CHK book club 2014

So last year I threw down the gauntlet and dared myself to find the time, energy, and brain cells to read 50 “serious works of fiction.”

I managed 22.

Around here we call that an epic fail. Apparently I stopped reading in August and never picked up another book. That squishy sound you hear is the sound of my brain rotting.

But I am okay with failure. I am a writer. I fail at shit all the time. But I am nothing if not resilient – so here I stand, dusting myself off, to proclaim a similar challenge for 2014:



See what I did there? I gave myself a little credit for the non-fiction reading I do. For the Malcolm Gladwell and the Janet Reitman and the Bruce Fieler, too, while we’re at it, books I keep at the bedside or read for research or read for this blog.

Sure, they’re not quite as diverting to my mind as a great work of fiction, and they demand a little less from me – all the legwork is done FOR you, in good non-fiction, whereas in fiction the reader’s imagination has to do a bit of the heavy lifting – but it’s not like they’re not equally MIND EXPANDING.

Give a Mom a break, already.

So this year, I’m counting both – fiction and non-fiction, book-length, and generally agreed to be works of either scholarly or artisitic merit. (Meaning: there’s a reason I left Fifty Shades of Grey off my list last year. Yes, of course I read it. Didn’t we all?)



My reads below. Your thoughts / suggestions / aggravations in the comments, please!

1. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon

This is THE definitive scholarly work about clinical depression. It’s a National Book Award winner for good reason: Solomon traces anthropological and historical roots to the causes and perceptions of the disease, in it’s MANY forms, discusses treatments, interviews people who have suffered, and relays his own experiences with struggles with depression, too. An incredibly impressive, dense, invaluable book which I read every 10 years. I picked it up over the New Year to help me with an idea I have for a novel. If you are struggling with depression, or know someone who is, this is THE book you need. (Non-fiction / JANUARY)

2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Can you believe I have made it 38 years – several of them as a mopey, depressed, melodramatic teen – without reading this book? Me neither. Totally engrossing, weirdly charming book about a suicidal depressive. Plus if you pick this up now you never have to admit to never having read it again. (Fiction / JANUARY)

3. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Do you detect a theme? I swear this is research – but even so: I LOVED THIS BOOK. This book is structured in such a way, and narrated in such a way, that its shape and voice completely mirror its content, a memoir about living several years as a teen in a mental institution – the same institution, by the way, that Sylvia Plath inhabited years earlier. Phenomenal read.  True, believable, shocking. And no, I had never read it before NOR seen the movie. Real gaps of my education are coming to light here, I know. (Memoir / JANUARY)

4. Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Meh. I just didn’t buy it. And I say this as a person who has been depressed, and grew up around depressives, and continues to live among them. Most people I am friends with are medicated. But I just didn’t EVER feel I believed what I was being told in this book. Not because it wasn’t true – because I didn’t believe Wurtzel was telling the truth. There is a distinction. Reading this was a slog for me. I might not have finished it if I weren’t immersing myself in dep-lit (yes, I just made that up) right now. Oh and: the title takes it’s name from the (tacked on) last chapter about what Prozac has or hasn’t done to our nation as a whole. Which didn’t seem particularly integrated into the book IMHO. I don’t know. Maybe this book was huge because it was THE depression book about ’90s kids, just as GIRL, INTERRUPTED, was about ‘60s kids. All I know is, this book is NOT the book for me. (Memoir / JANUARY)

5. Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface by Martha Manning

THIS book I found incredibly true in every way. Manning’s particular skill is in describing how depression builds not just as a result of so many and such disparate life events, but also showing how one’s biologically-based personal chemistry that may even pre-determine a severe depressive crisis despite all efforts to head it off. Manning is a psychologist herself, and during the time she describes in this book she was a church-goer, practiced meditation, and was happily married — and yet NONE of these things were a great enough hedge against harm. It’s a chilling and beautiful book about a slow, inexorable build to illness. Highly recommended. (Memoir / JANUARY)


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LAST CALL: “The Secrets of Happy Families” GIVEAWAY
Ends Tomorrow!

Photo by Marcia Levy

Photo by Marcia Levy

I’m just back from London, where my daughters were flower girls in my cousin’s wedding, so this will be a short and fairly jetlagged post …

(Quick aside on that traveling-with-kids tip, though: You know all those miles you’ve been saving and banking, waiting for that perfect occasion to fly somewhere free? Use them to upgrade your seats when flying long-haul with your kids. We managed to swing BA Club Class upgrades both ways thanks to YEARS of saving our miles, and it was HOLY MOLY WORTH IT for my sanity. End of lecture.)

Anyway, the point of this post is to remind everybody that the GIVEAWAY of Bruce Feiler’s genius book, The Secrets of Happy Families, ends tomorrow.

So get your entries in!


Let me regale you with a little list of things this book has made me do / get serious about doing with my crazy brood in the near future:

  • Morning Checklists for my kids which allow me to (who knew?!) drink a quiet cup of coffee in the morning instead of losing all sense of control and volume as I try to hussle everybody out the door fed, dressed, brushed … you get the picture. THIS TOTALLY WORKS, by the way.
  • No Shouting Contests, which we score all week long. The family member who shouts LEAST over the week gets to pick the movie for our weekly FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT. (We were already doing movie night BEFORE Feiler, so rah rah us). The family member who shouts MOST puts $1 in the SHOUTING JAR, to be used for who knows what at the moment, but I’m sure we’ll figure something out.
  • Bedtime Breakfast Orders, which the kids are all excited about, are the next project. We are going to brainstorm our favorite, easiest, weekday breakfasts at our FAMILY MEETING (this is a Feiler innovation, too, my friends); create menu cards, like at hotels; and have the kids place their orders at bedtime, because we are just about OVER the constant morning “What do you want for breakfast?” battles we’re having over here. (And yes, I am counting the minutes ’till the kids can make their own breakfasts.)
  • Take A Page From MrBigIDeas and tell MY STORIES at bedtime.
    1. I normally sing to the kids at bedtime. I do this partially out of nostalgia, because my mother used to sing to me …
    2. … and partially because I love musical theater, and I want my kids to love musical theater, which is why I sing “Distant Melody” from Peter Pan, and “Where Is Love?” from Oliver.  (Traveling-with-kids note #2: Get to London or NY and see MATILDA. It’s awesome. Truly.)  It’s ALSO AWESOME that even my boys now know all the words to my chosen lullabies, and can sing along with me when I sing them.
    3. But if we’re being COMPLETELY honest here, I will admit that the lullabies are really the quickest and cleanest way to get me out of my kids’ rooms at bedtime. Zip through the songs and I am gone … generally back up to my office.
    4. MrBigIdeas, on the other hand, always uses bedtime as an opportunity to tell the kids “stories from when I was a little boy,” and my kids, Gaga especially, are always begging me for “stories when you were a little girl.”
    5. Turns out, according to Feiler, kids who know their family histories feel a stronger sense of control over their own lives, have higher self-esteem, and are more resilient and able to deal with stress. So there you go, my love. I JUST PUBLICLY OUTED YOU FOR BETTER-PARENTING THAN ME!
  • Attempt to Fight Smarter … we fight like crap. We really do. We have never, no matter how much therapy or forgiveness we have attempted, learned to fight fair. He’s hyperbolic and I’m weepy and it’s a hot mess over here when we get pissed off. The good news is, we not only fight in front of the kids, we make up in front of them, too. Supposedly that’s a good thing. But I’d prefer to up our game and model FAIR FIGHTING while we’re at it. Feiler does a great job distilling Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages, and lessons from the The Harvard Negotiation Project, and a host of other sources for fighting better. I am tempted to make notecards of this stuff, and laminate them, and pull them out the next time we’re arguing over here … and yeah, if you really want to know, I DID JUST BUYS A LAMINATOR!

Anyway: that’s if for now. I’m still in a bit of a travel haze. I’ll be back to business Monday.

Till then: check out the handy GIVEAWAY widget below, and get your game on!

Best of luck to everybody – results post tomorrow!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


I Am Giving Away 4 Copies of His New Book

Because I have a billion kids, and I write about family, and I work in the family space, and basically I eat-drink-breathe-sleep (ha! If only I slept!) kids/partnership/family life …

I also tend to read A LOT about kids/partnership/family life, too.

And I have favorites.

I’m a fan of Harvey Karp.

I love The Sleepy Planet ladies.

Wendy Mogel is my personal hero.

Well, folks – I’m adding Bruce Feiler to that list.

Some of you may know him from his columns in the NY Times.

Some of you may know him as the Dad who founded The Council of Dads.

Well, now he’s gone and written The Secrets of Happy Families, a book about how to manage family life that is SO EFFING GREAT it almost makes me want to pack up this blog because he’s basically gone and said it all.

I mean seriously. He has taken family management to an easy, fun, cooperative level that is so unbelievably awesome that –

Let’s put it this way:

For the last two weeks my girls, now aged 4 and 6, have been making their own beds every morning before school without help and without complaint.

They have also been getting themselves dressed – to shoes and coats, no less! – and putting their laundry in the hamper and actually standing ready at the front door without us having to scream, shout, or resort to ridiculous threats to get them to move their little … arses.

(I am going to London tomorrow. I get to say arse.)

How on earth did all of this happen?

A few weeks ago I did myself a massive favor and read Feiler’s book.

Here’s the quick pitch: (more…)

New Year, New Goals

Image via http://www.flickr.com/photos/chripell/

I love New Year’s.  Not New Year’s Eve – I could take it or leave it, really, especially since we’ve had kids and end up staying home throwing “New Year’s in Buenos Aires” parties, which means ringing in the New Year at 7 pm PST, to approximate Argentina time.

This year, especially, I could have left left left the whole thing. Sometime around 530 pm, Sausage’s cold turned horribly wheezy asthmatic and he coughed so hard he puked all over me. Around 630, Diddy and Gaga started messing with their food, chewing it to a pulp and then grossing out their dinner guests, both of whom also puked. Party finally broke up around 8 pm, at which point Sausage was SO sick I spent 40 minutes sitting in our steam shower with him, made a panicked call to our pediatrician, and nearly took him to the ER. (more…)

Yes, Mom! (Or: How I Talk So My Kids Listen*)

By ‘gordonramsaysubmissions’ [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

I live in a house full of people who don’t listen to me.

Either it’s the noise level (think four kids, high ceilings, no carpets or drapes, plus a husband who has to constantly take calls on speaker + run CNN at top volume + blast our Sonos system + turn up whatever loud loud loud video he is playing on his Mac to top volume, simultaneously) …

… or it’s the fact that two of the four kids are too young to understand much beyond “do you want Cheerios?”

… or it’s the fact that the OTHER two kids just … don’t … care.


Recently, I decided I’d had enough of this. I am tired of yelling incessantly up or down the stairs trying to get the kids to answer me. I am tired of running around asking “Did you hear me? Did you hear me? Did you HEAR ME ?!?” like some stressed out, way older, transgendered version of the Verizon guy. (And yes, I realize we wear similar glasses, he and I.) (more…)

Sarah Kate Levy

Once upon a time I wanted to be a novelist in NY. FOUR KIDS LATER I'm a
screenwriter in LA who blogs about parenting, partnering, and the decline of civilization / my home.

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