Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton (2016)

“I marvel at the honesty and pain. We’ve never brought to each other the heavy things we were meant to help each other carry. We’ve only introduced each other to our representatives, while our real selves tried to live life alone. We thought that was safer. We thought that this way our real selves wouldn’t get hurt. But it is clear that we are all hurting anyway. And we think we are alone. At our cores, we are our tender selves peeking out at the world of shiny representatives, so shame has been layered on top of our pain. We’re suffocating underneath all the layers.”

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A picture of Glennon Doyle Melton at one of her events (from her blog Momastery.)

Wow! This memoir was absolutely stunning. Glennon Doyle Melton has not simply written her story, but rather used her experiences to create a manifesto about feminism, faith, marriage, self-love, forgiveness, and courage. This book is a call to action to men and women of the world: you are important, you are loved, you are worthy of wonderful things and you can choose to live an authentic life without fear.

Glennon’s memoir chronicles her struggles with depression, anxiety, and addiction with aching honesty and a vulnerability that is breath-taking. We are allowed to see inside the mind of a young girl whose disconnection with the world makes her feel, starting at age ten, alone and brokenhearted. Terrified at how different she believes she is, she seeks out first one self-sabotaging behavior (bulimia), after another (promiscuity), after another (drug and alcohol addiction), always searching for a way to be numb to the pain of living.

When an unexpected pregnancy and sudden marriage force her to get sober and adopt a healthier relationship with food, she assumes that she has– in becoming a mother and wife — insulated herself from the loneliness that has plagued her. Of her new marriage and baby she writes, “we are living so close to the surface of ourselves that it seems easy to touch each other. There is so much laughing and crying during the first year of our son’s life. The laughter and tears are each of us bursting through our own skin to get to one another.”

Soon, her self-loathing returns and she becomes disgusted that her new family and sobriety have not delivered her into a perfect life. When her health and then her marriage begin to deteriorate, she and her husband seek out a therapist. Rather than healing their marriage, the therapy session deals it a potential death blow…her husband confesses to decades of infidelity and Glennon throws him out.

In the grief and madness that follows, Glennon faces the darkest days she has ever known. Not only has she lost her husband, now she must make her way as a single mother. Always religious, she finds that her church and its members have turned their back on her for “giving up” on her husband and, as a result, she feels as if her faith has failed her too.

She cannot turn to addiction to numb herself, and so, she turns inward to find a way to heal herself and — perhaps — heal her marriage.  With the help of a cast of mentors: a devoted sister and parents, a yoga instructor, a breathing coach, and a therapist; Glennon digs deep into her mental health issues and searches for ways to find peace with the challenges life has presented her.

What she finds is that she has lived for too long in the roles that others have chosen for her — by religious doctrine, gender norms, anti-woman businesses and marketers, sexual politics — have never been right for her. Now she decides, she will rebuild her entire life and her entire self, into exactly the person she wants to be and then she will seek out people to support rather than challenge her new choices.

The book documents — with gorgeous prose and raw, naked honesty — Glennon’s transformation from a woman controlled by her demons to a woman in charge of her life and her health. Now leading a generation of women in a revolution to discard old rules of who they should be and forge their own path to love, happiness, faith, and family. Stunning and not to be missed!

“We forget that our maker made us human, and so it’s okay — maybe exactly right — to be human. We are ashamed of the design of the one we claim to worship. So we sweep up our messes and hide our doubts, contradictions, anger and fear before showing ourselves to God, which is like putting on a fancy dress and makeup to prepare for an X-ray.”

Read Glennon’s blog and learn more about her and her work here: http://momastery.com/blog/

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore (2015)

“Happiness is a choice; a choice you have to make every single day.”

Drew Barrymore writes an adorable and light-hearted memoir about several pivotal but unconnected moments in her life; beginning with her preschool years and weaving back and forth through various parts of her adult life. Barrymore’s fans have always loved her for the kindness and love she injects into her film roles and the stories she tells in this memoir confirm that she just as kind and loving as we had hoped.

Despite a tumultuous childhood, much of it spent living on her own, and a rocky early film career, she holds no ill-will or hard feelings towards anyone, not even her supremely neglectful parents. She holds up everyone in her life as important even if their contribution was small or conflicted. With a wisdom that few people will ever posses — certainly few people will possess as children — Barrymore learned that that her safety and success depended in large part on being able to seek out safe mentors and humble herself enough to ask for their guidance. These mentors, she tells us, were like hand-picked family members who could take the place of the unstable biological family she was born into.

Barrymore appears to embody the quintessential California free-spirit life views including the idea that all experiences serve to teach her important life lessons, especially the hard ones. She also honestly believes that everyone should be forgiven for their flaws and celebrated for what they had added to her life, even if it is a challenge to define what that addition might be. She faces her life as a businesswoman, actress, and mother with optimism and a conviction that she has (and will continue to) learned from her mistakes — and the mistakes of her parents and peers — and she is determine to apply what she has learned along the way in order to make every day is better than the one before.

This is a book of unflinching positivity which makes it a nice departure from other overly self-important Hollywood memoirs. At the same time, it is much sweeter and less cynical than the the recent best selling memoirs of female comedians such as Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Mindy Kaling (although I loved all of those books, especially Kaling’s second Why Not Me? http://wp.me/p6N6mT-4f)

NOTE: I listened to Barrymore read her e-audio book and found her to be a very silly and dramatic performer. She laughs, cries, shouts, and uses funny voices to great effect and it made for a lively listen.

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Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (2015)

I have the opposite of a dry sense of humor. My sense of humor is wet and loud and risque, like topless day at the water park.”

Mindy Kaling’s second book is every bit as charming and enjoyable (and of course, funny) as her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? I spent the better part of my Friday reading and laughing over her hilarious stories. While her books are often compared to the memoirs of Tina Fey (Bossypants) and Amy Poehler (Yes, Please), I much prefer Kaling’s work. I find her sense of humor to be the right balance of insightful and irreverent. She really has perfected the art of laughing at herself without making fun of herself, which I think is critical for female comedians who all too often are overly harsh on themselves in order to get a laugh.

She tells stories about college, work, dating, and show business with her signature style: plenty of pop culture references and unflinching commentaries on how ridiculous we all really are sometimes, herself included. Some of her best stories include glimpses into just how absurd celebrity culture is (and how much celebrities are all lying to us about how effortless their lives are.) She is more than happy to pull back the curtain on all the bullshit and make fun of life in LA, always being certain to laugh at herself as much as she does others. As she points out, we are not that different from movie stars, “most Americans are a treadmill and six laser hair removal sessions away” from looking just like their favorite movie star, only movie stars want you to think it is impossible for you to join their ranks.

Her essays do not skirt around issues of race, class, gender or politics but she always keeps the tone light and the keeps the jokes coming. Her commencement speech to Harvard Law School graduates is absolutely wonderful: poking fun at herself, lawyers, ambitious people looking to get rich, and Harvard University all to great effect. Also a must read is Kaling’s funny but quite insightful essay, “Coming This Fall” which offers readers a funny take into misrepresentations of women and minorities on television. Her essay “A Perfectly Reasonable Request” about what she is looking for in a man is wonderful…one part honest desire for a long-term relationship, one part joke about the absurd number of restrictions we put on who we are willing to date.

There are some more serious moments towards end of the book where she discusses success and confidence without apology. She admits to readers that more than a few people expect her — and all women really — to lack self-confidence and hate herself, an assumption she  she finds outrageous. Her success is due to hard work, persistence, and belief in herself and she refuses to downplay that for anyone. Doing so, she points out, would cheapen all she has done for herself. I applaud her for these sentiments and thank her for giving us such a funny, delightful book to read.