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?

Best nonfiction book of 2018: Rocket Men by Robert Kurson

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon

3 words: lively, heroic, crisp

I’m a cautious soul by nature. But I have no problem declaring Rocket Men my favorite nonfiction book of 2018. Even though it’s still 2017.

When a book is this perfect, I know it’ll hold its own against all the others coming down the pike next year.

I’m one of the luckies (along with Andy Weir!) who got hold of an advance copy of Rocket Men, which drops on April 3, 2018*.

And while I’m an aviation/space fanatic who’s inclined to enjoy a book about astronauts, I’ve also read enough books on the subject to become fairly discerning. I’m a picky little thing when it comes to books on topics I love.

This book works for all kinds of reasons:

First: the writing style

Kurson’s writing is crisp and lively and compulsively readable. There’s exciting forward momentum throughout the book, yet he sneaks in each astronaut’s back story and details about 1968 America in a way that feels natural. The structure of the book is very satisfying. And even though we know the happy outcome of the mission from the start, there’s tension in this story. During the perilous Trans Earth Injection (when the spacecraft accelerated out of lunar orbit to return to Earth), my stomach got a little bit flippy when I read this section about the CapCom attempting to reach the astronauts:

“Mattingly writing a full eighteen seconds, then called again.

‘Apollo 8, Houston.’

Still no answer.

Susan Borman and Valerie Anders were silent. There was no sound in the Borman home but for the squawk box, and their husbands’ voices were not coming out of it” (p. 274)

People, that is intense.

And then, Lovell: “Houston, Apollo 8, over,” followed by “Please be informed—there is a Santa Claus.”

 

Second: the subject matter

Apollo 8 was humankind’s first trip to the Moon, and it was risky as all heck. In order to beat the Russians to the Moon, NASA decided to hurry up the timeline for the mission, so: even riskier. When they ran the idea past Frank Borman, Apollo 8 commander, he accepted on the spot, then headed back to tell crewmates Jim Lovell and Bill Anders. “Sometimes Borman used the T-38 to do aerobatics, looping and rolling to help clear the cobwebs after a hard day’s work. This time he flew level and fast, back to his crewmates in California in the straightest line a test pilot ever flew” (p. 38). Anyone else get goosebumps from that?

 

Third: the focus on the humans

This book brings these people to life: the astronauts, their wives, the flight controllers. We particularly get to know the personalities of the astronauts and their wives, who emerge as real people facing challenges with all the courage they had—and sometimes struggling. It makes them more impressive to know how difficult it was, and it also makes the true story more interesting and nuanced than the standard story of heroic triumph. Granted, these humans were not standard issue humans; this happened when they were on the launchpad: “And in a testament to the cool that runs through the bloodstream of fighter pilots, Anders fell asleep, ready to awaken when things got good” (p. 147).

But this wasn’t easy stuff, and the unsentimental heroism of these people made me weepy (lots of times: weepy). Plus, I love reading about the camaraderie of a crew, and this crew had it going on: they liked each other, and they worked smoothly together, and they did that beautiful reading from Genesis on Christmas Eve (which also makes me weepy every single time I hear it). There’s a fantastic human story here.

 

Fourth: the clear and informative scientific details

While the human story draws me in most, the science-y sections made me smarter without making me bored. I’m a serious skimmer when I get restless as a reader, and I did not skim anything here. I found myself marveling at how the author described the science in a way that held my attention. I’ve read a fair number of books about space and aviation, and this one stood out in the way the author presented the technological details in a way that made them compelling. I learned more than I’d ever learned before, and I enjoyed it.

 

Reading this book was a complete delight. It’s so good, I’ll be re-reading it with pleasure next year, so it can truly be the best book I read in 2018.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… space; tales of heroic daring; crisp, clear writing

 

Update from April 2018: Best book launch ever — with astronauts!!

 

*thanks to the author, with whom I’m acquainted (which in no way shades this review, since I’d say absolutely nothing if I didn’t like the book, and I’d write more modest praise if I merely liked it. It’s sheer good fortune on my part to know an author who can seriously write.)

Nonfiction November, Week 4: Nonfiction Favorites

In Week 4 of Nonfiction November,  Katie @ Doing Dewey brings us Nonfiction Favorites.

She says: We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

 

First, can I say I love this question?

Especially since I was recently pondering this very topic. A few weeks ago, while talking about books with the Dear Man, I said something and then realized it was abundantly true: I think narrative voice is the most important element for me as a reader.

It stopped me in my tracks, that’s how true it was.

If I enjoy the writer’s voice, I’ll read nearly anything. Here’s proof:

I’ve read and loved these books, which are about topics I wouldn’t say I enjoy reading about:

 

Sports

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

Over Time by Frank Deford

An Accidental Sportswriter by Robert Lipsyte

 

Police Life (too gritty for my sensibilities, I always think, but then… these books)

Blue Blood by Edward Conlon 

The Job by Steve Osborne 

 

I think their lively narrative voice is the reason I dearly adore reading books by journalists. They get right to the point, and they keep it punchy.

 

So, my fellow nonfiction fanatics… I read for narrative voice. What nonfiction books should I add to my TBR?

Nonfiction November, Week 3: Be the Expert/Ask the Expert

(Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash)

This week Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness brings us Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert!

Here’s our topic: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

 

Self-improvement books make me very, very happy.

When I look back on the ones that have made me the happiest, these books wing their way to the top of the list. These five authors are my gurus.

Starting with the most sweeping and challenging…

 

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown   

Probably Brene Brown needs no introduction. But if her work is new to you, the quickest way I can sum it up is:

Warm. Honest. Challenging. Hopeful.

 

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin  

While I’ve never officially done a happiness project, I’ve definitely been a lifelong dabbler in the science. Rubin, who now has an entertaining podcast along with her sister, breaks happiness down for us here, and she does it by making herself the experiment. It’s informative, it’s fun to read, and it’s inspiring.

 

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

The latest self-improvement Big Impact book I’ve read, Deep Work asks us to slow down and go deep. And as a multi-tasking whirlwind (actually, I’m hooked on stacking and nesting tasks, cuz we all know multi-tasking doesn’t work), I resisted this concept like my stubborn toddler self used to dig in her heels. (People who know me now find this unfathomable, but this is the way I was.) But once I gave it a try, I was on board. And now I’m one of those annoying converts who can’t stop proselytizing. This stuff works.

 

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

Ever since I read Getting Things Done the second time (about 2 years ago), I’ve been following this system, and I don’t know how I lived without it. It’s made me both more organized and less stressed. That subtitle don’t lie, my friends.

 

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide for Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley 

Narrow the focus to writing, and this book is my hands-down favorite. Handley is encouraging and she’s wise and she makes me want to be a better writer. And she makes me want to actually sit down and write. (Sometimes that’s half the battle. Am I wrong?)

 

So, good people of the Interwebs… What self-improvement book changed your life? 

Nonfiction November, Week 2: Book Pairing

(Photo by Dominik Schröder on Unsplash)

This week, our host, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, brings us this topic…

This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

Looking at the books I’ve read this year, the fiction and nonfiction books that leap off my list and into one another’s arms are…

 

  • Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (that would be the nonfiction)
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman (that would be the fiction)

The thing that binds these two books is the response to grief — specifically, the death of a spouse. And that’s a really sad and scary topic. But both of these books are empowering, even though they’re also honest about the pain of that type of loss.

Though certainly not read-alikes, they could be companion books. I wouldn’t mind reading both of them for book club, to discuss the different ways we deal with loss.