Archive of ‘Life Without A Manual’ category

October 2023 Book Report

Yesterday, I enjoyed lunch with relatives who love to read. We exchanged titles we liked and gave a few brief book reviews. I learned that I come from a long line of avid readers, and we all have similar tastes in books. It was a joy to talk about our favorites and how much we love the book clubs we belong to.

This month, I didn’t read a lot of books. I couldn’t settle on something I wanted to read, so finding the right book for my mood took time. Some readers can select a pile of books and read through them. Unfortunately –or fortunately– I get easily distracted by the other books on my shelf. I guess it’s a nice problem to have, so I can’t complain.

Luckily, I picked one terrific book this month and gave it five stars. So, without further ado…

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

If you don’t mind a book with unlikeable characters, this is the perfect read for you. Fair warning: There is no character to root for in this novel, but I promise you they are all fascinating in their own right.

But let me back up. Yellowface is about two talented women writers, one more successful than the other. Athena is an Asian-American woman who has published award-winning bestsellers, has loads of fans, and has attained celebrity status in the publishing world. June published one novel that met mixed reviews and editors and publishers that ghosted her left and right. No one is asking her to write something new, and her dream to become a famous writer is fading fast.

The women have had a like/loathe friendship since college, and jealousy runs rampant between them. One night, while the two of them are having dinner in Athena’s apartment, Athena dies suddenly in a freak choking accident. She leaves behind a manuscript of legacy potential about Chinese labor workers, which June snatches up and makes into her own book. Soon, June –now known as Juniper Song–gets all the attention she ever wanted as a writer. Some are suspicious that this novel was really hers. Juniper/June can fend off her doubters for a while, but eventually, they haunt her until she can’t take it anymore.

Yellowface is a satirical look at the writing life and the publishing world. The author also weaves in extreme narcissism, white privilege, online mystery, and the shocking lengths one will go to keep the truth secret. You don’t have to be a writer to appreciate the twists and turns here, and the ending is immensely satisfying.

I listened to this book on Audible and was entertained from start to finish. If you read and enjoyed “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid, I think you will also like the similar themes of race and privilege, the friendship trope, and social commentary in this book.

Nonfiction November

I’m a big fan of nonfiction books. My favorite is memoir and personal essay collections, but I’m also a history buff and a trivia nerd. This combination of interests leads me to pick up anything I find interesting.

I already blogged about “Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The Making of Airplane!” here, but I’m adding one caveat to my previous review. Buying the book is definitely better than listening to it on Audible. While visiting an indie bookstore, I paged through the actual book and realized it was in a scrapbook format. Kind of like a keepsake or a souvenir and less like a book. Had I known this beforehand, I would have mentioned it because it is difficult to translate that format into an audio version. Nevertheless, I still didn’t care for it because it was more about the writers than the movie, which was disappointing.

I’m also in the middle of a few business books, including “Digital Body Language,” which is teaching me how to best connect with colleagues, customers, and cohorts online. So much miscommunication can happen when a rogue punctuation mark, the wrong emoji, or the tone of a text message is used and incorrectly perceived. Not to mention, rectifying the confusion from that communication can waste valuable time in the workday. Whether through a Zoom meeting, a Slack channel, or a simple email, there are ways to be much more effective, and I know I will be an even better communicator after I finish this nonfiction gem. FYI: I checked this book out at the library, returned it, and bought a hard copy for my bookshelf. That’s how much I want to have it handy when I start working again.

I’m hoping to have a much more productive reading life this month. Sadly, my Goodreads goal is looking like a pipe dream, but I’m still hopeful. As always, I’m open to suggestions, so tell me –what have you been reading lately?



Lawn Sign or Bullseye?

As I drive around, I see lawn signs along the side of the road promoting candidates running for office. These signs aim to draw the attention of those who drive by in the hopes of gaining some name recognition.

When I get closer to home, I see similar signs advertising the upcoming Turkey Trot 5K race, the fall festival next weekend, and the local contractor installing my neighbor’s new kitchen. All of these lawn signs are innocuous and ubiquitous.

Two weeks ago, my synagogue was selling “I Stand with Israel” lawn signs for congregants to take home and display proudly. I was excited to buy one before they ran out, but when I arrived home, I had second thoughts.

I was afraid to put the sign on my lawn.

Hear me out. I live in a fantastic neighborhood that prides itself on its diversity. Our best friends practice different religions, and we like to celebrate holidays together. My family is far from the only Jewish one on my street and in the community. When the war in Ukraine broke out, many lawn signs and flags popped up in everyone’s front yards. We put one up, too, in support of our Ukrainian neighbors down the street from us.

So, why the hesitation? Why should displaying my “I Stand With Israel” sign be any different?

Because it is different.

Because there is so much misinformation out there about the war between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas.

Because people are getting their news from unreliable and unconfirmable sources and taking it at face value. Flashy headlines sell papers. Retractions and apologies are never front and center.

Because Israel is the only country that is blamed for defending itself against its enemies. Antisemitic tropes about Israel’s right to fight against terrorist aggression can be found in syndicated editorial cartoons, podcasts, and college campuses everywhere.

Because there are people in this world who have hate in their hearts, easy access to automatic weapons, and no self-control.

Because this war is against a terrorist group whose sole mission is to eradicate the Jewish people.

While one might say it’s only a lawn sign, I can also see it as putting a target on our front door. I spoke with a few of my Jewish friends about this, and they generally agreed with me. Several of them told me they have started to wonder where they would hide if terrorism came to our doorsteps. I’ve never had that thought in my life until now, and in today’s political climate, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched.

I’m sure other people — Jewish or not — will think I’m overreacting. But, here’s the thing. At the end of the day, I know who I am, and I don’t feel the need to advertise it. Instead, I will continue to wear my Jewish star around my neck, practice my faith, observe holidays, attend synagogue, write my blog. call out misinformation on social media, and pray for strength and peace.

What would you do?



We Lost :(

Phillies logo on a red background “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

—Dr. Seuss

It’s exhausting to be a Philadelphia sports fan. We go through such an emotional rollercoaster with our Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, and Sixers. One minute we are on top and the next, we are speeding downhill and nothing can stop it.

That’s how it felt to me last night. And, for my fellow Phanatics, I’m sure you feel the same way. It was a gut punch. We all saw it unfold and the loudest cheers from the fans at the stadium to the ones sitting on our couches at home could fix.

It’s also exhilarating to be a Philadelphia sports fan. When we win, we win HUGE. We celebrate with obnoxious joy and feel like we can do anything. Philly is on the map and not just a city in between NYC and D.C. The world can’t possibly overlook us in that moment.

There are so many moments that I’m going to remember from this season. Personally, I love when we beat the Atlanta Braves. This year, the team was seen as the best in baseball. And guess what… we shut them down in the division series. We moved ahead, and they went home. And I was so happy.

I also loved watching our players hit home runs out of the park on many occasions. Yes, they completely choked last night when it counted the most. But, I love the back-to-back home runs and the innings when this team scores multiple times and can’t be caught. There were so many games like that which make me smile.

And I’m still smiling. I do think the Phillies are the best team in baseball—even though we lost. We are a TEAM in every sense of the word. The players connect with each other and the fans and the city, and I’m not convinced it is like that for everyone. I see lots of teams whose players are in it for themselves, but we win as a team and lose as a team. And you can tell that our players are hurting too. And I’m sad for them because they worked so hard to get here. The looks on their faces tell me that they feel the same way we do today—disappointed and in shock.

Losing happens to the best of us. But they don’t need to apologize to me. It was a fun season, and they have earned a rest. You can bet we will be back next year for #RedOctober, and I’ll be cheering them on just like always.

Thank you Phillies for an amazing season. See you in April.



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