Kerrys’ top picks: For Inspiration

Sometimes we all need a wake-up call, a great big kick in the ass, or just some plain old-fashioned motivation. I’m sure that we can all think of books that have sparked something inside of us to do something different, or just be a little better at what we’re doing now. These are just a few of the many books that have inspired me.

Jennifer Lancaster: “Such a Pretty Fat”

I don’t know about you, but I am so sick, tired and not at all inspired by all these weight loss stories that end in “I finally lost 100 lbs and now I can fit into that size 4 bridesmaids dress I already bought and my boyfriend is happy and I’m happy too! Thank YOU broccoli smoothies! “

So when I feel like I need to get my ass into gear, I really like giving this book a re-read. A real, honest and hilariously written story about the authors’ experience with a variety of popular diets, finally landing the oh-so-simple eat better and move more. There is no “thinner-is- always-better” subtext, and no weight loss to impress anyone else, this book is just about being your best self and feeling great at size 2, 12 or 22. This book inspires me to order a salad sometimes and try the new machines at the gym.

 

Randy Pausch: “The Last Lecture”

For those who don’t know, this book is the transcript of the last lecture of Professor Randy Pausch, who had been diagnosed with terminal stage cancer. His lecture is amazing, unsurprising as he was always known as a wonderful and inspiring speaker. But what stayed with me wasn’t anything in particular that was said in his lecture, but the idea of a “last lecture”.

What lessons do I leave behind? What good did I do while I was here? What advice to I have to offer the people I love who will be here after I’m gone. After reading this book I was a little afraid that If I had to give a last lecture it would be very much like this:

“Dipping Wendys’ fries into Frostys tastes like waffles. Also, y’all HAVE to check out Teen Mom, white trash-errific!”

This book inspires me to just BE better.

 

Ann M. Martin: “The Babysitters Club #1: Kristys’ Great Idea

Laugh all you want, but I would bet that an extraordinary number of little girls started their own BSC, or other small businesses after reading this book. I know two of them personally. I was one of them 😉

 

 

 

Gretchen Rubin: “The Happiness Project”
 Sometimes these inspirational biographies (the “Eat Pray Love” sub-genre) can have the opposing effect on me. Often the authors make a such a huge life change that their stories are intimidating and the lessons are almost inaccessible. I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to quit my job and move to Namibia and set up a medical laboratory. It would be cool I guess, but that’s not who I am and I don’t think that should mean that I can’t make changes in my life that have significant impact.

In this book, Rubin makes a series of small changes to her life in the form of theme-driven month-by-month resolutions. For example, one month her theme was Energy, and her resolutions inside that theme included going to bed at a certain hour and to de-clutter her home.

I just love the idea of a systematic method of making things better in a big way by changing the little things. I really believe that for most people, being happy with your life won’t come from selling your home and backpacking for 2 years, but from organizing your photos into books you can cherish, seeing the people you love more often, and getting your ass to a dentist regularly. I did a 6 month happiness project, and some things will stick, others will fail, but it was a valuable experience, and I will almost certainly do another one.

Jon Krakauer: “Into Thin Air

This book is the first hand account of the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster, in which five of Krakauers’ co-climbers died. I find this book inspiring on a couple different levels. Firstly, he climbed a mountain. That is just inspiring all by itself. If there are people out there climbing the highest mountain in the world, I’m pretty sure that I can step up my stairmaster game:

40 minutes at level 10-Because it’s there!

Secondly, the storm and resulting casualties had a profound effect on the author. But not only does he continue to climb, he resists the urge to simply chalk the whole tragedy up to inexperienced climbers or bad luck. He has been very publicly fighting for more stringent regulations and guidelines for dangerous climbs.  He turned what was no doubt a traumatic experience into motivation to make a change. It takes a lot of strength to re-live a painful experience again and again in the hopes of doing some good.

 

 

Dr. Seuss: “The Lorax”

 “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Enough said.

What is this magical place? Library Hotel, NYC

This just in under “places you thought only existed in your imagination”: the Library Hotel in NYC, just 0.3km from the New York Public Library. Aside from just being a really beautiful- looking, fancy boutique hotel ($300/ night fancy!), this hotel has the BEST system for floor and room designation.

Each floor of the hotel is devoted to a category of the Dewey Decimal system (!) and each room is themed as a different sub-category! So Room 1100.002 is floor 11 (Philosophy), Ethics room. And room 500.005 is Floor 5 (Science), Dinosaur room!

I also have a sneaking suspicion that the hotel bar may have cocktails with fun literary names.

Be still my heart.

Books from Grandma

My grandmother on my fathers side was a remarkable lady. She was smart, sarcastic, witty and no-nonsense. She smoked like a chimney and drank gallons of coca cola and shopped on the Shopping Network like she had to keep them afloat. Every time I saw her, she told me how special I was, that  “there is just something about you, Kerry Adams”.

I lost her when I was young, about 13 years old, but I’ll never forget all of the things that she taught me. She taught me that I was destined for greatness, that she could tell I was supposed to have been royalty because of my “Aristocratic feet”. She taught me (by example) how to tell people off in such a way that not only do they never offend you again, but they thank you for the experience. She also taught me never to settle for anything but the best. To hold myself and the people I spend time with to the highest standards.

When she passed away, Grandma left a box of books for my Dad to give to me “at the appropriate time”. My Dad (understandably) didn’t think to check the content of these books, only the size of the books before deciding to give them to me. I was 13, so I was old enough to read some mysteries and a biography of princess Diana, right?

The box contained a very diverse collection of tawdry, bodice-ripping romance novels. Not just your average harlequin romances, either. The hard stuff.

Obviously, I devoured those novels like you might expect a 13-year-old would devour what was essentially written pornography. I learned everything I know from those books. This might sound sad, but it was better than learning about sex from my Pentecostal “I’ll tell you when you’re married” mother 🙂

Leaving those books for her granddaughter was exactly the kind of thing that Grandma would do. I like to think that it wasn’t an accident, that maybe it was another lesson. Never accept less than the most exciting, romantic and passionate love. Know what you want before someone tries to sell you on something you don’t.

And always take care of those aristocratic feet.

Kerry and Grandma

Review Time: Orange is the New Black

Sometimes I’ll go onto Goodreads or Amazon and read reviews of books I’ve read before I write a review. Agreeing or disagreeing with other people helps me to develop my own argument and clarify what I’d like to say.

So, I’m doing this for Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman and I notice something very strange. People are either loving or hating this book (in general). Furthermore, the “hate it” reviews are usually newer reviews, less than 6 months old. Very strange. I do a little more thinking and it comes to me. Many of the more hateful reviews mention how much the reviewers love love LOVED the Netflix T.V. series based on the book.

And so, I preface this review by saying this: IF you love love LOVE the T.V. show, maybe don’t bother with the book. As much as it pains me to discourage someone from reading, you might be disappointed. No one gets shanked, no one almost starves to death (no tampon sandwiches!) and no gratuitous (albeit hot) sex scenes. The series deviates drastically from the book, and so if that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t find it here.

So, who’s left?

Either you’ve neither seen the show/ read the book or (like me) you thought the show was just ok. For those who belong to column A, Orange is the New Black is the memoir of Piper Kerman who spent a year in a women’s prison on a 10 year old drug charge (the only time she had ever broken the law).

* This is the part where everyone should take a minute to remember the stupid shit you did as a teenager. Now realize that 10 years later you could still get nailed for it…yikes*

Anyway, Kermans’ book may not be tawdry and dramatic, but it is a truly fascinating look into what it was like for her in prison. She seems to fully capture the tedium and loss of control as well as portraying how inefficient the “rehabilitation” part of imprisonment actually is. She touches on the rampant sexism and racial inequalities in the American penal system and highlights how the “war on drugs” is punishing all the wrong people. What touched me the most is how many of these “criminals” are mothers who take phone messages for their sons and women that allow their boyfriends to use their homes to store drugs, criminals by association doing long sentences. I had never really thought of these things before, and Kerman presents them in a way that does not shove any politics onto the reader, but allows you to feel for these women and come to your own conclusions.

I found this book touching and heartbreaking and REAL. It may not be the story of the typical incarceration story, as Kerman comes into this situation with so many more advantages and support than the other inmates (a fact that she does stress repeatedly). But this book is HER story, and she tells it very well, while telling the stories of those around her with compassion and sensitivity.

I would call this an eye-opening, worthwhile read….but read it before you watch the T.V. show!

 

Mad about that Boy: A Hunger Games Rant (With a crazy amount of spoilers!)

 Being that this Friday marks the release of Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games movie (Super excited! Already pre-ordered my tickets for opening night!), I feel like it’s fitting to write a little bit about this trilogy.

There is so much that I love about the Hunger Games. Love the story, Love the writing, Love Katniss as a strong female lead whose inner dialogue is not comprised of hashtags (#boyz! #nailart! #hashtags!). I love that these books can be read as a simple adventure story or can be analyzed seven ways from Sunday (I doubt this will be the only post about The Hunger Games). I even thought the movie was well made, artfully filmed and very well cast (LOVE Jennifer Lawrence and think that we could be best friends!).

But today, I am going to talk about the only thing that I didn’t like, the reason I read the first two books in 4 days and then waited months to read The Mockingjay.

Peeta.

I know, I know, #boyz! But I think that she ends up with that guy speaks to a larger issue.

Also, seriously, He’s the WORST! Useless and whiny and absolute dead weight. He’s lucky he didn’t get them both killed on numerous occasions. Basically, he’s me if I were to be in a fight to the death situation! Not buying it? Let’s have a look.

Talents include:

  • Face painting for camouflage. super useful if you have 3 hours to spare and a palette of neutral tones.
  • Being in love *sigh*
  • Playing along with his captors to stay alive
  • Being too noisy to go hunting
  • Choosing poisonous berries to eat
  • Worrying about “being true to his soul” instead of worrying about being hacked to bits.

So why did this happen? Time for a theory!

Why Katniss ended up with Peeta: A Feminist Analysis

Okay, so we finally have a young, strong female in a non romantic role. She doesn’t get rescued, she doesn’t trip over a dog leash and fall into a fountain because she’s fallen in love at first sight. She is proactive, acting on her surroundings and circumstance instead of only reacting to things around her. Sound familiar? It shouldn’t, because it rarely happens in teen/ young adult media anymore. The problem with this? Empowerment doesn’t emblazen well on a tween-sized thong. Basically, this goes against the narrative being forced onto girls and women, and so, they broke Katniss using Peeta.

Now, from a character writing standpoint, Katniss had to break down a little bit after all the fighting for her life. I get it. But a male hero gets to go through his darkest hour, then a musical montage about getting back on his feet, then he’s back and more ass-kicking-er than ever.

What happens to our female hero?

  • Semi-comatose during the revolution
  • Dragged around half-heartedly on a mission led by men
  • One more heroic act (I at least won’t spoil that!)
  • Marriage
  • The Babies…which she had after being worn down by her lovely husband
  • Laundry

And all is right with the world, because while women can handle a little adventure, but then they have to cut it out before they permanently damage their feeble minds.

What does this have to do with Peeta? Who better to extinguish the Girl on Fire than the Boy who Frosts? He is the perfect wolf in sheeps’ clothing, a mechanism to subdue a powerful woman.

The crazy thing is that most women are happy that the series ended the way that it did. Peeta has a lot of the “Elijah Wood” effect. Cute? Sure. Sensitive? Definitely. Forgiving, perfect and kind. End up with him and you’ve got a life of deep conversation and socks-on lights-off overly respectful sex. He is familiar and non-threatening. All of these things are great, but his tranquilizing effect on Katniss is so obvious and drastic, that I think the underlying mechanism of patriarchy should be very obvious.

And I’m not saying that she had to end up with Gale (Strong, handsome, supportive Gale who fights for her and with her and is totally the kind of guy who would pull your hair in the bedroom- with consent ;)). Collins makes a decent case for why she doesn’t. But she could have ended up with someone else, or alone!

Shouldn’t we be showing young women that relationships should also be complex and challenging? That your chosen partner should bring out the best in you? Someone who can stand by you but also push you to be better?

Relationships built soley on familiarity and comfort are tempting but un-fulfilling, and will always keep both people from living to their potential. This type of relationship allows for the character of Katniss to be put back in her “proper place” as a docile wife and mother, not the role model we were presented with at the outset.

Opposites Attract: Living with a non-reader (who lives with a non-sports fan).

My husband has an extremely well-appointed book collection. He has a great number of sports biographies, war memoirs and the entire Jon Krakauer library. He as an enviable fiction collection featuring the newest and latest, as well as the timeless classics, by authors like King, Crichton and Harris.

He has read approximately 10% of these books.

Once in a while he’ll get the notion to pick up a book and read it bit by bit in the 20 minutes before bed. And once in a great while, he’ll finish that book. But in general, he’s not much for reading. That’s right, my very own husband (J), the love of my life, does not share my love for the written word. J is witty, intelligent and well-spoken. He has so many interests and loves to deepen his knowledge about them. But when I find a book I just know he would love, he is just usually not interested.

…or he starts it, and 8 months later his bedside table has a permanently lesser-worn area the exact size of Stephen Kings’ “Under the Dome”.

Right now, J is reading a copy of the Chris Hadfield biography that I picked up last weekend, and I sit beside him in bed, not making a sound for fear of startling him into putting down his book and going to back perusing the Chive.

At the same time, his wife has a lovely collection of sports apparel (hats, flags and t-shirts), yet still routinely calls breaks between all sports gameplay “halftime”.

So I guess that’s marriage for you. J will periodically tackle a book and patiently explain (again) the concept of icing to his wife. And I will periodically yell out some sports phrases (” PUT THE BISCUIT IN THE BASKET”), and try not to grin at him like a vindicated stalker when he reads.