Hamilton read-along

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
3 words: enthusiastic, light, informative
Like 60% of the free world, I’ve been sucked into the Hamilton vortex, and each day a different song from the soundtrack accompanies me in my brain. (Here’s the one that makes me laugh every time I listen to it.)

But let’s listen to a Lafayette song, because we’re focusing on that guy here today.
(photo credit: By Daderot – Daderot, CC0, https://commons.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21104068)

He’s a big old important secondary character in the Hamilton story, but in Vowell’s book, he’s at center stage.

And… Dude.
The dude was only 19 years old when he sailed over here from France to take on the British at Washington’s side.
And this is how we know the story’s true, because it’s too unbelievable to be fiction.
Sarah Vowell is a confirmed history nerd, and she’s one of my favorite writers of popular history.  
The woman is enthusiastic, and I’m all about that.
And she’s also hilarious.
Besides filling in the Lafayette story with a great deal of her own panache, Vowell gives us the most perfect vignettes of his allies and foes.
Take this:
“A patchwork of amateur militias made up of barely trained farmers, lawyers, shopkeepers, and artisans who, thanks to a hometown book nerd’s folkloric stunt, drove some of earth’s most experienced professional warriors out of a long-suffering city.
So, the moral of that story, other than never underestimate an independent bookseller, was that the Continental Army and its commander in chief had a soft spot for Chief Artillery Officer Henry Knox.” (pp. 84-86)
That line about independent booksellers full-on delighted me.
The whole book carries on this way, with fascinating anecdotes that bring historical figures to life, and it’s the most fun way (short of a musical) to catch up on the history we either didn’t learn or completely forgot. 

OK. All you Hamilton freaks… I know you’re out there. What’re you reading to go along with the soundtrack?

Laughing while driving

My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places by Mary Roach
3 words: hilarious, warm, smart
Over the past few days, I’ve been wildly grateful to Book Bingo because it’s the reason I’ve been driving around in a state of utter hilarity. (Thank you, “LOL” square!)
While listening to Mary Roach’s version of an automated phone system, I was laughing so hard I thought I might have to pull over the car.
“For payment information, say Payment. If you have calls and charges you don’t understand, say Pinhead. To hear these options again, say Attention Span of a Gnat.” (p. 8)
Ever since reading Packing for Mars, I’ve wanted to read something else by Roach. Her sense of humor is completely delightful, and her writing is crisp, and she’s smart. 
But some of her books (Stiff and Gulp come to mind) are a bit too roughly biological for this squeamish person.
So when I ran across My Planet* and saw that it was a collection of personal essays, I was all super happy.
Many of the essays are about the quirks of everyday life, and I love that kind of humor. She pokes fun at herself and at her husband (the man she calls Ed) and their differences. (It sounds like they have a rather entertaining household. Some of their exchanges cracked me up.)
There’s lots of warmth in this collection, which I truly appreciate. So often, humor is delivered with a sharp edge–and really, do we need more snarkiness in this world?
She’s no pushover, but her humor is kind-spirited.
I adored this book, and it made me wonder why I don’t read more books from the humor section. 
(Actually, I know why: it’s that snarkiness thing I just mentioned).
This is the good stuff, guys.

*I make it sound like this was a serendipitous discovery, when actually I librarianed it up and did a browse search of the call number 818.6 (humor) in the library catalog, saw Mary Roach’s name, and scurried to the shelf to retrieve the audiobook during lunch

Unspooling a story

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler 

3 words: homey, storytelling, heartfelt 

Just when I think I’ve experienced enough Anne Tyler and I could spend time with some other author’s work instead, she goes and ups her game. 

And now I’m seriously aching for someone I know to read this book so we can talk about the scene where the word “dashiki” made me burst out sobbing. 

Yeah, that was kinda weird. 

But also rather wonderful. 

Tyler has some serious storytelling powers, and she ain’t afraid to wield them.
This family story is fairly quiet, but it runs deep. 

The Whitshanks are a fairly ordinary family, but Tyler’s writing elevates them. And her unmatched ability to weave a story makes their family fascinating. 

Just when I thought the book would focus on the parent/child relationship of a prodigal son with his parents, it veered into the past and picked up the long-hidden, rather scandalous, very sad story of his grandparents. 

Another aspect of the book that had me from the start: the beloved family home is nearly a character itself. 

 At times, the dryly humorous, realistic depiction of family dynamics made me actually laugh out loud. 

And then there was that sob storm. 

Dang, people. This is some seriously good fiction action.

True blue

(photo credit*)

The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop by Steve Osborne

3 words: entertaining, storytelling, honest

Ever love a book so much you keep talking about it until you become a total bore to
those around you?

Yeah, me too.

This summer, The Job was one of Those Books.

Why the introvert kept talking about it:

First, cops have the best stories.

Second, this guy’s a master storyteller.

Third, this guy’s one heck of a great writer. He does that thing I love, where a person
writes exactly the way he talks. So you can hear his voice.

(Before writing this book, he told his stories on stage for The Moth, and happily for us, he kept that same voice in his writing.)

His stories are an ideal mix of funny, heartfelt, sad, and unbelievable.

And some of the moments he describes are so weird they’re perfect.

His first day on a new assignment, he saw a guy march into the station house playing the bagpipes. “I glanced over to the cop on the switchboard, and he was still doing his crossword puzzle.” (p. 106)

Bagpipe dude was one of their regulars.

So there’s zaniness, and there’s adrenaline, and then there’s one chapter called “Cops Don’t Cry” that I can’t stop thinking about.

If you’re somewhere that people won’t see you cry, listen to it on The Moth.


*photo credit: Police Car @ Times Square via photopin (license)



Mennonite memoir

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

3 words: funny, frank, cheerful

When life hits you with a one-two punch (try: her husband of 15 years left her for a man he met online, then she was severely injured in a car accident), it’s not the worst plan to head home to Mom and Dad.

And if you have Rhoda Janzen’s parents… even better.

This memoir is laugh-out-loud funny throughout, and occasionally somberly self-reflective. (Why did she spend all those years with that less-than-wonderful husband, anyway?)

But mostly it’s a hilarious, warm-hearted account of life with her Mennonite family—a lifestyle she had fled.

But returning to a world in which the ladies whip up large batches of food at the drop of a hat (hot fruit soup—a specialty) proves comforting, and it’s easy to see why.


life-changing cookies at 2:00

(An aside about Mennonite food: Last fall we bought the world’s most amazing molasses cookies at a Mennonite bakery. Dang, people! Literally the best molasses cookies on Earth. [I don’t even usually like molasses cookies!] I should’ve taken a photo, but I was too busy devouring the things. We’re making do here with a stunt photo I found on the Interwebs. Back to the book…)



Janzen’s account of her family’s foibles is downright funny and wonderfully realistic and still kind-spirited.

And some of her sentences made me laugh out loud. For example, this one, which appeared toward the end of a chapter in which she outlined a variety of Mennonite customs…

“Perhaps you have been wondering, How can I join this attractive religious group?” (p. 239)

This book is pure delight.