#SundaySentence: Fleeting moments of joy, despite everything

For David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, readers share the best sentence they’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

“Still, Connell went home that night and read over some notes he had been making for a new story, and he felt the old beat of pleasure inside his body, like watching a perfect goal, like the rustling movement of light through leaves, a phrase of music from the window of a passing car.

From Normal People, a new novel by Sally Rooney

Zero Proof: Blackout

In the latest episode of Zero Proof Book Club, Shelley and I discuss Sarah Hepola’s memoir “Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget.” Listen now to hear us talk about how much we relate to Hepola’s story and dive deep into the scary reality of alcohol-induced blackouts. Topics include binging, sex, blacked-out alter egos, and how to reconcile the person you are when you’re blacked out with the real you.

Listen to the new episode here, at ZeroProofBookClub.com, and follow us on Instagram at @zeroproofbookclub.

Pairs well with…

Some ultra chic Topo Chico Grapefruit + lime + salt rim

Sarah Hepola mentions margaritas a few times in her memoir, so we wanted to share this super simple zero-proof margarita idea with you this week! Start by salting the rim of your cocktail glass, then pour a bottle of Topo Chico Twist of Grapefruit over ice. Squeeze in the juice from half a lime (fresh grapefruit or orange juice would be great in here, too!) and garnish with lime wedges. Just DO NOT SKIP THE SALT RIM and we promise you’ll love this refreshing and booze-free margarita-ish drink.

About “Blackout: Remembering the Thinks I Drank to Forget”

What to expect: A New York Times-bestselling memoir about the journey from blackout drinker (hello, modern binge culture) to badass sober sister

From the book jacket: “For Sarah Hepola, alcohol was ‘the gasoline of all adventure.’ Drinking felt like freedom, part of her birthright as a strong, enlightened twenty-first century woman. But there was a price. She often blacked out, waking up with a blank space where four hours should be. Mornings became detective work on her own life: What did I say last night? Who was that guy? Where am I? Blackout is a memoir of unblinking honesty and poignant laugh-out-loud humor. It’s the story of a woman stumbling into a new adventure—the sober life she never wanted.”

— Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget

#SundaySentence: Misdirected instinct

For David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, readers share the best sentence they’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

(Except I totally give context and commentary.)

“Nearly every serious emotional problem can be seen as a case of misdirected instinct.”

Some food for thought from AA’s “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions,” Step four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

I used to think step four was the scariest! Now I welcome it. You can’t improve anything if you only look at what’s working. This quote reminds me that I’m not alone in any problem (there are 7.6 billion other humans out there with the same instincts), and it reminds me that any internal challenge is surmountable.

Same goes for you, my friend. If you were fearless — if you weren’t worried about how looking at your weaknesses would make you feel — what could you change for the better?

Zero Proof: Lit

In the latest episode of Zero Proof Book Club, Shelley and I discuss Mary Karr’s third memoir, “Lit,” detailing her heavy drinking days and eventual recovery and conversion to Catholicism. We talk about the art of writing memoir, the unique shame of drinking as a mother, spirituality, and lots more.

Listen to the new episode here, at ZeroProofBookClub.com, and follow us on Instagram at @zeroproofbookclub.

This book represents a positive turning point for my eventual sobriety, feeling a familiarity with Karr’s alcoholic anger and a longing for her hard-won sober peace. But Shelley, who read it a couple years after she quit drinking, had a different experience with the book.

Karr is a professional writer and a dedicated AA-er (in “Lit” she calls it “the therapy group for people trying to quit”), so you know she’s all about her coffee. Our newest podcast episode, in which we discuss Karr’s gorgeous, painful memoir about her alcoholism and recovery, pairs well with this iced coffee drink. For this upgrade on black coffee in a styrofoam cup, we poured cold brew coffee over ice and stirred in a little maple syrup and oat milk (pick your favorite creamer or non-dairy milk).

About “Lit: A Memoir”

What to expect: A groundbreaking entry in the quit lit canon, served with a side of southern sass and literary acuity

From the book jacket: “‘The Liars’ Club’ brought to vivid, indelible life Mary Karr’s hardscrabble Texas childhood. “Cherry,” her account of her adolescence, ‘continued to set the literary standard for making the personal universal’ (Entertainment Weekly).

Now, ‘Li’t follows the self-professed blackbelt sinner’s descent into the inferno of alcoholism and madness—and to her astonishing resurrection. Karr’s longing for a solid family seems secure when her marriage to a handsome, Shakespeare-quoting blueblood poet produces a son they adore. But she can’t outrun her apocalyptic past. She drinks herself into the same numbness that nearly devoured her charismatic but troubled mother, reaching the brink of suicide. A hair-raising stint in ‘The Mental Marriott,’ with an oddball tribe of gurus and saviors, awakens her to the possibility of joy and leads her to an unlikely faith. Not since Saint Augustine cried, ‘Give me chastity, Lord-but not yet!’ has a conversion story rung with such dark hilarity.

‘Lit’ is about getting drunk and getting sober, becoming a mother by letting go of a mother, learning to write by learning to live. Written with Karr’s relentless honesty, unflinching self-scrutiny, and irreverent, lacerating humor, it is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up—as only Mary Karr can tell it.”

— Lit: A Memoir

#SundaySentence: Maud

For David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, readers share the best sentence they’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”

(Except I totally give context and commentary.)

“My heart would hear her and beat/ Were it earth in an earthy bed; My dust would hear her and beat/ Had I lain for a century dead; Would start and tremble under her feet/ And blossom in purple and red.”

From ever-the-romantic Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Maud,” as read in Margaret Atwood’s “Alias Grace.”

Also, a babe.

My list of books to read this month

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson

I’m spending some time OOO later this month and I needed a good vacay read. This recently published book, my March Book of the Month Club pick, should do the trick. It’s the story of an artist who is increasingly convinced her next door neighbor is the culprit of an unsolved murder. That, or she’s having another psychotic episode. Can she stop him—or herself—before someone else gets hurt? I’ll find out in Orlando. 😉

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

A buddy of mine wanted to read this 1996 Atwood classic, so I hopped on board and am heading back to 1843 to meet Grace Marks, a young woman jailed for murdering her housekeeper but whose guilt is being questioned by someone who could save her from a life in prison. I’m not too far in, but it’s already got that Atwood-spook. The scenes of Grace’s childhood in Ireland, during which she helps parent the nine-kids-deep family, has me saying a Handsmaid-y Praise Be for birth control.

Time Is The Thing A Body Moves Through by T Fleischmann

I really enjoyed reading Fleischmann’s earlier work “Syzygy, Beauty,” and was excited to receive an advanced copy of their forthcoming narrative essay, “Time Is The Thing A Body Moves Through,” to write about for a literary publication. Here’s the description: “How do the bodies we inhabit affect our relationship with art? How does art affect our relationship to our bodies? T Fleischmann uses Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s artworks—piles of candy, stacks of paper, puzzles—as a path through questions of love and loss, violence and rejuvenation, gender and sexuality. From the back porches of Buffalo, to the galleries of New York and L.A., to farmhouses of rural Tennessee, the artworks act as still points, sites for reflection situated in lived experience. Fleischmann combines serious engagement with warmth and clarity of prose, reveling in the experiences and pleasures of art and the body, identity and community.”

Zero Proof: The Good House

On the new episode of Zero Proof Book Club, Shelley and I discuss Ann Leary’s book “The Good House.” We’ve been reading so much quit lit and self-help, we decided to read a novel. “The Good House” by Leary, an NPR host and recovering alcoholic herself, fit the bill. Kirkus Reviews calls this book “a genuinely funny novel about alcoholism,” and we’d have to agree.

Listen to the new episode here, at ZeroProofBookClub.com, and follow us on Instagram at @zeroproofbookclub.

Hildy, the main character, is super funny, even if her spiraling addiction is not. We talk about the agony of hearing about what you did while drinking, the effectiveness of interventions, and, of course, witches.

About “The Good House”

What to expect: A funny, poignant novel about a struggling, high-functioning alcoholic

Pairs well with: A Virgin Mary. Tomato water with jalapeño & basil + horseradish + Worcestershire

In the book, Hildy drinks a Virgin Mary at a Thanksgiving gathering while the rest of the family downs the real thing. Our ultra-refreshing interpretation of the Virgin Mary captures the spirit of a Bloody without the booze. It incorporates tomato water, a super-concentrated liquid that captures the delicious essence of tomato. Here’s what you do:

  • Roughly chop three beefsteak tomatoes, one jalapeño and a handful of fresh basil.
  • Throw it all into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Pour into a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth over a bowl.
  • Let it sit in the fridge for at least 12 hours, and you’ll be rewarded with a cup or so of jalapeño-basil tomato water.
  • Pour it over ice, stir in a dash of Worcestershire, grate a little fresh horseradish over top if you can find it, and garnish with cherry tomato and basil.
  • Enjoy!

From the book jacket:

“Hildy Good is a townie. A lifelong resident of a small community on the rocky coast of Boston’s North Shore, she knows pretty much everything about everyone. And she’s good at lots of things, too. A successful real-estate broker, mother, and grandmother, her days are full. But her nights have become lonely ever since her daughters, convinced their mother was drinking too much, sent her off to rehab. Now she’s in recovery—more or less.

Alone and feeling unjustly persecuted, Hildy finds a friend in Rebecca McAllister, one of her town’s wealthy newcomers. Rebecca is grateful for the friendship and Hildy feels like a person in the world again, as she and Rebecca escape their worries with some harmless gossip and a bottle of wine by the fire—just one of their secrets.

But Rebecca is herself the subject of town gossip. When Frank Getchell, an old friend who shares a complicated history with Hildy, tries to warn her to stay away from Rebecca, Hildy attempts to protect her friend from a potential scandal. Soon, however, Hildy is busy trying to protect her own reputation. When a cluster of secrets becomes dangerously entwined, the reckless behavior of one person threatens to expose the other, and this darkly comic novel takes a chilling turn.”

My list of books to read this month

The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

I’m such a Toni Morrison fan girl. This latest tome is a compilation of writing outside her novelistic cannon, composed of essays, speeches, lectures, and meditations she’s written over the decades of her iconic career.

It includes, among my favorites, her Nobel Prize Lecture in Literature from 1993, as well as several deep dissections of her favorite pieces of literature and insights into her own work. It’s exciting to have these parts of her deeply intellectual oeuvre in one place.

The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer

I’m also a Lee Miller fan girl. So this was the obvious pick for my Book of The Month subscription choice. Lee Miller is best known as photographer Man Ray’s muse, but girlfriend has her own work, photography, and story to share. The Age of Light fictionalizes Lee’s sojourn from man’s muse to self-made artist, with 1930’s Paris as its backdrop.

Lee Miller

I first learned of Lee in Francine Prose’s book The Lives of The Muses: Nine Women and the Artists They Inspired, which, now that I think of it, is worth a re-read itself. Maybe next month?

Tanja Ramm under a bell jar, 1930, Lee Miller

Untitled (Iron work), 1931, Lee Miller

My list of books to read this month

Maid by Stephanie Land

Debut author Stephanie Land takes a painfully honest look back at her years spent cleaning a lot of other people’s houses for only a little pay, while also raising two children alone. “Maid” has been billed as “‘Evicted‘ meets ‘Nickel and Dimed,'” which are two of my favorite nonfiction books about the cyclical challenges of rising out of poverty in America—no matter how hard you’re working at those bootstraps.

I think of reading books like this (and “Evicted,” etc.) as a civic responsibility. They help me understand how poverty in our country works (both in the past and today… because its causes and effects are constantly morphing), why it is so hard to climb out of, and how we all contribute to poverty’s brutal repercussions even if by simply misunderstanding what poverty can do to a person. Or in this case, one tough mother.

Orwell On Truth by George Orwell

Also an intangible civic duty: educating ourselves on the history of truth and democracy. I found this little pocket book at the Chicago Public Library branch that opened LITERALLY WITHIN A BLOCK FROM MY APARTMENT (!!!!). It features excerpts of Orwell’s most potent arguments about what truth actually is and how hypocrisy can manifest itself in even the most well-intentioned. His brilliant, astute critical observations about how language shapes our cultures and world views made him an enemy of both the left and the right. Which kind of makes him my hero.

“If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” George Orwell
Orwell. Perhaps nailing down his nom de plume?

There’s so much I didn’t know about Orwell or appreciate about his work until reading this brief book. I was surprised at how modern his essay writing reads; though, I shouldn’t have been, considering that “1984” is perhaps the most prescient novel of all time. Nostradamus of the nine-to-fiver.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

And, because it’s Valentine’s Day month, I’ll be reading this historical fiction novel from 2015 that I still see people raving about on social media. It gets so much love! I’ve been meaning to read Kristin Hannah’s book that came out last year, “The Great Alone,” but figured I should finish this tale first. A story of two sisters struggling to survive in WWII France, Hannah weaves together a big-hearted story about the power of love in a time of hateful power. I can’t wait to soar away with this one.