Friday, August 8, 2014

Summer reading

Besides finishing off the previously reviewed "A Man Called Destruction,"  I finished off three other books while on my recent vacation. Here are some thoughts on each of them: 

While enduring yet another bout of perimenopausal symptoms recently, I spotted "The Madwoman in the Volvo:  My Year of Raging Hormones" by Sandra Tsing Loh at the local bookstore, and immediately snapped it up.  

By the time Loh was 49, her life was a mess: she was juggling two pre-teenaged daughters, an aging (and eccentric) father, a career, and a  messy divorce, following an affair with her business partner. A perpetual cloud of gloom and irritability seemed to hang over her.  She was gaining weight.  After breaking down over the death of her daughters' pet hamster, a friend pinpointed the root of her problems: menopause.  The book follows Loh over the next two years to her milestone 50th birthday party, and mixes her personal story with humour and with some great nuggets of information about women, aging and menopause. 

I am not menopausal (yet -- although I am definitely getting there). I'm not a mom (and I did roll my eyes at Loh's portrayal of her friend Judith:  "Oh, the lightness of step of the child-free!" -- seriously??), and while my parents are starting to slow down, they are nowhere near 90 yet, let alone in need of the kind of help Loh's father required. I don't even have a job to worry about anymore (who would have thought that retirement would come before menopause??)(and I'm actually kind of grateful that when Aunt Flo is paying me a particularly nasty visit, I can now just pop some ibuprofen and take refuge on my couch, instead of slogging my way through the workday).

But there was still a lot here that I could relate to -- and I suspect many of you can, too (or will).  Consider this: by 2015 -- next year -- half of all American women will be menopausal. HALF!!  Moreover, Loh points out, we are menopausal women like no others in history. Long ago, many women died before they ever reached menopause. These days, we may live longer, but we're also taking longer to reach certain life milestones. While our mothers and grandmothers had their children in their 20s and sent us off to college when they were in their 40s, many of us delayed having children until our 30s & 40s.  These days, menopause often coincides with our children's adolescence -- and our parents' aging -- at the same time we are juggling the most demanding years of our working life.  Sandwich squeeze, anyone?

I was especially intrigued by Loh's point that, with menopause, we are returning to our pre-teen, pre-fertility years. Our fertile years are actually the aberration, not menopause... and "crazy menopausal women" are actually reclaiming a part of themselves they had long put on hold.
"If, in an eighty-year lifespan, a female is fertile for about twenty-five years (let's call it ages fifteen to forty), it is not menopause that triggers the mind-altering and hormone-altering variation;  the hormonal "disturbance" is actually fertility.  Fertility is the change. It is during fertility that a female loses herself, and enters that cloud overly rich in estrogen. Due to lifespans being as long as they are, thirty years of addled fertility in the middle isn't the "norm" for a woman, that almost sixty years of the relative selfishness of prepubescence and menopause are." (p. 237) 
The book ends with Loh's tips on how to survive menopause. (She is a big fan of Dr. Christiane Northrup & her book "The Wisdom of Menopause.")  I can't say I related to everything in this book, but it did give me a few laughs and insights, and you may enjoy it too. 

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WAs someone who is forever making to-do lists (often on post-it notes) and loves my yellow highlighter, I was drawn to the cover of "Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time" by Brigid Schulte.  When I started reading the reviews, I knew this was a book I had to read. And I am very glad I did. It is a must-read for anyone who is feeling time challenged and overwhelmed by modern life -- and I suspect that's most of us, at least in North America.  

Yes, I know -- I don't have kids;  supposedly I have oodles of free time, right? I suppose some people (parents) think I have no right to feel overwhelmed (how dare I??). And while I recognize that I DO have more free time than the average parent (and certainly now that I am unemployed/retired), there have been many times when I too felt "overwhelmed" by all the demands on my time and attention, and by a to-do list that never seems to get any shorter. 

"I think of confetti," writes Schulte, a journalist with the Washington Post. "That's how my life feels. Like time confetti -- one big, chaotic burst of exploding slivers, bits, and scraps. And really, what does a pile of confetti ever amount to?"

Schulte was late for her meeting with a time management expert -- who confounded her by claiming that women had an average of 30 hours of leisure a week (!). (Personally, I thought his definitions of "leisure" were really stretching it at times:  exercise is leisure?? Waiting for a tow truck is leisure?) 

But if we really have 30 hours of leisure time a week, why do we all feel so tired and stressed?? Schulte set out to find out, and the result is this well-researched and well-written book.

I particularly loved the section of the book set in Fargo, North Dakota -- an area of the country near & dear to my heart -- where Schulte found people are just as time-stressed as anywhere else. A UND researcher shared her collection and analysis of holiday family letters (of all things), which demonstrate a dramatic rise in busyness in American families in recent years -- or at least the appearance of busyness.

Because while there are any number of valid factors we can point to as to why we are so time-starved these days (and Schulte investigates all of them -- the rise of working mothers, the cult of intensive motherhood, the lack of supportive government and workplace policies...), the truth is that, in part, it is our own darned fault. We don't manage our time as well as we might, or set boundaries as well as we should. And even if we aren't that busy, we dare not admit it. "Busyness is now the social norm that people feel they must conform to... or risk being outcasts," Schulte writes. When everyone around us keeps saying they are "busy, busy, busy," do you want to be the one person to say you're not?  

Schulte looks for "bright spots" where it's easier to balance work, love and play, and travels to Denmark for an eye-opening contrast in cultures. She details her own efforts to take back her life and find time to truly play.  And she winds up with a list of suggestions on how we can do the same. 

Highly recommended. :)

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Confession:  I have never read the blogger known as "The Blogess."  But I heard enough about her through the blogging grapevine to recognize the name(s) on the cover of "Let's Pretend This Never Happened."

The Bloggess's real name is Jenny Lawson, and "Let's Pretend" is a memoir following her from her bizarre childhood in Texas to present day.

Frankly, I found the first few chapters, full of dead animals and live ones, to be slightly offputting.  Caveat emptor if you have any phobias about snakes, scorpions, stuffed dead squirrels, chupacabras (?? -- you learn something new every day...).  I was seriously considering throwing in the towel & moving on to something else.

But I soon found myself chuckling in spite of myself. And also sniffling.  Jenny is "one of us" -- she too survived infertility and pregnancy loss before finally surprising herself by giving birth to her daughter Hayley. She writes warmly about the blogging world and about the bonds she's formed with other bloggers. She also writes frankly (and humorously) about her struggles with mental illness, including anxiety.

This is a book that's probably best consumed in small doses -- I found myself exhausted at times from the frantic style. On balance, it was an enjoyable read. But as I said, caveat emptor... ;) 

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These were books numbers 8. 9 and 10 that I've read so far in 2014. (I'm currently bouncing back & forth between 11 & 12.)  ;) 

1 comment:

  1. 30 hours of leisure time? I don't think I have 30 hours of leisure time per week. As is, I can probably count an hour for the morning and two hours at night. Or are they counting the weekends too? Sure, if we count the weekend, I could get it to 30.