Books

Books Read in March-April 2021

I went through a crapload of books the past two months. Here’s why: a majority of them were audiobooks. I’ve been listening to them on walks for years, but now I listen when I didn’t used to do so (like when I’m putting on makeup in the morning and cleaning my teeth and face in the evening) — those minutes add up. I also had a week-long staycation in March and spent many hours cleaning up my backyard. I was listening to an audiobook the entire time. Just one more reason why I’ve been going through so many.

I’m sure I’ll continue to say this throughout the year, because my audiobook consumption shows no signs of slowing down. (No, I don’t listen to podcasts. I’ve tried multiple times over the years, but I’ve never been able to get into them. If you listened to audiobooks instead of podcasts, you, too, could add more books to your monthly reading list.)

I read 34 books in the last two months (27 were audiobooks), which brings my 2021 total to 49.

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

Highly Recommended

1) The Beauty of Living Twice, Sharon Stone

Description: Actress Sharon Stone suffered a massive stroke that cost her not only her health, but her career, family, fortune, and global fame. Here, Stone chronicles her efforts to rebuild her life and her slow road back to wholeness and health.

I liked this book very much. Stone is strong but vulnerable. I highly recommend listening to the audiobook, which tends to be my recommendation with most (if not all) celebrity memoirs I’ve listened to. There’s an interview with her here and an excerpt from the book here.

2) Just as I Am: A Memoir, Cicely Tyson

Description: Written by Tyson and Michelle Burford, this book was released around the time of Tyson’s death in January 2021.

I’d heard of Tyson but didn’t know much about her. Her story is fascinating (especially her on-again/off-again relationship — and what she endured — with Miles Davis). She was a teenage mother, never had any more children after that, and didn’t find fame until someone suggested she become a model in her early 30s. Modeling led to acting, and that was that.

Recommended

3) Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle, Kristen Green

Description: In the wake of the Supreme Court’s unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision, Virginia’s Prince Edward County refused to obey the law. Rather than desegregate, the county closed its public schools. The community’s white leaders established a private academy, commandeering supplies from the shuttered public schools to use in their all-white classrooms. Meanwhile, black parents had few options: keep their kids at home, move across county lines, or send them to live with relatives in other states. For five years, the schools remained closed. Kristen Green grew up in Farmville and attended Prince Edward Academy, which did not admit black students until 1986. Green tells the stories of families divided by the school closures and of 1,700 black children denied an education.

I liked this book a lot; I heard about it years ago but assumed it would be a bunch of dry history. I admit I’m biased to like it because the author (and the events written about here) took place just one county over from where I grew up. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever seen a reference to my hometown of Buckingham county in a book I’ve read. But even without that personal connection, this book hits another of my faves: part memoir / part nonfiction.

4) A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, Alicia Elliott

Description: From award-winning Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott, a bold meditation on trauma, legacy, oppression, and racism. She asks essential questions about the treatment of Native people in North America while drawing on intimate details of her own life and experience with intergenerational trauma.

Alicia writes about her family’s poverty, childhood struggles, having lice for 10 (!) years, her mother’s mental health issues (she was in and out of mental institutions as Alicia grew up), and becoming a mother herself at 18. Most of the essays are personal and read like a memoir, but I would consider the last few chapters to be nonfiction essays.

5) Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First.: 10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level, Laura Tremaine

Description: Part memoir and part guidebook, this book is the invitation you’ve been waiting for to show up with your whole self and discover the intimate, meaningful relationships you long for.

I started reading Laura’s blog (which she no longer updates) almost from the beginning in the early 2010s. She’s only a year older than I am and I’ve always thought she would be fun to hang out with. She lives in Hollywood (this is her husband) so she has a bit of a celebrity life, but she’s originally from Oklahoma and grew up religious so she seems down to earth as well. I enjoyed reading more about her life in this book.

6) Everybody (Else) Is Perfect: How I Survived Hypocrisy, Beauty, Clicks, and Likes, Gabrielle Korn

Description: From the former editor-in-chief of Nylon comes a collection of essays on internet feminism, impossible beauty standards in social media, shifting ideals about sexuality, and much more.

Fantastic essays. She has a lot of important stuff to say about body image and how her anorexia affected her life (amongst many other important topics).

7) This is the Story of a Happy Marriage: Essays, Ann Patchett

Description: Patchett examines her deepest commitments — to writing, family, friends, dogs, books, and her husband — creating a resonant portrait of a life.

I read this book in 2014 and rated it Okay. What was wrong with me? Patchett is a brilliant essayist. Seven years later, I listened to the audiobook and I’m rating it as Recommended. (FYI, this is a book of essays, and one of them is about her happy marriage — it’s not the subject of the entire book.)

8) Beautiful Things: A Memoir, Hunter Biden

Description: When he was two, Hunter was badly injured in a car accident that killed his mother and baby sister. In 2015, he suffered the devastating loss of his beloved big brother, Beau, who died of brain cancer at the age of 46. These hardships were compounded by the collapse of his marriage and a years-long battle with drug and alcohol addiction. Hunter recounts his descent into substance abuse and his tortuous path to sobriety.

This is a wild story. There’s only one boring chapter, where he addresses his stint as a board member at Burisma and the resulting controversy. He details his stints in and out of rehab, alcoholism, and crack addiction. He’s been sober now for almost two years, which he credits to his current wife Melissa (they got married in 2019 after knowing each other for just a little over a week). There’s a good review here and the NY Times lists seven takeaways from the book here.

9) You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism, Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

Description: A writer and performer on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” Amber writes with her sister Lacey with humor and heart to share absurd anecdotes about everyday experiences of racism.

This book is written in a humorous way, but it’s hard to fathom that SO MANY instances of racism happen on a regular basis and there are generally no repercussions.

10) Unfinished, Priyanka Chopra Jonas

Description: A collection of personal essays, stories, and observations by actor, producer, and activist Priyanka Chopra.

I feel like she skimmed over some subjects that could have been interesting or that I had questions about, but the book was decent.

11) The Soul of a Woman, Isabel Allende

Description: A passionate and inspiring meditation on what it means to be a woman.

This book isn’t very long, but it packs a punch: feminism, aging, violence against women, sex discrimination, reproductive rights.

12) Girl Walks into a Bar: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle, Rachel Dratch

Description: In this memoir, the former Saturday Night Live star recounts the adventures and unexpected joy of dating, and becoming a mother when she least expected it — at the age of 44.

I’ve had a long stretch of avoiding comedic memoirs (or not liking the ones I did read), so this was a nice change. Dratch talks about how she got into show business and what she’s done since the job offers dried up.

13) You’re Leaving When?: Adventures in Downward Mobility, Annabelle Gurwitch

Description: This a timely and hilarious chronicle of downward mobility, financial and emotional. With her signature sharp wit, Gurwitch gives irreverent and empathetic voice to a generation hurtling into their next chapter with no safety net and proving that our no-frills new normal doesn’t mean a deficit of humor.

I thought this might end up being too intentionally humorous, but it was a nice mix and I enjoyed it. There’s a good interview with Gurwitch in the LA Times here.

14) Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography, Rob Lowe

Description: A wryly funny and surprisingly moving account of an extraordinary life lived almost entirely in the public eye.

I read this for the first time in 2014; I decided to listen to it this time on audio (he reads it). Rob didn’t have a great home life growing up, but it strikes me how lucky he was to find himself dropped into a California town as a teen where he would immediately meet current (and future) celebrities.

15) Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame, Mara Wilson

Description: This collection of personal essays introduces Wilson — the former child actress best known for her starring roles in Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire — as a brilliant new chronicler of the experience that is growing up young and female.

I read this ebook in 2017 but listened to it on audio this time. It was good the second time around, too; I always enjoy when authors read their memoirs.

16) Name Drop: The Really Good Celebrity Stories I Usually Only Tell at Happy Hour, Ross Mathews

Description: Mathews dishes about being an unlikely insider in showbiz, like that time he was invited by Barbara Walters to host The View; his Christmas with the Kardashians, and a news-making talk with Omarosa on Celebrity Big Brother. He shares the most treasured and surprising moments in his career, proving that while exposure may have made him a little bit famous, he’s as much a fanboy as ever.

Liked: This is a light, celebrity-filled read, and Mathews is fun and entertaining. Disliked: his constant puns. Also, in the audiobook he reads his recipes for snacks and cocktails out loud. (I maintain that recipes should come at the end of an audiobook, not be sprinkled throughout, because it makes it difficult and annoying to fast forward through when you’re trying to do other things.)

17) Playing with FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early): How Far Would You Go for Financial Freedom?, Scott Rieckens

Description: Rieckens had built a dream life, but underneath the surface he was creatively stifled, depressed, and overworked trying to help pay for his family’s beach lifestyle. One day he listened to a podcast interview that changed everything. Five months later, he had quit his job, convinced his family to leave their home, and cut their expenses in half. Follow Rieckens and his family as they devote everything to FIRE (financial independence retire early), a subculture obsessed with maximizing wealth and happiness.

Rieckens is preaching to the choir with me because I’m already very familiar with what FIRE is about, and I’ve also seen his documentary. I do recommend this book for people who are interested in getting started, or just learning more.

18) The Secrets of My Life, Caitlyn Jenner

Description: This covers Jenner’s childhood as Bruce Jenner and rise to fame as a gold-medal-winning Olympic decathlete, her marriages and relationships with her children, her transition, and her experience as the world’s most famous transgender woman.

I knew some of Caitlyn’s story but not nearly as much as what is revealed here.

19) Up Till Now: The Autobiography, William Shatner

Description: Shatner has become one of the most beloved entertainers in the world. And it seems as if he’s everywhere. In this book, Shatner offers the full story of his life and explains how he got to be, well, everywhere.

This book was published when Shatner was in his late 70s (he just turned 90 last month!). He goes a bit too in-depth (for my taste) when he talks about his prolific acting career — he has a very long and varied body of work — but there were a number of interesting parts. He also talks about personal stuff, like his third wife’s alcoholism and how she drowned in a swimming pool.

20) Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Misty Copeland

Description: As the only African American soloist dancing with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, Copeland has made history. But when she first placed her hands on the barre at an after-school community center, no one expected the undersized, anxious thirteen-year-old to become a ground-breaking ballerina.

Misty’s rise as a ballet prodigy is impressive, especially given her unstable background growing up.

21) The Case for Keto: Rethinking Weight Control and the Science and Practice of Low-Carb/High-Fat Eating, Gary Taubes

Description: Taubes clarifies a century of misunderstanding about the differences between diet, weight control, and health. He provides a manifesto for the 21st-century diet, and a primer on how low-carbohydrate, high-fat/ketogenic diets can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight for life.

Taubes has a tendency to get sciency, but at least that helps with the legitimacy factor.

22) Losing It: And Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time, Valerie Bertinelli

Description: This is Valerie’s frank account of her life backstage and in the spotlight. Here are the ups and downs of teen stardom, her complicated marriage to a brilliant, tormented musical genius, and her very public struggle with her weight.

I wish she hadn’t focused so much on her weight in the title, since that’s largely not what the book is about. She does mention her weight throughout, and her yoyo dieting, but it’s more about her childhood, career, and marriage to Eddie Van Halen.

23) The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, Sarah Silverman

Description: In these essays, Silverman tells tales of growing up Jewish in New Hampshire, learning to curse at three years old, being a bedwetter until she was old enough to drive, and along the way, recounts the accidental death of her infant brother.

Silverman is more in the gross-comedy genre than I would prefer, but there’s enough of the other stuff to make this worth listening to.

24) But You’re Still So Young: How Thirtysomethings Are Redefining Adulthood, Kayleen Schaefer

Description: An investigation into what it means to be in your 30s, navigating some of the biggest milestones of adult life, and how it’s more okay than ever to not have every box checked off.

I’m a bit too old for this book, as I no longer feel like I’m still “navigating” my biggest adult life issues, but it’s still interesting to hear about how people not that much younger than I am are faring. This would have been helpful to read during my quarter-life crisis. You can read an excerpt from the book here.

25) In the Water They Can’t See You Cry: A Memoir, Amanda Beard

Description: Olympic medalist Amanda Beard reveals the truth about coming of age in the spotlight, the demons she battled along the way, and the newfound happiness that has proved to be her greatest victory.

Okay

26) Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Description: In a work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis.

This was a re-read for me; it was chosen as a selection for a virtual book club that I belong to. I didn’t love this book the first time around and my position remains the same (I enjoyed the personal stories but his dialogue is a bit esoteric / hard to get into).

27) One Day You’ll Thank Me: Essays on Dating, Motherhood, and Everything In Between, Cameran Eubanks Wimberly

Description: The star of the Bravo hit series Southern Charm offers a candid collection of essays on dating, pregnancy, and parenthood.

This book was more about pregnancy and parenthood than I expected. I finished it because it was a quick listen.

28) A Bright Ray of Darkness, Ethan Hawke

Description: This is a book about art and love, fame and heartbreak — a blistering story of a young man making his Broadway debut just as his marriage implodes.

This wasn’t a bad story, but I kept thinking there were too many conversations and they were going on too long (I acknowledge this could be because I rarely read fiction). Also, in typical male author fashion (at least this is what I assume, as again, I rarely read fiction written by men) the main character describes various beautiful women and how they look and how sexually attracted they are to him. Read more about the book here, and there’s an interview here.

29) We Came, We Saw, We Left: A Family Gap Year, Charles Wheelan

Description: What would happen if you quit your life for a year? In a pre–COVID-19 world, the Wheelan family decided to find out; leaving behind work and school to travel the world on a modest budget.

I’m sure this was the trip of a lifetime, but it was full of dad jokes and dumb things his kids did and said. The trip’s mishaps, as expected, are more entertaining than the parts that went well. Read more here.

30) Let Me Tell You What I Mean, Joan Didion

Description: A collection of mostly early pieces that reveal what would become Didion’s subjects, including the press, politics, women, and her own self-doubt.

I need to keep reminding myself that I tend not to like essays written about people/topics that happened decades before I was born.

31) Surviving the White Gaze: A Memoir, Rebecca Carroll

Description: A memoir from black cultural critic Rebecca Carroll recounting her painful struggle to overcome a completely white childhood in order to forge her identity as a black woman in America.

I can’t imagine growing up in a place where I was the only minority.

32) The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief, and Manipulation, Melissa Rivers

Description: Joan Rivers was known all over the world, but there was only one person who knew her intimately: her daughter Melissa.

33) How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits, Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, Sophie Mas

Description: From four French women, a spirited take on what it means to be a Parisienne: how they dress, entertain, have fun, and attempt to behave themselves.

Not Recommended

34) Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, Jenny Lawson

Description: Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives are in fact the ones that define us. She takes readers on a journey, recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband.

I’ve recently come to like comedic memoirs more so than I did in the past, but…I guess I have a line. Many, many people find this lady hilarious but her brand of humor just isn’t for me.

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