Best Adult Books of 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

You are all probably sick of hearing about this book, but I will tell you why I liked it on two different levels.

Level One: I just really enjoy parenting memoirs. This one is about as down and dirty as they come: Chua never pretends that her work as a parent is glamorous, even as she shuttles her two talented musician daughters from fancy lesson to fancy lesson. Chua is sure she’s doing the right thing, then she’s unsure, then sure again, and I could never quite figure out how she felt about the life she’d chosen for herself, her family, and her daughters. Parenting choices are cultural, personal, and bound to be wrong. Chua doesn’t back down from telling us the good and the bad.

Level Two: Sometimes, I don’t feel like Western media asks its viewers to do much interrogating of the status quo. Although I think most Americans would like to see parenting as purely a product of their own choices and decisions, I think much of what we think of as “good” or “bad” parenting is determined by American parenting culture. So I liked the way Chua questioned American norms, and I like the way her book creates a conversation about it.

My roommate and my boyfriend also read the book: my roommate was staunchly against some of Chua’s restrictions while my boyfriend, apparently, has Tiger Mother aspirations of his own. I am somewhere in the middle. Which could be potentially… uh… interesting. Check back in a few years to see how this all works out, haha.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Okay. Running memoirs.

I don’t think I am a runner. Not yet. I have been trying to cultivate the skill for a few years now, but I still have trouble convincing myself to run for more than 2 miles, and 9 out of 10 of these small runs require stopping. However, I think my stamina is improving somewhat. I went for a run on Saturday for the first time since Thanksgiving morning; I ran a mile without stopping and without feeling as though I might die. It helped that it was below 40 degrees and I was freezing, I think.

Anyway, people always say that running is more of a mental game than a physical one. I don’t know if I agree, but I do think they are on near equal footing, and not in a way that I expected it. Mental Game, for me, isn’t about being able to shut off pain receptors during a long run, not about talking myself into going farther and faster than my body would like. For me, the mental game is tackling the thousands of things that keep me from running in the first place – managing my eating so I’m not too full or too hungry while I’m running, deciding on a “training plan” that will motivate me enough to keep going, knowing what to wear in what weather so I am comfortable. It’s also about acknowledging my body for what it is – a bit too tall, heavy, and wimpy to push too hard, to run whenever I want how ever long I want… but still capable.

And this book I’m supposed to be talking about? This book greatly improved my mental game. The book is a series of memoir-ish personal essays about Murakami’s life as a runner. And while I’m far from a marathoner or triathlete like Murakami is, he talks about the way running fits into his life in a way that is universal to even the amateur jogger. There’s one passage that I remember almost every time I run. Murakami was getting back to running after taking some time off and finding it difficult on his body. But instead of giving up/finding excuses not to go/taking up knitting/freaking out, he simply says to himself (excuse my god-awful paraphrase) “My body is finding this difficult because it’s not a runner’s body yet. I am asking it to do something hard. But if I keep asking, day after day, it will become easy again. My body will adapt to what I ask it to do, plain and simple.”

Very zen, like the rest of this book. This was definitely a jot-down-quotes-to-remember-for-life kind of book, and I think that even non-runners would like it in a philosophical kind of way.

Good Eggs by Phoebe Potts

I love love love a good graphic novel memoir, and I couldn’t put this one down. This Potts’s story about infertility, but it’s also a story about Potts. About how life, inevitably, meanders – careers, goals, beliefs, etc. About recovering from depression. About falling in love later than you’d like to, but falling in love just as hard as you would have if you were younger. About entitlement, optimism, and growing up.

Oh, and I just love her art. I wish that she would make some more books, post haste.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Like the poor Tiger mother, I am sure you are all sick of hearing about Tina-Fey-Tina-Fey-Tina-Fey.

I however, would like to bore you for a bit. This book is obviously a memoir-ish book by actress/writer/comedian, Tina Fey. I liked it because the humor was so hard to pin down. Fey’s lived an interesting life – a geeky childhood full of hijinks, an adulthood full of awkward jobs and relationships, and a comedy career that led her to a successful sitcom. Reading these stories is like listening to your parents tell you about their childhood – the stories don’t need much embellishment or added jokes, just a deft storyteller to recount them. But then she changes subjects completely, switching to a missive about parenting or a deadpan moment or a silly joke about accidentally becoming a Republican. She’s all over the place, and after a certain point, you can’t exactly tell what is supposed to be funny and what is a joke. It creates this strange feeling that although you are reading a memoir, you still know nothing about the author.

Ah, celebrity. You are so mysterious.

The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert

Oh, you thought I’d forgot about old Eustace, did you?

I did a bit of a longer review back in June, when I read the book, and you can read that here. Basically, I love Elizabeth Gilbert. You can’t make me not love her. I mean, have you SEEN this TED Talk? Anything Gilbert wants to tell me about is something I want to know more about. Including reclusive, anti-establishment mountain-men who walk the fine line between passionate genius and passionately insane. Can I meet him? Can I meet them both? Can I go on a horseback ride across the country? Have some pet turtles?

One of those was a joke. I’ll let you decide which.

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