Books

Books Read in April 2020

I read 13 books in April (eight were audiobooks), which brings my 2020 total to 47.

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Recommended

1) This Is Big: How the Founder of Weight Watchers Changed the World (and Me), Marisa Meltzer

Description: Meltzer began her first diet at the age of five. Nearly four decades later, she comes across an obituary for Jean Nidetch, the housewife who founded Weight Watchers in 1963. Weaving Jean’s incredible story as weight loss maven and pathbreaking entrepreneur with her own journey through Weight Watchers, Meltzer chronicles the deep parallels and enduring frustrations in each woman’s decades-long efforts to lose weight and keep it off.

I’m attracted to all types of books about weight, written by people who are too large, too small, or just right (but feel a compulsion to remain that way).

Marisa is self-assured in many ways, but not when it comes to her weight. She disagrees that it’s possible (at least for her) to adopt body positivity or body neutrality. I like how the book goes back and forth from her story to that of Weight Watchers founder Jean Nidetch. Marisa does it really well, and her observations are spot-on.

I looked up Marisa before reading her book and found a lot of articles to share:

If you want to read excerpts from the book, you can find them here, here, and here.

There are interviews/Q&As with Marisa in the Post, the Times (the Times also did a review), and in the Daily Beast.

I also read some of her past articles. I liked How I Learned to Stop Hating My Body, Are Diets the Enemy of Feminism?, and this profile she wrote about Jean Nidetch before she started writing her book.

2) Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit, Eliese Colette Goldbach

Description: Working in a steel mill was never Goldbach’s dream. Fresh out of college, eager to leave behind her conservative hometown, she found herself applying for a job — her only shot at financial security in an economically devastated and forgotten part of America. Goldbach brings us inside the belly of the mill and takes a look at her Rust Belt childhood, struggling to reconcile her desire to leave without turning her back on the people she’s come to love.

I never would have read this if it was written by a man working in a steel mill. The presence of women (and their observations) in this type of environment is rare enough that it stands out. Eliese was valedictorian in high school, ran track, craved culture, and earned a college degree. Yet even with all that, she ended up working in a steel mill for three years. I really enjoyed hearing how it happened and learning about her experiences. There’s a nice overview of the book (and interview with the author) here.

3) Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains, Cassie Chambers

Description: Nestled in the Appalachian mountains, Owsley County is one of the poorest counties in both Kentucky and the country. After rising from poverty to earn two Ivy League degrees, an Appalachian lawyer pays tribute to the strong “hill women” who raised and inspired her, and whose values have the potential to rejuvenate a struggling region.

Cassie was able to escape the life of her ancestors because she got an education. Not just any education, but an undergraduate degree from Yale and a law degree from Harvard. After all that, she returned to Kentucky to represent people who couldn’t afford her services (especially female survivors of domestic violence) for free. She’s impressive and I enjoyed her story.

4) The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars, Meghan Daum

Description: Daum examines our country’s most intractable problems with honesty instead of outrage. With passion, humor, and most importantly nuance, she tries to make sense of the current landscape — from Trump’s presidency to the #MeToo movement and beyond. In the process, she wades into the waters of identity politics and intersectionality, the gender wage gap, and tests a theory about the divide between Gen Xers and millennials.

Daum has written some of my favorite books of essays. I’ve wanted to read this book since it was released last fall but none of the libraries where I have a membership carry it. I signed up for a free trial month of Scribd and was able to listen to the audiobook that way. I must admit I liked Daum’s previous books better, but this one is worth reading/listening to.

Learn about how writing a book about the Trump era devoured her life, and read excerpts from the book here and here.

5) What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City, Mona Hanna-Attisha

Description: Dr. Hanna-Attisha, with a team of researchers, parents, friends, and community leaders, discovered that the children of Flint, Michigan, were being exposed to lead in their tap water — and then battled her government amid a brutal backlash to expose that truth to the world. Paced like a scientific thriller, she reveals how austerity policies, broken democracy, and bureaucratic indifference placed an entire city at risk.

I avoided this book for months because I thought it would be dry, but I was impressed. Dr. Mona writes in an accessible way. Of course you’ve heard about the water issue in Flint; Dr. Mona was the one who led the charge to make people pay attention.

6) Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier, Victoria James

Description: A memoir from the country’s youngest sommelier, tracing her path through the glamorous but famously toxic restaurant world.

Victoria became the youngest sommelier at a Michelin-starred restaurant at age 21. I liked her backstory — she comes from a scrappy, decidedly not-privileged background and developed an interest in wine when she became a bartender.

She had a rough childhood but rose through the ranks of low-wage worker to sommelier relatively quickly. She wasn’t just a young female sommelier, she entered and won multiple wine competitions. Of course, she also experienced rampant sexual harassment from co-workers and guests. You can read more about the book here.

7) The Unexpected Spy: From the CIA to the FBI, My Secret Life Taking Down Some of the World’s Most Notorious Terrorists, Tracy Walder

Description: This is the story of a young woman who went straight from her college sorority to the CIA, where she hunted terrorists and WMDs, and later did a stint in the FBI. Catching the bad guys wasn’t a problem in the FBI, but rampant sexism was. Walder left the FBI to teach young women, encouraging them to find a place in the FBI, CIA, State Department, or the Senate — and thus change the world.

Walker was an “unexpected” spy because she was a sorority girl who talked to a CIA recruiter at an on-campus job fair while wearing flip flops. But she certainly wasn’t ditzy; she loved history, politics, and current events, and originally planned to be a teacher.

One thing I found interesting was how very non-secretive her recruitment process was. I’ve read other books and accounts where potential recruits were expressly forbidden to tell anyone they were applying to the CIA — but maybe that rule was instituted more recently than Walder’s recruitment in the late 1990s. (In addition to many of her sorority sisters finding out she had applied, her acceptance letter arrived in the mail — also at the sorority house — with “CIA” stamped in big letters on the envelope.)

Walder was involved in a number of interesting overseas missions before she decided to put a future family first and transfer to the FBI so she could be based in the U.S. There’s a good profile of Walder here, including an update on what she does now that she’s no longer in the CIA (or FBI).

8) House Lessons: Renovating a Life, Erica Bauermeister

Description: Bauermeister renovates a trash-filled house in eccentric Port Townsend, Washington, and in the process takes readers on a journey to discover the ways our spaces subliminally affect us. A personal exploration of the psychology of architecture, as well as a loving tribute to the connections we forge with the homes we care for and live in, this book is designed for anyone who’s ever fallen head over heels for a house.

You really have to fall head-over-heels for a house to undertake all the work this family did. The house was filled with trash when they bought it, the foundation needed to be repaired, the roof was rotten — and on top of all that, they lived in Seattle, so they drove back and forth for every visit (the trip took several hours each way and involved a ferry ride). They used their retirement fund to pay for the renovations (yikes!).

After the renovations were complete, they didn’t move in until years later (they rented it out instead) since their kids were settled in school in Seattle. They’ve been living in the house for a while now though, and appear to be happy. There’s an excerpt from the book here, along with some before/after photos of the house.

9) More Myself: A Journey, Alicia Keys

Description: As a celebrated musician, Keys has enraptured the nation with her heartfelt lyrics, vocal range, and piano compositions. Yet away from the spotlight, she has grappled with private heartache. Alicia’s journey is revealed not only through her own candid recounting, but through vivid recollections from those who have walked alongside her — from her girlhood in Hell’s Kitchen to the process of self-discovery she’s still navigating.

Alicia covers her background, absent father, early fame, and her relationship with her husband. Interspersed throughout are recollections from people she’s close to — her mother and husband, but also Oprah, Bono, and Michelle Obama. I listened to the audiobook so I can confirm each celebrity voiced their part. This was a fun look at someone I didn’t previously know a lot about.

I enjoyed this interview with Alicia on CBS Sunday morning (7 minutes).

10) The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir, Jenifer Lewis

Description: Lewis describes a road to fame made treacherous by dysfunction and undiagnosed mental illness. From her first taste of applause at five years old to landing on Broadway and ultimately achieving success in movies, television, and global concert halls, Lewis reveals her outrageous life story with humor, a few regrets, and unbridled joy.

I didn’t know anything about Jenifer Lewis before listening to her audiobook, but she’s played many roles in Hollywood. She started out on Broadway (she landed a gig on Broadway just 11 days after graduating from college). She’s had a lot of success over the years (her only non-creative job was a short stint working at a fast food restaurant when she was a teenager), but she also suffered from bipolar disorder and sex addiction.

Lewis has a big ego and a theatrical voice that makes her audiobook entertaining. I’m sure I enjoyed it more than if I was reading her on the page. The Washington Post profiled her here.

Okay

11) Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them, Adrienne Raphel

Description: An immersive exploration of the crossword puzzle and its fascinating history.

I’m not a crossword fan (it’s safe to say I’ve never completed an entire crossword in my life), but I enjoy random, in-depth explorations into a niche subject. I’d never really considered how popular this game is. Raphel goes into the origin of the crossword, and takes us to an annual championship that attracts puzzle solvers from around the world. I’m rating the book as Okay because some of the subject matter was obscure or uninteresting to me.

12) Wow, No Thank You: Essays, Samantha Irby

Description: A collection about aging, marriage, settling down with step-children in white, small-town America, health food and skincare obsessions, money trouble, and the real story of glamorous Hollywood life.

I started this book because I thought I needed something lighthearted, but even though I enjoyed Irby’s last book, I couldn’t get into this one. There were a few essays I liked, but more that I didn’t.

But maybe don’t take my word for it, since she received a rave review in the New York Times. You can read excerpts from the book here, here, and here.

13) Dottir: My Journey to Becoming a Two-Time CrossFit Games Champion, Katrin Davidsdottir

Description: This is the memoir of two-time consecutive CrossFit Games Champion Katrin Davidsdottir. As one of only two women in history to have won the title of “Fittest Woman on Earth” twice, she knows all about the importance of mental and physical strength.

I liked the beginning but it got a repetitive after a while. Large sections of the book contain very detailed recaps of the Crossfit competitions Katrin has been involved in.

Books

Books Read in March 2020

I read 10 books in March (five were audiobooks), which brings my 2020 total to 34.

These are the books I started reading in March but decided not to finish:

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Recommended

1) Untamed, Glennon Doyle

Description: Four years ago, Glennon — bestselling author, activist and humanitarian, wife and mother of three — was speaking at a conference when a woman entered the room. Glennon looked at her and fell instantly in love. Here, Glennon offers an examination of the restrictive expectations women are issued from birth; shows how hustling to meet those expectations leaves women feeling dissatisfied and lost; and reveals that when we quit abandoning ourselves and instead abandon the world’s expectations of us, we become women who can finally recognize ourselves.

I would have enjoyed listening to Glennon read her audiobook, but I checked out the e-book instead because I knew I’d want to pause and re-read things, and add bookmarks, all of which I did. Some parts are a bit woo-woo / self-helpy, which isn’t my preference, but I got enough value from it that I could overlook those parts.

Glennon is married to former professional soccer player Abby Wambach (I read her memoir a few years back). They met at an event for Glennon’s second book release and kept in touch afterward through calls and emails. Glennon decided to leave her husband (their issues went back years; he had been unfaithful on multiple occasions) before she and Abby even met in person for a second time.

She covers a wide range of subjects: recovery from substance abuse, racism, religion, mental illness.

I saved a number of quotes from the book so I could look back at them later. I won’t share some of what I related to, but there was one particular section on her thoughts about her body.

For context, Glennon is a very thin woman. She used to be bulimic, but admits to continued body dysmorphia: “[My body is] for loving and learning and resting and for fighting for justice. I know that every body on this earth has equal, unsurpassable worth. And yet. I still have the poison in me. I still have all the biases that were instilled in me for decades. I still struggle to love my body every single day. Fifty percent of all my daily thoughts are about my body. I still step on the scale to check my self-worth.”

There’s a good profile of Glennon here that was published earlier this month in the New York Times.

2) Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, Ada Calhoun

Description: When Calhoun found herself in the throes of a midlife crisis, she felt she had no right to complain. She was married with children and a good career. So why did she feel miserable, and why did it seem that other Generation X women were miserable, too? She looked into housing costs, HR trends, credit card debt averages, and divorce data. At every turn, she saw a pattern: sandwiched between the Boomers and the Millennials, Gen X women were facing new problems as they entered middle age, problems that were being largely overlooked.

I was born in 1980, so I’m on the cusp of Gen X and Millennial. The subject matter is relatable in a lot of ways, except for the parts where she talks about the stress of children (but that’s true for most books about women and stress). I’ve made major life decisions that minimize the amount of stress in my life: no kids, no pets, no car (I found it much more stressful to worry about whether my car needed maintenance, and trying to keep track of how long I could keep it parked on a particular street before it needed to be moved again). It was easier to remove it completely from my life.

So while this book isn’t completely relatable to me personally, I realize that many women will be able to relate to it. It was very well written and researched, and it was reviewed in the Washington Post here.

3) Burn the Place: A Memoir, Iliana Regan

Description: A singular, powerfully expressive debut memoir that traces one chef’s struggle to find her place and what happens once she does.

Iliana started out early as an alcoholic. It defined her for decades, but she got her act together in her early 30s. There was no stopping her after that — she started selling pierogi at farmer’s markets, moved on to hosting underground supper clubs with foraged ingredients, and eventually opened a Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago.

You can read a good article here about how she and her girlfriend plan to open a small inn in rural Michigan, and an excerpt from her memoir here.

4) Audition: A Memoir, Barbara Walters

Description: After more than 40 years of interviewing heads of state, world leaders, movie stars, criminals, murderers, inspirational figures, and celebrities of all kinds, Walters has turned her gift for examination onto herself to reveal the forces that shaped her extraordinary life.

I’ve had this on my to-read list for years; I should have gotten around to it earlier. I think the fact that it is 613 pages turned me off — so I listened to it instead (Walters doesn’t read it herself, which is unfortunate — but maybe she didn’t have time to dedicate to reading so many pages back in 2008 when this book was published).

It was a little weird to read about Walters’ romantic escapades since she normally comes across as buttoned-up. But that was interesting, and so was her father’s background in the entertainment industry (he gained and lost multiple fortunes over her lifetime). There’s a lot about her career, of course, her departure from NBC to ABC, and of course notable interviews. I knew that she broke barriers in media but I didn’t know the full extent until reading this book.

5) Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story, Jewel Kilcher

Description: Multi-platinum singer/songwriter Jewel explores her unconventional upbringing and extraordinary life in a memoir that covers her childhood, rise to fame, marriage, and motherhood.

I was familiar with some aspects of Jewel’s story (her atypical childhood — which included yodeling on stage, growing up in Alaska, living out of her car in her teens, her mother mismanaging her career and leaving her millions of dollars in debt), but this book filled in the gaps I didn’t know about.

I didn’t know how she got her record deal (she was discovered while singing at at a coffee shop), or that her first album was out for two years before it gained widespread attention, or that she produced a country album in 2008, or that she and Ty Murray (her now ex-husband) were a couple for many years before they got married.

I’ve enjoyed her music over the years — I’m not sure why I waited so long to listen to her audiobook (she even sings here and there…which is a first for an audiobook I’ve listened to, and I’ve listened to a lot of them).

This Washington Post profile from 2018 has a good update on what Jewel is up to these days and also mentions her memoir.

6) Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, Cathy Park Hong

Description: A ruthlessly honest, emotionally-charged exploration of the psychological condition of being Asian American, by an award-winning poet and essayist.

Racism directed towards Asian Americans isn’t discussed as much, but it certainly exists and has for a long time. The book is reviewed in the New Yorker here, and you can read an excerpt here.

7) Everything I Know About Love: A Memoir, Dolly Alderton

Description: When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming an adult, journalist and former “Sunday Times” columnist Dolly Alderton has seen and tried it all. Here she recounts falling in love, finding a job, getting drunk, getting dumped, and that absolutely no one can ever compare to her best girlfriends. This is about bad dates, good friends and—above all else— realizing that you are enough.

Dolly is British. This book was published two years ago in the U.K., but was just released in the U.S. last month. I’d never heard of her, but as a memoir with some random asides, I found it entertaining.

Okay

8) The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir, Samantha Power

Description: Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power, widely known as a relentless advocate for promoting human rights, has been heralded by President Obama as one of America’s “foremost thinkers on foreign policy.” Here, Power offers a response to the question “What can one person do?”—and a call for a more open and civil hand in our politics and daily lives.

Samantha is incredibly impressive. She worked under President Obama in various capacities, eventually working her way up to Ambassador to the United Nations. However, with all the experiences she had, you really have to like foreign policy details to enjoy this book.

9) Living with the Monks: What Turning Off My Phone Taught Me about Happiness, Gratitude, and Focus, Jesse Itzler

Description: Itzler — entrepreneur, endurance athlete, and father of four — only knows one speed: full blast. But when he felt like the world around him was getting too hectic, he didn’t take a vacation or get a massage. Instead, he moved into a monastery for a self-imposed time-out.

I read Jesse’s first book in January. I didn’t like this one as much. He admits in the very beginning that his purpose for living at the monastery (for just over two weeks; it wasn’t a long stint) was to write another book. He didn’t research the monastery in advance so he was surprised about every little thing he came across (these particular monks in upstate New York don’t shave their heads; their livelihood is raising and training German shepherds). He also told similar stories and made similar references to those in his first book.

10) Extreme: My Autobiography, Sharon Osbourne

Description: Sharon Osbourne reveals the truth behind the headlines — from her childhood as the daughter of music manager Don Arden, to managing and marrying Ozzy Osbourne, to her rising fame on shows such as The Osbournes and The X Factor.

The details for this book say it’s 365 pages, but the hardcover version must have had large print and a lot of photos — the audio version only took a few hours to get through. I require more substance! Sharon has had an interesting life, but it was tough to hear about how she stayed with Ozzy through his periods of constant drug and alcohol abuse, and all the physical violence. This book was published in 2006 so I hope they’re in a better place now. A google search landed on this video from last month; after decades of dying her hair red every month, she has gone gray. It’s very flattering on her.

Books

Books Read in February 2020

I read 10 books in February (five were audiobooks), which brings my 2020 total to 24.

These are the books I started reading in February but decided not to finish:

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Recommended

1) Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me, Adrienne Brodeur

Description: A daughter’s tale of living in the thrall of her magnetic, complicated mother, and the chilling consequences of her complicity, this is a brilliant, timeless memoir about how the people close to us can break our hearts simply because they have access to them, and the lies we tell in order to justify the choices we make. It’s a remarkable story of resilience, a reminder that we need not be the parents our parents were to us.

I didn’t think I’d like this book, but I decided to pick it up after it was highly rated by a blogger I’ve followed for years (the Washington Post liked it as well). I was surprised at how good it was, and I raced through it to find out what was going to happen — always a good sign.

2) Open Book, Jessica Simpson

Description: For the first time, Simpson reveals her inner monologue and most intimate struggles. Guided by the journals she’s kept since age fifteen, and brimming with her unique humor and down-to-earth humanity, this book is as inspiring as it is entertaining.

Jessica Simpson and I are close to the same age; I’m older than she is by a month and a day. I’ve never been into pop, so I wasn’t a fan of Simpson’s music, but of course I’ve heard many of her songs over the years and knew she created a billion-dollar clothing company. I’m sure I watched a few episodes of Newlyweds back in the day, too.

This is a behind-the-scenes look at some of the headlines you’ve seen over the years: Jessica’s relationship with (and divorce from) Nick Lachey; the “mom jeans” debacle where people the world over discussed how fat she looked (the jeans were a 25” waist / size 4); her toxic relationship with John Mayer; and her struggle with alcohol addiction (admittedly kind of adorable: she would call her perpetual tumbler of vodka + flavored Perrier her “glittercup”).

You can read recent profiles of Simpson in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and there’s an excerpt from her book in Glamour. You can also find out “10 heartbreaking details” from her memoir in The Cut.

3) Heavy: An American Memoir, Kiese Laymon

Description: Genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.

Kiese was raised in Mississippi by a single (educated, college professor) mother who never had enough money.

Parts of this book are tough to read, especially as he gets older. He is overweight as a kid, loses over 150 pounds, and gains it all back as an adult. He gave his mother a ton of money and she spent it all on gambling. I don’t want to give too much away. Even though this book is…well, heavy, it’s unlike anything I’ve read before.

You can read an in-depth profile about Laymon and his book in BuzzFeed.

4) Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs, Keena Roberts

Description: Roberts split her adolescence between the wilds of an island camp in Botswana and the even more treacherous halls of a Philadelphia private school. In Africa, she slept in a tent, cooked over a campfire, and lived each day alongside the baboon colony her parents were studying. When her family lived in the U.S., this kid from the bush was cowed by the far more treacherous landscape of the school social hierarchy.

Keena’s parents were primatologists. She reveled in her upbringing — not only living in Africa for a good chunk of her childhood, but living in a remote area where she rarely encountered people other than her family and fellow researchers. We learn what her daily life was like, and how she dealt with encountering wild animals — there’s a trick to staying safe around lions, hippos, and stampeding bison.

Keena was always apathetic about school, but she ended up going to college at Harvard and went on to obtain two master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins.

5) Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America; Essays, R. Eric Thomas

Description: Thomas didn’t know he was different until the world told him so. Everywhere he went — whether it was his rich, mostly white, suburban high school, his conservative black church, or his Ivy League college in a big city — he found himself on the outside looking in. In essays by turns hysterical and heartfelt, Thomas redefines what it means to be an “other” through the lens of his own life experience.

Thomas is a gay black man who came out in college and later married a Presbyterian minister, and talks about “not only his career but also racism, depression and loss” (Washington Post). It’s deep but also funny.

6) The Right Kind of Crazy: Navy SEAL, Covert Operative, and Boy Scout from Hell, Clint Emerson

Description: Emerson presents an explosive, darkly funny, and often twisted account of being part of an elite clandestine team of covert operatives whose mission was to keep America safe by whatever means necessary.

Emerson was in the Navy for several decades before he retired to start his own company. Near the end of the book he mentions receiving care for his traumatic brain injuries at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE). I found that especially interesting because — for about a year in the 2009-2010 time frame — I was part of a team involved in getting NICoE ready to open, and physically worked in the building for a few months after the grand opening (I worked for a consulting company for several years that was involved in federal government contracting). So it was nice to hear Emerson had a positive experience.

The only part of the book that annoyed me was when he kept having to say that such-and-such section was redacted by government sensors who read his book in advance of its publication (which makes sense, as he was involved in some confidential situations during his military career). I was listening to this on audio so I may have been annoyed at his saying “redacted” more so than if I’d been reading a physical version.

7) How We Fight For Our Lives: A Memoir, Saeed Jones

Description: Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family and country. Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers.

This is the story of an African American boy growing up with a single mother, and gradually accepting the fact that he is gay and coming out of the closet.

Okay

8) Know My Name: A Memoir, Chanel Miller

Description: Chanel reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma and transcendence. It was the perfect case, in many ways — there were eyewitnesses, her assailant ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering.

This book was written by the woman who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner. She is a good writer, I agree with her, she is brave and amazing for going through what she did. If I met her, I’d want to give her a hug (or at least shake her hand) and thank her. That being said, I downgraded the ranking because I thought her book was too long. As I was listening to the audiobook I kept thinking, “This could have been cut, that could have been cut.” It really felt like a slog.

9) Beautiful on the Outside: A Memoir, Adam Rippon

Description: A former Olympic figure skater and self-professed America’s Sweetheart, Rippon shares his underdog journey from beautiful mess to outrageous success.

Rippon reads his audiobook in an entertaining way, but unless you’re particularly interested in ice skating I wouldn’t recommend someone rush out to read it. The book does illustrate all the hard work and setbacks he overcame to achieve his Olympic bronze medal.

Not Recommended

10) In the Land of Men: A Memoir, Adrienne Miller

Description: A memoir about coming of age in the male-dominated literary world of the 1990s, becoming the first female literary editor of Esquire, and Miller’s personal and working relationship with David Foster Wallace.

Miller starts out by detailing what it was like to be an editorial assistant at GQ in the early 1990s. I liked the beginning okay — she was an assistant for three years, then her boss became Editor in Chief of Esquire magazine, and (to the shock of many) she was hired as Esquire’s literary editor (a job she acknowledges she didn’t have the experience for).

In the second half of the book, she started her relationship with the late author David Foster Wallace. I just did not care about him, and I didn’t care about their relationship. I was bored with it and wanted it to end. Read this article she wrote for Vogue instead.

Books

Books Read in January 2020

I read 14 books in January (five were audiobooks).

I think I set a personal record for the number of books I started but decided not to finish this month:

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Recommended

1) Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, Adam Minter

Description: Sooner or later, all of us are faced with things we no longer need or want. But when we drop off items at a local donation center, where do they go? Journalist Adam Minter takes us on an adventure into the often-hidden, multibillion-dollar industry of reuse: from thrift stores in the American Southwest to vintage shops in Tokyo, flea markets in Southeast Asia to used-goods enterprises in Ghana, and more.

I was intrigued by this book and zipped through it. I don’t bring a lot of things into my home, but reading this book made me realize I can do more to cut down on my waste. In the beginning of the book, Minter visits homes that are being cleaned out (either because someone has died or because the residents are downsizing). He then moves to the thrift store industry and explores the path your belongings might take: from the donation process, to being put out on the floor for sale, then going to an outlet center, and then either being packed for shipment overseas or a landfill. (He kept remarking over all the bowling balls he’d see headed to a landfill, so let this be a cautionary tale to those looking to buy one. Check your local thrift store first!)

Minter talks a lot about clothes, which is understandable given how big the industry is, and explains why it’s good to always donate clothing even if the items are torn or stained. If your clothes can’t be worn by anyone else, those textiles can be made into rags that benefit many industries (from restaurants, to hospitals, to auto shops). Thirty percent of the textiles recovered for recycling in the U.S. are converted to wiping rags.

I learned that more than half the apparel that arrives at Goodwill remains unsold (I knew it was a lot but I didn’t know the percentage). Some of it is sent to foreign countries in huge bales, but those recipients have standards and refuse what they can tell is substandard quality.

The final chapters focus on steps which can be taken to reverse the crisis of low quality goods (thrift stores aren’t fans of Ikea particleboard furniture; it usually goes directly to a landfill) and what can be done to ensure that more items flow to the boisterous secondhand economy.

2) Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, Ronan Farrow

Description: This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability, and silence victims of abuse – and it’s the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.

What stood out to me is the lengths guilty people (and those who are afraid to stand up to them, or who are getting paid by them) will go to in order to protect themselves and continue performing their dastardly deeds. Harvey Weinstein is beyond despicable. Kudos to Farrow for not giving up on his reporting, even when NBC decided to kill his well-reported story and he had to go to another outlet to get published. In addition to Weinstein, he addresses Trump and Matt Lauer’s sexual misconduct.

3) The Book of Eating: Adventures in Professional Gluttony, Adam Platt

Description: A hilarious and irreverent memoir of a globe-trotting life lived meal-to-meal by an influential and respected food critic.

I’ve read other food critic memoirs and enjoyed this one as well. Adam’s younger brother is the actor Oliver Platt (I didn’t recognize the name but recognized the face once I looked him up). Their father was a diplomat so they lived in several Asian countries growing up, giving them lots of opportunity for the food experimentation that built their eclectic eating habits.

In addition to how he got into food reporting, Adam addresses his multiple efforts to lose weight over the years, given how much he has to ingest in one sitting while reviewing a restaurant. He also talks about the switch from the old style format of long, well-researched restaurant reviews to quick blog style updates with the rise of the internet and social media. You can read an excerpt from his book here.

4) Toil & Trouble: A Memoir, Augusten Burroughs

Description: For as long as Burroughs could remember, he knew things he shouldn’t have known. He manifested things that shouldn’t have come to pass. And he told exactly no one about this, save one person: his mother. This is a chronicle of one man’s journey to understand himself, to reconcile the powers he can wield with things with which he is helpless.

I started reading the ebook version but quickly decided it would be better on audio, so I switched — and I was right. Augusten reads it himself and the experience wouldn’t be the same otherwise.

Augusten has known he was a witch since he was a child (he is descended from witches, according to his mother), but didn’t tell anyone except family until he was an adult. He has funny stories about his abilities, and also writes about his long-time partner and their move from a small NYC apartment to a rambling old house in rural Connecticut.

5) Columbine, Dave Cullen

Description: What really happened on April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the American psyche, but most of what we know is wrong. Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene and spent ten years on this book. He draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world’s leading forensic psychologists, and the killers’ own words and drawings. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers, which contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors.

I listened to this on audio, and understandably, the sections retelling the event itself can be difficult to listen to — I think listening was worse than reading it because the narrator’s tone is so insistent (short, urgent, staccato sentences) and could make my heart race. The book was incredibly well researched and I learned a lot about the Columbine massacre that I didn’t know before. (This book was published over 10 years ago and I had to wait on hold at the library to check out the audiobook, so obviously the story is still relevant.)

Cullen does a deep-dive into the killers’ childhood backgrounds and family situations, including past delinquencies and excerpts from journal entries. He debunked myths about the killers’ motives and other widely held beliefs, and goes into what happened in the years following the attack.

6) Uncanny Valley: A Memoir, Anna Wiener

Description: In her mid 20s, Wiener—stuck, broke, and looking for meaning in her work–left a job in book publishing for the promise of the new digital economy. She moved from New York to San Francisco, where she landed at a big-data startup in the heart of the Silicon Valley bubble. This is a first-person glimpse into high-flying, reckless startup culture at a time of unchecked ambition, unregulated surveillance, wild fortune, and accelerating political power.

An interesting look at transitioning to working in the tech world while San Francisco was undergoing seismic changes. Wiener was a non-tech technology worker (she worked in customer support), but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t well paid. My favorite line of the book: “My own psychic burden was that I could command a six-figure salary, yet I did not know how to do anything.” The author is interviewed in the Guardian here.

7) Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet, Jesse Itzler

Description: Entrepreneur Jesse Itzler will try almost anything: his life is about being bold and risky. So when he felt himself drifting on autopilot, he hired a rather unconventional trainer to live with him for a month — an accomplished Navy SEAL widely considered to be “the toughest man on the planet.”

First off: Itzler is being trained by a SEAL but he’s not in SEAL-like training. SEAL training is incredibly intense and takes up many hours a day — but Itzler maintains his regular work schedule throughout. Exercises involve running, body weight exercises, and gym workouts, rather than anything tactical (there aren’t even any water activities).

That being said, this story about a very rich white man (he’d made his own money even before he married the billionaire founder of Spanx) was more entertaining than I thought it would be. I’ve often enjoyed stories about people who shake up their lives by undertaking a challenge, and this was definitely a challenge — albeit one that a normal person would never be able to afford. His SEAL trainer not only lived with him in his Manhattan apartment, but traveled with him to multiple locations in their month together.

Interestingly (and I didn’t know this before I started listening to the audiobook), while Itzler refers to his trainer as SEAL throughout in the book, it turns out the SEAL in question was David Goggins (whose book I just read last month). Goggins seems much more hardcore in this book (in that Itzler doesn’t portray him as a very friendly guy to be around) than the way he comes across in his own book.

This is a cute article about Jesse and Sara’s marriage and how they met. I’m also looking forward to reading his next book, Living with Monks.

8) Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, Alex Stone

Description: As Stone navigates a quirky subculture populated by brilliant eccentrics, he pulls back the curtain on a community shrouded in secrecy, fueled by obsession and brilliance, and organized around one overriding need: to prove one’s worth by deceiving others. Investigating some of the lesser-known corners of psychology, neuroscience, physics, history, and even crime, all through the lens of trickery and illusion, Stone arrives at a host of startling revelations about how the mind works.

This was surprisingly enjoyable. It has a magic theme, but he goes off on other random topics that I also found interesting. He attends various magic schools and meets with a bunch of magicians in an attempt to increase his skills, and by the end of the book he’s created his own card trick that fools everyone he demonstrates it to. There’s a good review in the New York Times here.

9) The Bitch Is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier, Cathi Hanauer (editor)

More than a decade after the bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House spoke up loud and clear for a generation of young women, nine of the original contributors are back—along with sixteen captivating new voices—sharing their ruminations from an older, stronger, and wiser perspective about love, sex, work, family, independence, body image, health, and aging.

I didn’t read the first anthology, but this one was intriguing since I’m getting up there in age myself. There was a wide variety of stories, which I liked, from the decision to have a baby as a single woman, plastic surgery, divorce, lesbian relationships, and religion.

10) Life Without a Recipe: A Memoir, Diana Abu-Jaber

Description: Caught between cultures and lavished with contradictory advice from both sides of her family, Diana spent years learning how to ignore others’ well-intentioned prescriptions. This is Diana’s celebration of journeying without a map, of learning to ignore the script and improvise, of escaping family and making family on one’s own terms.

The book description doesn’t do a good job telling what the story is about. Diana marries three times (the first two happened when she was very young and making impulsive decisions). She decided she wanted a baby with her third husband, but by that time she was too old to have one naturally. By the time they researched and went through the adoption process, she didn’t become a mother until she was in her late 40s. Her daughter was horribly fussy. Her beloved father died from a rare form of leukemia. Random! But interesting enough.

11) The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means, Jeff Yeager

Description: From simple money saving tips to life changing financial strategies, the cheapskates next door know that the key to financial freedom and enjoying life more is not how much you earn, but how much you spend.

I didn’t come away with any new frugal tips (I either already do them or don’t plan to do them), but this book could be helpful for others who want to frugalize (my word, not his) their lives. I liked when he talked about how frugality is about happiness, not deprivation. Many people think buying less and consuming less is a huge hardship, but it’s actually about being happy with what you already have. He also notes that frugal people who don’t buy very much are better environmentalists: we’re not out there buying pricey eco-friendly products — we’re buying less of everything.

Okay

12) Full Circle: From Hollywood to Real Life and Back Again, Andrea Barber

Description: She grew up in front of the world on the beloved sitcom Full House, but then Barber abruptly left Hollywood. Why did she leave and what did she do for twenty years before returning to television? This is her memoir of fame, heartache, resilience — and the reboot of a lifetime.

For those who are wondering what happened to Kimmy Gibbler after she left Full House, here you go. I must admit I was more interested in reading about her early career and experiences on Full House / Fuller House. Her life in-between was less interesting to me, which was why I downgraded the ranking — college, mothering two kids (which inexplicably included a story about taking them on an unruly trip to Target, and a gross story about one of them getting sick), a tough divorce from her husband, and throughout it all, an extremely prevalent case of anxiety and depression.

13) Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: An Introvert’s Year of Living Dangerously, Jessica Pan

Description: What would happen if a shy introvert lived like a gregarious extrovert for one year? If she knowingly and willingly put herself in perilous social situations that she’d normally avoid at all costs? Jessica is going to find out.

As a fellow introvert, I recognized and identified with Jessica, and I liked how she showed that normal experiences we would normally shrink from (attending networking events where you don’t know anybody) can get better with exposure.

However, I almost gave up on this near the beginning and later wished I had. Reading about someone talking to random strangers, taking improv classes, and subjecting herself to public speaking just wasn’t interesting to me — plus, the concept reminded me of several books I’ve already read (The Year of Yes and My Year with Eleanor).

14) The Writing Life, Annie Dillard

Description: In this collection of short essays, Dillard illuminates the dedication, absurdity, and daring that characterize the existence of a writer.

I liked the parts where she talks about the writing life, and the various places she’s written: an isolated cabin with an insufficient stove, a small locked carrel in a library (she had a key to the library and could let herself in after hours), a one-room log cabin on a beach. But I found her writing style a bit too studious for the subject matter, and she often went off describing things that I didn’t find relevant. The final chapter was largely about a stunt pilot.

A good article based on the book talks about the three phases that every writer encounters.

Books

Books Read in December 2019

I read nine books in December (five were audiobooks), which brings my 2019 total to 156.

This is my highest annual book total since I started keeping track in 2003.

I used to publish my book lists in full at the end of each year, but I started posting monthly (with mini reviews) in January 2015.

Seventeen years of book totals are listed below. They start off completely normal in 2003, go off the rails a bit in 2006 (that’s the year I was living in California and had a 90-minute one-way bus commute to work), and returned to elevated levels in 2015.

2003: 41
2004: 42
2005: 45
2006: 110
2007: 31
2008: 34
2009: 25
2010: 47
2011: 27
2012: 66
2013: 42
2014: 53
2015: 137
2016: 105
2017: 112
2018: 94
2019: 156

****

2019 Book Stats:

Nonfiction vs. fiction: I read one fiction book this year (City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert).

Female vs. male: 71% of the books I read in 2019 were written by female authors.

Minority vs. non-minority: 15% of the books I read this year were written by minority authors (writers of color, LGBTQ, and underrepresented religious groups). This is similar to 2017 (14%) but not as good as last year (31%).

Audiobooks vs. ebooks/physical books: Similar to what I said above. This year audiobooks comprised 38% of my reading total (similar to 2017 at 34%), but not as hefty as last year (almost 45%).

Out of 156 books, here’s the breakdown of how I rated them:

  • Highly Recommended: 1 book
  • Recommended: 105 books
  • Okay: 42 books
  • Not Recommended: 8 books

This means I’d recommend 68% of the books I read this year to others. Last year the percentage was 63%, while in 2017 it was only 60%. I hope 2020’s percentage is even better.

Here are my top five books of 2019:

****

The December list

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Recommended

1) Permanent Record, Edward Snowden

Description: Snowden, the man who risked everything to expose the US government’s system of mass surveillance, reveals for the first time the story of his life, including how he helped to build that system and what motivated him to try to bring it down.

I’d heard of Snowden but hadn’t thought about him for years. I didn’t read a lot about his story (or anything about his background) when he became known in 2013, so I was going into this book pretty blind. What I took from his story was that he did what he did because he was convinced he was doing the right thing.

Six years later, he’s still living in Moscow, unable to travel outside Russia since the U.S. canceled his passport. I was intrigued enough by the book that I also watched the documentary Citizenfour, which I was able to watch in its entirely for free online.

2) Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the C.I.A., Amaryllis Fox

Description: Fox spent a decade with the spy agency after being recruited at age 21, and recounts her years living undercover, chasing terrorists, and infiltrating their networks.

I liked this book because Amaryllis’ story takes us from childhood, to how she was recruited by the C.I.A, what the job was like at various stages of her career, the pros and cons of living the clandestine life, and ultimately her decision to retire and move on to something else.

There’s a good book excerpt here and an article about her in the New York Times here.

3) A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston, Robyn Crawford

Description: After decades of silence, Robyn Crawford, close friend, collaborator, and confidante of Whitney Houston, shares her story.

Growing up, I knew Houston as someone with an amazing voice who occasionally acted in movies, accompanied by whispers of drug use and domestic abuse. I wasn’t a super fan, but I enjoyed learning more about her life. Robyn and Whitney met as teenagers, and Robyn not only became a trusted assistant who traveled around the world with her, but they lived together in the same house for many years.

Robyn doesn’t mince words when it comes to her thoughts on the lying, cheating, abusive Bobby Brown, and how Whitney’s relationship with him ultimately led to Robyn’s resignation in 2000 (after spending two decades together). Here are five things Robyn disclosed about Whitney in her book.

4) Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, John E. Douglas

Description: He has hunted some of the most notorious and sadistic criminals of our time. He has confronted, interviewed, and researched dozens of serial killers and assassins, including Charles Manson, Richard Speck, John Wayne Gacy, and James Earl Ray. He is Special Agent John Douglas, the man who ushered in a new age in behavioral science and criminal profiling. Retired after 25 years of service, Douglas can finally tell his unique and compelling story.

This book was published in 1996, so it’s been around a while. Douglas covers how he got his job with the FBI, and the various postings he had until he ultimately ended up in behavioral science at Quantico. A lot of the book covers high-profile cases he was involved with.

5) Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland, Sarah Moss

Description: Novelist Sarah Moss had a childhood dream of moving to Iceland, sustained by a wild summer there when she was nineteen. In 2009, she saw an advertisement for a job at the University of Iceland and applied on a whim, despite having two young children and a comfortable life in an English cathedral city. The resulting adventure was shaped by Iceland’s economic collapse, which halved the value of her salary, by the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, and by a collection of new friends.

I learned a lot about what it’s like to live in Iceland, from the perspective of an outsider. I wouldn’t want to live there but I enjoyed reading about Sarah’s experience. For the first few months, her family couldn’t afford to buy a car so they walked or took buses everywhere (apparently this was strange as Icelanders tend not to walk places and only young people take the bus). She also found the culture to be very insular.

Okay

6) Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail, Caitlin Kelly

Description: One woman’s mid-career misadventures in the absurd world of American retail.

This book gets a low rating on Goodreads (2.6 as of this writing). Normally I don’t read books that are rated so low, but the premise of this one intrigued me. The naysayers are correct in saying that the author isn’t representative of the typical retail worker, but that’s not what bothered me — sometimes it’s helpful to have a view from an outsider looking in.

What bothered me was the repetition — this woman could not stop repeating herself. Certain things would be repeated in almost every chapter, which drives me up a wall. Is the author assuming we’ve forgotten what she wrote from one chapter to the next? It’s either that or extremely substandard editing. It’s unfortunate, because I liked her writing style otherwise.

7) Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, Julie Andrews

Description: Andrews begins the story with her arrival in Hollywood and her rise to fame in her earliest films. She describes her years in the film industry and unveils her personal story of adjusting to a new and often daunting world, dealing with the demands of unimaginable success, being a new mother, the end of her first marriage, embracing two stepchildren, adopting two more children, and falling in love with the brilliant and mercurial filmmaker Blake Edwards.

Andrews gives a brief recap of her childhood in the introduction, but she wrote about all that in her first memoir, which I haven’t read. Most of this book is about her entry into Hollywood, and details on the films she made: Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, of course, but also others.

I listened to this on audio, and I’m glad Andrews read it because she has a pleasant voice, but I didn’t love this book. There were too many unnecessary details, too much minutiae. A bigger Andrews fan than I am might enjoy it more.

In this excerpt, Andrews looks back on filming the iconic opening sequence of The Sound of Music.

8) Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, David Goggins

Description: For Goggins, childhood was a nightmare of poverty, prejudice, and physical abuse. But through self-discipline, mental toughness, and hard work, he transformed himself from a depressed, overweight young man into a U.S. Armed Forces icon and one of the world’s top endurance athletes. The only man in history to complete elite training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller, he went on to set records in numerous endurance events, inspiring Outside magazine to name him “The Fittest (Real) Man in America.”

I picked this up due to the sheer number of people who have rated this book on Goodreads — just under 25,000 when I last checked in mid-December. Goggins overcame a lot to reach his level of personal success and physical achievements. However, I didn’t love his writing style. He’s a testosterone-laden male, and I think his book would appeal to others of the same type (or those who aspire to be that type). That being said, his accomplishments (and his proven ability to push through immense pain, and try over and over again to achieve a goal he didn’t make it through the first time) are definitely impressive.

9) There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids, Linda Åkeson McGurk

Description: In this memoir, a mother sets out to discover if the nature-centric parenting philosophy of her native Scandinavia holds the key to healthier, happier lives for her American children.

It may seem strange that I sometimes read parenting books, but I enjoy reading books like this…as long as the mothers are talking about parenting in foreign locales! I enjoy descriptions of what life is like raising kids in the U.S. versus other countries.

As you can see from this book’s place at the bottom of the list, I wasn’t enamored by this one. It took me longer than usual to get through it. I felt like the author’s argument could be summed up with “Kids need outside time!” It felt like reading the same information over and over.

Books

Books Read in November 2019

I read 11 books in November (three were audiobooks), which brings my 2019 total to 147.

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Recommended

1) Long Way Home: A Memoir, Cameron Douglas

Description: Cameron is born into wealth, privilege, and comfort. His father is a superstar, his mother a beautiful socialite, his grandfather a legend. On the surface, his life seems golden. But by the age of 30, he has taken a hellish dive: he’s become a drug addict, thief, and convicted drug dealer. Cameron gives a raw and unstintingly honest recounting of his harrowing and, in the end, inspiring life story.

This isn’t the type of book I normally pick up (and if it wasn’t written by Michael Douglas’ son, I likely wouldn’t have), but I’m glad I did. Cameron is a very honest writer, sometimes to the point where you want to shake your head at him — or drop your jaw in horror. In addition to his drug use from a young age, and later selling drugs to finance his habit, he was involved in a lot of fights (from childhood all the way through prison).

He’s pretty matter of fact in his retelling of growing up amongst famous people (when he mentions his stepmother, it’s a reference to “my stepmother, Catherine” — not “Catherine Zeta Jones”).

Cameron was in the juvenile justice system as a teenager and went to rehab many times. It took a long time before he decided he was ready to give up drugs.

The book was longer than I expected (400 pages, although I listened to it on audio). A large portion was a detailed experience of his stint in prison, which I did wish was a little shorter, but I found value in it.

You can read a recent article about Cameron in the New York Times here, and I really enjoyed this ABC News / Diane Sawyer interview with Cameron and Michael Douglas here.

2) Good Husbandry: Growing Food, Love and Family on Essex Farm, Kristin Kimball

Description: Kimball describes the delicious highs and sometimes excruciating lows of life on Essex Farm — a 500-acre farm that produces a full diet for a community of 250 people.

Kristin also authored the memoir The Dirty Life, which recounts her first years on the farm and getting married to her now-husband. Here, she reveals what happened over the next five years at Essex Farm. I like how she disclosed the true ups and downs of farm life. While she loves the hard work and productivity, and especially the bounty of food in their kitchen, she’s straightforward about how they are pretty much always working, rarely/never take vacations (especially not the entire family, because at least one of them has to be at home), and will never be rich (or even have any retirement savings to count on).

She also talks candidly about difficulties in her marriage, especially after she birthed two girls and their relationship went from being one where they mostly worked together, to them taking on diametrically separate roles (farm work for her husband and domestic duties for her). There was a period of a few years where she often considered what it would be like to leave, and while she ultimately decided to stick it out (and things did get better once her kids got older and didn’t rely on her for all their needs anymore), you could tell how much this bothered her. I appreciate how honest she was about this part of her life.

3) She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey

Description: From the Pulitzer-prize winning reporters who broke the news of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and abuse for the New York Times, this is the thrilling untold story of their investigation and its consequences for the #MeToo movement.

Most of this book is about how Kantor and Twohey broke the Harvey Weinstein story: how it came about, the intimidation and threats, and what happened after. I knew a lot of the story, but I hadn’t heard all of it. What really stood out was how thorough and careful they were to get the details right. The last few chapters cover what happened with Christine Blasey Ford during the Kavanaugh hearings.

4) If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now: Why We Traded the Commuting Life for a Little House on the Prairie, Christopher Ingraham

Description: This is the story of Ingraham’s decision to uproot his life and move his family to Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, population 1,400 — the community he made famous as “the worst place to live in America” in a story he wrote for the Washington Post. In Red Lake County, Ingraham experiences the intensity of small-town gossip, suffers through winters with temperatures dropping to 40 below zero, and unearths some truths about small-town life that the coastal media usually miss.

This is interesting: Ingraham writes an article in the Post where he mentions Red Lake County, Minnesota is at the very bottom of a ranking for “most desirable places to live in America.” There’s an uproar from county residents, so Ingraham decides to travel to this county and discovers all kinds of great things about it. Not long after, disgruntled by their long DC-area commutes and high cost of living, he and his wife decide to move to this county.

The only thing I want to call out here is Ingraham received permission from his employer to work remotely, so he was able to exchange his long commute for NO commute. (If he hadn’t been approved to work remotely, he never would have moved to this rural area jobless.) I like how he contrasts rural versus suburban living, and midwest versus east coast living, while also noting all the things we have in common.

Additional articles of interest: 1) His experience after three months of being a Minnesota resident. 2) Discovering what it’s like to endure winter temperatures at/below negative 40 degrees. 3) An excerpt from his book, where he talks about the sugar beet harvest (apparently sugar beets are huge and white and not at all like regular beets you buy in a grocery store).

5) The Witches Are Coming, Lindy West

Description: In essays that span many topics, whether it be the notion since the earliest moments of the #MeToo movement that feminism has gone too far, or the insistence that holding someone accountable for his actions amounts to a “witch hunt,” The Witches are Coming exposes the lies that many have chosen to believe and the often unexpected figures who have furthered them.

I enjoyed some essays more than others, but I kept coming across powerful paragraphs and exquisite sentences that reminded me of how clever she is. (I do remember liking her memoir, Shrill, better — which was made into a series on Hulu, and will be coming back for a second season. I barely watch TV, and don’t have Hulu, so I haven’t seen it). The New York Times has published two excerpts from Lindy’s book, here and here.

6) Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, Novella Carpenter

Description: Carpenter loves cities — the culture, the crowds, the energy. At the same time, she can’t shake the fact that she is the daughter of two back-to-the-land hippies who taught her to love nature and eat vegetables. Drawn to backyard self-sufficiency, Carpenter decided it was possible to have it both ways: a homegrown vegetable plot as well as museums, bars, and concerts. When she moved to a ramshackle house in inner city Oakland and discovered an abandoned lot next door, she pictured heirloom tomatoes, a beehive, and a chicken coop. For anyone who has ever grown herbs on their windowsill or tomatoes on their fire escape, Carpenter’s story will capture your heart.

I tend to enjoy books about offbeat farmers, like those who engage in urban farming or city slickers who abandon their urban ways and take up rural farming. I liked this one, too. Carpenter moved to a sketchy area in Oakland back in 2005, immediately taking over a vacant lot next door to her rental. She ended up farming the lot for 10 years. This involved not just veggies and fruit, but also beekeeping, and raising chickens for eggs and rabbits for meat. And even a pair of pigs! (Which her neighbors were unhappy about due to the stench, but she got a tremendous amount of meat — and knowledge — from the experience.)

At the end of the book, she mentions that changes were coming; she knew she’d have to pack up and move soon (a Whole Foods opened a few blocks away and the vacant lot went up for sale), but I’m not sure what happened after that. I’d be interested to know.

7) One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I’ve Learned About Everyone’s Struggle to Be Singular, Abigail Pogrebin

Description: Pogrebin is a mother, a New Yorker, a writer, a daughter, and a wife, but the role that has most defined her is that of identical twin. Here she weaves her quest to understand how genetics shape us into a memoir of her own twinship.

I’m not a twin, but I enjoyed this view into the author’s personal experience, plus her in-depth look at other sets of twins, what kind of research is taking place on twins, and twin experts.

8) Seoul Man: A Memoir of Cars, Culture, Crisis, and Unexpected Hilarity Inside a Korean Corporate Titan, Frank Ahrens

When Ahrens, a middle-aged bachelor and 18-year veteran at the Washington Post, fell in love with a diplomat, his life changed dramatically. Following his new bride to her first appointment in Seoul, South Korea, Frank began a corporate career, becoming director of global communications at Hyundai Motors. Filled with unique insights, he sheds light on a culture few Westerners know.

This is a fascinating glimpse into South Korean work life and how it differs from the United States. Ahrens covers topics like the ubiquity of heavy drinking, karaoke, and Korean history and modern culture. I learned that most South Korean citizens have one of three last names. At times he talks too much about the specifics of his job at Hyundai (he must have REALLY been into the cars they were producing to write about them in such detail), but it’s definitely worth reading.

9) The House on Dream Street: Memoir of an American Woman in Vietnam, Dana Sachs

Description: Sachs takes readers on a voyage to a country most Americans think about only in terms of war. She reveals how she settled in with Tung and his wife Huong in Hanoi and made a place for herself in “enemy” territory. With vivid descriptions of the community—the noodle stalls and roaring motorcycles, the vestiges of French colonialism, and the encroachment of glittering high-rises—Sachs explores the tenuous balance between the traditions of old Vietnam and a country in the throes of modernization.

This was recommended by a co-worker when I told her I like memoirs about women who move abroad. The episodes in this book took place several decades ago, but I’m sure much of it would hold up today.

Dana was intrigued by Vietnam on her first brief visit, and ended up returning twice more to spend long chunks of time in the country. She was able to get long-term visas specifically to study the language, and lived with a local family. She even fell in love with a Vietnamese man for a short time, so there’s a section of the book dedicated to her falling for a very poor, uneducated motorbike mechanic — and the inevitable pulling away once she realizes their cultures are just too different to make it work.

Okay

10) A Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean, Melinda Blanchard

Description: This is the story of a trip to the beach that never ends. It’s about a husband and wife who escape civilization to build a small restaurant on an island paradise — and discover that even paradise has its pitfalls. It’s about the maddening, exhausting, outlandish complications of trying to live the simple life — and the joy that comes when you somehow pull it off.

I was interested to read how this couple opened a restaurant on an island from scratch, but not so much the other stuff (the husband building a sailboat, extended conversations with locals, and a too-long section about the hurricane that hit Anguilla in 1995 and destroyed their restaurant after its first year).

11) French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France, Richard Goodman

Description: Goodman saw an ad for a stone house for rent in a small village in southern France, and just like that, he left New York City. This is a love story between a man and his garden. It’s about plowing, planting, watering, and tending. It’s about cabbage, tomatoes, parsley, and eggplant. Most of all, it’s about the growing friendship between an American outsider and a close-knit community of French farmers.

This was a quick read. The publishing details say it’s 203 pages, but it seemed shorter. It was also written in 1991, which made it appear a bit dated.

Books

Books Read in October 2019

I read 18 books in October (six were audiobooks), which brings my 2019 total to 136.

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Recommended

1) Inside Out: A Memoir, Demi Moore

Description: Famed American actress Demi Moore tells her own story in an intimate and emotionally-charged memoir.

It’s interesting to read about someone you’ve known about for decades, but previously only knew what they were willing to disclose in TV or magazine interviews. Moore had a very unstable childhood, was raped at age 15 by an older man, and moved out of her mother’s house for good at age 16. She’s had issues with substance abuse and felt self conscious about her body. She writes about her iconic Vanity Fair photo, and her relationships with Bruce Willis, Ashton Kutcher, and her three daughters. She was interviewed recently in the New York Times, in advance of the publication of her book.

2) Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking It All with the Greatest Chef in the World, Jeff Gordinier

Description: This is not only the hunger for food, but for risk, for reinvention, for creative breakthroughs, and for connection. Gordinier happened into a fateful meeting with Danish chef René Redzepi, whose restaurant, Noma, has been called the best in the world. Redzepi was at the top of his game but wanted to tear it all down, to shutter his restaurant and set out for new places and flavors. This is the story of the subsequent four years of globe-trotting culinary adventure, with Gordinier joining Redzepi on his travels.

A journalist embarks on a multi-year reporting adventure. I didn’t make a lot of notes as I was reading, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. For the curious, this is what it’s like to eat at Noma, Redzepi’s restaurant in Copenhagen.

3) Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner, Lily Raff McCaulou

Description: McCaulou was raised as a gun-fearing environmentalist and animal lover, so she never imagined she’d pick up a gun and learn to hunt. Her perspective shifted when she began spending weekends fly-fishing, and weekdays interviewing hunters for her articles, realizing many of them were more thoughtful about animals and the environment than she was. So she embarked upon the project of learning to hunt from square one. From attending a Hunter Safety course designed for children, to field dressing an elk and serving it for dinner, she explores the sport of hunting and all it entails, and tackles the big questions surrounding one of the most misunderstood American practices and pastimes.

This subject matter is new to me, which I liked. It’s interesting how McCaulou was so nervous in the beginning (she was scared to even hold a gun, much less shoot anything), but she still wanted to go through with learning to hunt. She gradually expanded her skills over the years, starting with clay pigeons (where she admits the idea of killing something terrifies her), moving on to live birds, and eventually concludes the book with shooting an elk.

Along the way, she attends a Hunter Safety course (every other attendee was a minor, while she was in her mid-20s at the time), and talks about how cooking, preparing, and eating wild game made her more aware of everything else she was eating – from meat wrapped in plastic at the grocery store, to produce that wasn’t in season or was flown in from far away.

4) How to Be a Family: The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to Find a New Way to Be Together, Dan Kois

Description: The Kois family goes in search of other places on the map that might offer them the chance to live away from home — but closer together. Over a year the family lands in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and small-town Kansas. The goal? To get out of their rut of busyness and distractedness and see how other families live outside the East Coast parenting bubble.

I love that Dan and his wife were adventurous enough to put their regular lives on hold and take their daughters on a year-long trip. I also appreciate how honest he was in his retelling, especially when he talked about one of his daughters not being on board with their location decisions (she appeared generally unhappy most of the time; he once described her attitude as a “low simmer of rage”). Both of his girls did a lot of whining, which he wrote about so convincingly that just reading about it annoyed ME. (Especially with hiking. His girls complained incessantly about hiking.) I know these parents love their kids, but I’m positive they would’ve had a much better time on this trip if their kids weren’t in the picture.

I also liked his honesty at the end, when he admits his family hasn’t made any big changes since returning from the trip – he describes any changes as “modest.” They are more aware of the wider world and are better travelers, but they’re back living in the same house in the same town as before (Arlington, VA). I appreciated this because it shows most people go back to their normal lives after an adventure, and he didn’t try to exaggerate what they got out of it. You can read about how he learned to cycle like a Dutchman here, and there’s an excerpt about his time in New Zealand here.

5) Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, Kristen Iversen

Description: This is a haunting work of narrative nonfiction about a young woman growing up in a small Colorado town close to Rocky Flats, a secret nuclear weapons plant once designated “the most contaminated site in America.” It’s the story of a childhood and adolescence in the shadow of the Cold War, in a landscape at once startlingly beautiful and—unknown to those who lived there—tainted with invisible yet deadly particles of plutonium.

The title – full body burden – is a term the Department of Energy uses to indicate the “permissible lifetime accumulation of radiation in the body.”

I had never heard of a nuclear plant at Rocky Flats – which is exactly the author’s point. I’m glad this book was part memoir; an entire book about the factory and its people wouldn’t have been as interesting to me – instead, it’s interspersed with Kristen’s experience growing up near the plutonium factory, and her family dynamics. Even when she was in college, she was ignorant of the truth of what happened there, what the factory was producing (local residents hypothesized they were making cleaning supplies), and the extent of the pollution.

6) God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America, Lyz Lenz

Description: In the wake of the 2016 election, Lenz watched as her country and her marriage were torn apart by the competing forces of faith and politics. A mother of two, a Christian, and a lifelong resident of middle America, Lenz was bewildered by the pain and loss around her — the empty churches and the broken hearts. What was happening to faith in the heartland?

Lenz looks at the reasons why rural churches are losing parishioners, among many other themes related to modern-day faith in the Midwest. There are also some memoir aspects as she discusses her personal history with churches and how her beliefs (or lack thereof) resulted in a divorce from her husband.

You can read an excerpt from the book here, and I’m also linking to two articles she’s written that I enjoyed. One is how her divorce coincided with the explosion of the #MeToo movement, and in the second she says now that she’s no longer married, she’s never making dinner for a man again.

7) How Cycling Can Save the World, Peter Walker

Description: Walker takes readers on a tour of cities like Copenhagen and Utrecht, where everyday cycling has taken root, demonstrating cycling’s proven effect on reducing smog and obesity, and improving quality of life and mental health. Interviews with public figures provide case studies on how it can be done, and prove that you can make a big change with just a few cycling lanes and a paradigm shift.

My husband was very excited to see me reading a book about cycling because he would love for me to bike with him more often. We used to bike together regularly when we lived in Buffalo, but it’s dropped off since we moved back to DC. The honest trust is, I’m just not comfortable riding on busy streets (and there are lots of busy streets where I live, miles of them before hitting any protected trails). I felt vindicated while reading this book, because the author acknowledges that men ride bikes more than women, and when asked, women cite safety as their biggest concern. We don’t have the protected bike lane infrastructure that countries like the Netherlands do (I loved riding with my friends in the Netherlands last September, because it felt leisurely and safe – and in addition to the protected bike lanes, there was strength in numbers).

I love bikes. I love that people ride them. I think people should use them as a viable transportation option more often. If I lived farther from work than I do, and it was easier for me to bike than to take Metro, I would utilize a bike more often. But I live less than a mile from my workplace, so I walk. And if given the choice to take a long walk on a weekend or bike on a busy street, right now I’m choosing to walk.

Walker covers a lot more in his book – like how bikes are more social (and less expensive, and less polluting) than driving cars, arguments for/against wearing helmets, and why so many drivers feel antipathy toward cyclists. I like how he went from an asthmatic, nonathletic kid to working as a bike messenger. Now he writes for The Guardian and he’s a long-time bike advocate.

8) How to Cook Like a Man: A Memoir of Cookbook Obsession, Daniel Duane

Description: When Daniel became a father, this surfer and climber found himself trapped at home with no clue how to contribute. Inept at so many domestic tasks, and less than eager to change diapers, he took on dinner duty. He had a few tricks: pasta, stir-fry…well, actually, those were his only two tricks. But he had a biographical anomaly: Chef Alice Waters had been his preschool teacher. So he cracked one of her Chez Panisse cookbooks and cooked his way through it. And so it went with all seven of her other cookbooks, then on to those of other famous chefs — thousands of recipes in all, amounting to an epic eight-year cooking journey.

There were things that annoyed me about this book (Duane acted extremely selfishly in a lot of ways, even though he does admit in hindsight that he was wrong). But I do like a good food memoir, so I enjoyed his tales of how he went from knowing how to assemble only two meals (burritos and pasta, over and over and over) to cooking his way through multiple cookbooks and learning a ton of new skills.

Duane is married to the writer Elizabeth Weil, who wrote a popular New York Times article in 2009 called Married (Happily) With Issues, and later published a book on the subject (which I’ve read) called No Cheating, No Dying.

9) Feminasty: The Complicated Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Patriarchy Without Drinking Herself to Death, Erin Gibson

Description: Whether it’s shaming women for having their periods, allowing them into STEM fields but never treating them like they truly belong, or dictating strict rules for how they should dress in every situation, Erin breaks down the organized chaos of old fashioned sexism, intentional and otherwise, that systemically keeps women down.

I’m generally not a huge fan of comedic essays – and she does go a bit overboard at times – but the subject matter is important and I appreciate how forthright she is. The essay on why she decided to have a double mastectomy (before Angelina Jolie did it) after receiving the results of her breast cancer genetic screening was especially interesting.

10) Quit Like a Millionaire: No Gimmicks, Luck, or Trust Fund Required, Kristy Shen & Bryce Leung

Description: Shen retired with a million dollars at the age of 31, and she did it without hitting a home run on the stock market or investing in hot real estate. Learn how to cut down on spending without decreasing your quality of life, build a million-dollar portfolio, fortify your investments to survive bear markets, and use the 4% rule and the Yield Shield—so you can quit the rat race forever.

If you don’t know already: If you get a decent-paying job when you’re young, and save more than the average person, you can stop working way earlier than the normal retirement time frame and live off your investments. And you don’t need a trust fund to do it. Kristy and Bryce are one of the couples who figured this out – they retired in their early 30s – and give advice for how you can achieve it, too.

Kristy grew up very poor (like digging in medical waste in China poor). She’s very big into choosing a college degree that will actually make money (which makes sense – the more money you make and save at an younger age, the less you have to make later in life), rather than choosing a degree because it’s appealing to you. As she says: “One of the biggest lies we’ve been told is that following our passion is the key.” And yes, I’ve often wished I went to school for something less general than an undergraduate sociology degree.

There are lots of other topics – pick this up if you want to know how to retire early. You can read Kristy and Bryce’s blog here and The Guardian published an article on how they became millionaires and retired at age 31.

Okay

11) At Home in France: Tales of an American and Her House Abroad, Ann Barry

Description: Barry was a single woman, working and living in New York, when she fell in love with a charming house in southwestern France. Even though she knew it was the stuff of fantasy, even though she knew she would rarely be able to spend more than four weeks a year there, she was hooked. This memoir traces Barry’s adventures as she follows her dream of living in the French countryside.

I always rush to pick up books about Americans living in other countries, especially France. This one was a bit disappointing, but mainly because I wanted more details than she was able to give. She bought a house in France and went back and forth for years, but she was only able to visit twice a year for a few weeks, so she was far from being fully immersed in the culture. Sadly, when I searched for her name, I discovered she died from cancer in 1996, shortly before this book was published.

12) When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People, Jeannie Gaffigan

Description: Gaffigan, writer/director/producer and wife of bestselling author/comedian Jim Gaffigan, writes with humor and heart about the pear-sized brain tumor she had removed, the toll it took on her enormous family, and the priceless lessons she learned along the way.

I can see how the story would be inspiring to those in a similar situation: dealing with a major medical situation, or dealing with an illness while having a bunch of kids (Jeannie has five), or dealing with an illness with a very supportive comedian spouse. She kind of apologies for the discussions on her Catholic faith for those who don’t want to hear faith talk, which I appreciated – this is probably the only time I’ve seen this happen – but it was still too much for me. (At least I was adequately warned since the word “faith” appears in the title.)

13) The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse, Sam Sheridan

Description: Sheridan has been an amateur boxer, mixed martial arts fighter, professional wilderness firefighter, EMT, sailor, and cowboy. If he isn’t ready for the apocalypse, we’re all in a lot of trouble. Despite an arsenal of skills that would put most of us to shame, he was beset with nightmares with apocalyptic images. Unable to quiet his mind, Sam decided to face his fears head-on, embarking on a quest to gain as many skills as possible that might come in handy should the world as we know it end.

To prepare for an apocalypse, Sheridan started doing things like learning how to jumpstart cars so he’d be able to utilize that skill in a doomsday situation. He also took a class on defensive driving maneuvers (which was too detailed for me, in terms of differences between the cars). He went through several weeks of hands-on wilderness skills (like learning how to make a fire from scratch, set traps, make a bow and arrow, and create a primitive shelter), desert survival, knife fighting, and even addressed the mental health aspect of traumatic events. Even though these items sound interesting, I liked the idea of this book more so than the execution. I probably would have liked it better if it was written by a woman.

Also, each chapter included a section where he walked through a fictional apocalypse scenario. I read nonfiction for a reason, so I largely hated this intrusion.

14) French by Heart: An American Family’s Adventures in La Belle France, Rebecca S. Ramsey

Description: This is the story of a family from South Carolina pulling up stakes and finding a new home in Clermont-Ferrand, a city four hours south of Paris — known more for its factories and car dealerships than for its location in the Auvergne, a lush heartland dotted with crumbling castles and sunflower fields. The Ramseys are not jet-setters; they’re a regular family with rambunctious kids. Their lives quickly go from covered-dish suppers to smoky dinner parties with heated polemics, from being surrounded by Southern hospitality to receiving funny looks if the children play in the yard without shoes.

Ramsey spends most of this book talking about the nosy old French woman who lived across the street. She learned some French and successfully lived in France for four years with her three kids, but I wanted more than her prim stories could provide.

15) Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, and Advice for Living Your Best Life, Ali Wong

Description: Wong’s heartfelt and hilarious letters to her daughters, covering everything they need to know in life — like the unpleasant details of dating, how to be a working mom in a male-dominated profession, and how she trapped their dad.

I’m not a huge fan of books by comedians, and I also don’t like books written in the form of letters. This one wasn’t too bad (Wong leans more toward gross-out comedy than cheesy comedy, and she doesn’t go overboard with the theme of talking directly to her daughters), but I’d still have to put this in the Okay category.

16) Miss Ex-Yugoslavia: A Memoir, Sofija Stefanovic

Description: A funny, dark, and tender memoir about the immigrant experience and life as a perpetual fish-out-of-water during the Yugoslavian Wars, from a Serbian-Australian storyteller.

Sofija writes about her experience moving from Belgrade to Melbourne. She was one of the lucky ones — her father worked in the computer industry and was able to obtain an Australian work visa, while others who fled the country had to do so as refugees.

17) Volcanoes, Palm Trees, and Privilege: Essays on Hawai’i, Liz Prato

Description: These essays explore what it means to be a white tourist in a seemingly paradisiacal land that has been formed, and largely destroyed, by white outsiders. Hawaiian history, pop culture, and contemporary affairs are woven with personal narrative in fifteen essays that examine how the touristic ideal of Hawai’i came to be.

I learned a lot more about Hawaii, its people, and customs, than I knew before, but I wasn’t rushing to pick it up.

Not Recommended

18) The 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America’s UFO Highway, Ben Mezrich

Description: A real-life mix of The X-Files and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this is the fascinating true story of a computer programmer who tracks paranormal events in remote areas of the western United States and is drawn deeper and deeper into a mysterious conspiracy.

This was written by the author of Bitcoin Billionaires, which I read last month. Even though I have no particular interest in UFOs, I thought I might like this since I found the bitcoin book interesting (although I have no interest in cryptocurrency), but this one isn’t nearly as entertaining. There was a lot of jumping back and forth between locations and dates, which got confusing when listening to it as an audiobook, and unfortunately (as we know with UFO research), there weren’t any concrete results.

I was also annoyed by the main character, Chuck Zukowski, because they kept talking about how his wife had to work two jobs to cover their household expenses while he was mostly free to pursue (and spend quite a bit of time and money on) his unpaid UFO research. He was followed by SUVs with government license plates and investigated a lot of unexplained animal mutilations, but nothing ever came of it.

Books

Books Read in September 2019

I read 13 books in September (six were audiobooks), which brings my 2019 total to 118.

These are the books I started reading in September but decided not to finish:

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Recommended

1) On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane, Emily Guendelsberger

Description: The eye-opening story of a college-educated young professional who finds work in the automated and time-starved world of hourly labor. She explores the lengths that half of Americans will go to in order to make a living, offering not only a better understanding of the modern workplace, but also surprising solutions to make work more humane for millions of Americans.

I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America when it was released over 15 years ago, which explores a similar story line — a middle-class woman taking on various low-wage jobs to see what they’re like (and reporting back from a sociological perspective). Emily’s story is different in that she’d lost her job as a journalist, so while she wouldn’t stay in low-wage jobs forever, she actually did need the income at the time she was working these jobs.

She explains what working at these jobs is like (an Amazon fulfillment center, a call center, and a McDonald’s), while acknowledging she can’t fully understand because she wasn’t tied to staying at those jobs. While she was broke at the time, she had a college degree, a car, a credit card, and a low-interest mortgage with her husband. When things got tough, she would say to herself, “I get to leave. I get to leave.” And obviously there are a lot of people out there who don’t have that luxury.

Emily wrote an article for Vox about fast-food worker burnout, and you can find an excerpt from her book here.

2) The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today’s America, Mark Sundeen

Description: An in-depth and compelling account of diverse Americans living off the grid.

There were three stories in this book of people living off the land, in completely different ways: a couple in rural Missouri who live without electricity or cars; urban farmers in Detroit who sell their produce at small markets; and an older couple near Missoula who have been organic farmers for over three decades. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the stories, and the personalities of the people who live different lives from most other Americans.

Read a profile of Greg Willerer, the urban farmer in Detroit, here.

3) Monsieur Mediocre: One American Learns the High Art of Being Everyday French, John von Sothen

Description: After falling for a French waitress he met in New York, von Sothen moved to Paris. But 15 years in, he’s ready to admit Paris is mostly a fantasy. In this collection of essays, von Sothen walks us through real life in Paris–not only myth-busting our Parisian daydreams but also revealing the inimitable and too often invisible pleasures of family life abroad.

I’ve read many books about Americans living in France, and I’ve enjoyed them all. This one is great because it’s not a short-term adventure for the author; he’s lived as a local for over 15 years and raised two children. His essays cover things like taking long vacations (and having to plan many months in advance since most French people go on vacation at the same time), and learning the language (he can make himself understood, but he says he speaks French like Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks English…with a noticeable accent).

In this article, von Sothen says: “We tend to hold France to this unattainable standard of taste and sophistication and well mannered living, when in fact, if you live here (or anywhere) on a day to day basis, you eventually take the rose colored glasses off and appreciate your surroundings for different reasons based on a new set of criteria.”

There’s also a good review in the Washington Post here.

4) Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption, Ben Mezrich

Description: This is the story of brothers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss’ redemption and revenge in the wake of their epic legal battle with Facebook, their big bet on crypto-currency, and its dazzling pay-off. On November 26, 2017, the Winklevoss brothers became the first bitcoin billionaires. Here’s the story of how they got there.

I’ve read other books by this author and enjoyed them. I don’t follow bitcoin news so I had no idea the Winklevoss twins were involved to this degree. You don’t need any prior (or current) interest in bitcoin to enjoy this book. Here’s an article on why Mezrich decided to write the book and how the Winklevoss brothers’ bitcoin investment came about.

5) Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir, Kwame Onwuachi

Description: By the time he was 27, Onwuachi had launched his own catering company with $20,000 that he made selling candy on the subway, and opened—and closed—one of the most talked about restaurants in America. In this inspiring memoir about the intersection of race, fame, and food, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age.

Onwuachi grew up in the Bronx and spent a few years living with his grandfather in Nigeria as an adolescent. He was involved in gang activity, and sold drugs. Despite all that (and with the influence of his mother, who worked as a caterer for many years), he started his own catering company at a young age. At one point, he was attending the Culinary Institute of America on weekdays, working at a restaurant on weeknights, and running his catering company on the weekends.

From there, he worked in the kitchens of renowned restaurants Per Se and Eleven Madison Park, where he writes about experiencing racism, and competed on Top Chef. His involvement in a traveling cooking competition led to an offer to open a restaurant in DC (now closed). Currently he’s the executive chef at Kith/Kin, also located in DC.

6) Hotbox: Inside Catering, the Food World’s Riskiest Business, Matt Lee and Ted Lee

Description: Brothers Matt and Ted take on the competitive, wild world of high-end catering, exposing the secrets of a food business few home cooks or restaurant chefs ever experience. You’ll never attend a party—or entertain on your own—in the same way.

When you attend a catered event, you probably don’t think about all the preparation that went into serving your food. I enjoyed this view that two brothers, Matt and Ted Lee, took behind the scenes. They worked in catering for several years while writing and researching this book, and also delved into the history of catering and tales of who does it best. The New York Times reviewed the book here.

7) This Will Only Hurt a Little, Busy Philipps

Description: A refreshingly honest memoir by the beloved comedic actress known for her roles on Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, and Cougar Town. Philipps is the rare entertainer whose arsenal of talents as an actress is equally matched by her storytelling ability, sense of humor, and sharp observations about life, love, and motherhood. Her conversational writing reminds us what we love about her on screens large and small.

I didn’t know much about Busy, but I decided to read her book after coming across this article. I listened to it on audio, which she reads herself. She covers a wide range of subjects, from her childhood, to how she broke into acting, to becoming good friends with Michelle Williams, and how she reacted to Heath Ledger’s death. Also, of course, meeting her husband and the birth of her two daughters. (She named her girls Birdie and Cricket. You’ve gotta have some balls to name your kids Birdie and Cricket.)

8) American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century, Maureen Callahan

Description: Names of notorious serial killers are usually well-known. But most people have never heard of Israel Keyes, one of the most ambitious and terrifying serial killers in modern history. When journalist Callahan heard about Keyes in 2012, she was captivated by how a killer of this magnitude could go undetected by law enforcement for over a decade. And so began a project that consumed her for years—uncovering the true story behind how the FBI ultimately caught Keyes, and trying to understand what it means for a killer like Keyes to exist.

I had never heard of Israel Keyes, which was highlighted in this book – he was a serial killer but he doesn’t have big-name notoriety. The first half covers how he was caught, and the second half goes into his background and the confessions or clues he gave for other cases he was involved in. Keyes said he killed around a dozen people but law enforcement thinks there were more. You can read an excerpt from the book here.

9) Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, Jenni Ferrari-Adler (Editor)

Description: In this essay collection, 26 food writers like Nora Ephron, Laurie Colwin, Jami Attenberg, Ann Patchett, and M.F.K. Fisher invite readers into their kitchens to reflect on the secret meals and recipes for one person that they relish when no one else is looking.

I liked this anthology on the topic of eating alone. (An anthology was a good approach; reading an entire book about one person eating alone would be overkill.) Some contributors wrote about weird food habits, while others discussed dining alone in restaurants. It’s pretty common for people to consume the same foods repetitively when eating solo; several of them ate the same dinner every single day for months at a time. Here’s a good quote from one of the early essays:

“Eating as a simple means of ending hunger is one of the great liberties of being alone. […] It is a pleasure to not have to take anyone else’s tastes into account. […] The very thought of maintaining high standards meal after meal is exhausting. It discounts all the peanut butter that is available in the world.”

Okay

10) Running Home: A Memoir, Katie Arnold

Description: Arnold, a former Outside magazine writer, tells her story—of fathers and daughters, grief and renewal, adventure and obsession, and the power of running to change your life.

I can’t fully recommend this book because I didn’t like the first half very much. It was largely about her parents’ divorce when she was a young child and how that affected her, interspersed with her dad’s illness and death as an old man and her extensive grief. She’d been involved in athletic pursuits for a while, but decided to run her first ultramarathon (50 kilometers) after her father died. Since then she’s run more of them, and last year she ran (and won) her first 100-mile ultramarathon race.

11) Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, Jia Tolentino

Description: This is an unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. In each essay, Jia writes about the cultural prisms that have shaped her: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the American scammer as millennial hero; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the mandate that everything, including our bodies, should always be getting more efficient and beautiful until we die.

These essays were cleverly and scholarly written, but they weren’t for me. I liked several of them, but that’s not enough to make the Recommended list. The New York Times reviewed the book here and you can read an excerpt from the book here.

Not Recommended

12) A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming, Kerri Rawson

Description: In 2005, Rawson discovered her father was the notorious serial killer known as BTK, a name he’d given himself that described the horrific way he committed his crimes: bind, torture, kill. As news of his capture spread, Wichita celebrated the end of a 31-year nightmare. But for Rawson, another was just beginning. The man who had been a loving father, a devoted husband, church president, Boy Scout leader, and a public servant had been using their family as a cover for his heinous crimes since before she was born.

A book on this topic (written by the daughter of a serial killer) has potential, but I came away disappointed. There’s too much boring information (she spent at least three chapters describing a multi-day hike / camping trip she took with her father as a teenager – they were ill prepared and could have died by natural causes, but it did nothing to advance the actual story).

She also includes letters between her and Dad the Serial Killer after he was sent to prison (the letters were boring), and there is way too much about the author’s personal faith/religious beliefs. The religion aspect wasn’t adequately disclosed in the book description, and I’m always annoyed when it’s sprung on me. I had no desire to get preached to by this woman.

13) The 5 AM Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life, Robin Sharma

Description: Sharma introduced The 5am Club concept over twenty years ago, based on a revolutionary morning routine that has helped his clients maximize their productivity, activate their best health and bulletproof their serenity in this age of overwhelming complexity.

Do not read this book. It’s horrid. My brain was telling me to give up on it the entire time I was reading it. I pushed through and read it quickly, waiting for the wisdom. Here’s the thing: I don’t discount the value of waking up early. I’m a morning person, and I am interested in getting up earlier so I can institute some good habits into my day.

However, the tips for starting a personal morning practice could have been summed up in a short article. There is no need to read the entire book, especially when the format (a billionaire guru imparting his wisdom to a man and a woman) is so awful. The writing is extremely cheesy and I felt less intelligent for having read it.

Books

Books Read in August 2019

I read 14 books in August (seven were audiobooks), which brings my 2019 total to 105.

These are the books I started reading in August but decided not to finish:

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Recommended

1) What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal, E. Jean Carroll

Description: When Carroll (possibly the liveliest woman in the world and author of the “Ask E. Jean” advice column in Elle Magazine) realized her 8 million readers and question-writers all seemed to have one thing in common — problems caused by men — she hit the road. Crisscrossing the country, E. Jean stopped in every town named after a woman between Eden, Vermont and Tallulah, Louisiana to ask women the crucial question: What Do We Need Men For?

Carroll’s story got a bit of attention when this article was published around the time her book was released, but it didn’t receive nearly as much attention as it deserved. (Spoiler: She accuses our current president of sexual assault.) Some of the bad guys she’s encountered over her life are really appalling. The article is important and I encourage you to read it.

The book is also good, but it’s written in kind of a silly / flippant way (she blames it on being a cheerleader for many years and her decades-long history as an advice columnist at Ask E. Jean). The Washington Post reviewed the book here.

2) The Big Fat Surprise: A Nutritional Investigation, Nina Teicholz

Description: Teicholz explains why the Mediterranean Diet is not the healthiest, and how we might be replacing trans fats with something even worse. This startling history demonstrates how nutrition science has gotten it so wrong: how overzealous researchers, through a combination of ego, bias, and premature institutional consensus, have allowed dangerous misrepresentations to become dietary dogma.

I’ve read other books over the years that argue we should all be eating a low-carb diet and why our current eating habits cause health issues and obesity. So not all of the information in this book was new to me, and it could get science-y at times (just my personal opinion, as a non-science background person)…but I also thought it was excellent and I learned some new information. Especially when Teicholz explained how our current nutritional recommendations came about, and the immense amount of resistance there is to changing those recommendations, even when faced with new data. She did an immense amount of research over a 10-year time period to write this book, and her dedication shows.

3) The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, Michael Finkel

Description: Many people dream of escaping modern life, but most will never act on it. This is the remarkable true story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, making this dream a reality–not out of anger at the world, but simply because he preferred to live on his own.

I’d heard about the Hermit, but hadn’t read much about him before I came across this audiobook (it was written by the same author who published a popular GQ article in 2014 — which turned out to be their most-read story of all time). I wasn’t sure if I’d like the book, but it was much more interesting than I thought it would be.

4) Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life, Amber Scorah

Description: A riveting memoir of losing faith and finding freedom while a covert missionary in one of the world’s most restrictive countries.

This “leaving my cult-like religion” book was made more interesting by the fact that most of it is set in China (Scorah moved to China with her then-husband as Jehovah’s Witness missionaries). Even though she had to be secretive because what she was doing was against the law, she had more freedom in her daily life than she’d had in Canada, and found herself questioning the life she was leading. She goes into some of the cultural aspects of living as a foreigner in China, which I particularly enjoyed. The book was featured in the New York Times here.

5) The Man Who Quit Money, Mark Sundeen

Description: In 2000, Daniel Suelo left his life savings — all $30 of it — in a phone booth. He has lived without money ever since. Suelo doesn’t pay taxes, or accept food stamps or welfare. He lives in caves in the Utah canyonlands, foraging wild foods and gourmet discards. He no longer carries an I.D., yet he manages to fulfill not only his basic human needs but the universal desires for companionship, purpose, and spiritual engagement.

What does it take for someone to stop using and accepting money? You’ll find out. Suelo is interesting because, while he lives alone in a cave in the desert, he’s not a hermit. You’ll learn about Suelo’s background and what led him to eschew money. The author of the book includes tales of his own alternative lifestyle and other people who have done similar things.

6) Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family and Creating a New Age of Independence, Amy Blackstone

Description: From Dr. Blackstone comes a definitive investigation into the history and current growing movement of adults choosing to forgo parenthood: what it means for our society, economy, environment, perceived gender roles, and legacies, and how understanding and supporting all types of families can lead to positive outcomes for parents, non-parents, and children alike.

This is a very thorough book on the topic of being childfree (I’m pretty well-read on this topic so I’d heard most of the information already). I encourage both women and men to read this, whether they are childfree or not (I read certain books about motherhood because I find them interesting, even though I don’t want that life for myself).

7) In Pain: A Bioethicist’s Personal Struggle with Opioids, Travis Rieder

Description: A bioethicist’s eloquent and riveting memoir of opioid dependence and withdrawal—a harrowing personal reckoning and clarion call for change not only for government but medicine itself, revealing the lack of crucial resources and structures to handle this insidious nationwide epidemic.

Rieder became dependent on opioids after a horrific motorcycle accident left him with a severely mangled foot that necessitated multiple surgeries. It was an interesting and powerful perspective because of his background in medical ethics. Rieder’s self-induced drug tapering protocol left him with horrific withdrawal symptoms, and none of his doctors were able to provide him with any help (other than a recommendation to go back on the meds if the withdrawal symptoms became too unbearable). Rieder argues there should be more emphasis on giving opioid patients an exit strategy so they can successfully taper off their meds and reduce the risk of full-blown addiction.

8) Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, Christie Aschwanden

Description: In recent years, recovery has become a sports and fitness buzzword. Anyone who works out or competes at any level is bombarded with the latest recovery products and services: from drinks and shakes to compression sleeves, foam rollers, electrical muscle stimulators, and sleep trackers. Aschwanden, an acclaimed science writer, takes readers on an entertaining and enlightening tour through this strange world.

I’m not (nor have ever been) an athlete, so I have no particular interest in the subject of athletic recovery. But as we know, there are plenty of subjects we don’t know anything about, and they end up being more interesting than you could have expected. That was the case with this book. I liked how Aschwanden researched a wide variety of recovery methods, from the rise of sports drinks, bars, and other potions, to whether you really need to ice your sore muscles, to trying out float tanks and infrared saunas to see what all the fuss is about. As she says, “The research on most recovery modalities is thin and incomplete,” but she does concede that if it makes you feel better (even if it’s a placebo effect), it could still be helpful.

9) I’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends, Kelsey Miller

Description: This definitive retrospective of Friends incorporates interviews, history and behind-the-scenes anecdotes to offer a critical analysis of how a sitcom about six twentysomethings changed television forever.

I watched Friends, but I’ve never been a super fan. I don’t watch reruns of the show and I’m sure I missed quite a few episodes during its 10-year run (especially the later years). However, I put it on my future-to-read list when my friend Jaclyn posted about it earlier this year, and I enjoyed reading about the show’s background: everything from how the actors got hired and how some of the more well-known episodes came about, to more problematic issues like the lack of racial diversity and homophobic jokes.

10) The Naked Truth: A Memoir, Leslie Morgan

Description: Leslie was a mom turning fifty, reeling from divorce and determined to reclaim her life. In a radical break with convention, she dedicates a year to searching for five new lovers, reclaiming the rapture absent in a life of minivans and mom jeans—and finding a profound new sense of self-worth.

Morgan stayed with her emotionally and physically distant husband much longer than she should have. This tale of reclaiming her sexuality was entertaining.

Okay

11) The Salt Path: A Memoir, Raynor Winn

Description: Just days after Raynor learns that her husband of 32 years is terminally ill, their home and livelihood is taken away. With nothing left and little time, they make the impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset. They have almost no money for food or shelter and must carry only the essentials on their backs as they live wild in the ancient landscape of cliffs, sea, and sky.

I liked Raynor’s unconventional decision to go on a long walk when she lost her house, but the story became repetitive after a while. They were on an extremely tight budget, so there was a lot about their limited diet (largely noodles and rice), and they seemed envious of the people they came across (those who were able to afford normal meals and stay in hotels, whereas our couple slept in a tent every night). Also, nature and landscape descriptions don’t appeal to me (I do realize that some of it is inevitable when you’re writing a book about walking all day).

This is a nice interview with the author from last December which talks about her reasons for going on the hike and what happened afterward.

12) Serious Eater: A Food Lover’s Perilous Quest for Pizza and Redemption, Ed Levine

Description: Ed Levine, James Beard Award-winning founder of Serious Eats, finally tells the mouthwatering and heartstopping story of building — and almost losing — one of the most acclaimed and beloved food sites in the world.

Other than sharing some information about his childhood in the beginning, the book seemed to largely focus on trying to raise money to start the Serious Eats website, the monumental task of keeping it going over the years, and how he was constantly having to ask friends, family, and other investors for additional funds. I would have been more interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the running of the website itself, the people involved, what kind of material was popular, etc.

13) High Achiever: The Incredible True Story of One Addict’s Double Life, Tiffany Jenkins

Description: When word got out that Tiffany was withdrawing from opiates on the floor of a jail cell, people in her town were shocked. Not because of the twenty felonies she’d committed, or the nature of her crimes, but because her boyfriend was a Deputy Sheriff, and his friends were the ones who’d arrested her. This memoir spans Tiffany’s life as an opioid addict, her 120 days in a Florida jail, and her eventual recovery.

There was a lot of drama in this book. Even if every word is true and happened in the exact order she describes, it comes across as exaggerated and farfetched. She decided to write the flashback scenes as if she were talking to her therapist, and apparently all of her therapists listened with rapt attention and purposefully lengthened her sessions because they just couldn’t get enough of what she was telling them. That got annoying. Watch this clip of her appearance on the Today Show instead.

14) I Can’t Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays, Elinor Lipman

Description: In her two decades of writing, Lipman has populated her fiction with characters so real that we feel like they’re old friends. Now she shares an even more intimate world with us — her own — in essays that offer a candid, charming take on modern life. Looking back and forging ahead, she considers the subjects that matter most: childhood and condiments, long marriage and solo living, career and politics.

This book was pretty short, and the author voices the audiobook. The essays themselves were short as well, so it was difficult to get into one story before it ended and another began. The essay I found most interesting was the one about when she started dating again in her early 60s after her husband of multiple decades passed away.

Books

Books Read in July 2019

I read 14 books in July (five were audiobooks), which brings my 2019 total to 91.

I started reading this book in July but decided not to finish:

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Recommended

1) Men We Reaped: A Memoir, Jesmyn Ward

Description: In five years, Ward lost five men in her life — to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Ward ask the question: why? As she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships.

This is a book I’ve been aware of for years, and I knew it came highly rated, but never picked it up. July ended up being the time! Descriptions I’d read made it seem like her going back and forth between talking about her childhood, to the men she’d lost, and back, might seem confusing. But it wasn’t at all. It’s a good, solid story of growing up poor and black in Mississippi and Louisiana, and her enduring connection to the area.

2) The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, Mallory O’Meara

Description: O’Meara uncovers the life and work of Milicent Patrick—one of Disney’s first female animators and the only woman in history to create one of Hollywood’s classic movie monsters. A true-life detective story and a celebration of a forgotten feminist trailblazer, this book establishes Patrick in her rightful place in film history while calling out a Hollywood culture where little has changed.

O’Meara is a monster-movie producer who became obsessed with researching the story of Milicent Patrick, a woman credited with creating The Creature (from The Creature in the Black Lagoon) in the 1950s. After that film she was never publicly heard from again, and O’Meara wanted to know what happened to her. Her writing style is conversational, readable, and decidedly not dry, so the story flew by. Her love of monster movies and respect for Milicent is palpable.

3) The New Old Me: My Late-Life Reinvention, Meredith Maran

Description: A post-divorce memoir, this is one woman’s story of starting over at 60 in youth-obsessed, beauty-obsessed Hollywood. After the death of her best friend, the loss of her life’s savings, and the collapse of her once-happy marriage, Maran leaves her San Francisco freelance writer’s life for a 9-to-5 job in Los Angeles. Determined to rebuild not only her savings but herself while relishing the joys of life in a new city, Maran writes of what it means to be a woman of a certain age in our time.

It’s not difficult to find a memoir about female reinvention, but it’s more rare to find one written by a woman over sixty. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Maran is honest and open, and it was fun to read about her transition from being married to a woman in Oakland to living solo in Los Angeles. I liked how she went from being uncomfortable living in L.A. to feeling like she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Also, the description of the tiny hillside cottage she buys after selling her Oakland house makes me supremely jealous. I found the book after reading this article (which I also recommend).

4) City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert

Description: Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret, City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

It’s July and I read my first fiction book of the year! I like Elizabeth Gilbert, and I’ve read one of her previous fictional books, so I decided to listen to this one as an audiobook. Gilbert doesn’t read it herself, but that ended up being preferable because the narrator could do different accents and differentiate between character voices.

As I always do when I read fiction, I kept wishing the story was real, but otherwise it kept me sufficiently entertained. The New York Times wrote about the book here.

5) I’m Just Happy to Be Here: A Memoir of Renegade Mothering, Janelle Hanchett

Description: From the creator of the “Renegade Mothering” blog, Hanchett’s memoir chronicles her tumultuous journey from young motherhood, to abysmal addiction, and a recovery she never imagined possible.

It can be difficult to read this kind of book because it doesn’t put the author in the best light. (Her children didn’t live with her for years because of her struggles with drugs and alcohol; she put herself in dangerous situations; she relapsed multiple times.) She knows this, and admitted how hard it can be to live with her past. She’s been sober now since 2009.

I had never read Janelle’s blog, but when I checked it out I found several interesting posts right away. For the short version of her story with alcohol and drug abuse, read this post from 2014. More recently, she announced that she and her family are moving to the Netherlands (because life is short! I love it!), and she wrote this post when they were ten days out from move day.

I started following her on Instagram, and I’ve enjoyed her updates on living life with the Dutch. I spent a semester in Amsterdam when I was in college, and I’ve returned to the country several times and always love it.

6) For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors, Laura Esther Wolfson

Description: Wolfson’s literary debut draws on years of immersion in the Russian and French languages; struggles to gain a basic understanding of Judaism, its history, and her place in it; and her search for a form to hold the stories that emerge from what she has lived, observed, overheard, and misremembered.

I wasn’t sure what I’d think about this collection of essays, but I was intrigued. Laura has led an interesting life: deciding to study Russian, marrying (and later divorcing) a man who spoke Russian, becoming a translator of Russian and, later, French. She writes about pursuing her Jewish heritage later in life, as her parents were secular Jews.

I also enjoyed her essays about her relationships (two marriages and two divorces, her thoughts about being single, and why she didn’t have kids – she wanted them but her first husband didn’t, and by the time she could start trying for them she was diagnosed with a degenerative lung condition). You can read an excerpt from her book here.

7) From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, Tembi Locke

Description: It was love at first sight when Tembi met Saro on a street in Florence. There was just one problem: Saro’s traditional Sicilian family did not approve of him marrying a black American woman. This is a poignant and transporting cross-cultural love story set against the lush backdrop of the Sicilian countryside, where one woman discovers the healing powers of food, family, and unexpected grace in her darkest hour.

I wasn’t familiar with the actress Tembi Locke, but she has a long list of acting credits so it’s possible I’ve seen her work. She writes about her relationship with her husband, dealing with his sickness and eventual death, life as a widow and single mother, and how their love story impacted her life.

8) Too Much Is Not Enough: A Memoir of Fumbling Toward Adulthood, Andrew Rannells

Description: From the star of Broadway’s The Book of Mormon and HBO’s Girls, the heartfelt and hilarious coming-of-age memoir of a Midwestern boy surviving bad auditions, bad relationships, and some really bad highlights as he chases his dreams in New York City.

I didn’t know anything about Andrew before reading this book, but the story of a gay teen, newly out of the closet, who moves from Omaha to NYC, was unexpectedly entertaining. His stories range from childhood through late 20s, and include what he went through to make it to Broadway.

9) How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir, Kate Mulgrew

Description: In this honest and examined memoir about returning to Iowa to care for her ailing parents, the star of “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Orange is the New Black” takes us on a journey of loss, betrayal, and the transcendent nature of a daughter’s love for her parents.

I read Kate’s first book, Born With Teeth, three years ago. This one focuses on her parents, her relationship with them and her siblings, stories from her childhood, her father’s sudden death, and her mother’s long, drawn-out death from Alzheimer’s.

10) Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember: The Stroke That Changed My Life, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee

Description: A memoir of reinvention after a stroke at age thirty-three. Lee illuminates the connection between memory and identity in an honest and truly funny manner, utterly devoid of self-pity. And as she recovers, she begins to realize that this unexpected and devastating event has provided a catalyst for coming to terms with her true self.

Christine suffered a stroke at age 33, and the repercussions affected her for years. They still affect her, but she’s able to manage it better. She says the recovery lasted at least two years. She would sleep twenty hours a day, she was a different person, she had angry outbursts or she was weeping, and worst of all was the memory loss. In the beginning she couldn’t remember anything that had happened just 15 minutes before.

She mentions how heartbroken she was when her husband of 18 years left her, years after the stroke when they’d just had a child together, but she doesn’t go into a lot of detail. She gives more details about the relationship in this article, which is the one I came across which then led me to her book. The article does give a positive spin, though: “I didn’t know it at the time, but letting go of an unhappy coupling, even if presented with sudden cruelty, was an opportunity for innovation.”

11) Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way, Tanja Hester

Description: A practical action guide for financial independence and early retirement from the popular “Our Next Life” blogger. Tanja walks you through envisioning your dream life, accounting for variables such as health care and children, protecting yourself from recessions and future unknowns, and achieving a purpose-filled early retirement, semi-retirement, or career intermission with completely doable, non-penny-pinching steps.

Not all of the information here was relevant to me, but some of it was, and I’ve found that’s the best one can hope for in a finance-related book. I’ve been reading Tanja’s blog for years, way before she retired in December 2017 at age 38. I appreciate her writing, and her guidance, and the fact that she and her husband are proudly child-free. The New York Times reviewed the book here.

12) Howard Stern Comes Again, Howard Stern

Description: Over his unrivaled four-decade career in radio, Stern has interviewed thousands of personalities—discussing sex, relationships, money, fame, spirituality, and success with the boldest of bold-faced names. But which interviews are his favorites? It’s one of the questions he gets asked most frequently, and now he delivers his answer.

This is a long book – over 500 pages. It’s mainly a collection of his favorite interviews, but he did write an introduction, and a description for each interview, as well as some essays in between. Some interviews are longer, while some are just a few paragraphs.

He talks about how the last book he wrote was over twenty years ago, and he doesn’t recommend anyone read his two previous books. He’s no longer the same shock jock we knew decades ago. (If he was, I would have had no interest in reading this book.) He said he doesn’t own any of his previous books and there are many past interviews he cringes over and he wishes he could re-do.

He and his current wife (they’ve been married over ten years) are involved in animal welfare issues and he’s a pescetarian. Like this Washington Post proclaims, Meet the New Howard Stern.

13) Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World, Isabel Gillies

Description: When we talk about being cozy, most of us think of a favorite sweater or a cup of tea on a rainy day. But to Gillies, coziness goes beyond mere objects. To be truly cozy, she argues, means learning to identify the innermost truth of yourself and carrying it into the world, no matter your environment.

I make myself cozy every day by lying on my couch with a blanket and reading a book. It’s my spot. I don’t have children and I rarely need to make dinner after work (I make most of my meals on the weekend), so I have hours to myself every evening between the time I get off work and go to sleep. I liked how Gillies talks about the things she finds cozy, how they’re different for everyone, and gives suggestions for finding coziness even in uncomfortable situations (like hospital visits). Apparently coziness is all around – you just have to know where to look for it.

Okay

14) Be With Me Always: Essays, Randon Billings Noble

Description: In a way, all good essays are about the things that haunt us until we have somehow embraced or understood them. Here, Noble considers the ways she has been haunted—by a near-death experience, a book she can’t stop reading, a past lover who shadows her thoughts—in essays both pleasant and bitter.

I wanted to like this book because I’ve been devouring essays recently. I enjoyed some of them, but others were just…strange.