The best fictionalized autobiographies by women

March is Women’s History Month, so we’re talking women’s novels today. Novels by women, about women, from the viewpoint of real historical figures.

I’m pretty sure we’re living in a Golden Age of amazing autobiographical fiction about women’s lives. So many of the books being written these days are meticulously researched and emotionally authentic.

In recent years, we’ve had…

  • the remarkable novels by Melanie Benjamin — The Aviator’s Wife, about Anne Morrow Lindbergh and The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about the women in Truman Capote’s social circle
  • Paula McLain’s glorious Circling the Sun, about Berle Markham
  • Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, about Mamah Borthwick

And a spate of fictionalized memoirs told from the viewpoint of First Ladies:

  • Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, about Laura Bush
  • Ann Beattie’s Mrs. Nixon, about Pat Nixon
  • Amy Bloom’s White Houses, about Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok

The thing I love about these novels is that they allow us to get into the person’s head in a way that feels believable, based on what I know of each of the subjects. (I would’ve bailed if I’d’ve thought the author got it wrong.)

And then a reading map can take us to the actual biographies or autobiographies, and the nonfiction about the times when the person lived. It can really be a lovely thing.

I’m susceptible to this kind of thing: I’m in the midst of the second Berle Markham spree of my young life. I just finished Circling the Sun and am about to embark on a re-read of her memoir West with the Night. If I were super ambitious, I’d also read Mary Lovell’s Markham biography Straight on Till Morning, plus Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa and re-watch the movie. And then this historic aviation line could loop me right back to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and then on to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and then I’d be soaring above the clouds.

This is happiness, my friends.

What great fictional biographies would you add to this list?

Top 20 Pizzas

Welcome back to the PizzaQuest Chronicles.

Pizza duo at Pizzeria Due


Last week I listed our Top 10 Pizzas.

This week, we’ve got pizzas ranked 11 through 20.

The truth of the matter is this: When the Dear Man and I made a first pass through our pizza spreadsheet to pull out the pizzas that might be in contention for our Top 10, we listed 18 pizzas. So these are all serious winners.


Let’s have a look at them… again, in alphabetical order, because otherwise it’s just too hard.





Thin crust

Why it’s great: Specialty pizzas like Honey & Salami and Vegan Pesto




Glenview, IL

Thin crust

Why it’s great: Crispy thin crust and sauce full of flavor

(We forgot to take a photo.)



DeSano Pizza Bakery

Nashville, TN


Why it’s great: Sauce with zing, and lovely crust




Georgio’s Chicago Pizzeria & Pub

South Barrington, IL

Deep dish

Why it’s great: Wonderful crust and great blend of flavors



Il Forno

Highland Park, IL

Thin crust

Why it’s great: Crispy thin crust and a nice zing in the sauce

Il Forno



Deerfield Italian Kitchen  

Deerfield, IL

Thin crust

Why it’s great: That sauce: zingy

Italian Kitchen



Skokie, IL

Detroit style

Why it’s great: The only national chain to reach our top 20, this deep dish pizza with all edge pieces is stunningly good.



Pizza Italia  

Libertyville, IL

Deep dish

Why it’s great: Absolutely amazing crust. I mean, look at it.

Pizza Italia



Pizzeria Due  


Deep dish

Why it’s great: Wonderful crust and nicely balanced ingredients

Pizzeria Due




Quad City style

Why it’s great: That sweet crust!




And that rounds out our Top 20 Pizzas.


What’s your favorite pizza place, anywhere on Earth? We’ve got a list, and we are adding to it…


Top 10 Pizzas

Your friendly neighborhood eaters of all the pizzas

We never set out to become pizza experts. But once we’d eaten at 50 different pizzerias, we found that we were developing some serious Pizza Discernment.

Then we ate 50 more pizzas and got even savvier. Here’s the best of what we’ve learned.


Our methodology:

  • Order a pizza with onions and green peppers (except if it’s a specialty pizza place that discourages deviations from their concoctions).
  • Choose the style for which the pizza place is famous: deep dish, thin crust, Neapolitan, Quad Cities style, Detroit style, New York style…

Our pizza truths:

  • There is no bad pizza.
  • Sometimes the best pizza comes from a hole-in-the-wall place.

Our pizza revelations:

  • Our favorite pizzas have zingy sauce, salty cheese, crust that tastes good all on its own, and a nice balance of ingredients.
  • If the sauce isn’t zingy, the pizza might be good but will never be great.
  • If the pizza’s not great, adding more cheese will make it worse, not better.
  • It’s easier for a pizza to stand out if it’s deep dish or very thin crust.
  • We have a weakness for deep dish.


And now…

Our top 10 pizzas…

First, our undisputed top 2:


Pequod’s Pizza

Morton Grove, IL

Deep dish

Why it’s great: That caramelized crust!



La Rosa

Skokie, IL

Thin crust

Why it’s great: The best thin crust on the planet. Razor-thin toppings, zingy sauce, crispy crust

La Rosa


And the other 8, in alphabetical order:


de Carlucci’s Pizzeria & Mexican Grill

Morton Grove, IL

Thin crust

Why it’s great: Zingy sauce, crispy crust

de Carlucci’s


Gino’s East  


Deep dish

Why it’s great: That cornmeal crust…

(We forgot to take a photo!)



Gullivers Pizza & Pub


Deep dish

Why it’s great: All those flavors and that perfect crust




Harris Pizza

Rock Island, IL

Quad Cities style

Why it’s great: The sweetness of the malty crust, and the zing of the sauce

Harris Pizza


Impellizzeri’s Pizza   

Louisville, KY

Deep dish

Why it’s great: Zingy sauce and nicely balanced





Deep dish

Why it’s great: Full-featured deep dish that impressed us even after we’d tested more than 75 pizzas



Lou Malnati’s

Lincolnwood, IL

Deep dish

Why it’s great: Zingy tomatoes on the top, and the crust is always a treat

(We’ve eaten Lou’s so often, we never thought to photograph it. We’re kind of appalled at this discovery.)



Pi Pizzeria   

St. Louis, MO

Deep dish

Why it’s great: A zingy, perfectly balanced deep dish pizza with delectable crust



Up next week: pizzas ranked 11-20. Because there really are that many great pizzas.


Our fellow pizza lovers… where would you send us next?

Currently… deep winter and it is some kind of cozy

This installment could be subtitled “Presently: presents!” because it features at least five perfect gifts that came into my life. I’m a lucky one.


Reading (the books) | On my nightstand, I’ve got Y Is for Yesterday, the unexpectedly final book by Sue Grafton. (This makes me very sad.)  Also: Grant by Ron Chernow, a delightful Christmas gift from the Dear Man, who perfectly anticipated I’d need a Chernow fix as I was nearing the end of Alexander Hamilton.  



Reading (the audiobooks) | I’m listening to The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which has me completely engrossed. Also: occasionally overcome with emotion.


Reading (online) | The Dear Man News Service sent me this article about George Washington and a library, which made me happy…


Listening  | Lin-Manuel Miranda announced his Hamildrops project, and I’ve been inappropriately laughing as I listen to “Ben Franklin’s Song.” (I’d link to it, except all those swears!)


Watching  | Oh my gosh. We’ve been watching the Winter Olympics, and I adore it.


Learning  | During the holidays, nearly all of us did the Enneagram Inventory by Ian Morgan Cron, and I’ve been diving deep into that world. (Type 1 here!)


Loving  | My new egg cooker. I mean, look at how cute.


Anticipating  | We’re homing in on Pizzeria #100 pretty soon… We’re at #99 and counting! My excellent sister and brother-in-law gave us a pizza carrier for Christmas, and it’s proving the thing we never knew we needed.


Celebrating | Five years ago, I met the Dear Man. Serious happiness has ensued.


I’ve decided: I kinda like winter.


So tell me, readers… what perfect gifts have come into your life?

Born to Run

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

3 words: lyrical, creative, personal


One of my clearest childhood shopping memories goes like this: My mom and I were at Target, and I made a very compelling argument for why she really should buy me the album Born in the U.S.A. And as we continued our Target shopping, I pushed the cart with the album facing me, and I felt so cool.

(Let’s be clear about this: I was in 7th grade and was the polar opposite of cool. I’d offer photographic evidence, except I’ve caused most of it to be either destroyed or hidden in a very safe spot. That crap’s classified.)

Anyway… point is: The Boss, even by association: COOL.

And we know the man can write. At least, we know he can write lyrics. Happily for us readers, he can also write some seriously solid prose.

I found his narrative voice real and compelling and lyrical. His writing is raw and it’s also beautiful. I love that combination.

What made it even better is that I listened to the audiobook, which he reads himself. He’s a little bit deadpan sometimes, but it’s real. And there were some inflections that made me laugh.

I really liked hearing him tell his own story.

What surprised me: I didn’t know he’d been basically homeless for a while (crashing on friends’ couches or living in a surfboard factory) when he was a young musician.

I didn’t know the musical influences that inspired the song “Born to Run,” but once he described them, I couldn’t believe I’d never caught on before.  I’d never listened to “Born in the U.S.A.” and listened specifically to the drums.

And while we’re talking drums, let’s also get back to what I said about writing style. This passage about Max Weinberg full-on blissed me out:

“There are twenty thousand people, all about to take a breath; we’re moving in for the kill, the band, all steel wheels on iron track, and that snare shot, the one I’m just thinking about but haven’t told or signaled anyone outside of this on-fire little corner of my mind about, the one I want right… and there it is!”  (p. 239)

He writes reverently about the people in his band, and even more reverently about his wife. And he’s fairly self-deprecating.

So reading this book means you get to hang out with one of the biggest names in rock and roll, and he seems like a pretty decent guy who can really spin a tale and make it worth hearing.


Give this book a whirl if you like… celebrity memoirs, solid writing, the back story


My fellow readers… Any great celebrity memoirs to recommend?

Reading Reading People and then reading people

Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel

3 words: conversational, personal, thoughtful


I knew right away that I’d love this book, because I really like Anne Bogel’s narrative voice. She writes the Modern Mrs Darcy blog, which is a very pleasant place to hang out. And she hosts the What Should I Read Next podcast, which is one of my favorite things ever.

Plus: this book’s about personality frameworks, and I dearly love those things.

So what we have here is the set-up for an optimal reading experience. Just put a big mug of coffee in one hand, some decadent chocolate in the other, and this book in my lap —  and plunk me in front of my fireplace with my favorite snuggly throw, and we’re talking serious bliss.

I’ve been a personality fanatic for a while now, and I’ve read about Myers-Briggs, Strengthsfinder, and the Love Languages. This book covers those frameworks, but also lots of others… so that was super exciting.

If you’re not already into this stuff, this book is a welcoming doorway into the realm of personality frameworks. It serves as an enticing sampler of lots of different methods, each accompanied by personal stories and examples that make the book very warm and friendly.

If you’re already a personality framework devotee, this book will also make you happy, because the way it explores the various frameworks from a personal perspective provides some really surprising insights.

For example (and this is embarrassing, but we’re all friends here, so here I go…) the way Anne writes about Strengthsfinder made me realize:

Oh my gosh. Other people don’t have the same strengths I have, and I’ve always assumed everyone has them just by nature. And because I’m a Type 1 on the Enneagram, sometimes I’ve done some judging about that.

(Fortunately, I’m also an introvert and was raised to be extremely polite, so those thoughts I’ve kept to myself.)

Of course, I’ve also always judged myself lacking in strengths and tendencies that come easily to others, and I’ve wondered what was wrong with me.

And while there’s plenty wrong with me, some of those characteristics were simply strengths others possess in droves, which I simply ain’t got.

The lovely thing about this book is that Anne describes her own process of self-discovery with her personality, and she’s candid and kind about the situations that can arise before we understand what’s really going on.

For example, she writes about the way she and one of her children are set differently with regard to planning; she is casual and easy about allowing a day to develop organically, and her child feels more comfortable knowing the plan well in advance. (I totally get this.) By merely understanding where each person is coming from, problems: averted. Pretty amazing and powerful stuff. And the way she writes about these things is gentle and respectful of everyone in the scenario, and I really like that.

So reading this book felt like hanging out with a trusted, thoughtful friend who’s willing to serve as your guide to self-discovery and also willing to share her own missteps and ah-ha! moments… cuz none of us is in this alone.


Give this book a whirl if you like… personality frameworks, self-improvement blended with memoir, figuring yourself out, a friendly voice


Readers… what book most expanded your understanding of yourself? Fiction, nonfiction, it all counts…

When to read When by Daniel Pink? ASAP

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

3 words: thought-provoking, practical, fun to read


OK, so we know me & self-improvement books are like this, right?



Well, this one takes it up a notch. Several notches, actually. Because here’s a phrase you don’t often hear a person utter, when referring to a self-improvement book:

“This is so much fun to read, I don’t wanna put it down!”

No, the usual statements go something like this:

  • “This book is blowing my mind.”
  • “I keep making a list of all the new thing I wanna try.”
  • “Wow! Suddenly things make so much sense!”


This book caused those responses, too, but the “This is so much fun to read” comment is the one that stands out here. And reading the Acknowledgments explained why: Pink’s wife read the whole book out loud to him, so he could edit it. Every book written with this approach has delighted me. (See Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton)


So: much of what I loved about When involved the writing style and the tone.

But people, the content! The information! The stuff a person can learn!

Here are a few that stood out for me:

  • We all have an afternoon slump. There are tactics we can use to counteract it, but basically we have to work around it.
  • We also have a midpoint slump (and sometimes a midpoint spark). When we’re in the middle of a project, we can slow down and lose enthusiasm. But it’s also at the midpoint — halfway to a deadline — that we often kick it into gear. (That’s the midpoint spark variation.)
  • The perfect nap: the nappuccino
  • I’ve got bad news and good news…  (Deliver the bad news first)


And here’s a tip I’ve been actually using and feeling pretty good about:

At the end of the workday, spend 2-3 minutes writing down what you accomplished that day — because making progress on goals is a significant motivator. I often think of small steps on projects as moving the ball down the field, and if I stop and appreciate those little steps, it can be darn satisfying.

vintage clock

I whipped through this book in 2 days flat. I could not and would not put it down. And then told the Dear Man all the things that are fascinating about this book. And then I also told his Dear Sister and Dear Brother-in-Law, who were captive in the car with us.


This will also happen to you. You’ve been warned.


Give this book a whirl if you like.. exploring everyday life through new eyes, thinking about timing, considering factors that surprisingly affect outcomes, Freakonomics, compulsively readable prose


What books have you found compulsively readable or quotable?

Uncommon Type: uncommonly good

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks

3 words: engaging, wide-ranging, creative


Tom Hanks — the dude can write! Word on the street was that his new collection of short stories — his first book — had it goin’ on. And I gotta say: True.

I’ve been raving about it for the past few weeks. I plan to continue this behavior for quite some time.

The first story was funny and wry, and the second (“Christmas Eve 1953”) was so idyllic at the outset that I knew it had to have a dark side. (It did. It nearly broke my heart.)

There’s some pretty impressive range here — in perspective and voice and place and timeframe and tone.

I was especially gratified that he can write convincing female characters. He got that really right.

So the whole collection pleased me.

And then there was the story “These Are the Meditations of My Heart.” This one blew me away. It made my heart sing; it made me verklempt. It made me do a little gasp of happiness at the end, even though the ending was not dramatic. He didn’t write it for effect. But it had a profound effect on me nonetheless. The story sounds simple: A young woman buys an old typewriter and takes it to a repair shop, where the owner informs her it’s a toy and he will not fix it. Conversation ensues. At one point, I laughed out loud, and at the end there was that gasping thing. It was quite perfect.

I listened to the audiobook, which Hanks narrates himself. It was also quite perfect. The only problem was the dilemma of listening to short stories. When each one ended, I needed to give it a little breathing room. It seemed the only decent thing to do. It’s just that it’s nicer to pause between stories when reading the words on a page, because you can get up and refill your cup of coffee and swap out the laundry and then you might be ready for the next. In the car, there’s just dead air time.

Each of the stories includes a typewriter, and by the end I was in full typewriter lust mode. Having seen someone recently actually using a typewriter, I have decided my laptop suits me fine. But the romance of an old typewriter… it’s a thing.

I’m not a big reader of short stories, but these…  These are winners. Often poignant, frequently quiet, sometimes funny, always deeply human.


Give this book a whirl if you like… celebrity authors, well-evoked characters, short stories from a variety of viewpoints, typewriters

Alexander Hamilton: it’s simply amazing

shirt courtesy of

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

3 words: detailed, absorbing, lush


It’s no secret that I’m hooked on Hamilton. But there’s much I’ve left unsaid on this topic. So, today: an exposé!

Welcome to… True Confessions and Contradictions


The 1st confession

It took me 14 months to read this book, even though I loved it.

Granted, it’s 818 pages long, but sometimes a person races through a long book. This biography is packed to the gills with details, and each sentence is worth reading with a fair amount of care.

Which is not to say that this is a tough read — it’s the opposite. In the Acknowledgments, Chernow says he read aloud every word of the book to his wife. When I saw that, I thought, “Ahhhh! So that’s why the thing is so darn readable.”

Take this section: “Words were his chief weapons, and his account books are crammed with purchases for thousands of quills, parchments, penknives, slate pencils, reams of foolscap, and wax. His papers show that, Mozart-like, he could transpose complex thoughts onto paper with a few revisions. At other times, he tinkered with the prose but generally did not alter the logical progression of his thought. He wrote with the speed of a beautifully organized mind that digested ideas thoroughly, slotted them into appropriate pigeonholes, then regurgitated them at will.” (p.  250)

So the book is long, the writing is lovely, and the subject matter is almost too weird to be true. Alexander Hamilton led a wildly unlikely life.

This leads us to…


The 2nd confession

I admire Hamilton’s genius and his work ethic and his professional ethics, but I despise his decision to betray his wife.

The heights this man reached, particularly considering the early obstacles he faced, are nothing short of astonishing. And then Chernow uses the perfect words to sum it up: “If Washington was the father of the country and Madison the father of the Constitution, then Alexander Hamilton was surely the father of the American government.” (p. 481)

I don’t know about you, but sentences like that stop me in my tracks and sometimes set me to weeping.

And then there are things like this: Jefferson gave Gallatin the task of uncovering fraud committed by Hamilton, and Gallatin came back with, “‘I have found the most perfect system ever formed. Any change that should be made in it would injure it. Hamilton made no blunders and committed no frauds. He did nothing wrong.’” (p. 647)

Again: stunned and awed.

And then I remember Hamilton’s torrid affair with Maria Reynolds, and I think: Dude, there’s never any call for that, and I think harsh thoughts about his character.

Which brings us to…

The 3rd confession

I find Hamilton a completely fascinating character, but I’m pretty sure that if I knew him personally, I wouldn’t like him.

There’s his decision to disregard his marriage vows and humiliate his wife, there’s his abrasive personality, there’s his ego. I don’t like any of i

t. And I know: without being abrasive and egotistical, he might not have accomplished all he did. But I still get to think I don’t like that personality.

And yet! There are other moments in his life that fill me with joy: the collaboration and writing of The Federalist (this part of the book made me so happy) and his partnership with Washington. I remember a reference question about political speechwriters from my early days as a librarian, when I learned that Hamilton and Washington had co-written Washington’s farewell address. And reading about it here caused me some mild ecstasy.


So, like the very best of books, I’m left pondering and weighing ideas and rethinking. It’s one of those satisfying reading experiences that carries on even after the final page. I’m leaving my page of reader’s notes inside the book when I shelve it, so I can easily refer back to the parts I loved best. (I’ve never done that before.)


Give this book a whirl if you like… the American Revolution, American history, historical scandal, complex historical figures, in-depth biographies, Hamilton the musical


Anyone else out there a Hamilton fanatic?

Dear Fahrenheit 451… dear heaven, what a great book

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

3 words: smart, snarky, heartening

Well, guys, it’s happened. I finally did that thing where I said to the Dear Man, “You’ve gotta read this. Right now” — and then I handed him the title chapter from this book, which is one of the loveliest odes to librarianship ever written (even if it does contain an f-bomb. Or two).

This entire book delighted me and surprised me, even as so much of it rang true — the books that change a person’s life, the cringe-worthy books to be weeded from the collection, the conversations with readers that results in our handing them books they’ll love, the books that irritate us as readers… it’s all here.

And it’s seriously in the form of letters to each of the books. And that’s kind of perfect.

Spence is a librarian, yes, but man is she ever a writer. Her writing’s smart and it’s conversational and it’s funny and sometimes it’s even inspiring.

Catch this line from a letter to the entire Public Library Children’s Section:

“You make it look easy, like fun even. But what you do is hard work. Important work. And you’re the only one who can do it.”

Then: “Hard work. These kids have got to fall in love with you. They need to learn to read, so they can love to read, so they can understand how many different lives they are capable of.” (p. 142)

I nearly got verklempt.

Oh, people… if you’re here, you’re a reader. And that means you’re probably going to love this book.


Give this book a whirl if you like… books about books, the librarian life, books in letter form, libraries, books that change your life


Readers… Have you ever read a book that made you love your work even more than you already did?