Book Recommendations: Using Reading to Cope

Instead of ignoring the state of the world and my home country of the United States (I’m referring to the coronavirus pandemic that’s gripping the world and the racial tensions surrounding the murder of a black man [George Floyd] by white cops in Minneapolis, Minnesota) by simply doing another monthly book review like I do every month, I’m going to change it up. This month I’m pulling back the curtain to reveal how I am layering up books that I’m reading to insulate me against the anxiety and fear that could inhabit my days right now. This blog post includes three book reviews and two pop culture recommendations.

As I have mentioned earlier, since my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in 2016, I am less able to read books or consume pop culture that is more serious and grave in tone. The brain injury has made it so that I react to even things I’m just reading or watching with the same level of fear as if I were in actual danger instead of just reading about it or learning about it through pop culture. Because of this, I was trying to read and watch just lighter and more humorous fare. As you will see from my descriptions of the books I’ve read lately… I didn’t succeed. However, I found a way to trick my brain (kind of) into not stressing out. My newly discovered tactic is to read several books at once and make sure to balance out a book about heavier topics with a humorous book. I read the first two books at the same time for this reason. It worked for me. I used to like to just consume a book very quickly and relish feeling like the characters were living in my head. After an intense experience reading Ronan Farrow’s nonfiction account (“Catch and Kill”) of his reporting on the Harvey Weinstein story, I then shifted to fiction as I thought nonfiction was the problem. Yet, I still reacted strongly to the novel “My Dark Vanessa.” So that’s when I came up with my tactic to layer the books I’m reading.

I’m excited to share with you three of those books. Each has a different tone and writing style. And you certainly don’t need to read them at once as I did. In fact, if you don’t have to layer books… don’t. As an avid reader, I love to luxuriate in a book and really enjoy the writing. Hopefully someday my TBI brain will be able to cope with reading like that again.

Book cover image pulled from Amazon.

Book Review #1: “Yeshiva Girl” by Rachel Mankowitz is a young adult novel I read on Kindle Unlimited (also available on Amazon). Mankowitz is a fellow blogger who self-published this book and I hope someday soon that this is discovered and republished by a large publishing house so it reaches a larger audience. I highly recommend this book and highly recommend Mankowitz’s blog: The Cricket Pages (so named after one of her dogs). The protagonist of “Yeshiva Girl” is so deftly written I feel like I know her and she just told me the story of her life so far. As I stated in my GoodReads Review: “The writing of ‘Yeshiva Girl’ is so strong and the protagonist’s perspective is so clear I feel like the events in the book actually happened so it may be a while before they stop knocking back in my head like memories. As a lifelong reader and amateur writer, I know no better compliment.” Mankowitz writes her blog with the same elegance, intelligence and overall electric spark of talent. I look forward to reading more books and blog posts by her. And while the plot of “Yeshiva Girl” is relatively intense (the teenage protagonist, Isabel, is sent to strict Jewish Orthodox Yeshiva school by her father who is actively being accused of molestation by some of his students. The father’s response to these charges is to become more religious and requires that of his daughter). This subject matter has given me troubles before, yet it didn’t this time. Part of the reason is I trusted that Mankowitz would take care of Izzy. The other reason is I read it at the same time as the next book.

Book cover image pulled from Amazon.

Book #2 Book Review: “Lacks Self-Control: True Stories I waited until my parents died to tell” by Roy Sekoff (I read it on my Kindle on Kindle Unlimited and also available to purchase the paperback on Amazon or elsewhere). As the founding editor of HuffingtonPost, Sekoff has the credentials to do anything and he chose to write this funny and self-deprecating memoir or group of essays. Reading it was the perfect antidote to the crazy serious events happening in the world right now. And I think balancing reading this book at the same time as “Yeshiva Girl, ” allowed me to not be as bothered by the more serious topics of “Yeshiva Girl.” I feel like the protagonist of “Yeshiva Girl,” Izzy, would take pleasure in knowing there are Jewish people living less tethered lives (like Sekoff). Sekoff’s humorous and jovial tone was just what I needed. He tells stories from his adolescence up through his adult years and includes stories about his father’s pornography collection to his experiences meeting Oprah (don’t worry… the two stories aren’t connected in any way).

Book cover image pulled from Amazon.

Book #3 Book Review: “Fleishman is in Trouble” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner was actually the first of these three books that I read. I was searching for comedy and lightness in fiction with strong writing. A tall order, perhaps. But this book met my requirements even with the seriousness of topics (divorce, gender roles, death, abandonment, self-exploration at middle age, etc.). I will say without revealing too much, that the book artfully lopes on for a large chunk of it (roughly two thirds) and you think the book and the characters are one thing, and then it changes. Without giving away plot details, I will say the change in the book makes sense to me as a reader and answered the questions I had. Read this NPR book review to find out more.

Disclaimer: I suppose I should mention that it was just a coincidence that the three books I reviewed in this post all had Jewish protagonists. It wasn’t intentional. And I’m not grouping them together for any other reason than I just recently read all three of these books and recommend them. *I felt I had to say this in light of all the racial tension that is happening in my country.*

Pop Culture Recommendation #1: “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook” Mondays 10/9c, Food Network. Amy Schumer is an American comedian and actress who has teamed up with her James Beard award-winning chef husband, Chris Fischer to host a cooking show. The couple cooks from their home in New York during the current coronavirus pandemic. Schumer has made a name for herself as an outspoken comedic voice. She first came onto the scene in the fifth season (in 2007) of the reality competition show “Last Comic Standing” and went on to win an Emmy for her TV show “Inside Amy Schumer.” Her star has continued to rise as she wrote and starred in the movie “Trainwreck” (2015) and starred in “I Feel Pretty” (2018). I know less about her husband. He is a trained chef from Martha’s Vineyard and he and Amy married in 2018 and had a son in 2019. This show features entrees, appetizers, and cocktails. It’s filmed in part by their nanny while their son takes a nap. I watched the first episode not knowing what to expect. I figured it would either be unwatchable or really charming. Thankfully it’s charming. It’s the perfect thing to watch when you’re feeling devoid of power but still restless (am I the only one who feels that way)?

Pop Culture Recommendation #2: “The Big Flower Fight” Season 1 on Netflix. The Rose Parade (here in the US) has taught us flowers can be used to make more than just bouquets. And this show takes that notion and turns it into a reality competition show. A British reality competition show (there are contestants from various parts of the world). I have only watched a few episodes so far. My Mom and I are transfixed by it. In fact, I can’t be certain that my Mom’s latest obsession with gardening and landscaping ISN’T inspired by this show. If this show doesn’t take your mind off your worldly troubles (or the troubles of the world), then I will be MASSIVELY surprised.

Reflections and Conclusion

I wrote about what’s currently going on in the world for my memoir. I felt like I had to. It would have felt strange ignoring the chaos of the pandemic and now all the race-related riots and protests. So I unpaused my memoir writing to write that section. That leaves me with an updated word count. I’m not sure if I will put the memoir back on pause now or if I will be able to write more. So for my #CreativityForDays weekly project I will actually use a memoir word count update!

To conclude this post I will leave you with a thought I wrote in that new section of my memoir and I also tweeted it:

It’s odd living in a time that feels so very modern with our various technologies and we’re still crippled by the same things that crippled societies in decades past (highly contagious diseases and racial tensions and unjust treatment).” –Laura Hagemann

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