Educated in pain

 

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

3 words: unsentimental, graphic, dramatic

 

I’m a queasy reader. Anytime there’s cruelty in a book (I struggled with the first parts of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Jane Eyre), I tend to bail out.

And Tara Westover’s memoir almost had that effect on me. I was appalled by the abuse she suffered at the hands of her family. And I mean, appalled.

Her father repeatedly put her in terribly dangerous situations, her brother flat-out abused her physically and emotionally, and her mother stood by and let it happen.

The thing that kept me reading was the knowledge that she’d make it out. Otherwise, I would’ve stepped away. It was just that painful.

Her family claimed to be hardcore Mormons, but there was no godly love happening here.

And while Westover, having escaped via education and strengthened via therapy, appears to have forgiven them, I’m still ticked on her behalf.

But she truly used her talents and worked ridiculously hard to succeed academically. After never having attended school, she started university coursework and eventually earned a doctorate from Cambridge. Darn impressive.

So this book was an emotional roller coaster. Westover takes us with her through her journey, and it’s not an easy one.

I suffered while reading it, but I’m glad I did (even though it’s haunted my dreams).

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of unconventional and violent childhoods, stories of overcoming the odds, memoirs of breaking free from an abusive family, stories of  the importance of education

Romantic memoir

Photo by Michael Nunes on Unsplash

Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm by Jeanne Marie Laskas

3 words: humorous, personal, romantic

 

Don’t you love it when you find a book that keeps you reading past your bedtime? For me, this book was one of those.

The words that come to mind: delightful, engaging, romantic, funny, heartfelt, self-discovery, real.

It’s a classic romance, with a farm and a huge poodle. And it’s all true.

It’s also one of those stories I love reading about, but wouldn’t want to experience. I’ve never lived on a farm, and I never want to. Farms are a lot of work, and not the fun kind. The thought of being in charge of that much property—and the thought of needing a tractor… No, thank you. But I adored reading about it.

And there are parts of the story that are completely lovely and that I identified with in the nicest way. There’s a perfectly real and wonderful mid-life love story here, and there’s the story of finding one’s ideal home.

I knew Laskas from her fabulous book Hidden America, which Citizen Reader recommended. She’s a fun writer to read.

For example: “Probably I should pause here and explain the history of this poodle. Because it is important to note that Alex did not have this poodle when I fell in love with him. I did not know that Alex was a poodle person when I fell in love with him. Repeat: did not know. Alex dropped the poodle bomb about a year into the relationship.” (p. 25)

I was reminded of:

    • Amy Dickinson’s Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things because of the love story, the blend of humor and loss, and the sprightly writing.
    • Judy Corbett’s Castles in the Air because it, too, is a memoir about a couple moving into a bit of a wreck and turning it into the home of their dreams

All in all, a perfect delight of a memoir.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of city dwellers moving to the country, mid-life love stories, a light touch of humor, and compulsively readable writing

 

 

Great book discussion book: West with the Night

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

3 words: lyrical, understated, adventurous

You know that thing when you re-read a book and it’s even better than you’d remembered? That happened with West with the Night.

I kept thinking: my high school self was reading some intensely good writing.

The writing, people. The writing.

Markham (or whoever wrote it — there’s a juicy authorship controversy) had some serious talent as an author. There are sentences like this:

“I never knew what their digging got them, if it got them anything, because, when I set my small biplane down on the narrow runway they had hacked out of the bush, it was night and there were fires of oil-soaked rags burning in bent chunks of tin to guide my landing.” (p. 4)

I mean, that’s some gorgeous writing, and that’s some serious romance.

And this paragraph that I remembered from my reading of the book in my teens*:

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesterdays are buried deep—leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. The cloud clears as you enter it. I have learned this, but like everyone, I learned it late.” (p. 131)

Lovely, right?

Not only is the writing lush, but the storytelling is incredible and nuanced and delightfully incomplete. (Memoir, you’re a book discussion’s best friend.)

Markham is attacked by a lion and nearly attacked by an elephant, she trains derby-winning horses from her teen years on, and she flew an open cockpit biplane in Africa. And she had multiple affairs (not alluded to in this book, but legendary).

It was not a typical life.

There’s just something enticing about stories of growing up in Africa. This book evoked Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and William Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Except Markham’s book contained some allusions to race that made me frankly uncomfortable. We can see these comments as typical of the time the book was written (1942), but that doesn’t mean a modern reader won’t squirm a bit. And that’s yet another topic of discussion: how do the treatments of race and colonialism affect our reading of the book?

Well worth reading—for the writing, the stories, the discussibility.

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of a woman leading an unconventional life, the Golden Age of aviation, ex-pats in Africa in the early 20th century, reading about free spirits, sympathetic narratives about animals, tales of daring

What’s the book you re-read and found it better than you remembered?

*I might’ve even copied it into my Quotes notebook (such a dork)

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?

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?

Alexander Hamilton: it’s simply amazing

shirt courtesy of twhistory.storenvy.com

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?

Nonfiction November, Week 5: New to My TBR

(Photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash)

Nonfiction November, you fly by too fast! I love nonfiction and I love hanging out with my fellow nonfiction readers. It’s been a pleasure, y’all.

 

Here’s this  year’s final prompt:

Week 5: New to My TBR (Nov. 27 to Dec. 1)  Host Lory @ Emerald City Book Review: New to My TBR: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

 

This year: an embarrassment of riches! So many great nonfiction additions to my TBR. Here’s a sampling…

 

Spaceman by Mike Massimono

Suggested by Julie of Julzreads (hi, Julz!)

 

Grocery by Michael Ruhlman

Suggested by JoAnn at Lakeside Musing 

 

I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

Suggested by Kate of Books Are My Favourite and Best

 

 

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

Suggested by Heather of Based on a True Story in a comment on my post about self-improvement books

 

The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama

Suggested by Iliana of Bookgirl’s Nightstand in a comment on my post about self-improvement books

 

Wake Up Happy by Michael Strahan

Suggested by Kristilyn of Reading in Winter in a comment on my post about self-improvement books

 

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

Suggested by Sarah of Sarah’s Bookshelves  

 

I’m super happy to have all these enticing books on my list.

 

My fellow nonfiction readers… Any of these books call out to you, too?