28. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: How To's, Humor, Inspirational, Marsha, Memoirs, NonFiction · Tags: ,

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, 238 pages, read by Marsha, on 05/27/2014

birdLamott gives us an inside peek at her writing processes and the advice she gives to her workshop students.  Hilariously written, as one reviewer notes, the book is “a warm, generous and hilarious guide through the writer’s world and its treacherous swamps.”  Lamott is not shy about telling her students and readers that writing is hard work and what we think of as reward, publication, may not ever happen.  And yet, we should keep on writing about ourselves, our lives, our very ups and downs.  She encourages us all to just keep writing day by day.  A good dose of humor is thrown in to keep us from getting too despondent.  Lamott tackles libel, beginning writing, taking classes, and finding writing partners with a good dose of reality and fun in her text.  I highly recommend it for any creative person who needs a good laugh.

 

06. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, Lisa, Memoirs, NonFiction

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, 320 pages, read by Lisa, on 04/25/2014

The New York Times bestselling author of State of WonderRun, and Bel Canto creates a resonant portrait of a life in this collection of writings on love, friendship, work, and art.

“The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living.”

So begins This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, an examination of the things Ann Patchett is fully committed to—the art and craft of writing, the depths of friendship, an elderly dog, and one spectacular nun. Writing nonfiction, which started off as a means of keeping her insufficiently lucrative fiction afloat, evolved over time to be its own kind of art, the art of telling the truth as opposed to the art of making things up. Bringing her narrative gifts to bear on her own life, Patchett uses insight and compassion to turn very personal experiences into stories that will resonate with every reader.

These essays twine to create both a portrait of life and a philosophy of life. Obstacles that at first appear insurmountable—scaling a six-foot wall in order to join the Los Angeles Police Department, opening an independent bookstore, and sitting down to write a novel—are eventually mastered with quiet tenacity and a sheer force of will. The actual happy marriage, which was the one thing she felt she wasn’t capable of, ultimately proves to be a metaphor as well as a fact: Patchett has devoted her life to the people and ideals she loves the most.

An irresistible blend of literature and memoir, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a unique examination of the heart, mind, and soul of one of our most revered and gifted writers.

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Graphic Book, Memoirs

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney, 256 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/19/2014

Art and madness. Do the two always have to go hand in hand? Is there a reason so many artists/writers/creative types struggle with mental illness? If they had been alive today, in the age of modern medicine and therapy, would they still have been able to create their masterpieces? Ellen Forney finds herself having to deal with this very issue as she, a long-time comic artist, is diagnosed as bi-polar. Forney doesn’t just tell her story; she does her research as well. Forney tells readers about the illness itself, the medications, side effects and so-called “mad” geniuses. Early on in her treatment, she worries about the medication taking away or diminishing her creativity. By the end, she has found a middle ground. Things aren’t perfect and never will be, but readers can tell that Ellen is going to wind up OK.
Marbles is a fantastic graphic memoir. Forney, who is an Eisner-Award winning cartoonist (and the artist for Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) does an excellent job of demystifying this potentially devastating mood disorder by putting forth her story in a clear and concise narrative. It is abundantly clear that much of her progress is due to a talented doctor/therapist and a large support network of friends. Even so, it still took years to find balance and which serves as a good reminder to readers that these issues will not go away overnight or on their own. At times humorous, but always honest, this memoir is an excellent example of what the comic medium is capable of.

02. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, Madeline, Memoirs, NonFiction

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor, 432 pages, read by Madeline, on 03/07/2014

An instant American icon–the first Hispanic on the U.S. Supreme Court–tells the story of her life before becoming a judge in an inspiring, surprisingly personal memoir.

With startling candor and intimacy, Sonia Sotomayor recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a progress that is testament to her extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself.  She writes of her precarious childhood and the refuge she took with her passionately spirited paternal grandmother. She describes her resolve as a young girl to become a lawyer, and how she made this dream become reality: valedictorian of her high school class, summa cum laude at Princeton, Yale Law, prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.’s office, private practice, federal district judge before the age of forty. She writes about her deeply valued mentors, about her failed marriage, about her cherished family of friends. Through her still-astonished eyes, America’s infinite possibilities are envisioned anew in this warm and honest book, destined to become a classic of self-discovery and self-invention, alongside Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father.

30. March 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, History, Inspirational, Memoirs, NonFiction, Rachel

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, 228 pages, read by Rachel, on 03/29/2014

This was a fantastic autobiography! Reminiscent of Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, The Hiding Place provided the perspective of a Christian family in Holland hiding those who were fleeing Nazi persecution. I was amazed by the organization of the resistance and the positivity of Corrie ten Boom during one of the darkest times of history.

This is the true story of how Corrie ten Boom and her family became leaders in the Dutch underground when the Nazis invaded Holland, hiding Jewish people in their home in a specially built room.

TV writer Hilary Winston offers up a witty collection of autobiographical tales about her misadventures in dating.

Just when Hilary feels like her life is finally in order, she gets a sucker-punch to the gut: Her ex has written a novel based on their relationship in which he refers to her throughout as the “fat-assed girlfriend.” Her response to this affront is just one of the many hilarious stories in My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me–a laugh-out-loud, tell-all in which Hilary sets the record straight on all her exes.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Helen, Memoirs, NonFiction

Most Talkative by Andy Cohen, 288 pages, read by Helen, on 09/30/2012

The man behind the Real Housewives writes about his lifelong love affair with pop culture that brought him from the suburbs of St. Louis to his own television show

From a young age, Andy Cohen knew one thing: He loved television. Not in the way that most kids do, but in an irrepressible, all-consuming, I-want-to-climb-inside-the-tube kind of way. And climb inside he did. Now presiding over Bravo’s reality TV empire, he started out as an overly talkative pop culture obsessive, devoted to Charlie’s Angels and All My Children and to his mother, who received daily letters from Andy at summer camp, usually reminding her to tape the soaps. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that everyone didn’t know that Andy was gay; still, he remained in the closet until college. Finally out, he embarked on making a career out of his passion for television.

The journey begins with Andy interviewing his all-time idol Susan Lucci for his college newspaper and ends with him in a job where he has a hand in creating today’s celebrity icons. In the witty, no-holds-barred style of his show Watch What Happens Live, Andy tells tales of absurd mishaps during his ten years at CBS News, hilarious encounters with the heroes and heroines of his youth, and the real stories behind The Real Housewives. Dishy, funny, and full of heart, Most Talkative provides a one-of-a-kind glimpse into the world of television, from a fan who grew up watching the screen and is now inside it, both making shows and hosting his own.

06. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, Madeline, Memoirs, NonFiction

This Is How You Say Goodbye: A Daughter's Memoir by Victoria Loustalot, 240 pages, read by Madeline, on 01/31/2014

A razor-sharp memoir in which a young woman travels to Cambodia, Stockholm, and Paris to overcome the legacy of her difficult and charismatic father

When Victoria Loustalot was eight years old her father swept her up in a fantasy: a trip around the world. It was a grandiose plan and she had fallen for it. But it had never been so much as a possibility. Victoria’s father was sick. He was HIV positive and soon to fall prey to AIDS. Three years later he would be gone.

When Victoria realized that the grand trip with her father wasn’t going to happen, she was devastated. Her mother assumed she’d get over it, that eventually it would become just a shrug. But it didn’t. In the years to come, Victoria wondered what it would have been like to have been alone with her dad all those months, to see him outside of his sickness, beyond anything related to their family or their life. To have been with him in a new context. That’s what she wanted. And that’s what she did.

Some fifteen years after that initial promise, Victoria went to Stockholm, to Angkor Wat, and to Paris. She went to the places they were meant to see together, and she went to make peace with her father, too. Because while he’d always be forty-four, she’d gone on accumulating birthdays. Every year, her understanding of him continued to evolve and their relationship was still alive. Victoria Loustalot felt trapped beneath all of the unanswered questions he left behind. She needed to be set free. She needed to say goodbye.

02. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Crafts, Informational Book, Kira, Memoirs, NonFiction

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee casts off the yarn harlot's guide to the land of knitting by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee , 218 pages, read by Kira, on 11/28/2013

castoff froganatomy-of-a-knitter1  knit steph Stephanie Pearl-McPhee uses the format of a travelogue to humorously describe knitter’s foibles (including the STASH). She also incudes a number of quizzes so you can find out what type of knitter, stasher, etc. you are.  It was quiet funny and I actually learned a few things I hadn’t know (I am Not a tumblr_loylymBblY1qcg6wqo1_500process knitter).

02. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, History, Memoirs, NonFiction, Pamela

I, Toto by Willard Carroll, 96 pages, read by Pamela, on 11/27/2013

I totoDuring the expansion of the Ventura Freeway in Los Angeles, Willard Carroll unearthed a leatherbound scrapbook from a site that was once a pet cemetery. To his amazement, its yellowing pages contained the rags-to-riches story of Terry, the cairn terrier who played Toto in the enduring film The Wizard of Oz. Reprinted here in its entirety, I, Toto traces the canine star’s tragic beginnings, her exhilarating film career, and her happy retirement in Southern California. Best of all, it offers the inside scoop on Toto’s signature role, her costars, and the making of The Wizard of Oz.

There are also some endearing passages about Terry’s (a.k.a. Toto) interaction with Clark Gable, Shirley Temple, and Spencer Tracy.  A book written from a dog’s point of view is not unique, but from this famous dog’s point of view it is unique.

Children and adults alike will like this book.  There are plenty of pictures to entertain the young ones while an adult reads the story.  It’s a very quick read and packed with lots of entertainment about a very special little dog.

25. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, Memoirs, NonFiction, Tracy

Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir by Linda Ronstadt, 256 pages, read by Tracy, on 11/24/2013

In this memoir, iconic singer Linda Ronstadt weaves together a captivating story of her origins in Tucson, Arizona, and her rise to stardom in the Southern California music scene of the 1960s and ’70s.

Born into a musical family, Linda’s childhood was filled with everything from Hank Williams to Gilbert and Sullivan, Mexican folk music to jazz and opera. Her artistic curiosity blossomed early, and she and her siblings began performing their own music for anyone who would listen. Now, twelve Grammy Awards later, Ronstadt tells the story of her wide-ranging and utterly unique musical journey.

Ronstadt arrived in Los Angeles just as the folk-rock movement was beginning to bloom, setting the stage for the development of country-rock. After the dissolution of her first band, the Stone Poneys, Linda went out on her own and quickly found success. As part of the coterie of like-minded artists who played at the Troubadour club in West Hollywood, she helped define the musical style that dominated American music in the 1970s. One of her early back-up bands went on to become the Eagles, and Linda would become the most successful female artist of the decade. She has sold more than 100 million records, won numerous awards, and toured all over the world. Linda has collaborated with legends such as Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Aaron Neville, J.D. Souther, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Bette Midler, and Frank Sinatra, as well as Homer Simpson and Kermit the Frog. By the time she retired in 2009, Ronstadt had spent four decades as one of the most popular singers in the world, becoming the first female artist in popular music to release four consecutive platinum albums.

In Simple Dreams, Ronstadt reveals the eclectic and fascinating journey that led to her long-lasting success. And she describes it all in a voice as beautiful as the one that sang “Heart Like a Wheel”—longing, graceful, and authentic.

I was so excited to read this that I did something I rarely ever do: read an entire ebook on my phone. For real. I hate reading on my phone, especially for extended periods of time, but I don’t have a tablet or e-reader, so there you go. I received an e-copy of the book via NetGalley and promptly downloaded it to my phone. I had intended just to begin the book and then patiently wait for a print copy, but couldn’t ultimately could not stop reading. And laughing. So much laughing. Allie Brosh’s book is painfully honest and laugh-out-loud-hilarious. And her mastery of MS Paint for dramatic effect is unparalleled.
Anyone who has ever read and enjoyed “Hyperbole and a Half” ought to pick this up right away and read it cover to cover. Anyone who has never checked out “Hyperbole and a Half” has serious deficiencies in their life and they need to start reading the blog and/or this book immediately.

While the library doesn’t own a copy yet, we probably will sooner or later.  Until then, check out the blog at: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com

You won’t be disappointed.

29. July 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Autobiographies, Humor, Memoirs, NonFiction

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson, 318 pages, read by Angie, on 07/28/2013

One of the funniest books I have ever read! There I said it and it is true. I found myself actually laughing out loud during the reading of this book and have now become a huge Jenny Lawson fan. I want to hang out with her and hear more stories about her crazy taxidermist dad, her long-suffering but equally crazy husband Victor and Jenny’s crazy life and thoughts. I hope you are picking up the theme here…crazy! But in a good way.

This book starts with Jenny describing her childhood in Wall, Texas with her supportive mom and animal loving dad. We then move quickly through her school years; because really who wants to relive that! And we end with adulthood, marriage and motherhood. Jenny claims most of this book is true, and she does try to keep the reader informed of the not true parts. There are entertaining and unbelievable moments at every step of her life. From the magical squirrel hand puppet to the machete/vulture attack to the inevitable fascination with taxidermied animals, every moment is rife with crazy, funny incidents that will make you feel like your life is staid and boring in comparison.

Jenny narrates the audiobook herself and I would recommend reading it this way. She is hilarious and give little asides that may or may not be in the printed book. There is even a bonus chapter! As a disclaimer: there is a lot of cussing in this book. So if you don’t like bad words this may not be for you. But, it is really funny, super witty and just plain crazy…so read it!

If you were wondering what it would be like to open a used book store, this book is for you. Wendy and her husband Jack found a house for sale in Big Stone Gap Virginia and they both thought it was perfect for a used book store. A lot of the townspeople thought they were crazy but it turned out to be a good location. With big chain book stores and on line retailers as competition they found that a used book store is still in demand. I agree.

28. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Lisa, Memoirs, NonFiction · Tags:

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson, 304 pages, read by Lisa, on 03/27/2013

hw7.plI read this for book club or I would never have chosen it, but that’s one reason I’m in a book club–to make myself read outside of my comfort zone. It was interesting as far as it goes but I had to make myself pick it up in order to finish it because it just wasn’t that compelling.

This is the story of the spiritual journey of G. Willow Wilson, raised by atheist parents, who in her early twenties, decides to convert to Islam. A fact she doesn’t fully admit even to herself until she has traveled to Cairo, Egypt to teach in an English-language school in order to make use of the Arabic she has been studying at Boston University.

Even for a newly converted Sunni Muslim, life in Egypt is difficult. It’s a very dirty, loud, harsh city, under strict government control. (9/11 happens while she is still studying in Boston and the story takes place throughout the early to mid-2000’s).

Thanks to her friend Ben, who left Egypt just before Willow and her roommate Jo arrive, they have a place to live but they don’t eat much beyond olives for the first several weeks because they can’t figure out how and where to shop for food. Help arrives in the form of Omar, a friend of Ben’s who had promised to check up on the two women. He teaches them many important things about living in Egypt.

Although Willow eventually falls in love with Cairo, (as well as Omar, whom she marries), it was difficult for me to understand her love for such a difficult city. From a purely historical point of view, of course it has to be amazing, but to live there day-to-day, as she describes it, is incredibly difficult.

I did enjoy getting glimpses of a very different way of life and society. I also enjoyed the interactions between Willow and the very large extended family she marries into. But in the end, perhaps because the book is the story of her very personal spiritual journey, and I’m a religious skeptic,or perhaps because the story felt somehow shallow and superficial, her story did not resonate with me.

 

13. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Melody, Memoirs, NonFiction · Tags:

Let's Pretend This Never Happened ( A Mostly True Memoir) by Janny Lawson, 318 pages, read by Melody, on 03/11/2013

Confession: Growing up, my very best friend’s father was a taxidermist.  There were two house rules, the squeamish should not go into his work shed in the back and never look in the black trash bags in the freezer.  Even so, sometimes when you dug for strawberry ice cream a small frozen paw would peek out and wave at you like a lost drowning soul.  Given that childhood horror, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was so the book for me.  The author is a blog writer from Texas who grew up trying desperately to fit in but always thwarted by her taxidermist father, maniacal turkeys, roadkill excursions, and dead animals as decor.  Lawson’s writing is very intelligent and irreverent and to use a much overused cliche, laugh out loud funny.  The very best summation about perhaps the funniest book I read in a very long time is a blurb on the back cover “There’s is something wrong with Jenny Lawson-magnificently wrong.  I defy you to read her work and not hurt yourself laughing.”  There was actually a blurb that suited even better from Jesus but it had the f word so I thought perhaps not to offend others.  And perhaps to give a heads up if you have issues with the f word, you most likely won’t enjoy this book as much as I did.  Otherwise, read, read, read.  And yes, that is a mouse corpse dressed as Hamlet on the front cover.

27. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Kira, Memoirs

Monologues by Eve Ensler, 185 pages, read by Kira, on 02/15/2013

vmMonologues on various themes examining women’s relationships to their bodies and their sexual selves.  These themes include women’s discomfort with their sexuality and bodies, rape, child birth, power dynamics in a relationship, genital mutilation.  Though the topics are mature and graphic, they are not presented in a salacious way –  beautifully written, moving and very thought provoking.  Eve Ensler interviewed hundreds of women on their feelings, their thoughts, their experience of their bodies and their sexuality and wrote these monologues.  These monologues create a space for women to feel comfortable talking openly about their sexuality.

 A book about losing a place, finding a purpose, and immersing in a community. Welch and her husband had always dreamed of owning a bookstore. When the opportunity to run to a struggling Virginia coal mining town presented itself, they took it. And took the plunge into starting their dream as well.

05. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Janet, Memoirs, NonFiction · Tags:

Missouri Slave Narratives : A Folk History of Slavery in Missouri from Interviews with Former Slaves by The Federal Writers' Project, 1936 - 1938, 161 pages, read by Janet, on 02/02/2013

Missouri Slave NarrativesThis is a compilation of interviews with people who were once slaves and now live a free life.  The stories are written in the dialect of the speaker.  They tell of the ghosts and haunts they saw or heard about in stories and how scared they were of them.  The Ku Klux Klan were also frightening to many.  Most were not educated at all as white owners were against it, however, after gaining their freedom some learned the basics.  They tell of poor clothes and being barefooted all year round.  Many tell of being whipped by their owners and others.  They usually had to doctor themselves – using turpentine on sugar for stomachache, goose grass twigs, black root for constipation, scraped turnip bound to a frost bitten foot, and many other home-made cures.  Pensions for older folks were very small, if anything.  Many had to live with younger famiy members.  One told an old riddle:  “I rode over the bridge and yet I walked.”  (“Yet-I” was a dog.)

 

I try to live by the maxim “It isn’t so much that we are disappointed by people but that we are disappointed by our expectations of people.”   Thus if I set realistic expectations, I will be let down less often.  Easier said than done of course, as with most pithy mottos, but none the less a truism.  “Why,” you ask “am I spouting Zen babble in a book review?”  Is is indeed, dear reader, relevant.  The reads that most disappoint me are the “you gotta read this” or books that I have high expectations for.  I wanted to love the book Driving the Saudis. The subject matter is so timely with the continuing tremors of Arab Spring and the clamoring for women’s rights across the world.  An inside look from a Western woman into the closeted world of the immense wealth, leashed women, and sharia, details on the fight for women’s suffrage and education under one of the world’s worst human rights abusers.  What I got was how much Prada and La Perla the royals bought and what plastic surgery procedures they had done.  Given, I expected the book to be somewhat dishy, the cover photo is palm trees and sexy blue eyes peeking from a veil, but the author is Harvard educated and an independent film maker.  I should have thought TMZ, not NPR.  The people in her memoir could almost be cardboard cutouts, the royals are spoiled snobs and the servants are longsuffering victims.  There were glimpses of real substance there, Larson recounts how a young princess mourned that she would never be able to attend college like her brother but instead she would return to Saudi Arabian to be the third wife of an powerful elderly man or that the American security hired by the Saudis kept the passports of all the help so they could not flee.  The book that I read was passable but the book that I wanted to read would have been fascinating.  Should have remembered the maxim.