STOLEN by Katariina Rosenblatt & Cecil Murphey

February 11, 2022

The True Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor

From the publisher:

Sex trafficking is currently a hot news topic, but it is not a new problem or just a problem in “other” countries. Every year, an estimated 300,000 American children are at risk of being lured into the sex trade, some as young as eight years old. It is thought that up to 90 percent of victims are never rescued.

Stolen is the true story of one survivor who escaped–more than once. First recruited while staying with her family at a hotel in Miami Beach, Katariina Rosenblatt was already a lonely and abused young girl who was yearning to be loved. She fell into the hands of a confident young woman who pretended friendship but slowly lured her into a child prostitution ring. For years afterward, a cycle of false friendship, threats, drugs, and violence kept her trapped.

As Kat shares her harrowing experiences, readers will quickly realize the frightening truth that these terrible things could have happened to any child–a neighbor, a niece, a friend, a sister, a daughter. But beyond that, they will see that there is real hope for the victims of sex trafficking. Stolen is more than a warning. It is a celebration of survival that will inspire.

https://amzn.to/3B9cb4I

This was one of the worst books I’ve ever read. What should have been an important message about sex trafficking in the U.S. is instead an homage to Christianity. The only reason I finished it was because I was asked to do a book talk/discussion for the Social Impact Series at Lynn University, where I work. The Impact Series addresses various topics each month, and part of the series is a book discussion on a book relevant to that topic. The January topic was Sex Trafficking, and this book was selected because the author is local and it was suggested she might be available to participate. It was then decided that we don’t get enough of a turnout to warrant inviting the author, so that was that and I was stuck reading this book.

This book is Kat’s story. She did an interview with CNN several years ago for a series they did on sex trafficking in the US:  https://youtu.be/5XhOI_nite8 Watching this short video is preferable to reading this book.

When people think of sex trafficking, they often think of it as something that happens to other people. We think it can’t possibly happen in our town or neighborhood; it’s a problem in big cities or across the border or internationally. We want to feel that the young people we know – our children, our friends’ children, the kids in our neighborhood – can’t possibly be at risk. We are wrong.

It is partially true that sex trafficking does occur across our borders and internationally, but it also occurs here in these United States. Every day. Ohio leads the nation in sex trafficking, followed by Florida, where I live and where this book is set.

The book is divided into three sections. The first is Katariina Rosenblatt’s personal story–her abuse, how her loneliness attracted a recruiter in the hotel she lived in, and how she was groomed step-by-step into slavery by traffickers, her escape and recapture numerous times. In the second part, Kat had escaped and is married, but is in an abusive marriage. The third part of the book deals with how she got involved in saving children from traffickers. She has her own foundation which is promoted heavily here.

The other major theme in this book is an exploration of Kat’s Christianity. The author talks about accepting Christ as her Savior at a Billy Graham crusade when she was 12 years old, a year before the first time she was trafficked. Burned into her mind and heart from that night was Mr. Graham saying, “Remember this: God will never leave you or forsake you.” This was repeated throughout the book, usually when she did not know what to do or where to turn. The Church plays an important role in her life, but lead me to question some of what she talks about.

I had some issues, for instance, with these quotes:

“They’re less likely to go back if people like us can help them break that invisible bondage and provide a mentoring relationship with a safe, Christian adult.”

To me, this sounds like it is useless to help if that safe mentor isn’t a Christian. That’s just some flat out bullshit.

“When I first began visiting strip clubs, I went as part of a group. One night, eight girls came to the Lord through our efforts. That night God seemed to have infiltrated the whole building with his love. We had gone out to the floor and talked with the manager, and we had the privilege of leading him to Jesus Christ while a girl was dancing. We also gave tracts to most of the customers, and they accepted them. Tears flowed as Jesus broke off the shackles of bondage from all sorts of people, from the managers to the girls and even to some of their clientele.”

This was way over the top to me. Not every woman who works in a strip club wants to be “saved” nor do the customers. I found this bizarre.

A bigger problem, however, is her underlying belief that homosexuality is something that can be prayed away. In the chapter “Wedded Bliss”, she talks about her husband’s stepsister:

“The woman was a lesbian, and her girlfriend was involved in Santeria, a religion that is a mixture of African and Caribbean witchcraft and Roman Catholicism…Joel & I prayed regularly for them … ‘I know you’ve been praying for me. Thank you,’ she said. ‘I’m not in that lifestyle anymore.'”

Yep, Kat prayed away the gay. Ugh.

The writing is quite simple and often repetitive. This book was not reviewed by any authoritative journal or newspaper. I did find a “review”, and I use the term loosely, in a Christian women’s magazine that praised her finding Jesus rather than critiquing the book. Most of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads were from Christian women who were given a free copy of the book for review from the Christian publisher. ‘Nuff said.

2/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

STOLEN by Katariina Rosenblatt & Cecil Murphey. Revell; First Edition (October 7, 2014). ISBN: 978-0800723453. 240p.

Kindle

Audible

 


MY TIME AMONG THE WHITES by Jennine Capó Crucet

October 7, 2021

Notes from an Unfinished Education

From the author of Make Your Home Among Strangers, essays on being an “accidental” American―an incisive look at the edges of identity for a woman of color in a society centered on whiteness

In this sharp and candid collection of essays, critically acclaimed writer and first-generation American Jennine Capó Crucet explores the condition of finding herself a stranger in the country where she was born. Raised in Miami and the daughter of Cuban refugees, Crucet examines the political and personal contours of American identity and the physical places where those contours find themselves smashed: be it a rodeo town in Nebraska, a university campus in upstate New York, or Disney World in Florida. Crucet illuminates how she came to see her exclusion from aspects of the theoretical American Dream, despite her family’s attempts to fit in with white American culture―beginning with their ill-fated plan to name her after the winner of the Miss America pageant.

In prose that is both fearless and slyly humorous, My Time Among the Whites examines the sometimes hopeful, sometimes deeply flawed ways in which many Americans have learned to adapt, exist, and―in the face of all signals saying otherwise―perhaps even thrive in a country that never imagined them here.


This memoir is a collection of essays and is remarkable reading. Crucet is the American born daughter of Cuban refugees, and grew up in Hialeah, a Miami haven for Cuban families. In this book, she talks about everything from moving to Nebraska to Walt Disney World to how she was named after a Miss USA – sort of. What drew me to this book was the immigrant experience being told first hand.

Crucet is the first person in her family to go to college, and she writes about that experience and the difficulties she had because she had no guidance. She applied to only two colleges, because no one told her you could get application fees waived and they were steep. She received a full ride to the University of Florida, no easy feat, but instead, she selected a school based on a brochure a secretary was throwing away. The school that looked so appealing was Cornell University, and she was accepted. She did receive financial aid, but not the free ride she could have had at UF. She decided, along with her family, that Cornell was the best place for her, even though it was a struggle.

Struggle is at the heart of the book. Crucet is Latinx, a light skinned brown person who often passes as white, living in a country where the last president called Mexicans rapists and murderers. I loved the review in the Los Angeles Review of Books; they described this book as “post-Trump Latinx literature.” The bigotry she has to deal with is at times subtle, and other times overt, but it is always there, a backdrop to every essay in this collection. This is a worthwhile read, especially now when right-wing racist groups have gained national attention. It is sometimes painful reading, sometimes funny, but always engaging, making this a difficult but excellent read.

NOTE: I am facilitating a discussion of this book at Lynn University on Friday, 10/8/2021 at noon, with college students and faculty. I am especially looking forward to hearing what the students have to say. This discussion is part of the Impact Series: in collaboration with Student Affairs and the Lynn Library, Project Civitas‘ Impact Series is a multi-departmental collaboration that seeks to immerse students, faculty and staff in holistic conversations about issues of social justice. Register here for the book discussion: https://lynn.libcal.com/event/8297620

10/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MY TIME AMONG THE WHITES by Jennine Capó Crucet. Picador (September 3, 2019). ISBN:‎ 978-1250299437. 208 pages.

Kindle

Audible

 

 

 


JUST MERCY by Bryan Stevenson

October 27, 2020

JUST MERCY by Bryan Stevenson. One World; Reprint Edition (August 18, 2015). ISBN 978-0812984965. 368 pages.

Kindle

Audible

 

 

 


SAVE ME THE PLUMS by Ruth Reichl

April 13, 2019

Click to purchase

My Gourmet Memoir

Ruth Reichl has led a very food-centric life and has written extensively about it. In a bit of exciting news,

“Former Gourmet editor and New York Times critic Ruth Reichl says that a memoir about her early days as a food writer [Comfort Me With Apples] is going to be the subject of a new eight-part series on Netflix.”

This book is about how Ruth came to be editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, the changes she made, and how it all went away. In case you weren’t sure if she was traumatized by the magazine’s closing, Ruth has written a novel about it, Delicious! and a cookbook, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life (and I loved both those books.) Now she has finally written the memoir that she seems to have been avoiding, and it, too, is terrific.

As a long time fan of Gourmet magazine, I was sad when it shut down. But it wasn’t my life, as it was Ruth’s, so the feelings cannot even be compared. She starts at the beginning, from her first meetings with the publisher and owner, while she was still the New York Times restaurant critic. (I loved her book about that experience, Garlic & Sapphires.) She met with friends to discuss the possible job change, and when she finally got the job offer, the money was six times what she was making at the Times, and impossible to resist. Off she went and her life changed dramatically.

This book contains a few recipes, including one for a Jeweled Chocolate Cake, which sounded great. I was curious about the possibility of turning that cake into cupcakes. I held this review for a few days and tweeted at her, but sadly, I was ignored. I will figure it out myself – necessity is the mother of invention. And I have the Google-verse at my fingertips.

If you’ve read Reichl’s other memoirs, you will undoubtedly enjoy this one. If you haven’t, it’s as good a place as any to start. For foodie fans everywhere.

4/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SAVE ME THE PLUMS by Ruth Reichl. Random House (April 2, 2019).  ISBN 978-1400069996. 288p.

Kindle

Audible


BECOMING by Michelle Obama

February 21, 2019

Click to purchase

From the publisher:

An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.


When this book came out last year, I knew I would read it eventually, but I had to get myself into the right frame of mind. As regular readers know, I am not happy with the current administration. I look at this book, a great deal of which is about the Obama presidency, with longing and admiration.

It was like taking a journey back to a kinder, gentler time, at least during the Obama administration. Mrs. Obama is pretty candid and open about her foibles, her successes, and why it all mattered so much. She talks a lot about their marriage, their problems and how they solved them. She talks about her struggles with her career and juggling work and family. She explains why she’ll never forgive Trump for endangering her family and why she didn’t smile at his inauguration. She talks about Sandy Hook, the only day in Obama’s eight year presidency that he requested his wife’s presence in the Oval Office. She is as open and forthcoming as she always seemed to be while she was the First Lady. Her voice rings true.

Michelle Obama embodies the quintessential American story. We learn about her upbringing on the South Side of Chicago, her close knit family living in their small apartment. We learn about her education and the opportunities she was lucky to receive, the guidance from her parents, her close relationships with them, her brother and her extended family. The values that were instilled in her as a child have lasted a lifetime and how she passed those values on to her children, despite their growing up in the White House.

This was a very emotional read for me. I have been a great admirer of Mrs. Obama since she came on to the national stage and this book just reinforced those feelings. Her story made me laugh and made me cry, but most of all made me remember a better time in America. And best of all, hope of that happening again.

2/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BECOMING by Michelle Obama. Crown Publishing Group; First Edition edition (November 13, 2018). ISBN 978-1524763138. 448p.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Kindle

Audible


EDUCATED by Tara Westover

December 12, 2018

Click book cover to purchase

A Memoir

From the publisher:

#1 NEW YORK TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL, AND BOSTON GLOBE BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post • O: The Oprah Magazine • Time • NPR • Financial Times • The Economist • The Guardian • Newsday  • Refinery29 •   Real Simple • Bustle • Pamela Paul, KQED • Publishers Weekly • LibraryReads • Library Journal • New York Public Library  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S SUMMER READING • ONE OF BILL GATES’S FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR • LONGLISTED FOR THE CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE

An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

“Beautiful and propulsive . . . Despite the singularity of [Tara Westover’s] childhood, the questions her book poses are universal: How much of ourselves should we give to those we love? And how much must we betray them to grow up?”—Vogue

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.


The accolades for this book keep rolling in and what can I say, they are all well deserved.

It was a difficult read at times, the abuse Westover went through and the accidents that happened to family members were often told in gruesome, albeit necessary, detail. Unfortunately, I know first hand what it is like for a daughter to be estranged from her father. This is a book that will stay with me for a very long time.

I have spoken to many people who have read this book, and not one could say anything negative about it. It is a difficult story, beautifully told. Dr. Westover gave us all a gift, and I am most appreciative. Don’t miss it.

12/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

EDUCATED by Tara Westover. Random House; First Edition edition (February 20, 2018). ISBN 978-0399590504. 352p.


SARA BERMAN’S CLOSET by Maira Kalman & Alex Kalman

October 31, 2018

Click on book cover to purchase

From the publisher:

Maira Kalman, the author of the bestsellers The Principles of Uncertainty and The Elements of Style, and Alex Kalman, the designer, curator, writer, and founder of Mmuseumm, combine their talents in this captivating family memoir, a creative blend of narrative and striking visuals that is a paean to an exceptional woman and a celebration of individuality, personal expression, and the art of living authentically.

In the early 1950s, Jewish émigré Sara Berman arrived in the Bronx with her husband and two young daughters When the children were grown, she and her husband returned to Israel, but Sara did not stay for long. In the late 1960s, at age sixty, she left her husband after thirty-eight years of marriage. One night, she packed a single suitcase and returned alone to New York City, moving into a studio apartment in Greenwich Village near her family. In her new home, Sara began discovering new things and establishing new rituals, from watching Jeopardy each night at 7:00 to eating pizza at the Museum of Modern Art’s cafeteria every Wednesday. She also began discarding the unnecessary, according to the Kalmans: “in a burst of personal expression, she decided to wear only white.”

Sara kept her belongings in an extraordinarily clean and organized closet. Filled with elegant, minimalist, heavily starched, impeccably pressed and folded all-white clothing, including socks and undergarments, as well as carefully selected objects—from a potato grater to her signature perfume, Chanel No.19—the space was sublime. Upon her death in 2004, her family decided to preserve its pristine contents, hoping to find a way to exhibit them one day.

In 2015, the Mmuseumm, a new type of museum located in a series of unexpected locations founded and curated by Sara’s grandson, Alex Kalman, recreated the space in a popular exhibit—Sara Berman’s Closet—in Tribeca. The installation eventually moved to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The show will run at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles from December 4, 2018 to March 10, 2019; it will open again about a month later at the National Museum of American Jewish History from April 5, 2019 to September 1, 2019.

Inspired by the exhibit, this spectacular illustrated memoir, packed with family photographs, exclusive images, and Maira Kalman’s distinctive paintings, is an ode to Sara’s life, freedom, and re-invention. Sara Berman’s Closet is an indelible portrait of the human experience—overcoming hardship, taking risks, experiencing joy, enduring loss. It is also a reminder of the significance of the seemingly insignificant moments in our lives—the moments we take for granted that may turn out to be the sweetest. Filled with a daughter and grandson’s wry and touching observations conveyed in Maira’s signature script, Sara Berman’s Closest is a beautiful, loving tribute to one woman’s indomitable spirit.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I received this book in the mail from a publicist at Harper Gallery and was immediately fascinated. Was it a graphic novel? Was it an art book? I didn’t know quite what to make of it so I looked inside and there was no title page. I brought it to work at the library and showed it to Jessica, a co-worker who used to work as a children’s librarian. She said sometimes children’s books put the title page at the back of the book, and sure enough, that’s where it was. What I was looking for was the classification of the book, the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress numbers.

I was shocked to see it classified as “Juvenile fiction.” Jessica explained that the juvenile designation meant it was geared for young children through third grade, and the book was meant to be read by an adult to the child. At 128 pages, that seemed a bit much to me. I took the book home and sat down and read it.

The text in the book is in cursive writing, most children at that age would not be able to read it themselves and frankly I occasionally had some difficulty myself.  The subject matter, as explained above in the publisher’s synopsis, is not child friendly, to say the least. While I really liked the book and loved the artwork, I could not imagine this as a children’s book. Interestingly, Amazon has it classified thusly:

  • Books > Arts & Photography > Collections, Catalogs & Exhibitions
  • Books > Arts & Photography > Graphic Design > Commercial > Fashion Design
  • Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Specific Groups > Women

Someone took a good look at it and came up with categories that actually fit the book. I’m guessing that the publisher gave it the Juvenile classification and for the life of me, I don’t understand why. And if that’s correct, I’m really puzzled as how I came to be a recipient of a children’s book. I rarely review them and I’m not on most children’s publicists radar. Then again, this book isn’t published by a children’s imprint, but rather an art imprint.

All that said, I loved this book. It is beautiful, the story interesting and compelling, and I think it would make a good gift book for sure. Thank you, Katherine Beitner, for sending this to me. And maybe you can get with the Library of Congress and have the Juvenile designation changed to something more appropriate?

10/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SARA BERMAN’S CLOSET by Maira Kalman & Alex Kalman. Harper Design (October 30, 2018). ISBN 978-0062846402.  128p.

Kindle


32 YOLKS by Eric Ripert

July 29, 2018

Click book cover to purchase

From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line

From the publisher:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Hailed by Anthony Bourdain as “heartbreaking, horrifying, poignant, and inspiring,” 32 Yolks is the brave and affecting coming-of-age story about the making of a French chef, from the culinary icon behind the renowned New York City restaurant Le Bernardin.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR

In an industry where celebrity chefs are known as much for their salty talk and quick tempers as their food, Eric Ripert stands out. The winner of four James Beard Awards, co-owner and chef of a world-renowned restaurant, and recipient of countless Michelin stars, Ripert embodies elegance and culinary perfection. But before the accolades, before he even knew how to make a proper hollandaise sauce, Eric Ripert was a lonely young boy in the south of France whose life was falling apart.

Ripert’s parents divorced when he was six, separating him from the father he idolized and replacing him with a cold, bullying stepfather who insisted that Ripert be sent away to boarding school. A few years later, Ripert’s father died on a hiking trip. Through these tough times, the one thing that gave Ripert comfort was food. Told that boys had no place in the kitchen, Ripert would instead watch from the doorway as his mother rolled couscous by hand or his grandmother pressed out the buttery dough for the treat he loved above all others, tarte aux pommes. When an eccentric local chef took him under his wing, an eleven-year-old Ripert realized that food was more than just an escape: It was his calling. That passion would carry him through the drudgery of culinary school and into the high-pressure world of Paris’s most elite restaurants, where Ripert discovered that learning to cook was the easy part—surviving the line was the battle.

Taking us from Eric Ripert’s childhood in the south of France and the mountains of Andorra into the demanding kitchens of such legendary Parisian chefs as Joël Robuchon and Dominique Bouchet, until, at the age of twenty-four, Ripert made his way to the United States, 32 Yolks is the tender and richly told story of how one of our greatest living chefs found himself—and his home—in the kitchen.


This was not what I was expecting at all. I have read several memoirs by chefs, and I expect the hardship of the kitchen. But I did not expect the hardship of a childhood, and Ripert’s was not especially pleasant. His mother was a very successful shopkeeper, so they had money, but for everyone who thinks that money is the answer to all problems, I suggest you read this book to find out why that is rarely the case.

The high pressure of the kitchen and how Ripert worked through it was inspiring to read. He holds the unique distinction of taking over a 3 Michelin star & NY Times 4 star restaurant, and holding on to those stars for over thirty years, a remarkable feat not repeated anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the book ends just as he arrives in America which leads me to hope there will be a sequel.

Co-written with Veronica Chambers, who also worked with Marcus Samuelsson on Yes, Chef, his memoir, she does an excellent job. For foodies who want more than what’s on TV.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

32 YOLKS by Eric Ripert. Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 21, 2017). ISBN 978-0812983067. 256p.

Kindle


FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL by Beck Dory-Stein

July 20, 2018

Click book cover to purchase

A Memoir

This memoir is getting lots of buzz and I can see why. It is compulsively readable, despite the fact that the author is a bit of an idiot. Or maybe that’s why.

Dorey-Stein was one of the White House stenographers under President Obama. I didn’t know there was such a position, and neither did she until she answered a Craigslist ad and eventually was told what the position actually was. My mom was a stenographer in the 1950’s, which meant she worked for a man (it was always a man) and took dictation using Gregg shorthand, writing squiggly lines on steno pads. Then she would type up whatever it was, usually letters I think. Steno pads still live (check out Office Depot if you’re not sure what they are) but apparently their use has changed. The White House stenographers do not take shorthand. They record every utterance the President makes then type it up for wherever it will go, usually the archives and the press. It is an extremely interesting and sensitive job. It makes the Putin-Trump summit all the more remarkable in that the private meeting was not recorded, an extraordinary breach of protocol and history.

One of the reasons Dorey-Stein got the job was because she was a substitute teacher at the Sidwell Friends School. If that name sounds familiar, it is probably because the school is famous as providing the education for many presidents’ children, including the Obamas. Since she already had security clearance to be around those kids, it made her entree into the White House that much easier.

While there, the 25-year-old Dorey-Stein often traveled with the President and was at many, many historic meetings, summits, appearances, etc.; rather Forrest Gump-like in fact. She often ran into the President in hotel gyms where he was always kind to her and often kidded her about her running. Dorey-Stein presents yet another glimpse of the man who exuded charm, intelligence and charisma and was the epitome of grace and civility. Yes, I miss him.

But Dorey-Stein writes about her personal life as well, and that is where the comparisons to “Sex and the City” come in. Not my comparison, but it keeps cropping up when I see anything about this book. Mostly because she has a boyfriend but is constantly falling into bed with a co-worker who is a womanizing pig. But charming. Dorey-Stein falls a little bit in love with him, which is well beyond my understanding but I haven’t been 25 in many years. And by that age, I was already married so what do I know.

While I may not approve of the cheating, and I may not understand why she did it with such an openly sleazy guy, I have to give Dorey-Stein props for the writing, it is amazing. She is truly talented. Here’s a short sample:

We’re always just a few ticks, clicks, updates and pings away from personal and collective disaster, but right now we’re not our titles but our own selves-people with backgrounds and futures and exes and half-dead pets and crazy parents and broken hearts and big dreams; people who are listening to the president as he tells a funny story from two countries back, twelve hours ago, depending on which time zone you’re counting in. We’re so different, but we’re swimming in this same punch-drunk delirium, and we have one major thing in common: We’ve found ourselves, shockingly, amazingly, how-the-fuck-did-this-happen crazily, flying halfway around the world on Air Force One. We are lucky.

It was also a very nostalgic read and I was reminded time and again of how Obama handled all the nightmares during his presidency; crying while talking about Sandy Hook, singing “Amazing Grace” at the black church where people were shot and killed for no reason, all the mass shootings in fact. I’m assuming that some of the names have been changed in this book but I did enjoy the touches of reality, the David Plouffe stories, Jon “Fav’s Abs” Favreau’s brief mention, and more.

Dorey-Stein did work briefly for Trump as the stenographer is not an appointed position. In fact, the woman in charge of the department had served under many presidents. But the chaos that ensued with the new staff was enough of an impetus for her to leave.

If you have any interest in what it is like to work for the President of the United States, and travel on Air Force One, this is your book. It was a fast read and I couldn’t put it down, I finished it in one night (your speed may vary) and it was mostly enjoyable.

Bonus: On July 17, 2018, Dory-Stein wrote an op-ed in the NY Times, “I Was a White House Stenographer. Trump Wasn’t a Fan.”

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL by Beck Dory-Stein. Spiegel & Grau (July 10, 2018). ISBN 978-0525509127 . 330p.

Kindle


THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Santlofer

July 10, 2018

Click book cover to purchase

A Memoir

Jonathan Santlofer is an artist and a writer and someone I consider a friend. In 2013, he lost his wife, Joy, quite suddenly, and his way of coping was to draw and write. This book is the culmination of that endeavor.

There are many books written about grief and many about losing a spouse, but most are written by women about losing their husbands. I hate to generalize but I’m going to. Men tend to be more stoic about loss, less likely to talk about it, much less write about it. But Jonathan is not your average man.

I’ve known Jonathan a long time but didn’t hear about Joy’s passing until a year or so after the fact. At the time, he couldn’t really talk about it and I understood that. When he told me about this book many months ago, I got a digital galley and put it aside. Even though he told me about it and I knew he wanted me to read it, I had to come to grips with reading about his pain. It’s a difficult thing to do when you know and care about the person who is in pain. But with publication looming, I put aside my usual escapist fare and sat down to read it.

Jonathan’s voice was immediately recognizable. This isn’t some new-agey, self-help guide but rather a journey through loss and devastation, grief and pain, and ultimately hope and love. There are many drawings as well, drawing was one of his coping mechanisms and he explains how it helped him. The drawings are simple and beautiful and so expressive of a life well lived.

Joy had been working on her own book called Food City when she passed. A food historian who taught at NYU, she had worked for six years on this book about the food history of New York City and it was truly a labor of love. When she died, she left a manuscript that was twice as long as was contracted for and in need of serious editing. Jonathan and their daughter raised money to pay for an independent editor and along with her publisher, and both of them, they were able to get the book completed. (See my review here.) It was the culmination of an exhaustive project, yet bittersweet that Joy never got to see her finished book. But what a way to honor her.

Lest you think this book is a maudlin meandering of thought, it most certainly is not. Jonathan has a terrific sense of humor and understands the absurdity of life and loss.. He is self deprecating and self aware, and even through some of the most difficult parts of the book, his humor shines through. Don’t get me wrong, I cried through much of this but I also laughed.

Stories about how friends tried to help, or didn’t, were mostly encouraging, occasionally discouraging, and often funny. The set ups, (single men are always a target) not to mention a friend who tried to get him to hire hookers from a website, and poignantly, the realization that widowers are treated differently (better) than widows. I especially loved the chapter, “Stupid Things Said by Smart People,” which was so honest and pointed to something many people struggle with.

A couple of quotes that I thought were simple, eloquent and elucidating:

The fact is, losing one’s partner is an unsolicited litmus test. Some friends pass the test beautifully and others fail.

And this:

Grief is two-pronged: to get past it is to move on, a good thing; to get over it, to forget your grief and your former life and all that is attached to it, impossibly sad.

Comparisons to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking are inevitable, and Jonathan is the yin to her yang. This is a beautifully written, haunting and emotional memoir about loss, grief, love, and moving on. It is thought provoking, intelligent, important and ultimately inspirational. This is a book worth reading and sharing.

I’m very glad Jonathan decided to share his Widower’s Notebook.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Santlofer. Penguin Books (July 10, 2018). ISBN 978-0143132493. 272p.

Kindle