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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Join A Book Club

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve been thinking a lot about book clubs lately.

It started when I read this vaguely dismissive piece in the New York Times about why reading has become “too social” and should remain a fundamentally private experience.

Then I read Kristen’s post over on Motherese yesterday about the sheer variety of book club experiences out there and her uncertainty as to what she’s meant to get out of them anyway.

I can relate to both points of view. I’ve been in several book clubs over the course of my adult life and they’ve all been quite different from one another. At times, I’ve been quite frustrated by these clubs, whether because people came to the meeting not having finished the book (gasp) or because they chose titles that I thought were too…cheesy. (For a great spoof on the potential shallowness of book clubs, see this New Yorker piece.)

I’ve since reformed my ways and come to see that you go to book clubs for lots of different reasons, and it’s best to just chill out and lower your expectations.

And so, as a reformed book club snob (Yes, Katy, that’s my definition!), let me offer five reasons that I think it’s a good idea to join a book club:

1. You meet interesting people. IMHO, the trick is not to join a book club full of your best friends. Some people do that and absolutely love it. But I find book clubs more interesting when none of my close friends are in them. After all, I’ll probably end up talking about books with my close friends anyway. But I’ll learn more from drawing upon a wider range of individuals. My current book club is composed of a bunch of women I almost never see (except occasionally on the street) and that’s precisely why I like it. It features – among others – a midwife, an entrepreneur, a SAHM and an urban planner. These ladies hail from all over the world. So in addition to gaining their quite distinct takes on the book at hand, I also gain a window into their lives, which are so very different from my own.

2. You read things that you wouldn’t otherwise read. Which ties to point #1, because people who are outside of your immediate circle of friends are more likely to have literary tastes that differ from your own. For example, I just read Stieg Larson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It’s a thriller set in Sweden with loads of sex and violence and family sagas. Though I’m still not convinced that it’s a great “book group” book (see point #3), it was a terrific read and I absolutely devoured it. But I never would have gone near it with a ten foot pole had it not been for book club.

3. Some books need to be discussed. This gets back to the New York Times article and the idea that reading should (arguably) remain a private pursuit (although, to be fair, the author of that article acknowledges that some particularly difficult books demand discussion.) A case in point: José Saramago’s Blindness, which I also just read in my book club. Wow! What an amazing novel. It totally changed the way that I think about fiction. But what was it about? Clearly, it was an allegory of some sort. But for what? Authoritarian rule? Religion? Capitalism? All of the above? We all had different ideas about what this great book “meant” and I felt like I understood it so much better having talked about it.

4. You eat great food. Most book groups entail some sort of snack alongside them, and usually – let’s be honest – some alcohol. I had grown accustomed to the standard wine/cheese/grapes fare at my old book club in Chicago, and that suited me fine. But, boy did they up the ante when we moved to London. One of my hostesses is Swedish, and she regularly prepares Swedish mulled wine – appropriately named Glögg – as well as Swedish apple tarts whenever we meet at her home. Yum!

5. Sometimes it’s fun just to chat. Finally – all book clubs – no matter how serious, entail some chit chat. And that’s just how it should be. Whether or not you’re in one that’s all-women – as seems to be the norm – or contains “the male element” (as someone ominously referred to men recently…yikes! sounds contagious!) we all thrive on friendship as we grow older. And book clubs are a great excuse to make and keep friends.

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I was delighted to get this shout-out on the fabulous Alpha Mummy blog in London today for my recent piece on peanut allergies.

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I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com today talking about why I think Nicaragua’s abortion ban is inhumane and backward. (But other than that, I think it’s really great…) Have a look.

Image: My Book Group Met At A Knit Shop by ellenmac11 via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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The Deadness: Talking to Your Kids About Death

I posted awhile back – on the occasion of my late father’s birthday – about how nothing drives home the fact of adulthood quite so clearly as the death of a parent.

But I think second in line is talking to your kids about death.

I was delighted to do a guest post on this topic for the Times On Line’s Alpha Mummy blog today. Alpha Mummy is the self-described blog  for “mums and dads who work, used to work, or want to go back to work one day.” I’m a regular there, and hope you will be too.

Enjoy!

Image: Nathan Snodgrass Grave Stone – HDR image by Jason Mean via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Things You Never Knew about Finland

Every Wednesday I offer Tips for Adulthood.

This week’s list was inspired by my recent trip to Finland. One thing that happens as you grow older is that you often get stuck in boring cocktail parties where it’s up to you to come up with interesting topics for conversation. So the next time you’re at a loss for what to say to that incredibly dull person seated next to you at the dinner table, here are a few things to pull out of the hat. Since most people know very little about Finland, you’re bound to impress:

1. Finland only became independent in 1917. This floored me. Sure, there’s been a Finnish people around since the Stone Age. But for much of the past 800 years, Finland was under the control of Sweden and Russia. So it’s only been a modern nation state for less than 100 years. Not bad for the inventor of Nokia, eh?

2. Finland is mostly forest and lakes. Something like 76% of Finland is composed of forests and there are over 187,000 lakes. When you fly into the country you see this immediately, but, again, I had no idea.

3. The Finnish National Epic is the Kalevala. Yes, that very same one that has inspired countless hotel rooms. But that’s not all. Turns out that when Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings, the well of Nordic myths soon ran dry. So he turned to the Kalevala for ideas. Try that one out on your Tolkien fanatic friends.

4. Reindeer is surprisingly OK. Try some. It’s the Other Red Meat. Finnish porridge, on the other hand, can be an acquired taste. It’s made of barley, not oats, which is a real head fake. But, then again, we all know that hunger makes good sauce.

5. The Finnish language is very similar to Estonian. Before I traveled to Helsinki, I knew that Finnish was a very rare language, baring little similarity to anything other than Hungarian. I was proud to know even that little factoid. But it turns out, Finnish is actually even closer to Estonian. Trust me. I sat through a five hour wine tasting with a lady from Estonia (another Fun Finn Fact: Finns like to drink). If you’re really well behaved, next week I’ll give you five obscure facts about Estonia…

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In honor of Earth Day, I thought I’d link to this very funny post about Starbucks on Burbia.com.

I was delighted to have Monday’s Realdelia post referenced on the Alpha Mummy Blog. If you live in the U.K. and are a current/former/or wanna be working mother, this is the blog for you.

Image: Finland Saariselkä by youngrobv via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Nostalgia: Or How I Justified a Night In Watching Barry Manilow

Nostalgia is a huge part of growing up. I talked about it vis a vis my re-reading of Peter Pan the other day, and I’ll have more to say about it on this blog another day.

Today, however, let me address one tiny sliver of the nostalgia theme that’s been on my mind lately: the nostalgia inspired by music.

It all began when my husband suggested that we watch a Barry Manilow concert on television the other night.

Before you click away from this blog in disgust, allow me to defend myself. Yes, I admit that he can be horribly cheesy. And I wouldn’t ever call myself a “fan,” despite an abiding fondness for Copacabana…(have a look at this video and tell me you’re not already singing along. I’m a sucker for the part where Lola loses her mind). In all seriousness, though, the man knows how to tell a story.

But this isn’t about Barry Manilow. It’s about that special feeling of nostalgia that’s engendered by hearing a song from your past that means something to you, or calls to mind a particular moment when you were growing up.

Yesterday, the London website Alpha Mummy was up in arms over an outrageous Mother’s Day marketing ploy by British supermarket giant Sainsbury’s – the store is marketing a CD called 101 “Housework Songs” (Mother’s Day is celebrated this Sunday in the U.K.). In response, Alpha Mummy posted a hilariously clever “Top 10 Songs to Listen to While you File a Letter of Complaint to Sainsbury’s.” While I thoroughly enjoyed the post, I was also amazed at how many of the song lyrics they referenced I could recite by heart. Because they take me right back to…ya know…the old days.

And then I stumbled across this website, aptly named Songs You Used to Listen To, where each day brings you a new song from the past.

The point is: it doesn’t really matter how you define your musical “moment.” Mine is somewhere around the early 1980s. If I’m in a supermarket and hear something like Come On, Eileen or Land Down Under or Don’t You Forget About Me, I actually stop whatever I’m doing and allow myself to be transported back to that era and all it symbolized for me personally (my first boyfriend, leaving high school, getting into college, etc.)

And that’s the beautiful thing about music. So, hey, don’t you forget about me…

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