Posts tagged with nonfiction:

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?

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?

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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’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?

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?

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What I’ve Read
I’m way behind on reviews and couldn’t wait to share a few of these. 
The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg - I’ve given her books mediocre reviews before but this one—a continuation in her series about detective Patrik Hedstrom—is her best I’ve read yet. It was nuanced, thrilling and even though I figured out the BIG TWIST before the book revealed it, it didn’t feel like a letdown. 
Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson - I’ve had this on my Kindle forever but finally got around to reading it after we saw the movie. (I know, I know.) Regarding the book itself, I was pleased that Robinson made a genuine effort to capture Luttrell’s unique voice. Instead of organizing the story into more of a standard ghost-written “clean” form, it’s obvious that Luttrell’s telling of the story was conveyed pretty accurately onto the page. The content of book is, of course, immensely sad and powerful. The first part of the book is fascinating too—detailing Luttrell’s military background and SEAL training. 
Eat and Run by Scott Jurek - Ultramarathons. What fresh fuckery are these? I used to run (no longer!) but never at very long distances and it made me tired just reading about this guy running 150 miles and WINNING. His accomplishments seem almost super-human, but the book is incredibly down-to-earth and even includes his favorite recipes and various running/cross-training tips. I sometimes think about this book at the gym because no matter how much I’m sweating, at least I’m not voluntarily running a 150 mile race in Death Valley. 
The Best American Crime Reporting (2008) compiled by Jonathan Kellerman - I bought this on the Kindle during a daily deal promotion or something and I’m going to read the other collections as soon as possible. I don’t know how I haven’t gotten my paws on these before (RIGHT IN MY WHEELHOUSE), but the shorter articles included are perfect for fitting in right before I pass out asleep at night. The content is varied and it’s all interesting, but I liked two articles especially. One was about Charles Cullen (the subject of this book I reviewed last year) and the other was about Chinese military murdering Tibetan refugees in sight of climbers at the base of Cho Oyu. Pretty haunting. 
Remote by Jason Fried and David Hansson - If you work remotely or want to work remotely, this book is a must-read. It’s short, concise and fascinating. I expected it to include more strategy about the implementation or mechanics of remote working, but it focuses more deeply on why remote employees make sense and why employers need to take a closer look at the advantages of remote work. I wish there had been more of the former, but it was still worth the read. This is a subject that I think will see a lot more attention paid to it over the next 5-10 years and I enjoyed this as an opening act to what will likely become a pretty heated, ongoing conversation in the nonfiction book world about work flexibility and remote employees. As a side note, it’s written by the two founders of 37signals—I use their products for my work—and I liked hearing their philosophies in the context of how Basecamp, etc., make my job so much easier. 
Rustication by Charles Palliser - This is a contender for one of my top books of the year already but we’ve got a long way to go. Rustication really confounded me. I loved it, then hated it, then REALLY LOVED HATING IT then just plain loved it when it completely fooled me in the end. Rustication refers to the archaic term for being suspended from school for doing something naughty. In this case, our quite unlikable little protagonist Richard Shenstone is sent home from his school for reasons not quite explained but may have something to do with his opium addiction. He arrives at his family’s large but shabby and creepy home to find things looking a little suspicious—then VERY suspicious. He doesn’t know who he can trust and rumors and bloody happenings in his small town up the spook factor with each page. It’s the anti-Downton Abbey mixed with a little bit of the recent movie The Woman in Black and it pulled me ALL the way in. One more thing: The plot twists are pretty insane and I admit that they caught me completely by surprise. I love that. 
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed - What can I say about this that hasn’t already been said? Not much, probably. I bought this book a long time ago and didn’t touch it. I wasn’t ready to read it because, by all accounts, it would turn me into a quivering emotional mess and yes, that is accurate. It did. But it’s worth the emotional breakdown because in the end, I did feel like I was seeing things with a new compassionate clarity that was missing almost entirely before. If you’re looking for something to do tonight, I can think of no better book to start on Valentine’s Day than this. Not because it’s romantic or sweet or any of those treacly Valentine’s Day things. No—you should read it because it’s about loving yourself, choosing your truth and discovering that even the most unthinkable things or the most grievous mistakes don’t have to just be an ending. They can be a beginning too. 
What are you guys reading these days?

What I’ve Read

I’m way behind on reviews and couldn’t wait to share a few of these. 

  • The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg - I’ve given her books mediocre reviews before but this one—a continuation in her series about detective Patrik Hedstrom—is her best I’ve read yet. It was nuanced, thrilling and even though I figured out the BIG TWIST before the book revealed it, it didn’t feel like a letdown. 
  • Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson - I’ve had this on my Kindle forever but finally got around to reading it after we saw the movie. (I know, I know.) Regarding the book itself, I was pleased that Robinson made a genuine effort to capture Luttrell’s unique voice. Instead of organizing the story into more of a standard ghost-written “clean” form, it’s obvious that Luttrell’s telling of the story was conveyed pretty accurately onto the page. The content of book is, of course, immensely sad and powerful. The first part of the book is fascinating too—detailing Luttrell’s military background and SEAL training. 
  • Eat and Run by Scott Jurek - Ultramarathons. What fresh fuckery are these? I used to run (no longer!) but never at very long distances and it made me tired just reading about this guy running 150 miles and WINNING. His accomplishments seem almost super-human, but the book is incredibly down-to-earth and even includes his favorite recipes and various running/cross-training tips. I sometimes think about this book at the gym because no matter how much I’m sweating, at least I’m not voluntarily running a 150 mile race in Death Valley. 
  • The Best American Crime Reporting (2008) compiled by Jonathan Kellerman - I bought this on the Kindle during a daily deal promotion or something and I’m going to read the other collections as soon as possible. I don’t know how I haven’t gotten my paws on these before (RIGHT IN MY WHEELHOUSE), but the shorter articles included are perfect for fitting in right before I pass out asleep at night. The content is varied and it’s all interesting, but I liked two articles especially. One was about Charles Cullen (the subject of this book I reviewed last year) and the other was about Chinese military murdering Tibetan refugees in sight of climbers at the base of Cho Oyu. Pretty haunting. 
  • Remote by Jason Fried and David Hansson - If you work remotely or want to work remotely, this book is a must-read. It’s short, concise and fascinating. I expected it to include more strategy about the implementation or mechanics of remote working, but it focuses more deeply on why remote employees make sense and why employers need to take a closer look at the advantages of remote work. I wish there had been more of the former, but it was still worth the read. This is a subject that I think will see a lot more attention paid to it over the next 5-10 years and I enjoyed this as an opening act to what will likely become a pretty heated, ongoing conversation in the nonfiction book world about work flexibility and remote employees. As a side note, it’s written by the two founders of 37signals—I use their products for my work—and I liked hearing their philosophies in the context of how Basecamp, etc., make my job so much easier. 
  • Rustication by Charles Palliser - This is a contender for one of my top books of the year already but we’ve got a long way to go. Rustication really confounded me. I loved it, then hated it, then REALLY LOVED HATING IT then just plain loved it when it completely fooled me in the end. Rustication refers to the archaic term for being suspended from school for doing something naughty. In this case, our quite unlikable little protagonist Richard Shenstone is sent home from his school for reasons not quite explained but may have something to do with his opium addiction. He arrives at his family’s large but shabby and creepy home to find things looking a little suspicious—then VERY suspicious. He doesn’t know who he can trust and rumors and bloody happenings in his small town up the spook factor with each page. It’s the anti-Downton Abbey mixed with a little bit of the recent movie The Woman in Black and it pulled me ALL the way in. One more thing: The plot twists are pretty insane and I admit that they caught me completely by surprise. I love that. 
  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed - What can I say about this that hasn’t already been said? Not much, probably. I bought this book a long time ago and didn’t touch it. I wasn’t ready to read it because, by all accounts, it would turn me into a quivering emotional mess and yes, that is accurate. It did. But it’s worth the emotional breakdown because in the end, I did feel like I was seeing things with a new compassionate clarity that was missing almost entirely before. If you’re looking for something to do tonight, I can think of no better book to start on Valentine’s Day than this. Not because it’s romantic or sweet or any of those treacly Valentine’s Day things. No—you should read it because it’s about loving yourself, choosing your truth and discovering that even the most unthinkable things or the most grievous mistakes don’t have to just be an ending. They can be a beginning too. 

What are you guys reading these days?

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Best and Worst Books I Read in 2013

image

I didn’t expect to read many books this year. There was no particular reason for this outlook—just a general feeling I had last January. I was a little pessimistic. I set a goal of 50. And then I surprised myself! I read over 70. Some were Kindle Singles (is that cheating?), but I included them anyway. 

This turned out to be a good year for reading. I had multiple moments where I thought I would never be able to top my last read and then the next book would blow me away. There are a few books that I know will go down as all-time, life-changing favorites for me.

2013 as a whole was not my favorite year, but I will look back fondly on the very excellent books  that came into my life in the past twelve months. 

The Best Books:

Best Fiction: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Best Nonfiction: Going Clear by Lawrence Wright

Best Memoir: Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

Best Parenting Book: Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

Best Short Read: Murder in the Yoga Store by Peter Ross Range

And here are the rest:

Read Today

Read Later

Don’t Bother

To read my reviews of these books, follow me on Goodreads or click here. See the list for 2012 here and 2011 here

What are your best and worst books of the year?

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I’m way behind on my reviews! Time to catch up. 
(P.S. I’m going to do my best of 2013 round up sometime this week so keep an eye out for that.) 
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King:
I was completely unprepared for this book. I knew it would be good (or at least subjectively good, I rarely dislike a King book), but it turned out to be the flat-out, can’t stop reading, don’t even bother trying kind of King book. The best kind. It’s a sequel to The Shining and I’ve read a few other reviews that said it would be good as a standalone read, but that’s basically horseshit. If you don’t want to read The Shining, at least watch the movie. At least do that. The context established from The Shining gives this sequel weight and importance and interest that I can’t imagine going without. The characterization was rich and detailed and the plot was fast-paced and relatively scary—though not keeps-you-up-at-night scary like some of his earlier books. (Nightmares about clowns: The Worst.) A few complaints: The ending wrapped up the conflict a little faster than I wanted it to and the villains—while creepy—weren’t terrifying. Still, you can’t miss this book. You really can’t. The fact that he wrote a sequel (a GREAT sequel) to a book over 30 years old is really remarkable. 
The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison
A lot of people really loved this book. I saw it on some Best of 2013 lists. I partially agree with the positive attention it has received since the characters are fleshed out more realistically than any others in the flashy new suspense-drama-novel genre that Gone Girl created. Seriously, the characterization is good. The two main characters—a devoted wife and a dickish husband—are expressed so well on the page that reading it almost felt like watching a movie. I could see their expressions, hear their tone of voice. It was really enjoyable. On the other hand, the plot was predictable as hell and I’m bored of the “how well do you really know your spouse?” books. (But I guess I wasn’t too bored because I kept an iron grip on my Kindle for the day or so that it took me to read it.) If you’ve got time to kill and an interest in the genre, it’s worth checking out. 
Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
Holy fucking shitballs. Reading this book is like stepping into alternate reality of crazy and I could not and would not step away. Insider or whistleblower nonfiction is one of my favorite things and it doesn’t get much more insidery than this. Wright interviewed dozens and dozens of former Scientologists that had once occupied prestigious positions within the church and the dish he spews as a result is PHENOMENAL. First of all, because I know this will be of huge interest to most people, he frankly eviscerates Scientologist celebrities. Especially Tom Cruise. But while the book is highly entertaining and the celebrity gossip is fulfilling on a very base level, I came away from reading this mostly terrified and sad for members of the Scientology community. I won’t reveal any tidbits or information—that’s why you should read the book!—but goddamn these people are fucking nutters. (And if they’re not nutters, they get taken advantage of by the ones that are.) This book was really eye-opening and scary and one of the best nonfiction things I read this year. 
The Sinking of the Bounty by Matthew Shaer 
This is a short little Kindle Single that I enjoyed. You probably remember the iconic image on the cover from the news. During hurricane Sandy, the HMS Bounty (a replica of the original ship), sank off the coast of North Carolina. This book tries to recreate events that led up to the sinking and then examines the potential reasons behind the captain’s decision to sail during the storm instead of remaining at port. It moves quickly and without much lingering on the emotions or the individual lives of the people at stake (which you may like or not like), but if you have a free hour or two, why not? 
The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg
I read Lackberg’s first book The Ice Princess back at the beginning of the year and I finally got around to the next book in the series. I have a huge soft spot for Swedish crime novels and really enjoyed my time reading The Preacher, but it is probably not everyone’s cup of tea. There were numerous grammatical problems in the Kindle text I read and the translation was spotty here and there. Additionally, Lackberg’s cast of characters and one huge family in particular had me wracking my brain to try and remember who they were. This is more problematic than it might have been because she has tendency to switch from one character and location to another without much of a discernible break in the text. This might be a Kindle formatting issue. Either way, it was annoying to read one paragraph and move on to the next only to realize that I had been teleported to a different time and place. These issues aside, I liked it. I didn’t fall head over heels and I don’t think she improved on the weaknesses of The Ice Princess, but I’m such a fan of the genre that I’m about to start the third book tonight. 
What are you all reading lately?

I’m way behind on my reviews! Time to catch up. 

(P.S. I’m going to do my best of 2013 round up sometime this week so keep an eye out for that.) 

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King:

I was completely unprepared for this book. I knew it would be good (or at least subjectively good, I rarely dislike a King book), but it turned out to be the flat-out, can’t stop reading, don’t even bother trying kind of King book. The best kind. It’s a sequel to The Shining and I’ve read a few other reviews that said it would be good as a standalone read, but that’s basically horseshit. If you don’t want to read The Shining, at least watch the movie. At least do that. The context established from The Shining gives this sequel weight and importance and interest that I can’t imagine going without. The characterization was rich and detailed and the plot was fast-paced and relatively scary—though not keeps-you-up-at-night scary like some of his earlier books. (Nightmares about clowns: The Worst.) A few complaints: The ending wrapped up the conflict a little faster than I wanted it to and the villains—while creepy—weren’t terrifying. Still, you can’t miss this book. You really can’t. The fact that he wrote a sequel (a GREAT sequel) to a book over 30 years old is really remarkable. 

The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison

A lot of people really loved this book. I saw it on some Best of 2013 lists. I partially agree with the positive attention it has received since the characters are fleshed out more realistically than any others in the flashy new suspense-drama-novel genre that Gone Girl created. Seriously, the characterization is good. The two main characters—a devoted wife and a dickish husband—are expressed so well on the page that reading it almost felt like watching a movie. I could see their expressions, hear their tone of voice. It was really enjoyable. On the other hand, the plot was predictable as hell and I’m bored of the “how well do you really know your spouse?” books. (But I guess I wasn’t too bored because I kept an iron grip on my Kindle for the day or so that it took me to read it.) If you’ve got time to kill and an interest in the genre, it’s worth checking out. 

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright

Holy fucking shitballs. Reading this book is like stepping into alternate reality of crazy and I could not and would not step away. Insider or whistleblower nonfiction is one of my favorite things and it doesn’t get much more insidery than this. Wright interviewed dozens and dozens of former Scientologists that had once occupied prestigious positions within the church and the dish he spews as a result is PHENOMENAL. First of all, because I know this will be of huge interest to most people, he frankly eviscerates Scientologist celebrities. Especially Tom Cruise. But while the book is highly entertaining and the celebrity gossip is fulfilling on a very base level, I came away from reading this mostly terrified and sad for members of the Scientology community. I won’t reveal any tidbits or information—that’s why you should read the book!—but goddamn these people are fucking nutters. (And if they’re not nutters, they get taken advantage of by the ones that are.) This book was really eye-opening and scary and one of the best nonfiction things I read this year. 

The Sinking of the Bounty by Matthew Shaer 

This is a short little Kindle Single that I enjoyed. You probably remember the iconic image on the cover from the news. During hurricane Sandy, the HMS Bounty (a replica of the original ship), sank off the coast of North Carolina. This book tries to recreate events that led up to the sinking and then examines the potential reasons behind the captain’s decision to sail during the storm instead of remaining at port. It moves quickly and without much lingering on the emotions or the individual lives of the people at stake (which you may like or not like), but if you have a free hour or two, why not? 

The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg

I read Lackberg’s first book The Ice Princess back at the beginning of the year and I finally got around to the next book in the series. I have a huge soft spot for Swedish crime novels and really enjoyed my time reading The Preacher, but it is probably not everyone’s cup of tea. There were numerous grammatical problems in the Kindle text I read and the translation was spotty here and there. Additionally, Lackberg’s cast of characters and one huge family in particular had me wracking my brain to try and remember who they were. This is more problematic than it might have been because she has tendency to switch from one character and location to another without much of a discernible break in the text. This might be a Kindle formatting issue. Either way, it was annoying to read one paragraph and move on to the next only to realize that I had been teleported to a different time and place. These issues aside, I liked it. I didn’t fall head over heels and I don’t think she improved on the weaknesses of The Ice Princess, but I’m such a fan of the genre that I’m about to start the third book tonight. 

What are you all reading lately?

  • k 29 notes
What I’ve Read: The Attacking Ocean by Brian Fagan
I started reading this shortly after watching Blackfish and man. Depressing. (But fascinating.) The Attacking Ocean is a sometimes dense, but still riveting nonfiction book about how rising sea levels have affected and are continuing to affect land mass and civilization. Fagan also talks about how these higher sea levels are responsible for the increasing severity of cyclones/hurricanes and tsunamis. 
It’s a sobering, eye-opening book. I knew—in generalities—that global warming was affecting the ocean and severe weather, but this book really drills down on the issues. Its objective, academic tone makes the really scary bits even scarier. The statistics listing thousands upon thousands of people killed by severe storms, the probability that Bangladesh could basically disappear into the ocean within a few generations, the emergency evacuation plans for refugees that some South Pacific islands have in place since they know their island could virtually disappear within the century, the impact of coastal erosion on traditional fishing villages in Alaska…It goes on and on. And it’s pretty terrifying. 
Still, the book is far from sensational. It’s packed full of hard-won research, statistics and data, and Fagan makes it clear he’s not hypothesizing about much except the WHEN. The If is not in question any longer, basically. (Put this in the context of Hurricane Sandy, which he talks at length about, and it hits really close to home—no pun intended.) It seems like Fagan has no real agenda or call to action, except to discuss historical events and enlighten people about how current events are being impacted by increasing global warming. Fagan’s lack of solutions might be the scariest thing about this book. Is there any turning back? Is there a solution (globally or locally) that could actually reverse some of this? Fagan seems to think we’re pretty far gone. 
The Attacking Ocean is well-worth the read, but be forewarned! When I say it’s academic, it’s very academic. If you can’t stand footnotes, this is not your book. (Let me direct you to the new Bridget Jones novel. I’m kidding.) 
Have you read it? Or RELATED (sort of), did you watch Blackfish?

What I’ve Read: The Attacking Ocean by Brian Fagan

I started reading this shortly after watching Blackfish and man. Depressing. (But fascinating.) The Attacking Ocean is a sometimes dense, but still riveting nonfiction book about how rising sea levels have affected and are continuing to affect land mass and civilization. Fagan also talks about how these higher sea levels are responsible for the increasing severity of cyclones/hurricanes and tsunamis. 

It’s a sobering, eye-opening book. I knew—in generalities—that global warming was affecting the ocean and severe weather, but this book really drills down on the issues. Its objective, academic tone makes the really scary bits even scarier. The statistics listing thousands upon thousands of people killed by severe storms, the probability that Bangladesh could basically disappear into the ocean within a few generations, the emergency evacuation plans for refugees that some South Pacific islands have in place since they know their island could virtually disappear within the century, the impact of coastal erosion on traditional fishing villages in Alaska…It goes on and on. And it’s pretty terrifying. 

Still, the book is far from sensational. It’s packed full of hard-won research, statistics and data, and Fagan makes it clear he’s not hypothesizing about much except the WHEN. The If is not in question any longer, basically. (Put this in the context of Hurricane Sandy, which he talks at length about, and it hits really close to home—no pun intended.) It seems like Fagan has no real agenda or call to action, except to discuss historical events and enlighten people about how current events are being impacted by increasing global warming. Fagan’s lack of solutions might be the scariest thing about this book. Is there any turning back? Is there a solution (globally or locally) that could actually reverse some of this? Fagan seems to think we’re pretty far gone. 

The Attacking Ocean is well-worth the read, but be forewarned! When I say it’s academic, it’s very academic. If you can’t stand footnotes, this is not your book. (Let me direct you to the new Bridget Jones novel. I’m kidding.) 

Have you read it? Or RELATED (sort of), did you watch Blackfish?

  • k 14 notes
What I’ve Read:
This Town by Mark Leibovich - I’d been wanting to read this for a while but kept putting it off. I finally started it right as the government shutdown nonsense happened and it was interesting to read this in conjunction with the DC shenanigans going on in real time. If you enjoy politics or want gossipy insight on the major players you’ve seen and heard nonstop this month, you should read this. 
Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn - Alcorn does a deep-dive into many of the working mom issues first raised in books like Lean In by using her own life as a case study. While Alcorn does talk mostly about working moms and work-life balance, her discussion of mom guilt and anxiety casts a wider net. I liked the book—and could (unfortunately) identify with Alcorn’s anxiety attacks—but it felt like it was missing something. Actually, I felt a little mislead. The title led me to believe this would be a book with Alcorn’s personal experiences married to broader conversations about the state of the American mother. Instead, the book is really just a memoir. It’s still valuable because Alcorn is relatable, and it was refreshing to read a book-length account of the rewards and challenges that accompany modern-day parenting. But what makes book good—the personal anecdotes—also makes the book problematic. There is a real issue of gender roles that needs more examination within the context of working parents and this book hardly touches it. Alcorn’s husband is, by her own admission, basically perfect. Aside from one or two tense moments between them, they are portrayed as an extremely functional and accommodating pair. I’m probably projecting a little bit here with my criticism, but based on my experiences (and what I’ve heard from friends), Alcorn’s near lack of friction between her and her partner in making the big adjustment to working and sharing parental responsibilities falls a little flat. If you remove the gender role conversation from a book about working mothers, I think you’re removing a big part of what makes the working mom conversation complex and volatile. It’s a big part of the conversation and the absence of any substantive discussion about how that transition impacts a working mom (or how the lack of a partner affects a single mom!) was a glaring omission. 
The Broken Places by Ace Atkins - This book was recommended to me (AGAIN, no idea where, I can never remember) and I enjoyed it. A good little palette cleanser. It’s listed as a “Southern crime novel” and I was thinking, ho-hum, dime a dozen crime novel. Instead, I found it fairly suspenseful and got invested in the well-rounded cast of characters. If you like this genre or just want something really light to pass the time, have at it. 
No One Could Have Guessed the Weather by Anne-Marie Casey - I wanted to like this book about NYC moms and their intertwined friendships with each other. I just didn’t. It was slow (so slow) and I never connected with any of the characters. It has some clever moments, including one at the end, but I found it mostly forgettable and worse—annoying to read. I kept falling asleep. Never a good sign. 
If you want something REALLY amazing to read, make sure you check out this book I reviewed the other day.
Have you read any of these?

What I’ve Read:

  • This Town by Mark Leibovich - I’d been wanting to read this for a while but kept putting it off. I finally started it right as the government shutdown nonsense happened and it was interesting to read this in conjunction with the DC shenanigans going on in real time. If you enjoy politics or want gossipy insight on the major players you’ve seen and heard nonstop this month, you should read this. 
  • Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn - Alcorn does a deep-dive into many of the working mom issues first raised in books like Lean In by using her own life as a case study. While Alcorn does talk mostly about working moms and work-life balance, her discussion of mom guilt and anxiety casts a wider net. I liked the book—and could (unfortunately) identify with Alcorn’s anxiety attacks—but it felt like it was missing something. Actually, I felt a little mislead. The title led me to believe this would be a book with Alcorn’s personal experiences married to broader conversations about the state of the American mother. Instead, the book is really just a memoir. It’s still valuable because Alcorn is relatable, and it was refreshing to read a book-length account of the rewards and challenges that accompany modern-day parenting. But what makes book good—the personal anecdotes—also makes the book problematic. There is a real issue of gender roles that needs more examination within the context of working parents and this book hardly touches it. Alcorn’s husband is, by her own admission, basically perfect. Aside from one or two tense moments between them, they are portrayed as an extremely functional and accommodating pair. I’m probably projecting a little bit here with my criticism, but based on my experiences (and what I’ve heard from friends), Alcorn’s near lack of friction between her and her partner in making the big adjustment to working and sharing parental responsibilities falls a little flat. If you remove the gender role conversation from a book about working mothers, I think you’re removing a big part of what makes the working mom conversation complex and volatile. It’s a big part of the conversation and the absence of any substantive discussion about how that transition impacts a working mom (or how the lack of a partner affects a single mom!) was a glaring omission. 
  • The Broken Places by Ace Atkins - This book was recommended to me (AGAIN, no idea where, I can never remember) and I enjoyed it. A good little palette cleanser. It’s listed as a “Southern crime novel” and I was thinking, ho-hum, dime a dozen crime novel. Instead, I found it fairly suspenseful and got invested in the well-rounded cast of characters. If you like this genre or just want something really light to pass the time, have at it. 
  • No One Could Have Guessed the Weather by Anne-Marie Casey - I wanted to like this book about NYC moms and their intertwined friendships with each other. I just didn’t. It was slow (so slow) and I never connected with any of the characters. It has some clever moments, including one at the end, but I found it mostly forgettable and worse—annoying to read. I kept falling asleep. Never a good sign. 

If you want something REALLY amazing to read, make sure you check out this book I reviewed the other day.

Have you read any of these?

  • k 13 notes
What I’ve Read: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
This is a life-changing book.
I don’t want to write too much here. I knew nothing about the book when I started it. It was my total ignorance about the plot that made my experience reading this that much more profound. 
About a quarter of the way through the book, I knew it was by far the best I’d read so far this year. By the time I read the last page, I knew it was one of the best novels I’d read…ever. 
I’m not usually this effusive with my praise for books, so trust me on this one. Put down whatever you’re reading and start this instead.
Have you read it?

What I’ve Read: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

This is a life-changing book.

I don’t want to write too much here. I knew nothing about the book when I started it. It was my total ignorance about the plot that made my experience reading this that much more profound. 

About a quarter of the way through the book, I knew it was by far the best I’d read so far this year. By the time I read the last page, I knew it was one of the best novels I’d read…ever. 

I’m not usually this effusive with my praise for books, so trust me on this one. Put down whatever you’re reading and start this instead.

Have you read it?

  • k 60 notes