Books

Books Read in August 2020

I read 11 books in August (six were audiobooks), which brings my 2020 total to 81.

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

Recommended

1) The Fixed Stars: A Memoir, Molly Wizenberg

Description: From a bestselling memoirist, a thoughtful and provocative story of changing identity, complex sexuality, and enduring family relationships.

Molly is a beautiful writer. Her first two books were largely about her marriage to a man; after being married for 10 years she found she was attracted to women. You can read an excerpt here.

2) The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power, Deirdre Mask

Description: An exuberant and insightful work of popular history of how streets got their names, houses their numbers, and what it reveals about class, race, power, and identity.

Mask covers a wide range of subjects, including how the process of numbering houses came about, and the popularity of using numbered streets in large cities. Surprisingly fascinating!

3) My Life as a Villainess: Essays, Laura Lippman

Description: New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman, a journalist for many years, collects her recent essays exploring motherhood as an older mom, her life as a reader, her relationships with her parents, friendship, and other topics that will resonate with a large audience.

I enjoyed all of these essays, which is rare for me in a book like this. I think most (or all?) of them have been previously published elsewhere (here is Game of Crones and Whole 60).

She covers a wide range of topics, like adopting her daughter at age 51, being married to David Simon (creator of The Wire), weight, vanity, menopause, and her non-religious beliefs (although she raises her daughter Jewish). I generally listen to audiobooks on double speed, so I got through this entire book one Sunday morning when I had grocery store errands and food prep duties in front of me.

4) Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women Is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free, Wednesday Martin

Description: Blending personal stories from Martin’s own history with accessible social science, cultural theory, and interviews with psychologists, primatologists, anthropologists, and real women from all walks of life, she reveals startling insights about female sexuality.

I didn’t like the chapters on historical context so much, but the modern research and her real-life experiences were interesting to read about.

Okay

5) The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life, Alex Trebek

Description: The longtime “Jeopardy!” host has enthralled viewers for more than 30 years. Now he writes about family, success, and philanthropy; talks about legendary contestants like Ken Jennings; and answers the questions he gets most often from fans.

Alex comes across as an intellectual, but he’s not a great writer: his sentences are short and choppy. This is a quick read, with short chapters. I did enjoy the behind the scenes of the show, but a lot of the other subjects didn’t interest me.

There’s a NY Times profile of Trebek here and his book was reviewed in the Post here.

6) Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In, Phuc Tran

Description: For anyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong, Tran shares an irreverent, funny, and moving tale of displacement and assimilation woven together with poignant themes from beloved works of classic literature.

I would have liked this book better if he didn’t get into so much minutiae.

7) The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: A Memoir, Wayétu Moore

Description: A memoir of escaping the First Liberian Civil War and building a life in the United States.

I wanted to like this book more, but: 1) I don’t think she chose a great title (I almost didn’t read it because of the title; I prefer titles that are more specific); 2) the structure was often confusing to me; and 3) I had questions that weren’t answered. Most of the book is about Moore’s personal experience, but 75% of the way through she switches to her mother’s experience (which was actually really interesting). I almost gave up reading it, but her mother’s story — about how she got her husband and three kids out of Liberia to the United States — made the rest of the book worth slogging through.

8) A Very Punchable Face: A Memoir, Colin Jost

Description: In these essays, the Saturday Night Live head writer and Weekend Update co-anchor learns how to take a beating.

Colin seems like a likable person, but I’m not the intended audience for this book. I knew Colin was on Saturday Night Live, but I rarely watch SNL. I skipped a chapter where he details how he sh*t his pants several times as an adult because, well, again, I’m not the audience for that.

There was also a chapter on his mother’s involvement in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, but I wasn’t interested in that either. Yes, his mother was a hero. However, it happened almost 20 years ago and we’ve all read so much about people’s 9/11 experiences in the past two decades. The Washington Post interviewed him here.

9) Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist, Franchesca Ramsey

Description: This veteran video blogger and star of MTV’s Decoded explores race, identity, online activism, and the downfall of real communication in the age of social media rants and trolls.

As usual with this type of book, I liked the author’s personal stories much more than her advice-giving.

10) Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, Mary L. Tr*mp

Description: In this portrait of Donald Tr*mp and the toxic family that made him, Mary L. Tr*mp, a trained clinical psychologist and Donald’s only niece, shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security, and social fabric.

Scathing, but nothing we didn’t already know.

11) A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings: A Year of Keeping Bees, Helen Jukes

Description: Uneasy about her future and struggling to settle into a new house in Oxford with a small garden, Jukes is brought back to a time of accompanying a beekeeper friend in London on his hive visits. As a gesture of good fortune for her new life, she is given a colony of honeybees. According to folklore, a colony, freely given, brings good luck, and Jukes embarks on a rewarding, perilous journey of becoming a beekeeper.

Someone who loves (or keeps, or has a huge interest in) bees would adore this book. It was too bee-technical for me.

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2 Comments

  • Reply Jaclyn August 31, 2020 at 8:46 pm

    I read “The Fixed Stars” this month as well. Molly certainly writes beautifully and evocatively. I’ve loved her past memoirs but I couldn’t help wondering what her daughter will think of this memoir in ten years. Kids can be so cruel, and nowadays everything is out there forever – it wouldn’t take much for some of the more personal passages to work their way around a bunch of immature high school idiots. This memoir was crafted beautifully as everything Molly does, but I felt almost as if I was invading her privacy by reading it.

    • Reply Zandria August 31, 2020 at 8:51 pm

      Well said! I thought some of the material was pretty personal, too. She does mention leaving her daughter at times, and things happening to her daughter while she gone, and feeling guilty. So she’ll have to address that aspect at some point, in addition to the potential for teasing.

      I fall short of saying she shouldn’t have written about it, though. It’s her memoir, and if it was important for her to include, I respect that.

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