ELLE's Readers' Prize for August

Here's something kind of fun: I had a blurb in the ELLE's Lettres section of ELLE magazine in August. I'm on their Reader's Prize panel, which is not a paid book review gig, but is fun in the sense that you get to read a lot of new books and vote on which one you like best, and suffer a little delicious anticipation to see whether your blurb made the magazine.

Since I wrote three blurbs and only one made the pages of ELLE, here are all three for your enjoyment:

My rankings for the August Reader’s Prize (this was a hard one – they were all really good and it was hard to compare the Kogan book with the other two):

1.) What I Thought I Knew

2.) Hell is Other Parents

3.) This Lovely Life

This Lovely Life, whatever complaints I have about it, beats whole months worth of other books I’ve been sent in the past, though.

Here are my notes:

What I Thought I Knew

So, you're 44, you've been told you should never have children, but that's OK because you can't, have been taking hormones half your adult life, and you don't find out until 6 months in that you're pregnant. What do you do? If you're Alice Eve Cohen, a writer of one-woman shows with a distinctive, manic, sometimes hilarious voice, you write your story, which you say you'll never perform, even though you've structured it exactly like a play. What I Thought I Knew is a nail-biter, a breathless read, a terror and a joy. Brutally, engagingly honest about the fears and the options that go through a woman's mind in this situation, Cohen successfully puts herself back into the frame of mind she was in during her pregnancy, and it's as if she herself is not sure how it will end before it does. As a reader, I was right there with her, loving her and hating her along the way until I came to the shimmering end.

Hell Is Other Parents: And Other Tales of Maternal Combustion by Deborah Copaken Kogan

If all the other mothers in her Manhattan milieu are Alpha moms, Deborah Copaken Kogan is a Beta mom. Mom 2.0. Mom on the bleeding edge, making up the rules as she goes along, and making me jealous once again since reading her brilliant novel last year that we're not best friends. If there's a common thread amongst this month's books, it's brutal honesty about the highs and lows of motherhood, and while this is by far the lightest of the three, it's got its earthy moments, and I was glad to see tales of Kogan's personal history (work hurdles, former lovers) woven in with her parenting stories. An alpha mom might write a book for the self-help section, but Kogan's book shows all the other smart, strong and still sane moms out there that they have a voice, too.

This Lovely Life

In This Lovely Life, twin super-preemies are born at 24 weeks; one dies, one is disabled. The book's cover promises an ultimately uplifting story, but I must have missed something. The events of the book are harrowing, if gripping, and the manner in which it's written creates a jarring effect. The narrative focuses mainly on the surviving child's first couple of years of life, but skips forward to tell you the ultimate outcome of whichever medical situation he's in long before you hear the whole story taking place in the "present" time. I appreciate the intensity and the honesty of the book, but it's difficult to stay interested in complex medical descriptions or try to understand the clues to what is about to happen when you already know the outcome. The moments of reflection and hope feel forced, as if someone said she needed to add them in, when her voice is so strong, and so understandably dark, that the reader would have understood.

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