Books

Books Read in December 2017

I read nine books in December (three were audiobooks), which brings my 2017 total to 112.

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

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

Recommended

1) It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too), Nora McInerny Purmort

Description: When Nora’s boyfriend Aaron was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer, they got engaged on his hospital bed and had a baby boy while he was on chemo. The obituary they wrote during Aaron’s hospice care touched the nation. Nora puts a fresh twist on the subjects of mortality and resilience: What does it actually mean to live your “one wild and precious life” to the fullest? How can a joyful marriage contain more sickness than health?

I put off reading this book for a long time because I thought it would be depressing, but Nora introduces the subject of grief in a new and interesting way. Some parts were really sad, but there were more funny moments than low ones. She also includes essays on her family, childhood, insecurities, and an “anthropological visit” to an Insane Clown Posse concert.

I think the name of this book is unfortunate, and the description didn’t draw me in, but I’m really glad I read it. As soon as I started reading the first essay, I knew I would like it. This article is a good overview of the circumstances in Nora’s life that led to her writing a book.

2) L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, David Lebovitz

Description: Bestselling author and world-renowned chef David Lebovitz continues to mine the rich subject of his evolving expat life in Paris, using his perplexing experiences in apartment renovation as a launching point for stories about French culture, food, and what it means to revamp one’s life.

I don’t consider myself a Francophile, but I do love nonfiction books about living in France. This one mixes things up a bit because Lebovitz, after living in Paris and loving his life for ten years, decides to buy (and renovate) his own apartment. The process turns into a nightmare, taking way longer than expected and costing an astronomical amount of money.

If this book was fiction, I would have tossed it aside as being unbelievable. The things that happened during the course of his renovation were simply unfathomable. This article talks a bit about the book and includes an excerpt.

3) Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir, Amy Tan

Description: Bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan reveals herself in a way she never has before, delving into her childhood, adolescence, family history, beginnings as a writer, and professional life. Tan is at her most intimate in revealing the truths and inspirations that underlie her extraordinary fiction.

I’ve read a number of Tan’s fictional books, so I knew I wanted to read her memoir. I enjoyed discovering things about her, like how she listens to music when she writes (but not anything that includes singing, since it’s too distracting), and that it takes years for her to write a book. The biggest themes involve growing up with Chinese immigrant parents, the expectations they held for her, and how that influenced her life (and self-esteem) for many years. Her mother was especially difficult, prone to mood swings and constant threats of suicide.

I could have done without her inclusion of random journal entries and interludes, but those were short and easy to bypass. The essays themselves are worth reading.

4) Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, Katy Tur

Description: This is the darkly comic, fascinatingly bizarre, and often scary story of how America sent a former reality show host to the White House. It’s also the story of what it was like for Tur to be there as it happened, inside a no-rules world where reporters were spat on, demeaned, and discredited. Tur was a foreign correspondent who came home to her most foreign story of all.

Katy Tur is the reporter you heard the most about when Trump was on the campaign trail, like when he mocked her for stumbling during an interview, and when he called her out by name at his campaign rallies (ultimately causing her to receive death threats from rabid fans and fear for her safety).

I listened to this on audio, and she has a good voice for it (unsurprising, since she’s a television reporter), but I actually found it annoying sometimes because she talked in “reporter voice” (you know, the tone anchors and reporters use on TV that’s different from how everyone else talks). It was easier to look past when I listened to it for long periods of time, but it definitely stood out.

The book goes back and forth from reporting on (the absurdity of) the campaign, to what happened on election day. We learn what she was thinking at the time certain events occurred. Throughout, she seems to express surprise that Trump won the election after all his shenanigans and everything that came out about his past. (You’re not the only one, Katy.) Here’s an interview with her.

Okay

5) Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London, Lauren Elkin

Description: Part cultural meander, part memoir, Elkin takes us on a distinctly cosmopolitan jaunt that begins in New York, where she grew up, and transports us to Paris via Venice, Tokyo, and London, all cities in which she’s lived. Elkin creates a mosaic of what urban settings have meant to women, charting through literature, art, history, and film the sometimes exhilarating, sometimes fraught relationship that women have with the metropolis.

The author’s definition of flâneuse: “one who wanders aimlessly; an idler; a dawdling observer, usually found in cities.” In other words, a woman who finds pleasure in walking for exploration’s sake, not because she has a destination or objective.

I like that notion very much (and I’m inspired to do more of it!), but I didn’t love this entire book. I liked the parts where Elkin talks about her personal experiences, but she also chose to highlight female authors who have written about particular cities. I didn’t care about those people at all. If Elkin had made this book solely about her, I would have liked it much better.

6) A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages, Kristin Chenoweth

Description: At four foot eleven, Kristin is an immense talent in a petite but powerful package. Here, Kristin shares her journey from Oklahoma beauty queen to Broadway leading lady (she starred as Galinda the Good Witch in the musical “Wicked”). Through a combination of talent and hard work, Kristin took Broadway by storm. But of course, into every storm, the occasional drizzle of disaster must fall.

Kristin is cute, but if someone were to ask me if they should read this, I’d caveat that a fan would get more out of it than I did. I’d definitely recommend the audio version if so, which is what I had. The story comes alive through her telling of it, and she giggles while reading her own words, which was the same thing I liked about David Spade’s memoir.

7) The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, Florence Williams

Description: For centuries, poets and philosophers extolled the benefits of a walk in the woods. Williams set out to uncover the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain, demonstrating that our connection to nature is much more important to our cognition than we think, and even small amounts of exposure to the living world can improve our creativity and enhance our mood.

I found this book to be very thorough and well researched, and I loved the theme (that proximity to / time spent in nature is advantageous for pretty much everyone). However, it’s one of those subjects I would’ve been happy reading a long article about, rather than an entire book. I just wasn’t interested in all the nitty-gritty research and topics she covered. Here’s an interview with her in the Washington Post from earlier this year.

8) Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years, David Litt

Description: After graduating from college in 2008, he went straight to the Obama campaign. In 2011, he became one of the youngest White House speechwriters in history. Until leaving the White House in 2016, he wrote on topics from healthcare to climate change to criminal justice reform.

I enjoyed some of the insider knowledge but I just couldn’t stay interested. It was a struggle to finish. (There was one funny anecdote that stands out. Litt wrote the script for Obama’s 90th birthday tribute to Betty White and the description of the filming process – Litt’s first substantive interaction with President Obama – was entertaining. It inspired me to look up the finished video and watch it again.)

9) Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me, Howie Mandel

Description: Mandel is one of the most recognizable names in entertainment, but there are aspects of his personal and professional life he’s never talked about publicly. Years ago, Mandel told the world about his germophobia. Then he started discussing his adult ADHD. Now, for the first time, he reveals the details of his struggle with these challenging disorders. He speaks candidly about the ways his condition has affected his personal life–as a son, husband, and father of three.

This is a quick read. I thought it would be interesting to hear about his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and how it affects his life, but he addresses that subject pretty quickly, then goes on to detail the many outrageous practical jokes he’s played over the years. I wasn’t impressed with his admitted disregard for people’s feelings in pursuit of a laugh.

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