Books

Books Read in March 2019

I read 13 books in March (four were audiobooks), which brings my 2019 total to 43.

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) Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward, Gemma Hartley

Description: From the journalist who ignited a national conversation on emotional labor, comes a bold dive into the unpaid, invisible work women have shouldered for too long — and an impassioned vision for creating a better future.

I put this book on hold immediately after coming across the author’s popular article on Harper’s Bazaar. I’d never thought about emotional labor this way before. Sure, I’d noticed that most women take on a majority of the emotional labor in heterosexual relationships, but I didn’t know there was a term for it. Hartley says many women reached out to her after the article was published, and I’m not surprised. She wasn’t the first person to point out this phenomenon, and she didn’t coin the term “emotional labor,” but sometimes an article/book comes out at the right time or is read by the right people in order to make it a bigger thing.

I liked how Hartley made strides to change the emotional labor dynamic in her decade-plus marriage. She also admits that getting to a point where emotional labor is shared by a couple doesn’t mean all of the changes take place with the male partner — there were issues of her own she had to address, like feeling a need for everything to be done perfectly, and to her exact specifications.

There’s a lot here and I found myself taking notes. It would make a good choice for a book club, as it would garner great discussion. You can read an excerpt from the book here.

2) The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America, Tommy Tomlinson

Description: Tomlinson chronicles his lifelong battle with weight and hits the road to meet other members of the plus-sized tribe in an attempt to understand how, as a nation, we got to this point. From buying a FitBit and setting exercise goals to contemplating the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, Tomlinson brings us along on a candid and sometimes brutal look at the everyday experience of being constantly aware of your size.

I’ve long had an interest in books and articles about weight, usually written by people on opposite ends of the size spectrum – those who are either too big or too small.

I really liked this book, but it was hard to read. Tomlinson is a very readable author; he doesn’t hold back; he’s raw. It may seem strange to say this, but as someone who doesn’t crave food the way he does, it’s tough to read about someone who can’t say no. He goes in-depth into his history with (and admitted addiction to) fast food, and all the lies he’s told over the years so people wouldn’t think he was consuming so much of it. There is excruciating detail about the fatty, greasy, salty, and sweet foods he loves so much.

At one point, he explores the question, “Who would I be if I weren’t fat?” At the same time I was reading this book, I came across this article, written by an obese woman who asks the very same question. Both wonder how their lives could have turned out if they had made different choices.

You can read an excerpt from Tomlinson’s book here.

3) Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE, Phil Knight

Description: In this memoir, Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands.

This isn’t a book I would have thought to pick up, but I saw a glowing recommendation on Everyday Reading last year and made note of it.

I had absolutely no idea how Nike started, and as the blogger above noted, it’s way more interesting than one might expect. What struck me was the level of dedication it took to keep the company going, especially in the first decade. It really was a long, slow, gradual process that started with Phil selling sneakers from the trunk of his car while working a regular full time job as an accountant. If two non-sporty people recommend a book about the creation of a sneaker company, it’s probably worth your time.

4) American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment, Shane Bauer

Description: In 2014, Bauer was hired for $9 an hour to work as an entry-level prison guard. An award-winning investigative journalist, he used his real name; there was no meaningful background check. Four months later, his employment came to an abrupt end. In short order he wrote an exposé about his experiences that won a National Magazine Award and became the most-read feature in the history of Mother Jones magazine.

Bauer intersperses his experience of working undercover in a medium-security, rural private prison in Louisiana with the history of mass incarceration over the past few centuries. He covers convict leasing (and subsequent high death rates), and moves forward to more modern practices. It’s interesting that he found himself reacting to inmates in ways he would never act toward people in normal life, but of course he was faced with situations he’d never found himself in before.

5) You All Grow Up and Leave Me: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession, Piper Weiss

Description: Piper was 14 when her middle-aged tennis coach, Gary Wilensky, one of New York City’s most prestigious private instructors, killed himself after a failed attempt to kidnap one of his teenage students. In the aftermath, authorities discovered that this well-known figure among the Upper East Side tennis crowd was actually a frightening child predator who had built a secret torture chamber in his secluded rental in the Adirondacks. Now, 20 years later, Piper examines the event as both a teenage eyewitness and a dispassionate investigative reporter.

This book is part memoir, part true-crime. Weiss is a good writer and the story is intriguing. She was an insecure teenager when the incident occurred and seems to imply that she never got over not being Gary’s “favorite,” so there’s a thread of obsession that runs through the story as well.

Read an interview with Weiss in Vanity Fair here.

6) The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts, Tessa Fontaine

Description: A story for anyone who has ever imagined running away with the circus, wanted to be someone else, or wanted a loved one to live forever, this is ultimately about death-defying acts of all kinds.

Tessa did something not many people do: she joined a sideshow. (One reason it’s not very common is because World of Wonders, the show she joined, is the very last touring American sideshow.) She explains the difficulty in keeping the show afloat – they always seem to be operating on the brink of bankruptcy. Everyone in the show sleeps on a tiny bunk in the back of a semi truck (or if you’re especially unlucky, a cot on the main stage), and works very long hours for low pay. Tessa said her newbie pay was $275/week, but it didn’t go much higher for those who had worked for the show for years.

It’s definitely not a glamorous life, but for the amount of time they perform in front of crowds, they pull off the illusion of glitz and intrigue. Watch a video here, where Tessa demonstrates her fire-eating skills.

7) The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century, Kirk Wallace Johnson

Description: The gripping story of a bizarre and shocking crime, and one man’s years-long, worldwide investigation, this is a fascinating exploration of obsession, and man’s destructive instinct to harvest the beauty of nature.

I was wary of how interesting this story would be (feathers, really?), but I’m glad I put it on my “maybe” list and came back to it when I needed an audiobook. It was much better than I expected.

Who would have thought exotic and rare feathers were so popular? I certainly didn’t. Long-ago explorers spent years collecting them from distant countries (sometimes decimating entire bird species in the process) and rich ladies would pay a lot of money for those feathers to be attached to their hats and other accessories. While that practice has ended, rare feathers are popular today with fly fishermen, to be used in tying flies. And of course when something is rare and can fetch a high price, illegal activity inevitably follows.

8) Everyday Millionaires: How Ordinary People Built Extraordinary Wealth – And How You Can Too, Chris Hogan

Description: Hogan destroys millionaire myths that are keeping everyday people from achieving financial independence. His research team surveyed over 10,000 U.S, millionaires, discovering how these high-net-worth people reached their financial status. And the formula might surprise you.

I didn’t really learn anything new from this book (I’ve been interested in the topic of financial independence for years, so I’ve done quite a bit of reading on it already). I do think it’s a good introduction for someone who has just realized saving this kind of money is possible, with some basic advice on how to get there.

I liked that he’s very much against borrowing money for student loans, advocating that college-bound people start with community college and save money to complete their degree at an affordable four-year university. The only type of debt he likes is mortgage debt, and he recommends paying off one’s mortgage as quickly as possible (he strongly advises getting a 15-year loan instead of the typical 30-year loan). He doesn’t touch the debate of whether it’s better to be a homeowner versus a renter though, and having been both of those, I do recognize and appreciate the merits of being a renter.

He does repeat himself quite a bit, which got annoying at times, but I realize why he was doing it. His main advice is basic, but it works: Start saving as early as possible to take advantage of compounding interest. Keep saving (at least 15% of your income, but ideally as much as you can), and eventually, you can be a millionaire.

Okay

9) A Girl’s Guide to Missiles: Growing Up in America’s Secret Desert, Karen Piper

Description: A poignant and fearlessly honest look at growing up on one of the most secretive weapons installations on earth, by a young woman who came of age with missiles.

I had high hopes for this book (I mean, growing up on a missile base in the middle of nowhere…how cool is that?), but it was disappointing. It’s mostly about the author growing up in a religious household, and then her life after moving off the base for college, and all the years thereafter. I didn’t find her personal story all that interesting, whereas learning about how a missile base runs (and being introduced to other people who choose that line of work) sounds much more entertaining.

10) Interior States: Essays, Meghan O’Gieblyn

Description: A collection that centers around two core issues of American identity: faith, in general and the specific forms Christianity takes in particular; and the challenges of living in the Midwest when culture is felt to be elsewhere.

Meghan is a strong writer and some of these essays were really good. The problem was, it wasn’t all memoir — some of the essays were personal, but others weren’t. All of the essays were reprinted from other publications (instead of being written specifically for this book). Two of the essays were book reviews, written for the Los Angeles Review of Books…no, thank you.

Meghan grew up in an Evangelical household, like I did, and was homeschooled for most of her life, which is true for me as well. She went on to do a few years at a religious college before she transferred elsewhere, which luckily I didn’t have to experience. I especially liked the first essay of the book, and the one where she talks about the contemporary Christian music scene of the 1990s (which I also knew quite well, since I wasn’t allowed to listen to anything “secular” back then).

She’s a very good writer so I hate to rank the book so low, but I just didn’t enjoy the essays that were non-memoir. I wish she’d written a book that was all about her.

11) Era of Ignition: Coming of Age in a Time of Rage and Revolution, Amber Tamblyn

Description: A passionate manifesto with personal stories, anecdotes, and opinions from the front lines of modern American womanhood from actor, filmmaker, and activist Amber Tamblyn.

I’ve heard Amber’s name mentioned over the past few years in relation to her involvement in various feminist causes, including the #TimesUp movement. I appreciate her passion and enjoyed some of her stories, but overall I didn’t love it. It was more of a rallying cry than a memoir.

12) Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Love in Italy, Michael Tucker

Description: Actor Michael Tucker and his wife, actress Jill Eikenberry, were vacationing in Italy when they happened upon a small 350-year-old cottage in the Umbrian countryside. It was love at first sight, and the couple purchased the house without testing the water pressure or checking for signs of termites. Shedding the vestiges of their American life, Michael and Jill endeavored to learn the language, understand the nuances of Italian culture, and build a home in this new chapter of their lives.

This is a perfectly nice book, but compared to other memoirs I’ve read about people living in foreign countries, it’s a very light read. Nothing ever seems to go wrong (except for worrying about finances because these two actors no longer get acting work as much as they used to), and they found a fellow expat who took care of paying their bills and dealing with their Italian home renovations when they were out of the country. However, they visit some fun places, have a lot of fun with their friends, and eat a lot of great food. It’ll make you want to be there.

Also, apparently I’ve read this book before but didn’t realize it until I went to record it in Goodreads — I marked it as read in June 2008. I’ve kept meticulous records of books I’ve read since at least 2002…minus the years of 2006-2008. I either wasn’t reading very much during those years and only recorded them in Goodreads, or I lost my records. I honestly don’t remember. All I know is, I have a document that lists all the books I read from 2002-2005, and starting in 2009 I’ve kept a separate Google Spreadsheet for each calendar year.

Not Recommended

13) So Here’s the Thing: Notes on Growing Up, Getting Older, and Trusting Your Gut, Alyssa Mastromonaco

Description: A frank book of reflections, essays, and interviews on topics important to young women, ranging from politics and career to motherhood, sisterhood, and making and sustaining relationships of all kinds in the age of social media.

I rated Alyssa’s first memoir as Recommended in May 2017, but this one was not at all what I expected. This new book is part memoir, part self help. Since I hate pretty much all self help / advice books, I’m not surprised that I disliked this one so strongly. I’m an adult; I don’t need to be warned about the dangers of social media (eye roll). I only got through it because it was a quick read.

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