*** The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango


How we love the rotten, psychopathic hero! The Truth and Other Lies stars a horrible famous author with many secrets and an inconveniently pregnant mistress, along with regular generous impulses to throw everyone off. His mistress is also plotting, as is the loyal assistant to the president of his publishing house, so much villainy is committed, to the great satisfaction of the reader.

The ending could be less trite, but until the very end the story is a lot of twisted fun. If you liked Gone, Girl, you will like this book, too.

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** The Ugly Wife is a Treasure At Home by Melissa Margaret Schneider


Written by an American couples’ therapist,  The Ugly Wife Is a Treasure at Home: True Stories of Love and Marriage in Communist China is a compilation of interviews of Chinese women and men on the topic of their relationships. I found it most successful as a record of how quickly cultural views of love and marriage have changed in China since 1950, when revolutionary fervor was supposed to replace and supplant family or romantic love, to today, when patterns of dating and marriage are converging with those in the West. The changes came mind-boggling fast. That said, the interviews get rather repetitive, even boring, and the book would have benefitted from a good copy editor.

 

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** More Than Happy by Serena Miller


More than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting starts with a simple observation, of perfectly behaved Amish children in a gas station store, and happily plunges into what Amish parents are doing to raise such perfect children. Shades of Bringing Up Bébé (shivers).

Clearly the Amish lifestyle is so different from mainstream “Englisch” lifestyle that specific upbringing techniques  are unlikely to be successfully adopted outside the larger context, and, let’s face it, few of us are willing to become Amish, even for the sake of our children. So let’s ignore the silly conceit that we can somehow borrow individual techniques of parenting. Let’s also ignore the heavy downbeat of guilt on women who work outside the home, since a key feature of Amish life is that women stay home (and obey their men, which we uppity Englisch do not always). Let’s instead concentrate on the observations the author makes of Amish families with whom she spent many hours. The 3-hour wedding ceremonies with no beautiful dress in sight, the careful pause before responding to questions, the constant social intercourse are lovingly described, along with Amish parents’ anguish about their teenagers (sound familiar?)

And it turns out that raising those perfect children may not be so hard after all: teach them they are not the center of the universe, do what you promise and expect the same, and turn off the TV. Perhaps not so hard, after all…

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* Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni


Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania is essentially a book-length rant against the folly of thinking that getting into a top university equates to success, and that any other path equates doom. And, in the first pages, the author presents as an example a young man who, having gone to his safety school as an undergrad, gets into Harvard Business School. So the lesson is: if at first you don’t get in, try, try again? Rather ironic, I thought…

And so it goes, with plenty of examples of people who are successful in the narrow sense of the world (think: CEOs) who have not gone to prestigious universities, but, alas, little hard data on differences between alumni of top schools and not-so-top schools. This is not to say that the author does not make interesting points, and in particular exposes the damnable techniques that give alumni’s children outrageous priority in admissions, further distorting the randomness of college admissions for everyone else.

 

He also points out that the Ivy League frenzy is not, by far, the largest issue with college admissions– which is the lamentable inability of many gifted students to afford tuition and other costs. I would have preferred to read the rant in article length and read a book about the larger issues of college access.

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** Girl at War by Sara Novic


Girl at War is the story of a young girl in Zagreb, then part of Yugoslavia, whose life is shattered by the civil war and who eventually moves to the US before returning “home” years later in the hope of finding old friends. (Yes, I see that this is the second three-part novel of the home-away-home variety in a row. But the subject matter is very different from Re: Jane, and much of the war stories are told in flashbacks, pleasantly blurring the three-part structure.)

The war stories are brilliantly told. They are  hard to read, since the girl’s family and world is completely shattered, but the matter-of-fact voice of the descriptions captures the blinkered view of a young child. After the move to the US, the heroine starts talking in a similar psycho-babble as Jane, and acting in a similar stilted manner, which seems unlikely, and annoying. Still, the story is haunting.

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** 1/2 Re Jane by Patricia Park


Re Jane is the delightful story of a Korean-American young woman who, having had no luck getting a corporate job after college, escapes her uncle’s harsh treatment by becoming a live-in nanny to a family of intellectuals whose mores are quite different from the world she comes from. After she gets involved with the henpecked husband, she flees to Korea to bury her grandfather as much as escape the mess she has created, but she will eventually return to New York and untangle her problems.

I found the voice of the heroine pretty much perfect in the first two parts, in New York and in Korea, with her surprised observations carried on inside her head, always. When she returns to New York, I thought the voice was lost, with the narrative occasionally dipping into realtor-speak, or unlikely psycho-babble. But I recommend the story for its complicated and plucky heroine.

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* Carsick by John Waters


Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America, unsurprisingly tells the story of the author, the film director, hitchhiking from his home in Baltimore to his other home in San Francisco, but before it does he tells two different stories, one of the perfect trip and one of the trip from hell. I quite enjoyed the first leg of his imagined first trip, in which a drug dealer gives him millions of illegally gained dollars to make a movie, but the rest of the happy trip is so over the top as to be barely readable, by me at least. The horrific trip is so violent and obscene as to be repellent. And the real trip? Well, let’s just say that it helps to have a cell phone, a credit card, and an office back home that can arrange car rides and ferret out the best places to get a ride — and it does not hurt to be famous enough to be recognized once in a while. All that is not really representative of the average hitchhiking trip. What’s remarkable is the kindness of the people he meets on the road, many of whom go out of their way, very literally, to make sure he is safe. The book seems a little exploitative compared to their uncalculated generosity.

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