The list of books I’ve started to read is growing. Each had something to offer but it took a while before I found one with a plot.
I couldn’t explain my quiet laughter to my husband as I read Cathy Guisewite’s Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault. How could he appreciate trying on a pair of jeans in a department store dressing room? After all, her funny book is described as “a look at the challenges of womanhood”; her audience is not men. If you remember her wry comic strip “Cathy,” you will find yourself back in the world of hilarious insecurity and funny truth telling. I hadn’t finished all the essays before returning the book to the library, but I’ve bought a copy and plan to open it randomly whenever I need a restorative boost.
Melinda Gates’ The Moment of Lift simultaneously shamed me into realizing all the good deeds I have not yet done and reassured me of what some women choose to do with their influence – and money. She teased my curiosity about her private life before and after Bill, but most of the chapters focus on the changing of societal goals she supports: family planning, educating girls, women in the workplace, and women’s equality. Although she sprinkles her insights with anecdotes from their marriage, her main purpose seems to be to highlight their good works in third world countries and how it has improved lives. Some of her deductions applied to women’s empowerment in Africa may seem a little over simplified here:
“The process of changing from a male-dominated culture to a culture of gender equality must be supported by a majority of community members, including powerful men who come to understand that sharing power with women allows them to achieve goals they couldn’t achieve if they relied on their power along. That itself serves as the greatest safeguard agains any overbearing bossiness from outsiders.”
Her note reminded me of a colleague who described her experience as the only woman administrator in a meeting to determine policy. Although she had some good ideas, none of the men listened to them. “Too bad,” she told me later, “I could have made them look good.” The best she thought she might have accomplished was to have her ideas absconded by the men.
I skimmed over the last few chapters to the epilogue with her adage: “Love is what lifts us up.” And then I remembered the epigraph at the beginning of the book – a quote from Marianne Williamson, guru and current candidate for President of the United States. Maybe next I’ll look for Mackenzie Bezos’ book, or one by one of Warren Buffet’s wives?
Ocean Vuong has a conversation with his dead Vietnamese mother in a language she doesn’t speak or read, as he reflects on his life. Stream of consciousness – no plot. Dwight Garner’s review for the New York Times noted “this novel picks up genuine force and has some of the mournful resonance of the Bruce Springsteen song ‘The River’ in its second half.” I stopped before I got there. Have you read it?
I needed a book with a plot, so I turned to the new Kate Atkinson book on my shelf – Big Sky. I had not read her Jackson Brodie detective novels, but liked her other books. Since detective novels are usually full of disparate characters, and the plot inevitably will lead to the solving of a murder or two, I thought reading this would be a mindless effort. But this is Kate Atkinson who requires the reader to pay attention, and who included subplots and tangents in her stories. Big Sky was entertaining with secrets and lies, a sinister network of corruption, and a few asides to Brodie’s life in his thoughtful meanderings. It has a complicated plot – not what I expected – but finally, a plot to try to follow.
Life After Life by Atkinson