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.

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