Us bookjacketMarriage is a journey; the best of them take a committed couple up to beautiful views and delightful romps at the sea. But sometimes planes are delayed and the food sucks and one person just wants to go back home. David Nicholls in his new book, Us, takes the reader on quite a ride in this marriage travelogue. Douglas Petersen, his wife, Connie, and their 17-year-old son, Albie, are about to embark on a month-long tour of European capitals. What could possibly go wrong? Well there's this, Connie has just woken her husband up to tell him she thinks their marriage “has run its course” and is thinking about leaving but no, let’s still go on this long trip to Europe together.

Nicholls takes us into a marriage - the beginnings, the middle, the roller coaster ride of it all. He makes it way more funny than our own marriages are. And he shows us the truth and the heartbreak and the hope we must hold on to in our families. It's totally worth taking a trip to Europe with the Petersen family on the pages of Us.

WPC 56BBC shows set in different eras can be so spot-on. They've produced some brilliant series that completely capture the milieu of a particular time period and do it whilst telling a really interesting story. I enjoy watching Downton Abbey for the beautiful frocks but the story of how the world of the upper class was changing after the turn of the century is the more important tale to observe. And yes, I love the fashions of the 40s and 50s so I’ll watch a lot of shows just for the look of those times, but give me a series that explores the changing roles of women and men, and I’ll binge-watch the entire thing in a couple of days.

WPC 56 is one of those shows. It’s set in the 1950s, in the West Midlands police force. Gina Dawson is the first female police officer to serve in her home town police station. At her first meeting with the chief inspector, he sternly says to her, “Never forget that your sole responsibility is to support the men so that they can get on with the job of real policing.” Unbelievable. But then again, so believable. In just a few episodes, we see how such tough issues as rape, mental illness, and race relations played out in a small town in 1950s England. Even though I wish I had a few of their party dresses, I’m glad I’m living in 2014. 

Here's a list of some of my other favorite British series that bring to life other times and places. 

 

Meanwhile in San Francisco book jacketMy favorite city is San Francisco. When I was slogging through high school in the Midwest, I dreamed about moving out to California and going to college there. It took me a few years after high school, but eventually I made it out there and stayed for the next twelve years. Now I try to visit the Bay Area once in awhile. It’s changed a lot since I lived there but the main things that I loved about San Francisco are still there. Golden Gate Park, huge and green, with pockets of bison and windmills all leading to the cold, cold ocean. The neighborhoods, each with its own character and atmosphere. I was there just a few weeks ago and found a bevy of hippies still hanging out in the Haight.

My new favorite book about San Francisco is Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in Its Own Words. The author and illustrator, Wendy MacNaughton, has captured the people and places of Meanwhile in San Francisco illustrationSF perfectly. She visited different neighborhoods and drew the people and the scenes. And she had lots of conversations at each location. MacNaughton then gathered the twenty to thirty stories she had heard and combined them into one story for each picture. It’s both deceptively simple and deeply profound. The section on the main branch of the SF Public Library is perfect; on one page she has a list of all of the people that entered the library between 12:45 and 12:50: number 9 of 59 is “old man bent over, beard nearly touching the ground.”

Meanwhile in San Francisco captures both the characters of the city and the city as a character. Sheer loveliness.

She has a really great website too. Check it out here.

 

 

Her bookjacketSometimes I need to read books that pierce my very soul, the more heart-wrenching the better. That’s when I turn to memoirs like Her by Christa Parravani. This is the tale of identical twins, Christa and Cara. It's the story of the connections between twins and what happens when you tragically lose that connection. And how someone can survive and grow from that tragedy. It's beautiful and powerful. For more heartbreaking stories of survival, try one of these.

And then there are times that I need snarky narrators that take me into their lives, lives so angst-filled that the only way to get through them is to revel in the What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding bookjackethumor. Kristin Newman’s, What I was Doing While You Were Breeding was just the book I needed recently. Newman is a TV comedy writer and it shows, in a good way. It’s a travel guide and memoir in one tidy package. She spent her time between writing gigs in her 20’s and 30’s, jetting off to exotic locales and meeting gorgeous men. Alright, I might have felt a little jealousy towards her; when I was that age, I was totally living paycheck-to-paycheck and the only place I jetted off to was my hometown in Ohio with a plane ticket purchased by my mom. Oh, wait a sec, that’s still pretty much the story of my life. But that aside, she’s a witty, breezy writer who reveals an awful lot about her experiences with quite a few men in a highly entertaining manner. It's a story about being free and reckless, traveling to fabulous lands, and it's hilarious.

If you’d like a few more snicker-worthy memoirs, check out my list here.

This past week, I've woken up a bunch of times throughout the night thinking about all of the stressful things happening in my world. My thoughts keep churning around and around.  Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? My mom's heart problems. Why is my car insurance so expensive? Will I ever visit Europe? Oh the anxiety! There are simply periods of my life when I am drowning in it. I don't quite get people who don't get anxious. The world is an anxiety-producing place and the only thing we can do is try to figure out ways to lessen it or to adjust to it. And here's a book that will do just that: My Age of Anxiety by Eric Stossel. Wow.

My Age of Anxiety bookjacketThis book will tell you everything you need to know about anxiety. Stossel, the editor of The Atlantic, has suffered from anxiety and various phobias since an early age. The great thing about this book is that it might make you feel better about your own anxiety; Stossel's description of his own is so outrageous that the chances are good that yours will pale in comparison.  I will not soon forget the hilarious but painful tale of his visit to the Kennedy compound that involved a search for a bathroom, a leaking toilet, and a pants-less encounter with John F. Kennedy, Jr. Another plus in reading this is that Stossel really does write about everything you need to know about anxiety. I'm hoping to sleep better in the coming weeks.

 

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