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April 2016 meeting: Housekeys Not Handcuffs

The homelessness crisis is a hot ticket topic of discussion if you live in San Francisco and different viewpoints can often feel divisive. As it kept coming up in our bookclub discussions, we decided that we needed to do something about it. Read. Then discuss.


The book we chose Housekeys not Handcuffs: Homeless Organizing, Art, and Politics in San Francisco and Beyond by Paul Boden. Although I had not read it previously, I recommended it as I had heard some of the writers and artists speak at a community forum. I even knew some of the artists; much of the art in the book was created at the studio where I used to work, Hospitality House Community Arts Program.


Housekeys not Handcuffs is a series of essays by Paul Boden, who has been in the homeless organizing field here in SF since 1983 when he himself was homeless. There were also essays by Art Hazelwood, an artist and activist, Bob Prentice, who did a lot of early policy work surrounding homelessness, and many unnamed authors from decades of of Street Sheet, the newspaper that covers homeless issues and that people can sell to supplement their income instead of pan handling. In regards to the content of the book, more of us bookclub members were more engaged by the artwork than the text. Prints, murals, cartoons, photos, and mixed media gave a strong visual to the history of the homeless struggle. This piece by Christine Hanlon was a favorite.


"Vogue and Vagrant" by Christine Hanlon
“Vogue and Vagrant” by Christine Hanlon


What really made this Holistic Lady Bookclub a night for the records is that the author Paul Boden joined us in person, bravely crossing the threshold as a man entering into the sacred territory of an all female bookclub. He shared it was his first ever bookclub meeting as well and it was our first meeting with the author sitting in the room with us. We all were excited and a little nervous.


We started our meeting with sharing what felt like home–several women felt their parents’ house where they grew up was home, others said their husbands, kids, and pets felt like home, someone named their apartment in SOMA, someone described the moment in the drive over the Golden Gate Bridge when you can feel the fog, someone else said community and public libraries make a place feel like home. We all could easily identify that feeling of safety, of belonging, of knowing your place.


As Paul shared details of his experience, history of funding changes, inequalities that exist in our system, and advice on what a mother bear wanting to protect her den and cubs experiencing compassion fatigue should do, it became clear that every single one of us in the room was learning something new. Some shared the overwhelming need to examine previous beliefs and how they view people who are living on the street or even that this conversation might influence how they vote in the future.


Does life get much better than reading a book to learn more and having a beautiful discussion that really digs into history, life experience, and beliefs?


If you would like to purchase Housekeys not Handcuffs, Paul recommended you buy the book straight from their website  since they don’t get any cut of the Amazon sales. The Western Regional Advocacy Project website is also chocked full of resources, artwork, history, and actions about homelessness organizing.


Paul Boden with the Holistic Lady Bookclub on April 20, 2016
Paul Boden with the Holistic Lady Bookclub on April 20, 2016

62nd Book Review – Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Every book club meeting start out the same. We made it a habit to arrive early to chit chat prior to talking about the book and last night was no different. 6 of us were present at Urszula’s first hosting gig to share memorable short stories from Allie Bosch’s Hyperbole and a Half. In my mind I imagined doing this post with back to back pictures of how our meeting played out- but that is not happening. Not sure what software Allie uses but it takes patience and skills to make stick figure animation come alive. I leave you with my one and only stab at illustration using Microsoft paint.


61st Book Review – The Opposite of Loneliness

Was Marina Keegan going to become a great American author or is her posthumous success more of a Selena effect? A success after death carried by the potential of who she could have become…Who knows. What we do know is that The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories is a great collection of short stories both fiction and non fiction. It’s a quick and inspiring read. The topics are evocative, deep but delivered with the freshness of her 22 year old soul.

What was particularly catching to me is the depth of her writing and how each story was different from another. It’s not like reading Paulo Coelho where you are going to be hit with “search for the meaning of life” in every book. Marina’s stories had underlying themes of love but delivered differently from one story to the next. She writes about young love, old love, parental love, love for humanity – all in different context and flavors.

This book is a must read.

I leave you with some quotes discussed during the bookclub meeting and youtube videos of her in the news and delivering poetry at Yale.

  • “She had the rare combination of being quiet and popular, a code that made her intimidating to younger, fashionable girls and mysterious to older confident boys.”
  • “I heard the creak of a door behind me and turned, quickly, to see Julian shutting its heavy frame behind him, panting. Jared’s hands were on Emma and I felt him pulling and myself letting go.”
  • “Why do we spend so much time caring about the animals? Yes, their welfare is important, but surely that of human is more so.”

The Goldfinch: Forty-Seventh Book Wrap-Up

My sister jokes that too much of a good thing is an awesome thing. She may be onto something as that is exactly how some Holistic Ladies felt about the Goldfinch. Donna Tartt’s rise to fame is the talk in literary circles. Her writing style is so vivid that some not only felt drawn to but almost intruding the protagonist’s personal space. For Sarah, the writing was so palpable that she had to put the book down to avoid devouring such a beautiful story. But for others, too much vivid writing was not necessarily enjoyable- especially when reading the whirlwind of Theo’s friendship with Boris. gold

We talked about the “Bori’s” in our lives during our transitional years, how Theo was dealt the short end of the stick and how he ultimately absorbs his dad’s traits. Check out Donna Tartt’s discussion of the book for more insight on the book and her writing process.

Here are some of our memorable quotes

  • “Maybe sometimes- the wrong way is the right way? You can take the wrong path and it still comes out where you want to be? Or spin it the other way, sometimes you can do everything wrong and it still turns out to be right?”
  • That life- whatever it is – is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random.

Our next book is a collection of essays called “The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison. Check back next month for the blog update.

A House in the Sky: Forty-Sixth Book Wrap Up

Amanda Lindhout, in her book A House in the Sky, takes us on the journey that lead to herA House in the Sky widely known 460 day captivity in Somalia. I think its safe to say that the Holistic Ladies, in general, enjoyed this book and the conversation it. Some applauded her audacity to explore war torn countries alone while others lamented the circumstances which lead her to starting a foundation. I asked what was Amanda’s biggest flaw and someone said “thinking she was invincible,” as she did not measure the level of danger she put her family in. It does take a certain degree of guts to start a journalism career in dangerous places without proper safety planning. We wondered what Nigel Brennan, her traveling buddy, has written about in his memoir The Price of Life: A True Story of Kidnap & Ransom, how his storytelling differs from Amanda, and how he describes her.

We recommend this book, but do give a warning to those sensitive to rape stories. It is unfortunate for women in the 21st century to fall silent under the common presence of  sexual abuse, especially under the pretense of religious or cultural norms.

To Kill a Mockingbird: Forty-Fifth Book Wrap Up (By Jessica R)

Last night, we met up at Katie’s and had a wonderfully, jam-packed discussion about… LIFE! Unfortunately, only two of us read Mockingbird in its entirety, but we didn’t let that upset the balance of our meeting. We were able to dig deep into the recesses of everyone’s memories and have a pretty good discussion about the book, but the biggest part of the meeting was celebrating all of the big changes in our lives! From new jobs, to new boyfriends, our Holistic Ladies are at a crossroads in their lives, and are eager to follow new paths. Thank you to everyone for being so supportive of one another and genuinely happy for each other!

As far as Mockingbird, we dove into a discussion about what makes a “Classic” a classic. We agreed that a classic is a book that deals with strong issues of the time. Mockingbird, for example, written in 1960, dealt with race and class in the South. There has been wide-spread controversy surrounding this book since it was written, and it is still banned from some communities.

We discussed the major theme of innocence and the loss of innocence. “It is a sin to kill a mockingbird” because they are innocent. The book had a few characters who were suppose to be “mockingbirds”, and their innocence was discussed. My favorite quote, said by Atticus to his son, Jem, after Tom was found guilty of rape because he was black was: “I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it — seems that only children weep.”

We decided to pick the next 2 books to make it easier to stay on top of the reading with our new schedules. Our next book is The Vacationers by Emma Straub, which will be discussed at our next meeting on July 15th (this date is tentative because only one of the Ladies was available on the 8th). The book that will be discussed in August will be House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett.

Orange is the New Black: Forty-Fourth Book Wrap Up

Disclaimer – this is not a book review, but a recap on the book discussion from last week as IKerman_Orange-is-the-New-Black_Netflix-Tie-In2  did not read the book!

Apparently, Orange is the New Black is about a nice female Caucasian who commits the crime of accomplice during her young adult life and is put in prison for a short period of time. The book highlights the inefficiencies of the prison system – a system that seems to be

Some of the ladies recommend the book, other’s don’t and encourage to skip and read Wild instead. full of “chicken shit rules written by chicken shit people.” The book also touches on the unwritten rules established by inmates, like how each race protects their own. During the book discussion, the Holistic Ladies talked about the seemingly infinite loop of crime and unfit punishment, what outcasts turn into after servicing a sentence, how the prison population is forecasted based on reading scores and, damn, how it all goes back to education.

We will meet again May 6th to discuss Eleanor & Park


Divergent & Marry Him: Forty-Second & Forty-Third Book Wrap Up

February’s monthly book meeting could not have showed cased two more different books. One the one hand, there was the relentless heroine from Divergent fighting tooth and nail to stay alive. On the other, Marry Him is an attempt to give women a new prospective about finding love: don’t dismiss potential mates before giving them a true chance.

Veronica Roth’s novel Divergent greatly resembled The Hunger Games, one of last year’s favorite reads. Divergent is a book about the division of society into personality types. Although the book portrays an exaggeration of five personality types, it sheds light into the way humans often self segregate. The protagonist’s struggle to select the personality type she would forever be reminded many of the time they were in high school trying to find themselves. Similarly, while the characters in the book fight to belong in a personality type, like in real life, the characters also fight not to be cast offs. The ladies are thrilled about the upcoming film next month!

The ladies had very strong opinions about Lori Gottlieb’s Marry Him. There were some that swore by the book, following its tenets when looking for “Mr. (Not) Perfect.” For others, the book seemed to overlook the reasons why some relationships don’t work in the first place. Simply looking at a relationship in retrospect neglects the person’s raw emotions felt at the point in time.  Bottom line, finding love is not easy. But as one of the ladies best said it “Everyone who wants a husband should take it as seriously as their career!”


Bling Ring: Thirty-Six Book Wrap Up & New Book

AND we are back!

The Bling Ring by Nancy Jo Sales proved to be mindless easy summer reading (Holistic Ladies can only take so much of Hemingway’s tumultuous life and other dense topics). The Bling Ring read like an unnecessarily long news article as pointed out by our newly wed Nicole, but it gave us a glimpse in the lives of unprotected celebrity homes. BlingRingPB_CoverFINAL

For long celebrities have enjoyed an invisible shield, but with the rise of reality TV and social media, that shield was trespassed and allowed these Calabasas kids of the bling ring easy access to the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom to name a few. They walked out with not only thousands of dollar’s worth of private belongings, but also with unrequited fame.

How much can educated women of the Bay Area discuss about this book besides fantasizing which celebrity home we would want to peek in? A lot, actually. We talked about 3 main themes: the rise of narcissism amongst teenagers, cocaine use and the importance of parent participation during middle school years. According to the book, our teenagers nowadays are openly more narcissistic due to various environmental factors such as the rise of self-help movement, divorce rate, the rise of celebrity-driven media and reality television (the book does make some sweeping generalizations). Julie brought up the quote which says: “A 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 51 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds said their most or second-most important life goal after becoming rich—was becoming famous.” Our kids are not only self-absorbed, but they want the whole world to take notice of them.

Along the lines of attention comes the increasing use of highly addictive and dangerous recreational drugs… step away marijuana, Cocaine and Molly are in town. Karen pointed out that schools should be more proactive in informing about the different types of drugs available just as much as safe sex is preached.

Lastly, we talked about parental involvement. Some of us were surprised that the parents of these bling kids were absent in the story. Though we all had our mischievous ways, wouldn’t our parents have noticed our strange behavior if we were stealing LV bags? Our gracious host and middle school administrator, Jenn, pointed out that middle school is when parental involvement is most important – it is the age our kids start showing adult like behavior and demand the most attention. Who knows? Perhaps parental involvement would have deterred these bling kids from stealing, lying and consuming so much cocaine.

Since this book is unnecessarily long, I suggest you skip it and watch the movie starring Emma Watson instead. At least you will have a visual of Paris Hilton’s closet.

Our next book is: “And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini. Our next meeting will be on Oct 10th.

Gone Girl: Thirtieth Book Wrap Up & New Book (by Katie)

Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” explores the fallout of a marriage gone wrong. The story opens on the day of Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary and quickly shows itself as a murder mystery/psychological thriller when Amy goes missing and Nick becomes the prime suspect.

While it takes you down a dark and twisted road none of us hope to personally experience, almost all of the Holistic Ladies could relate to the basic premise of a relationship that blossoms, peaks and eventually fails:

– The excitement at the beginning when everyone is his/her “best self”

– The disappointment when you see your partner’s true colors

– The pain of growing apart

– The desperation and sadness when it appears the relationship may end


That’s the first half of the book. The 2nd half reveals the characters for who they really are and ends with a punch more shocking than anything you’ve encountered up to that point. Flynn’s set-up is so compelling that you almost feel personally betrayed by these characters. Do Nick and Amy deserve each other? On this point, the group was split.


The one thing we all agreed on is that “Gone Girl” is a must-read. It’s incredibly well written and already a contender for our Best Book of 2013. Just be sure to find a reading buddy – you’ll definitely want to discuss when you’re done.

Some of Our Favorite Quotes

  • “Should I remove my soul before I come inside?” (p.4)
  •  “I am not interested in being set up. I need to be ambushed, caught unawares, like some sort of feral love-jackal.” (p.11)
  •  “I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.
  • It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.” (p.73)
  •  “Ironic people always dissolve when confronted with earnestness, it’s their kryptonite.” (p.260)

Special Event

Join the Holistic Lady Book Club at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on Tuesday, April 23rd for a lecture and book signing with “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn! You can purchase tickets here.

Our next book is “The Light Between Oceans” by M.L. Stedman.


“After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel.”