Thursday, September 30, 2010

Books to Cure a Broken Heart

This post is a semi-recycled post from Oprah's website called "8 Books to Read With a Broken Heart," written by lists these books with these synopses:

1.      Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak by Writers Famous and Obscure Edited by Smith magazine

If you could describe your breakup in six words, what would you say? At a loss for words? No problem. Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak is happy to fill in the blanks. Composed of hundreds of nuggets on love and loss, these memoirs say just what you've been trying to articulate yourself—without going over six words. Whether it's heartbreaking ("What once were two, are one"), tongue-and-cheek ("Reclaimed maiden name after every divorce") or just confusing ("Don't trust a man who waxes"), this read has a sliver of wisdom for anyone with a broken heart. There's also a little something for those who wish to remain optimistic on the state of love, including, "At 12 found soul mate, still together." Now don't we all wish we could write a memoir like that? 

2.      What Was I Thinking? 58 Bad Boyfriend Stories By Barbara Davilman and Liz Dubelman
For every woman who missed that red flag waving wildly in her face (He owns a faux dog! He's Homer Simpson's clone! He's a porn star!), this book is for you. Fifty-eight women share their hilarious tales of the romances (and the men) that took a nose-diving turn for the worse. Even if you can't relate to their stories, you'll at least get a good laugh out of them.

3.      Love, Loss and What I Wore By Ilene Beckerman
Two divorces, six children and one fabulous wardrobe. In this quirky pictorial for adults, author Ilene Beckerman takes you back through the most pivotal moments in her life...and what she wore along the way. From Brownie uniform to prom dress to wedding gown, each clothing item holds a strong memory. Good and bad, Beckerman remembers them all and encourages us to look back on our own lives and wardrobes. By the end of it, you'll be throwing out that old he-broke-my-heart dress, strapping on some ready-for-a-fresh-start heels and heading out to create a closet full of new memories.

4.      Bridget Jones's Diary  By Helen Fielding
This classic chick lit book might be the ultimate tale of what not to do when you're single and lonely. Do not stare at your phone for an entire weekend, binge on chocolate Christmas tree decorations or have an affair with your cad of a boss. However, this book's plucky heroine also does quite a few things right. On Bridget's to-do list? Do lean on your fabulous friends, give that nice man (whom you once snubbed) a second chance and turn every humiliation into a laugh-out-loud moment, all in the name of finding love and "inner poise."

5.      Eat, Pray, Love By Elizabeth Gilbert

This soul-searching memoir has become the bible of all breakup books, and if you haven't already turned to it to nurse your broken heart, you need to now.  After going through a bitter divorce and a disastrous love affair, Elizabeth Gilbert sets out on a journey that changes her life forever. She finds pleasure (and pizza) in Italy, peace in India and love in Bali. And the best part? It comes complete with a happy ending.

6.      Split: A Memoir of Divorce  By Suzanne Finnamore
It's a story as old as time: Boy meets girl, boy asks girl to marry him, and five years later, boy downs two martinis and announces that he wants to divorce girl. We've all heard this tale before, but for California journalist and author Suzanne Finnamore, it was very real. With brutal honesty and deadpan humor, she divulges the dirty details of her marriage and divorce—and how she ultimately muddled her way through all the lies, betrayals and attorneys. Finnamore's book is not your typical divorce diatribe. It's more like sitting down with your wittiest, most acerbic friend as she throws out her filter and tells you how it all went wrong...and how you can do things differently.

7.      Personal History  By Katharine Graham

Take notes from a woman who survived much worse than a breakup. In Katharine Graham's powerful autobiography, this Washington socialite recounts her husband's very public affair, his mental illness and subsequent suicide, as well as her unexpected accession to power at the Washington Post. Here's why you'll relate: Katharine Graham suddenly found herself thrown in a situation that she never wanted or expected (sound familiar?). She never claims that these changes were easy or that she walked into them with confidence. Instead, she says: "What I essentially did was to put one foot in front of the other, shut my eyes, and step off the ledge. The surprise was that I landed on my feet."

8.      High Fidelity By Nick Hornby
Want to know what's going on in his head? Of course you do! You may remember John Cusack in the movie adaptation of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, a cynical breakup tale told from the male perspective. After being dumped yet again, music addict Rob looks back on his "all-time top five" breakups. Read along as he relives the losses, and then ask yourself, "Does this breakup really make my top five?"

I’m not sure I completely agree with 6 and 7, but I’ll leave them on there to complete the 8… I wouldn’t want to leave you all wondering, after all. But I have a few of my own to add to this list that I’ve read and loved—

1.      Going in Circles by Pamela Ribon

After leaving her husband and wallowing in self-pity, new friend Francesca helps down-and-out Charlotte Goodman find herself again when she makes her join roller derby. Pamela Ribon is absolutely hilarious. She’s contemporary, makes ridiculous but insightful comparisons, and gives a funny yet realistic spin on a subject people usually don’t like to talk about.

2.      Open House by Elizabeth Berg
A woman who’s been left by her husband decides to take in boarders to help pay her bills, and by doing so finds a little more out about herself than she realized. Elizabeth Berg is truly an amazing writer—her characters are so real and full. Sometimes the characters are a little too realistic, and you realize she’s somewhat of an annoying woman who’s lost herself along the way and wants to cry about it, but sometimes you then realize that you’re in her shoes after a breakup and want some commiseration. 

3.      Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner
Cannie Shapiro is a 28 year old woman who’s nursing her ego after her boyfriend Bruce dumps her. Her ego takes an even bigger hit after she reads her ex’s magazine column where he states that “loving a larger woman is an act of courage in our world,” officially marking a downward spiral into tequila and self-wallowing. She pulls herself back up, gets her dreams back in order, and finds out that there are bigger fish to fry in life. Weiner is absolutely delightful to read, and while the story reminded me of Pamela Ribon’s other book Why Girls Are Weird (which might be one of my all-time favorite books), it has its own uniqueness and humor to it that makes you just love Cannie.

That’s all for now… feel free to post a book you think is good for getting over a broken heart-- Oh, and about the formatting. Don't start a blog out in Word. The formatting doesn't translate.

Hamilton, A. (2010, March 18). 8 Books to Read With a Broken Heart. Retrieved September 29, 2010, from

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Words at Work and Play

I'd be willing to bet that most people agree that words are significant in our society. Just ask the Old Spice Guy, and he'll tell you the same.  Maybe you're reading this because you want your words to take on more significance, or maybe it's that time of year when you or your loved ones are being forced to take standardized tests (with the kind of vocab that makes you think that learning these inane [adj: silly, stupid, not significant] words is an antedeluvian [adj: 1. old 2. of or pertaining to the time before the flood in the Bible] form of torture). The power of words and a strong vocab can be a great thing, and can make you feel smarter than the people around you, and who doesn't love that?

There are lots of standardized tests in which vocab knowledge goes a LONG way. Trust me on that. Some tests a better vocab is essential for are the SAT, ACT, GRE, and the MAT (Miller Analogies Test-- a lesser known test that can substitute taking the GREs for some grad schools, and is much better for students with vocab skills-- but check your applications to see if it counts).  But if studying vocab is dull and boring for you, maybe you're not doing it right to suit your own needs.

First off, words and vocab can and should be fun. Word masters like Edgar Allen Poe (The Bells) and Lewis Carroll (Jabberwocky) knew that. Even Eminem knows that. Sure, I'm not a huge fan of the messages he raps about, but he's pretty great with words.

1.  READ. This one's easy. You can read pretty much anything you like and you'll improve your vocab. Yes, graphic novels and comic books included. Magazines and blogs too! The more you read, the more vocab you'll come across. Take words in context, and if you're confused, look them up! It's just that simple.

2.  CROSSWORD PUZZLES. I love crossword puzzles, and sometimes they can be really challenging. You can buy them pretty much anywhere-- drugstores, grocery stores, bookstores, you name it! They're easy and they'll make you think, but better than that, they make words a game.

3.  AUDIO -- I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Podcasts are awesome when it comes to learning new vocab. When I was studying for the GREs, I listened to vocab podcasts in the car on my way to work. This cut down on the time that I needed to actually study when I got home, because I could do it in the car. The one I used the most was the Vocabulist by Prestige Learning, available on iTunes, or on their website.  It uses mnemonics (a device used for memorization, in this case-- pairing the vocab word with a funny way of remembering it) to help aid memorization.  (To see other tips for studying for the GREs, see my previous blog entry, "GREs: Grating, Repulsive, and Enervating"). There's also this thing called Flocabulary that incorporates vocab into rap and hip-hop music. It's AWESOME.

4.  STUDY with materials that don't make you want to shove your pen in your eye. I've been there before-- you see a vast ocean of words in front of you, bobbing up and down on the waves of the pages, and you think to yourself all of the other things you'd rather do than study those words. Use materials that will be the most helpful to you for studying for your test. Companies like the Princeton Review, Kaplan, and Barron's spend a lot of time researching the words used on previous standardized tests and then include them in their lists.  

If flash cards aren't appealing (and they weren't for me unless they were foreign language flash cards), then think of fun ways to use these words in sentences or even in poems, or make up your own lyrics to your favorite songs with them. Make up mnemonic devices for them. I Googled "words that frequently appear on SAT" and found this list of 100 words that most frequently appear on the SAT, so I'll show you some examples of mnemonics:

abate: v. to lessen, reduce    mnemonic: if your friend Ab ate something, he reduced it, or lessened its amount
brusque adj. short, rude   mnemonic: If someone has one too many brewskies, he/she may become more brusque
deleterious adj: harmful  mnemonic: If you accidentally delete that 10-page paper you finished on your computer, it will be harmful to your grade.
They can be dumb or funny, but the more they are, the more you'll probably remember them. 


List of 100 Most Common SAT words (linked above also):
I don't know where they got this information from, but looking at it, it seems like a    pretty good bet.

The Prestige Vocabulist by Prestige Learning  This is a link to the iTunes listings.  This is a link to the youTube videos that the Vocabulist has (and I think are probably the same as the iTunes ones).
The audio mnemoic vocab list that you can listen to in your car or even watch videos for online. It's awesome! This is what I used when studying for the GREs, but will also help you study for the SATs.

Software: Vocabulary Synapse: The Best Software for SAT and GRE Vocabulary by Mind Sculptor Software
I've never used this before, but it may be worth checking out at only about $11 on It uses Windows Vista/XP/Mac, Linux, Mac OSX

Audio: Flocabulary!
I had never heard of this, but found it recommended for vocab on It's actually got vocabulary building songs-- mostly hip-hop and rap-- and they make them for grades 2-8 and also at the SAT level! I'm so impressed by this... It also has the lyrics in it, so you can see the words they are rapping with.

Confessions of a High School Word Nerd by Arianna Cohen and Colleen Kinder. 
It's a short book, and it's written as an actual story but incorporates SAT vocab. Wherever they use an SAT word, its definition is added as a footnote at the bottom of the page. Pretty useful... 

Vocabulary Cartoons I and II by Sam Burchers
This has incredible reviews. I've never used these before, but they are meant to help learning SAT words using cartoon drawings.

Princeton Review's Word Smart by Adam Robinson
Great resource for those learning words for the SAT or GRE, by the Princeton Review, so you know they've done their homework. Also comes on audio CD if that works better for you!

601 Words You Need to Know to Pass Your Exam by Murray Bromberg  A vocab book put out by Barron's, so you know they've also done their homework.

Wordplay: Master SAT Vocab with Entertaining Rhymes by Eric Tackeff; Uses wordplay including synonyms, antonyms, and idioms for lots of words.This is only $0.01 on, so it's at least worth a shot!

Word Play Almanac by O.V. Michaelson; A just for fun approach to words-- full of "the most intriguing collection of word wit, wisdom, and amusement ever--served up by a former puzzle columnist for the Mensa International Journal" according to editorial reviews on Amazon.  Uses palindromes, anagrams, and all kinds of other fun word puzzles to get you thinking.

There are a lot of others-- don't be afraid to Google search ways to build your vocab!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Children's Author Highlight 2: Chris Van Allsburg

Chris Van Allsburg is a great children's book author and, in my opinion, an even better illustrator. Known especially for his pencil drawings, his depictions are surreal and even have dark tendencies. 

Most of his better-known works have become movies, with the animated  The Polar Express (2004) being the most notable.  Others are surprised to find that Jumanji (1995) with Robin Williams was also a Chris Van Allsburg creation. More recently, the book Zathura, which happens to be an off-shoot of the Jumanji story, was also turned into a movie in 2005. 

Although the movies are suitable for some children though, I wouldn't recommend them for all. Some of his stories might be scary to a lot of children. Although highly imaginative, they aren't light-hearted or feel-good books, but are rather more serious and require a little more thought than other children's books, so the concepts or themes may really be better suited for older children. And after reading several of his stories, I'm wondering also if he was the victim of torture by an older sibling... as that seems to be a common element throughout many of his books.

Stories I would recommend for all: 

The Polar Express (1985) Probably needs no introduction. A journey to the North Pole, and a little bit of faith.

Probuditi! (2006) Good for kids, and teaches you not to be mean to younger siblings. Beautiful sepia toned pencil drawings.

Just a Dream (1990) One that I loved as as kid, shows a kid what the world would look like if people stopped taking care of it. 

Ben's Dream (1982) After Ben falls asleep without studying for his geography test, he has dreams about the monuments he was supposed to learn about.  Not great if your child has a short attention span, because there are no words.

The Wreck of the Zephyr (1983) One of my brother's favorites. About a boy who learns how to fly his boat among the clouds, but learns humility as well.

The Z Was Zapped (1987) An alphabet book that describes the various maladies of letters-- uses larger language that younger kids may not quite understand.

Bad Day at River Bend (1995) A very creative way to incorporate a child's play into a story. 

Books I would recommend with some reservations or for older kids: 

Jumanji (1981) May be scary for very young children, but otherwise seems fine.

Zathura (2002) Again, may be scary for young children.

The Widow's Broom (1992)  A book about a magic broom that is threatening and on the scary side.

The Stranger (1986)  After a strange man is hit by a truck, he is invited into a family's home. The stranger can't remember who he is, but seems to have special abilities.  Although the story line is sweet enough, it would be bad to encourage young children to be so trusting toward strangers living in their house.

The Wretched Stone (1991)  Definitely the darkest of his books, it almost has an Edgar Allen Poe quality to it. There is an evil stone making strouble aboard the ship.

Two Bad Ants (1988)
The Sweetest Fig (1993)
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (1984)

For more information, see Chris Van Allsburg's website:

Information about the movies can be found at