I loved this book! Yes, it's my bread-and-butter: a memoir with lots of odd, fun facts. But it was just terrific. I'm still spouting off some of the fI loved this book! Yes, it's my bread-and-butter: a memoir with lots of odd, fun facts. But it was just terrific. I'm still spouting off some of the fun facts two weeks later, and I read a 4-page section out loud to my husband. It was so compelling.
Hope always wanted to be a scientist. Her father was a science instructor at a community college and she loved his lab when she was a little girl. She grew up and went to college and got her doctorate and became a tenure-track professor. In college she met a younger science student, Bill, who she hired as a lab assistant and who stuck with her throughout her career. She eventually focuses on paleobiology, mostly on dirt and trees. You might think that sounds boring but trust me—it's fascinating. At one point she and Bill are in Northern Canada looking into a prehistoric deciduous forest. Obviously at the time this existed, the poles were much warmer than they currently are, but she's baffled and impressed with how the trees dealt with the 3 months of constant sun and 3 months of constant dark. Do the trees have a special ability they've been hiding for several thousand years? Or were they impressively adaptive?
Hope has a real way with explaining science accessibly and even in a fun way. I noted quite a few quotes, which I hadn't expected in this type of book. She struggles with personal relationship aside from with Bill, which she partly attributes to her upbringing with Scandinavian parents who talk little and never about feelings, and partly we find out later, due to her bi-polar. Although eventually she does marry and even has a child (which is tricky with her diagnosis as she has to go off her meds.)
I wish this book were twice as long. I very much hope that Dr. Jahren is writing a second (and third) book. This one was terrific. If you like science at all, and if you like memoirs, you must check out this book....more
This book was amazing, just like everyone said. I read parts aloud to my husband (and bit my tongue at many more I wanted to.) However, it hasn't realThis book was amazing, just like everyone said. I read parts aloud to my husband (and bit my tongue at many more I wanted to.) However, it hasn't really stuck with me. I think the reason is that for me, stories resonate more than philosophy or political viewpoints or construction plans. Those are great and necessary, in fact long overdue. However, they don't stick in my Swiss-cheese brain.
This book's conceit is a letter written by Ta-Nehisi Coates to his son, about how to function as a black man, about why American society operates in the crazy unfair way it does, and why and how it needs to change. He does brush on both his personal history and the history of blacks and whites in America, but while it is very accessible and brief (which is just what today's attention span needs), I think personally I was looking for something more substantial. Now, I can get what I'm looking for in books like The Warmth of Other Suns and A Hellhound on His Trail, but this book, while important and passionate, just wasn't the meaty tome I wanted. I did love it, but it was ephemeral personally. I suspect I am looking for something more along the lines of Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (and I am moving that up on my TBR list.)
All that said, this book is amazing and powerful and everyone should read it, particularly those who aren't big readers. It's a fast, easy read that will have you thinking hard about race in America and how we can get ourselves out of this mess we've dug ourselves into....more
When Dr. Paul Kalanithi was still a college student, he was somewhat torn. He did want to be a doctor, but he also loved literature. He got a Master'sWhen Dr. Paul Kalanithi was still a college student, he was somewhat torn. He did want to be a doctor, but he also loved literature. He got a Master's in English before he did go. But when he went, he decided to specialize in neurology, the most difficult specialty with the most heartbreaking results. But he always wanted to write, like his idol, Abraham Verghese. He just always figured he'd have more time.
When he was nearly done with his residency, he started to suddenly feel debilitatingly tired. And had some other symptoms. As a doctor, he and his wife (also a med student) knew from the symptoms that they pointed to cancer. And it turned out to be stage 4 lung cancer (no, they never mention that he smoked. Although he never specifically says he doesn't either.) Within a week, he is unable to do surgery. He and his wife, Lucy, who were struggling with their marriage just a week before, are determined to fight, but they also know the odds.
This book is beautiful, stunningly written, with amazing attention to the detail of emotion and the beauty within tragedy. That said, it's also short, it skips over some things (such as the aforementioned question of smoking), and it skips over how their marriage was just fixed overnight after the diagnosis. That said, it was a great and sad story. It didn't affect me as much as some (maybe because I read so many memoirs, I'm more immune.) But it was a great, and greatly sad story....more
I'm very glad I got to hear this author at an event as her distinctive voice rang in my ears throughout my reading of her book. She has a deep, snarliI'm very glad I got to hear this author at an event as her distinctive voice rang in my ears throughout my reading of her book. She has a deep, snarling, yet upbeat rasp. She spoke of how she was inspired to write after reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and finding out there weren't really any other books about a working class girl growing up in a borough, and that the one there was was so old and fiction. And thank goodness she was inspired! This is a great book.
Admittedly, I am also biased because I lived in Queens for almost five years. Now I lived in a completely different part, but it was still fairly working class (at that time. Astoria has gotten very trendy in recent years.) But I appreciate so much her wanting to freeze in time a much overlooked borough.
Tara was a world-class tomboy, not just good at spots but at running away and punching, but always good-natured. Her parents divorced when she was little and she lived during the week in a small apartment with her mother, surrounded by extended family, every other weekend at her father's, which was basically a shack, way out almost near JFK airport, and other weekends with her mother at her mother's boyfriend's house on Long Island, which was a very fancy estate and she'd be picked up in a limo. Luckily, that didn't faze her, she didn't have pretensions on those weekends and feel like she was slumming it with her father, nor did she resent either parent's situation. She just accepted it and moved on. Eventually her father, a cop, remarried. And her mother's boyfriend lost most of his money. But Tara, in this rough and tumble life, learned to love reading and writing, despite turning into a quintessential bad girl and getting kicked out of school.
Her voice, as I said, was distinctive and I hope that comes through as well for people who are only reading her on the page. She is a bundle of energy and her spitfire passion for her family and her home shines through on every page....more
This woman, Jennifer, was already an avid home cook (from scratch) with a garden, when she started wondering about exactly what we make from scratch,This woman, Jennifer, was already an avid home cook (from scratch) with a garden, when she started wondering about exactly what we make from scratch, what we don't, and why. She was inspired by premade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Just as she started with this pondering, she lost her job. It seemed like a good time to see if her family could save some money (and eat better) by making much, much more from scratch. This involved eventually her buying chickens and a goat.
The recipes look great. They're generally do-able, and the ones that aren't, she says up front. She doesn't only look at the cost (and when she does, she figures out what it REALLY costs including if you have to buy special equipment or a really expensive ingredient that you will never use up over a lifetime) but she also looks at the pain in the ass factor. Some things might be cheaper to make but take forever or are really, really hard and easy to screw up.
Personally, I had wanted this book to be able half memoir and half cookbook. To my chagrin, it was more like 15% memoir. I did end up reading the entire thing (okay, I skimmed the recipes but I did skim them, not skip them!) But my husband was thrilled as he loved the recipes and didn't care much about the memoir parts (although he was sad when she had to get rid of her second goat who cried nonstop when they got her.) So it was a great choice for us, and I look forward to eating some of the food here!...more
As I've mentioned, things have been rough the last few months. Moving across the country, settling in to a new town, starting a new job, these thingsAs I've mentioned, things have been rough the last few months. Moving across the country, settling in to a new town, starting a new job, these things are all highly stressful. As usual, books have been a solace for me. But it has highly affected what books I gravitate towards right now. I think one thing I'm currently finding comforting is similar to schadenfreude: I appreciate seeing other people who are going through bad things (often worse things) and eventually coming out on the other side. It's not really schadenfreude because I am not reveling in their misfortune--instead I am empathizing.
Neil is depressed. He worked at one job for his entire adult life which he mostly disliked as it got further and further away from his natural strengths and instead became more and more the parts he didn't like, mostly dealing with people. Luckily, it was a tech start-up which went big and he was able to quit his job at 39 with a substantial savings and just be able to basically do nothing for a year or so (he does some consulting work but who knows how little of that he might do. It must be fairly little given what he's about to set out on.) He's in a new relationship, but he hates relationships because from day one, he's always worried about how and when they're going to end and how much he will hurt. His one consolation through all this is birding. He's been a serious birder since he was a teenager, first in England, his home country, and then in Boston, where he's lived his entire adult life. As he struggles with restlessness, lack of direction, and ennui, he keeps denying that he'd even consider doing A Big Year. That's when a birder decides to try to see all the birds he/she can in a designated area in a single year. You can do a Big Year in your county or state, but most people do their country. Most people (including me) know about this from the book and the movie of the same name: The Big Year. But in the spring, round about March, Neil finally gives in and admits what he'd been noodling all along: he would like to do a Big Year and this is the perfect time to do it. But yikes, he's already behind!
Except he's not really. He'd been birding heavily, being unemployed with plenty of money and all. The only thing he's behind on are trips around the country to catch various bizarre out-of-place birds. That's the only way to get a good number for your Big Year. North America has (I hope I'm remembering this right) around 400 native birds, but the records for Big Year are int he very low 700s. So that's an extra 300 birds he needs to see in North America that don't normally come year. So it's birds who have blown off course from a storm, who have gotten tired and pooped out before making it home, or whose internal compass is backwards. When he hears about a weird bird in New Mexico or Alaska, if he wants to have any chance at the record, he's got to hop on a plane and get there.
Midway through the year, he also begins taking an antidepressant. When his depression starts to lift, he's actually annoyed, and hopes it isn't the pills, because if so, it's something super simple that takes a second or two and he could he resolves it easily ages ago and he's an idiot. He's resolved it's the birding. Although he doesn't stop taking the antidepressants.
Anyway, he's resolved that due to starting so late, he's just going for a personal best, as he has no shot at the record. Or does he?
Yes, you hear a lot about birds in this book. He does make it fascinating (and I could have finished the book faster if I didn't keep looking up to see what birds were on the tree across the yard.) but if that idea gives you the shakes, this book isn't for you. However, if you like nature, but in a contained way, this book is right up your alley. I wish birding appealed to me more as it seems like a lovely hobby, and pretty cheap so long as you don't do a Big Year (or if you do, stick to your county.) But I'd never be able to tell the difference between the subspecies. I can tell a robin from a cardinal, but that's about it.
Anyway, he's moderately amusing, honestly talks about his foibles, and I found the book a pleasant distraction with an ounce of hope for better times to come. It may not have inspired me to buy binoculars, but weeks later, I am still looking at birds much more closely and with more interest. Who knows, maybe I will pick it up one day....more
I love memoirs! They take me to places and into situations where I would never be, they're honest, and they encourage empathy. I haven't read much inI love memoirs! They take me to places and into situations where I would never be, they're honest, and they encourage empathy. I haven't read much in the way of fish out of water/international memoirs but I thought this one looked good (what a great title!) and it is a book published by my new company and I will be with the author at NEIBA this fall, so I figured I'd better give it a shot! And it was quite enjoyable.
Okey has a wonderful sense of humor. I doubt I'd have been able to take half the things that happened to him in such stride and with such goodwill as he does. But I'm sure his positive outlook is a big part of what has taken him so far in life. For me, I particularly liked the first half of the book, when he is growing up in Nigeria, and his first few weeks in America. He comes here in order to start up a magazine for Africans and Nigerians specifically, founded by his friend Chinua Achebe. The funding is iffy from the very beginning and once again, his humor and positivity prove a boon as he negotiates with vendors and pleads with writers with long-outstanding invoices. Eventually it does fold, but by then he's gotten a toe-hold in Boston and a friend greases the path for him to enter into a prestigious MFA program right away.
I wasn't as crazy about the rest of the book which was more episodic and not as linear as the first two-thirds. I wish he'd told us how he met his wife and kept along with the "making of a Nigerian-American" theme of him coping with homesickness and culture clashes. He does tell funny stories about misunderstandings (several related to how his first name sounds exactly like "Okay" and therefore mix-ups occur, such as when his ride at a conference asks a stranger, "Are you Okey?" and he hears "Are you okay?" and says yes, when he is not Okey Ndibe.) These were endearing and charming, but lost the narrative thread. That said, he gives a great idea of what it's like to move from Nigeria and land in New York City in January without a coat (his family back home found the concept of "cold" as a weather description so foreign, the only way he could explain it was that it felt like living inside a refrigerator.) And I adored him talking about his first night at a mutual friend's apartment, where he used every single soap and shampoo that he found in the guest bathroom, repeatedly. It felt so gloriously decadent! This was an amusing tale that could have been fraught with terror and horror stories (he was rounded up by police from a bus station his very first week in America because he "fit the description" of a bank robber) but instead, Okey accepts his adopted country with its faults and strengths, and cheerfully gathers up more funny stories for his next cocktail party, and presumably for his next book as well....more
You know I love memoirs. They are my absolutely favorite thing to read. And while the publisher I now work at doesn't publish many, they do publish aYou know I love memoirs. They are my absolutely favorite thing to read. And while the publisher I now work at doesn't publish many, they do publish a few, so I jumped on them! Poor Your Soul reminded me a lot of What I Thought I Knew: A Memoir by Alice Eve Cohen, which I loved.
Mira was in grad school and in a new relationship when she discovered she was pregnant. Luckily, despite the timing, both she and Andrew decided they were happy about the turn of events and would make the best of things. They got engaged and moved in together and started to make plans for how Mira would finish school and if they would move into a bigger place (or at least an apartment without a roommate and a weird landlord.) And then they were for the ultrasound to find out the sex of the baby. And the technician wouldn't tell them anything but instead ran for the doctor. Turns out the baby has massive congenital defects that means she will not live. And now Mira and Andrew have to decide what to do and quickly: have an abortion, bring the pregnancy to term and induce, or just let it happen naturally.
Meanwhile, this brings up a lot of feelings for Mira as she's pondering the loss of her unborn child. When she was a teenager, her brother died. And now Mira feels a new connection to her mother, who lost a child. As Mira thinks back to her own childhood, she realizes how much her mother, an immigrant from Poland, struggled and worked for Mira and her brother to have a good life in America. These stories unravel in more or less parallel, even though the manner of each loss is so different. The stories weave together seamlessly. And it's fascinating to see the young adult Mira, an overachiever and rule-follower, was actually the rebellious teenager who did drugs and ran away and lived with her boyfriend. But the loss of her brother changed her life radically, in ways that would have been hard to predict. and that loss means she fully understands the loss she is now facing.
Sad but hopeful, this book joins a large set of books about tragedy and grief in families, and is a worthy companion to them....more
I picked this book up on a Saturday when I was supposed to be doing work. I needed a quick break, and as this was a series of essays, I figured I coulI picked this book up on a Saturday when I was supposed to be doing work. I needed a quick break, and as this was a series of essays, I figured I could put it down easily without a narrative arc pulling me along. An hour later, I forced myself to put it down and do more work. An hour later, I picked it back up and read the whole thing. That's right, I read it in one day, almost one sitting. Been a long time since I've done that!
Lindy West has been a journalist for a long time, working in pop culture, mostly reviews of comedy and movies for places like The Stranger (Dan Savage's paper). And she gets trolls. But man, some people are so cruel! Sure, they call her names, but when even Dan, her boss and her friend, starts fat shaming women, she has to stand up for those women. And that brings on more trolls. She calls out male comedians for rape jokes, which brings on even more trolls. She goes on a TV show to advocate for stopping rape jokes, and while it goes well, so many more trolls. Until one day when a troll pops up who is claiming to be her dearly beloved and recently deceased father. Ouch. The horror. (And that's when I also realized I'd heard this part on This American Life.) Why, people? Why? Why can't you just keep your nasty thought to yourself? Why can't you just say nothing if you disagree? Or be respectful? At least try to form a coherent thought instead of calling names? It's like everyone in the internet is a 6-year-old bully. Even as I'm writing this, I'm wondering if this is going to be the open door for the trolls to start hitting me?
I super crazy admire Lindy for standing up for women, for fat people, for not having to listen to rape jokes, and calling people on their bullshit. She has convinced a few (Dan, and Patton Oswalt who I already liked so I was much relieved when he finally got on the no rape jokes bandwagon.) Seriously, why do comedians want to fight for their right to do rape jokes? Of course you have that right. Just as you have the right to do other offensive jokes. It doesn't mean they're not offensive. I don't give up the right to be offended.
Anyway, Lindy says it all so much more eloquently than I ever can hope to, with a dash of humor, and with a great deal of sass and gumption. I don't find her shrill in the slightest. Everyone should read this book. Starting with the women....more