January in Review: Books and Bitchery

 

Snowy January night

 

The only thing worse than January is…. drum roll… February!

The second month of the year tends to be colder in Chicago – colder and snowier. Plus, you think hey, March is around the corner, so it’s almost spring, right? Nope and nooooope. March may have stray warmer, sunnier moments here and there, but it’s nowhere near actual spring. Neither’s April. Nor at least half of May. True spring arrives in Chicago in June.

Yippee! Four months to go.

January was pretty much a pisser. I fractured my rib on New Year’s Eve, my mood took a deep, dark dive, I found out my cracked crown (I didn’t even tell you about that!) is hiding unadulterated evil in its depths, and I may lose the tooth – or the periodontist will drill into my jaw, in an attempt to save it, and my job has become a cesspool of stress.

Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Books Read: January 2018

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

It’s All Relative by AJ Jacobs

The Comforters by Muriel Spark

Robinson by Muriel Spark

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

 

Reading was a saving grace. Well, except for Memento Mori, which I disliked intensely. My new home library grows apace, expanding past the three bookcases I bought initially. It’s time for a couple more; I have so much space here it’s insane.

For the Bowie project, I had to bail on Hawksmoor. I’d joined Audible for the first free month to have a crack at it, but was so afraid I’d forget to drop it and wind up socked with a $ 14.95/month bill I panicked and dropped it.

I do a lot of panic dropping.

The next Bowie book is James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, very readily available. I’ll try to catch up with them in March, schedule allowing.

I watched a few good films, binged a Netflix series or six (Stranger Things (season 2), Glow, The Magicians (gave up),  Black Mirror (I’ve seen all the seasons – OMG!), Alias Grace (OMGG!), Portlandia, re-watched The Office for the five hundredth time – it’s great to sleep to since I practically have it memorized). I’m going to sign up for Hulu, at least for the free month. I never got to see that last episode of The Handmaid’s Tale.

My inability to get going on my 2018 journal is a scourge. Aside from Bluestalking, I haven’t done much writing. My Moleskine notebook and custom-made leather-bound journal barely made it off the ground. I refuse to beat myself up about  that. Looking back at January, I’m fairly impressed with myself. I’m adulting, getting things done. Gainfully employed, my bills are paid. My home is warm and inviting – the downstairs, at least, the upstairs has no furniture but beds – and my life has decent balance.

I am a work in progress.

Realizing I’ve spent long enough at my current job, my resume has been cast to the winds. One preliminary library interview under my belt, I’m hoping for a call back next week. If I get this job, I’ll burrow more deeply, putting down roots. Uncertain I want to stay in Chicago for good, that would absolutely ensure I’m here at least a couple more years. Longer, if it pans out.

Restlessness is my Achilles heel. Still a little de-stabilized, I get that. Presented with a wide-open world, I want to grasp it all. Trouble is, you’ll never be happy if you don’t learn not to always want the other.

I need to bloom where I’m planted.

Chicago is no slouch. There’s much here I’ve yet to explore – the American Writers Museum, for one. How have I not been there? We have our share of literary history, including: Hemingway, Richard Wright, Dreiser, Carl Sandburg, Upton Sinclair. Bereft we’re not. And the architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright!), the symphony and opera houses, the museums and ebullient spirit of one of the world’s great cities.

 

Oak Park, IL

 

It’s not impossible I’ll move away. But for now, word is a person can take vacations to beautiful places without putting down roots there. Or marrying natives. That great, wide world isn’t going anywhere.

Maybe January wasn’t such an awful month. Challenging, sure. But looking back from where I sit, I’m feeling oddly satisfied.

Bring it, February.

 

Educated: a Memoir by Tara Westover

 

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (February 20, 2018)
  • Review copy, courtesy of Amazon Vine

 

Growing up sheltered from the outside world, her home birth unreported out of fear her father’s imagined “Illuminati” (i.e., the U.S. government) would swoop down and morally corrupt her, Tara Westover was the child of devout Mormon survivalists, marooned in the mountains of Idaho.

Physically and mentally abused by her father and brothers, semi-neglected by a mother brain-damaged by an automobile accident, she grew up with little to knowledge of the outside world. She had never heard of the Holocaust, knew nothing of historical events save the warped, grossly inaccurate versions fed to her by her father.

Tara was not allowed to attend school. Treated solely by her herbalist mother, she never saw a doctor.

Her resilience saved her. Taking control of her education, in her early teens she began buying text books. Despite no formal schooling, she met the requirements to enter Brigham Young University. Boosted by scholarships and sympathetic, influential people, eventually she would graduate from Cambridge with a PhD.

Educated is about gritty determination. All is laid bare, yet the telling is balanced. It’s an emotionally difficult read. I cringed so many times, caught up in the horror of beatings she took, horrific injuries sustained by herself and family members. She saw her brother’s severe burns fusing jeans to his legs, the same brother with a hole cracked in his skull exposing his brain, her father’s melted faced from fire he shouldn’t have survived.

Treated by her herbalist mother, survive they did.

The prose style is matter of fact, detached. This is not a negative. It avoids the distraction of emotional outbursts, tempering justifiable rage and fear. She does not allow the characters to be villainized. As in life, none are without redeeming qualities.

Despite what she endured, Tara Westover loved her family.

I wanted her to hate them. Infuriated by what she endured, my visceral wish was to see the innocent avenged. She knew best, keeping a calm head even when I couldn’t. I wondered how can she keep going back? Why is she risking her safety?

Unconditional love for family, that’s why.

Educated is Tara Westover’s story of personal strength, without the slightest bit of self-righteousness. Very like Jeannette Walls’  The Glass Castle, it’s not as lyrical but no less forthright and moving.

At its conclusion inspirational, even hopeful, Educated is one of the finest memoirs I’ve read.