Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Bender!

I'm so happy I've been able to get back into reading, you don't even know. Thank God for the Kindle because it allows me to buy books without having to leave the house and the instant gratification is perfect for an impatient person like me. It's like I can finish a book and in five minutes start another one.

The last time I asked for recommendations someone told me about Rhoda Janzen's Mennonite in a Little Black Dress and I can not thank this person enough. This book was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it and also I love Mennonites. There are lots of Mennonites in Millpond. I used to admire their little mesh caps and wish I could have one. A Mennonite family lived across the street from us and I used to play with their daughter although she was no fun at all because she was a goody goody and I much preferred the white trash girl who lived across the street because she would make the Barbies have sex. But this book was perfect. I liked the tone and I honestly haven't laughed so much at a book since I first found David Sedaris. I think I mentioned that before. Anyway, it's the true story of a woman who was raised Mennonite, chose a worldly life and married a mentally ill man who left her for another man right when she was enduring some pretty serious health problems. In order to heal her body and spirit, she goes back home and makes peace with herself and her upbringing and it's freaking hilarious. I love Janzen's descriptions of Mennonite life and she writes with such a lighthearted matter-of-factness about the most painful parts of her life. I also loved her approach to writing about spirituality with comedy and sincerity. It was just beautiful. I haven't loved a book so much in a long time.

I was so sad when I finished that I instantly needed something else just like it. I decided to go with the Kindle's recommendations for me. It has this "If you liked x, then you'll like y" feature. I thought I'd take its word for it and see. The Kindle told me I'd love a book with a most unwieldy title - The New York Regional Mormon Single's Halloween Dance by Elna Baker. Oh my God people. Loved it. The Kindle knows me. Elna Baker is a Mormon in her 20s, but the craziest thing is that she's hip and cool, like someone I know I'd immediately want to be best friends with. Reading this book, I felt like I knew her and she was so damned funny! Imagine that, a funny Mormon! And she's not just funny, she's endearing, reasonable, tolerant, sweet and so absolutely likable. Baker's memoir follows her as she leaves her large, traditional Mormon family and moves to New York City for college. There she is tempted and tried. She gets a job, she loses a huge amount of weight and for the first time in her life becomes pretty and seeks the attention of men. Baker tries to date, learns to kiss and falls in love with an atheist and all of it is so delightful to read. You just root for her the whole time. I also liked that Baker doesn't apologize for her religious beliefs, which she sticks to (she's a virgin!) and she explains her convictions so eloquently that a religion that had once seemed so ridiculous to me, kind of started to sound a little more sensible, though I still wonder why no one ever called Joseph Smith out on losing the golden plates, but whatever. I can't tell you how much I loved this adorably quirky book. You must read it. You really must. She even travels, visiting Cyprus and Africa. Here's Baker's web site and blog. I wish she blogged more often because I can't get enough of her writing. I was pleasantly surprised to see she got her start on The Moth, which is one of my favorite radio shows/ podcasts. I have a big dream to tell one of my stories on The Moth one day.

The next book I read is Jessie Scholl's memoir of hoarding, Dirty Secret. I want to devote a whole post to this one because it was fascinating and really made me think about my own life and habits a lot. The book is sad and hard at times, but I was riveted and I definitely recommend it. I'll write about it in more depth soon.

Right now I'm reading a very disturbing memoir called Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir by Margaux Fragoso. It's about a victim of child sexual abuse and I may not continue with it because it's too graphic and emotionally hard for me to read. I don't know. We'll see and I'll write about it further when I think about it some more.


What are you reading this week?

12 comments:

A Margarita said...

The Help by Katherine Stocket(sp?). I highly recommend it.

Kate said...

Did you previously post about Mennonite in a Little Black Dress? Because I got the recommendation from a blog I read (obviously can't remember which) and picked it up immediately. I agree, it's all at once hilarious, insightful and profound. I love it so much, but I'm not quite finished.

Arwen said...

I read a lot of the Kindle freebies avoiding the pure sex and Christian romance ones although I was addicted to the Amish series that used to be free. Right now, I've been re-reading the Outlander series because it went on sale on Amazon a little while back and those books are so immense I gave up on them.

Next up are the Heinlein novels I've been waiting for and are finally available. Now if only J.K. Rowling would get her head out of her ***, I'd buy Harry Potter all over again because those books are too heavy too.

I love my Kindle. I do need to branch out and read some new literature though... I tend to reread my favorites or whatever is free or cheap.

Gina said...

I recently read Mudbound & LOVED it. Also The Kitchen House. And now I'm on Started Early, Took My Dog.

Erin, EC, DJ Delerium said...

I am so delighted that you're reading Margaux Fragoso. She was one of my professors at Binghamton University, and she's an amazing woman. I haven't read the memoir yet, but based on her poetry, I can believe it's really dark.

Heather said...

Townie by Andre Dubus - you'd love it. Also a bit scary but very interesting, Room - can't think of the author right now.

Blake said...

Agh! I can't stop buying books on Amazon after reading your recommendations. Right now I am reading Striver's Row but I think Mennonite in a Little Black Dress will have to be next. I have also read The Help and LOVED it. Dirty Secret will be next...

EricaM said...

I *love* the moth, and I love your stories. What an amazing combo that would be!! I'm reading The Diving Bell and The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby. It's very short, it should have only taken me an afternoon, but I'm a busy gal. I'd imagine you'd have already read it? Locked-in syndrome is very interesting.. which is what lead me to it. I have Nick Caves 'the death of bunny munro' up next on my nightstand.. but it didn't get very good reviews, but And The Ass Saw The Angel is one of my all time favorite books so I'm giving it a chance.

Anonymous said...

Do you ever listen to This American Life, on public radio out of Chicago? If not you definitely should! The reason I bring it up here is because Elna Baker had a piece on a program they ran a few years ago called Matchmaker. As host Ira Glass says, each week they choose a theme and come up with 2 or 3 different stories on that theme. The stories don't necessarily interpret the meaning of the theme the same way. The Matchmaker program (2008) is an excellent example. Elna's story has nothing to do with dating or being a Mormon. It has to do with her experience working at a store that sold expensive life-like "newborn baby" dolls to rich people.
These are true stories although they run fiction now and then. Anyway, although I have never heard or read anything else by Elna Baker, I have never forgotten this piece, and I recognized the name of her book immediately in your blog because of it.

Rachel said...

I LOVE Elna Baker, and second the motion that she should write more on her blog. I hope she has more material coming out soon, especially because I love novels/memoirs that are made up of short stories (Jennifer Egan's "A visit from the Goon Squad" is an excellent example, not to mention an wonderful read).

And to Anonymous, the story about Elna Baker working with the babydolls at FAO Schwarz, as well as a hilarious story of a fortune cookie costume gone awry. You really all ought to read her!


I've been meaning to read "Mennonite in a LBD" for a long time, but just haven't gotten there. Right now, I'm reading "The Girl Who Played Go" by Shan Sa. I was hooked with in 10 pages, and it's a quick read. But I love how the narrative switches between the main characters, making both charcters that much richer and deeper.

Thank WL for all your wonderful posts. I look forward to every morning at work seeing what you've written today :D

Emily said...

I got this book from the library on your recommendation and the entire time I was reading it I had this feeling of deja vu. Then, when I got to the end and read the author's biography I realized why. Rhoda Jansen was my English Prof in College!

Thank you so much for the recommendation! I never would have read it if not for you!

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. Its fantastic and I definitely reccomend it, but it is a sad story, not a funny one.

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