09 Dec 2012

Best Adult Reads of 2012

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren

It’s not often that eighteen-year-old girls are handed the chance to make loads of money on the sheer benefit of being young and beautiful. Modeling. Reality shows. After leaving home at seventeen and dropping out of NYU theater the next year, Lauren steps slowly into the sex industry – a waitress, a dancer, and escort. So when she aces an “audition” that ends up being a screening for future harem girls for the Prince of Brunei, it doesn’t seem so far out of the realm of possibility. Maybe even fun, to be pampered for months overseas, and to be paid handsomely for it. This could easily be a salacious tell-all of a story – that would be fascinating enough, right? But instead, Lauren crafts a true literary memoir; the big “reveals” of harem life are experienced through Lauren’s own innocent eyes, her own personal growth (or not) reliant on her successes in the harem and out. It’s a fast read, a fascinating read, but more meaty than you’d expect.

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

I have expressed my complicated fondness for Rubin’s Happiness Project many times on this blog. I found her follow-up – Happier at Home to strike up similar emotions. As the title would imply, Rubin’s focus is narrower in this second book, focusing on how her physical space, family activities, and personal attitudes can impact happiness. I like this because I am a big, fat homebody. I also roll my eyes at this because Rubin’s agenda seems Upper-Class-Super-Privileged-White-Family-Living-in-Manhattan enough without a chapter on scented candles. But at the same time, I just ate it up. I am a fickle creature. Rubin herself justifies the decision to write yet another personal memoir, despite implications of banality or self-centeredness, by asserting that she herself learns more from reading “one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences” than anything else, and thus offers her own idiosyncrasies to the mix. And maybe that’s why I hang on to this questionable love for Rubin’s work – she is reviving the spirit of Benjamin Franklin, the new/old art-form of the domestic memoir.

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

You probably know Alison Bechdel from her brilliant, almost Gothic memoir, Fun Home. Or maybe you’ve heard of this thing called the Bechdel test? Either or, Bechdel is in fact a woman of known genius. Are You My Mother is her follow up, another graphic memoir that gives the same raw, detailed attention to her mother that Fun Home gives to her father. Are You My Mother is more cerebral, more academic than Fun Home – more about an adult coming to terms with a childhood than with a child living through it, which makes for a denser, less palatable read. I could handle three, four pages at a time before my brain was full. But oh, when I finished, it felt like a true accomplishment, finished something meaty and rich. Warning, though: if you are a smart oldest child, you will probably pathologize yourself and want to run out and read The Drama of the Gifted Child and cry.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I managed to sneak one in under the wire, simply because once I started reading, stopping was not much of an option. I won’t say much, since everyone and their best friend has read this book and has something to say about it. Also: spoilers. But what made this book stand out beyond just another Murder-Mystery-Suspense-Fiction title? Flynn has managed to write a MurderMysterySuspenseFiction title where characters are motivated by more than the typical human tendency toward rage, passion, madness, and self-interest… but are also motivated by the deep insecurities and pain we feel in our major relationships, pain we don’t dare speak aloud. This book twisted me up, because the rantings of insane, reckless people were also things I would write in my own diary. Well played, Flynn.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Look, guys. Despite what I try to convince myself, I like books that have entire chapters devoted to scented candles. Books with pink covers. Home decorating, cookbooks, midwife memoirs. My reading tastes generally veers toward the feminine.

So it takes a lot to get me into a book that celebrates the macho. And as Bourdain exposes, the world of commercial cooking is decidedly macho. A haven for the macho, perhaps, full of sex and drugs and staying up all night and day and unspeakable filth and health code violations. And yes, Bourdain is macho, full of sex and drugs etc, but he’s also a funny, respectful, and forthcoming guide into this underworld, capturing the grit of this culinary landscape while still managing to make even me, girly, wimpy me, think that working in a kitchen might be amazing.

Not that I would. But I entertain the fantasy. I watch No Reservations.

In summary, I have a heaping crush on Anthony Bourdain.

Up next… Books I’ve Already Read! Because why stop at just once!

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