Posts tagged with nonfiction:

What I’ve Read: Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases by Deborah Halber
I loved this book. I’m someone that’s maybe a little too obsessed with true crime. I figured the people featured in this book were probably similar to me. Maybe the kind of people who started out watching a lot of Investigation Discovery in their spare time and it snowballed from there. That’s not the case. A lot of them began investigating because there was a local unsolved case that they couldn’t forget about. Some had family members or friends disappear and it pulled them into a labyrinth of other families and friends searching for people too. These sleuths are not really finding out the whodunit of cases. They’re instead solving bodies. They examine descriptions of unidentified bodies—some decades old—and match them up to missing persons reports. (This is a simplistic description and doesn’t really convey the true scope of the hours of research and investigation they do.) 
The book itself is a little jumpy and disjointed. There are a lot of people and a lot of unidentified bodies mentioned throughout and it would be hard to keep them straight anyway, but Halber has a tendency to make cosmic leaps through space and time without much warning. I got mightily frustrated at first (GIRL STAY ON TASK, PLZ) because it bounced around every 10 pages or so. Luckily Halber discovers the power of a cohesive narrative about halfway through and we became friends again. 
Something this book drives home again and again is that there are an obscene amount of unidentified/unclaimed bodies in this country. Some are buried unceremoniously, some are reduced to bones shoved in a banker’s box in the back of a police station storage room. The estimated numbers in the book are mind-boggling. I can see why these armchair sleuths get sucked in. Don’t these people have someone, somewhere wondering where they went? They have to, right? It’s very sobering. 
After reading this book, I looked up how many unidentified bodies have been found in Maryland since 2000. 15 women. 65 men. I clicked on a random woman, aged 25-27. She was assaulted. She had been dead for months when she was found. I hope someone finds out who she is. I hope her family gets to say goodbye. 
And that’s why I’m glad Deborah Halber wrote this book. I hope these unsung detectives keep doing their good work. They deserve this recognition (and more) for all the years of research they do to try and bring people home to their loved ones. 

What I’ve Read: Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases by Deborah Halber

I loved this book. I’m someone that’s maybe a little too obsessed with true crime. I figured the people featured in this book were probably similar to me. Maybe the kind of people who started out watching a lot of Investigation Discovery in their spare time and it snowballed from there. That’s not the case. A lot of them began investigating because there was a local unsolved case that they couldn’t forget about. Some had family members or friends disappear and it pulled them into a labyrinth of other families and friends searching for people too. These sleuths are not really finding out the whodunit of cases. They’re instead solving bodies. They examine descriptions of unidentified bodies—some decades old—and match them up to missing persons reports. (This is a simplistic description and doesn’t really convey the true scope of the hours of research and investigation they do.) 

The book itself is a little jumpy and disjointed. There are a lot of people and a lot of unidentified bodies mentioned throughout and it would be hard to keep them straight anyway, but Halber has a tendency to make cosmic leaps through space and time without much warning. I got mightily frustrated at first (GIRL STAY ON TASK, PLZ) because it bounced around every 10 pages or so. Luckily Halber discovers the power of a cohesive narrative about halfway through and we became friends again. 

Something this book drives home again and again is that there are an obscene amount of unidentified/unclaimed bodies in this country. Some are buried unceremoniously, some are reduced to bones shoved in a banker’s box in the back of a police station storage room. The estimated numbers in the book are mind-boggling. I can see why these armchair sleuths get sucked in. Don’t these people have someone, somewhere wondering where they went? They have to, right? It’s very sobering. 

After reading this book, I looked up how many unidentified bodies have been found in Maryland since 2000. 15 women. 65 men. I clicked on a random woman, aged 25-27. She was assaulted. She had been dead for months when she was found. I hope someone finds out who she is. I hope her family gets to say goodbye. 

And that’s why I’m glad Deborah Halber wrote this book. I hope these unsung detectives keep doing their good work. They deserve this recognition (and more) for all the years of research they do to try and bring people home to their loved ones. 

  • k 22 notes
Three very different books so far this month.
War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz - This impeccably researched book is long but reads fast and quick, almost like a long form article for a magazine. It’s the perfect time to publish this, with the success of Animal Planet’s Whale Wars (<3 Alishan) and Blackfish. In this book, Horwitz follows a researcher and a lawyer and their quest to educate and stop the US Navy from conducting active sonar war games in ocean basins and marine sanctuaries. The book opens with one of the most widespread and bizarre marine mammal strandings that our protagonist researcher—Ken Balcomb—has ever encountered. A former Navy oceanographic specialist, Balcomb suspects sonar interference. While scouting for more strandings, he photographs a Navy ship from an airplane and begins to get sucked back into the secretive world of Navy sonar detection—but from the other side of the curtain. 
I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe - Oh, a historical fiction novel about a woman disguising herself to fight in the Civil War? Yes, please. I try to limit my historical fiction intake these days since I usually end up sorely disappointed, but I couldn’t resist this one. This book is fictional, but McCabe has based her main character Rosetta on dozens of real-life accounts of women disguised as men during the Civil War. It’s a surprisingly emotional little book and I was cheering hard for Rosetta by the end. It takes off a little tentatively—I wasn’t sure if it would be too much Hunger Games-meets-the-Civil War—but McCabe finds her stride once Rosetta leaves home to join her husband at his training camp. There are a few things that seem forced or odd—like conversations that characters have about the meaning of the war while obviously benefiting from McCabe’s ability to put the historical events into greater context. Also distracting: Rosetta’s inner commentary can seem unbelievably modern and it took me out of the book every single time. But, like I said above: As a whole, this book is really enjoyable. I’m so cynical about historical fiction now. This book was a good reminder that it can be done well and bring together many things—historical context, a love story, a sense of adventure—without the whole thing turning into a gooey mess. 
The Son by Jo Nesbo - I love Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series so I was excited to check out this new stand-alone book. Unfortunately, I have mixed feelings about it. It KILLS me to say that because the characters are interesting. The action is exciting. The twists are fun. But this could have used some serious editing. It’s got a meandering problem and things wind up all over the place. Characters are introduced as if you should know who they are and then dispatched swiftly several pages later. It seems a little slapped together—we need to link X to Y, so let’s insert this chapter to help that make sense. The chemistry between some of the characters feels strange. Basically, the characters are most engaging when they’re on their own with no dialogue on the page. Yikes. Jo Nesbo is one of my favorite crime authors, but I found this only so-so compared to the other books of his I’ve read (I loved The Snowman). 
Read any of these? Any recommendations for a book I should read next?

Three very different books so far this month.

  • War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz - This impeccably researched book is long but reads fast and quick, almost like a long form article for a magazine. It’s the perfect time to publish this, with the success of Animal Planet’s Whale Wars (<3 Alishan) and Blackfish. In this book, Horwitz follows a researcher and a lawyer and their quest to educate and stop the US Navy from conducting active sonar war games in ocean basins and marine sanctuaries. The book opens with one of the most widespread and bizarre marine mammal strandings that our protagonist researcher—Ken Balcomb—has ever encountered. A former Navy oceanographic specialist, Balcomb suspects sonar interference. While scouting for more strandings, he photographs a Navy ship from an airplane and begins to get sucked back into the secretive world of Navy sonar detection—but from the other side of the curtain. 
  • I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe - Oh, a historical fiction novel about a woman disguising herself to fight in the Civil War? Yes, please. I try to limit my historical fiction intake these days since I usually end up sorely disappointed, but I couldn’t resist this one. This book is fictional, but McCabe has based her main character Rosetta on dozens of real-life accounts of women disguised as men during the Civil War. It’s a surprisingly emotional little book and I was cheering hard for Rosetta by the end. It takes off a little tentatively—I wasn’t sure if it would be too much Hunger Games-meets-the-Civil War—but McCabe finds her stride once Rosetta leaves home to join her husband at his training camp. There are a few things that seem forced or odd—like conversations that characters have about the meaning of the war while obviously benefiting from McCabe’s ability to put the historical events into greater context. Also distracting: Rosetta’s inner commentary can seem unbelievably modern and it took me out of the book every single time. But, like I said above: As a whole, this book is really enjoyable. I’m so cynical about historical fiction now. This book was a good reminder that it can be done well and bring together many things—historical context, a love story, a sense of adventure—without the whole thing turning into a gooey mess. 
  • The Son by Jo Nesbo - I love Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series so I was excited to check out this new stand-alone book. Unfortunately, I have mixed feelings about it. It KILLS me to say that because the characters are interesting. The action is exciting. The twists are fun. But this could have used some serious editing. It’s got a meandering problem and things wind up all over the place. Characters are introduced as if you should know who they are and then dispatched swiftly several pages later. It seems a little slapped together—we need to link X to Y, so let’s insert this chapter to help that make sense. The chemistry between some of the characters feels strange. Basically, the characters are most engaging when they’re on their own with no dialogue on the page. Yikes. Jo Nesbo is one of my favorite crime authors, but I found this only so-so compared to the other books of his I’ve read (I loved The Snowman). 

Read any of these? Any recommendations for a book I should read next?

  • k 15 notes
What I&#8217;ve Read: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
The title is amazing. The book is pretty fun. As far as travel/romance memoirs go, this is one of the better ones I&#8217;ve read. There have been many of these and I can&#8217;t keep them all straight anymore. They&#8217;re a tropical beach blend of spiritual experiences and handsome, exotic men. I don&#8217;t have problems with any of these things, by the way. Just that everything in the post-Eat, Pray, Love memoir genre reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love. I think (I know) that EPL&#8212;which Newman mocks in this memoir&#8212;has made me very wary of the travel/romance/life-lessons memoir. I&#8217;m too skeptical of the author&#8217;s intentions. Do you want Julia Roberts to play you too? I don&#8217;t think Kristin Newman does, but like I said: Eat, Pray, Love has ruined a lot of things. 
But I digress! Newman writes well (she&#8217;s a successful television writer) and the parts of the book that talk about how and why she changed her views on relationships are astute and funny and bittersweet. Her examination of her family history adds a lot of depth to the story and I appreciated her being willing to look at her entire life and write about it in a genuine way. That would be enough to bump it to the top of the EPL genre list, since most of those books attempt to be self-deprecating but fail miserably. (&#8220;My biggest flaw is that I am too much of a perfectionist! Everything is done perfectly, what a burden! This is what caused my divorce, obviously.&#8221;) Anyway, this book is deeper and more introspective than you might expect. There are several moments that hit me pretty hard. (There&#8217;s one in particular. Still thinking about it.) I love being surprised by a book in a good way. I must find my passport! A trip is overdue. 
I received this review copy for free, but I&#8217;ll always write an honest review. Even if I hate it. Especially if I hate it! I love writing angry reviews. 
Have you read this yet?

What I’ve Read: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

The title is amazing. The book is pretty fun. As far as travel/romance memoirs go, this is one of the better ones I’ve read. There have been many of these and I can’t keep them all straight anymore. They’re a tropical beach blend of spiritual experiences and handsome, exotic men. I don’t have problems with any of these things, by the way. Just that everything in the post-Eat, Pray, Love memoir genre reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love. I think (I know) that EPL—which Newman mocks in this memoir—has made me very wary of the travel/romance/life-lessons memoir. I’m too skeptical of the author’s intentions. Do you want Julia Roberts to play you too? I don’t think Kristin Newman does, but like I said: Eat, Pray, Love has ruined a lot of things. 

But I digress! Newman writes well (she’s a successful television writer) and the parts of the book that talk about how and why she changed her views on relationships are astute and funny and bittersweet. Her examination of her family history adds a lot of depth to the story and I appreciated her being willing to look at her entire life and write about it in a genuine way. That would be enough to bump it to the top of the EPL genre list, since most of those books attempt to be self-deprecating but fail miserably. (“My biggest flaw is that I am too much of a perfectionist! Everything is done perfectly, what a burden! This is what caused my divorce, obviously.”) Anyway, this book is deeper and more introspective than you might expect. There are several moments that hit me pretty hard. (There’s one in particular. Still thinking about it.) I love being surprised by a book in a good way. I must find my passport! A trip is overdue. 

I received this review copy for free, but I’ll always write an honest review. Even if I hate it. Especially if I hate it! I love writing angry reviews. 

Have you read this yet?

  • k 33 notes
What I&#8217;ve Read:
Bootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link - This was one of those books I randomly decided to read because it sounded vaguely entertaining and I&#8217;m a sucker for fun cover art. Memoirs of rural living/adventure set alongside some sort of personal or professional hardship OR displayed as a brave and courageous departure from the monotony of a 9-5 life are littered on bookshelves. Maybe Wild started it, maybe Animal, Vegetable, Miracle did it first, but whatever the case, they are now A Thing. And I&#8217;m okay with that. I enjoy them a lot. You wrote an entire book about raising chickens? Sign me up. How about that one where you bought a farm and you have no idea what you&#8217;re doing? Yes, please. These books are usually a predictable combination of heart-warming anecdotes and humorous stories and sometimes that sounds just about right. (The Dirty Life by Kim Kimball is still one of my favorites of the genre.) Anyway, Bootstrapper is most definitely one of these types of books, but it&#8217;s also better. Better because Link IS badass and I was rooting for her the whole goddamn book. She and her husband divorce and suddenly she&#8217;s raising 3 boys at an income level that registers at or below the poverty line. She is resourceful, though, and has the kind of mental and emotional fortitude that makes her seem bigger than life. She&#8217;s inspirational but it doesn&#8217;t come off like she&#8217;s actually trying to be. She&#8217;s just telling about her life&#8212;like when she and her sons entered a zucchini-growing contest at their local bakery to win free bread so she could make her sons enough sandwiches that they wouldn&#8217;t go hungry for lunch. It was a quick, good book, but a few things confused or annoyed me. First, it seems like she ran out of stories once things began improving and at that point she realized she&#8217;d better wrap it up quick. Nothing else to write about, folks! I&#8217;m good now! Second, there are several details that she glosses over or pretends we won&#8217;t notice. Details of the divorce, for example, are no where to be found, though it&#8217;s a pivotal and reoccurring theme in her book. Third: A good memoir often makes you feel like you know someone intimately and it takes a lot of honest dumping all over the page to get that sense of familiarity well-established. Wild is a good example of this. Cheryl Strayed is really fearless talking about the not-so-book-ready parts of her story and that made me feel invested. Link, on the other hand, seems to have written this very much with impressions in mind (I don&#8217;t blame her, she has older kids after all), but I always got the sense she was writing the story she WISHED to tell rather than the one that actually happened. This probably directly relates to my first issue with the book (the rushed conclusion). I think she framed the story, told what she liked and when she couldn&#8217;t novelize it anymore? THE END. Anyway&#8212;this review has gotten much too long&#8212;I still really liked it and would recommend it to you if you need a quick read. 
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - Lately I&#8217;ve been having a hard time writing reviews longer than three sentences about books I really love. I think I&#8217;m afraid that my writing about them will cheapen the experience I had reading them. Long review short: This is the best book I&#8217;ve read yet this year. It will be short listed as one of my favorites for 2014. It&#8217;s only June, but I&#8217;m completely confident about that. I don&#8217;t want to give any of the plot away. Just start reading it. It&#8217;s intricate, haunting, moving. The writing is so good it made me want to cry. Reading this was a spiritual experience.
You guys reading anything good?

What I’ve Read:

  • Bootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link - This was one of those books I randomly decided to read because it sounded vaguely entertaining and I’m a sucker for fun cover art. Memoirs of rural living/adventure set alongside some sort of personal or professional hardship OR displayed as a brave and courageous departure from the monotony of a 9-5 life are littered on bookshelves. Maybe Wild started it, maybe Animal, Vegetable, Miracle did it first, but whatever the case, they are now A Thing. And I’m okay with that. I enjoy them a lot. You wrote an entire book about raising chickens? Sign me up. How about that one where you bought a farm and you have no idea what you’re doing? Yes, please. These books are usually a predictable combination of heart-warming anecdotes and humorous stories and sometimes that sounds just about right. (The Dirty Life by Kim Kimball is still one of my favorites of the genre.) Anyway, Bootstrapper is most definitely one of these types of books, but it’s also better. Better because Link IS badass and I was rooting for her the whole goddamn book. She and her husband divorce and suddenly she’s raising 3 boys at an income level that registers at or below the poverty line. She is resourceful, though, and has the kind of mental and emotional fortitude that makes her seem bigger than life. She’s inspirational but it doesn’t come off like she’s actually trying to be. She’s just telling about her life—like when she and her sons entered a zucchini-growing contest at their local bakery to win free bread so she could make her sons enough sandwiches that they wouldn’t go hungry for lunch. It was a quick, good book, but a few things confused or annoyed me. First, it seems like she ran out of stories once things began improving and at that point she realized she’d better wrap it up quick. Nothing else to write about, folks! I’m good now! Second, there are several details that she glosses over or pretends we won’t notice. Details of the divorce, for example, are no where to be found, though it’s a pivotal and reoccurring theme in her book. Third: A good memoir often makes you feel like you know someone intimately and it takes a lot of honest dumping all over the page to get that sense of familiarity well-established. Wild is a good example of this. Cheryl Strayed is really fearless talking about the not-so-book-ready parts of her story and that made me feel invested. Link, on the other hand, seems to have written this very much with impressions in mind (I don’t blame her, she has older kids after all), but I always got the sense she was writing the story she WISHED to tell rather than the one that actually happened. This probably directly relates to my first issue with the book (the rushed conclusion). I think she framed the story, told what she liked and when she couldn’t novelize it anymore? THE END. Anyway—this review has gotten much too long—I still really liked it and would recommend it to you if you need a quick read. 
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - Lately I’ve been having a hard time writing reviews longer than three sentences about books I really love. I think I’m afraid that my writing about them will cheapen the experience I had reading them. Long review short: This is the best book I’ve read yet this year. It will be short listed as one of my favorites for 2014. It’s only June, but I’m completely confident about that. I don’t want to give any of the plot away. Just start reading it. It’s intricate, haunting, moving. The writing is so good it made me want to cry. Reading this was a spiritual experience.

You guys reading anything good?

  • k 28 notes
Lots of catching up to do.
Orfeo by Richard Powers - Orfeo is intense. It&#8217;s not a fast read, not an easy read, not even a particularly pleasurable read in the general sense that reading should be relaxing and engaging. This book is not relaxing. Every page felt like an electric shock. If you aren&#8217;t familiar with it, the book is about an aging, brilliant composer/professor Peter Els who decides to put his college microbiology studies to good use. In an unfortunate moment, he accidentally attracts the attention of the Department of Homeland Security. The book flits in time between the past and present; from his musical beginnings and discoveries to events in his personal and professional life. The story and characters are phenomenally well-constructed, but the music. THE MUSIC. It&#8217;s hard to write about music well but it&#8217;s even harder to write about the way it&#8217;s making you feel while you listen to it. How strange, then, for me to be reading about music I am familiar with and hear it start to play in my head. I recognize this, I&#8217;d think. Or, yes, that&#8217;s exactly what that part feels like! This book is incomparable. If you&#8217;ve ever played a major classical work, there is sometimes a moment where time almost stops, where the sound blends, where you feel you are part of a large machine pushing toward a conclusion, where your heart races and you forget everything except the next note on the page. Reading this book feels like that. It&#8217;s really astonishing.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P -  This book is so well-known that I don&#8217;t think I have much to add. Anyway, I sped my way through it. Not because it was bad&#8212;I actually found it amusing. Nate is really quite the douchebag, but the amusing part is that he suspects he is too. But then he sits down to eat his Raisin Bran and plan the next Great American Novel.
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann - There&#8217;s a moment in TransAtlantic when all the story lines begin to start intertwining, when the lightbulb finally goes off and you realize the intricate planning and pacing involved. It is completely stunning. Just unbelievably emotional and beautiful. 
Devil&#8217;s Knot by Mara Leveritt - Brandon and I were bored one night and we were looking through HBO documentaries and started watching the first Paradise Lost. We watched the two sequels over the next couple of days. Somewhere in there I downloaded this book on my Kindle and read it in a few hours. I remember hearing about this case and I definitely remember hearing about the release of the West Memphis Three (pictured on the book cover), but I was pretty young when the murders themselves actually happened. It was interesting to read this alongside viewing the documentaries for the first time. (The documentaries, by the way, are very graphic and disturbing so be forewarned.) If you like true crime and haven&#8217;t read this, add it to your list. 
What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell - Selena recommended this to me and I really liked it. It was darker and more sad that I anticipated and the portions of the book in and around the Jersey shore hometown of the protagonist are the best. It&#8217;s probably the most beachy book I&#8217;ve read, even if it&#8217;s not exactly what you&#8217;d choose for a &#8220;beach read.&#8221; (Like I said, the book is somber and becomes more so the further you get into it.) Still, the scenes of the beach, the feeling of being a teenager and scampering over the boardwalk with your friends&#8212;that stuff evoked strong memories for me. Cornwell has a really beautiful, descriptive writing style that allows you to see the things she&#8217;s writing about in an almost movie-like way. I wouldn&#8217;t be surprised if this is made into a movie. It would probably be a good one. 
What are you all reading right now?

Lots of catching up to do.

  • Orfeo by Richard Powers - Orfeo is intense. It’s not a fast read, not an easy read, not even a particularly pleasurable read in the general sense that reading should be relaxing and engaging. This book is not relaxing. Every page felt like an electric shock. If you aren’t familiar with it, the book is about an aging, brilliant composer/professor Peter Els who decides to put his college microbiology studies to good use. In an unfortunate moment, he accidentally attracts the attention of the Department of Homeland Security. The book flits in time between the past and present; from his musical beginnings and discoveries to events in his personal and professional life. The story and characters are phenomenally well-constructed, but the music. THE MUSIC. It’s hard to write about music well but it’s even harder to write about the way it’s making you feel while you listen to it. How strange, then, for me to be reading about music I am familiar with and hear it start to play in my head. I recognize this, I’d think. Or, yes, that’s exactly what that part feels like! This book is incomparable. If you’ve ever played a major classical work, there is sometimes a moment where time almost stops, where the sound blends, where you feel you are part of a large machine pushing toward a conclusion, where your heart races and you forget everything except the next note on the page. Reading this book feels like that. It’s really astonishing.
  • The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P -  This book is so well-known that I don’t think I have much to add. Anyway, I sped my way through it. Not because it was bad—I actually found it amusing. Nate is really quite the douchebag, but the amusing part is that he suspects he is too. But then he sits down to eat his Raisin Bran and plan the next Great American Novel.
  • TransAtlantic by Colum McCann - There’s a moment in TransAtlantic when all the story lines begin to start intertwining, when the lightbulb finally goes off and you realize the intricate planning and pacing involved. It is completely stunning. Just unbelievably emotional and beautiful. 
  • Devil’s Knot by Mara Leveritt - Brandon and I were bored one night and we were looking through HBO documentaries and started watching the first Paradise Lost. We watched the two sequels over the next couple of days. Somewhere in there I downloaded this book on my Kindle and read it in a few hours. I remember hearing about this case and I definitely remember hearing about the release of the West Memphis Three (pictured on the book cover), but I was pretty young when the murders themselves actually happened. It was interesting to read this alongside viewing the documentaries for the first time. (The documentaries, by the way, are very graphic and disturbing so be forewarned.) If you like true crime and haven’t read this, add it to your list. 
  • What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell - Selena recommended this to me and I really liked it. It was darker and more sad that I anticipated and the portions of the book in and around the Jersey shore hometown of the protagonist are the best. It’s probably the most beachy book I’ve read, even if it’s not exactly what you’d choose for a “beach read.” (Like I said, the book is somber and becomes more so the further you get into it.) Still, the scenes of the beach, the feeling of being a teenager and scampering over the boardwalk with your friends—that stuff evoked strong memories for me. Cornwell has a really beautiful, descriptive writing style that allows you to see the things she’s writing about in an almost movie-like way. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is made into a movie. It would probably be a good one. 

What are you all reading right now?

  • k 44 notes
What I’ve Read:
Breathless: An American Girl in Paris by Nancy K. Miller - This memoir about Miller’s time in Paris during the 1960’s is a quick, delightful, melancholy read. She writes about trying to reconcile her glamorous ideas of Paris with the less-than-glamorous reality and much of the book contains her painfully honest accounts about her various romantic liaisons. Miller doesn’t gloss over her life or her relationships and it makes for a fascinating memoir that reads almost like a novel. 
Dear Life by Alice Munro - I haven’t read Alice Munro in a long time and I was in the mood for short stories. Then, once I started reading this, I realize why I rarely read them: Such a tease. The perfect length for me to read through before falling asleep at night, but Munro’s writing is so amazing and the stories so engrossing, that I was disappointed each time they ended. The autobiographical stories in this collection are the best parts of the book, though there are several others that are sticking with me (To Reach Japan and Gravel, which you can read here, among them). Each of the stories is arranged around a potentially life-changing event that sends the main character in a direction that is mostly open to interpretation by the reader. So—the imagination runs wild. This is a beautiful book. 
Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte - This book finally puts into words everything I feel on a daily basis. Schulte describes her rapid, scattered, multi-tasking-filled days as “time confetti.” Frustrated by it, she sets out to research why modern adults—and especially women and especially mothers—feel like there is never enough time in the day. Like most books of this ilk, she eventually drills down on the potential, pie-in-the-sky solutions that everyone seems to agree on but no one can implement globally: flexible work (in terms of everyone) and reliable childcare (in terms of parents in the workforce). This isn’t a book just for parents, though she does spend a lot of time on parenting-specific issues. It’s more of a modern, working adult book that also talks about how kids fit in or don’t fit in. Basically, everyone says they’re “busy.” Schulte wants to find out just how busy and why. Why don’t we take more time for ourselves? Why can’t we? Why is the workforce less productive but spending more time than ever at work? This is a great read and one of the best books I’ve read on this impossibly broad, nuanced topic. 
The Why of Things by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop - This book is a quiet gut punch I wasn’t expecting. It’s a novel about a family—father, mother, two daughters—going back to their summer house in Massachusetts to try and put their lives back to normal. Their oldest daughter died tragically about a year prior and the family is still uncertain about how to move forward and interact with one another. The book follows each family member in different ways, but it mostly shows each of them reacting to the death of a man in the quarry behind their summer house just after they arrive for the summer. After spotting tire tracks leading into the quarry, they call the authorities and a truck—and the dead driver, James Favazza—are pulled from the water. Each family member uses this event as a catalyst for examining their own feelings about their personal family tragedy. There are a few moments that were really raw and beautiful—the writing is fantastic. One part made me cry. If you read it, we’ll compare notes. 
What are you reading?

What I’ve Read:

  • Breathless: An American Girl in Paris by Nancy K. Miller - This memoir about Miller’s time in Paris during the 1960’s is a quick, delightful, melancholy read. She writes about trying to reconcile her glamorous ideas of Paris with the less-than-glamorous reality and much of the book contains her painfully honest accounts about her various romantic liaisons. Miller doesn’t gloss over her life or her relationships and it makes for a fascinating memoir that reads almost like a novel. 
  • Dear Life by Alice Munro - I haven’t read Alice Munro in a long time and I was in the mood for short stories. Then, once I started reading this, I realize why I rarely read them: Such a tease. The perfect length for me to read through before falling asleep at night, but Munro’s writing is so amazing and the stories so engrossing, that I was disappointed each time they ended. The autobiographical stories in this collection are the best parts of the book, though there are several others that are sticking with me (To Reach Japan and Gravel, which you can read here, among them). Each of the stories is arranged around a potentially life-changing event that sends the main character in a direction that is mostly open to interpretation by the reader. So—the imagination runs wild. This is a beautiful book. 
  • Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte - This book finally puts into words everything I feel on a daily basis. Schulte describes her rapid, scattered, multi-tasking-filled days as “time confetti.” Frustrated by it, she sets out to research why modern adults—and especially women and especially mothers—feel like there is never enough time in the day. Like most books of this ilk, she eventually drills down on the potential, pie-in-the-sky solutions that everyone seems to agree on but no one can implement globally: flexible work (in terms of everyone) and reliable childcare (in terms of parents in the workforce). This isn’t a book just for parents, though she does spend a lot of time on parenting-specific issues. It’s more of a modern, working adult book that also talks about how kids fit in or don’t fit in. Basically, everyone says they’re “busy.” Schulte wants to find out just how busy and why. Why don’t we take more time for ourselves? Why can’t we? Why is the workforce less productive but spending more time than ever at work? This is a great read and one of the best books I’ve read on this impossibly broad, nuanced topic. 
  • The Why of Things by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop - This book is a quiet gut punch I wasn’t expecting. It’s a novel about a family—father, mother, two daughters—going back to their summer house in Massachusetts to try and put their lives back to normal. Their oldest daughter died tragically about a year prior and the family is still uncertain about how to move forward and interact with one another. The book follows each family member in different ways, but it mostly shows each of them reacting to the death of a man in the quarry behind their summer house just after they arrive for the summer. After spotting tire tracks leading into the quarry, they call the authorities and a truck—and the dead driver, James Favazza—are pulled from the water. Each family member uses this event as a catalyst for examining their own feelings about their personal family tragedy. There are a few moments that were really raw and beautiful—the writing is fantastic. One part made me cry. If you read it, we’ll compare notes. 

What are you reading?

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What I&#8217;ve Read:
HRC by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes - This dense, comprehensive book about Hillary Clinton&#8217;s political comeback after her loss to President Obama in the 2008 primaries is fascinating. It&#8217;s not exactly a fast read: There are so many small player political names mentioned that it&#8217;s hard keeping them straight. Still worth the read, especially if you&#8217;d like some context about how/why a 2016 presidential run could happen. (Probably will happen.) (Almost assuredly is going to happen.) 
Dare Me by Megan Abbott - I read an interview where another author recommended this book and described it as &#8220;cheerleaders meet Macbeth&#8221; and I was like YEP GOING TO READ THAT. And I did. I read it in a day. This book is the juiciest. It&#8217;s dark and twisted and set against hair bows and back handsprings and sex and love. This is the beach or vacation book I will be recommending all summer. It&#8217;s so good, and I knew that as I was reading it, but I turned the last page and then it hit me&#8212;how insanely great it was and how I haven&#8217;t really read anything like it before. &#8220;But there are a million books about teenage drama and cheerleaders,&#8221; you say. Not like this. Trust me. 
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon - Set in the 1930&#8217;s, this novel imagines what might have happened in the real-life mysterious disappearance of New York Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater. It&#8217;s all speakeasies and gangsters and showgirls and it is fabulous. It&#8217;s one of the best historical fiction books I&#8217;ve read in a while. There are a few twists that I absolutely did not see coming. I LOVE that. 
Bury This by Andrea Portes - So! This was an interesting read. It didn&#8217;t grab me right off the bat (a bit strange since the premise is an unsolved murder mystery and you know I love those), but once it got going, it went. Fast. The characterization makes this book, which is made more impressive by the fact that there is no main character. Every player (male or female) seems equally large and important and that is no small feat. There are no clear cut villains or heroes either: they&#8217;re just seemingly regular people with messy lives. (Some of that messiness is hard to forget.) Really good book. I was surprisingly moved by it. 
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup - I waited to watch the movie until I&#8217;d had a chance to read the book and I&#8217;m glad I did that. This is a book I can barely find the words to describe. It is heart-breaking and completely arresting. It&#8217;s been over 150 years since it was first published and the emotions still jump off the page so vividly. It&#8217;s hard to explain the visceral reactions I had to the book. I don&#8217;t think I have the ability to put them into words. (Nor do I want to, really.) Suffice it to say that I am glad I read this before watching the movie. It brought additional context and emotional heft to the scenes on screen. If you have not read it yet, please do. If you haven&#8217;t seen the movie yet, wait until you&#8217;ve read the book. 
Have you read any of these? I&#8217;ve been adding lots of new books to my list: What are you reading now?

What I’ve Read:

  • HRC by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes - This dense, comprehensive book about Hillary Clinton’s political comeback after her loss to President Obama in the 2008 primaries is fascinating. It’s not exactly a fast read: There are so many small player political names mentioned that it’s hard keeping them straight. Still worth the read, especially if you’d like some context about how/why a 2016 presidential run could happen. (Probably will happen.) (Almost assuredly is going to happen.) 
  • Dare Me by Megan Abbott - I read an interview where another author recommended this book and described it as “cheerleaders meet Macbeth” and I was like YEP GOING TO READ THAT. And I did. I read it in a day. This book is the juiciest. It’s dark and twisted and set against hair bows and back handsprings and sex and love. This is the beach or vacation book I will be recommending all summer. It’s so good, and I knew that as I was reading it, but I turned the last page and then it hit me—how insanely great it was and how I haven’t really read anything like it before. “But there are a million books about teenage drama and cheerleaders,” you say. Not like this. Trust me. 
  • The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon - Set in the 1930’s, this novel imagines what might have happened in the real-life mysterious disappearance of New York Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater. It’s all speakeasies and gangsters and showgirls and it is fabulous. It’s one of the best historical fiction books I’ve read in a while. There are a few twists that I absolutely did not see coming. I LOVE that. 
  • Bury This by Andrea Portes - So! This was an interesting read. It didn’t grab me right off the bat (a bit strange since the premise is an unsolved murder mystery and you know I love those), but once it got going, it went. Fast. The characterization makes this book, which is made more impressive by the fact that there is no main character. Every player (male or female) seems equally large and important and that is no small feat. There are no clear cut villains or heroes either: they’re just seemingly regular people with messy lives. (Some of that messiness is hard to forget.) Really good book. I was surprisingly moved by it. 
  • Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup - I waited to watch the movie until I’d had a chance to read the book and I’m glad I did that. This is a book I can barely find the words to describe. It is heart-breaking and completely arresting. It’s been over 150 years since it was first published and the emotions still jump off the page so vividly. It’s hard to explain the visceral reactions I had to the book. I don’t think I have the ability to put them into words. (Nor do I want to, really.) Suffice it to say that I am glad I read this before watching the movie. It brought additional context and emotional heft to the scenes on screen. If you have not read it yet, please do. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, wait until you’ve read the book. 

Have you read any of these? I’ve been adding lots of new books to my list: What are you reading now?

  • k 130 notes

Beach Reads:

hey! I’m going on vacay next week and am looking for some good beach reads. I’m not picky—anything good that has stood out to you lately? Thanks :) — alexash

I haven’t read many beachy books lately, but one I read this year that might qualify is The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol (review here). 

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright would be a GREAT beach book. It’s so insane and juicy and weird. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan is another option. It’s fun and over the top. 

If you like politics, I’m reading HRC by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes right now and it’s great. 

If none of these strike you, check out my best books list for 2013 here. (The links to my best books for previous years are at the bottom of the post.) 

Any recent beach read suggestions?

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Currently reading

Don’t know yet if I’ll post whole reviews of these, but I’ve been mentioning over on Twitter how I am completely engrossed in the MH 370 shitshow. That spiraled into a general aviation book hunt and I just finished with a summary of aviation disasters so basically I’m never going to stop reading about airplanes. ANYWAY.

(You should have seen when I was obsessed with submarines. And—as I’ve pointed out to Brandon—at least I’m not reading about serial killers…anymore.) 

I had a few people ask on Twitter what books I’ve been reading so here is a short list if you’d like to venture into the abyss with me:

  • Fly by Wire by William Langewiesche - This is very well-written, not too technical. It gives a great overview of fly by wire aircraft and intertwines general aviation history/the origin of fly by wire aircraft/etc. with the story of the Hudson River landing in 2009. 
  • Understanding Air France 447 by Bill Palmer - This is a highly technical account of the Air France 447 tragedy. I was fascinated by how technical it was—and I’m glad I read it after Fly by Wire.
  • Black Box by Nicholas Faith - Overviews and analysis of some of the most complex and notorious airplane crashes.

We (by “we,” I mean just me but it sounds better to say we) also watched the TWA Flight 800 documentary on Netflix a few days ago. If you like conspiracy theories (WHO DOESN’T), you are guaranteed to lose at least a few additional hours post-documentary scouring the Internet for more information. 

P.S. By the way, here’s the submarine book I read in the 7th or 8th grade that started everything. HAVE FUN.

 

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Been reading a lot of nonfiction lately (including a lot of airplane-related books but those are for a later review). 
What I&#8217;ve Read:
Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston - This is a sobering book. No pun intended&#8212;really. The research and anecdotal evidence that Johnston presents is a somber, thought-provoking look at the modern woman&#8217;s relationship with alcohol. Johnston, a recovering alcoholic, sets a foundation for the research she cites by telling about her own history with alcohol and her fight to get sober and stay sober. The book does not coddle or waste your time. Johnston has a very specific message she&#8217;s trying to get across and it is vividly (painfully) real from the first page. Johnston&#8217;s lifelong struggle with having an alcoholic mother made her swear she would never do the same thing to her family and it is heartbreaking to read how subtly, sneakily she began to walk down the same path. There is something startling about reading a book that describes so perfectly the way that I know I (and many other women, friends, coworkers) feel about alcohol. Johnston describes the ever-increasing pressures on women and how this relates to the pressure release valve of the first glass of wine at the end of a long day. God knows I can relate to that. In one portion, Johnston talks about how she loved even the ritual of opening the bottle&#8212;removing the cork, hearing the wine glug into the glass, the first warming sip. I have never been a big drinker, but I admit that over the past&#8212;oh, 4?&#8212; years, my relationship to wine has gotten&#8230;closer. This book is worth anyone&#8217;s time to read, but I encourage fellow women to pick it up. Her close examination of the way modern women drink (and her research about how women metabolize alcohol differently than men) was eye-opening. In one portion, she cites a CDC report that says female binge drinking (four or more drinks on one occasion in the past month) is a serious unrecognized problem. &#8220;Almost 14 million American girls and women binge drink an average of three times each month, typically consuming six drinks per bingeing episode. Meanwhile, one in five high school girls binge drinks.&#8221; The age of women most likely to binge drink? Women aged 18-34 with higher household incomes. The health risks Johnston points to are acute: breast cancer, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. She also points out that binge drinkers aren&#8217;t necessarily addicted to alcohol. It&#8217;s just the way modern women have learned to drink. She cites many reasons for this: The marketing of alcohol specifically to women (Skinnygirl products, for example), the tendency for high school and college-aged women to drink clear liquors like vodka to avoid calories (and thus developing a taste early on for stronger alcoholic drinks), etc. At one point, Johnston writes: &#8220;Women need a break. They feel they deserve a break. And if drinking is about escape, it is also about entitlement and empowerment.&#8221; At another point, she says, &#8220;Has alcohol become the modern woman&#8217;s steroid, enabling her to do the heavy lifting necessary in an endlessly complex world? Is it the escape valve women need, in the midst of a major social revolution still unfolding? How much of this is marketing, and how much is the need to numb?&#8221; I thought about that for a long time. I&#8217;m still thinking about it. 
All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior - If you are a parent or thinking about becoming a parent at some point, you should read this book. I have read some very terrible, very mediocre and very, very good parenting books and this one is very, very good. Instead of looking at how parents affect children, this book looks exclusively at how people are affected once they become parents. It&#8217;s a wonderful, much-needed point of view. The book is a combination of research and in-depth interviews with parents and the result is very readable and moves quite quickly. One paragraph in particular stood out to me: &#8220;The phrase &#8216;having it all&#8217; has little to do with what women want. If anything, it&#8217;s a reflection of a widespread and misplaced cultural belief, shared by men and women alike: that we, as middle-class Americans, have been given infinite promise, and it&#8217;s our obligation to exploit every ounce of it. &#8216;Having it all&#8217; is the phrase of a culture, that as Adam Phillips implies in Missing Out, is tyrannized by the idea of its own potential.&#8221; Thank God. I have never hated a phrase more. Instead of showing why parents can&#8217;t have it all or posturing that yes, you can have it all (you just must follow this advice to the letter), this book finally drills into the origins and expectations that the idea of &#8220;having it all&#8221; encompasses. What is it about our ideas of parenting that lead us to believe it will be something that it often is not? The world of parenting I am most familiar with is the one on blogs. If you look at that microcosm in the larger context of this book and parenting at large, you can begin to see why women especially are (often quietly) wondering why they don&#8217;t measure up. Why isn&#8217;t it the perfect happiness they were led to believe it would be? Why is it&#8230;actual work? How am I sleep deprived, ready to lose my mind, want to murder my partner and this other mom looks beautiful, well-rested and is dressing her child in $80 organic cotton onesies? Why is parenting so hard for ME? This book shows parenting in a light that few other books detail. Because it&#8217;s not focused on the &#8220;how&#8217;s&#8221; of parenting, it paints an accurate (research-backed) look at actual parenting. The affects of sleep deprivation. The ways that a marriage or partnership can change&#8212;more commonly for the worse&#8212;once a child has entered the picture. (The chapter on how each parent in a partnership is always convinced that he or she has had the more difficult week made me shudder in recognition.) I particularly enjoyed the chapters about raising older children too. I feel I am stuck in a baby/toddler parenting vortex and there is little I can see (or want to see) outside of that. I know that&#8217;s due to my own preferences (I don&#8217;t need to read articles about parenting teenagers right now), but parenting websites are so heavily geared toward younger children. Will that shift as our generation grows and our children grow too? Or will there always be a gap there? Senior has an interesting hypothesis about this. &#8220;It&#8217;s not an accident that most parenting blogs are written by mothers and fathers of small children. Part of it, yes, is that these parents are responding to the novelty of their situation. But part of it, too, is that the challenges they&#8217;re writing about are usually so generic that they&#8217;re betraying no confidences in revealing them. It does not violate your children&#8217;s privacy to say they detest peas, and it&#8217;s not a particularly poor reflection on your parenting either. Whereas writing about adolescents is different.&#8221; Senior talks about how this, and many other things, contribute to parents of adolescents feeling very isolated. Lots of food for thought here and I may reread the book again soon to pick up on some things I may have missed. I highly recommend it&#8212;and as I said before, if you are considering having children at some point and especially if you are considering having them soon, this book should certainly be added to your to-read list. 
Would love to hear your thoughts. Have you read either book?

Been reading a lot of nonfiction lately (including a lot of airplane-related books but those are for a later review). 

What I’ve Read:

  • Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston - This is a sobering book. No pun intended—really. The research and anecdotal evidence that Johnston presents is a somber, thought-provoking look at the modern woman’s relationship with alcohol. Johnston, a recovering alcoholic, sets a foundation for the research she cites by telling about her own history with alcohol and her fight to get sober and stay sober. The book does not coddle or waste your time. Johnston has a very specific message she’s trying to get across and it is vividly (painfully) real from the first page. Johnston’s lifelong struggle with having an alcoholic mother made her swear she would never do the same thing to her family and it is heartbreaking to read how subtly, sneakily she began to walk down the same path. There is something startling about reading a book that describes so perfectly the way that I know I (and many other women, friends, coworkers) feel about alcohol. Johnston describes the ever-increasing pressures on women and how this relates to the pressure release valve of the first glass of wine at the end of a long day. God knows I can relate to that. In one portion, Johnston talks about how she loved even the ritual of opening the bottle—removing the cork, hearing the wine glug into the glass, the first warming sip. I have never been a big drinker, but I admit that over the past—oh, 4?— years, my relationship to wine has gotten…closer. This book is worth anyone’s time to read, but I encourage fellow women to pick it up. Her close examination of the way modern women drink (and her research about how women metabolize alcohol differently than men) was eye-opening. In one portion, she cites a CDC report that says female binge drinking (four or more drinks on one occasion in the past month) is a serious unrecognized problem. “Almost 14 million American girls and women binge drink an average of three times each month, typically consuming six drinks per bingeing episode. Meanwhile, one in five high school girls binge drinks.” The age of women most likely to binge drink? Women aged 18-34 with higher household incomes. The health risks Johnston points to are acute: breast cancer, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. She also points out that binge drinkers aren’t necessarily addicted to alcohol. It’s just the way modern women have learned to drink. She cites many reasons for this: The marketing of alcohol specifically to women (Skinnygirl products, for example), the tendency for high school and college-aged women to drink clear liquors like vodka to avoid calories (and thus developing a taste early on for stronger alcoholic drinks), etc. At one point, Johnston writes: “Women need a break. They feel they deserve a break. And if drinking is about escape, it is also about entitlement and empowerment.” At another point, she says, “Has alcohol become the modern woman’s steroid, enabling her to do the heavy lifting necessary in an endlessly complex world? Is it the escape valve women need, in the midst of a major social revolution still unfolding? How much of this is marketing, and how much is the need to numb?” I thought about that for a long time. I’m still thinking about it. 
  • All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior - If you are a parent or thinking about becoming a parent at some point, you should read this book. I have read some very terrible, very mediocre and very, very good parenting books and this one is very, very good. Instead of looking at how parents affect children, this book looks exclusively at how people are affected once they become parents. It’s a wonderful, much-needed point of view. The book is a combination of research and in-depth interviews with parents and the result is very readable and moves quite quickly. One paragraph in particular stood out to me: “The phrase ‘having it all’ has little to do with what women want. If anything, it’s a reflection of a widespread and misplaced cultural belief, shared by men and women alike: that we, as middle-class Americans, have been given infinite promise, and it’s our obligation to exploit every ounce of it. ‘Having it all’ is the phrase of a culture, that as Adam Phillips implies in Missing Out, is tyrannized by the idea of its own potential.” Thank God. I have never hated a phrase more. Instead of showing why parents can’t have it all or posturing that yes, you can have it all (you just must follow this advice to the letter), this book finally drills into the origins and expectations that the idea of “having it all” encompasses. What is it about our ideas of parenting that lead us to believe it will be something that it often is not? The world of parenting I am most familiar with is the one on blogs. If you look at that microcosm in the larger context of this book and parenting at large, you can begin to see why women especially are (often quietly) wondering why they don’t measure up. Why isn’t it the perfect happiness they were led to believe it would be? Why is it…actual work? How am I sleep deprived, ready to lose my mind, want to murder my partner and this other mom looks beautiful, well-rested and is dressing her child in $80 organic cotton onesies? Why is parenting so hard for ME? This book shows parenting in a light that few other books detail. Because it’s not focused on the “how’s” of parenting, it paints an accurate (research-backed) look at actual parenting. The affects of sleep deprivation. The ways that a marriage or partnership can change—more commonly for the worse—once a child has entered the picture. (The chapter on how each parent in a partnership is always convinced that he or she has had the more difficult week made me shudder in recognition.) I particularly enjoyed the chapters about raising older children too. I feel I am stuck in a baby/toddler parenting vortex and there is little I can see (or want to see) outside of that. I know that’s due to my own preferences (I don’t need to read articles about parenting teenagers right now), but parenting websites are so heavily geared toward younger children. Will that shift as our generation grows and our children grow too? Or will there always be a gap there? Senior has an interesting hypothesis about this. “It’s not an accident that most parenting blogs are written by mothers and fathers of small children. Part of it, yes, is that these parents are responding to the novelty of their situation. But part of it, too, is that the challenges they’re writing about are usually so generic that they’re betraying no confidences in revealing them. It does not violate your children’s privacy to say they detest peas, and it’s not a particularly poor reflection on your parenting either. Whereas writing about adolescents is different.” Senior talks about how this, and many other things, contribute to parents of adolescents feeling very isolated. Lots of food for thought here and I may reread the book again soon to pick up on some things I may have missed. I highly recommend it—and as I said before, if you are considering having children at some point and especially if you are considering having them soon, this book should certainly be added to your to-read list. 

Would love to hear your thoughts. Have you read either book?

  • k 46 notes