Monday, March 29, 2010

Enzo's Girls' Reading List

I promised to list the books Enzo's Girls recommended, and here they are:

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
The Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast by Bill Richardson
Columbine by Dave Cullen
The Help by Kathryn Stockett

It's a short list only because many of the books they mentioned have already toured Bookworms Anonymous, and I've included only those books Enzo's Girls enjoyed and we haven't yet read.

The Girls draw their hostess names months in advance, and the book choosing/announcing strategies vary. Some club members prefer to announce the book title early, allowing time to plan ahead, while others announce the title a month before the meeting to ensure the subject is fresh in everyone's minds and to avoid choosing a title similar to that of the previous month.

Enjoy the list above and let me know what you think of the books!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Enzo Would Be Proud

My first speaking engagement proved successful despite a raging head cold and a sleepless week! My second-favorite book club calls themselves Enzo's Girls, after the dog who narrated The Art of Racing in the Rain. It was the first book the club read as a group and they were so taken with Enzo's charm and simple wisdom, they decided to name their club after him. Enzo's Girls operate in a more traditional manner than my Bookworms Anonymous group, but their camaraderie and collective energy definitely rival ours. Witnessing this group's synergy was both interesting and exciting as I realized how invigorating a circle of friends can be, sparking ideas back and forth and cracking witty remarks.

The moment I enter the house, I feel welcome. Kathy is hosting this evening and she's standing watch near the door, ready to usher me to the seat of honor, pausing to allow each Girl to introduce herself. I strive to remember each woman's name, knowing it's impossible and knowing I will at least retain their faces.

Enzo's Girls have been meeting for thirteen months, and they are so excited about sharing their group with me, their voices clamor over one another like lively puppies when I ask a few questions. I briefly wish I could still recall the proper Gregg shorthand I learned in high school, then plunge ahead with my usual crippled abbreviations, hoping I can decipher the cryptic notes when I transcribe them later. The energy of the group is infectious and I laugh along with them as they poke fun at each other, gently chiding book choices and recalling the past year of meetings. Sometimes the laughter overpowers the words and if I close my eyes I might be sitting surrounded by my own book club members.

Most of the members work together and see each other frequently; some trade books aside from the monthly assignment. Like my own comfortable group, some members read more books than others, some have broader tastes than others, some read faster than others and some notice more details. There are two Kindle owners here, one who raves about the electronic reading device and one who's not yet ready to give up the printed page.

The club's rules emerge throughout the conversation. No children are allowed; no textbooks can be chosen (textbooks??? Someone tried to choose one once, they explain); no husbands are allowed (except that one time, but the husbands didn't all read the book). Each member must read the assigned book (it's okay to borrow it from another member or the library, though, which appeal to my frugal bookworm side) and must commit to attending the meetings, always held on the same day each month.

I was honored to witness a touching moment when the group presented one woman with a basket full of baby board books. "She's becoming a grandmother for the first time," one Girl explained. "And she's the first grandmother in our group," chimed in another.

I left the group armed with a reading list (to be posted in a day or two), some great ideas and a pot of daffodils! What a grand way to end the evening.

Thank you, Enzo's Girls, for welcoming me and helping to make my first book club appearance such a success. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, and next time we meet hopefully I won't be on two kinds of cold medication and will be able to drink a glass of wine with you!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Can I Blame the Time Change?

Ever since we sprang forward last Sunday, the chaos factor in my life increased tenfold.

It all started with a phone call late in the evening from a close relative, freshly beaten and hiding in her yard, having been locked out of the house by her live-in boyfriend. My husband and I rushed to her aid, called the police, and spent the night sitting up talking, planning, reassuring the victim and keeping each other from returning to the house and retaliating on her behalf.

Monday I worked ten hours so I could leave work early on Tuesday to take my relative in to replace her driver's license, clothing and personal care items, and assuage her sense of despair.

By Wednesday my husband and I had conferred and agreed to use our recently received tax refund to give her a "do-over", and presented her with the option of travelling to Alaska (this isn't as random as it seems--we have all kinds of cousins, aunts and uncles there) and seeking a summer job.

On Thursday I made the travel arrangements: $1500 later, we have a concrete plan and an excited passenger, ready for take off next Thursday morning. Assuming she receives her photo ID in the mail by then, as she'll need it to board the plane...

Next week will be similarly hectic, as I have a speaking engagement Wednesday evening, an airport drop off at 5am Thursday morning, and I'm flying to Europe Friday afternoon!

I can't help but wonder if we didn't observe daylight savings time, maybe the whole world wouldn't have lost its balance.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Reviews and Book Shuffling

I recently read The Other by David Guterson, followed by Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving. Guterson's story takes place in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle, a tale of two men and their lifelong friendship. One of the main characters is descended from bank founders and has a trust fund; he decides to live in the wilderness, shunning society and its trappings. His friend has no monetary wealth, choosing to marry a girl he meets backpacking in the Italian alps and pursuing the traditional married-with-children dream, teaching at a local university. On page three or four the reader discovers the first guy perishes in the forest and bequeaths 440 million dollars to his friend, the one person who maintained contact and helped support his cave-dwelling existence. Life choices, friendship and societal expectations are exposed and explored in this hard-to-put-down novel.

The same themes are contained in Last Night in Twisted River, a story about a father and son (Dominic and Danny) on the run after accidentally murdering the Dominic's girlfriend. This tome, the newest by John Irving, begins in New Hampshire where Dominc struggles to raise Danny as a single parent after his wife perishes in the river. The story follows Dominic and Danny's lives as they move from the tiny logging settlement to Boston, finding work there as a cook in an Italian restaurant. I don't want to give too much away here, but the characters are very well-developed and they tell a complicated tale spanning several decades and three lifetimes.

The mistake I made was reading these two exceptional books back to back, when proper book shuffling could have enhanced the second one immensely. Both volumes share too many characteristics to be properly enjoyed consecutively: they are both densely written, about men and their friendships, and both take place in the north (one in the northwest and one in the northeast, but I could feel the chill in both stories).

Book shuffling refers to the practice of strategically ranking books in the order to be read so a light, fluffy book is sandwiched between two heavy, thought-provoking tomes. For more information on book shuffling and how it can enhance your enjoyment of reading, please refer to my book: Bookworms Anonymous (

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Aging (Slowly and Bravely)

My 40th birthday was nearly three months ago, and I'm adapting to my image in the mirror. I've also adapted my morning routine to include make-up every day (it's no longer optional, and neither is the under-eye wrinkle eraser) and a flat-iron styling (actually adds some waves to my dull, drab, lifeless hair). I notice a more insistent hunger, distracting and seemingly insatiable, and a nearly constant tired feeling invading my body.

I've also noticed I care a lot less about hurting others' feelings. I don't purposely set out to ruin someone's day, but if I occasionally ignore my diplomatic tendency and speak my mind I no longer lose sleep over it. In fact, sometimes I speak my mind on purpose, and wish I'd started this practice two decades ago.

So, on my birthday I received a new bike from my daughters and my mom: a cruiser-style bike with ten speeds and a wicker basket. I first told my daughter I coveted this model a few years ago when I spied a friend riding one through our Village, mentioning "I want a bike just like that, but I have to wait until I'm 40 to pull it off". My daughter remembered this and orchestrated the purchase of a gorgeous black bicycle with hot pink details, ready to ride to work and help me slough off the 6 pounds haunting me since last fall.

I know, fewer pounds translates to more wrinkles, but at this point I'd rather trade the weight for more energy even if it means staring at the aging woman in the mirror, wondering who she is. I'm not afraid of aging, as long as I can maintain my pace: slowly and bravely, slowly and bravely.