Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Beginnings: A Walk Across America

 Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins

"Stop right there, son. You aint goin' nowhere in this blizzard."

Peter started his walk across America in October in New York state. He runs into a lot of winter, especially in the Appalachians. And he runs into a lot of nice people who will do things like this man did: insist that Peter and his dog Cooper come home with him and have a good home-cooked meal.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: First Bite: How We Learn to Eat

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson

Synopsis from Goodreads:
We do not come into the world with an innate sense of taste and nutrition; as omnivores, we have to learn how and what to eat, how sweet is too sweet, and what food will give us the most energy for the coming day. But how does this education happen? What are the origins of taste?

In First Bite, the beloved food writer Bee Wilson draws on the latest research from food psychologists, neuroscientists, and nutritionists to reveal that our food habits are shaped by a whole host of factors: family and culture, memory and gender, hunger and love. An exploration of the extraordinary and surprising origins of our tastes and eating habits—from people who can only eat foods of a certain color to an amnesiac who can eat meal after meal without getting full—First Bite also shows us how we can change our palates to lead healthier, happier lives.

Publishing December 1, 2015 by Basic Books

Monday, November 23, 2015

Nonfiction November--Week Three (in Week Four!)

I love nonfiction and really wanted to post last week but I had to get a temporary crown and was on a panel out of town among other things that conspired to keep me off my computer last week. But I am unfortunately not able to participate int he fourth week's reading group, so I'm going to finally get around to last week's topic now. It is still November after all.

Here's the prompt for week three, hosted by I'm Lost in Books:

NONTRADITIONAL NONFICTION This week we will be focusing on the nontraditional side of reading nonfiction. Nonfiction comes in many forms There are the traditional hardcover or paperback print books, of course, but then you also have e-books, audiobooks, illustrated and graphic nonfiction, oversized folios, miniatures, internet publishing, nonfiction short stories, and enhanced books (book itself includes artifacts, audio, historical documents, images, etc.) So many choices! Do you find yourself drawn to or away from nontraditional nonfiction? Do you enjoy some nontraditional formats, but not others? Perhaps you have recommendations for readers who want to dive into nontraditional formats.

Back to me! I rave about nonfiction on audio. I just can't listen to fiction on audio. I find my mind drifting too much, and with fiction it's so easy to miss something crucial. With nonfiction it's easier to pick back up, but I also find it more compelling. I think one of the very first ones I listened to was David Sedaris's Naked (abridged, unfortunately) which entirely changed the way I read David's works (I try to listen to them exclusively and even when I don't, I've heard him so many times--also on NPR and live several times--that I can hear his voice in my head which helps as his books are 10x funnier when he reads them than when I read them. Seriously, I was missing a bunch of the jokes.

Then I lived in NYC for several years and did no audiobooks. When I finally started listening again, I was a bit clueless and I was picking books kind of at random. For two years I had a job where I drove all around New England every other work, visiting independent bookstores, and I clocked in many hours of audio that year.

I think I picked up Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell for free at work. Really enjoyed it. I still remember vividly the section where researchers found in a study that if they got a couple talking about a slightly contentious topic, if one of them showed even a momentary flash of contempt for the other, the marriage was doomed. I know I picked up Lies & the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair & Balanced Look at the Right by Al Franken for free at work, but I was blown away by an aspect of recorded books that I'd never even considered in this book: I got to hear Al Franken not just reading what different politicians had said, but instead he was "doing" them. SO Al Franken did his snarky impressions of Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice, and by the end of the book, I felt I'd gotten a richer experience than those who'd read it on paper.

Why Do Men Have Nipples? Hundreds of Questions You'd Only Ask A Doctor After Your Third Martini by Mark Leyner, Billy Goldberg is another one I must have gotten for free from work. It was very heavily abridged and while it was interesting, it didn't have enough content for me. But it didn't matter since it was free. My next one was also abridged (I really hate abridgments now, but there are lightly abridged and heavily abridged versions. This one was light, luckily.) Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson, Richard Thomas (Narrator) I specifically looked for since I was visiting the Seward House in upstate New York (for work) when James Swanson was going to be there. Since then I listen to 6 nonfiction books to every audio novel.

A few have had additional benefits like the Franken book. I loved in The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment by A.J. Jacobs, the sections written by his wife about how she puts up with A.J.'s crazy "experiments," was narrated by her. Sarah Vowell usually has a whole cast of guest readers joining her. And I loved in Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin when Steve Martin played the banjo and sang. You just can't get that in print. I prefer books narrated by their own author, IF that person is excellent and/or a professional performer (I nearly died after repeatedly falling asleep and hitting the rumble strip listening to Cold Mountain, read by the author. Also, notably, fiction.) Frank McCourt is the best. I do resent not getting the photo insert. And my audiobook of Bossypants by Tina Fey DID come with a separate downloadable pdf of the photo insert, proving that publishers do not have to stiff us audiobook listeners.

I have walked an entire marathon (and five half-marathons) and I listened to many entire audiobooks while training for that. Lately, I haven't listened to as many as I've got a ton of podcasts on my iPhone taking up that valuable time and space (ironically, many of them about books.) And I don't have a commute anymore. But for me, with audio, I specifically seek out nonfiction, as I think it works better in that format. Sometimes better even than the print version.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Book review: Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm by Mardi Jo Link

Schadenfreude is my friend. When I'm feeling bummed and broke and stressed, a book about other bummed and broke and stressed people--and how they got out of that situation--is the perfect remedy.

Mardi Jo is getting divorced. Her husband has moved right across the street. That works out well for their three boys, but Mardi Jo is having a very hard time keeping it together, and in particular paying her mortgage. She lives on a 6-acre small farm that has been her lifelong dream.She doesn't have a regular job, instead cobbling together freelance writing and editing work (boy, do I sympathize). It is a tad frustrating that she'd rather get behind on her mortgage than ask her parents for a loan (although she did already take out a loan from them for her divorce lawyer.) But I do admire her determination to do it on her own. She is so very broke that at times she is scraping of the bottom of the barrel just to put food on the table. There was a point where things were so low, that I found the story not as distracting or enjoyable, but instead depressing. But it did turn back around and ended on a positive note. I don't know that I'd describe the book as going from "Broke to Badass" but understandably "Broke to Breaking Even" just doesn't have the same ring to it, if it is much more believable.

I bought this book at Literati, an independent bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when I was there two years ago for the WNBA annual national meeting.

Book Beginnings: Bootstrapper

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm by Mardi Jo Link

"A perfectly bonny summer morning on the farm and I'm just this side of plowed."

 So she starts off with a pun, but she has a pretty good reason: she's in the midst of a divorce and her soon-to-be-ex-husband has moved across the street, which is unreasonable in any situation, but when you're on a farm with very few neighbors, it feels even more unreasonable.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: All of Us and Everything

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The Rockwell women are nothing if not . . . Well, it’s complicated.

When the sisters—Esme, Liv, and Ru—were young, their eccentric mother, Augusta, silenced all talk of their absent father with the wild story that he was an international spy, always away on top-secret missions. But the consequences of such an unconventional upbringing are neither small nor subtle: Esme is navigating a failing marriage while trying to keep her precocious fifteen-year-old daughter from live-tweeting every detail. Liv finds herself in between relationships and rehabs, and Ru has run away from enough people and problems to earn her frequent flier miles.

So when a hurricane hits the family home on the Jersey Shore, the Rockwells reunite to assess the damage—only to discover that the storm has unearthed a long-buried box. In a candid moment, Augusta reveals a startling secret that will blow the sisters’ concept of family to smithereens—and send them on an adventure to reconnect with a lost past . . . and one another.

Publishing November 24th 2015 by Bantam

Monday, November 16, 2015

Book Review: The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING; Or, Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog by Jen Lancaster

Jen Lancaster is the perfect prescription for the reading funk I was feeling. She always cheers me up even when she's not feeling cheerful herself. As she comes to see during a mammogram, she can't help but be funny even when she doesn't want to be, even when she tries not to be, even when it's not exactly appropriate. And thank God she is.

In this book Jen decides that even though she's got a lot going well for her, she still just can't be consistently happy, and that's kind of strange. She ought to be happy. So she decides to follow everything Martha Stewart does and recommends for a year. It's not just that Martha's treats are yummy and her entertaining and hosting impeccable, but that everything gets done with a Zen-like calm. Jen could use more of that in her life. She doesn't just want everything to be yummy and pretty, but also she wants to be happier and less frazzled. So she starts by cleaning out some drawers and other hidden spots in the house that are just filled with literal random junk. She does throw a couple of Martha-inspired parties, and along the way there are some disasters, but unlike the year prior, she handles them much better, even as her very beloved dog Maisie's health deteriorates. She might not end the year with homemade bread or hand-crocheted duvet covers, but she does end up getting the tao part pretty well. (And she makes some wicked scarves from a loom instead of from knitting which I am very tempted to try.)

I accidentally read the most recent memoir first, earlier this year, and now it makes more sense. As I said with that book, I'm glad that Jen is becoming more happy, less angry, although thankfully no less funny. There is still room for snark. And I will always need Jen's snark. She never lets me down.

I've owned this for a while and I don't remember where I got it. I believe I bought it but I couldn't swear to it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Book Beginnings: The Bees

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Bees by Laline Paull

"The old orchard stood beseiged"

The orchard, where in sits the bee hive this book is about, is in the midst of a city, so there is industry and housing closing in on all sides. Not great for bees. But they manage! Makes me glad I planted more flowers in my little garden this year.

Book Review: The Bees by Laline Paull

Flora 717 was born into the lowest caste of bees, who normally are the custodians of the hive. But Flora 717 is special. She is bigger and furrier than the other flora bees, and she can talk, which normally flora can't. Because of that, she is taken out by one of the Sage Priestesses to work in the nursery. There's been a drought, so there's not much food and that also means that they are short-handed and must do things they don't normally do. Hence, Flora 717 working in the nursery. To the shock of the Teasley who runs the nursery, Flora 717 is capable of making Royal Jelly for feeding the bee babies. But after working in the nursery for a while, Flora is brought out to work in another area.

The first half of the book felt a little manipulative, as Flora moved from one department to another, working a variety of jobs such as waiting on the queen, and being a forager, as well as sometimes going back to working with the other flora in the mortuary. There is plot going on, regarding the continuing bad weather (it's changed to just solidly raining which bees can't fly in), but it's very much in the background. Flora, like all the low-level bees, isn't supposed to even be capable of thinking long-term, which would kill the plot completely, but Flora is special, after all. She's also got the ability to seal her antennae against the Sage priestesses who otherwise would be able to read her thoughts, and she's able to handle reading the six panels about the past that leave other bees reeling, even the priestesses. Her abilities do come to the fore when things take a turn and the plot comes roaring to the forefront.

The beginning was interesting but didn't compel me along with plot, more with learning new things about bees. But when I got to that halfway point and the plot came alive, I just couldn't put it down. It was so inventive and fun and fascinating. What really made the discussion hum at book club was that one member had done some research, and another member actually keeps bees. We were able to ask a lot of questions of the "does this really happen?" variety. Suffice it to say, the odder the question, the more likely it was true. One member of our book club also made this adorable beehive cake! No, to answer your question, it was not a honey cake, it was a pound cake. The cake was yum and the book was delightful!

I checked this book out of the library.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Review: Calvin and Hobbes: Yukon Ho! by Bill Watterson

Sometimes you need a break. Even from something you love love love like reading. But I've been working too much and my work is reading (I am an editor) and so I've had trouble this week with reading. After working on an academic index for 10 hours in one day, my husband recommended that I read a comic book and I was like "Yes! Calvin and Hobbes!"

I have most of the books to choose from but I didn't want a treasury because those sometimes don't have the storylines all the way through but I also didn't want one very heavy on Spaceman Spiff or the other fantasies, so I went with Yukon Ho! It's funny to think that I was 15 years old when this book came out (and around 13 when the strips ran in the paper.) While I wasn't six, and mostly I thought Calvin reminded me of my little brother (yes, in a terrifying way), I do find that nowadays, I really, really sympathize with the parents (and it totally makes sense why Calvin is an only child.) When there's a joke about Calvin's father being drunk at a frat party in college, it really humanized him for me. I think it's interesting to read these strips with more perspective. I find myself really looking for the panels in which Hobbes looks like a stuffed animal--showing us that someone else is interacting with Calvin in a way that makes Hobbes not "real," and I am wondering about those choices from Mr. Watterson. That must have been somewhat tricky. And I love Calvin's explanations for Hobbes's behavior--like when Susie "steals" his water balloon because of course a solitary stuffed animal can't put up a fight against a human, and Hobbes explains to Calvin it's because Susie is cute and flirted with him (after all Hobbes looked so cute in his Jams. Wow, I remember Jams. Very 1980s.) The thought involved in even the most simple strips are so intricately planned and plotted, it's impressive. And yet, they seem so effortless.

A reread of a favorite comic strip collection that completely holds up. I might read another, because they're just so excellent.

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: This Is Where It Ends

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Synopsis from Goodreads:
10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

The auditorium doors won't open.

Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Publishing January 5, 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Nonfiction November: Week 2: Pairings

I've already been reading more nonfiction this month than planned. This week for Nonfiction November, the theme is pairings. They've asked for a fiction and a nonfiction pairing and that makes perfect sense to me. I often want to read further and find out more about a topic after reading a novel. This week is hosted by Regular Rumination.

Years ago, my book club read Moloka'i by Alan Brennert. At that time, I was working 80+ hours a week as a sales rep, selling to bookstores, so all of my reading was done on audiobook. There wasn't an audio of this book however, but I found the audiobook Colony by John Tayman which is a nonfiction book about the Hawaiian island Molokai which was used as a colony for quarantining lepers and I listened to that instead. It was a fascinating discussion for me as I was able to answer all their questions and occasionally pipe up with "Oh, that's a real guy!"

I think this is an interesting idea because it might be a way for people who don't read much nonfiction to find a way in, and I also think it shows how novels can be teaching tools even though they are fiction--if nothing else, by inspiring further research.

The Art of Forgery: The Minds, Motives and Methods of the Master Forgers by Noah Charney is a book I picked up after reading The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro. Interestingly, the nonfiction book seems to negate the ending of the novel, as in the end it seems a commonality among forgers is the desire to get caught--otherwise no one knows how good they are. But of course if there are ones who did not want to get caught and did not get caught, we wouldn't know, would we?

I already owned the biography Grant by Jean Edward Smith after reading the review on At Times Dull, and after I read the novel Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini, it has shot to the top of my TBR list. Although I'm also marginally tempted to read Grant's memoirs, which he spent his last two years very diligently writing while dying of cancer, in order to ensure his wife's financial security. But I think the more modern and highly recommended biography is the safer bet.

I read March by Geraldine Brooks earlier this year. It is mostly based on the life of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott's father. I have owned this LMA bio, Louisa May Alcott by Susan Cheever, for a while and recently I have been using its index as a guide while I create an index for an academic book about a novelist. The time I've spent with it and its help has made it shoot way up on my TBR list and I'll bet I read it this winter.

Columbine by Dave Cullen was a fascinating book to read after We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Helps put school shootings in perspective and perhaps give some insight into Kevin, although truly all school shooters are individuals and unique. And Kevin, as fictional, seems a little more evil than real (thankfully.) But both books are still terrifying.

Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen is a novel about Rose Wilder Lane and to a certain extent Laura Ingalls Wilder. It's an interesting counterpoint to Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer's Life by Pamela Smith Hill. While Nguyen imagines Rose's career as a war correspondent and writer, in Hill's biography, we see Lane as an editor and writer, working with her mother on the Little House manuscripts. The Nguyen book is sympathetic to Lane, and while the Hill book by no means demonizes her, it very firmly is set in the "Laura wrote her own books by herself" camp.

I could do a ton of these! But I just wanted to do a handful so as not to overwhelm. I do love nonfiction. It's going to be a great month.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Book review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Dr. Gawande is a brilliant writer. What is so brilliant about him is how he presents difficult, sometimes complicated material so well. You often don't even notice the writing at all, which is the sign of a brilliant writer.

Dr. Gawande also seems like an excellent doctor. He's certainly one I'd like on my side. He's always trying to learn and grow, and in that effort, he has noticed that he has difficulty discussing the very rough conversations with patients, particularly about mortality and the end of life. He often knows when he's reached the point where trying more techniques or experimental treatments is just throwing good money after bad, but he hesitates to tell his patients that they should give up. He wants to improve his communication and improve the quality of life for his patients who are at the end of their lives. Along the way he learns more about pain control and a great deal about palliative care and hospice. For example, much to his surprise, people who enter hospice often turn out to live quite a bit longer than predicted, and live longer than patients still actively treating and fighting who are at the same stage. And the key seems to be that they are happier, able to do things they enjoy and spend time with loved ones, and aren't in pain and having bad side effects.

Meanwhile, his own father, a doctor as well (urologist), starts to have some odd symptoms. His hand has a numbness and he starts dropping his tennis racket. Proving the stereotype, he doesn't get this checked out for a long time, and when he does, it's terrible news. Through the course of the book, Dr. Gawande's father goes through risky treatments and ups and downs. But Dr. Gawande remembers what he has learned about quality of life and about asking the right questions: What will make you happy? How do you want to live? What is your goal at the end of this? His family has the hard conversations about the end.

This is an important book. And it's important to have read this and thought about it before you really need to.I expect it's a book that I'll have to go back to, when the time comes to have those conversations with my own loved ones, but I'm so glad to have gotten a primer on the subject well before that time. And a well-written one at that.

I borrowed this book from my mother.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Book Beginnings: Three Story House

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo

"As the only child of an only child, Lizzie Linwood had never given much thought to cousins."

Naturally, as one with a lot of siblings and a lot of cousins, I found this intriguing. Of course the next sentence must be about how she meets some cousins who will be important to her (through a second marriage, otherwise she can't just have cousins pop up out of thin air.)

My editor's eye likes how this one sentence gives us a heck of a lot of information about Lizzie, about how she grew up, about her parents, and about who is about to become very important in her life. That's a lot of info for one short, seemingly simple sentence.

Book review: Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo

I lived in Nashville for my first twenty-five years but I've never been to Memphis. Almost drove through it once on my way to Jackson, MS but I ended up taking the bypass. All the time I lived there, we looked down on Memphis, who once lorded it over Nashville as the bigger and more famous town. Now that I live in a town that is the biggest in its state but not the capitol and therefore doesn't get its share of funding, I am more sympathetic to Memphis. Also, I have lived in a boom town and Nashville has become one as well in my absence, and I am drawn more to the older, shabbier cities, with more history and culture, rather than the shiny new cities (although I know, I live in Charlotte which is not the type of town I say I want to live in but it has a lot of offsetting benefits.)

In this novel, three cousins (well, two cousins and a step-cousin) move in together to renovate the quirky house built by the grandfather of one of the women, Lizzie. All three are going through rough times and they have always fallen back on each other for strength in times of trouble. Lizzie has a knee injury which might be the one that finally ruins her professional soccer career and denies her her dreams of Olympic gold. Elyse is in love with a childhood friend who has recently announced his engagement... to Elyse's younger, prettier sister. Isobel, once a child star on a sitcom (I'm picturing Tina Yothers from Family Ties), has been unsuccessful in restarting her acting career as an adult. The book is told in three parts or "stories," as each of the women faces and deals with her crisis. I am not a big fan of this type of shifting narration, but it did mostly work here (Lizzie and Elyse's voices were much stronger than Isobel's, and their emotions much more understandable.) It is interesting to see in this type of narration, how the author wraps up the storylines of the first two narrators within their sections, but then how she extends those and how she continues to keep the reader invested in them without the same level of knowledge we had before, through to the end. It's a shame she ended with the weakest of the three characters, as that didn't leave the very best impression, but the book still held up and was entertaining throughout.

The house in the book is based on real "spite houses" which I would love to see in person one day. They look hilarious in pictures and I can understand the motivation behind them (although the ones that are built to block another's view just seem to put the owners in even closer quarters with the hated neighbors so those are confusing. This is one where someone inherited an awkward piece of land and a sibling was trying to force them to sell it by making it an unusable shape and size.) One day I'd also like to get to Memphis. Meanwhile, it was excellent to read a book about my part of the country that doesn't make fun of the South nor trade on stereotypes and cliches. It acknowledges that despite its Elvis connections and such, Memphis is just another big city, not solely a kitchy tourist trap. In that regard, it's an excellent addition to Southern lit.

I don't remember where I got this book. It's possible the publisher sent it to me. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Nonfiction November

I wasn't sure if I'd be participating in Nonfiction November because I am kind of mostly reading fiction for the rest of the year, which bums me out. But I love nonfiction so I don't want to not participate. And then I counted and I have read more nonfiction than fiction, and I still will have 2 nonfiction books left, so maybe I can move them both to November. Because I love Nonfiction. Nonfiction is truth. Nonfiction is real. And nonfiction is fascinating. Truth is often stranger than fiction, so you don't have to look far for an interesting story. I've read 46 nonfiction books so far this year out of 91.

This week Nonfiction November is sponsored by Sophisticated Dorkiness.

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. I wanted to read this book in giant gulps and I wanted it to last forever. Cheryl gives excellent advice and even in a problem that isn't pertinent to you at this time, there are still nuggets of beauty and brilliance.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 
Easy, this year it would be Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer's Search for Wonder in the Natural World by Leigh Ann Henion. It really spoke to me and inspired me.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?
I can never read enough memoir. But I don't think that's what this question is asking because I've read a lot of memoir this year. I want to read more feminist books. And while I already am reading a lot of history, I want to read more books about Native Americans. And I should read more essay collections--I pretty much always like those.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
Well after participating in #15in31 and due to an overabundance of work, I am feeling a little readinged-out right now, which is terrible. I don't want that to turn into a reading slump, and since nonfiction is my love, so I want this to inspire me to read more, even though I'm currently reading a novel. Maybe I need to put it down and read another memoir to get my mojo back. I don't dislike it, but it's not grabbing me.

Book review: I Can't Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays by Elinor Lipman

I have long loved Elinor Lipman's novels (although I haven't read as many of them as I'd like.) I wasn't sure what to expect from her nonfiction, but I love it almost more. I wish I could read a dozen more books just like this! I wish this book were four times the length!

She talks about her growing up, about her marriage, and about her writing. They were delightful, sometimes quite funny, and always sharp. As a collection of essays, these can be doled out one by one over time, but I dare you to be able to hold out when the essays are so terrific. A lot of them (if not all) are reprints of columns that appeared in various newspapers or magazines, and a few have become marginally dated but if you just keep in mind that they're not all fresh, I don't think that's much of an issue. They don't get quite as personal as the title promises, but I do truly feel like I know one of my favorite authors better after reading this collection.

I bought this book at Octavia Books, an independent bookstore in New Orleans, Louisiana.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Along the Infinite Sea

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Each of the three Schuyler sisters has her own world-class problems, but in the autumn of 1966, Pepper Schuyler's problems are in a class of their own. When Pepper fixes up a beautiful and rare vintage Mercedes and sells it at auction, she thinks she's finally found a way to take care of herself and the baby she carries, the result of an affair with a married, legendary politician.

But the car's new owner turns out to have secrets of her own, and as the glamorous and mysterious Annabelle Dommerich takes pregnant Pepper under her wing, the startling provenance of this car comes to light: a Nazi husband, a Jewish lover, a flight from Europe, and a love so profound it transcends decades. As the many threads of Annabelle's life from World War II stretch out to entangle Pepper in 1960s America, and the father of her unborn baby tracks her down to a remote town in coastal Georgia, the two women must come together to face down the shadows of their complicated pasts.

Indomitable heroines, a dazzling world of secrets, champagne at the Paris Ritz, and a sweeping love story for the ages, in New York Times bestselling author Beatriz William's final book about the Schuyler sisters.

Publishing November 3, 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons

Monday, November 2, 2015

Book review: On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

Eula had a baby boy and a whole world of debate and opinions on immunization opened up to her. She grew up the daughter of a physician who was pretty hands off (I like his theory that most things will get better if you do nothing. Most of the stuff that won't get better, will kill you no matter what you do.) She is skeptical of the anti-vaccinators and give excellent reasons why they are wrong, without being disrespectful or harsh. The main arguments are: there is no real proof that anything in any vaccine is dangerous, even when bunched together (and in fact there's plenty of proof there's nothing at all dangerous, it's just hard to prove a negative.) And the consequences of not vaccinating, if illness does arise, is horrific.

The book is short, well-written, accessible although also chock full of science. I liked how much she related it to her own life, but the topic has far-ranging implications.

I bought this book at Quail Ridge Books, an independent bookstore in Raleigh, NC.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

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

When I first heard about this book, I was utterly shocked, even as a native Southerner who has done a little bit of reading on the Civil Rights movement. How could this be true? How could this have been legal? How did this go on for so long? After Brown V. Board of Education, as the rest of the South either prepared to integrate or to fight directly, Prince Edward County in rural Virginia instead decided to close all their schools. Just close them. Seriously. Then the white families opened a private school just for whites. They took some equipment from the closed public schools. But mostly the funded the new schools themselves, but with some "grants" from the state and region. Yep, they used public funds for these private white-only schools. Minds blown yet?

The author, Kristen Green, grew up on Prince Edward County. And she went to that white-only school. In the 1980s. Yes, the public schools had reopened by then, but the private school, which most of the white attended, was still white-only. She hadn't thought much about it as a child, but when she grew up and went away to college, she was fascinated by fellow students of other backgrounds. Eventually her best friends were a mix of many colors, and she married a mixed-race man, and now has two mixed-race children. And while working as a journalist in Boston, she thought about how her grandparents probably wouldn't have liked her own children very much. Which was a sad realization. And it made her think more about her hometown. And how she was raised. And how her family would be received there.

She began looking into the history of the school system and was horrified to discover that her grandfather had been instrumental in starting the whites-only school. She'd thought her family had just gone along with it--not actually helped to create the situation. After all they had a beloved African-American cleaning lady whose own daughter had had to move away to go to school during that era. How could they have seen the impact on their own employee's family and not cared?

From there, she started doing a vast amount of research and interviews, eventually even moving back to the town, living only a block away from her parents' house, and volunteering at the local civil rights museum. This book is an interesting mix of memoir and history. It isn't often than a journalist has such an inside track like this on her subject. And Ms. Green melds the two genres beautifully. I wasn't sure they'd hold together so well but it's just great. She's obviously done a vast amount of background and research, and while some on the town were reluctant to speak with her, as a local, she surely got more people to speak with her then an outsider would have. It's amazing that more than 50 years after this, people still are proud of the decision, ashamed of their town's history, and sometimes even did refuse to talk to Ms. Green. This region still has to come to terms with what they did. This book is an excellent start.

I checked this book out of the library.

My October in Review

My month in review The It’s Monday What Are You Reading meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. I’ve started compiling my lists monthly instead of weekly. This month I decided to do the #15in31 Challenge. How did I do? I succeeded! Yes, I did read a handful of short books. I did two audios and one YA. It was a little bit of a struggle but it was also fun! Now, I am so far ahead of my goal of 100 books to read this year that I think I'll do a couple of rereads.

Books completed this month: 
How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz
What Is Visible by Kimberly Elkins
Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox (audio, abridged)
I Can't Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays by Elinor Lipman
Siegfried's Murder by Anonymous, A.T. Hatto (Translator)
The Natural History of a Yard by Leonard Dubkin
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (audio)
Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle by Kristen Green
Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice
The Bees by Laline Paull
On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
I finished my latest book last night so I am technically between books.
I had a depressing realization. According to Goodreads, I only have 9 books left this year. Yes, sure, I can go over my 100 book goal, but if I do read just 9, 6 of those that will be for my last Reading Challenge, 2 for book clubs, and that leaves 1 book that I'll get to pick on my own this year. And I did kind of promise a publisher a review (I really try not to do that) so that means I will not be able to choose any more books this year. They are all preselected. For two months, I don't get to pick my own books. I am pretty bummed by this. Boy, I hope these 9 books are pretty good. (One of the categories for the challenge is a book I started but never finished. I am seriously considering tackling And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer again. I left off on page 408 in April 2014. It is 1433 pages. If I do manage this, it will mean that even reading 9 more books this year will be a stretch.)

What I acquired this month:
Once again, I acquired way more books than I normally do. This is partly just the nature of fall with lots of book events. I should get back to normal (or better yet, acquiring zero books!) next month. Meanwhile, here's what happened in October:

I went to the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. While there, I stopped into Bookman/Bookwoman, a used bookstore, and I bought two books:
Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall
A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins (for my bookclub)

And I went to the amazing Parnassus Books and I tried to only buy two books, but the person I was meeting ran late, so I ended up buying four:
The Work: My Search for a Life That Matters by Wes Moore
The Tilted World: A Novel by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly (wow is the paperback cover different from the hardcover!)
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

At Southern Festival itself, I bought two more books from the Parnassus booth:
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora

And at the Coffee With Authors event, hosted by the Women's National Book Association-Nashville, in celebration of National Reading Group Month, I got a gift bag with these three books:
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
Find a Way by Diana Nyad
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

When I got home, the Charlotte chapter of the WNBA was hosting their NRGM event, Bibliofeast. At that event we had 8 authors who circulated around to all the tables while we enjoyed a lovely Italian meal at Maggiano's. Each table ended up with 5 of the authors. These are the books I came home with, plus the picture shows a few that my husband bought:
Fresh Water from Old Wells by Cindy Henry McMahon
Off the Books: On Literature and Culture by J Peder Zane
Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont
The Lower Quarter: A Novel by Elise Blackwell
The Last September by Nina de Gramont
Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart by Carol Wall (Ms. Wall died earlier this year so her husband is touring in her honor)