Wednesday, December 06, 2023

November, 2023, Nonfictioning All Over the Place

 An even dozen for November, and it was all decidedly and blissfully nonfiction.

 I am seriously thinking to challenging myself to a whole year of nonfiction and nothing but. Could I? Should I?

1. Napoleon vs. The Bunnies - J.F. Fox and Anna Kwan. Nonfiction, Picture book. Napoleon Bonaparte suddenly had an urge to go rabbit hunting one day and he sent one of his men out to get rabbits. The guy got some, but they were domestic rabbits and instead of running, they surrounded Napoleon, unafraid, waiting to be fed. Napoleon got freaked out and fled the hunting ground. Spoiler: This incident isn't in the movie that just came out. Imagine my disappointment.

2. Jerry Changed the Game! - Don Tate and Cherise Harris. Nonfiction, Picture book.

3. Who is Simone Biles? -Stefanie Loh. Nonfiction. I admire Simone Biles for her astounding gymnastic ability, but even more, I admire her for understanding how important it is to safeguard her mental health in times of stress.

4. Who is Nathan Chen? -Joseph Liu. Nonfiction.

5. The Wager - David Grann. Nonfiction. In this true story of mutiny and reckoning, David Grann writes vividly, even cinematically. The elegant way he ties things together for readers' understanding makes him seem like that electric lecturer in college that made the subject matter come alive. It's going to be a movie! I can hardly wait.

6. Good Books for Bad Children: The Genius of Ursula Nordstrom - Nonfiction, Picture book. Nordstrom was the Maxwell Perkins of Children's Literature. She also wrote a book called The Secret Language that I adored when my age was in single digits. This wonderful picture book was like a hug and has whetted my appetite to read Dear Genius, which is a collection of Nordstrom's letters to her authors.

7.What is the Story of The Headless Horseman? -Sheilah Keenan. Nonfiction. My favorite part of this book is when Sheilah Keenan goes through and rigorously analyzes just how quintessentially American this perennial Halloween classic by Washington Irving really is.

8. Five Days at Memorial - Sheri Fink. Nonfiction. The five days at Memorial occurred during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In the chaos and fear, unfortunate decisions were made concerning the most vulnerable of patients. Sheri Fink takes readers through those miserable days in the first part of the book. The second part involves the reckoning and consequences, and the lengthy epilogue details similar disaster scenarios, and how triage decisions were made. It's an extremely fair and balanced example of reporting, but upsetting and triggering.

9. Who is Harry Styles? - Kirsten Anderson. Nonfiction. I'm annoyed that Kirsten Anderson didn't mention Harry's appearance on Saturday Night Live, and the skit he did with Aidy Bryant, in which she imagines what her beloved dog (named Doug) would say to her if he could speak, and in her fantasy, the dog is Harry Styles, and he's adorable. I've watched this skit a bajillion times, and I'm going to go watch it again after I finish this blog post.

10. What Do We Know About The Winchester House? - Emma Carlson Berne. Nonfiction. Well, it turns out that I knew almost nothing. I enjoyed learning about this unconventional example of architecture, and would like to see it in person one day. Author Berne expertly addresses and responds to the rumors surrounding the mysterious and reclusive Sarah Winchester.

11. Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy - Jacqueline Kennedy. Nonfiction. Interviewer and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger and a recently widowed Jacqueline Kennedy sat down for three months and seven conversations in 1964 to discuss JFK's legacy. I started out with the audiobook, but had to go check out the accompanying volume because Mrs. Kennedy had a tendency to murmur and even whisper at times in her East Coast accent. The book version was helpful in decoding some things she said, and it's chock full of meticulously written footnotes. The audiobook feels quite immediate, with planes flying overhead (Washington, DC) and the sounds of drinks being poured and cigarettes being lit and occasionally children barging into the conversations. Jacqueline's commentary was interesting and occasionally fascinating and maybe eyebrow-raising at times, but Schlesinger was a ponderous and boring interviewer.

12. Who Was Betty White? - Dana Meacham Rau. Nonfiction. My hackles rose as soon as I saw this book. It's one of the short ones, only 50 pages long. Give me a break! Betty White lived to be nearly a century old. (She missed triple digits by a mere 3 weeks.) She was one of the pioneers of early television. She served in WWII. She starred in 3 successful sitcoms. She deserves the regular 100 pages!

And so, on to December. I'm still working on Hollywood: The Oral History by Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson.

On the wishlist: My Name is Barbra by Barbra Streisand.

I'm about to embark on my annual geeky fun job of looking back at everything I read this year and breaking it all down.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Nonfiction November, Making a Stack to Remember


Five Days at Memorial
- Sheri Fink. I've already started this chronicle of events at a hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. It's compelling and upsetting.

The Farm - Richard Rhodes

The Wager - David Grann. And if I can work in a reread of Grann's previous book, Killers of the Flower Moon, so much the better.

Child Star - Shirley Temple Black. After months and months, I'm finally going to finish this autobiography.

I Must Be Dreaming - Roz Chast. I'm hoping that this book will arrive during November.

Hollywood: The Oral History - Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson. This was a last-minute addition to the stack. I couldn't resist. Jeanine Basinger. Movie history. I swooned!


Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy - Karen Abbott.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023


Now, why in the world did I Booo! in my title? I didn't read anything remotely ghosty or scary during the month of October. 

1. Scrappy Little Nobody - Anna Kendrick. Memoir. Audiobook.

2. The Man Who Loved Books - Jean Fritz and Trina Schart Hyman. Juvenile Nonfiction.

3. The Lager Queen of Minnesota - J. Ryan Stradahl. Novel. Reread. Book group book.

4. Happiness Falls - Angie Kim. Novel.

5. Sharp - Michelle Dean. Nonfiction. Audiobook.


I was only familiar with Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect and that song, Cups. Now I want to immerse myself in her filmography, particularly Into the Woods and Up In the Air.

The Man Who Loved Books was a treasure of a read. St. Columba of Ireland loves books, and since this takes place long before the printing press, he copies by hand any new book he comes across. This gets him into some trouble, and he banishes himself from Ireland. His legend is presented like an illuminated text (Trina Schart Hyman, the illustrator is styled the "illuminator"). Her illustrations are beautifully detailed and often humorous, and the legend is relayed to readers by Jean Fritz with a good dash of Irish swagger. Although this book can be found in the children's department, people of all ages should check it out. The Man Who Loved Books turned out to be my favorite read for October.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota was just as enjoyable this time around as it was the first. J. Ryan Stradahl, please hurry up and write another novel. Or a memoir. Or anything. Ever since Kitchens of the Midwest, I've been a big fan of yours. When I saw you interviewed on KCTV5 a few years ago, I alternated between beaming at the television and squeeeing like a fangirl.

Happiness Falls is a suspense novel set during the 2020 pandemic. The father of a family goes missing, and the only witness is his 14-year-old autistic son, Eugene, who shows up alone at the family home, agitated and with blood on his clothing. The novel is narrated by Eugene's older sister, Mia, who tries to figure it all out while staying one step ahead of a police detective named Janus, who seems determined to pin a crime on Eugene. Like Mia, the novel is fiercely intelligent and often seems all over the place, posing challenging philosophical questions as well as examining every possible scenario about the father's disappearance. Filtered through Mia, Happiness Falls often feels as if it's struggling for air. It can be a frustrating reading experience, but I can't stop thinking about it and I would like to read Angie Kim's first novel, Miracle Creek.

Sharp features portraits of ten women -- Dorothy Parker, Hannah Arendt, Rebecca West, Mary McCarthy, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Pauline Kael, Janet Malcolm and Renata Adler with an intriguing cameo of Zora Neale Hurston -- who made their reputations as writers and critics. Sometimes their lives intersected. Occasionally, they were friends, or didn't like one another. Since I really enjoy 20th century literary gossip, this was my cup of tea. Except for the chapter about Renata Adler, which I disliked. It seemed as if Michelle Dean also disliked Adler, and she was passing the punishment on to the readers. Adler's chapter was mercifully short, thank God. Ouch. Come to think of it, maybe *that* was my scary October moment.

Goodbye October and hello to Nonfiction November! I'm building a stack that is engrossing but probably overly ambitious.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Ninth Month, Nine Books

 Nine books in the ninth month. I love it that it happened that way. Did I plan it? No, absolutely not. Nein.

1. Freaky Friday - Mary Rodgers. Novel.

2. What is the Story of Anne of Green Gables? - Ellen Labrecque. Nonfiction.

3. Playing for Pizza - John Grisham. Novel. Audiobook.

4. The Call of the Wild - Jack London. Novel. Book group book.

5. What was World War I? - Nico Medina. Nonfiction.

6. Yellowface - R.F. Kuang. Novel.

7. Lessons - Ian McEwan. Novel.

8. Who was Frank Sinatra? - Ellen Labrecque. Nonfiction.

9. Who was Jim Thorpe? - James Buckley, Jr.


Freaky Friday hasn't aged very well, but the mother-daughter switch is fun, and you can't beat Mary Rodgers for madcap situations and rapid-fire dialogue.

Playing for Pizza is about a disgraced football player who goes to Italy and plays there and sorts himself out and gets a serious girlfriend all while traveling around the country and eating delicious food. It feels so much like a Hallmark movie, but it was kind of soothing to listen to.

The first line of The Call of the Wild always cracks me up: "Buck didn't read the newspapers..." Didn't? More like "couldn't", but London is setting it up right from the beginning how intelligent this dog is. Whenever I read this book, I fall in love with Jack London's work all over again.

What was World War I is an excellent survey of The Great War. Nico Medina, who is rapidly becoming my favorite Who Was...? writer, packs a lot of information into 108 pages.

Yellowface is dark, sardonic, funny, and takes a fierce look at authors and social media and who has the "right" to tell certain stories, based on the author's identity. Also, authors being cancelled when personal details are revealed. Juniper Song is a slightly unreliable narrator, but her takes on all of the above are brilliant and scathing, and in a shadowy world that is determined to cancel her, she is just as determined to have the last word.

Here's what I'm working on right now:

Sharp: Women Who Made an Art Out of Having an Opinion - Michelle Dean. Nonfiction. So far I've listened to chapters about Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West and Zora Neale Hurston. Hannah Arendt is up next, as are Mary McCarthy, Pauline Kael and Nora Ephron, among others.

Child Star - Shirley Temple. Nonfiction. I'm determined to finish this book before the end of 2023.

Happiness Falls - Angie Kim. Novel. I'm enjoying this literary mystery about a father and husband who goes missing during the pandemic, and I'm drawn in by the narrator, Mia, his daughter, and also the Korea connection, but it's also driving me batshit crazy, but I mean it in the most positive, bookwormish sort of way.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota - J. Ryan Stradal. Novel. This is a reread, for book group.

And so, on to October. I'm hoping to participate in Dewey's readathon the weekend of October 21. I've got the stack of books, but carving out a huge hunk of solitude in which to read will require some crafty planning.

Friday, September 01, 2023

August 2023 Ear and Eye Reading

 I'm so glad that my blog is my blog and not my job or a class. Still having trouble writing, and I can't think why. I'm not sick. It's just that when I sit down to write, my vocabulary stands up and marches out in unison. Then all my thoughts and opinions are up there going, "What the hell?! Are we just supposed to stand on this platform forever???" Kinda looks that way, guys.

I finished 3 books in August:

1. Gain - Richard Powers. Novel, Audiobook. After more than 25 fears (I mean years, of course) I'm no longer too intimidated by Richard Powers to read one of his novels. I'm impressed and astounded, but not intimidated. Now I see how his novels work: Two storylines: One is about a person, or a few people, such as a family, and the other is about a huge topic. HUGE. The history of something like science or business or history itself. In the case of Gain, the person story is about Laura, who is battling advanced ovarian cancer, and the other story is about Clare, a modest soap making company started in the early 1800s that morphs into a giant conglomerate by the end of the 20th century. The two storylines eventually converge. When it comes to historical fiction, Powers did not come to play. He unpacks all his research and hangs it up so the reader can admire it. It's sort of like being run over by a truck, but strangely, I want more.

2. All You Can Ever Know - Nicole Chung. Memoir. Audiobook. In 1981, 2-month-old premature baby Nicole was adopted from a Seattle hospital after being abandoned there by her Korean immigrant parents. Like so many adoptees, she wanted to learn about her birth family, so she made contact after she was grown. The memoir is intelligent and forthright, but seemed to drag a bit because whenever Nicole is in dialogue with another person, she'll say something, then go up in her head and worry about how she came across to the person and rifle through all the possibilities of what they might be thinking and how they're going to react. In other words, what introverts or empaths go through on a daily basis, but it's torturous to read -- or listen to.

3. Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers - Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green. Memoir. Boy, does she deliver on that title! In a series of conversations with theatre critic Jesse Green over a period of years until her death in 2014, Mary Rodgers let everything about her life hang out. No subject was off-limits. She was irrepressable, and really, who would want to? Her famous parents, Richard Rodgers (as in Hart, as in Hammerstein) and Dorothy (author, inventor) both wrote memoirs that must have come across as dull and starchy, and Mary, who rebelled against becoming like them her entire life, is anything but. As mentioned before, Mary Rodgers died in the midst of doing this book, so Jesse Green who is a brilliant collaborator, finished it with the best footnotes ever. If you're a theatre nerd, Shy will make you swoon. If you enjoyed Freaky Friday, you'll recognize Rodgers' boisterous, buoyant voice. I'd love to have my own copy of this book, but I might hold out for the audiobook read (perfectly, I'm sure) by Christine Baranski. Excuse me while I swoon.

Here's what I'm working on:

Child Star - Shirley Temple. Not a memoir. It's a autobiography.

Playing for Pizza - John Grisham. would be like a Hallmark movie, except they don't really make them for men. 

I need to schedule a "July Try Try Again" post.

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Bye Bye July

 Only four books for July:

1. The Guncle - Steven Rowley.

2. Happening - Annie Ernaux.

3. The Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert.

4. Trainspotting - Irvine Welsh.

Here's what I'm working on:

Educated - Tara Westover.

Gain - Richard Powers. 

Child Star - Shirley Temple.

I have no words; there's only popcorn in my brain today. But it's big and fluffy with hardly any kernels.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

June 2023 Reads: Summertime and the Reading is Easy

The last time I checked, school is supposed to be out in June, but The Spawn unleashed his inner stern schoolmaster, and set me to reading six books all in one evening. Part of me was thinking, Where did this come from? Why is he getting all Ichabod Crane on my ass? The other part of me was secretly enjoying seeing my yearly reading count rise exponentially. Thank you, Spawn. Midyear finds me at 44 books so far. My goal of 62 for 2023 seems assured.

Ten books for June! Whoo hoo!

1. Ice Cream Man: How Augustus Jackson Made a Sweet Treat Better - Glenda Armand and Kim Freeman. That subtitle says it all. From the description in the book, it seems as if ice cream was more of a cold eggy pudding, and it could often be savory rather than sweet. Some of the flavors come across as vile. It sounds like the dessert part of an episode of Chopped. Augustus Jackson improved on the treat by removing the eggs, creating sweet flavors and using rock salt to make the concoction freeze faster. With beautiful illustrations, this book is the perfect summertime read.

2. Library Girl: How Nancy Pearl Became America's Most Celebrated Librarian - Karen Henry Clark. I first discovered Nancy Pearl back in 2004, and she's been my girl crush ever since. I follow her on Twitter and still swoon when she likes one of my tweets. My very own superhero's origin story was funny and heartwarming. Kudos to the adults that gave her support and confidence.

3. A Perfect Fit: How Lena "Lane" Bryant Changed the Shape of Fashion - Mara Rockliff.  Lithuanian immigrant Lena Bryant was working as a seamstress when one day, a customer asked her to make a presentable dress that she could wear in public that would be designed to expand ...and maternity wear was born! {Pun intentional, of course. I don't know what women did before then...hide out at home during that last trimester?) Riffing off her success, Lena decided to open a business that celebrated women of all shapes and sizes. The Lane in Lane Bryant is an accidental transposition of Lena. I enjoyed this book and would gladly read an adult biography.

4. Blast Off! How Mary Sherman Morgan Fueled America into Space - Suzanne Slade. Mary Sherman Morgan excelled at chemistry in school, so when she graduated right at the beginning of WWII, she found a job in a lab that designed rocket fuels. Later, when the USA decided to enter the space race, Mary went to work at NASA, and through much determination and trial and error, finally came up with the formula to launch a rocket into space. I really liked how the book showed how much work science can be and how it can be worthwhile. At the end of the book, there is a short biography designed for older readers.

5. The Brilliant Calculator: How Mathematician Edith Clarke Helped Electrify America - Jan Lower. Edith Clarke always loved math and puzzles. She was the first female electrical engineer in America, but in those days, no one wanted to hire a woman. Undaunted, she went on to create a calculator on paper that saved engineers valuable time. This innovation led to the electrification of the United States. The female pioneers in the STEM fields are finally getting the respect they deserve. I wonder if we can ever give them enough.

6. What was the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921? - Caleb Gayle. In the early part of the 20th century, the Greenwood district in Tulsa was known as "Black Wall Street". Black businesses and the community thrived. Greenwood was much more affluent than adjoining White communities, and of course the Whites seethed about this. It all boiled over when a young Black man was accused of assaulting a young White woman. A mob gathered, intent on lynching him. A group of 75 men from Greenwood, some armed, showed up to protect him. Violence erupted when a White man demanded that a Black man hand over his pistol, then tried to take it away from him when he refused. Greenwood was invaded that night, people were killed and businesses, homes, and schools were burned. After it was too late, the governor finally got around to imposing martial law. Incredibly, this was all swept under the rug and made to look like the citizens of Greenwood torched themselves. Caleb Gayle, who grew up in Tulsa, used interviews with survivors to give his look at a neglected and shameful chapter of American/Oklahoma history a shocking immediacy not usually found in this series.

7. City of Girls - Elizabeth Gilbert. Novel. Audiobook. I am really mad at myself for side-eyeing and sidestepping this novel for the past four years. I'm sorry, Liz! City of Girls, a historical novel that takes place primarily in the early 1940s is funny and smart and effervescent. Written as a letter from a very old woman named Vivian Morris to a younger woman named Angela, Vivian relates her life story, unapologetic warts and all. Everything is perfect. The setting -- NYC -- is perfect. The dialogue is perfect. Not one character utters even one syllable of an anachronism. There's a musical, from which the book gets its title, written into the novel, and it's --as you may have guessed-- perfection. Even the most minor of the minor characters is beautifully fleshed out. It's even better than my inarticulate description. If you haven't read City of Girls, don't be like me. Read it. If you don't get to it now, I think the perfect time to read it would be during that week between Christmas and New Year. I audiobooked it, and Blair Brown's narration only enhances an already satisfying experience.

8. The Girl Puzzle - Kate Braithwaite. Novel. A frustrating read in the form of a historical novel about pioneer female journalist Nellie Bly. The Girl Puzzle has two timelines: The first one introduces Nellie, brand-new in New York City who is trying to land a job at a newspaper. Since it's late in the 19th century, no one wants to hire a woman. In spite of that, Nellie manages to impress Joseph Pulitzer and his managing editor and they give her an assignment: Get yourself committed to Bellevue on Blackwell Island and write about the conditions there. The rest of that timeline is a rehash of Bly's Ten Days in a Mad-House with slightly saltier language than would have been permitted in the newspapers of the time. The other timeline leaps forward to nearly the end of Nellie Bly's life, and her current crusade is adoption. Her viewpoint is filtered through her secretary, Beatrice, which removes a lot of pep from the novel. The two timelines are juxtaposed, and I found myself impatiently counting pages until I could get back to Nellie in the asylum.

9. Lessons in Chemistry - Bonnie Garmus. Novel. I thought this was a romance novel at first. Wrong! Always look beyond the cover. 93% of the time you'll be right, but you must allow for the other 7%. Lessons in Chemistry is quirky, funny, clever, infuriating, hopeful. I loved it. I wish there really were an Elizabeth Zott and a show called Supper at Six. Six-Thirty, Zott's dog is my favorite animal character since Desmond the cat in Anne Tyler's French Braid. Speaking of Tyler, I kept hearing the echo of her authorial voice in Lessons in Chemistry. Finally, I was reminded a bit of Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. Garmus's book feels like the one I was wanting while reading Bernadette. I want to say more, but I'm still emerging from the love bubble.  At this juncture, all I can do is squeee and strong-arm people into listening to me squeee. But wait! My friend Teresa in San Antonio just texted me that she's got it on hold at her library! Squeee Power!

10. Haven - Emma Donoghue. Novel. Audiobook. Set in 7th century Ireland, a monk with 'a vision from God' travels to bleak and uninhabited Skellig Michael. (This island is now best known as Luke Skywalker's hideout.) Artt, the visionary, brings along two other monks: an older convert named Cormac and a young one named Trion. Together, Cormac and Trion have mad skills for surviving on the island, but Artt isn't any help. In fact, he's not interested in anything but building crosses and altars and chapels and copying The Bible. Unfortunately, he is the leader and the two monks have pledged obedience to him. It's reminiscent of  Donoghue's most famous novel, Room: Two people isolated with an unreasonable captor. Good detail and description of how things were done in that time and what tools were used. In addition to the psychological tension, there's a dark environmental current.  The island is adversely affected in just a few months as the monks struggle to eke out an existence. Rich, dense and rewarding read.

Here's what I'm in the middle of reading:

Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing - Lauren Hough. Essays.
The Guncle - Steven Rowley. Novel (Thank you again, Care!)
The Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert. Novel. Audiobook.

What I'd like to read:

The Secret to Superhuman Strength - Alison Bechdel. Graphic novel.