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.

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