Books

Books Read in October 2020

I read eight books in October (five were audiobooks), which brings my 2020 total to 99.

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

Recommended

1) Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey

Description: From the Academy Award–winning actor, an unconventional memoir filled with raucous stories, outlaw wisdom, and lessons learned the hard way about living with greater satisfaction.

In the Washington Post, the reviewer said about this book,“[H]e obviously wrote it himself and seems certain that in addition to being a memoirist he’s also a certified motivational speaker and, worse, a poet.”

A motivational speaker and a poet? I didn’t think I’d like this book, but I listened to it anyway. And…I’m glad I did. Yes, there’s a bit of motivational-type speaking, and a bit of poetry (which I don’t care for), but the rest? Very entertaining. McConaughey is a great storyteller. If you can listen to this rather than read it, I’d recommend doing so, as his personal retelling (and the way he laughs at himself throughout) lends a lot to it.

He’s led a very unconventional life and pursued some off-the-wall activities. I knew he’d been with his wife for a long time, but I didn’t realize they’ve been together for 15 years. And yes, he does talk about that time he was arrested while playing bongos in the nude.

2) The Growing Season: How I Saved an American Farm and Built a New Life, Sarah Frey

Description: One tenacious woman’s journey to escape rural poverty and create a billion-dollar farming business–without ever leaving the land she loves.

Frey has an incredible story. She grew up extremely poor and didn’t relate to “normal” kids because she had adult responsibilities from a young age. Early exposure with helping her mother buy and sell produce in bulk during the summer led her to start doing it on her own at age 16. Over the years, her business has grown exponentially.

My only complaint: Due to the current times we live in, I felt like Frey not addressing her privilege was a big gap. Yes, she grew up very poor and worked very hard, but she is also a thin, attractive, blond-haired white woman. There were a lot of people who helped her along the way, and her experience might not have been the same if she was a minority, no matter how hard she worked.

You can watch a video interview (7:13) with Frey on CBS This Morning.

3) The Hilarious World of Depression, John Moe

Description: For years Moe, public radio personality and host of The Hilarious World of Depression podcast, struggled with depression; it plagued his family and claimed the life of his brother. As Moe came to terms with his own illness, he began to see similar patterns of behavior and coping mechanisms surfacing in conversations with others, including high-profile comedians who’d struggled with the disease. Inspired by the success of the podcast, Moe has written an investigation of the disease, part memoir of his own journey, part treasure trove of stories and insights drawn from years of interviews with some of the most brilliant minds facing similar challenges.

If you’ve never suffered from depression yourself, you know someone who has. There are definitely a lot of serious moments here, but Moe does a good job of lightening up the subject matter. I listened to it on audio and he includes snippets of people’s stories from his podcast interviews. It was just enough to make it interesting; definitely not over-done.

4) What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays, Damon Young

Description: From the cofounder of VerySmartBrothas.com, and one of the most read writers on race and culture at work today, a provocative and humorous memoir-in-essays that explores the ever-shifting definitions of what it means to be Black (and male) in America.

This is an interesting perspective from a gifted writer. It turns out (surprise!) that Damon is the same age as my husband and they attended the same college (they weren’t friends, but my husband does remember having several classes with him).

5) How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi

Description: Kendi asks us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it. He weaves together a combination of ethics, history, law, and science, bringing it all together with a personal narrative of his own awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond an awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a truly just and equitable society.

I read this for a virtual book club meeting. Kendi makes a strong argument that we are either racist or antiracist, that most people are racist in some way (including himself, for most of his life), and that it’s not true that only white people can be racist — amongst many other things. If you prefer to watch him on video, Kendi talks about the difference between being “not racist” and antiracist in this recent TED video.

Okay

6) The Meaning of Mariah Carey, Mariah Carey

Description: The award-winning singer, songwriter, producer, actress, storyteller, and artist tells the unfiltered story of her life.

This is available on audio, but I’m glad I read the ebook version — apparently she sings the song lyrics that are otherwise written out, which would have annoyed me. I’m sure Mariah superfans would love for her to sing this book to them.

I learned about her rough childhood (which I didn’t know before), and some parts of the book were enjoyable, but I found it mostly hard to get into.

There’s a good article in Vulture here (wherein we learn she’s nocturnal), seven highlights from the book here, and a CBS Sunday Morning interview with her here.

7) The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It Every Time, Maria Konnikova

Description: An investigation into the minds, motives, and methods of con artists—and the people who fall for their cons over and over again.

I listened to this on audio. I’m not sure if it was the book itself, my attention span, or the narration, but I had a hard time following it. Learning about the many ways hustlers have swindled people over the years (and why we fall for it) was interesting, but certain sections were just hard to follow.

8) The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win, Maria Konnikova

Description: Konnikova had never played poker when she approached Erik Seidel, Poker Hall of Fame inductee and winner of millions of dollars in earnings, and convinced him to be her mentor. But she knew her man, and he was intrigued by her pitch that she wasn’t interested in making money so much as learning about life.

I liked this book more than the first one by this author (listed immediately above), but only marginally. I liked it more in the beginning, but once she started talking about the intricate details of her performance at poker tournaments, she lost me.

This book would be of more interest to someone who actually plays poker. I don’t know, understand, or care to understand the rules of the game.

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