Sunday Book Club! The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, & One Man’s Quest to be a Better Husband

Hello again!
Today’s Sunday Book Club Review is “The Journal of Best Practices…” by David Finch.
Disclaimer: In no way do I intend to offend anyone with my Review. I have very limited knowledge of Asperger Syndrome or the mental health community as a whole, so please take my personal spin on this with a grain of salt, or feel free to educate me/start a conversation in the Comments below.

Initial Thoughts:
Many years ago I dated someone whose brother had AS & I was somewhat convinced my ex did too to some degree. As I’ve stated many times before, my To Read List is THAT old! I came across this book because I was researching AS, desperate to find an explanation for my ex’s awkward/bad behaviors. I realize now how sick it was to wish that he had AS, but I wanted an explanation that would be “fixable” & I felt like there might be a connection because of the family history & the many similar symptoms/traits the brothers shared. What gave one the diagnosis of AS & what made the other “just acting like a guy”?  Obviously that relationship ended long ago but this book has stayed on my To Read List mainly to educate myself somewhat on AS & out of curiosity to see what I’ll take away from it at this point. Keep reading to find out what that is…

Plot:
“The Journal of Best Practices…” is the Memoir of David Finch, a regular guy with a regular life that seems to be going downhill at a rapid pace – until he’s diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. While it seems odd that a diagnosis such as this would be a change for the better, Finch & his wife Kristen are thrilled at this discovery because it explains so much of Finch’s behaviors. He’s not an insensitive jerk, his brain just doesn’t process life the same way. With Kristen’s help, Finch sets out to identify his most destructive behaviors & try his best to change them. The Journal of Best Practices is a reference to Finch’s numerous notes, reflections, & realizations that he comes upon during this journey. “TJoBP” tells the story of a couple fighting to make their love work despite great odds.

Characters:
David Finch – I have mixed feelings about Finch. On one hand, I found him to be relatable yet a refreshing depiction of a married man. He loves being married to Kristen & sees the value in their friendship. Once diagnosed he goes out of his way to better their relationship, including reading Cosmopolitan in an effort to find ways to connect with her. I think it’s noble he made the effort to admit changes needed to be made, & then he tried to his best to make them, even at the sake of his masculinity. There are several instances where Finch could continue to let AS get the better of him, but he remembers his marriage is at stake & even though he’s uncomfortable, he fights it. I can somewhat relate to this because my aforementioned ex had PTSD & would pick & choose when it bothered him. For example, we couldn’t go to Disneyland because there were too many people & he would be uncomfortable. However, he was able to go to Galaxy games with his friends in a huge stadium full of people. I tried to be sympathetic/understanding, but eventually it became obvious my kindness was being taken advantage of, so I appreciate people that don’t use their mental health as an excuse to get out of things they don’t want to do. On the other hand, it’s hard to look past Finch’s egocentricity, although that’s part of AS. It’s kind of sad that he didn’t feel a need to change his behaviors until he was diagnosed. I understand because of AS he was quick to shift all the blame to Kristen, but at the same time, it’s a little hard to swallow that he felt NO responsibility for his own happiness.

Quotes:
– Pg 1: I quickly found myself enjoying Finch’s style of writing. It has a real stream of consciousness style that is relatable & comical.
– Pg 94: “Transformation is always an option”

Overall:
“TJoBP” reminded me of “The Vow” by Kim & Krickitt Carpenter. Both are told from the husband’s point of view & tell the story of a young couple fighting for love against neurological medical odds. “The Vow” was a whirlwind romance that seemed hard to believe, but I think readers will find “TJoBP” much more relatable. There’s always that moment when you realize your partner is NOT the person you fell in love with & you have to figure out what that means for the future. To the best of my ability, I understand why the diagnosis was a welcome relief to the Finch family. I was looking for that relief in regards to my ex, as mentioned earlier, because if something’s wrong, there’s an excuse! They aren’t acting this way on purpose, it’s their brain! It’s something that can be fixed with medication or therapy, they’re not an inherently bad person. Finch unknowingly let AS get the best of him & was willing & able to take steps to create a better life. Not everyone with AS is willing & able to do that, so it’s important to note that every diagnosis is different & the severity of each case ranges. Also – note to self – it’s best not to go looking for a diagnosis where none is needed. Sometimes people just change, or rather, reveal their true colors & while it’s difficult to come to terms with, deep down, we know what’s right. On another note, your interpretation/enjoyment of this story will definitely depend on your connection/feelings about Mental Health/”Invisible Illness” issues.

Rating: C+
While I found Finch’s writing clever, I think I’m growing tired of Memoirs. It got a little stale in the middle. I put the book down & almost didn’t care to pick it back up. After the diagnosis, there are some funny, poignant moments but otherwise it’s just the day to day story of this man’s life. While his journey is certainly admirable, is it entertaining? After a few chapters of “Here’s something I’m not good at, Kristen helps me, I struggle, I’m better at this thing”, I was thinking, “OH MY GOOOOSH WE GET IT!!!”

Do you have any experience with AS or other Mental Health issues? If you’ve read this book, would you recommend it? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions in the comments below!

The next Sunday Book Club is June 12th; “Pictures of You” by Caroline Leavitt.

Sunday Book Club! I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert

Hello again!
Thanks for joining me for another Sunday Book Club! Today I’ll be reviewing “I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag” by Jennifer Gilbert. Please hit that FOLLOW button to subscribe to the blog, if you haven’t already & SHARE with your friends!

Initial Thoughts:
Surprisingly, I found this book at the Dollar Tree. I was intrigued by the idea of reading about someone with a successful career in Event Planning – my future career – hopefully! I was hoping to simply pick up some career tips, but I found so much more inspiration than just that! This book was also bought for me as a Christmas gift, which makes me happy that someone knew me well enough to know I would appreciate this story.

Plot:
“…Goodie Bag” is the story of Jennifer Gilbert. She’s the creative, ambitious, girl next door living a relatively normal life…until a horrible crime is committed against her in her early twenties & everything changes. The details of the crime are truly disgusting. They make me lose my faith in humanity even more, & I’m talking about Gilbert’s “friends”, not just the criminal. The scenes where she discusses the immediate aftermath of the crime are pretty intense. I raced through them because I wanted to absorb all the information as quickly as possible, but ended up going back and re-reading some passages because I wanted to make sure I was processing everything correctly. After the attack Gilbert finds a career in Event Planning, eventually starting her own company, Save the Date. The memoir follows her life as she learns to cope with her attack & struggles to find a sense of normalcy again.

Characters:
– Jennifer: OH! MY! GOSH! Jennifer Gilbert is my spirit animal. I love everything about her, I hope she reads this Review & decides to hire me, haha! I connected with her sense of humor, work ethic, and struggle with her inner demons. At some points Gilbert seems to be a bit ungrateful – something she acknowledges & struggles with. Yes, she went through an extremely traumatic experience but ultimately ends up having a wonderful life otherwise yet can’t always appreciate it. However, I think we all can sympathize with what it’s like to want something so badly (in her case, a normal life) & have it taken away. It’s hard to focus on a new target when the one you had in mind & had been working towards has been destroyed, especially when you’re as competitive as Gilbert. It feels nearly impossible to admit defeat & start over, but eventually we have to learn that starting over is just part of life. It’s a learning experience that helps us grow & become better. I appreciated that she’s not afraid to admit she needs professional help in the form of a therapist. I feel like so many people brush aside this notion as “crazy”, but I think therapy can be extremely helpful if you allow it to be.

Quotes:
– Before the book even begins I’m in love with chapter titles like “This is Not My Fabulous Life” & “Keep Calm & Carry On”.
– Pg 4: “…while I was fixing things for other people, I didn’t have to think twice about myself. Obsessing over every tiny detail of other people’s most important events was what I did best. It was the perfect way to avoid thinking about the dark, scary void inside me”
Working hard & challenging myself has helped me move past some of my hardest struggles, so I understand where she’s coming from.
– Pg 109: “My mission…was to surround myself with people who were celebrating, and to know that I had helped them make their joy tangible”
THIS. This is why I want to be in Event Planning. Events can sometimes seem a little frivolous & self involved but joy can be so hard to come by these days. If I could help bring awesome memories to someone through a spectacular Event – that would give me such a great feeling of accomplishment & personal satisfaction. With quotes like this, the readers sees how Gilbert changes throughout her narrative, moving from someone who uses Events to hide herself away to someone that wants to connect with others & help them.
– Overall there were MANY quotes I pulled from this book that really spoke to me, some even made me cry because of how spot on they were to feelings I had or have. However, for the sake of lengthiness, I’ve chosen to not include any more.

Overall:
This book was a quick & easy read, especially because I was interested & highly entertained by the subject matter. This book really spoke to the issue of no matter what’s going on in our life, if we can’t move past our demons, we lose all perspective. A few years after the crime, Gilbert is living a life many only dream of. At 25 years old she’s extremely successful in her career, starting her own business, & has a huge social circle including a long term boyfriend. However, none of this matters to her as she can’t move past the trauma of her attack. Her story reminds me of a Joseph Campbell quote, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us”.

Rating: A+
If you can’t tell, I LOVED this book. I would 100% recommend it. Maybe I’m a bit biased because I could relate to the author so much, but I found it to be a non preachy tale of triumph & perseverance in the face of much adversity. Gilbert’s story inspired me, made me feel, & gave me hope for my own future. The book doesn’t have a ton to do with Event Planning in the sense that I was able to gain ideas of how to begin my career, but that was still a fun personal touch/connection for me.

Have you read “I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag” or a book related to your career field? If so, what are your thoughts? Do you enjoy learning about your field from someone else’s point of view? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!

The next Sunday Book Club read will be May 15th & the book is, “Straight From the Source” by Kim Osario.

Sunday Book Club! Helen Keller in Love by Rosie Sultan

Hello again!
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts this month, I’m somewhat revamping the blog in terms of what content you see & when you see it. I usually do random “Book Reviews”, but as I’m now trying to give myself & my readers a more reliable schedule, I’m renaming those posts – “Sunday Book Club”. You’ll be getting a book review every other Sunday & I’ll try to tell you what the next Book Review will be so you can read it beforehand. Well – that’s the plan if I can keep up! Also, please hit the FOLLOW button to get email updates when I create new posts 🙂

Get comfy & keep reading to see my thoughts on “Helen Keller in Love” by Rosie Sultan. I thought a book about love (…kind of) would be perfect for February. I hope you all had a great Valentine’s Day & hopefully you have a better love life than Helen Keller…

Initial Thoughts:
I found this book at the $1 Store of all random places. I’ve found surprisingly good books here before & the reviews were positive so I decided to give it a chance. I knew nothing about it, other than it was Historical Fiction with a bit of Romance – obviously. I was intrigued at the idea of someone taking the life of a famous woman & imagining what shenanigans she would’ve gotten into, especially since Keller is often thought of as a child hero or incapable of living a “real” adult life.

Plot:
“Helen Keller in Love” is about exactly what it sounds like – Helen Keller’s love life. Specifically, her forbidden love affair with her temporary tutor Peter Fagan. Fagan steps into the famous Annie Sullivan’s tutoring shoes when she’s diagnosed with tuberculosis. Keller & Fagan fall in love very quickly Keller’s mother & Sullivan forbidding the romance, among other odds. The story follows their relationship, gives some background on Keller’s life, & explains how even with this great love…she still ends up alone. I noticed there were Helen Keller facts/stories that I remember learning in school that were changed in the book. The author, Rosie Sultan, supposedly did a ton of research while writing this, so I’m not sure if she took artistic liberties or if maybe what I learned in school has since been determined untrue…? I don’t want to spoil anything more, so I’ll leave it at that!

Characters:
Helen Keller – Most people admire Keller for her hard work & determination to overcome her disabilities in a time when the rest of the world didn’t understand her & we didn’t have the technology to help as we do now. With that being said, it’s almost uncomfortable to see this other side to her personality. She is extremely man hungry & eager to break the rules. I understand she must have felt very sheltered, lonely, & misunderstood, but she acts like a bratty teenager trying to be a rebel, hang out with the bad boys, & get into trouble. She’s the good girl trying way too hard, she’s Sandy trying to fit in with the Pink Ladies – sometimes you just have to know your place & strengths. Some people are meant for that rebel kind of life, & some are meant to walk the straight & narrow. Again, I guess it’s understandable given her situation but my god, it’s pretty annoying.
Peter Fagan – I’ve never heard of Fagan before, so I have no idea what his real characteristics are reported to be by history. In Sultan’s story, he’s a bad guy. I can’t give too many details because I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say this, if you’ve ever heard the sayings/concepts of, “People will tell you who they are. Just listen.” or “If someone tells you, ‘I’m a jerk’, even if it’s as a joke – they are telling you who they are!” That sums up Fagan. He told Keller the kind of guy he was several times, & she even admits that she didn’t listen.

Quotes:
– Pg 53: “With Helen, I have found someone who will love me completely – and can never leave.” – Annie Sullivan
CREEPY, but that is the nature of Sullivan & Keller’s relationship. Sullivan was so emotionally dependent on Keller, it ultimately crippled their relationship – in this story.

Overall:
While I didn’t love the portrayal of most of the characters, I found the story entertaining, like a bad soap opera. I’m curious as to why the author chose to write the ending the way she did, although, it may have been based on fact. I appreciated Sultan’s supposed huge amount of research but it was kind of lost on me because I don’t know enough about Keller to separate most of the fact from fiction. It would be too easy for people to take this book & assume everything is fact – unfortunately I’m not sure how to remedy that without people taking more of an independent interest in Keller.

Rating: C
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book. It earns points because I appreciate the research that went into it, & it wasn’t horribly written, but overall it was somewhere along the lines of a trashy beach novel. Not a ton of substance, just a portrayal of a great woman in history reduced to a horny, whiny, crybaby. If you’re interested in the characters, or enjoy being a sympathetic shoulder to cry on for your friends, maybe you’ll be able to sympathize with Keller, but I couldn’t.

Have you read or even heard of “Hellen Keller in Love”?  If so, what are your thoughts? How did you feel about the way Keller was portrayed? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!

The next Sunday Book Club is March 6th & the book is “ROOM” by Emma Donoghue.

Book Review! The Duchess by Amanda Foreman

Hi everyone! Today I will be reviewing a novel called “The Duchess” written by Amanda Foreman. This is a pretty hefty book, clocking in at almost 400 pages with about 40 pages of Notes in the back. To keep the length of this post down, I tried to keep the re-telling of the story to a minimum and spoilers at bay. This is basically exactly what my notes were as I read. Without further ado…

Initial Thoughts:
Foreman wrote this biography based on her doctoral thesis & is supposedly the only person to have ever turned their thesis into a best selling biography.  I thought this was commendable as I’m considering going to Grad school, but the idea of having to write a thesis is very overwhelming. I admire Foreman’s dedication to her education and her passion for the topic. I wanted to read this to get an idea of what a thesis looks like and I wanted to find out more about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. I had seen advertisements for the film, “The Duchess”, many years ago when it was released and thought the plot seemed intriguing, but wanted to read the book first.

Plot:
“The Duchess” is the biography of Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, circa 1774. She was the great-great-great-great-aunt of Princess Diana of Wales and was just as big a celebrity. The biography, obviously, tells the story of Georgiana’s life and the dichotomy of her public and personal life. From the outside looking in, Georgiana had it all, money, fame, and popularity. Inside, she was a deeply unhappy woman, plagued by years of insecurity and people pleasing that led her down a dark road of addiction and misfortune. It’s pretty interesting how popular and involved in shaping history she was, yet I’ve never learned about her. Foreman addresses some reasons that shed light on how history has been RE-WRITTEN by our ancestors and we’re not always getting the full story about how things happened. I guess this bio is good for conspiracy theory fans too, haha!

Characters:
– Georgiana Spencer Cavendish is obviously the main character. We share a birthday, June 7th, woo hoo! separated by a few hundred years. When her father died he left behind a fortune that today would equal $74 million, so she was certainly well off and used that money to educate herself in several avenues. Georgiana was like 1700’s Barbie, she did everything. Not only was she involved in politics, fashion, etc, she was a published author, and also “…an amateur chemist & mineralogist of note…” (p 269), among other accomplishments. She openly participated in political campaigning even though it brought her much negative attention. For every person that admired her involvement, there was someone else smearing her name. Despite her wealth, education, and popularity, you have to feel bad for this woman’s personal life. Her husband had a child by a mistress before he & Georgiana were even married. Their marriage was a train wreck, they both cheated, had children with other partners, and came very close to divorcing which was practically unheard of then.
– The Spencer, Cavendish, and other popular families of the time remind me of the Kardashian family. Super wealthy, spoiled, the center of attention and scandal, involved in each other’s business – & that’s just the way they wanted it.

Quotes:
– A passage on page 153 shows how attacks on women haven’t changed much in hundreds of years. It lists specific reasons Georgiana was so heavily criticized by certain members of the public for her political involvement. She was criticized for bringing “her own personality to the campaign in an era when the only women who had public personas were actresses & courtesans…”. There were also double standards between her and male campaigners. For a male to associate with the common people and treat voters as equals earned him the title of “Man of the People”. When Georgiana did the same & earned the title, a “Woman of the People”, it meant she was a whore.
– In a way, the reader never really gets to know Georgiana because everything she did was scrutinized & she had to act a certain way. For example, in a one letter, she writes about how the last few months were the best of her life, then at the end of the letter she complains that she’s never been sadder (p 273). Her emotions ranged so wildly, it was hard to tell how she genuinely felt or if she was just acting.
– P 382 gives a very inspiring and flattering description of Georgiana, listing all her accomplishments and contributions to society. She should be proud to be remembered that way & you can clearly see why Foreman was so passionate about her.

Overall:
– This biography is not for everyone. It’s certainly not light reading for most. I found it hard to keep track of the family trees, relationships, and the timeline of Georgiana’s life. There are huge sections of history information, and while I understand its inclusion, it’s not what I wanted to read about. I wanted to get to the juicy stuff about Georgiana!
– Another aspect of the book I found hard to follow were the footnotes. The print was super small and you had to find the correct footnote that corresponded with the number in the main text – it was a lot of back and forth reading of small print. Why not just include the footnote in the main text? I figured that’s the way a thesis is set up, but I’m not sure.
– While the historical content did become overwhelming, I did enjoy learning about the way women’s rights and family dynamics have changed, or not, since Georgiana’s time.

Rating: B-
Honestly, this book didn’t do much for me because I was more interested in the woman, not the time period and you get “too much” of the latter. I can’t fault Foreman for that, she did an amazing job doing her research, I just wasn’t terribly interested. As I mentioned above, this biography is best suited for someone that has a genuine interest in the time period and political happenings within it, not solely interested in Georgiana’s life. I gave it a low B because I admire Foreman’s work, but I couldn’t get past the abundance of historical material rather than focus on Georgiana’s personal life, so the story didn’t really grab me. I feel like I would be more interested in the film version of the bio which of course will be highly sensationalized to grab viewer’s attention.

Have you read “The Duchess”? Have you ever heard of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire? Please share your thoughts on this review or the biography in the comments down below! As always, I welcome any and all book suggestions you might have – until next time, hit that FOLLOW button on the top right to stay updated with all my posts!