I typically keep about 19 books going at any one time. Sometimes I get a wild hair to tell you what I thought of them.

Gina’s Reading: Graduate Savvy

If it weren’t for the fact that Jeff Green’s Graduate Savvy: Navigating the World of Online Higher Education is a recommended text in my “FirstCourse” at Capella University, I never in a bazillion years would have purchased it. I, further, have to admit that I was more than a little disgusted when it arrived. It is a self-published, double-spaced, graduate-cum-faculty-written piece of work about–wait for it–online learning at Capella. Even the endorsement quote on the front cover is by a fellow Capella graduate.

So, I held my nose and opened it.

In spite of my reticence to read the text, it proved to be a pretty insightful treatment of the process of picking an online school (sort of self-serving since we are already there, but validating in some strange way), getting acclimated to the “campus”, making it through the coursework, attending the colloquia, passing the comps, and writing and defending the dissertation. While not exactly comprehensive, it does a decent job of covering the bases.

The take away message is that earning your PhD online is hard, really hard, rigorous, and difficult–take that!, Brick and Mortar Schools–but doable, life-changing, and worth all the suffering if you are persistent, get really good at APA and don’t plagiarize.

The next-to-the-last chapter was a nice carrot–a treatment of all of the cool jobs that open up when you get that terminal degree.

With all of the reading required to get through grad school, I was tempted to shelve this one. I’m actually glad I read and highlighted it. My intention was to refer to it as I hit each phase of my graduate work, but it is gathering dust on my shelves as I slog through focus on my 3rd year of online studies.

Send coffee.

Gina’s Reading: Clock Winder by Anne Tyler

Clock Winder by Anne Tyler

I love, love, love Ladder of Years, so I was really looking forward to another visit with Anne Tyler. I have a stack of her titles — Clock Winder and Patchwork Planet among them — and somehow landed on the former.

Hmmm.  I love Anne Tyler. And there are absolutely entire sections of this book which were flawlessly written.  However–and this is a huge however–there were 3 or 4 chapters which were completely baffling and confusing and even hard to follow.

Most of the narrative involves Elizabeth–from her perspective and over the course of weeks.  But in those 3 or 4 chapters you jump time and perspective.  The narrators are drawn from minor, previously barely-mentioned characters–so their suddenly being front and center made for a strange adjustment.  I had to re-read the beginnings of these chapters multiple times to figure out what was going on and who these people were.  Then to be further vaulted into a completely different time period–sometimes several years later–simply added to my befuddlement.

Okay–then the real kicker–in the final chapter, she not only changes time and perspective, she changes Elizabeth’s name–in conversation as well as exposition–to Gillespie!  Sigh.

I wanted to love it.  I didn’t.

Gina’s Reading: Not Me by Michael Lavigne

Not Me by Michael Lavigne

Michael Lavigne’s debut novel, Not Me came into my consciousness during lunch at Patsy’s with Ned Andrew’s Aunt Joy. Aunt Joy truly is a joy and lunch with her is worth a 2400 mile round trip drive. If I had the time, I’d even be willing to walk it.

Anyway, she’d recently read the book and couldn’t say enough about it — how stirring it was and how it made her think, really think about some things. She did warn me that there were sections in the book that were very graphic in their descriptions of the Holocaust, saying, “Gina, I had to turn some pages very quickly.” Knowing how well-read this octogenarian is, I jotted down the title and promised to look for it.

Fast forward a couple of days. Ned Andrew and I were at our favorite bookstore — the Bookloft in Great Barrington — and among the stacks, I spotted a copy of Not Me. I added it to my embarrassingly tall stack of titles, evoking the strongest of defenses to my wise-enough-not-to-say-anything-out-loud husband, “Aunt Joy told me I had to read this.”

Even so, I wasn’t sure I could. I do have a special place in my soul for Holocaust literature, but there are only so many gruesome accounts I can read and maintain my sanity. When we got home, I tucked into a bookcase for “later.” Well, after my shameful treatment of Bel Canto I felt like I needed to do some literary penance and gingerly selected Lavigne’s book from the shelf.


This book blew me away. Admittedly, I read it very, very quickly. In 2 days, to be exact. But I didn’t rush through any of the pages as Aunt Joy suggested I might. The basic premise is that comedienne Mickey Rose aka Mikey aka Michael Rosenheim goes to be with his dying father only to be handed a box of journals. The journals tell a very different history of Heshel Rosenheim than Michael has ever heard before. His father — reputedly a Holocaust survivor and tirelessly faithful Jew —  may have actually been a Nazi officer who stole a Jewish identity at the end of the war.

The present day scenes are utterly realistic and set in familiar-to-me Palm Beach County, Florida, (though Lavigne insists on calling it “West Palm Beach County” for some reason) which immediately made me feel like I was in a safe space. This helped as the stranger and more disturbing elements of the story ripped me from my moorings. I appreciated Lavigne’s careful building of Michael’s current reality in a book where the historical detail is so heavily researched and crafted.

The historical sections are beautifully written, though gruesome — as they should be. Heshel’s narrative of the past (told in third person, so you’re not sure whether they’re truth or fiction) delve into some of the more horrific aspects of Nazi Germany, seething prejudice, and the results of the dehumanization of an entire population. Just when you think you are beyond the worst of it, Heshel moves on to the battles to establish Israel within Palestine. There is no respite here.

The whole journey is woven together in a compelling back and forth between the two time periods. Lavigne manages to maintain the pacing throughout and offers some sweet pauses among the more disturbing stories.

If I had one complaint — and I do — it was Lavigne’s insistence on the overuse of similes in Michael’s narrative. They are littered around the book like pizza boxes the morning after a frat party. I actually started to read the following sentence out loud to Ned because it was so well said… until I hit the “like” and then I just groaned.

I stepped out into the parking lot and a herd of mosquitoes instantly materialized on my arms and neck, like pigs around a trough.

Oh well. It’s probably only bothersome to me. The ever-amazing Michael Chabon uses similes, too, but I get irritated with him because he’ll pick some seventy-five cent word and use it eleven times in the same book. The first 2 or 3 times, it shows how clever he is. The next half dozen or so demonstrate that his editor loves him too much to say anything. Ah, but that’s for another Wednesday.

In the balance, the book is a thinker. It poses some pretty deep challenges to our assumptions about good and bad and evil and redemption and identity and guilt and family and forgiveness and horror and empathy. I don’t know that it offers answers, but I wasn’t expecting them.

Thanks, Aunt Joy, for the suggestion. I can hardly wait for our next lunch date. Get us a table and save me a slice!

Gina’s Reading: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

I wanted to love this book.

I’ve carried Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto around for nearly a decade, giving it prime shelf and bedside-table space, and at least a half-dozen starts. In my most recent attempt I made it 72 pages before flinging it across the room. People I typically share book-love with have raved about it. It’s the book they compare other books to, as in, “It’s not a Bel Canto, but it’s worth a read.” It’s won about a bazillion awards — the Pen/Faulkner, The Orange Prize — and even feels like a book I’d like. I gobbled up Truth and Beauty — Ann’s nonfiction work about her friendship with Lucy Grealy — and love, love, loved it.


I just can’t read it.

So, in spite of the fact that I try to follow that adage of “if you can’t say something nice…” I’m going to say something here.

It may not be revelatory, but I’ve come to feel that books are very, very personal in spite of the fact that lots of people read them. They get under your skin and in your psyche and, much like an organ transplant, put a piece of the author somewhere inside your very self. My body is rejecting this title for some reason even medical science can’t explain. I read a ton of books, not all of them great, and I typically finish them. I don’t know what compels me to give a full reading to books best categorized as Literary Cheez Wiz, but whatever it is holds me practically captive when it comes to more serious efforts. Let’s just blame it on my wanting approval from my English teachers and move on.

At any rate, I’ve only decisively given up on a book — as in made the conscious decision to stop reading a book with no intention of ever picking it back up — twice that I can recall. Once was the day I threw Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell across the room after slogging through some 600 pages of it. The second time was today when I officially declared an end to my 10-year intention of completing Bel Canto.  I just don’t like it and I don’t want to read any more of it and I may even donate it to the library. So there. I said it. I’m done.

I’m so sorry, Ann. I feel like I’ve berated your child in public. I’ll make it up to you somehow. Forgive me?

The Hardest Part of Abundance

Bedside Books

I have a confession. My name is Gina and I’m addicted to printed matter.

Yes, I have an eReader and a cell phone with a reading app and spend an inordinate amount of time reading online, but I still love to encounter words attached to actual paper. I love books — no doubt — and have amassed quite the collection over the years. I’m also very fond of well-written magazines like Bitch and O and the ones that come with my Sunday New York Times.

Yes, I’ll confess to that, too. I take the paper. The paper paper. I read the daily Times electronically, but I can’t give up my Sunday ritual of coffee and the paper. I won’t. I savor them, flipping the crisp pages and map-folding them to the size and shape that allows me to read with one hand free for that cuppa.



The trouble with books is that they are so much easier to buy than to read.


I wish I could remember where I read this quote. Well, I remember where I read it. I was in my studio. But I can’t narrow it down any further than that. And looking to see what’s on top of the pile doesn’t help because there are more piles of books and magazines than would make that practical.

Anyway, the point.

I finished reading Truth & Beauty: A Friendship last night. It was heartbreaking and wonderful and I’ll review it soon. But finishing it left me with a conundrum.  What to pick up next? It isn’t like I don’t have any choices. I have too many choices.

I have at least 20 books in process. I do that — start a book and then see something shiny and then start that, too. I often pick a book back up and finish it months after dropping it for something else. So, is there something in that pile I want to revisit?

There are stacks of books that are the “and this too” group. When I get going with a favorite author or subject, I’ll be at the bookstore and see something interesting in the same vein and will grab it to read … next? … later? … ?

Then there are the new, new, new books from my most recent trip to The Bookloft, where I inevitably purchase a dozen titles. There must be something about being away from home and out of my regular routine that deceives me into believing that I have endless time to read.

There are the guilt books, too. I have a knack for being friends with folks who write and always, always, always buy a copy when they publish something. Oftentimes, I love them and read them pretty quickly, but there are a handful that I feel obligated to read that keep staring back at me from the shelf.

The final stack is from our library. I currently have 5 — five — not-small books from our glorious local library. If pressed, I’ll admit that there’s absolutely no way I’ll read all of them before they are due. Truth be told, I’ll likely only start one, get super-involved in it just as it’s time to turn it in, and then order my own copy. By the time it comes, I’ll have moved on to something else and it will end up in the “in process” pile.

So, fie on you, abundance! Choosing reading material is easy, but choosing what to read now is a mix of excitement, dread, anticipation, and overwhelm. Sigh.

Books, books everywhere and not a word to read.

I suppose I’ll head to the bookstore.

Gina’s Reading at Parnassus


Brazenly Stolen from the Parnassus Facebook Page

Well, it’s not technically true.


But if the stars align and the creek don’t rise (not a joke in Nashville), we will actually have that bookstore I talked about when that other bookstore closed.

Yes! Ann Patchett, Karen Hayes, and Mary Grey James announced today that they will, in fact, open Parnassus Books in Green Hills.

I’m expecting that they’ll have wonderful books, of course. They’re already promising stationary and journals and a book club that somehow involves signed first editions. They’re, understandably, talking about fabulous customer service and online access to ordering and eBooks and newsletters. They’ve already set up a facebook page for announcements and such while we wait for that website to go live. And, being Nashville, there will have to be some music.

That’s all cool but here’s what I’m really hoping for…

I want a place I can take my kids — who love books as much as I do — where they can talk with other readers. I want my son to go on and on about the topics and genres that light his fire and hear about other readers’ interests, too. I want my daughters to latch on to new authors that just make them gleeful. I want a space where I can grab 4 titles and go sit in a chair and work for an hour to narrow them down, only to leave with 6 books because when I’m heading toward the cash register I keep finding things I’m dying to read. I want to head there with Ned Andrew on date night to catch a reading or some music. I want reasons to go beyond a list of required reading from school. I want events. I want warmth. I want connection. I want the bibliophile community that has existed recently only in fiction or on my rare trips to Great Barrington.

Parnassus Books will open in October across the street from where Davis Kidd shuttered last year. It’ll be housed in the recently-renovated shopping center best known for its decades-old lease to The Donut Den.  While sort of physically close — by Nashville standards — to the originally-rumored Belle Meade location, Green Hills is miles away in terms of accessibility. I’m pretty serious when I say that I’d rather strain coffee grounds with my teeth than drive and park anywhere in the area. (It’s true!) I’m also willing to do just about anything to support a really real bookstore.

So, yes, I’ll be there. I have to pick up that copy of Moby Dick I left at The Book Loft.



Gina’s Reading: The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffenneggerWhat a fascinating premise for a story. When I first heard about this book all that was said was, “It is about a guy who time travels and his wife who is waiting around for him.” My first thought was, “If he can time travel why doesn’t he just come back where he left off?”

Niffenegger answers that question and lots of others as she carefully weaves the “rules” for Henry & Clare’s time-warped romance. I enjoyed the elements of normalcy–cooking, eating, music, poetry, art, children, lovemaking–within this otherwise strange set up.

I did like the book and enjoyed seeing how the time device played out. I genuinely cared about the characters and appreciated their edges. Niffenegger does a smooth job of drawing you though the story even as you bounce all over the calendar.

I struggled with some of the continuity and the dropped ideas that were sometimes introduced with passion for a short while (the medical stuff that sort of gets explained and dropped, the old couple (why??) at the beach, the secret/not secret nature of Henry’s time travel.)

I will say that I was most unsatisfied by the ending. Niffenegger hints at what is to come throughout–so there is never a moment when you get to relax and enjoy any of the intimacy that forms between Henry and Clare.  I thought we would finally get it in the parting scene–but she basically retells us what Henry has already told us three chapters earlier. Sigh.

I know saying, “It is a great first effort.” is tantamount to saying, “Better luck next time.” So I won’t say that. I will say that I wish it were still in editing and it could be tweaked to be the excellent book it almost is. I wished this so much that I hoped that the movie adaptation would improve on it that slight bit. It didn’t.

All in all, I enjoyed reading the book. So, if you are not impacted by the same critical eye disease I have, you’ll likely love it.


Gina’s Reading: Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism

Louder than Words by Jenny McCarthyI so appreciate Ms McCarthy’s offering her experiences in this format.  She is an articulate reporter of the reality of folks who are living with a kid who has autism.  In Louder than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism, Jenny McCarthy has opened up her world–often a painful one–for our scrutiny in hopes of helping other parents.

However, as a mom with two kiddos with diagnoses on the autism spectrum, I struggle somewhat with the “pull them through the window at any cost” theme of this book.  It is tough for any parent to find that balance between acceptance of your child’s abilities and desire to help them achieve more than they currently are.  It is nearly impossible to walk that line when your kids have a diagnosis.

Along with the diagnosis comes a cadre of professionals, pseudo-professionals, and well-meaning passersby who will offer you free and high-paid advice, threats, and guilt trips regarding the rearing of your child.  Do too much and you are a “cure-bie” who is in denial that your child will always be this way.  Do too little and you are neglecting your child and missing the window. I suppose I’m looking for voices that find that middle space. I didn’t hear that balance in Jenny’s book.

Maybe I’m the one who needs a kick in the pants to do more for my kids. I’m certainly not claiming to be the perfect mom. I am pretty invested in my kids, though, and truly want them to be more than a fix-er-upper project. They will likely always have autism, so there’s a large part of me that is looking for delight in that reality — yes, delight — and not more angst about the diagnostic reality.

So, would I recommend this book?  Sure.  It is an honest, heartfelt look at one mom’s journey through diagnosis and early treatment for her son’s autism.  It is a quick read and worth picking up.  Is it the only–or even one of the first 10 books about autism I would recommend?  Nope.  Karyn Seroussi’s book was equally honest with loads more info to help you chart your course–whether that course includes pulling your kid out a window or just sitting along side them as they do their own thing.

In short, Ms McCarthy dearly loves her son.  She has a strong desire to help other folks similarly situated.  It was a good read and food for thought.  I’m glad I added it to my shelf.

A Long Drive for a Local Author

Truth &  Beauty by Ann Patchett


I live in Nashville, TN. Coincidentally, so does Ann Patchett. As a matter of fact, she’s in the process of opening an independent bookstore in the area. So, it made me giggle just a little when I realized that I’d driven 1300 miles this week to my favorite little bookstore in Great Barrington, MA only to buy a book from a local-to-me author.

I did balance it out with a copy of Alphabet Juice by the Berkshires’ own Roy Blount Jr. But I’m thinking the only way I can really even the score is to head back to Nashville and race into Ann’s store the moment it opens for a copy of Moby Dick.

On third thought, I bought my Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edith Wharton novels in Tennessee. While I’m pretty neutral on The Scarlett Letter and honestly can’t recall much about Mr Hawthorne’s other efforts, reading Ethan Frome and not extending my grudge against Ms Wharton to all of Massachussetts was an act of generosity unsurpassed in my lifetime. (I’m still in contact with my high school English teacher, and my consistent expression to her of how much I loathe that story is entering into its third decade.)

Perhaps I should take a page from Berkshire history as inspiration and start my own novel while I’m in these hills.


But then again, when would I manage to find time to read the dozen or so books I added to my already-toppling pile of to-be-reads at home?

Such dilemmas. Good thing I have another 1300 miles to get it all sorted out.

Gina’s Reading: Broken for You

Broken for You by Stephanie KallosI picked up a copy of Kallos’ debut novel on the dual recommendation of Ev at the Bookloft in Great Barrington, MA and Sue Monk Kidd’s endorsement on the cover. This may seem insignificant, but without those two women promising I would be glad I’d read this, I wouldn’t have made it through the first half. Frankly, some of the situations and literary tactics were downright silly.

Starting with Part II, Kallos found her literary legs. I was finally interested in the characters–perhaps because she introduces a couple of folks who were believable–and the story started to make more sense. She also found her hook and finally gave you the piece of information that helped explain quite a bit that was out-of-place in the first half of her novel.

Where Kallos finally made it worth reading the 360 pages was in her weaving the global hurt of the Holocaust with the private hurts of her individual characters and giving a space for cathartic exploration of roads to healing. Not unlike the significance of the art created by her characters being more about the materials than the product–Kallos’ work gains its value, not from the creation of a well-executed novel, but from her exploration of themes that resonate with a searching reader.

Of course, it always helps to have a personal connection to the subject matter in a book. As luck(?) would have it, I’m sitting in my in-laws’ home in the Berkshires surrounded by my Jewish father-in-law’s gorgeous found-object collages. As I prepared to head out to the Bookloft this afternoon for a stack of new recommendations from Ev, this book called back to me.

I’ll leave the analogies for you to discover, but will be thinking lots about histories and family of origin and chosen family and finding a way to make something beautiful out of the tatters of another chapter.

Donald Solomon's Collages

Ned Andrew's father, Donald Solomon, made hundreds of these collages from every type of found object.


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