Launch of Rocket Men

The Rocket Men book launch…

3 words: thrilled, awestruck, verklempt

A book launch that was a transcendent experience — these things don’t happen just every day. Robert Kurson released his latest book, Rocket Men, in the best of all possible ways: with the full crew of Apollo 8 participating in a panel discussion.

And we were there.

In the same room with Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders.

Of course I was beside myself with joy. The thing that was a revelation was the degree to which the Dear Man and my friend were exhilarated to be in the presence of those men.

It was truly an honor to be in the room with them. And such a delight to hear them interact with each other — there was jocular fondness, there was humor. They’re seriously likeable guys.

One of my favorite moments: Anders was describing the violence of takeoff, and he said they were shaking so hard, Borman took his hand off the abort handle, so he wouldn’t pull it by accident due to the way they were being thrashed around. “Just like any other fighter pilot, he’d rather be dead than screw up.”

Apollo 8 command module, Museum of Science & Industry

I love that.

I had the good fortune to read an advance copy of Rocket Men, which I adored

for all kinds of reasons. And the people brought to life in its pages were clearly recognizable in that room. Kurson really captures their essence.

So, the event is over. But the story lives on in the pages of Rocket Men, a book I truly love.

This one’s going down in my personal history as the best book event ever.

My fellow readers… Book launches can be amazing. Tell us about the best book event you’ve ever attended. What made it fantastic?

Quiet Books

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

I’ve been pondering books that are reserved in tone* and it makes me realize I’m a total sucker for books that are quiet and understated.

This preference wouldn’t surprise too many people who’ve heard my librarian voice (I’m told it’s quiet. I’m told to Speak Up). And I come from stoic people, so understated… it’s comfortable.

If you like this stuff, or if you’ve never gone there but are wondering what all the hush is about, here are some books notable for their quiet tone…

 

There’s fiction…

 

And nonfiction…

 

And the most obvious choice of them all…

 

And I adore them all.

 

So, good readers, what titles would you add to the list?

 

 

*for the Reserved square of Book Bingo

 

Vacation Reading

A week-long vacation in a tropical paradise. You know what I’m thinking, because you’re thinking it, too…

What books to pack?

 

Recently the Dear Man and I joined my sister’s family on a vacation to Costa Rica to visit our aunt and uncle.

So yes, I packed two swimsuits and a sun hat and a gallon of sunscreen and sandals… but most of my packing energy focused on the books. There were hard decisions to make, people. My primary criterion: weight. So I went with all paperbacks.

Here’s what I packed…

 

And coming up… the big reveal of What I Actually Read. But first…

 

What I did instead of reading

So here’s the thing. With a party of 8, things stay busy. And the most fun I really can even imagine. I love these people.

 

My vision was this: while the teenagers are surfing, their auntie will be reading. In reality, it was too much fun watching the kids surf and talking with my people and playing in the waves. So the books stayed in the beach bag, and that was just fine.

 

We spent time in the air (ziplining— a huge triumph for she who fears heights) and in the water (paddle boarding in the sea).

 

And we ate wonderful foods (gallo pinto and casado and pizza #106 and heavenly coffee). But as we know, in the end…

 

Reading always wins 

I grabbed a little reading time while hanging out on the balcony of the house we rented and lounging in the room with a view (oh my land, what a view).

I read the middle section of No More Words: A Journal of My Mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh by Reeve Lindbergh, which seemed a strange but perfect thing to read while on vacation. (Reading about Alzheimer’s is not particularly light or jolly.)

I actually bought the book at the Charles Lindbergh home in Minnesota during a long weekend, so it was a book bought on vacation and read on vacation. And the book made me think all kinds of thoughts, and it was a pleasure to have the time to consider them.

So I had just enough time for some basic maintenance reading there on the ground…

 

It wasn’t until our long flight home that my books got much attention. And then it got serious.

Here’s what I read…
  • I finished the Lindbergh book.
  • Then I read our upcoming book club book cover to cover. This sounds all impressive, but since the book is only 176 pages long, it’s not that grand an achievement. Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth was a great vacation book: it’s a swift-moving, surprising, violent Western romp featuring hippos. I don’t mind flying, but the cramped quarters make me glad to be able to escape somewhere else on long flights.
  • Then I read a couple of essays from Portage: A Family, A Canoe, and the Search for the Good Life by Sue Leaf, including a chapter about a river the Dear Man and I have canoed (hello, beautiful Upper Iowa!)
  • And then I dove into Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, which I also bought on a previous vacation (at the marvelous Novel Neighbor bookstore in Webster Groves, Missouri). And I read half the book on the flight and kept saying to the Dear Man, “This book is so good.”

Now that we’re home, the poor neglected book is in a holding pattern while I get caught up on laundry and all the other adulting things that are clamoring for my attention. But the lovely thing is that once I immerse myself in the book again, it’ll transport me not only into the story itself, but also into The Vacation Feeling. I love that.

 

So, my fellow readers… what’s your favorite vacation reading tactic?

18 for 2018

One of my weekly treats is listening to the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast.

In episode 149, Gretchen and her co-host (and sister) Elizabeth Craft introduced the concept of 18 for 2018 — a list of things to accomplish this year.

The list can contain whatever a person wants — big things or little, easy or difficult, simple or multi-phased.

I love goal-setting, I love lists, I love this concept.

So I wrote me a list.

Completed items: they’re in italics. And yes, as of the date of this posting, I’ve already ziplined.

Here are my 18 for 2018…

 

  1. Call each old friend on a regular basis
  2. Buy typewriter key jewelry
  3. Go on southern vacation with the Dear Man and Younger Sister
  4. Go on northern vacation with the Dear Man and Older Sister
  5. Roast vegetables once a month
  6. Burn a candle when writing
  7. Buy fresh flowers & watch a YouTube video to figure out how to arrange them
  8. Invite friends for dinner
  9. Begin meditating
  10. Memorize 5 quotes
  11. Visit 3 history geek places
  12. Bake 2 family recipes
  13. Replace long wool coat
  14. Buy warm winter coat & boots
  15. Remind myself to slow down once per day
  16. Complete 2 of the 3: Book Bingo, Read Harder, and Modern Mrs Darcy reading challenges
  17. Zipline
  18. Paddle board a second time

 

So, how about you? Any lists of goals for the year?

 

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.

 

 

Coalfire

Chicago

Thin crust

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

Coalfire

 

D’Agostino’s

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

Neapolitan

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

DeSano

 

 

Georgio’s Chicago Pizzeria & Pub

South Barrington, IL

Deep dish

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

Georgio’s

 

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

 

Jet’s 

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  

Chicago

Deep dish

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

Pizzeria Due

 

Roots  

Chicago

Quad City style

Why it’s great: That sweet crust!

Roots

 

 

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!

Pequod’s

 

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  

Chicago

Deep dish

Why it’s great: That cornmeal crust…

(We forgot to take a photo!)

 

 

Gullivers Pizza & Pub

Chicago

Deep dish

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

Gullivers

 

 

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

Impellizzeri’s

 

Labriola    

Chicago

Deep dish

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

Labriola

 

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

Pi

 

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…