The Cubs Way… is to keep me reading non-stop

The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse by Tom Verducci

3 words: personal, detailed, inside baseball

bleacher bums!

Oh my goodness. Such a good book!

If you’re a Cubs fan, then: of course.

If you’re not a Cubs fan, but you are a reader who likes learning the inside story of building a culture of teamwork and success, then this book is also for you.

There’s so much to love here.

First: The people. Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon were of one mind when it came to assembling the perfect team. They agreed that the character of the players mattered as much as their athletic talents. So this team is made up of strong people who are devoted to the group, rather than to themselves. And they’re darn tough guys who have faced and overcome tough times with grace.

And Maddon himself. The guy’s fascinating. (I’m kind of thinking I need a “Try Not to Suck” t-shirt to add to my fleet of Cubs shirts.)

Maddon: a reader’s gotta love him. To draw out Addison Russell, he assigned him to read Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and talk to him about the book every 50 to 100 pages.

I adore this!

Second: The behind-the-scenes stuff is fantastic. For example, that whole story about Rizzo borrowing Szczur’s identical bat and having immense good luck with it during the World Series? Partly fiction!

(with that stance… Bryant)

Third: Even though we obviously know the outcome (spoiler alert: Cubs win the World Series), this book is a page turner. The chapters alternate between each World Series game and the back story that brought the team together from 2012 to 2016.

Fourth: All that psychology. Here’s Maddon: “Too many times in the past, in the postseason, I know we’ve got the other team by the look in the other team’s eyes. There’s a distant look. They’re anticipating bad. It’s almost like a concession look. I never want us to be that team. So know that something bad is going to happen. Know it is. Expect it to happen. And when it happens, we have to keep our heads and fight through it.” (p. 283)

I mean seriously: Isn’t that good?

And then there’s this scene from the rain delay in Game 7, when Epstein eavesdropped on the players-only meeting. “‘I saw our guys meeting and it snapped me back,’ he said. ‘It reminded me of how much I admired them and how tough they are, how connected they’ve stayed with each other, and the great things human beings can accomplish when they set out to achieve for other people, not for themselves.’” (p. 347)

Verklempt! I read this section at Panera and got all verklempt (in public). I try to avoid displays of readerly overwhelm, but sometimes it does a sneak attack. This book got to me.

We might need a short musical break here…

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… baseball, stories of Overcoming, workplace narratives, the behind-the-scenes story, camaraderie, building an organizational culture
Anyone else read any great sports books lately?

Strangers tend to tell her things… and I get why

Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home by Amy Dickinson

3 words: sprightly, romantic, domestic

Sometimes life offers you a Perfect Book, and all you want to do is read it and read it and read it.

This is one of those.

I just kept flagging quotes (with these adorable little arrow sticky notes I picked up at Le Target) because Amy Dickinson’s sentences kept delighting me. Here’s a paragraph of good ones:

“I would lie in bed at night in our farmhouse and listen to my mother power up the pump organ by stomping on its wooden pedals until its bellows filled with air. Then she’d start to play the chords to Burt Bacharach’s ‘This Guy’s in Love with You.’ Given the organ’s overall creepy pipe tones and asthmatic volume changes as my mother pedaled faster or slower, it sounded like a lounge act in a horror movie.” (p. 16)

So this book is funny and romantic and light-hearted in parts, and then sad and overwhelmed and dealing with wrenching loss. It’s just like life!

I loved Dickinson’s first memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville, which was the full story of her return to her small upstate New York town, to live among her extended family of women.
In this new book, she finds love mid-life (so romantic! so right!) and loses her mother (so sad and so stinkin’ difficult).

She writes things like this, which made me miss her mom (and mostly miss my own mom):
“There was a special quality and depth to her attentiveness. I often felt she paid better attention–or a better kind of attention–to me than I did to myself.” (p. 182)

And she writes all these things with candor and humor. Yes, she’s the nationally recognized “Ask Amy,” but she’s actually just living her complicated and beautiful and sometimes painful life just like the rest of us. Only she’s got the way of stringing together the words that makes her story absolutely entertaining and real and heartfelt.

And even though I’m kind of small-town-phobic (so many eyes watching a person’s every move), Amy (see how we’re already on first-name terms here? It’s that kind of book) loves small town living and it suits her well. She writes of her town with love and delight, and it almost makes me want to live there, too.

And that’s largely because of the people in this book, who obviously are real people, but the wonderful thing is the way Amy presents them to us, so we actually feel like we know them.

Give this book a whirl if you like… midlife romance, blending families, returning home, books that celebrate small towns and houses, and a mix of laughter and tears

What’s the best memoir you’ve read lately?

Little evening of American hygge

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking

3 words: cozy, happy, intimate

Biologically speaking, I’m ⅛ Danish. But when we talk about hygge*, I’m pretty sure I’m 100%.

Hygge: it’s the domestic trend of 2017, and I’m totally into it.

Hygge: it’s a word to represent the Danish concept of coziness

I was born for coziness.

(Probably most of us were, but I’m thinking I’ve got some serious natural gifts in this department. I’ll challenge anyone to the building of the world’s coziest little blanket-and-pillow nest.)

Denmark frequently ranks near the top of the list of happiest countries, and this book’s author (CEO of the Happiness Research Institute) says hygge is an important part of the picture.

And this charming little book is a handbook to creating your own experiences of hygge.

The book itself is pretty darn hyggeligt (cozy), cuz it’s small and includes pleasant drawings in soft blue tones that represent the key elements of hygge. We’re talking: candlelight, comfort, togetherness, a cozy nook, a fireplace, books, ceramics, blankets and cushions, vintage touches, and pleasures like warm beverages, chocolate, and cake.

Dear heaven, people. I want that life.

So the Dear Man and I set out to build it.

On a recent February evening, we did all the cozy things… we did some meandering tourist-style grocery shopping at a completely fascinating international market where we bought Danish cheese and butter because: hygge: it is Danish.

We also bought lots of other delightful things (including chocolate), because hygge demanded it.

Then we cooked Bookbinder Soup (I know!!!) and dined by candlelight and it was cozy as all heck.

And there was even the requisite book-as-coziness-object because, while the soup simmered, Book Nerd here kept reading aloud to highlight all the ways we were having the most hyggeligt evening ever in all the world.

(Did I mention I was wearing my fuzzy new slippers? I was.)

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… nesting, learning about other cultures, slowing it down a little to savor the coziness of winter, and books about the quiet pleasures of domestic life.

 

So, my friends… What are your hygge superpowers?

 

*pronounced: hoo-gah

It’s Presidents Day. Let’s read.

OK, guys… it’s Presidents Day.

(photo credit: Pete Souza)

And since this day is about honoring them as a group, today I’m offering up a few books that look at multiple presidents all in one book.

And because I’m a sucker for the 20th century presidents, that’s a focus of these books.

 

If you like journalistic memoirs written in a humorous voice, try this one…

Thank You, Mr. President: A White House Notebook by A. Merriman Smith

 

 

If you like looking at photos and reading their behind-the-scenes stories, try this one…

The President’s Photographer: Fifty Years Inside the Oval Office by John Bredar

 

If you like seeing that our presidents are sometimes just like us, try this one…

Presidential Doodles: Two Centuries of Scribbles, Scratches, Squiggles and Scrawls from the Oval Office from the creators of Cabinet Magazine
What are your favorite books about U.S. presidents?

Hungry for more true tales by Jennifer Weiner

Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing by Jennifer Weiner

3 words: funny, frank, conversational

This was the book that kept me up past my bedtime because I just didn’t want to put it down.

Sometimes that was because the storytelling was so good, and sometimes it was because the stories were so surprising. And sometimes it was just because it was fun hanging out with Jennifer Weiner.

Even though it was my first experience spending time with her, because (shameful revelation) I’ve never read her fiction.

She’s well known for the Weiner/Franzen Feud, which she discusses in this book.

But the book is way more than that. It’s stories about her family when she was growing up, and her children, and her divorce, and her father’s mental illness, and her struggles with body image… and I know none of this sounds very funny, but it is. Even though it’s also dead serious stuff.

But when a situation is one of those “laugh or cry” scenes, she’s gonna laugh. And she made me laugh, too.

It’s like hanging out with a really funny friend who’s been through it and doesn’t mind spilling.

Big thanks to Bybee for sending this book my way via Bybee Book Mail.

Give this book a whirl if you like… unvarnished truth, some snark, memoirs of unconventional families, stories of writers’ lives, and feminism with a dash of humor
So folks… ever read Jennifer Weiner? If so, which novel do you recommend?

Ann Patchett for reals

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

3 words: warm, candid, conversational

Ann Patchett not only writes a wickedly good novel and owns a ridiculously beautiful bookstore, but the woman can scale a wall.

For reals.

Her dad was an LA police officer, and she went through the police academy there, which required that she leap over a wall. And she started training, and then she did that thing.

And that’s just one of the completely unexpected facts you learn when you read this book (or listen to it, which I recommend, because Patchett reads it herself and her voice is perfect for the reading of the books).

While the title essay is about her marriage (and the way, and the reasons, she resisted marriage for a long time), the other essays are about things like this: her loving care of her grandmother, and the time she drove around in a motorhome she was supposed to detest (but fell in love with it instead), and how she concocted the plot of her first novel while waitressing at a TGI Friday’s.

And one of the essays describes how she became a bookstore owner. And I was enraptured. And now all I can say is…

Nashville and Parnassus Books… I’m coming for you.

The Dear Man and I have a date with a donut, and we intend to keep it.

Last time we were in Nashville, we made these two mistakes: 1) I forgot that Ann Patchett and her bookstore live there, and 2) We blew past the very enticing Donut Den even though we really wanted to go to there. The Donut Den, which is like 3 feet away from the bookstore! We’re gonna fix this.

Give this book a whirl if you like… authors describing what it’s really like to do their work, memoirs of women’s lives, and some serious candor

What author do you wish would write a memoir?

On reading On Writing

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

3 words: sharp, encouraging, spare

 

So let’s just start with this: Stephen King scares the living daylights out of me.

When my book club chose to read The Shining, I got 3 tracks into disc 1 of the audiobook, sensed looming menace and unease, and bailed.

 

But I’ve been hearing about his book On Writing for years (it keeps showing up on lists of the best books about writing), and it seemed safe enough.

 

And so it was.

 

Until that very last section, in which King writes about the car that hit him. And while it’s not horror, it’s horrifying. He’s so matter of fact about it, which makes it all the more chilling.

 

So I got to experience some King fear factor after all.

 

But let’s talk about the bulk of the book, which consists of two parts:

  • a brief autobiography of his development as a writer
  • a handbook on the art of writing

 

The thing that blew me away was the strength of King’s writing. Of course, dude is writing a handbook about how to write well, so he darn well better have some game. But I still found myself surprised at his sentences and his paragraphs: fresh and succinct and perfectly formed.

 

He discusses some of the mechanics of writing (he hates adverbs, which kinda makes me adore him), but he also addresses how to actually be a writer. Which, of course, is by writing. Throughout the book, he’s encouraging, without ever being coddling.

 

And this leads us to my next surprise: Stephen King seems like a genuinely nice person. And he’s a man who loves — and likes — his wife. The way he writes about her… it made me happy that they’d found one another.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… workplace narratives, books about books, a peek behind the curtain, and a zippy writing style

 

OK, your turn. What’s your take on Stephen King?

 

Neil Gaiman: the true story

 

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman

3 words: wise, impassioned, bookish

Two minutes into listening to this audiobook, I got a little verklempt.

And really, this should not surprise us, cuz when Neil Gaiman writes about the importance of books and reading and libraries, it’s powerful stuff. And when a person listens to him reading those words aloud… holy Toledo, people.

Get out the tissues, my fellow readers.

So this book starts out with essays and speeches about the power of books. And then there are oodles of other topics: graphic novels, introductions to the works of various fantasy authors, and creativity.

And while I thought I might bog down during the introduction to the work of H.P. Lovecraft, I found that I just kept learning new things.

And then I started to curse Neil Gaiman, because I kept adding books to my already too huge TBR. Books like The 13 Clocks by James Thurber. And Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones.

And then, toward the end of the book, there’s his famous “Make Good Art” commencement address.

It made me want to make good art.

 

 

So, if you’re anything of a Neil Gaiman reader, and especially if you’re a Neil Gaiman devotee, this book is rather a treat.

And if you’re an audiobook listener, I highly recommend the audio version, cuz Gaiman reads it himself and he’s seriously skilled at the narrator thing.

What’s the best author-narrated audiobook you’ve listened to?

Her hard-working honor

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

3 words: smart, introspective, revealing

I’m in serious audiobook withdrawal these days. I just finished listening to Sonia Sotomayor’s marvelous memoir, and I completely fell into it.

Way back in my pre-blogging days, I read Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest by Sandra Day O’Connor and H. Alan Day, and it had a similar effect. Though, as I recall that book, it focused primarily on Sandra Day O’Connor’s youth.

Sotomayor’s book covers her childhood, but it also brings her story into her middle adult years, concluding shortly after she became a judge. And, as in Jill Ker Conway’s first two books (The Road from Coorain and True North), I loved reading about the arc of her life and education. I’m a total sucker for that kind of story.

But the thing I loved most about Sotomayor’s memoir was her honesty. And also her humanity.

Here she is, having risen from a childhood in the projects to a seat on the high court, and she’s comfortable enough with herself to reveal the self-doubt she feels whenever she tackles something new. It makes her so relatable, even though her extraordinary work ethic makes her seem super-human.

And she describes how those two things go hand in hand: her insecurity about her ability to perform well drives her to work even harder to make sure she’s prepared.

It’s a heck of an effective formula.

When I read reviews of this book earlier, I focused on the hard parts: her alcoholic father’s death when she was young, her childhood diagnosis of diabetes, and her family’s financial hardship. And I thought: sad.

And she’s candid about all of these things, but people, she turns them into a triumph.

And she’s so darn likeable while she’s doing so. Oh my gosh.

Thank you — very much! — to JoAnn of Lakeside Musing for recommending this book in her Nonfiction November Supreme Court reading list. Your suggestion spurred me to read this book, and I am seriously hugely grateful.

So my friends… What’s the most inspiring true story you’ve read this year?

Hillbilly Elegy… but is it hopeful?

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

3 words: unflinching, troubling, personal

OK, this one’s really something. I just keep thinking about it, and that probably isn’t gonna stop anytime soon.

Vance grew up in poverty in Appalachia, and he tells his story with some serious candor.

His family had it all going on: drug addiction, mental illness, abuse…  you name it, they had it. He grew up bearing close-range witness to a boatload of dysfunction.

And somehow, he got himself out and attended Yale Law School.

So the big question that pulls you through the book is: How did he do it?

(Answer: A dedicated grandma, plus the military)

This book’s primarily Vance’s personal story, but he interlaces it with some fascinating sociological facts and studies that give the bigger picture, as well.

(Every time I write the name “Vance,” I remember that he had to choose that name for himself, after years of surname changes due to his mother’s many marriages, his father’s giving him up for adoption, and oh my gosh this is a sad story in so many ways. Yet: then he claims a surname for himself that carries meaning, and that’s triumphant. So many feels to feel!)

I am decidedly not one of those people who loves to read the memoirs of dysfunctional families (my heart can’t take it), but I was able to stay with this one easily. I think it’s cuz we know Vance’s story has a mostly happy ending (though he still bears the emotional scars of his abusive childhood).

And it also strongly appealed to me because of the sociological/narrative nonfiction nature of the book. He makes this book about more than just himself, and that elevates it. Though, for some readers, this might be where the wheels come off. Citizen Reader conveys this nuance really well in her fine review.

Vance narrates the audiobook himself, and that worked out well. (It’s not always that way, when an author reads his/her own work.) Hearing the story in his own voice, with the emphasis placed exactly where he intended, added another dimension that enriched the reading experience.

Searing, stark, and extremely cautiously hopeful. A remarkable book that makes a person think.