2018 Books

by Jeni Anderson


I’m a book nerd and I’m fine with it. I’ve always been a reader, but over the past couple of years I have made a truly concerted effort to read more books, and keep track of them.

If you want to follow my reviews in real time make your way over to my Instagram feed, and you can look back in my highlights to see all of my previous reviews. Or, find me on Goodreads if you like that better. That said, I’ve been asked by a few people to house all of my books over the year in one place, so I’m going to do that here with a kind of speed round review, so you can get the basic gist. I’ll continue to update this over the next few months as we approach the end of the year. So, without further ado, here’s what I’ve gotten into this year so far.

  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (5 stars) - motherhood, drama, complex modern issues, loved it.

  2. Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward (5 stars) - a powerful and upsetting portrayal of historical and modern day Mississippi

  3. Saints for All Occasions by Courtney J. Sullivan (4 stars) - love Courtney J. Sullivan and this one did not disappoint

  4. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (4 stars) - super fun for fans of the old movies and basically magic in general. Alice Hoffman is a gem.

  5. Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (5 stars) - Amazing, beautifully written, totally loved it. From the writer of Olive Kittredge.

  6. Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern (5 stars) - read this for a writing class, really helpful, move on if you aren’t a writer

  7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (5 stars) - Neil Gaiman is obviously a genius, his imagination is unreal. It’s not really science fiction but it has a lot of fantastical, strange elements so keep that in mind depending on what books you like

  8. Three Wishes by Liane Moriarity (3 stars) - normally I love Liane Moriarity, I think Big Little Lies is such a devastating portrayal of modern families, but this was just kinda meh for me.

  9. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (3 stars) - Pulitzer Prize winner, I have to admit I slogged through this. I know it’s incredible writing but this is not a book you will blow through. Approach with caution

  10. The Light We Lost by Jill Santupolo (3 stars) - okay EVERYONE made a big deal about reading this so I read it. It’s a love story, a kind of written in the stars thing, but by the end I was just annoyed. Sorry.

  11. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (4 stars) - Oprah’s Book Club, for a reason, this book is heartbreaking. It’s about a modern black couple and how one small moment can turn life forever. It’s an important read especially in this political climate, but it’s difficult.

  12. The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand (3 stars) - also usually love this author, and while this made me laugh a lot, it was just too fluffy and unbelievable.

  13. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (4 stars) - this one of my favorites this year, a big biopic of four Jewish siblings born in the 60’s and their lives as they spread themselves across America.

  14. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (5 stars) - Okay everybody loves Kristin Hannah and this was her big follow up to The Nightingale. I actually liked it better, the research she did into the history of the Alaskan wilderness was so fascinating, and the story kept me hooked even though it was LONG.

  15. The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (4 stars) - The Interestings is one of my favorite books, so I was excited to read this one by Meg Wolitzer. It’s sort of a commentary on modern feminism told through the story of a teenage girl, but I think she was a little heavy handed at times and the ending was confusing and just fell flat. P.S. Yes I am 100% a feminist.

  16. China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan (4 stars) - I read Crazy Rich Asians years ago, and having lived in Singapore I loved all of the references and a look into a culture most Americans know absolutely nothing about. Since the movie came out this year, (loved) I decided to read the follow up books. They were good, but I liked the first one the best.

  17. Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan (3 stars) - see above

  18. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (4 stars) - based on true events, this is a story of children who were bough and sold on the black market in Tennessee in the 30s and 40s. I listened to this on audio and it was beautifully performed. I found myself really moved by this story even though I don’t typically love historical fiction. I was on wikipedia all the time trying to learn how much I was hearing was true

  19. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (3 stars) - I love George Saunders’ short stories so I was excited to read his first novel, and it’s a beautiful piece of writing, but the book as a whole was distracting and difficult.

  20. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (4 stars) - great mystery/thriller about a reclusive woman watching the world around her in NYC. I did not see the ending coming at all and I really love it when an author can do that to me.

  21. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (3 stars) - tough but solid read about how WWII impacted various women around the world. I usually hate WWII books but the atrocities are so important to remember. This one really tears at the heartstrings.

  22. Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman (3 stars) - Initially riveting story of a honeymooning couple, but the writing was a tad dramatic and it got old quickly. I figured out the end about halfway through.

  23. Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams (4 stars) - love Beatriz Williams and this was no exception. She makes historical fiction readable for me and always has lots of connections, twists and turns you don’t see coming. I call this chick lit plus.

  24. Less by Andrew Sean Greer (5 stars) - Another Pulitzer Prize winner, this one I LOVED. Also a bit difficult to read but gorgeous writing as it follows one mans travels after a particularly difficult breakup. You have to stick with this one but it’s worth it.

  25. Educated by Tara Westover (3 stars) - I resisted this book because so many people recommended it (I have no idea why I do that) and because it’s a memoir, which isn’t usually my speed. The author’s story is completely amazing, but all the soul searching gets a little repetitive for me. I know I am a cold-hearted witch.

  26. You Think It I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld (4 stars) - I LOVED her novel Prep so I’m always excited to read new things by Curtis Sittenfeld. She’s also great on Twitter if you’re into that. This is a collection of short stories that I really enjoyed - every one a commentary on life as a modern American woman.

  27. When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger (3 stars) - Fun, dramatic beach read by the author of The Devil Wears Prada.

  28. Calypso by David Sedaris (5 stars) - David Sedaris is just a hilarious genius. Love him, this one might be one of his best.

  29. Little Girls Can Be Mean by Michelle Anthony (4 stars) - Move along unless you have little girls. Just a little self help for this mama.

  30. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (3 stars) - UGH I don’t know why I keep reading Jodi Picoult because she just makes me mad. It’s good and then I end up hating it.

  31. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (4 stars) - Really enjoyed this novel based on the early film studio stars of the past. Set in the present, but dives back and hooks you into Evelyn Hugo’s life story.

  32. The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle (2 stars)- Meh, another thriller about a dumb woman and her dumb husband.

  33. Chasing Hillary by Amy Chozick (4 stars) - Read this on recommendation of a friend of a friend who knows the author - interesting look at her campaign from the perspective of a NY Times beat reporter.

  34. Beartown by Fredrick Backman (5 stars) - Also resisted this because it was recommended so highly, but ended up loving it. Riveting story about a small hockey town and the toll it takes when parents invest so heavily on their children.

  35. The Witch Elm by Tana French (4 stars) - Tana French is a great Irish crime writer, and I loved her Dublin Murder Squad series so I was excited for this one. The novel flips her usual premise and focuses on a murder from the suspects’ perspective rather than the police, so it got a little complicated and tired.

  36. Us Against You by Fredrick Backman (4 stars) - The follow up to Beartown, not as good as the first but a continuation of the gripping story. Love his lyrical style.

  37. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver (5 stars) - Barbara Kingsolver is an epic storyteller, and this book was no different. She weaves an intricate tail of two families in two different centuries, navigating a changing world they cannot control.

  38. Circe by Madeline Miller (5 stars) - I was hesitant to read this because Mythology isn’t necessarily my thing. But wow, I loved it. A riveting retelling of the goddess Circe’s history from her own perspective. Amazing.

Okay that’s it for now, I’ll update the rest as the year moves along. Go read a book!


Timeline of an Autoimmune Disease

by Jeni Anderson in , ,


I was 18 the first time I knew something was wrong. I burned my hand with a cigarette, but the burn wouldn’t heal. Weeks went by and I tried bandanges and ointments and lotions and lathers. I wore gloves and started barely washing my hands to avoid irritating the wound. But it grew and spread.

Red, scaly, itchy. Sometimes there was puss or clear fluid leaking. Then the spots started appearing in other places. My other hand. The bottoms of my feet. I knew it wasn’t a burn, but I avoided it. My mom made me go to the doctor. It was psoriasis, and dishydrotic eczema, and I was prescribed steroid creams and ointments and Prednisone and even a UV light treatment that at the time, in the late 90’s, was considered cutting edge.

My then boyfriend, now husband, would help me into bed, remembering to put ointment and socks on my feet, knowing if I didn’t do it I probably wouldn’t be able to walk the next day. I tried to hide it, but I couldn’t hide it. Some days it was all I could think about. My life revolved around finding a way to make my skin better.

 Obviously the beer wasn’t helping matters. But check out my hands. Not nearly at their worst, but not good. Sometime in 2005.

Obviously the beer wasn’t helping matters. But check out my hands. Not nearly at their worst, but not good. Sometime in 2005.

Then, when I was 20, living in Boulder, just barely managing my skin condition and seeing doctor after doctor, I started developing pain and sensitivity to light in my right eye. I ignored it, focusing on school and finals, and eventually it became unbearable. I drove home unsteadily, swerving down I-25, for the break between semesters, one eye closed the whole time.

By the time I got to my parent’s house I was in exruciating pain. I barricaded myself in my mom’s bedroom in total darkness, convinced I was going to have to have an eye transplant. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t move my eyes. Light felt like a dagger directly to the cornea.

I had Iritis, or inflammation of my iris. It began recurring almost yearly around the holidays, triggered by stress and who knows what else. I endured more tests.

My opthamologist tested me for the gene expressions HLA-B27. Positive. What did it mean? No one could really say. Just use this steroid drop, and this pressure drop, and it’ll get better. Just manage it. I became a pro. I moved from doctor to doctor, but I knew what they were all going to say before they even said it. It was always the same.

I managed my skin, and my eyes. In my mid 20’s, I started noticing my toes were swollen and painful. Then my fingers. I’ve always had funny looking hands — double jointed fingers that can do things most fingers can’t. But this was different. This was a new kind of pain. Debilitating, some days I couldn’t use my right index finger at all. I couldn’t open jars, or grab the dumbells tightly at the gym. I ached and cried. I joked that I had the hands of an old woman. But it wasn’t a joke, really.

I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis at 26. I was about to get married, I was young, my whole life ahead of me, but I was researching biologic medications and sitting in my rheumatologist’s waiting room for 2 hours at a time because I didn’t have the confidence to tell him to fuck off and find another doctor who would take the time to really listen to my needs. I was miserable. And I was risking permanent joint damage if I didn’t take the drugs they recommended.

 Living in Singapore with psoriatic arthritis in 2008

Living in Singapore with psoriatic arthritis in 2008

So I took them. For the last 12 years I’ve been taking them. I’ve been on 5 different injectable medications, one monthly infusion, steroids, and countless other drugs. I suffered from near liver failure from one of these drugs, the remedy for which was taking an immunosuppressant usually reserved for organ transplant recipients. One drug works for a while, then it stops. And so I go to the next one.

 The dreaded steroid “moon face” in 2014

The dreaded steroid “moon face” in 2014

I’ve had to have cataract surgery due to long -term steroid use, I now joke about my bionic eye. I’ve been on Zoloft because the steriods made me angry and mean and depressed. I’ve cringed at my moon face in the mirror and screamed at the scale when it keeps going up even though I’m throwing everything I have into making it go down. I’ve laid in my bed and cried my eyes out because every single bone in my body aches more times than I can count. I’ve tinkered with my diet nonstop in an effort to find something, anything, that will help reduce the inflammation in my body. I’ve screwed up some pretty major friendships. I’ve spent thousands of dollars.

I’ve become obsessed with myself. With fixing myself.

I’m so informed about what is wrong with me. Yet I understand absolutely nothing about what is wrong with me. And neither it seems, does anybody else.

I’ve gone off all the drugs twice, to give birth to two amazing little girls. I’ve also reluctantly gone back on them as my joints slowly deteriorate, my skin worsens, my eye aches and throbs. I’ve convinced myself I don’t need the drugs. That I can do it without them. Then my body convinces me otherwise.

Late last year I started getting sick in a new way. A lot. I couldn’t eat. And when I could, I couldn’t digest my food properly. I have fevers on an almost nightly basis. All the muscles in my body seize up, and I shiver and lay in bed, unable to move. It’s humiliating, being sick, when it’s Christmas and your daughters want you to play with all of their new toys, and when it’s your birthday and your friends just want to take you out to celebrate. And it’s hard to explain, when in the morning you feel okay, and begin to go through the motions of your day, but by late afternoon all you want to do is go lay down. Like an old woman again. But only 38.

Last week I was diagnosed with yet another autoimmune disease: microscopic colitis. Not ulcerative colitis or Crohns, but with similar symptoms. The path to recovery? More steroids, or maybe another biologic, some immunosuppressive drugs, cut out gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, all spices, all raw vegetables and fruits, eat nothing but rice and chicken and try not to murder everyone that talks to me.

I don’t know yet, exactly how I’ll treat this illness. I know that I have a lot of work to do if I want to feel better. I know it’s not going to be easy, and there are going to be a lot of people around me who tell me the choices I make aren’t the right ones. I know that I’ll probably continue to be a shitty friend and a shitty mom and a shitty writer while the lion’s share of my energy goes toward fighting this thing.

I know one thing for sure, there are a lot of other people out there fighting autoimmune disease and chronic illness. And there are a lot of people doing research on how we can combat these diseases. It feels lonely sometimes, living like this. But I know I’m not alone.

 just tryin' to live my life in 2018

just tryin' to live my life in 2018

 

 


18 for 2018

by Jeni Anderson in


One of my favorite authors and podcasters Gretchen Rubin recently suggested that instead of the typical New Year’s Resolutions, simply coming up with 18 things you’d like to accomplish in 2018. They can be small or large, easy or hard, just as long as they give you some direction as to where you’d like your year to take you.

This was a difficult exercise for me because I tend to make goals and then immediately find reasons why I won't achieve them, but in the spirit of positivity, I gave it a shot. Many of these should be easy to cross off the list, others will be a bit more difficult. I’m publishing these here to give myself some accountability.

  1. Write every day.
  2. Cook two new recipes a month.
  3. Read 40 books.
  4. Start reading a longer chapter book with the girls.
  5. Take my medicine on time every month.
  6. Try a boxing or MMA class.
  7. Plan a European vacation.
  8. Go to a writing group even if it makes me uncomfotable.
  9. Clean out my closet.
  10. Take my daughers to Red Rocks.
  11. Go paddle boarding.
  12. Remodel laundry room.
  13. Yell less.
  14. Make conversation with a stranger even when I am inclined to leave.
  15. Stop stacking and start filing.
  16. Learn two new braiding styles for the girls.
  17. Drink bone broth.
  18. Host a party.