Friday, November 27, 2009

Review: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Homeby Rhoda Janzen is a sad story. It's a memoir wrapped around one moment: When her bipolar husband leaves her for Bob from

While draped in sadness, the book is not a complete downer. Her marriage reads like a nightmare where she lost herself in the depths of supporting and tip toeing around her husband.

While Janzen does have moments of peace and recovery, the book is penned less than three years after the split. Is it enough perspective to look back on events? I think so, though the theme of unhappiness and regret weighs on the book, as it should. Break ups are rough. I'm still bearing the aftershocks of a bad one from almost three years ago. Janzen's marriage lasted 15 years, and obviously didn't end amicably.

The best parts are when Janzen writes about her parents, who are, as the title suggests, Mennonite (Janzen is no longer a strict member). These bits reminded me of growing up Catholic, a childhood I've revisited over the last few months as I wrote a long article involving New Jersey's Catholic Church for a non-church audience. Granted, Catholicism is not the same kind of minority religious group as Mennonite (42 percent of New Jersey is Catholic), but growing up inside any sort of religious practice brings its quirks and oddities that your non-religious friends find strange. I found this out when I switched to public school in seventh grade. People didn't go to church on Sunday? Really? And some people might think the stations of the cross are gory? What could possibly be gory about nailing a human being to a cross for three hours?

Like Janzen, I've left the church of my childhood so the feelings of longing for the traditions, and distance from a religion that seems so out of step with time hit home too.

My friend Joy asked me today what I was reading, and if I'd recommend it. I would this book. It's a little long and meandering, but most of the places Janzen winds up are worth reading. And if you grew up inside a religious family? It'll be amusing, illuminating and maybe a trip down memory lane.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Break: Given the Power

Want to check out a cool video in time for Thanksgiving? Then click here for a short piece called "Given the Power," which interviews immigrants who have settled and thrived in NJ. It's a nice piece just in time for Thanksgiving.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dad with the funnies

Yesterday, my dad hung out in my office as a work crew fixed a leak in my roof. He sat down in my desk chair, looked at me and said "You're not really going to read Jailbait Zombie, are you?"


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Monday, November 16, 2009

Brain Trust: Who reads this stuff?

Behold, Jailbait Zombie, which showed up in my mail last week. I get a shipment of these mysteries/thrillers/true crime books once a month, and I usually put them right into the "donation" bin.

But this one caught my eye. First, the title: Jailbait Zombie. Then, the tag line: "She's young, she's hot, she's trouble...and she'd dying to get bitten." Um, what?

My question to you is: Who reads this stuff? There's got to be an audience if these books keep showing up in my mail and on bookstore shelves. I'm not judging, either, if you do read these kinds of books. I've written twice about the interworkings of the romance novel industry (Sarah Wendell, my go-to-gal on all things romance publishing, said this book is not romance, not even paranormal or erotic. Yes, I asked her).


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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Review: Between Here and April

Between Here and April by Deborah Copaken Kogan is a book about choice. Elizabeth is a former war journalist who chooses to stay closer to home after her daughters are born. She is not happy -- her husband is working all hours, she's passing out at odd times, and she becomes obsessed with a first grade classmate, April, whose mother committed suicide and killed her two daughters -- April included -- with her. Elizabeth forces the issues of her husband's distance her and unhappiness as she interviews people who knew April and her mother, Adele.

By making this a story about two women, Copaken Kogan shows how far and how far we have to go in terms of women and motherhood. Post partum depression wasn't a recognized illness in 1972, which is when Adele committed suicide. Adele saw a therapist, yes, but one who gave her valium to calm her nerves and zonk her out. Even PMS wasn't considered and excuse for being moody or depressed. Neither was giving up a career to stay at home with her daughters (Adele had been a nurse pre-marriage).

Elizabeth's world is different, but not so much. She sees a therapist, yes, but she's still responsible for her children and their care. She's responsible for the home and hearth while her husband does whatever he wants (while she's on the road working on her story, is becomes enraged that she didn't pick up his dry cleaning). Childcare in the U.S. is a joke, which prevents Elizabeth from really going back to work and producing celebrity TV show short instead of things that matter to her -- until she delves into what really happened to Adele and April.

It's a well written, moving read (though not perfect -- the end is odd). And it's one of those books that had me thinking about it long after I'd put the book back on the shelf.

My sister got married last weekend. I was the older, unmarried, sister and maid of honor who just broke up with her boyfriend. When my sister got engaged, people assumed I was jealous because the younger sister was getting married before me.

Um, no. My discomfort with her getting married young had nothing to do with me. Would it be nice to be married right now? Sure. I'm heartbroken about breaking up with Bill. I've spent the last week on the couch watching hour after hour of Law & Order and Bones reruns. I think about him more than I should, and random reminders -- a t-shirt he left behind. a song we both enjoyed, a letter he left me one morning -- have me breaking out in tears. It hurts, even though I'm the one who ended up (He moved to Minneapolis for a promotion without factoring in what it would do to us. After two months apart, I realized I needed more than that).

But in this week of post-break up, I've taken a good hard look at my life. I like my life. I like what I do, where I live, and what I could be. About five years ago, I set out on my own to become a writer. Two and a half years later, I bought my home and wrote a book, and since then, I've created a career I enjoy. It's not the perfect job, and sometimes I want to throw in the towel (boy, has this recession been tough), but I choose this career. I can choose to do something else, live somewhere else, become someone else if I want to. I can lie on the couch and watch hours of TNT if I want. I can train for a marathon if I want (which I am doing, by the way). I could go to Florida for a month, move to Florida, become a professional dancer and no one could tell me no.

I wasn't jealous of my sister. No, I was happy for myself and annoyed at people assume the married-with-kids-before-30 track is what I want. Because it's not. Not only has that path not presented itself, but I'm not even sure I want kids. I like my career. I like my life. I'm open to change, but I know that no matter what, I can stand on my own two feet and take care of myself. It took work to get myself to that point, and for that I'm proud.

Elizabeth's struggle is not one I want. I don't want to feel trapped by marriage and children. I want to be a thousand percent sure, too, and marry someone who will support me and help me grow, not provide an "answer" to my problems. I know too many people who did that and are already divorced (one of my college roommates just this month).

I'm not writing this post to judge anyone who did get married young and have kids. We all have a different path. Mine is one way. My sister's is another, and neither one of us would be happy on the other's track. But I wish this pressure to get married and have babies would go away, and everyone would stop assume that's what all women want. It didn't work out for Adele, or Elizabeth. And it wouldn't have worked out for me. For THAT I'm thankful.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Review: A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York

I finished Liz Robbin's A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York on Saturday -- the day before the 40th running of the New York City Marathon. Her book details the 2007 running of the marathon, focusing on the front of the pack and a lot of people in between.

The book is organized per mile, and laces the race's history through the runner stories. It's no small race, either -- it's run by over 40,000 people a year.

The book is good, but not perfect. At times, the narrative wobbles, and Robbins repeats herself. But it's fascinating for a runner. I never gave much though to a race game plan before reading this book. Who knew I could create a run strategy, just like a basketball play? The book's also pricked up my interested in this year's race. I ran a 10k on Sunday, and kept checking Twitter for marathon updates at the post-race breakfast.

I've been toying with the idea of running a marathon for some time now, and I might finally be ready. Could I go out and run one? Probably, albeit it slowly with walking. But if I'm going to run one, I want to RUN it and at least try to be competitive.

I'm already race ready for a half marathon (I'm running the Philadelphia Half Marathon on November 22) and could continue on that base to reach marathon level. We'll see how I feel after the Philly Half. If I manage to run that race in under 1:37, I automatically qualify for the New York City marathon, and I'll take it as a sign to run it. But I doubt that's going to happen unless Jesus himself pushes me. More likely, I'll put my name in the lottery and pick a spring marathon.

So we'll see. That Sunday 10k took a lot out of me, as you can see below. A full 26.2? It's a little scary.

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