, and this is one of them. Not because the book is so, so amazing, but because the plotting in it is fantastic. Blow-your-mind good. If you've seen the movie, fine, you know what happens, but go back and read the book anyway. It's fascinating to watch how Flynn sets all the characters up and then, bam, knocks them back down again.
The Hunger Games By Suzanne Collins (YA)
The closest I've ever come to getting in a fistfight over this book (why yes, there was liquor involved!). Which is curious, because I thought it was a "shitty book." I know, I know, this isn't the best way to start off describing a book that's on a "must read" book list. But thanks to Jennifer Lawrence, we've all become fascinated by the dystopian, bow-wielding herione Katniss and an older, wiser self now thinks it's worth picking up. I've only read the first in the trilogy (see above "shitty book" reference), and it was indeed a fast read. If you're looking to get back into reading, this book will get you back in the groove.
Bossypants by Tina Fey (Humor)
Here's another one that I recommend to people all the time. I love Tina Fey. I'm pretty sure we would be besties if we actually knew each other (I have this reoccurring daydream of her, Jennifer Aniston, and me — maybe Louis CK is there too — all sitting at a booth at Stella's, telling jokes and throwing back whiskey). This book is fast, smart, choke-on-your-tea hilarious and just so, so good. Buy the hard copy; you'll read it and pass it on to all your smart, funny friends (who have actually probably already read it, because it's that damn good, so nevermind.)
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsen (Thriller)
This is one of the few books that I can say that I've seen the movie, but haven't read the book. Again, I once started it, but as is my habit, got distracted by a shiny other book — which goes against Amazon's claim that "Once you start The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, there's no turning back." It tells the story of anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander, a "a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues." A thriller filled twists and turns, Booklist laments that "What a shame that we only have three books in which to watch the charismatic Lisbeth Salander take on the world!"
The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell (Nonfiction)
Here's one for you nonfiction fans. Gladwell, the grandfather of pop sociology, describes the tipping point as a "magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire." Using examples such as the drop of violent crime in New York and the comeback of Hushpuppies shoes, this book has already changed how the world thinks about ideas. An engaging, highly readable book.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Dark)
So many people loved this book. So many. I think it has to do with its YA-ish style romance and magical setting, but who knows? I thought it was meh (check out my video review to see why). Still, I think it's worth mentioning as a good book to get you back in the habit if you've been out for awhile.
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet (Historical fiction)
The first book in a series about a cathedral being built in the middle ages. Brilliantly written, with plenty of romance, thrills and historical context to go around. This may not be exactly a "quick read" at over 1,000 pages, but it's still a good one. The Library Journal says the book "will appeal more to lovers of exciting adventure stories than true devotees of historical fiction." Sold.
Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner (Chick lit)
Meet Candace "Cannie" Shapiro, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who one day opens up a magazine and finds a column penned by her ex-boyfriend that proclaims "Loving a larger woman is an act of courage in our world." Thoroughly humiliated, Cannie takes solace in tequila and her rat terrier Nifkin, and then proceeds down the road of redemption. "This is a must-read for any woman who struggles with body image, or for anyone who cares about someone who does," said Publisher's Weekly. I'm saving this one for the next time I'm sick, and need something engaging and fast to read.
Okay, so let me know: what did I miss? What did I list that should've been left off this list? Leave a comment below.
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So here's my first foray into the world of video blogging and the world of BookTube. However, I decided to add a little twist to my videos: combine book reviews with an outdoor settings. Today I got out in the snow and reviewed Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus at Blandford Nature Center. Enjoy!
Two young illusionists are tapped at a young age to compete in a life-long challenge until one of them wins — meaning the other one dies. There are no rules, and it’s not clear how the game is played, only that each illusionist must use his or her magical powers on a “chessboard” which, it turns out, is the circus itself (called Le Cirque des Rêves). The story jumps around in time and perspective (I believe there are 16 different points of views in the book), but everything comes together in the end.
The book has a very ethereal feel to it through all 400 pages, making for some intricate and other-worldly scenes. It all felt very “steampunk” to me, if you’re familiar with that term. The book is not a quick read — it spans 30 years of the characters’ lives (more if you consider back stories), and it jumps around not only in perspective but in time as well. If you’re one of those people that can read books twice, this might be a good book to read over again with new perspective. There’s a lot going on in the plot that doesn’t make much sense until later, and I have a feeling I missed a lot of things reading it the first time.
(Personally, I have too many books on my to-read list to read the same book twice, although I understand why other people do it.)
So here’s what I thought about the book — no spoilers:
Generally speaking, I thought the book was well-written; Morgenstern does an excellent job setting the mood and atmosphere with her language and structure choices. There were several references to Shakespeare, and I liked that this book forced me out of my comfort zone a bit. I’m not usually a fan of the supernatural or romance, and this book had a lot of both of those genres.
My favorite character was Poppet. She felt the least flat and cardboard-like, and Morgenstern allowed her to be a real person. But honestly, the main reason I liked reading this book because it was recommended by so many people I know, so now I can join the conversation — and let’s face it, there are a lot of conversations going on about this book.
This book felt really scattered and unfocused to me. I got the impression from all the positive reviews of this book that most folks actually enjoyed that element of the book. It feels like many of the people who loved this book spend a lot of time reading the the Young Adult genre; this isn’t a young adult book, though it has a lot of elements from the genre that appeal to its readers (fantasy, romance, mysterious goings-on that are never fully explained). The difference between this book and most YA books is that it moves fairly slowly. There’s lots of description and scene-setting, which if you’re not used to that kind of style (i.e. read lots of YA books), this book might seem sort of unique and, well, magical.
When it comes to the characters, I’m not sure I was ever fully engaged in the actual competition between the two protagonists. The stakes never seemed very high, because 1) it was never fully explained what the stakes were and 2) there was no ending of the competition. Supposedly the game doesn’t end until one of them dies, but how can you die when all you are doing is creating cool tents? (And believe me, these are some pretty cool tents — probably my favorite part about the book was reading about the various magical tents.)
The love story really could’ve used some more development (though I’ll admit a couple of stirrings deep in my chest at certain parts). I wished that each of the main characters, Celia especially, had more flaws to overcome (maybe that’s why YA folks love this book so much — I feel like, generally speaking, the YA genre doesn’t like its main characters to be too complex).
I also had a hard time following the timelines of this book, so if you haven’t read it yet, it might be worth it to take some notes about what happens when, at least mentally.
All in all, the book was worth reading. I’m giving it 3 snowballs out of 5, because of the risks the author took in writing it, and because it forced me out of my literary fiction genre a bit. Pick it up on sale if you get the chance, and definitely go see the movie when it comes out (because although there’s only just the beginning of a glimmer of a movie, we all know this book was written to eventually be a screenplay. Good for Morgenstern: I think all authors should make gobs and gobs of [ethical] money.)
Blandford Nature Center: I’m biased about Blandford Nature Center for several reasons: first, it’s really close to my house, and I love that there’s this bit of nature nestled in the middle of the western suburbs of Grand Rapids. I walk Howie here, I run here, I’ve even ridden my mountain bike on the trails (though I learned later that you are NOT supposed to do that — so please don’t be a jerk and ignore their rules).
I also love Blandford because it’s connected to my stepson Henry’s school, CA Frost Environmental Academy, which puts an emphasis on outdoor learning for kids, which I’m all about. Our family has a membership here, which is very affordable and goes to support a very good cause. I highly recommend you invest in a membership if you can swing it, because of the amazing resource this organization offers the community.
Blandford’s educational programs are also pretty fantastic, especially the SugarBush festival the Center puts on every year.
You can visit Blandford at 1715 Hillburn Ave NW in Grand Rapids, MI 49504, and cost of admission is $3 (which, come on people, is amazingly affordable, but if you’re a Grand Rapidian, you should definitely buy a membership).
Have you read The Night Circus? Let me know what you thought in the comments.
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Jill Hinton Wolfe,
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