Brag Book (Nope, Not About Me)

51zLWDT2PxL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Hello, everyone. Just a quick note to let you know my friend Oma’s husband Jeff has published his first novel under the pen name, Victor Marbury. The name of the book is Lights out in America’s Dairyland: An EMP Adventure. Here is a description of the book.

“Follow Ben and his friends as they travel through Wisconsin after A devastating EMP event. Ben, a dedicated prepper and police officer is caught away from his home and supplies when a naturally generated EMP knocks out the world-wide electrical grid and all unprotected electronics. With the help of his new friends, Simone, Robert, and Mitch, Ben tries makes his way back to Milwaukee and his extensive stockpile. During the ride, Ben and company will encounter new friends, enemies and an old nemesis from the past who harbors a grudge from years before.”

You can download Lights Out in America’s Dairyland: An EMP Adventure into your Kindle via Amazon. To learn amore about Victor Marbury here is a link to his Amazon author page.

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Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar

homeward_bound_rev3You must be living on another planet not to know that many American women (and some men) have caught the domesticity bug. They’re cultivating their own gardens (or buying locally grown produce). They embrace crafty projects like sewing, knitting, woodworking, soap making and jewelry design. They are total foodies who can their own fruits and veggies and are experts at making a pie crust.

Some of these people also eschew the public realm by leaving corporate America to have their own home-based businesses, and choose to homeschool rather than send their kids to private and public schools. They practice something called “attachment” parenting. When it comes to political and social issues, these domestic divas and dudes run the gamut from very liberal to very conservative.

But does embracing the new domesticity have a dark side? Well, it could and Emily Matchar focuses on both the positive and negative elements of this phenomenon is her thought-provoking book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity.

I was initially drawn to Matchar’s book because in my own quirky way, I’m pretty domestically inclined. I make my own soap and other bath and beauty products. I make most of my meals instead of eating out. I like to bake, and my sugar mint cookies are in high demand. I love my city’s local farmers markets and I’m growing a fledgling herb garden on my window sill. I even made my friend Kristine’s wedding veil.

However, I work for the “man.” My shabby chic apartment is more shabby than chic. I’m childfree so homeschooling and attachment parenting aren’t exactly in my wheelhouse. So just who are these people (mostly women) who have fully embraced the new domesticity?

According to the interviews that pepper Homeward Bound, there are various reasons why so many women are focusing on domesticity. Some do it because they are creative types who enjoy making everything from soup stock to laundry detergent. They also like saving money by making things themselves, especially in a shaky economy. And by focusing on the homemade they know exactly what they and their families are consuming and using.

A majority of these women are highly educated and many of them had good careers. However, they found the workplace lacking. Many jobs are not exactly worker and family friendly. And employees often live in fear of layoffs, outsourcing and other less than progressive corporate practices. And it’s often easier to jump off the career ladder, pack your belongings and head on home rather than try to change the system.

With some public schools in tatters and private school tuition out of reach of some people, many moms are relying on themselves to educate their broods through various homeschool strategies. And by staying home some mothers can practice the concept of attachment parenting, which includes methods like baby-wearing, co-sleeping, extended breast feeding and something called “elimination communication,” an alternative to changing diapers you might want to Google on an empty stomach.

And then there is the “F” word—feminism. Some of these women believe embracing domesticity as another act of feminism, employing the unique talents and qualities of women like nurturing and collaboration and using them at home rather than in the workplace. Other women embrace domesticity as a way to blow feminism a huge raspberry. They believe feminism has opened up a Pandora box of problems, including the breakdown of the American family and society as a whole.

Not surprisingly, many of these domestic divas blog. I’m sure you’ve read quite a few of them, one of the most famous being Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman. Many of Matchar’s subjects in Homeward Bound also blog about their domestic projects, often with beautifully crafted photos of cupcakes, knitted sweaters and adorable children. Though they might not be as well-known ad Ms. Drummond, many of them have sizable followings. And some of the interviewees have been able to monetize their domestic skills via their blogs, Etsy boutiques and writing books.

You might be thinking, “Okay, so far, so good, nothing wrong with cupcakes, knitted sweaters and adorable children.”

Nope, nothing wrong with any of those things; I’m a fan of all three. However, not everything in a homeward bound world is hand-crafted glitter and organic rainbows. There can be a downside.

Amongst Matchar’s misgivings about the new domesticity involved the issues of race, class and gender. A majority of the women interviewed in Homeward Bound are white, come from educated, middle-class backgrounds, and have husbands whose incomes allow them to stay home. They are a pretty homogenous bunch.

Furthermore, a lot of women, no matter their race or ethnicity can’t be homeward bound due to a lack of money and the need to work to support themselves and their families. A single mother working two jobs might not have the time to provide a perfectly made from scratch family dinner. And she’s probably too pooped at the end of the day to start her own Etsy boutique and plant a garden. The act of daily survival is a huge undertaking itself!

And where are the men? Sure, the men provide the paychecks, but if some of these women see themselves as the sole providers of their children’s nurturing does that mean the dads are just cash registers on legs and sperm donors?

Sure, being a stay at home mom is work, but what about financial independence? Marriages end in divorce, men do die and even if your husband is the most amazing man on the planet he can still lose his job or become disabled. Matchar points out it might be difficult for some of these women to jump on the career track after being out of work for so long. And those preserved peaches might taste great but they won’t pay the mortgage or fill up your gas tank.

Furthermore, being fully homeward bound can be a very insular and individualistic. By focusing solely on their own homes and families, some domestic divas can be so solipsistic they ignore on issues that a huge swathe of American citizens face daily—failing school systems, a less than ideal work culture and a lack of access to nutritious, non-processed foods. Not all of them have an “I got mine; screw the rest of you” mentality, but there are a few who seem to be a bit too self-focused, and don’t realize not everyone is as blessed as them. Fortunately, I know plenty of people in the DIY crowd who can focus on their homes and who are still engaged with their communities as a whole. And in the final chapter of Homeward Bound, Matchar wraps her book up in a final thesis of both observations and interesting thoughts on just this very idea. Family and community are not diametrically opposed. They are intermingled.

Ultimately, Matchar doesn’t fully dismiss the embrace of domesticity in Homeward Bound. She fully acknowledges its positive qualities. However, she wisely suggests women look before they leap fully into their “sewn with love” aprons. Baking cookies is good but so are financial independence, commitment to the public good and celebrating the hard won gains our forebears fought for women to get an education, vote and have a voice beyond writing a blog post about your latest domestic project. In other words, don’t throw the baby out with the (artisanal) bath water just yet.

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

000996In Jonathan Tropper’s novel This Is Where I Leave You, Judd Foxman is going through a very rough patch—adultery, death, job loss and all sorts of family dysfunction.

Judd discovers his wife, Jen, is having an affair, when he walks in on her and his boss, Wade, in flagrante delicto on Judd and Jen’s marriage bed. It’s Jen’s birthday so Judd retaliates by shoving Jen’s cake up Wade’s butt.

Judd quits his job in disgust and moves out of his house only to live in a basement apartment. He’s depressed, getting fat and is about to find out Jen is pregnant. Is the bun in the oven Judd’s or Wade’s?

Oh, and to make matters worse, Morton Foxman, Judd’s father has died after a long illness. Though never a very observant Jew, the Foxman family patriarch had one dying wish. He wanted his family to sit shiva, the Jewish tradition of seven days of mourning.

Amongst the mourners is Judd’s immediate family. There is his mother, Hillary, proud of her fake boobs and the author of notorious book on child rearing. There are also Judd’s siblings—his older brother Paul, bitter and filled with resentment, much of it aimed at Judd. The fact that his wife is Judd’s ex-girlfriend doesn’t exactly help either. There is Judd’s sister Wendy, a mother of three, whose Master of the Universe husband, Barry, seems to be more in tune with his Blackberry than his family. And then there is Judd’s younger brother, Philip, a charming ne’er do well, who brings home is much older girlfriend, a psychotherapist named Tracy.

Yes, this is going to be fun.

What is supposed to be a time of family support, connection and shared memories is actually a time of dysfunction, acrimony, frayed nerves and past family hurts. Paul truly loathes running the family business. Wendy feels overwhelmed and underappreciated, and uses this time of mourning to resurrect a past romance. Philip is still in a state of perpetual adolescence. Dad, Morton, is barely in the grave, and his widow, is flirting with lesbianism. Judd is on the verge of divorce and potential fatherhood, but can’t quite resist a sexy hook-up with an old high school classmate.

Involved with the shiva and officiating the late Mr. Foxman’s funeral is Judd’s buddy Rabbi Charles Grodner. In their younger years, the Rabbi was called Boner, and Judd and his siblings can’t help but call him Boner. Rabbi Boner? It’s a shandeh.

During the shiva, various relatives, neighbors, co-workers and friends visit and pay their respects to the remaining Foxmans. They talk about how much they appreciated the late Mort Foxman. But Judd and his family will have none of it.

Paul is still blaming Judd for ruining his dreams for a college education and for getting to his wife first. Wendy’s three kids just remind Judd that his estranged wife, Jen, is pregnant (and schtupping his boss). Despite the so-called influence of an older and wiser Tracy, Phillip isn’t about to give up his Peter Pan ways. And the merry widow, Hillary Foxman, is not about to put her cleavage away and is fully ready to embrace her late in life Sapphic leanings.

This Is Where I Leave You captures a family in a time of bereavement. There are moments of true poignancy and bittersweetness. Reading Tropper’s novel will probably remind you of the times you lost a loved family member and the myriad of emotions and feelings you went through—denial, grief, anger, joy and nostalgia.

This Is Where I Leave You Will also make you laugh.

Yes, a novel about a man with an adulterous wife, no job, a recently deceased father and a messed up family is pretty damn funny. And the humor comes naturally and is fully in tune with the characters. Nothing rings false.

For instance, in one scene, Judd recalls a time when his mother handed him a tube of KY jelly once she found out her baby boy had discovered masturbation. She told him it would prevent chafing. And of course, she had to do this in front of the entire family. I could totally see Mrs. Foxman doing this. What she sees as motherly, Judd finds absolutely mortifying.

And in another scene, Judd and his brothers steal away from the synagogue during the reading of the Kaddish, prayer for the dead, to smoke a joint in one of the synagogue’s classrooms. The joint’s smoke sets off the fire alarm. Perhaps getting high isn’t the best way to remember your father.

Judd and the Foxman clan make other bad decisions. They often fight. They’re often clueless and selfish. But they also show each other support and offer each other moments of laughter and happiness. All of this gives Judd time to reflect on his life. Yes, things are bad. But maybe they’ll get better.

I thoroughly enjoyed This Is Where I Leave You and I’m happy to know Tropper has other novels in his arsenal. This Is Where I Leave You has also been made into a movie to be released later this year featuring the likes of Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda. Hmm, do I smell a “Reading to Reels” post?

Book Marks

cropped-reading_is_coolWell, I must say this is quite innovative and creative. Homeless man makes money by reviewing books and selling them.

Hmm, is Amazon shooting itself in the foot with its limited offerings of JK Rowling’s latest novel “The Silkworm?”

It’s very sad when Kylie and Kendall Jenner, “Teen Mom” Farrah Abraham and Chuck Norris are considered novelists.

This might not be the best method to use if you want your kids to read.

Today is the first day of summer, and Publisher’s Weekly has the list of 2014’s best summer reads.

Bummer and Other Stories by Janice Shapiro

bummerIn screenwriter Janice Shapiro’s collection of short stories Bummer and Other Stories, women and girls face life’s disappointments and their very own failings. In other words, these ladies’ lives are just one bummer after another.

Bummer starts out strong with its opening story called “Bummer.” It’s the 1970s and the punk rock scene has made it to America. Alison finds herself pregnant and about to marry her boyfriend in Las Vegas. She and her betrothed bonded over their local punk scene, so of course, they are meant to be.

Or are they? Sadly, Alison’s mohawked Romeo turns out to be a dud and they break up before they can say their “I dos.” Soon after that unfortunate episode, desperate Alison hooks up with a Latino high roller who pays her for a night in the sack. Are these misfortunes a foreshadowing of Alison’s future? Struggling as a single mom and being mistaken for being a hooker? We can only guess and hope Alison gets it together.

In the following story, “1966,” a young girl is becoming aware of the world around her, and it’s not very pretty. Not only does her mom look bad in bathing suits, life as a housewife isn’t always sunshine and daisies. Her babysitter states she wishes she had never been born. Also, the shocking murder of several student nurses in Chicago by one Richard Speck has the nation both riveted and horrified. Is this what women can look forward to, stifling domesticity at best and brutal murder at worst?

Other stories follow the same depressing meme. Women’s lives are a collection of crappy decisions, regrettable mistakes, disenchantment and desperation, low self-esteem and other tales of woe. In “Maternity” the protagonist just has an inkling she’s going to fail and be a crappy mother. In “Night and Day” a Hollywood talent agent has focused so much on her career, she wonders if she has neglected her personal life too much, especially her love life. She soon realizes she has, but instead of being upset, she realizes she just doesn’t care. In “Ennui” one woman’s collection of lovers is nothing to brag about, but she can’t help but make the same bad decision after another when it comes to relationships. And in “Death and Disaster” one woman accidentally kills her neighbor’s pet bird.

These women are losing their men, losing their looks, losing their dignity and losing their grip. And despite Shapiro’s strong skills as a writer, Bummer is way too repetitive. After a while, I felt as if I was reading about the same character at different times in her life. And I also wished for some ray of hope for these characters, some light at the end of a very long, dismal tunnel. I guess with a name like Bummer, I shouldn’t hold out for a happy ending.

Two stories do stand out, one bad, the other good. In the fantasy-like “Small” a middle-aged woman looks back at her younger self when her roommates were seven men of short stature who ran a pot farm. Based on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” the story “Small” is a fractured fairy tale that should have worked but falls rather short (sorry). Shapiro can write straight fiction, but should leave the fantasy type writing to someone more versed in the genre like Francesca Lia Block.

However, “The Old Bean” does work. In Bummer’s final story, a middle-aged woman finds herself working at a local coffee shop with workers who are half her age and are fully disrespectful. She is also dealing with a husband who is working overseas and daughter who doesn’t want to talk to her. There is one awkward bright spot, a cute rocker co-worker, who may be young enough to be her son, but actually flirts with her in his own clumsy way. The protagonist of “Old Bean” is both weirded out and somewhat flattered by this young man’s attention. She also has a bit more humor and pluck than the other women of Bummer, and she shows some gumption when she tells her millennial co-workers that if a chair is available during the shop’s down time—it’s hers! She’s got some tired, middle-aged feet that need some rest.

Bummer starts out strong and ends strong. It’s the middle that is a bit of a slog to get through. I kind of wished Shapiro would have combined the opening and closing stories into a novel, showing the same character in her messed up early years and then later, in her still messed up middle-aged years. Perhaps that would have made a much stronger and more interesting read.

In the end, Bummer is the perfect title for a less than perfect book.

Writer’s Block (With a Dash of Brag Book)

Little_Miss_BusyOkay, it’s nearly summer, and the temps have yet to crack 60 degrees here in Milwaukee. Ah, Wisconsin weather, gotta love it. It’s June 14th and I’m still wearing fleece.

Well, now that I’ve gotten the weather report out of the way, what else do I have to discuss? Hmmm.

I just started a new work project, which should keep me pretty busy for the next few months. I did work on this project last summer, but my work comrades and I needed a refresher on the process, so we spent this past we re-training. Fortunately, a lot of the process came back to us, and when we truly get started with the project on Monday, we should do alright. Whew, what a relief.

What else? Well, the lovely Lisa Mattson, author of The Exes in My iPod was pleased with my review. And I’m pleased she’s pleased.

I do have some book reviews coming up, but they may take a while with all the other stuff going on in my crazy life. But I do promise I will update this blog as much as possible. I want to write some reviews for a book of short stories, a couple of novels and a non-fiction book that examines how young women have embraced domesticity and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing (or both). I’ve also compiled a huge list of books I want to read and review, which should keep me very, very busy for the next few years.