Sunday, November 19, 2017

Book 173: Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat

I don't normally review cookbooks, but this was one I couldn't resist. I ran across an article in bon apetit magazine about this awesome new chef, Samin Nosrat, who is redefining the way people understand their ingredients.

Nosrat's book is not your standard run-of-the-mill cookbook. In each chapter, she focuses on the chemical properties of each element of cooking - salt, fat, acid, heat - to help her readers better understand how each impacts the texture and flavor of the food we prepare. At the end, she provides a number of simple and delicious recipes to try at home.

As an avid cook and an artist, this book was simply irresistible. Aside from the cooking advice, I loved Nosrat's writing style and ability to communicate complex chemical processes. And I loved the illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton, who put her heart and soul into each drawing. I borrowed this book from the library, but believe me, when I can afford it, the hard copy will be in my permanent collection.

It's difficult to read and absorb every page of this book in a few days. I would definitely recommend buying a copy (if only to keep the recipes at the back of the book handy) so that you have time to read and apply the tips in this book. I don't normally do this, but here's the link to the book on Amazon. I would not recommend the e-book version - get hard copy to see McNaughton's beautiful artwork for yourself.

I hope you check it out... it's one of the more unique books I've read this year.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A discussion of generations, libraries, and pride.

I'm in the process of doing my family tree, which is probably why I'm thinking about generations a lot lately. How are generations determined? Who determines them? What defines them? Who determines what defines them, and how is that determined? Why don't we know anything about any generations before Baby Boomers? I decided to dig a bit to learn more.

There are all sorts of conflicting definitions of which generations were born when, but NPR defines them like this:

  • GI Generation - Born 1901-1924 (THREE OF MY GRANDPARENTS)
  • Silent Generation - Both 1925-1942 (ONE GRANDPARENT)
  • Baby Boomers - Born 1943-1964 (MY PARENTS)
  • Generation X - Born 1965-1979 (ME)
  • Millennials - Born 1980-2000
  • Generation Z - Born 2001-Present (MY KIDS)
I'm a member of Generation X (GenX). I was born in 1979 and I always felt like I was the freshman of my GenX peers. I love NPR's definition of GenX, which I've never seen until now:
[GenXers] were originally called the baby busters because fertility rates fell after the boomers. As teenagers, they experienced the AIDs epidemic and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sometimes called the MTV Generation, the "X" in their name refers to this generation's desire not to be defined.

I like this definition much better than the one I heard about being called "Generation X" because we had nothing specific that would define us as a group. It's also much better than the definition a Baby Boomer once gave me when I was a teen: "Your generation is called Generation X because you have no ambition and no future." Needless to say, I didn't spend anymore time listening to whatever else that asshole had to say.

Sadly, GenXers are not known for their patronage of libraries. In fact, only 45% of GenXers and 43% of Baby Boomers visited a library in the past year. Maybe it's because I'm a GenXer and I don't want to be defined by numbers or labels, but 45%, seriously? Come on, people. Get it together. This is a matter of pride, which we certainly do not lack.

Thankfully, my mother was an exception to her own Baby Boomer generation and went to the library as often as most people get gas or go to the grocery store. Even now, she spends one day a week volunteering, helping to build programs at the public library in her new hometown of Crossville, Tennessee.

It's ironic: The defining GenX movie The Breakfast Club was set in a library, and the only reason those kids
were there was because they had detention.
But there is hope: Millennials seem to be turning the tide. Numbers published by The Pew Research Center showed that 53% of Millennials visited a public library or a bookmobile in person in the last year. And that data doesn't include university or college libraries - it's public libraries only. Nobody seems to like Millennials; they're criticized for being narcissistic and entitled, but at least they go to the library.

In a CNN article detailing the report's findings, journalist Jessica Suerth wrote that technology within libraries has a lot to do with the upsurge in their usage. Among other things she names digital loans, free internet access, 3D printers, and online account access as reasons the libraries draw more Millennials. American libraries' hard work in continuing to innovate has paid off. In my opinion, that's pretty great.

In a year when everyone seems weighed down by negativity, I thought I'd take a moment to offer some good news. Everything doesn't completely suck. Millennials go to the library.

If you're a GenXer or a Baby Boomer, maybe you should shoot over to your local library and check it out. Chances are, things have changed quite a bit and you might not even recognize it.

πŸ“– πŸ“– πŸ“–

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book 172: The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband by David Finch (Audiobook read by the Author)

In his memoir The Journal of Best Practices, author David Finch gives his readers a firsthand account of someone who struggled for years to understand himself, his quirks, and how these quirks impact those around him. Finch's story of self-realization began when his wife Kristen walked him through a test to determine if he could have Asperger Syndrome. After all signs pointed to "yes," he decided to get an official diagnosis.

In this book, Finch described his life before and after his diagnosis. At the time of his diagnosis, he felt his marriage was failing and that he was losing not just his wife but his best friend. His diagnosis made him better understand he wasn't just an asshole, but he was a person who acted a certain way because of a condition. Finch took notes in his notebook to give himself prompts to improve his behavior and his relationship with his [sainted] wife and his kids, hence the title The Journal of Best Practices. Whenever he learned something new about himself or about his wife and kids, he wrote it down. He developed a new awareness of his own behaviors, his wife's patience and understanding, and how his Asperger Syndrome was impacting his children. People with Asperger's are not known for their introspective abilities, and Finch's wife Kristen was responsible in a large part for helping him discover himself.

If you've ever known or lived with someone who has Asperger's, you might want to pick up this book to better understand that person. If you suspect someone has Asperger's and isn't aware of it, you might also want to share this book with them.

My friend Honey sent me a copy of this book from Audible, which I was able to listen to for free. The audio version of the book was read by the author, which really brought the whole thing home for me. I would definitely recommend it.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Book 171: What Happened by Hillary Clinton (Unfinished)

I wanted to finish this book, but I lost momentum halfway through, then my library loan ended, and I wasn't going to buy a $15 digital copy for my Kindle so I could finish it. Truth be told, this book is just too long to read in a few days, so I'm moving on.

Still, this is what I have to say about it.

Whether you love her or hate her, it's difficult to deny that Hillary Clinton has incredible resilience. No one wants to talk about their own failures (and some people ignore them completely), but through this book, Hillary explored her own to understand how and why they happened. She admitted her own shock and humiliation at losing the 2016 election and kept on going. She wrote about her mistakes before and during the campaign and the lessons she's learned because of them. She also wrote about what she did right. For her, I think writing this book was therapeutic. It was also very smart, because the book sold like crazy when it was published.

If you decide to pick this up, give yourself ample time to read it. You'll also need an open mind.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Book 170: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I read The Woman in Black because someone told me it was one of her favorite horror stories. I also picked it up because my book is taking forever to finish and this classic by Susan Hill was under 200 pages. Have I told you already that reading two books a week is not easy?

Arthur, the main character in this book, told the story of himself as a young lawyer in London sent to the coastal town of Crythin Grifford to settle the final affairs of his firm's client, Mrs. Drablow. He found himself on the receiving end of a haunting which changed his life forever, and he never had a chance.

As far as story lines go, The Woman in Black had a good one. I felt drawn in right away. The author's ability to describe landscapes was on point - the marshes and inn and Eel Marsh House were vivid. Her skill for building suspense was great. Still, I wasn't all that impressed with one character in the book who I felt would have certainly come forward with helpful information sooner had he actually had the relationship with Arthur that was described in the book. 

Although I liked the way the book was written (the Gothic style reminded me of Great Expectations by Dickens), the horror was a bit soft for me. The author's use of foreboding was fantastic, but I kept waiting for something new and terrible to emerge. Yeah, the end was bad, but I'm a seasoned horror junkie; I've read the worst of the worst, which has probably my shudder reflex and reduced my capability to feel real fear about ghosts. It's guts and gore and rabid dogs and real monsters that live among us that get me squirming. 

If you want a good story that will give you chills but you don't want to throw up, this would be the way to go. It's just creepy enough. 


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book 169: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman (Audiobook) narrated by Joan Walker

I think Fredrik Backman is my new favorite author. I fell in like with him when I read A Man Called Ove and now I'm completely, head-over-heels in love with this author.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry was an absolutely fascinating book. Like Ove, it uncovers each character slowly, without revealing each person completely until the end of the book. This style of writing is tantalizing to someone like me because I love suspense.

In this book, seven-year-old Elsa (who is almost eight) learns that not everything (or everyone) is at it seems. She has been surrounded by people her whole life, and until a difficult event brings them all together, she never realized she knew absolutely nothing about any of them. So she sets off on an adventure to unearth the secrets of her neighbors, friends, and family members, especially those of her quirky, independent grandmother.

This story was incredible. Backman is a master at creating characters that are both believable and unique. The characters just about jump out of the book. With Joan Walker's expert narration, the story was even more vivid. I haven't been this hooked on an audiobook in ages.

It was great. I loved it so, so much.


Monday, November 6, 2017

No more. No more. No more.

In my box of treasured possessions there is a card from a woman I will surely never meet: the mother of Olivia Engel, who was a six-year-old student killed in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.

As a parent, Sandy Hook was the worst mass shooting tragedy I could have imagined. After the dust settled, I sent letters to every family that lost loved ones at Sandy Hook, and the school's administrators graciously delivered them to the families. I told them they were not alone in their grief. I never expected a response, but Olivia's mother sent a card with a photo of her beloved daughter, smiling, in a beautiful dress on a sunny day. It was weeks - maybe months - after the shootings so it took a minute before I realized what I had in my hand. Then I cried.  

One month ago, a dude with a lot of guns killed 58 people in Las Vegas, then he killed himself. Last week another dude entered a Wal-Mart in Denver and started shooting, killing three people. Then, yesterday, Nov. 5, yet another dude entered a Texas church and killed 26 people and wounded a lot more, then he killed himself. 

Yesterday, when I saw another mass shooting appear in my AP news alerts, I was not shocked. In fact, it barely registered, emotionally speaking. A full 24 hours later, it hit me: 26 people died in the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012, and 26 people died in the Sutherland Springs shootings five years later. To the second, I had almost no emotional reaction. I got a chill down the side of my face as this realization took hold.

And then I got mad. 

I got mad because although mass shootings are outrageous to me, my mind has been confronted with so many of these tragedies it believes they are part of normal everyday life. It's simple behavioral science: we cannot continue to be exposed to the same stimuli over and over again for years on end and expect to have equal reactions every time. I am not okay with this. I am ashamed. 

I got mad because all life is precious, and each life lost to these stupid losers and their stupid guns is a waste. 

I got mad because when I go to any public gathering, I find myself checking the rafters and making sure I know the closest exits and best hiding places. I am tired of feeling powerless to do anything to protect my family and myself. I feel like a sitting duck.

I got mad because we have state representatives, senators, and presidents that moan about gun policy and never do anything worth mentioning to reduce the number of automatic weapons in our communities. We can't even write and call our representatives to make a difference, because half of them get campaign contributions from the NRA, which, by the way, still doesn't pay any taxes because it's a nonprofit. 

I got mad because we - YES, WE - have allowed this one sentence written more than 200 years ago: a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, to mean a bunch of freaking psychos can buy unlimited numbers of automatic weapons and stockpile ammunition for these literal WAR MACHINES right in our communities. There is no other purpose for an automatic weapon but to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. 

I got mad because it seems like we as a country never learn. It has been FIVE YEARS since the Sandy Hook shooting, the death of Olivia Engel, 19 other elementary school kids, and six teachers and NOTHING HAS CHANGED. Heaven knows what kind of death could have been prevented had we done something, anything, about gun control 18 YEARS AGO after the Columbine High School shooting. 

Then I got mad because realized I have already forgotten so many tragedies and victims. This is a listing of all of the U.S. mass shootings since 1982 and number of fatalities compiled by Mother Jones and updated every five minutes. Like me, I'll bet you've never heard of most of these or, if you have, you've forgotten them already. Hopefully it will get your blood boiling again. Seeing it like this makes me sick. 

Finally, I got mad because I realized a lot of Americans - including those we've chosen to represent our interests in Washington, D.C. - care more about the right to bear arms than they do about our right to life.

We need to do something, and we need to do it now, because this problem is not going away. 


Friday, November 3, 2017

Book 168: The Big Oyster: History on the Half-Shell by Mark Kurlansky

The history of the American oyster was not a topic I would have chosen to explore on my own, but The Big Oyster popped up in my Kindle recommendations, I simply couldn't resist. Turns out, the author Mark Kurlansky picked two topics I really love: food and its history.

This book leaves no stone unturned when it comes to explaining how the American oyster was harvested, shucked, eaten, consumed until nearly extinct, and finally, cultivated and grown. The story begins in pre-colonial New York, where the Hudson Bay was teeming with oysters growing in their beds and were harvested by Native Americans who threw the shells into piles called "middens," which are still being discovered to this day. I was utterly fascinated by the chapters on 19th century New York and its famed oyster shuckers. By a strange coincidence, I shucked oysters myself this year for the first time, and now I know why rapid fire oyster shucking is such a true test of dexterity.

Like most of these "explore the topic to the finest detail" books, they contain tidbits that contradict what you thought you knew about the topic all your life. I wasn't experienced on oysters at all before I read this book, but I was surprised to find that nobody else seems to know what they're talking about, either. Kurlansky did some serious debunking.

Not every one of his books is as riveting as this one, but I blame the topics, not the author's ability. For some reason, this book just hooked me from page one and I couldn't put it down. If you decide to pick it up, I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Check it out! I enjoyed it.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Book 167: The Palm Reading After the Toad's Garden by Michael Dickel

To be completely fair and totally transparent, I am no poetry buff. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of poetry books I have read cover to cover. So please, if you are looking for a seasoned, professional reviewer of poetry, keep on looking.

However, I am still The Ardent Reader (and not a newbie to this reading thing) and I believe poetry is one of the bravest forms of self-expression, because a poet can almost always guarantee that the majority of people won't understand what he or she is trying to convey with words or otherwise. For that reason I admire people who decide to try their hand at it.

That being said, Michael Dickel's collection entitled The Palm Reading after the Toad's Garden was not straight up poetry, nor was it prose. It was a series of stories - well, not really stories, either - more like encounters told from a variety of perspectives. It's sort of like art, made of words.

In the beginning, some of the language in Dickel's poems made me anxious, until I realized it may have been the author's intention to make me feel anxious. Further into the book I found poems that were simple and beautiful because they were about everyday stuff. I don't know why I liked those so much, but I think it's because I felt the moments were captured in a genuine way. Some were fun, such as Words and God's Pop Quiz (hilarious, reflective of reality, also sad) and some tackled hard stuff, like Final Destination. I found myself wondering how much of what Dickel wrote was taken from real life, and how much was conjured. I think when you can't tell the difference, that's a good thing.

The author, Michael Dickel, is one of my Twitter buddies (@MYDekel469). When we connected and I learned he was an author and had written a book, I said what I always say to authors, "Send me a copy and I'll review it on my blog." So he sent me a copy in the mail and inscribed it, too:

Es Curtis - 
I hope you find something here that sparks your creative fires.
Michael Dickel

I enjoyed reading Dickel's collection. It was almost like visiting someone you just met and peeking in on their knickknack cabinet, wondering what the story is behind each item... and dying to ask.

See, that was almost poetic, right?


Today is National Family Literacy Day: Passing on A Legacy of Reading

Today, November 1, is National Family Literacy Day!

When I was a kid, my mom always had a book on her nightstand. She kept Reader's Digest or the novel she was currently reading in the bathroom so while my brothers played in the tub, she could catch up on her reading. She read in the car while my dad drove up and down the east coast on our family vacations. She borrowed books from the Roxborough branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia and always turned them in on time. She showed me reading was a priority. Sometimes she straight up ignored us while she was reading. My dad was good at that, too. He collects enormous art history books, which are stored in tortured-looking bookcases throughout their house.

Without even realizing it, many parents strive to keep members of our households occupied every waking hour of the day. We bounce from one activity to the next, never setting aside any time for ourselves until we crash in front of the TV. This is a terrible way to live and a poor example for our children, who will likely seek the same balance in the future that all of us wish we had today.

I try to emulate my mother's example for my own two kids to show them it's good to incorporate time into each day for reading, whether by themselves or alongside others. I want them to see that reading is something to be enjoyed, not endured. I want to catch my kids reading on their own, nestled in a blanket on the couch or sitting up in their tree fort. I hope they will cultivate their own lives through reading and encourage others - perhaps one day their own children - to do the same.

Today, sit down with your kids and read them a book. Or, if they say they're "too big" for reading together, take them to a book store (yes, a brick and mortar one) and let them pick out something new. Or, like me, you may decide to head to one of your local libraries to participate in a book club. My own favorite is meeting tomorrow at 6:30 at the Smyrna Public Library if you'd like to join!


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Horror: My First True Literary Love and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

I was raised in Philadelphia in a conservative Christian family. We had a lot of rules, most of which I didn't like. Tuck in your shirt, don't curse, wear a belt, go to three different churches twelve times a week, iron your church clothes even if they are jeans and a t-shirt, do morning devotions, read your Bible, do nightly devotions, pray over every meal and before you go to bed, go to the bathroom before we leave, eat what's on your plate even if it's gross and/or might be freeze dried survival food, do what your father says, do what your mother says, and do what your grandmother says. (Those last three rules had an entire litany of sub-rules which could be created and implemented at whatever juncture seemed appropriate.) 

Some rules were created arbitrarily based on whether my grandmother considered something evil. For example, Santa Claus was evil because his existence (real or imagined) took the focus off of Jesus during Christmas. (This claim was further evidenced by the fact that the letters in his name could be rearranged to spell "Satan.") Wishing was evil, as was any form of alcohol, Madonna, evolution, daytime soap operas, Labrynth, the Rolling Stones, Fantasia, Max Headroom, Native American dream catchers, and inexplicably, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial. (I do know the biblical reason for this, but it's way too complicated for this blog.) And finally, at the top of the heap of evil things was THE MOST EVIL THING OF ALL: HALLOWEEN. 

As kids, we lived half a block from a store that sold penny candy. We weren't rich, but damn, did we feel like it when we used our allowance to buy fifty cents of Swedish Fish. Candy was life, and that meant Halloween was impossible to ignore. Our parents tried to make us ignore it anyway, and every Oct. 31, we went into our house and our parents locked the doors and turned off the lights at the front of the house. All through dinner and our glum nightly devotional, we were interrupted by what seemed like hundreds of happy-go-lucky assholes whose parents not only encouraged them to dress up for Halloween but even went along with them. My dad would pause and wait silently until they gave up and went away. It was torture. One year, both parents were working on Halloween (but the rules still applied), so my brothers and I handed out potatoes and onions to those who appeared at our door. It was our own special "screw you" to kids who had it better than we did. 

Incidentally, the benefit to growing up in a family like ours was that you could always argue that something hadn't been explicitly identified as evil, so technically, it wasn't off limits when you decided to do it. It only became evil once you were caught and punished. The drawback to living like this is we grew up not knowing how to make decisions for ourselves, so when we got free, we went ape shit crazy. (Thankfully, only one of us ended up in jail, and it wasn't me.)

The one thing that wasn't evil, wasn't off limits, and had indescribable possibilities was the Free Library of Philadelphia. We could walk the 14 blocks there by ourselves, and my mom would even give us bus tokens if she had them. After age 12, I triumphantly explored the adult section, and I chose the most evil section: Horror. I went for the gusto, and chose Stephen King, known far and wide as the most evil writer of them all. Hell, he was so bad they even talked about him in church.

Sure, I borrowed mystery and history books (I loved Michael Crichton and anything about medical oddities) but I always checked out a Stephen King novel along with them. I'd sneak them into my room and read them under the covers, freaking myself out and staying up all night with the lights on to make sure I wasn't attacked by the undead creature that most certainly inhabited the five inches of space underneath my bed. 

The first King book I read was Pet Sematary, which scared the living beejeezus out of me. Then I read Misery. Then I read The Dead Zone. Then I read 'Salem's Lot. Then The Shining. Then Cujo. Then IT. I worked my way through the branch's King collection, then requested the rest through our librarian. I then discovered that King also wrote under the pen name of Richard Bachman, and read as many of those as I could get my hands on. I read many of the books he co-wrote with Peter Straub. I've read IT at least eight times, and I can never get through the month of June without at least thinking of reading it just one last time. And sometimes I give in. 

So, dear readers, this is how a good little church girl grew up to love the horror genre, the author Stephen King, and the monsters, demons, ax-wielding nurses, dead pets, possessed caretakers, ghouls, re-animated corpses, fantasy creatures, rabid dogs, and irreparably damaged child heroes King and his fellow writers brought to life. To this day, I can't walk past the fiction section without checking for a new King novel. It's just as impossible to ignore your first true literary love as it is to ignore Halloween.

Now, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I dress my two children in their costumes and take them out to trick-or-treat. We go to the scariest houses and face gruesome, horrifying ghouls. Sometimes we go to the American Legion's haunted house, which is so good and scary that we scream all the way through. Our fear overtakes us at the very end when we run from the place, chased by a chainsaw-wielding madman. We catch our breath in the parking lot, then pile into the car, our hearts still pounding. Then we laugh. And there's the tiniest possibility that I might have had more fun than my kids.

Happy Halloween! 


P.S. My parents have lightened up quite a bit since then, and hopefully my mother won't disown me for this post. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Book 166: White Trash History by Nancy Isenberg (Unfinished)

The loftier the goal, the more dismal the failure. (My failure, not the author's.)

White Trash History was a book I desperately wanted to finish but couldn't because the library loan ended and the book was so damn long. And it's my own stupid fault - I broke my rule - I kept reading long after I should have given up. It didn't hook me in the first chapter, then the second, then the third, and still I went on. I was 35% of the way through the book when the digital loan expired, and I decided to post a partial review because the reading I did accomplish took real effort.

Nancy Isenberg's topic was fascinating, and she gets points for exploring it in such grave detail that I don't know if anyone would ever be able to best her research. I learned about the foundations of American society, slavery, a good deal about the civil war, and more than I ever could have imagined about Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Davy Crockett, Andrew Jackson, and a little bit about Jefferson Davis. (Most of them were two-faced scoundrels.) I learned about the clay eaters of North Carolina, the anti-slavery laws in Georgia, American Indians, land bequests, and the use of America as a dumping ground for England's poor. The book was filled with nuggets of history that I had never come across before. I don't regret trying to read it.

At some point I do expect to pick this up and finish it, but it won't be in this year. Reading two books a week greatly depends on a book's length and momentum, and this one was simply too long and mentally demanding to accomplish in such a short period of time.

Props to you, Nancy Isenberg, for stopping the Ardent Reader in her tracks!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Why I love my Kindle Paperwhite.

Insomnia or Nocturnal Awakening by George Grie
Before I moved in with Mr. Fussypants, I lived in my own apartment with my two kids. Every night after I got the kids in bed, I read myself to sleep. I go through phases of insomnia, and on sleepless nights, I would simply switch on the bedside light, read until I got tired again, switch off the light, and fall back asleep. It was a fool-proof insomnia solution.

After I moved in with Mr. Fussypants, I knew this routine was not going to work. Among other things, he is hypersensitive to light and sound while he's sleeping, and his insomnia is ten times worse than mine. My solution of switching on and off the light every few hours was a problem. Sigh.

For Christmas one year, he bought me a Kindle Fire to read at night if I wanted, which had low light and (we thought) wouldn't be bothersome. Unfortunately, the text on a Kindle Fire is backlit, so it's like staring at a computer screen in the darkness... not conducive to falling back asleep. In fact, it made me feel more awake. Also, he felt it was too bright, even on its lowest setting. It was not a good solution, and remains on its charger unless it's being used to watch the latest episode of The Walking Dead while I'm on the treadmill.

About a year ago, I spent $100 and bought myself a Kindle Paperwhite, and wow, life is so much better. I'm able to read myself to sleep before bed and read myself back to sleep in the middle of the night without disrupting His Royal Majesty's sleep. On this thing, the text is that digital ink, which can be adjusted to any size or font, and the text is lit from the front, so it doesn't wear on my eyes. And I don't have to wear my glasses to read on the PaperWhite, which I hate anyway, but hate them even more when I have to search for them in the dark.

I will never give up paper books, but having this thing has made it possible for me to deal with insomnia in a way that works for me, without causing more difficulty for my partner.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Book 165: All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner (Audiobook) Read by Tracee Chimo

Another audiobook on loan from my coworker Sherry! This was a good one.

In Jennifer Weiner's book All Fall Down, Allison Weiss was a busy wife, mom, and blogger. She also had a little problem that was quickly ballooning out of control: an addiction to painkillers.

Through the character Allison Weiss, the author made it clear that anyone and everyone can be susceptible to addiction. In the parts where Allison's addiction is snowballing downhill, wide swaths of the story are missing, because Allison doesn't remember them. We - as the reader - are clued in later about the reasons some things happened the way they did. And we find out that not everything is not always what it seems.

I was in familiar territory as I immersed myself in this book. Not with addiction (though I do know it well, but not firsthand), but with the challenges of being a working mother, feeling like things are spinning out of control. I know the feeling of having deadlines to meet while children are begging for attention and a spouse or partner is mentally or emotionally checking out. I grew up in Philadelphia, I knew the landmarks embedded in the story's setting.

I loved this book through and through. The audiobook version, read by Tracee Chimo, was excellent.

And now, I'm caught up.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Book 164: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

It turns out I picked the perfect book for our vacation to Canada: My Life on the Road by gender equality activist Gloria Steinem. In this book she chronicled her travels around the world and the U.S., during which she gained experience that made her so well-equipped for roles as a women's right's activist, writer, journalist, speaker, and grassroots community organizer.

Each chapter of this book focuses on a different travel experience and shows how each experience gave Steinem tools to approach her next challenge or build a following around an issue. In one chapter after another, Steinem described herself as a veritable modern gypsy, more comfortable and alive on the road than anywhere else. Now in her 70s, Steinem says traveling is the reason she's stayed young at heart.

My Life on the Road was not just about travel. It was about exploring controversial topics - racism, gender equality, homosexuality, HIV/AIDS, prostitution, abortion, human trafficking, migrant workers, LGBTQ, civil, and human rights - through Steinem's interactions with people impacted by these issues. As she traveled, she learned more about the U.S. than she ever would have in the history books. And she also saw firsthand how women and minorities were treated, and how they fought back by building vibrant, supportive communities.

I found this book fascinating for many different reasons. For one, I believe in equal rights for women but also believe we are centuries away from achieving it. This book gave me hope that perhaps one day, a man will feel shame in addressing any women over age 10 as "honey" or "sweetie." It also validated some of my own experiences, such as being called "aggressive" and given poor marks on a performance review when I was, in fact, doing my best to hold male coworkers to normal workplace behavior standards. Also, like Steinem, I am so shocked when someone does something obviously demeaning that I don't know what to say in the moment. I think a lot of women deal with the same crisis of conscience: the desire to remain respectful, professional, and polite while also wanting to tear someone's head off for not being respectful, professional, or polite.

I began the book while on vacation, and ended it as I was pulling into my hometown, which was precisely when Steinem was concluding her book with a story about the comforts of home. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone of any gender (but certainly adult).

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Well, I guess I'm on vacation. And so is this blog.

Gloria Steinem's Life on the Road and
breakfast in Gatineau, Quebec
I'm away in Canada on vacation. I had two books in progress before I left - one an audiobook entitled All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner and White Trash History by Nancy Isenberg. When we left on Friday for the first leg of our trip, I was on the very last CD of the audiobook All Fall Down in my car, but we took my boyfriend's Lexus instead of my wee little Hyundai. Now I have to wait an entire week to find out what happens to the main character, Allison Weiss. And you, dear readers, must wait to find out what I thought of it. 

Unfortunately, my choice for our trip, White Trash History, is interesting but oh so long. I am never going to finish this book without some seriously intensive reading hours, which I don't have while on vacation with Mr. Fussypants. Luckily I loaded a few alternatives onto my Kindle before we left for vacation, which include My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, a few titles from authors I met on Twitter, and several classics from my library's free download program. 

I realized yesterday that trying to read two books a week while on vacation is not just difficult but also not conducive to enjoying our time as a couple. So I'll read when I can and blog when I can, and hopefully you'll be patient with me. 

Much love from Canada. 


Thursday, October 12, 2017


I have at least three books in progress on various mediums and none of them are short. I'm working on finishing one up by tonight and another by Saturday.

We are leaving on vacation at the end of this week and I've been completely hung up with packing and getting ready to leave our house and our birds and our kids for a week away in relative paradise. All of this has really cut into my reading time, despite my best efforts.

So I'm trying to keep up, but you may get two book reviews at once over the weekend.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

October 10 is World Mental Health Day - Reach out to someone you love.

None of us are perfect. All of us have problems. Some of these problems are obvious to those around us, and some are hidden. Some are deep, deep inside, and only become evident when we can no longer contain them.

Mental health - one of the inside problems, is quickly becoming an unmanageable public health problem. People with mental health issues are caught in a bizarre world seemingly devoid of appropriate resources. Although medications help, there is no cure for mental illness. Behavioral therapies help, but funding for such long term, expensive services is tough to find. ERs do their best to stabilize and refer people, but the problem continues to bloom. I did my thesis on this topic for my master's degree. 

I have anxiety, which I always thought was a bullshit diagnosis until I actually had it. I have a tough time getting out of my own head. Without medication, my mind races all night long; it's especially bad when I'm dealing with stress or a decision I need to make but don't want to. I get migraines when the stress becomes too much. And my guy tells me over and over again, "Just stop thinking about it." (If only I could.)

Today is #WorldMentalHealthDay. #TalkAboutIt

Here are some links to get help when you feel like things are going out of control. 
Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255 -
Crisis Text Line - Text HOME to 741741  -


Monday, October 9, 2017

Book 163: The Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

A few days ago I realized I read this book and never wrote a review on it. So I decided to read it once more to refresh my memory and give the Slaughterhouse Five its rightful place on my blog.

Truthfully, there's no point in reviewing this book. It's got a life of its own. Slaughterhouse Five is a classic. The story is about Billy Pilgrim, a lanky, unkempt World War II soldier who has no business being on the battlefield. When he becomes unstuck in time and transported to Tralfamadore, his perspective on life changes completely. The story is also about Dresden, Germany, a town flattened by American bombs toward the end of of the war.

Everyone who reads this book will get something different out of it. To me, it is the story of young men, old men, the human experience, the horror of war, and finally, the reality that in the long run, the existence of human beings is completely inconsequential. 

I haven't loved every Vonnegut book, but I do love this one. So it goes.


So you are aware, reading two books a week is not getting any easier. If anything, it's getting harder. Thank goodness for insomnia or book 161 would have been delayed another day, which would have shortened the time I would have had to read my next book. It's a bit like trying to keep up with a speeding train, only I'm both the engineer driving the train and the idiot running behind it.

As soon as I finish one book, I barely have enough time to relish its completion before beginning the next one. That makes me a little sad, but writing about each book helps me close it out, say goodbye, and move on. I look forward to finishing the book so that I can write about it.

I've quickly realized that having two or three books in progress is the only way I'm capable of accomplishing this goal. Right now I've got a partially finished hard copy book on my nightstand and another on my desk at work, a Kindle e-book on deck, an audio book on CD in my car, and an Audible book on my phone.

Before I started doing this, I thought people who jumped back and forth between books were crazy. Now I'm doing it and somehow it's working. I do feel like more of my neurons are firing, so maybe my brain is reorganizing its neural pathways to keep up with this level of absorption. It's teaching me new ways of paying attention.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Book 162: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Audiobook) read by George Newbern

I loved this book. I loved it so much that it's hard to write this review, because I'm afraid I'll give away the surprises within. So I'll keep this review simple and straight to the point.

Fredrik Backman's book A Man Called Ove (pronouned "Oo-vah") was translated into English and published in the U.S. a few years ago. My bestie Liz recommended this book, and I bought the audio book on Audible. It was a bit slow in the beginning, but the story picks up momentum in the third chapter.

Ove is a cantankerous old man who lives in a quiet neighborhood and has a deep sense of responsibility to his neighborhood and its appearance. As my mom would say, Ove is a stinker. People do not like Ove. But A Man Called Ove is crafted in a way that reveals Ove's true nature to both the reader and the other characters one chapter at a time, until we (and they) understand him, and in doing so, fall in love with him. The chapters alternate between the past and the present, providing us with insights into Ove's background at the same time as the present story develops. Although that sounds like it might be confusing, it's not; Backman's writing is simple and well organized. This book was beautifully balanced, too, because it paired humor with vulnerability so well. I can't say I've ever read a book that knitted things together so crisply and naturally. Ove would have been proud.

I can't tell you more, but if you pick up this book and see it through to the end, you won't regret it. Every character was gold. I loved it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Las Vegas Massacre, October 1, 2017

Add cPeople run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival
after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in
Las Vegas, Nevada. © David Becker / Getty Images / AFPaption
I was awake at 2 a.m. finishing my blog post for Book 161 when I saw the first reports of a shooting that had killed 20 people in Las Vegas. I thought, Vegas? This can't happen in Vegas. I've been to Vegas. Cops are on every corner. But it did. And it came from above. And it was really, really bad. 

By the time I got to work the confirmed death toll had risen from 20 to 50, and the wounded had risen from 100 to over 400. By noon, the 58 were dead, and more than 500 were injured. I am absolutely wrecked, and I know the city of Las Vegas will never be the same. 

We always ask the questions when this kind of thing happens. Who was the shooter? Did he have connections to terrorist groups? What were his motives? Were there warning signs that were ignored? Did anyone interview his neighbors, relatives, and friends? And even when the answers come (sometimes immediately, sometimes more slowly), we don't feel safe or whole. We feel vulnerable, and we know we could very well be next. 

Then, as if it's helpful, legislators speak out about bad gun control policies. "This crisis could have been averted if we had a 10-month waiting period." "Bullets should be taxed at a premium." "The hotel should have had a metal detector." "Politicians should not accept campaign contributions from the NRA." So we say all of this and do some things about it, and yet, the next month, the same thing happens again, in a different city. We scramble around, trying to find more reasons, more systems that failed, and work to repair them, after the fact. But it just. keeps. happening. 

We are missing something huge here: a lack of familial and community vigilance. People are becoming more isolated as others are consumed by the day to day business of life. There are no warning signs to be seen because the most deranged individuals hide right under our noses. They emerge from the shadows when it's their time to kill, and no one is the wiser. Then they strike. Then we are shocked, and we talk to the police and the media and say, "He was quiet. He didn't bother anybody. We cannot believe this violent person lived right next to us." The shooter's sister says, "Yeah, he was weird, but we didn't expect this. He seemed fine when I saw him last year."

Certain types of animals - especially those in herds - recognize that sick or injured animals are a threat to their larger communities. While some care for one another, nursing weaker members back to health, others forcefully separate the sick or injured from the herd, leaving them to survive or die on their own. In animal communities, when something goes wrong with one of their members, they know it. And they take action - one way or another - to protect themselves.

All of our societal advances are for nothing if we don't open our eyes and see that our isolation from one another is a weakness, not a strength. Within our families and communities we must identify and care for those who are mentally unstable or emotionally unsound, before they become a danger to themselves or others.

October 10th is #WorldMentalHealthDay, and mental health is a topic I am passionate about. I had planned to publish something about recognizing your own issues before they get out of control, and not being ashamed to talk to someone when you think you need help. I had planned to write about checking in on your neighbors and keeping tabs on your less than social family members. I had planned to discuss stigma in our society and how it reduces our ability to effectively treat those suffering from mental health issues. Looks like the only thing I'll be posting on #WorldMentalHealthDay is information on how to get help.

R.I.P., Las Vegas victims. I'll be looking for ways to help remotely.



Book 161: Conversations with the Faithful: Seeking Enlightenment over Lunch by Kerry Parry

Those of you that know me personally know I am a deeply spiritual person, but I am not religious in the traditional sense of the word. I believe that we all have our own spiritual journeys to complete, and that limiting ourselves to one dogma or another just limits the scope of our own personal enlightenment. This is why Kerry Parry's book, Conversations with the Faithful: Seeking Enlightenment over Lunch hooked me from the very first page. I also like her name: Kerry Parry, the vowels of which I transposed at least twice during this blog post.

Parry's spiritual journey began with a desire to learn more about others' faith, especially those who seemed to have all their questions answered. Although Parry's family had Mormon roots, she and her family did not adhere to any formal religious practice. Through interviews and research, Parry found her own faith was not lacking; it was simply something she had to unearth, identify, and embrace.

In a thousand different ways, I identified with Parry's journey. I related to her sense of humor, sarcasm, cynicism, and desire for a better understanding of herself. As kids she and I were both exposed to some of the same weirdness of Christianity and came to the same conclusions. Like her, I learned the basic beliefs of the Mormons from a South Park episode (thank you, Trey Parker and Matt Stone.) I felt the same unease with which she approached people who seemed so sure of their beliefs, because I believe rigidity is a weakness, not a strength.

I found this book hilarious and introspective. Definitely worth the read.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A word or two on satire.

  1. the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

I am an avid fan of The Onion and The New Yorker's Borowitz ReportI love Da Ali G Show, The Flight of the Conchords, and Saturday Night Live. I love movies like What We Do in the Shadows and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. For as long as I can remember, I've loved artists that use sarcasm to poke fun at traditional themes, historical events, or icons. And damn, I love it when I find a book that can really make me question reality and laugh out loud.

Well executed and wicked satire is rare, and it usually blows my mind when I come across it. The best satire books I've read include The True Account: A Novel of the Lewis and Clark and Kinneson Expeditions by Howard Frank Mosher (I RUE THE DAY I lent this book to someone), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Graham Smith, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and Letters from the Earth by Mark Twain (the original Snarky McSnarkykins).

Satire makes the hard realities of life easier to digest. For hundreds of years, American political satirists have not just provided us with a laugh - they've showed us alternate ways of looking at issues that impact all of us. When Melissa McCarthy spoofed White House spokesperson Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live, I knew in my heart I wasn't the only American thinking every single press conference Spicer held was a freaking train wreck. McCarthy's exaggerated performance showed Spicer's worst qualities for all the world to see. Not long after, the Trump administration quickly removed "Spicey" from his high profile position. I wasn't surprised. By poking fun at something or someone, we reduce the power it/they has over us. 

Once upon a time, I wrote satire myself (mostly out of boredom), in the form of one-page stories written only for the eyes of my friends and trusted coworkers. The most memorable one, The Undertone of Poo, was a soliloquy that became famous within a small circle of friends. (I wish I still had it - I need it for my portfolio.) I wrote The Undertone of Poo because my boss ignored the fact that his male employees were shitting in the one women's bathroom and covered it up with flowery air freshener spray. Hence the title.

Mark Twain wrote, "[Humanity] has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand."

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Book 160: Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-year-old Company that Changed the World by Chris Lowney

My bachelor's degree was in organizational leadership. By the time I was done earning the degree, I had little interest in reading yet another book on the topic. But I was intrigued when I saw this book pop up in my recommended reading list. The first thought I had was, "There's a company that's 450 years old?"

The Jesuits are a Catholic sect that began in Spain more than 400 years ago. Jesuit priests were known for their academic pursuits, goodwill, and evangelism efforts. They established thousands of schools around the world to educate and mentor future leaders of the Jesuit sect.

Chris Lowney, the author of Heroic Leadership, did a ton of research to bring this story together and tell the Jesuits' story from their foundations to present day practices. The book was long, and in places it was a bit dry, but the author was consistent - his style is very matter-of-fact and to the point. And I was sort of jealous - the Jesuits seem like the kind of people I'd like to be around. Too bad it's an all-male sect.

The book focused on the development of leaders within the Jesuit sect and the administrative functions of the organization. I didn't know that the Jesuits have divided up the world into "provinces" which allow them to manage their functions with a consistency that has spanned the ages. All I kept thinking while I was reading this is that the Jesuits were way ahead of their time, and that I didn't expect to find these lessons within a book on Catholicism. It was sort of surprising.

I'd definitely recommend this book.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Spotlight: Rarity from The Hollow by Robert Eggleton

Rarity from the Hollow is no ordinary book. And author Robert Eggleton is no ordinary author. Eggleton is a former child psychotherapist who decided to set his pen to paper, write about what he knew best, and further, he decided to dedicate the book's proceeds to child abuse prevention

Although I did not finish the book (sci-fi and fantasy are both enormous stretches for me, and mixed together, I'm lost), I promised Mr. Eggleton I would publish a spotlight to tell others about it. I believe in his cause and I appreciate him sending me a copy to review. I encourage my followers who are into science fiction and fantasy to give it a shot and let me know what you think. Here's a link to buy it on Amazon.

Lacy Dawn's father relives the Gulf War, her mother's teeth are rotting out, and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in the hollow is hard. She has one advantage -- an android was inserted into her life and is working with her to cure her parents. But, he wants something in exchange. It's up to her to save the Universe. Lacy Dawn doesn't mind saving the universe, but her family and friends come first.

Commentary from the Author
Piers Anthony, best selling fantasy author during the '80s and '90s, found that my novel was “…not for the prudish.” Kevin Patrick Mahoney, editor of the once noteworthy site, Authortrek, found that my story was, “…not for the faint hearted or easily offended….”   An early voice in the first chapter speaks about things that no child should know. It is that of a traumatized child – a voice most of us never listen to, or want to hear, but in real life is screaming. I'm a retired children's psychotherapist. The language and concepts in this story are mild in comparison to some of the stuff that kids have said during actual group therapy sessions that I have facilitated over the years. 

Thank you, Robert Eggleton, for writing this book on a topic that is so often ignored by other authors. I am pleased to post this spotlight on your behalf.

P.S. I love the cover.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Book 159: The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni

I loved this book, the characters within it, and the way it was written. The characters were so believable and dynamic. Every one of us knows someone like the characters in this book, so it made it easy to relate to each one of them.

Sebastian Prendergast has been raised by his eccentric grandmother Josephine, who lives her life in accordance with the teachings of visionary Buckmaster Fuller. Ever since he was orphaned, his grandmother had been raising him for one purpose: to save the world. When a traumatic event brings them together, the characters in this book find their lives forever changed. The author, Peter Bognanni, made his reader truly care about the success or failure of the two boys in this book, and more than anything, I'll remember Bognanni's talent in describing his characters' environments just enough that my brain filled in the details and made each place alive for me.

I didn't start out loving this book. I borrowed it from the digital library library with mixed feelings. But about two chapters in, I was hooked on it and couldn't stop reading. When the digital loan ended when I was 80% done, I freaked and I bought the book on Amazon to finish it. And it was good all the way to the end.

After I finished the book, I found out that it had been made into a movie. The actors playing the main parts looked exactly how I imagined them.

I give this book an A rating. It was beautiful, memorable, and extremely well executed.

Friday, September 22, 2017

I am different.

I'm thrilled to report that my master's certificate arrived a few days ago. I still need to attend graduation in January to close out this chapter of my life, but I earned my degree. It means everything to me.

Looking back, I realize the personal sacrifices I had to make to earn my bachelor's and master's degrees were significant. For the past three years I spent countless hours in front of our home computer, typing until my hands hurt and my ass went numb. I gained thirty pounds. I spent thousands of dollars on textbooks and textbook rentals. I was forced to ignore my family to write papers on topics I didn't care about and won't remember. I skipped church services for a year and a half to dedicate Sundays to my coursework. Some weekends I worked ten or twelve straight hours on both Saturday and Sunday with just a few breaks to use the bathroom and eat. I broke down in tears as I toiled through math classes that dredged up memories of absolute failure in middle school. I lugged my laptop and books with me everywhere. I got up at the crack of dawn to work in hotel business centers while on vacation. I remained focused, though there were many distractions and my heart wasn't always in my work. My grandmother - who was so proud that I was earning my graduate degree - died just before my final class. In no way has this journey been an easy one. And now that it's all done, I have tens of thousands in student loans repay.

What did I learn through this experience? For one thing, I have a whole new respect for adults who choose to pursue higher education, especially those with full time jobs and kids. I learned to write for specific audiences and purposes, manage my time, and plan my workload. I already knew I worked well under pressure, but this experience showed how to maintain momentum over longer spans of time. I learned who my true friends were; they're the ones I could count on to understand why I wasn't able to hang out with them on the weekends, but they still asked me anyway. I learned I have no interest in pursuing a doctorate unless it is a) easy, b) pays for itself and/or c) there are really good reasons for me to do so (six figures, for example). I formed alliances with my coworkers. I have a renewed appreciation for my family, who understood mine was a goal I could not achieve without their support. And while my empathy for individuals and causes grew by leaps and bounds, my tolerance for ignorance, laziness, drama, and bullshit disappeared entirely.

I am different.

In closing, I leave you with a series of quotes that helped me get through difficult days and keep my eye on the prize:

"There is no greater education than one that is self-driven."
- Neil deGrasse Tyson

"Education must not simply teach work - it must teach LIFE."
- W.E.B. Du Bois

"In some parts of the world, students are going to school every day. It's their normal life. But in other parts of the world, we are starving for education... it's like a precious gift. It's like a diamond."
- Malala Yousafzai

"Education is the movement from darkness into light."
- Allan Bloom

"You are always a student, never a master. You have to keep moving forward."
- Conrad Hall

"I never lose. I either win or learn."
- Nelson Mandela

"A human being is not attaining [his/her] full heights until [she/he] is educated."
- Horace Mann

"The very spring and root of honesty and virtue lie in good education."
- Plutarch

"Why are fanatics so terrified of girls' education? Because there's no force more powerful to transform a society. The greatest threat to extremism isn't drones firing missiles, but girls reading books."
- Nicholas Kristof

"I know what it feels like to struggle to get the education that you need."
- Michelle Obama

"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wow! 20,000 Views! Thank you!

Thank you, dear readers, for visiting my blog and taking part in my reading experience! I love reading and hope you've found the books I've featured on this blog interesting, provocative, and informative.

Completing a book every three or four days is a challenge. Finding books that I can read in three or four days is a challenge. Making the time to read without alienating my family and friends is also a challenge. Still, I know the benefits of reading, and I'm sticking to my original goal.

I love books, I love reading, and I love that reading has helped me educate myself about the world surrounding me. 

Thank you. 
Dank je.
κ³ λ§™μŠ΅λ‹ˆλ‹€
Gratias tibi. (For Mr. Rockey.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book 158: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (Audiobook) Read by Derek Perkins

Let me start by saying that this book is anything but brief. I bought the Audible version of this book on June 12, and it took me until yesterday to finish it. Three months and change. I've never run a marathon, but I hear the last mile is the toughest... and I definitely dragged myself across the finish line on this one.

Despite of (and also because of) its length, this book was utterly brilliant. Yuval Noah Harari tells the [not brief] story of the development of the species of homo sapiens (us) and leaves no stone unturned. The author's wit and use of metaphors with some of the tougher concepts made this complicated book much easier to digest.

Of the topics Harari covered in this book, I was most fascinated by the "mythical" constructs of government, religion, rule of law, human rights. Since I was listening to this while I was driving, I kept thinking how bizarre speed limits and stop signs are. (You'll understand if you read it.) Societal change - movement from the family/community structure to the state - also got my attention. I'm a sociology nut, so every chapter of this book was like digging up a new treasure.

The narrator, Derek Perkins, has my deepest respect for being able to read this unabridged version from start to finish. He sounds a bit like the actor Michael Cain.

Harari has written a second book, Homo Deus, which I also have from Audible. I'll start that after I recover from Sapiens, which completely kicked my ass.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Book 157: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed was a woman who desperately needed to leave her scattered world behind. Following her mother's death, Strayed was floundering in a life she didn't recognize. She decided to spend several months navigating the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which runs from Mexico to Canada.

Strayed traveled over 1,100 miles from California to Washington on foot, teaching herself survival skills along the way. She planned ahead and hiked up to 19 miles per day to meet her goal. During her pilgrimage, she overcame unexpected challenges and unearthed the resilience she had inside her all along.

I'm no stranger to difficulty, so Wild really resonated with me. I know the author's desire for solitude when life was a turbulent mess. I know the deep craving for a familiar, quiet place to just be when the world seems to be spinning out of control. I know the proclivity for self-destruction when hope seems a foreign concept. And I know how it feels to overcome despair and force yourself to move on. Strayed's story was familiar to me, even though it wasn't.

Thankfully, this was a relatively easy read compared to the last one, and I finished it in just a few days. There are some graphic parts (euthanizing the horse just about broke my heart) so be aware.

Friday, September 15, 2017

New Addiction: LeVar Burton Reads on Stitcher

I am a PBS kid. And Reading Rainbow was, without a doubt, the best kids' show on PBS when I was a kid. Sure, I loved Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, but there was just something special about LeVar Burton and his simple delight in books. I still remember my favorite episode, in which LeVar read A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams. For me, LeVar's voice is like being wrapped in a warm, beloved blanket.

When the podcast LeVar Burton Reads showed up in my Stitcher feed a few weeks ago, I freaking flipped. It was like finding out that my most treasured thing as a child was made into an adult version that I could take with me anywhere, anytime. The podcast is sponsored by Audible and it's beyond great.

Like Reading Rainbow, Levar's podcast is simple: he picks an adult short story and then he reads the story in some kind of fantastic recording studio that makes it sound like he's sitting next to you on a couch reading into your ear. He even makes you take a deep breath before he gets started and sums up his thoughts at the end. It's like therapy.

So far, I've only been able to listen to a few episodes, but each one has been great. The producers of the show have added subtle sound effects, which, if you were a Reading Rainbow aficionado like myself, you'd remember was one of the hallmarks of the show. It's a great way to spend the time instead of listening to pop music or the ever-present nightmare we call the news.

Here's the link to get in on this yourself. Try not to cry after Episode 11: The Paper Menagerie. 

LeVar Burton Reads
 is amazing. But you don't have to take my word for it!


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book 156: Emmett Till: The Murder that Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement by Devery S. Anderson

Until a few years ago, I had never heard of Emmett Louis Till, but social media is adept at reviving the past. For several years on or leading up to August 28, I've seen photos of Till circulated on Facebook and Twitter. My heart broke this year when a photo of his mutilated corpse on the medical examiner's slab surfaced in my Twitter feed, and I just had to know what happened to this 14-year-old boy 62 years ago. So I requested this book from the Delaware Library System to get the lowdown.

Emmett Till was a Chicago teenager who went to visit his mother's family in Money, Mississippi in 1955. He was kidnapped from his uncle's house in the middle of the night after an unsubstantiated exchange with a white storekeeper's wife, Carolyn Bryant, who said Till had sexually accosted her. When Till's badly mutilated corpse turned up in a nearby river a few days later, the kidnappers - Carolyn's husband Roy Bryant and her brother-in-law J.W. Milam - were arrested. Till had been beaten and tortured until he was barely recognizable. The ensuing trial was a farce. In 1955, Mississippi blacks still had no voting rights (which meant they could not serve on juries) so an all-white jury acquitted the two white murderers on charges of murder and later, kidnapping, despite eyewitness accounts from Till's family members. 

Mamie Till, Emmett's mother, refused to let her son's death be in vain and used the murder and the acquittal to show the injustice of the south. She insisted on an open casket to show the world what the murderers had done, and she and family members worked with the NAACP and other civil rights organizations to push Emmett's story into the spotlight. Emmett Till's murder was the straw that broke the camel's back, and was one of the catalysts of the American Civil Rights Movement. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks were just two of the thousands who took action due in part to Till's murder. News of the killers' acquittal was broadcast internationally, and the cry for justice was heard round the world. Forty years later, legal advocates got the federal government to open a new investigation, Till's body was exhumed and autopsied, and the case was eventually reopened. Except for Carolyn Bryant, everyone implicated in the murder was dead. Despite investigators' best efforts, the grand jury could not indict her based on the available evidence.

In this book, Anderson dug up every single possible reference to Till and his family, and somehow documented all of it in this enormous book published in 2015. What I will remember most is the author's unique ability to connect the dots for his readers, piecing together testimony and evidence from many different people and sources to create a substantial narrative. I still can't figure out how he uncovered some of the most oblique pieces, like the poem written by an American civilian in an Italian prison describing the hanging death of Emmitt Till's father, Louis Till. And Anderson was thorough with his research - the last quarter of the book is nothing but references. This book was no small undertaking, and is not for those with short attention spans; I am still trying to digest all that was published in this exhaustive exposΓ©. 

Earlier this year (two years after Anderson's book was published) Carolyn Bryant recanted her testimony. She was 82 years old. If that doesn't make you want to vomit, I don't know what will.

The story of Emmitt Till is one that all Americans should know. If you can't stomach Anderson's 400-page book, simply Google Emmett Till. You'll learn all you need to know, and more than you ever wanted to know.
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