Tuesday, May 30, 2023

"Women Without Kids" by Ruby Warrington

From famine to feast: in recent years, more and more good (even great) books about various aspects of life without children have been published -- and not just one but TWO in the last few months.  Both received some good attention in the media: "Without Children" by Peggy O'Donnell Heffington,  which I read and reviewed last month, here, and "Women Without Kids: The Revolutionary Rise of an Unsung Sisterhood" by Ruby Warrington. (Interestingly, Warrington's book seems to be better known in the UK, while Heffington's has been getting more press here in North America. Perhaps that's because Warrington is originally from the UK, albeit she now lives in the U.S.)   

Warrington is childfree by choice, and much of the book is written from that perspective. (She originally wanted to title the book "Selfish C***s.")(!!) But involuntary childlessness is not ignored -- Gateway Women's Jody Day is quoted and referenced several times throughout the book -- and Warrington does, in fact, write extensively and persuasively about the existence of a "Motherhood Spectrum," with hardcore childfree-by-choice people at one end, enthusiastic mothers at the other, and most of us falling somewhere in between. 

The book mixes Warrington's personal story and extensive research with a psycho-socio-political analysis of life without children and what it means to never be a mother, as well as questions to get the reader thinking about their own stories and feelings on the subject.  It ends with a message similar to Heffington's book -- that we all (parents & non) need to support each other and do our part in making this planet a better place for all of us to live -- but Warrington presents these ideas in a way that I found much more palatable/affirming and childless/free-friendly.  

For me, an otherwise good/thoughtful/interesting read was somewhat marred by several irritating factors that could have easily been resolved through editing:  there was an abundance of choppy sentences/fragments, as well as (on the flip side) long, run-on paragraphs that could have been broken up into shorter ones. There were some annoyingly glaring typos/spelling/usage errors -- for example, I noticed "naval gazing," (navel); "now age" (new age), and "alter" (altar). I also found myself wishing that the thought-provoking questions Warrington poses to the reader throughout the book had been highlighted in some way for emphasis and easy reference (boldfaced? boxed? sidebarred?), instead of casually dropped into the copy, where they're more easily buried or glossed over.  (Sorry if all of this sounds picky, but I was an editor in my pre-retirement life and I was paid to notice these things...!)  

But while certain structural aspects were lacking, I very much appreciated the content. There were a few parts that were perhaps a little more "woowoo/new age-y" than I was really comfortable with (particularly in Chapter, 2,"Origin Stories" and its discussion of "Family Constellations").  But -- if I had been reading a paper copy, practically every other page would have been dog-eared;  as it was, my e-copy is littered with bookmarks. I found it difficult to pick just a few quotations to highlight here for you, because there were so many good ones that made some excellent points.  

Overall, this is a worthy addition to the growing library of books about life without children and worth a read.  

A solid 4 stars on Goodreads. 

This was Book #22 read to date in 2023 (and Book #5 finished in May), bringing me to 49% of my 2023 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 4 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2023 tagged as "2023 books."  

Monday, May 29, 2023

#MicroblogMondays: Annoying things & small pleasures

Annoying things: 
  • Pollen dust all over the end table closest to the open balcony door (no wonder we've both been sneezing lately...!). 
  • Balcony doors that desperately need washing. 
  • Trying a new takeout soup for lunch that sounded good in the description, but was a lot spicier than I anticipated.  
  • A flimsy bedskirt that's ripping at the seams and dragging on the floor. 
    • Knowing that either mending it or buying a new one will require lifting our bulky, heavy mattress..! 
  • Not being able to think of something more original/clever for a #MM post...! 
Small pleasures: 
  • Anticipating a quieter week ahead than the past few have been. (Knocking wood, of course...!) 
  • Carving out a little more time to read books lately. 
  • Cashing in some of my Kobo Super Points to download a few more (lol).  
  • A run of good hair days lately (since my most recent haircut). 
  • Enjoying white teeth again, minus tea stains, thanks to the work of my excellent new dental hygienist. 
  • New T-shirts in summery colours delivered to my door from Lucky Brand Canada to brighten up the day. 
  • A freshly scrubbed shower cubicle!  (Annoying thing:  aches & pains afterwards...!  lol)  
  • Being able to leave the balcony door wide open all day long. (Mild temperatures, no humidity!)(Yet...?!)  

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

"Anne of the Island" by L.M. Montgomery (re-read)

My L.M. Montgomery Readathon group on Facebook is just wrapping up its chapter-by-chapter reading and discussion of "Anne of the Island," the third book in the "Anne of Green Gables" series, first published in 1915.  I read the book on my own back in January, before our discussions began, and reviewed it here.   

This installment of the AOGG saga covers Anne's four years at Redmond College in Kingsport (read: Dalhousie University in Halifax, which LMM herself attended for a year in 1895-96).  Gilbert Blythe and Charlie Sloane from Avonlea are there too, as well as Anne's friends from her days at Queen's Academy (teachers college), Priscilla Grant and Stella Maynard. Together with a new friend, the effervescent Philippa Gordon (from Anne's birthplace, Bollingbroke, Nova Scotia), the girls rent a cozy cottage near the college -- "Patty's Place" -- and set up housekeeping together.  

During the summers, Anne returns to Avonlea, where many of her old friends are getting married and starting families of their own. Anne herself fends off several suitors -- including Gilbert -- until at last she meets the man who embodies all of her childhood dreams of romance --tall, dark, handsome, melancholy (and rich!) Royal Gardner. 

But she can't stop thinking about Gilbert...   

Our group had some wonderful discussions while going through this book, particularly about higher education for women and their living arrangements (the consensus being that all of us wanted to live at Patty's Place too, lol -- but such an arrangement, while common now, would have been highly unusual at the time, even with the presence of Stella's affable Aunt Jamesina as ostensible chaperone). 

I still think (as I mentioned in my original review) some of the Avonlea sections between school terms seem a bit trivial/superfluous -- but our group discussions helped me to see how so much of this book is a meditation on the different forms love, romance and marriage can take, and the importance of choosing the right life partner. All of Montgomery's writing has had a profound impact on my life and how I see things, but it was a revelation to realize just how much this particular book has influenced my attitudes about education, friendship, romance and more. 

My original rating of 4.5 stars stands, but this time around, I've rounded it up to 5 on Goodreads. 

Our next LMM Readathon book:  TBA...! 

This was Book #21 read to date in 2023 (and Book #4 finished in May), bringing me to 47% of my 2023 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 3 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2023 tagged as "2023 books."  

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

"The Whispers" by Ashley Audrain

I am not sure what possessed me to request an advance reader copy (ARC) of "The Whispers" by Ashley Audrain from NetGalley when an email offer popped into my inbox. I have, but have not read, her first novel, "The Push," which made a huge splash when it was published a year or two ago (and the author is Canadian!).  I do like a good thriller now & then, but this one promised (in the words of one reviewer) "A beautifully written hymn to the pain, love and fury of motherhood."  Hmmm... 

I decided I'd try to keep an open mind. 

Nevertheless, there was a LOT in this book that hit just a little too uncomfortably close to home. 

As mentioned in a previous post, this was my first experience with NetGalley and ARCs, and after a lot of Googling and an email conversation with someone from the help desk, I was finally able to figure out how to download it to my Kobo e-reader! (as well as to the NetGalley app and to Adobe Digital Editions reader on my laptop).  It's in PDF format -- so regardless of device, it's not an especially great reading experience. The type is small and, on my e-reader and cellphone, enlarging it/zooming in makes the page awkward to manoeuvre. I wound up reading most of the novel via Adobe Digital Editions on my laptop, where I could magnify the type to a more readable size -- albeit laptops are not ideal for reading books on...!  

I was also working against a deadline -- something I didn't realize when I first requested the book, and which is not made entirely clear up front:  the book came with an "archive" date of June 13th. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to read it on any/all of my devices after that point, which is why I moved it up in my TBR pile, even though there were other books I was hoping to get to/needed to prioritize first. 

The story focuses on four very different women, neighbours on the same rapidly gentrifying street, their relationships to motherhood, and to each other -- all of them with their own particular flaws and  carefully guarded secrets. There's affluent professional couple Whitney and Jacob and their three children. There's uber-stay-at-home mom of one, Blair, who is obsessed (creepily so, at times) with Whitney and her life, so different from her own -- and obsessed with the suspicion that her husband Aiden is having an affair.  

There's a childless couple: kid-magnet Ben and Rebecca, who is a trauma physician in a hospital emergency room. Needless to say, she's the character I identified with the most -- even as I cringed over the sometimes stereotypical way she was portrayed. (Although undoubtedly some moms reading this book will cringe over Blair & Whitney in much the same way...!)  Audrain must have personal experience with infertility and pregnancy loss (or is very close to someone who has), because she hits every note here. (Graphic descriptions are included.) 

I cringed reading some of the passages involving Rebecca. For example, this one:  

From across the yard, Blair watches as Ben and Rebecca find subtle ways to touch while they listen to Whitney orate, like they still find in each other every last thing they need. They are childless, childfree, and so they have not yet been irrevocably changed. not like the rest of them. They speak to each other in fully composed sentences with civilized inflection.  They probably still fuck once a day and enjoy it. Fall asleep in the same bed with their limbs tucked into each other's crevices. Without a pillow wedged between then to separate her side of the bed from his, to imagine the other isn't there.

(I have to admit I bristled when I read "they have not yet been irrevocably changed" -- I wanted to throw the book across the room -- except this was my laptop, lol. So I didn't.) (I kept turning the pages.) 

A few pages later, in a different time and place, Whitney demands to know of Rebecca, "Is this why you don't have children?"  

And Rebecca thinks: "Why doesn't she have children?  Because she can't keep her own alive."  

And, in Chapter 26 (back at the party), as they talk about their neighbour Mara, Blair thinks: 

...of course they have empathy for Mara, even though they don't sit and chat with her on the porch like Rebecca does. She and Whitney are the mothers, Blair thought. Rebecca can't possibly understand like they can. 

Finally, there's elderly Mara, a longtime resident of the street, who knows and understands more than most people think -- and who has been keeping a few secrets of her own.

The plot shifts back & forth in time.  It begins with a backyard birthday party, where Whitney loses her temper in a confrontation with her 10-year-old son, Xavier -- and not for the first time. Months later, the boy is in the hospital, fighting for his life.  Little by little, as the tension builds, and there's one revelation after another, we learn the truth of what happened... 

This is a very readable book -- but also very disturbing -- nasty in parts. Lots of secrets and lies.  There are triggers galore, depending on your own personal situation and tolerance level -- including (but not limited to) infertility, pregnancy loss, children in peril, child loss, abuse, jealousy, sex, infidelity, betrayal, death, mothers vs non-mothers,. Consider yourselves forewarned! 

I had a hard time figuring out how to rate this one. I settled on 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 on Goodreads.  I had problems with the plot and disliked many (most?) of the very flawed characters. There were still a few plot points left ambiguously hanging at the end. 

But it sure kept me turning the pages.  

Publication date: June 6th.  

Thank you to NetGalley (and the publisher) for my free copy in exchange for a review. Once I got the technical kinks worked out and was able to get into the book, I enjoyed the experience, even if I have some reservations about this particular book. I will likely request other books in the future -- but only if/when I know I want to (and will!) read this book ASAP, keeping the looming archive date in mind. 

This was Book #20 read to date in 2023 (and Book #3 finished in May), bringing me to 44% of my 2023 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 3 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2023 tagged as "2023 books."   

Monday, May 22, 2023

#MicroblogMondays: An "ouch" moment

It's the Victoria Day long weekend here. The weather on Saturday was chilly, but yesterday it was gorgeous (23C/73F, no humidity), and BIL & SIL invited us over for a late lunch/early dinner with the nephews, their wives and the little ones. Neither dh & I nor Older Nephew & his wife had seen Little Great-Niece since Easter (now 3 months old and several pounds heavier), and all of us had fun taking turns holding her and basking in the cuteness (except for Little Great-Nephew, who is clearly NOT impressed with his little cousin & having to share the spotlight!! lol).  I got to hold her for a good while, and even got a few toothless smiles out of her. :)  

We left in the late afternoon, heading outside to the cars in twos and threes so as not to crowd the entryway. Finally, there was just me, SIL, Little Great-Niece in her car seat/carrier and her mom, who was gathering up all the paraphernalia that goes along with taking an infant anywhere these days. 

SIL was gazing lovingly at her adorable granddaughter (as she should, right?). "You know," she said to her daughter-in-law, "there is something so special about being a grandparent, seeing your grandchildren. My mother told me the same thing, and it's true!"  

I quietly put on my sandals and joined the others outside. 

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Saturday, May 20, 2023

"Funny Girl" by Nick Hornby

I was hoping to get through "Funny Girl" by Nick Hornby before the six-part British TV series based on it, "Funny Woman," started airing here in Canada on the W Network (a channel we actually get!) on May 11th.  

(I'm curious:  why the title change? Was "Girl" considered too politically incorrect? Or maybe they were worried that people would mix it up with the Barbra Streisand movie (which was based on a hit Broadway musical)?  Anyway...)

That didn't happen -- but I did finally pick it up after the first episode aired. (There are six episodes;  I've seen two so far.) 

It's the "Swinging Sixties" (1964, as the book opens) in England, and Barbara Parker has just won the title of Miss Blackpool in a bathing suit beauty contest. Her father and aunt hope she'll settle down now and marry her butcher boyfriend Aidan. But Barbara wants more out of life: she secretly dreams of being on "telly" and making people laugh, like her heroine/role model, Lucille Ball -- and she's soon off to London to seek her fortune. She finds a job, selling hats at a department store, and a roommate, who also works there -- and then she finds an agent, who renames her "Sophie Straw." Improbably, she charms her way into the lead role of a new TV comedy about a young married couple that becomes a smash hit.

This was a fast read -- albeit it took me a week-plus to get through it (because, life, and it's been a busy week!). (When I did get to it, I was able to speed through large chunks in a sitting.)  I've previously read and enjoyed several other Hornby novels, including "Juliet, Naked," and "State of the Union" (reviews in the links), as well as "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy" (pre-blogging, so no reviews to point you to). 

This one was not quite as satisfying as some of those others. Based on the cover design and blurb, I was expecting a romantic romp through Swinging London, a bit of a chick-list novel, perhaps (albeit written by a man). It turned out to be more of an "office/work family" story (I'm thinking of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," albeit with a British accent and fewer laughs). Despite the title, it's not really a comic novel, although there are chuckles along the way. The last few chapters went in a totally different direction than I had anticipated -- not in a bad way but, again, not quite what I had expected.

As for the TV series -- so far, I am enjoying it. The period details (the clothes! the soundtrack!!) are wonderful, there's a lot more humour to be found (albeit some situations are obviously staged for laughs), and Gemma Arterton, who plays Barbara/Sophie, is well cast. I am also enjoying the nuanced performance of Arsher Ali as Dennis, the producer, and Alexa Davies is fun as Barbara/Sophie's roommate, Marjorie. Rupert Everett, so charming in "My Best Friend's Wedding," is almost unrecognizable as Barbara/Sophie's agent, Brian. (I checked his bio online -- he's 63 now (!) but looks a good decade older than that in this show.  I loved him in "My Best Friend's Wedding" with Julia Roberts, but that movie was made in 1997, 25+ years ago now (! -- yikes!).)  Barbara/Sophie/Gemma Arterton is clearly the star and the focus of this show -- which you might expect? -- while the novel also delves into the stories and minds of her co-star, producer and writers. They're interesting characters, and I'm glad I got to know them better in the end, but the multiple storylines and perspectives were ultimately a bit distracting.  

I will admit to scratching my head over a lot of the British references (and I consider myself fairly well versed in Britannia), particularly to actors and television/radio shows of the era. I recognized a few of them (e.g., "Steptoe and Son" and "Till Death Do Us Part," which became "Sanford and Son" and "All in the Family" in the U.S.) but not others, and I am not sure whether some or all of the others were real, or made up by Hornby? 

A pleasant diversion, but Hornby has written better books.  

3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 on Goodreads (the extra half-point added for those last few chapters). 

This was Book #19 read to date in 2023 (and Book #2 finished in May), bringing me to 42% of my 2023 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2023 tagged as "2023 books."   

Long weekend odds & ends

  • What a crazy week it's been...!  I think we've had something to do -- usually involving an alarm clock -- almost every day.  
    • Monday: dh drove BIL & Older Nephew downtown for a medical appointment, early in the morning, and was out until early/mid-afternoon. I took advantage of his absence to wash the floor mats & mop the floors (the tiles in the kitchen, entryway and bathrooms, anyway). And then enjoyed some rare "me alone at home" time!  ;) 
    • Tuesday, we stayed with Little Great-Nephew from 7:30 a.m. until about 2 p.m., while BIL & SIL went for a lengthy medical appointment. 
    • Wednesday morning, we travelled into midtown Toronto (the neighbourhood where we lived when we were first married) for dental appointments (cleanings & checkups). (We were also there last week for an optometrist checkup for me.) All good!  
      • When we got home, we did laundry. 
    • Thursday morning, we set an alarm, got up early and did the housecleaning, so that I could attend a Zoom meeting/chat/planning session at 11 a.m. 
      • We usually do the housecleaning on Friday, but... 
    • Friday morning, we returned to our old community for much-needed haircuts!  
    • Dh is out again this morning, heading up to Older Nephew's house with BIL to do some guy-type stuff.  ;)  I could have slept in... but of course, I was wide awake at 6:30 a.m., even before  dh's alarm, set for 7, rang. Oh well...!  
  • It's been (mostly) milder here lately (no humidity -- yet! -- yay!!), but overcast/grey -- possibly (likely?) the result of the wildfires that are burning in Alberta right now -- some 3500 km/2200 miles away!  Air quality has been "moderate" (not really bad, but not great either). The pollen count has been very high too.  We like to have the balcony door open when it's nice enough to do so, but needless to say, we've both had dry, irritated eyes and we've both been sneezing! :p
    • It's raining today, so hopefully that will help the air quality issues...   
  • It's the Victoria Day long weekend here, regarded as the traditional kickoff to summer. We've been invited to BIL's on Sunday, along with the nephews and their families, and we're looking forward to that. (We haven't seen our new Little Great-Niece since Easter!)  Hopefully the weather will improve, though...!  
    • Fireworks on Victoria Day are also traditional (although they tend to be seen & heard all weekend long, not just on Monday night...!) -- and sometimes we see even more displays this weekend than we do on Canada Day, in July! -- but I guess we'll see what happens re: the weather...!  
  • Several friends' & relatives' kids recently turned 25, or will be soon (just as another certain young woman would have, if she'd arrived as planned in November 1998):  my cousin's youngest daughter in early March, dh's cousin's oldest son in mid-April (I was newly pregnant and "out" at his mom's baby shower earlier that month), and just this past week, the son of one of my best friends from growing up, as well as a high school classmate's daughter. I will admit, seeing those birthday photos and greetings gave me pangs. Sigh.  
  • I got an email recently from my alma mater, the university where I got my undergraduate degree in arts: "Congratulations on the 40th anniversary of your graduation from the Faculty of Arts with the University of....! We are so proud to have you as part of our alumni community...."  My first reaction:  "Yikes!! FORTY YEARS??!!"  (My second reaction: how much money do they want??  lol)(Answer:  none -- this time (!) -- but they did suggest I should make plans to attend homecoming this year...!)  
  • Ugh... I recently got one of those "Lori, do you know...?" emails from LinkedIn. The person in question was my old boss -- my last boss, before I was unceremoniously shown the door after 28 years of fully satisfactory to above average service, almost 9 years ago now. She emailed me at home a few days after I was pinkslipped ("if there's anything I can do...") -- I thanked her, and that's the last I've heard from her (or she from me) since then. It's too long and complicated to explain why here (and to be honest, I'm not even entirely sure why myself), but... I just... had no desire to stay in touch.  
    • Anyway, I was curious what she's up to these days, so I clicked to have a look at her profile. Or so I thought. What happened instead was I sent a "connection" request to her.  (!) I had no idea how to rescind it (and to do so without her knowing), so I reluctantly let it stand. 
    • She accepted my request this morning. Oh well. I'm not on LinkedIn much these days anyway...  
  • No links for you this time!  (Sorry!)  Maybe next week...