Monday, April 2, 2012

What I read in March 2012

To read more about these books, click on the title--it will take you to the full review in Marie's Book Garden. I didn't realize it until now, but March was a month of nonfiction! I read only two novels...both for my book group, and neither of them high literature.


Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, by Beth Hoffman

CeeCee Honeycutt's mentally ill mom still lives in her memories of being the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. She loves to collect prom dresses and wear them around town, embarassing her 12-year-old daughter. CeeCee's father is absent and detached. When tragedy strikes, she goes to live with her Great-Aunt Tootie in Savannah, Georgia.

CeeCee is embraced by Tootie and all of her friends--her cook Oletta, neighbor Thelma Rae Goodpepper, and the ladies of the Savannah Garden Club. She discovers the meaning of southern hospitality and finds the family and nurturing she never had. A nice, light read with a compelling story.

The Friday Night Knitting Club, by Kate Jacobs

I'm introducing a new feature in my "What I Read" posts: a "Best Book of the Month." Well, this one would have to be the dud of the month, I'm afraid.

I didn't like this book and found it difficult to get through. It had an annoying main character (who supposedly everyone loved and wanted to be around), odd plot elements, too many shallowly written characters, and a melodramatic story. It wasn't horrible, but I will not be reading any more of her books.


Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer

In Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer (brother of novelist Jonathan) sets out to study the quirky world of professional memory athletes. Within one year of his mental training with the experts (including his British coach), he actually competes in the USA Memory Championships, and even makes a world record in playing card memorization (although his record was broken in 2011).

Interweaving facts and history about memory (including research about amnesia, the history of memorization, and memory savants) with his own story of how he became a memory athlete, the book is interesting and memorable.

The World of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes

Mike picked this up at the library, as we are both Downton Abbey fans. Jessica Fellowes is the niece of the series' creator, Julian Fellowes. Although this book is ripe with rich photos of the beautiful costumes and characters, what I valued most about it was reading the history behind the series. Although this book is ripe with rich photos of the beautiful costumes and characters, what I valued most about it was reading the history behind the series. In particular, my favorite part was reading about American heiresses like Cora, or "Buccaneers," who saved many of the British aristocrats with their fortunes...while having to adjust to the uptight society and cultural mores of their new home. I'm always interested in the British-American matches, for obvious personal reasons! It didn't take me long to get through this photo-rich book, but I greatly enjoyed it!

You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up, by Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn

I checked this book out of the library not so much for the great title (which Kieran found hilarious) or the main story (about two comedic writers/actors who are married to each other and fight about nearly everything) but primarily because Gurwitch and Kahn have a child with VACTERLS Syndrome, like our little friend Zacary. Their son Ezra was born without an anus, in addition to several other birth defects (he has only one kidney, which is undersized). The first year of Ezra's life, this couple argued constantly in the midst of all their stress and seemed to blame each other for what was going on. The book is written alternately in Gurwitch's and Kahn's point of view (He says/She Says), and it is amusing at times to see how differently they remember certain situations.
Best Book of the Month

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman

Deborah Feldman must have anticipated the type of reaction she would receive when she published her memoir. The Hasidic community has mounted a campaign to discredit her. (Read my full review for more details about that.)

Feldman was born into an extremely strict sect of Hasidic Judaism, the Satmar sect, founded on the belief that the Holocaust was God's punishment for the Jews because they had forsaken their strict religious laws. Her father was mentally disabled or retarded (hard to say, because he was never diagnosed for fear of affecting his marriageability), and her mother, who had traveled from England to marry her father sight unseen, escaped the sect when Feldman was a girl. Consequently, Feldman was sent to live with her grandparents, who she is fond of, but she never really felt truly loved and accepted. She constantly chafed against the extremely rigid rules, unfair treatment of women, and rejection of secularism.

When she was married off at 18 to a man chosen for her by her grandparents, her body completely shut down. After receiving messages all her life that her body was a den of iniquity and temptation to men, she could not have a healthy sexual relationship with her husband. After much therapy (and the entire community knowing intimate details of their sex life), they finally consummated their marriage. When her son Yitzak was born, she knew that she had to get out. She enrolled in a course for adult learners at Sarah Lawrence and her world cracked open.

I really enjoyed this book, and Feldman is an inspiration. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to be trapped in a religion that believes that you are dirty for half of the month...and that you cannot partake in the same religious studies and community as men.

Judaism, as with many religions, can be beautiful. But when religion is taken to its extreme (in Christianity, Islam, or Judaism), it perverts it to a love of the law over a love and compassion for others and for God.

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